Surviving a Children’s Consignment Sale

Even if you get all your baby clothes free, there comes a time when the hand-me-downs dry up and you have to buy your kids some clothes. Yard sales, Craigslist, and Goodwill are the cheapest options, but time-consuming because of limited selection (you have to go so many places), while new stores are obviously ridiculously expensive.

For me, those big semi-annual children’s consignment sales are a good balance. A decent sized one will have enough selection that you can get a lot of what you need for the season, and it’s possible to find some good deals.

But… it’s taken me five years to get the hang of the damn things. In hopes of sparing someone else a few traumatic experiences, here are my rules for survival:

1. Know the setup.

These sales are generally held in enormous warehouse spaces. They are cavernous. For people like me who do not consider shopping a recreational activity, this can be disheartening. Buck up. You can survive it for ninety minutes.

Also understand how these things are run. They are largely staffed by volunteers who gave up a few hours of their time in exchange for getting into the sale early, favorable rates on their own consignments, or other perks. They are kindly, but no almost nothing. Then there are a couple of women actually running the thing; they are elusive, but accessible in a pinch.

Unlike a traditional consignment store, at these sales, prices are set by the consignor, not the person running it. These people are also in charge of placing their own merchandise. Some people have an inflated idea what their kids’ old clothes are worth. Have a working knowledge of retail prices and if someone wants more than 50%, except in unusual cases, put it back and go on to the next thing.


I have been consignment sales in several states, and they all use the same kind of tagging software. Be ready for safety pins. Lots of 'em.

I have been to consignment sales in several states, and they all use the same kind of tagging software. Be ready for safety pins. Lots of ’em.


2. Know your kids’ sizes.

It’s not enough to know that your kid is 3 and should be in 3T. Little Brother is three and a half; he can still wear some of his 24 month pants (since he does not wear diapers anymore), while some 3T clothes are too narrow for him. Big Brother, too, is short and stocky; I have to be careful lest I buy him pants that are too tight and too long.

I have been known to attend sales with a dressmaker’s measuring tape around my neck, but, well, I lost it. So this time, I took a piece of string sized for each child and held it up to each pair of pants I considered. I was able to weed out a couple with tiny waists.

Proving that these pants are similar in size to some that I know fit Little Brother.

Proving that these pants are similar in size to some that I know fit Little Brother.

3. Make a list.

Start by inventorying your kids’ existing wardrobes. What still fits from last year? What hand-me-downs have they grown into? Yes, make them try stuff on. What are the gaps?

Then make a list of what you need–how many shirts and pairs of pants, and, when helpful, some idea of color. You probably don’t want to accidentally wind up with four pairs of nearly identical navy pants, for instance, or you might want black to go with a particular shirt. Nor do you want to wind up like me some years, with four pairs of pajamas but only four long-sleeved daytime shirts for one kid.

Little Brother's list. His is shorter because he gets hand-me-downs. Big Brother, for instance, also needed a light jacket and some PJs.

Little Brother’s list. His is shorter because he gets hand-me-downs. Big Brother, for instance, also needed a light jacket and some PJs.

4. Choose your time.

Many sales have a half-price last day that can be great if you need a bunch of clothes (all the good strollers and whatnot will be long gone) and aren’t that picky. Otherwise, after the beginning of the sale, generally the crowds and selection dwindle together. If you need some very specific items, gird your loins and go early. If you are worried about having a panic attack in the baby bathtub section (TIP: You don’t actually need one of these; you have a sink right?), go later. I chose to go on day 2 (Friday) of a four-day sale. Reasonable selection, smaller crowds, and they had sent me a ten-dollar-off coupon good for just that day.

5. Secure your children.

I have tried various methods for this:

  • Carrying a baby on my front or back. This is extremely uncomfortable for shopping racks above shoulder-level. Don’t.
  • Baby in a stroller. OK, but once he finishes the Cheerios you put in his cupholder, he’ll be ready to leave.
  • Sharing kid duties with another mom. OK, but trying to keep them from destroying the toys was stressful, and I felt rushed when the other mom was watching my tots.
  • Leaving them at home with Dad. Obviously the ideal solution, but due to the timing of the sales, not always possible.
  • Distracting them with my cell phone. This one was largely a winner, although it only worked because Big Brother was at school. I pre-downloaded a Duplo train game and it kept Little Brother engaged.

6. Be prepared for error.

You will buy at least one thing that doesn’t fit, is dirtier than you realized, has a hole you didn’t see, whatever. It’s okay. If you’ve done it right otherwise, you’ve still saved money. Donate it to Goodwill and move on with your life.


Little Brother picked out this great astronaut costume, but it is quite small (he is squeezed into it with great effort). I held it up to him at the sale, but apparently didn’t look closely enough. That was the fail for this trip.

7. Finish your list.

You will not find everything you need at one sale. If your area has multiples, go to another. When I have had a selection of sales, I have sometimes gone to half-price day of the first sale for bargains, and then the first day of the second sale to finish my list. Otherwise, fill in gaps from permanent consignment stores, online shopping (I have found some good deals on eBay), or whatever department store near you has the best sales. I still need uniform-appropriate pants for both kids, so I’ll try eBay and Schoola, and if I still don’t find them, I’ll just grab some at Walmart. Target if I’m feeling fancy.

Do you go to consignment sales? How do you save money on kids’ clothes?


How I Moved 3000 Pounds of Mulch, Saved $300, and Lost Three Pounds

Our house came with an extravagant children’s play area. (Extravagant to the point of danger–it is really too large for the space, such that a tot could hit his head on the fence, but that’s a problem beyond the scope of this post.)

It was, when we moved in, reasonably well-covered with rubber mulch. And then our children started playing on it.

Within six months of rough play and, ahem, inadequate maintenance, it was a crazy mess. There were giant holes in the landscape fabric and bare dirt was visible in many places.

Something must be done!

Something must be done!

I was really leery of taking on this project. I didn’t really know what would be involved. What would I find under the mulch? What supplies did I need to fix the problem? What were the giant metal staple-things the kids pulled up? Could I move all that mulch without injuring myself? But there was nothing for it but to get to work. And I had to finish the job as quickly as possible, because it put our backyard playground out of commission and, well, that’s bad!

Now, I HATE rubber mulch. I hate it a lot. It’s gross, and I feel like I have to pick it out of the grass piece by piece because it won’t decompose for like five hundred years, so my first thought was to replace the rubber mulch with actual wood mulch. I thought that the whole project, including mulch, landscape fabric, staples, and tools, would cost a couple hundred dollars, or less, because you can have a virtually infinite amount of wood mulch delivered to your house for $75.

Then I realized two things:

Damn, that's a lot of mulch.

Damn, that’s a lot of mulch. Several cubic yards.

  1. I had a truly massive amount of rubber mulch.
  2. You have to use special playground mulch for playgrounds, and this is really expensive.

So I revised my plan. Fortunately, Grandpa FP taught me that you have to be prepared for anything when you look under or behind. New plan: Keep the nasty rubber mulch, but move all of it so I could replace the landscape fabric bit by bit. I actually opted to spot-replace the landscape fabric rather than pull it all up, for two key reasons:

  1. My garage already had enough landscape fabric, left by previous owners, for a patch job. Probably not enough to replace every bit. And you know how I hate buying things.
  2. As I mentioned, there is a whole lotta mulch. By spot-replacing, I did not have to move it all at once. I could move part, do the fabric, and move it back.
Fabric replacement in progress. I wish I was one of those people who is super-organized with their tools.

Fabric replacement in progress. I wish I was one of those people who is super-organized with their tools. Little Brother was surprisingly helpful with the rubber mallet (both fetching it and banging in the staples).

The latter point was particularly important because I had to essentially sweep up the mulch. After I moved as much as possible with my snow shovel (seemed the best tool for the job), there would be a lot left that needed to be removed from the ground more carefully. So I wanted to get the fabric back down ASAP so I wouldn’t have to keep sweeping the same areas!

Fabric replacement complete. Let the raking begin!

Fabric replacement complete. Let the raking begin!

It would have cost about $300 to get wood playground mulch, so that’s money I saved by keeping what I had. I often make do with non-ideal hand-me-downs in order to keep more money in my bank account. Total cost was about $40: $25 for two boxes of landscape staples (I used a whole lot of these because it seemed like inadequate stapleage was part of why the fabric was coming apart) and $15 for a landscape rake. I used this for finishing the project, but will also find it helpful for doing a better job in the future of maintaining level mulch, to prevent further wear and tear on the fabric.

Ahhh, that's better. Time to get out the broom and dustpan again and sweep the sidewalk...

Ahhh, that’s better. Big Brother is helping level out the mulch. Time to get out the broom and dustpan again and sweep the sidewalk…

With all the exercise of shoveling mulch, I lost three pounds that week as an added bonus!

What projects have you taken on lately? Or what money have you decided NOT to spend?

Thinking Outside the [Shoe] Box. And the Envelope.

I’m always on the lookout for objects, tasks, and habits in my life that could be optimized. So when I began to feel the nip of fall in the morning air, and wanted to put slippers on my feet, I knew something had to change.

See, Mr. FP has, in the nearly sixteen years that I have known him, owned exactly two pairs of slippers, and the second is still going strong. They are leather-soled LL Bean moccasins that I believe I bought him in the early aughts.

Meanwhile, I have owned more like eight pairs. The problem is virtually all women’s slippers have hard plastic soles. Once the padding wear down, which in my experience takes like three days, you’re walking around on the hard bottoms, and they become extremely uncomfortable. What’s a girl to do?

That’s when I thought of looking for boy’s slippers. See, boys’ sizes go up to 6, and they run about two sizes smaller than women’s sizes. So any woman with feet size 8 or smaller has the option of shopping in the boys’ department for shoes, especially if her feet are, like mine, on the wide side.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never owned LL Bean women’s slippers, so it’s possible that their rubber soles are softer and their padding lasts longer, and they would have given me my money back if I was displeased. However, women’s slippers start at $39.95 for fleece with a rubber sole.

These boys’ fleece slippers with a nice suede sole–no rubber, yay!–cost me $19.95.

I was spending that much on slippers every year or two. So if these last me even just three seasons, I will have saved twenty bucks. And if they don’t last three seasons, well, I will ask LL Bean for my money back, and will still have saved twenty bucks.

My toes reposing happily on the front porch.

My toes reposing happily during my morning coffe-on-the-porch time. Preschool is a great invention.

Next optimization: Banking. Roughly every two weeks, I receive a paper paycheck for my trivia editing job that I must deposit at a bank. Quaint, isn’t it?

Now, Mr. FP and I remain devoted users of Virginia Credit Union for basic checking. We’ve moved a lot, and we just don’t like the trouble of finding a new bank. We’re used to this one, and the checking is really and truly free. Plus you can use any ATM gratis. So I was taking these checks, filling out a deposit slip (if I had any–when I ran out, I would use old tear-off pages from a trivia-question-a-day calendar), putting it in an envelope, and putting a stamp and return address label on the envelope. Super inefficient, plus the cost of the stamps and envelopes.

Yep, I made address labels just for my bank. That's how much I mailed to them.

Yep, I made address labels just for my bank. That’s how much I mailed to them.

Then I realized I could download the Ally banking app. Now I just have to take a picture of the check, and it goes right to our cash savings (which we’re trying to build up anyway).

Have I told you guys how much I love Ally? It’s easy to use, they pay a full one percent interest, and they just gave me and a bunch of other people twenty dollar Amazon gift cards in celebration of their one millionth customer.

This e-deposit is only saving me like thirteen dollars a year, but, as Grandpa FP would say, thirteen bucks is better than a nail in the foot. Sorry, USPS.

What minor things have you streamlined lately?

Apparently You Can Microwave Oatmeal

Oatmeal: It is ridiculously cheap, nutritious, and the kids love it. (I can take it or leave it myself, but they will eat it for any meal of the day.) It keeps forever, so I can have a virtually limitless supply in my pantry. So far, an ideal food.

The problem was that it is a pain to cook rolled oats. Takes several minutes on the stove, and who wants to heat their house up like that during the summer?

Now, there are directions on the box for making oatmeal in the microwave. I tried this years ago and it exploded all over my microwave. I filed microwave oatmeal under “fail” and moved on mentally. I made it on the stovetop or not at all.

When we visited Grandma FP this summer, I returned from vacation (thanks, Mom!) and was surprised to find that she had been feeding Big Brother boatloads of oatmeal. My mom’s house is usually more the kind of establishment where one finds packets of instant oatmeal and those pre-shaped cookies that you just separate and bake. While I have known Grandma FP (who is, incidentally, four feet ten inches tall) to rent a drum sander and refinish wood floors, I can’t picture her standing at the stove stirring oatmeal.

Evidently the oatmeal had entered the house for a cookie-making project and she wanted to use it up by feeding it to my tots. So she first tried the microwave and had the same experience I did. Oatmeal city.

But she was not as easily deterred as me and pressed on, experimenting with trial and error until she had it down pat. Evidently the secret is to use a container that holds about 4 times as much water as you are using. So a single serving of oatmeal (half a cup of oats to one cup water) can be comfortably prepared in a one-quart Pyrex measuring cup, should you have such a thing.

Turns out the directions SAY to use a one-quart dish. I don't think that was on the box I used when I painted my microwave with oatmeal.

Turns out the directions SAY to use a one-quart dish. I don’t think that was on the box I used when I painted my microwave with oatmeal.

I do not, so at my house I just use a large stoneware or Pyrex serving bowl. (I have found that I can make up to three servings this way–I’m not kidding, the dudes dig oatmeal.) After it’s cooked, I add a dab of maple syrup and plenty of cinnamon, or perhaps peanut butter and honey, and if it is thick enough, I add a little milk to help it cool off.


For some reason, I have three of these fancy serving bowls. I use them for… microwaving things.


Friends, what a revelation! No more standing at the stove stirring! Electricity savings! More importantly, oatmeal has entered our very short list of “emergency child meals” alongside frozen chicken nuggets and cold cheese sandwiches. Fewer chicken nuggets down their gullets = win for health. It’s easy enough that a babysitter can prepare it, fast enough to whip up for lunch even when I pick up Little Brother at 11 and have to be at work at 1:15. When I get a thermos for Big Brother, I’ll be able to pack it in his school lunch. 

I know lots of food snobs look down on their microwave. For me, it is an essential part of my efforts to eat almost exclusively home-prepared food. 

Do you get much use out of your microwave? What are your fallback meals?

I Made a Recognizable Skirt!

Just joining us? Don’t miss “I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 1: Practice,”Phase 2: Gadget Testing,” or “Phase 3: Caught in the Zipper.”

It’s amazing you can make so very mistakes and still wind up with something more or less wearable.

Probably will not actually tuck my shirt way down into it, but I thought you should see the buttons I sewed on.

Probably will not actually tuck my shirt way down into it, but I thought you should see the buttons I sewed on.

Seriously, the workmanship on this thing is terrible. The darts in the lining do not match up to the darts in the skirt, probably because the whole thing is asymmetrical thanks to my struggles with the zipper. (I had to cut half an inch off the side of the skirt because the fabric was so damaged. Next time I will sew on the zipper with contrasting thread in case I need to pick it out!) The hem is uneven. Something went wrong where the zipper meets the waistband.

Top of zipper sticks out awkwardly.

Top of zipper sticks out awkwardly.

Lining did not match up with skirt quite right, leaving me with this weird unfinished area.

Lining did not match up with skirt quite right, leaving me with this weird unfinished area.

It does, however, look more or less like a skirt. I would probably not wear it to work if I worked in a very stuffy office, but librarians are supposed to be quirky. (The woman who helped me get my job told me so. Thirtysomething white women are overrepresented among librarians and being quirky helps set us apart.)


It cost a lot to make and took waaaay too long, both in hours and in the number of weeks I let it drag on, partly because I am really slow at hand-sewing. It took me nearly an hour over two days to sew on six buttons, and that’s after it took me a few days to psyche myself up for sewing on the buttons.

Here’s the thing: It was fun and satisfying and I hate shopping a lot. So will I do it again? Definitely. For one thing, it will be a whole lot cheaper next time since I already own the gear now and would only need to buy fabric, other consumables, and–let’s be honest–probably a new gadget or two per project, like a quilting ruler or a non-plastic invisible zipper foot. (Not as cheap as buying a skirt at Goodwill, but cheaper than buying it, say, new on clearance or at a high-end consignment store.)

I also anticipate that it will be much faster next time and that the results will be better. I’m sure it will only take me a couple of tries to get the zipper on next time, as opposed to the five–yes, five, plus I had to get a new zipper–tries it took this time.

I almost abandoned the project more than once. But I figured I was still enjoying myself, still learning things, and still had hope of producing something wearable, so I pressed on. And I’m really glad I did. There were more skills ahead, like slip stitching the lining to the zipper. Now, that came out okay, but I’m sure I will do better next time, so I’m glad I practiced on my super-imperfect skirt instead of on the next one, which will hopefully be looking a lot better at that stage.

In the final analysis, I recommend the book The Essential A-Line with some reservations. Double-check all the measurements as some of them are wrong. Read several invisible zipper tutorials online as the book is not very clear about the orientation. And be prepared to look up online explanations of basic sewing terms you might have missed–like slip stitching. I didn’t know what that was when the book said that was how to sew the lining to the zipper.

Yikes. No wonder I kept losing the tiny white piece of the invisible zipper foot.

Yikes. No wonder I kept losing the tiny white piece of the invisible zipper foot.

Before I try again, I’m going to catch up on all the things I neglected while I was making this one, and maybe lose ten pounds. I definitely want some skirts for next summer, but I think I’m set for winter now. One thing I have done NOW that I wish I had done FIRST was organize my sewing area, which is a narrow console table I use as a desk. I spent way too much time looking for tiny pieces–the bits of the invisible zipper foot that kept falling off, spare needles, seam rippers, etc.–that I had lost somewhere in the mess on my desk. Also, next time I will clean and oil my machine mid-project, because it starts to go super-haywire after a while.

This is what happens when my machine has not been oiled in a while.

This is what happens when my machine has not been oiled in a while.

What new things are you learning lately? How’s it going?

I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 3: Caught in the Zipper

Phase 1: Practice

Phase 2: Gadget Testing

Just over three weeks ago, I had the idea that I could possibly finish the exterior of the skirt I was making before leaving for vacation. I had a great deal of trouble with the hard-to-install, fiddly little plastic invisible zipper foot*, but I persevered.

This foot comes with a variety of different adapters, but it was hard to tell (a) which one to use and (b) how to attach it to my machine.

This Coats and Clark foot comes with a variety of different adapters, but it was hard to tell (a) which one to use and (b) how to attach it to my machine. Also, please note that the bottom has fallen off. This happens with some regularity when using the foot. Once I put it back on backwards, which further slowed me down.

Then I sewed the zipper on the wrong side of the skirt. Clearly, I should have practiced zipper-installation on my practice skirt. It would have been worth buying an extra zipper.


This is what an invisible zipper is supposed to look like. Mine opened to the inside of the skirt. Whoops.

Well, I picked out the stitches and tried again. Now, I had basted it on, so I had to pick out two rows of stitches. And I forgot that “baste” means “use big stitches,” so I had two rows of stitches. And the black thread is almost invisible against the black-and-white houndstooth fabric and completely invisible against the black zipper. Sigh.

So after I finished picking out all those stitches, I sewed it on again. This time, I remembered to use nice big basting stitches.

Which is good, because this time I sewed on the wrong side of the zipper.

I picked it out again. It was getting hard to measure the correct placement because the edges of the fabric are getting so frayed from repeated handling, it’s hard to tell where the edge is. This time I remembered that Grandma FP never basted down a zipper–she held it in place with scotch tape. So that’s what I did this time.

Which is good, because I only got half the zipper right this time. (Apparently the trick with an invisible zipper is that you sew on the right side of the fabric with one side of the zipper and then the wrong side of the fabric for the other half. I really do understand now.)

Unfortunately, by this time I have damaged the fabric; something about the fabric just clings to the stitches. Also my house was a mess, so I laid the project aside.

I kind of had to attack the fabric to remove the zipper this time.

I kind of had to attack the fabric to remove the zipper this time.

At least this side looks beautiful.

At least this side looks beautiful.

Here are the options for continuing that I have thought of:

  1. Reinforce the damaged fabric. Iron-on interfacing?
  2. Reinforce damaged fabric with fusible webbing and a scrap of leftover fabric from the skirt or the lining.
  3. Cut half an inch off the side of the skirt and start anew, making it slightly asymmetrical, but more structurally sound.

Option 1 would require a trip to Jo-Ann, because I have no interfacing, while #3 would require some tedious measuring. And #2 might come out bulky.

Frankly, I’m hoping my mother will weigh in and tell me what to do. GRANDMA FP! YOUR ADVICE PLEASE!

I’m proud of how calm I have stayed during this entire debacle and remain confident that this whole exercise is, in fact, going somewhere. Friends, what setbacks are you running across lately? How have you handled them?

*I am considering buying a nice metal one to fit my machine, but last time I checked they were about $16, which seems like a lot.

I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 2: Gadget Testing

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which support the blog at no cost to you. The Joann and Walmart links are non-affiliate links.

I don’t usually like to buy things. I’m a big fan of repairing and making do, which is why my three-year-old wears sandals that are glued together and I still cook in Grandma FP’s spare slow cooker. But I may have gotten a little carried away buying tools for the project I’m working on, making a skirt (using The Essential A-line: Make 17 Flirty Skirts from 1 Basic Pattern, which I checked out from the library). I have been to Joann Fabric and Crafts approximately 97 times and have gotten extremely adapt at downloading their coupons to my phone.

So here’s what I’ve been buying, its cost, and why. (Prices are approximate, as they reflect percent discount coupons and tax.) If you just want to see how much money I spent, skip to the end. Hint: Buying a whole, brand-new skirt would definitely have been cheaper. But way less fun.

1. Blind hem foot ($9.23, Amazon)

This is a nifty little gadget that can obviously be used for blind hems–which I don’t need, because I don’t wear things that fancy–but also for edge stitching, a trick when you stitch as close as possible to a fold (as in making a pleat). It has a fabric guide that keeps you from wandering off to the right, making it easier to stay straight and close to the edge. (As far as wandering to the left, you’re still on your own.)

Edge stitching with regular foot. I'm sure I would have gotten better with practice.

Edge stitching with regular foot. I’m sure I would have gotten better with practice, but see how far away from the fold it is, and uneven.

First try with blind hem foot. Worse than without it!

First try with blind hem foot. Worse than without it!

Third try with blind hem foot. That's more like it!

Third try with blind hem foot. That’s more like it!

Necessity Level: 3 of 5. I could probably have practiced and gotten a pretty straight line eventually, but not as straight as with the blind hem foot.

2. Rotary cutter and small mat ($15.26, Joann)

Even more unusually for me than shopping at all, this was actually an impulse purchase. I wasn’t going to buy one; Grandma FP made beautiful garments using only shears. But… well… I had a 50% off coupon, and I knew I would need one in the future if I wanted to make a bias hem, and I thought it would be fun and handy. So I bought this Fiskers kit with their basic 45 mm cutter and a 6 by 18 inch mat. It’s worth noting that while Walmart has better regular prices on both cutters and mats, they can’t match a 50% off item coupon at Joann.

I’ve been practicing cutting with it; there’s a bit of a learning curve to cutting corners cleanly and to following curves (see freezer paper, below).

Necessity Level: 1 of 5. May save time in the long run, but not needed for this project.

3. Freezer paper for patterns ($6.50, Walmart)

This is awesome! Joann apparently does not carry pattern paper; they (and Walmart) carry Pellon-brand interfacing that is designed for making patterns, at a cost of around $1.50-$3 per yard (depending on sale conditions). It looks handy, since it won’t slide around as much as regular paper, but I thought it was too pricey.

Extensive further research revealed that you can use freezer paper, like what you might find wrapped around an ancient roast at the bottom of Grandma’s chest freezer. Not only is this thin enough to trace through–no tracing wheel needed–but if you iron it, shiny side down, onto your fabric, it sticks in place gently and peels off easily. You can stick the whole pattern on before you even cut it out. I tested it with some leftover muslin, drawing a shape and then cutting it out for extra rotary cutter practice. I hear you can stick it several times before it loses stickiness (and then you could just pin it or weight it down if you didn’t want to make a new pattern).

Necessity Level: 4 of 5. I could have used wrapping paper, but that wasn’t very satisfactory and then I just would have had to buy more wrapping paper eventually anyway.

This is what the pattern looks like in the book

This is what the pattern looks like in the book

Lines clearly visible through the freezer paper so I can trace the lines for my size.

Lines clearly visible through the freezer paper so I can trace the markings for my size.

One piece of my homemade pattern. I used a ruler for the straight lines.

One piece of my homemade pattern. I used a ruler for the straight lines, and you can see I made a false start.

4. Hem gauge ($2.25, Joann, or here on Amazon)

A handy little gadget for measuring hems more quickly and accurately than with measuring tape.

Necessity Level: 1 of 5. Will save a few minutes, but it’s really just for fun.

Hem measuring made easier. Still one of the most tedious parts of sewing.

Hem measuring made easier. Still one of the most tedious parts of sewing.

5. Thread snips ($6, Joann; couldn’t find this kind online)

Cut thread closer than scissors and should also be good for cutting those tiny little triangles that help you match up pieces.

Necessity Level: 3 of 5 (for this project). There is very prominent top stitching and I don’t think I could have gotten close enough for my satisfaction with my shears.

Practice topstitching, cut with shears.

Practice topstitching, cut with shears.

And cut with snips. I still want to make it look neater at the bottom.

And cut with snips. I still want to make it look neater at the bottom.

6. Water-soluble marking pen ($3.75, Joann; again, couldn’t find online)

Grandma FP always used chalk, but I wanted something a little tidier and more precise for marking where my pleats should be and whatnot. The gadget I got has one end that’s a wipe-clean marker and another side with disappearing ink.

Necessity Level: 2 of 5. May make for slightly more accurate pleats.

7. Invisible zipper foot ($2.50, Joann, or on Amazon here)

Haven’t tested this yet, but supposedly it’s necessary for putting in a zipper that is invisible from the outside.

Necessity Level: 4 of 5. I could probably have found some other way to make it work.

In Conclusion…

Notice that technically, I could have completed this project without buying any of the things on this list, even though the book I’m using listed them all as required tools. The only things that I didn’t already own and without which I would not have been able to complete the directions were dressmaker’s tracing paper and the tracing wheel, for marking darts on the fabric.

Total cost of the items above: $48.84

Plus the tracing paper and pincushion: $56.70

That’s almost $60 on durable supplies alone! That’s not even counting the fabric! Again, though, please note that I could have done this much more cheaply. Instead, I chose to look at it as taking up a hobby. I’m having a ball fiddling around. In my next post, which might be after I get back from vacation in a few weeks, I’ll break down what it will cost per garment if I make several.

Also, hopefully I will eventually have, you know, a finished skirt to show you.

Do you have any making-things hobbies that don’t actually save money? What’s your reasoning?



I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 1: Practice

This post contains affiliate links, which in theory would support this blog at no cost to you. But you should check your books out at the library. The links are just there for you to research. Although if you happened to buy something while you were at Amazon, I would get money and that would be nice.

I’ve taken it into my head to make myself a skirt on my sewing machine. I have two primary reasons for this:

  1. My current wardrobe is lacking. If I had to work more than four days in a week, I’d be pushing it to find enough appropriate outfits. This is partly because my work-appropriate wardrobe has been largely composed of pencil skirts, all of which make me appear to be trying only semi-successfully to conceal a second trimester pregnancy. (The baby is 3.)
  2. I hate shopping with a white-hot passion, but I enjoy sewing. Given a choice whether to spend a few hours trying on skirts or a few hours making one, I would choose the latter in a heartbeat. Plus I can’t shop while the children play outside in the yard. Have to bring the little buggers with me and that always ends in tears.
Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Day. On the left, the apron I made after several years of service. Grandma FP made the pink one I'm wearing.

Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Day, featuring my last completed project, an apron I made for a dear friend (left, after many years of service). Grandma FP made the pink one I’m wearing.

Note that “save money” was not on the list. Since I spend almost no money on clothes, it would be impossible for me to actually spend less than I have been spending. And even if I decided to go out and buy, say, 3 skirts, I could probably buy them as cheaply or even more cheaply (if I got lucky at Goodwill) than making them, considering the start-up costs. The first one, with all the “sewing notions” I’ve been snatching up, is costing at least as much as a very, very nice brand-new regular-price skirt. Improving my wardrobe in the way I prefer is the sole goal here.

I am using the book The Essential A-line: Make 17 Flirty Skirts from 1 Basic Pattern, which I checked out from my local library. (It involves using dressmaker’s tracing paper to create your own pattern, so the book’s pattern is not damaged by people using it.) To give you an idea of my skill level going into this project, I am fairly comfortable using a sewing machine for straight hems. I can’t do anything fancy like blind hems, and I have not completed a garment since about 2006 (when I made an apron as a gift). That was also the only garment I ever completed without assistance from Grandma FP, a very talented seamstress who can make all kinds of fancy things.

If you are not comfortable with a sewing machine, you might want to start with a lower-level book like Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time. The Essential A-Line assumes that you are comfortable with general sewing terms like presser foot and seam allowance.

My wrapping-paper pattern, pinned and ready for cutting.

My wrapping-paper pattern, pinned and ready for cutting.

Anyway, the book suggests making a practice skirt, which I have completed. First, I had to make a pattern. I had forgotten to think about buying pattern paper, so I used wrapping paper. It took me a couple of tries to get the idea right, but it worked. For the record, wrapping paper is not ideal for the purpose because it is slippery enough that the tracing paper can smudge, and it is thin enough that it doesn’t take kindly to the tracing wheel.

Pleats under construction. Next time I will know not to  start right at the top--it made the ugly knot you see up top.

Pleats under construction. Next time I will know not to start right at the top–it made the ugly knot you see up top.

I wanted to practice making pleats, so I followed the directions for the “sailor” skirt. And I’m glad I did, because there’s a mathematical error in the directions and the practice skirt came out too big. Now that I see the problem, I’ll correct for it. I had to read the directions approximately 97 times and refer to them at each stage, flipping back and forth between the general directions and the ones for the specific skirt. Eventually, though, I had an unfinished skirt shell-thing to try on, featuring with nice sharp pleats. The darts, however, were uneven, so I will mark them more carefully next time, and my edge stitching was crooked because I had not yet acquired a blind hem foot (more on that next time).

Finished practice skirt.

Finished practice skirt.

I already owned some basics like straight pins, thread, decent scissors, and other geegaws, but I needed fabric and some odds and ends just to get started. I began by buying the minimum (except for the pin cushion), just to make sure the whole project was going to work. These are the supplies I purchased in the practice stage, all from Joann Fabric and Crafts. Make sure to check for coupons as they generally have excellent ones; the prices below reflect a 20% discount that I downloaded on my phone.

I believe it's actually required by law that you purchase a tomato-shaped pincushion before beginning serious sewing projects.

I believe it’s actually required by law that you obtain a tomato-shaped pincushion before beginning serious sewing projects.

  • Muslin for practice skirt: $2.16
  • Pin cushion: $2.16
  • Tracing wheel: $2.16
  • Dressmaker’s tracing paper: $3.54

Total cost: $10.02

Consumable supplies: $2.16

Durable supplies: $7.86

Stay tuned for the next installment, when I go a little crazy buying gadgets and the cost mounts.

Do you ever make things that you could buy just as cheaply? What’s your reasoning?

Lifestyle Inflation and Coffee Beans

Mr. FP found this Contigo mug abandoned in his classroom and now it goes everywhere with me. Work, the grocery store, library story time, etc.

Mr. FP found this Contigo mug abandoned in his classroom and now it goes everywhere with me. Work, the grocery store, library story time, etc.

I love coffee a lot, as perhaps I have mentioned. Never drank it at all until I was over 30. When Big Brother was a baby, I was doing an online graduate degree and the only time I had to do my homework was when he was napping–so right after lunch. Ever tried to concentrate on homework right after lunch? Enter the most wonderful bean.

Despite my affection for the stuff, I don’t grind my own coffee beans. I buy ground coffee (Seattle’s Best, #4) at the grocery store. I was joking about the “horror” of this with  the awesome Mrs. Frugalwoods, who is in the midst of an experiment to determine whether Costco beans, at five-something a pound, are a sufficient replacement for their fancypants ten-something a pound beans, which I can only assume are roasted by unicorns. She joked back, “I’ll buy you a coffee grinder.”

Chickpeas thawing for hummus-making, a common sight in my kitchen.

Chickpeas thawing for hummus-making, a common sight in my kitchen.

The exchange got me thinking about why I don’t grind my own beans, and it’s only partly about buying a grinder. It’s more about taking on another chore. See, on one recent morning, I was straining cold-brew coffee a little at a time, boiling water to make pasta for pasta salad, heating milk in the microwave to make yogurt, pre-rinsing the bodily-fluids laundry, and feeding the children breakfast, all simultaneously. And I had to be at work by 11. Do I really want to add “grind beans” to my to-do list?

“Lifestyle inflation” is a term usually used for things that cost money, like buying a nicer car when you get a raise or moving to a bigger house when your second child is born. But I find I also need to be conscious of revenue-neutral or even money-saving kinds of “lifestyle inflation”–chores that benefit the environment or have taste, health, or other intangible benefits but take up my finite time.

I want to do, well, everything. But every new chore I take on means just a smidge less time for everything else.

Grandma FP gave me her spare slow cooker several years back and it is still my workhorse. I often run it several days in a row.

Grandma FP gave me her spare slow cooker several years back and it is still my workhorse. I often run it several days in a row.

Freshly ground coffee beans probably are better, and after the initial cost of the grinder, I would not be spending more money on an ongoing basis. But I would be committing to a new chore, when my life is already pretty full. A person can do anything, but not everything. There are plenty of things, besides bean grinding, that I think would be good to do that I just don’t:

  • Using cloth trainers at night for Little Brother. I got tired of the smell and the laundry and the rinsing-in-the-toilet (PLEASE let this be over soon) and now he sleeps in (gasp!) disposable pull-on training pants
  • Making bread. I can buy it for $1 a loaf at the bakery outlet
  • Line-drying the family clothes
  • Taking the bus to work instead of owning a car
  • Gardening
  • Shopping for local produce/meat/dairy instead of just buying what’s on sale at Sprouts
  • Changing our oil/doing basic car maintenance
  • Making chocolate syrup for Mr. FP
  • Making more snacks from scratch instead of serving Goldfish crackers from Costco
  • Making seltzer


What tasks I take on is based on a constantly shifting assessment of my time, our family’s needs, and my personal priorities and preferences. (I don’t particularly like trying to grow plants, but I do like sewing, for instance.) Over the next few list, things from the top list might get dropped and things from the bottom will probably be added. But the coffee tastes good to me, so for now, I’m filing it under “Ain’t broke. Don’t fix.”

Do you hold the line on chore inflation? How do you decide where to focus your energies? Do you have a list like mine of things you kind of wish you did, but don’t have the time and energy for?

July 2015 Net Worth Check

So… I am two months plus behind on this. Haven’t done it since January. Oops!

Obviously our situation has changed since we bought a house–not so much as far as our actual net worth, as where it is distributed. In other news, we have switched from Mint to Personal Capital. I just found Mint very clunky and awkward to use, and kept hearing good things about PC… we’ll see.


Cash: $3840.75 (includes our emergency reserve of about $2K)

Investments: $53,389.03 (This used to be more, but we spent my Roth IRA on a giant pile of bricks). New in this category: Mr. FP’s traditional IRA. We will owe taxes on the capital gains that were part of my IRA balance when we cashed it out, so decided to do a traditional IRA to help offset that.

  • My rollover IRA: $18,222.11
  • Mr. FP’s traditional IRA: $2,944.28 (He is rather depressed that this has already gone down–he just opened it with $3K a couple of weeks ago!)
  • Mr. FP’s old 403(b): $32,221.88

Property: $308,000 (assuming that the value of our house is exactly what we paid for it). We do not count our cars in this category.

Total assets: $365,229.78


Credit Cards: $2873.70

Mortgage: $293,278.43

Total liabilities: $296,152.13

TOTAL NET WORTH: $69077.65

Since January, that’s a change of $883. Hard to believe it has stayed so steady! On the other hand, at least it hasn’t gone down. The market has not been great and we have been seriously hemorrhaging money on things for the house. Normally we don’t run around buying used pianos and photo prints and whatnot.

When I started this blog in January 2015, I was surprised to find that our net worth was over $50K–it was at that time $51,681.47. That’s an increase over the last year and a half of $17, 396.18, or 33.7%.

Let’s call that “good, with room for improvement.” The next big question: When will we add that fifth zero?

How’s your net worth growing? How do you track it?


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