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Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 10.26.39 AMIt’s sell-your-stuff season. Garage sales. Yard sales. Estate sales. Those sales where you price toys that were on your children’s must-have Christmas lists and then never played with. Stuff passed down from parents and grandparents and you’ve replaced with bigger and better. Stuff that matched the living room when the walls were painted Morning Sky Blue. Stuff you collected and your children dusted and they hope to never see again.

I’m not good at garage sales. Selling or buying. One time Husband and I spent weeks cleaning out closets, drawers, stacks here and there, and set up tables and hanging racks and put prices on items and then for two days I watched people come and go and haggle about such things as a fifty-cent price for a perfectly good handmade breadbasket that I bought for $12 from a beach hawker. And I sold Son’s Millennium Falcon because his interests, as a college student, were elsewhere and he said it was fine to get rid of it. Well, it wasn’t. My Grands who are Star Wars fans would treasure that vintage 1980’s Falcon.

And a few times I’ve been enticed by newspaper classified ads and set out to shop. Invariably, I see stuff exactly like I have. And I buy stuff I don’t need. Standard-sized handmade pillowcases embroidered with flowers in variegated colors. Somebody’s grandmother made these and two sets were priced $1.00. I stacked them with the cross-stitched pillowcases my Grandma Gladys made.

I’m touched by what my friend Jo shared when she was in the midst of emptying her grandparents’ house and sorting through their stuff and her parents’ stuff.  “My one sad thought about yard sales: it almost seems disrespectful to put a love one’s belongings in a sale. Going through Dad’s things has brought to my attention the tubs of nothingness my kids will go through some day. It feels good to empty my own tub and set the clutter free. So I do have mixed emotions about it.”

Mixed emotions. Happy to get stuff cleaned out. Sad to give up family belongings.

But Jo had a good idea. “My kids will find a tub one day that has a couple of their Grannie’s articles of clothing she sewed and a very old dress of their great-grandmother’s. Naming the tub makes it more valuable, you know.”

Isn’t that a great idea? Chose a few things. Store and label those with the name of the person who owned them and then give away or sell the rest. The writer in me says to include a short biography and at least one story about the person.

And Jo finds a silver lining in her yard sale. “The best part of a yard sale is visiting with neighbors that usually just pass by and throw their hands in the air. We family members might as well enjoy sitting together in Grandma’s yard and hope folks are happy with their finds. Grandma would love knowing so many of us are there and that stories will be told about her.”

I’m working on my attitude and checked out the classified ads. Section 515 in this paper. A yard sale offers toys and games from the 50’s and 80’s. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a Millennium Falcon. Even if my Grands don’t like it, I will.

But I’m not yet inspired to gather my unused, outdated, chipped, worn, torn, and no-longer-wanted stuff and put it out to sell.   Maybe, someday. But not this selling season.



Unusual Customer Service

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 8.19.56 PMLast week after writing about good customer service, I was reminded of two unusual shopping experiences.

In a boutique, I laid a gift certificate, valued at $4.50, and $20 on the counter to pay for a necklace that cost $20.00. The sales clerk scanned the neckace and then said, “With tax, that’ll be $21.90.” I asked her to use the gift certificate and take the rest out of the cash.

The clerk held the money and gift certificate in her hands and pulled her eyebrows down. She moved her head from side to side. I fought my teacher instinct and didn’t say that since I gave her $24.50 that I’d get $2.60 in change. She smiled, picked up a pen, wrote on the gift certificate and then said, “Now you’ve got $9.00 on your gift card and here’s you change.” She laid $1.90 on the counter.

It was my turn to frown. I was surprised that the clerk doubled the amount on my gift card and gave me the differnce between the total amount of the necklace and $20.00. “I think I used all that gift certificate. You can keep it,” I said. Because my attempt to explain the transaction was futile, I decided not to quibble over seventy cents and I put the $1.90 in my pocket.

The clerk tilted her head, obviously confused. I suggested she keep the certificate and explain the transaction to the owner and if she was correct, they could call me. I never heard from the owner and the next time I shopped in her store, I learned the confused clerk no longer worked there.

I laugh until I cry every time Patsy tells about buying one item in a wholesale club, the kind where I easily spend $200. Patsy carried a five-pound package of ground beef in her hands and noted that at least two customers, with overflowing carts, stood in all the check out lines. But there were no customers in one lane. Patsy laid the ground beef and her wholesale club card beside the cash register.

The clerk brusquely said, “This lane is for flat bed carts only.” Patsy frowned and cocked her head. The clerk explained, “For customers with a flat bed cart. You have to go through regular check out.”

Patsy picked up the package of meat and as she turned toward other check out lanes, she saw an empty flat bed cart. She lay the meat on the cart and pushed it toward the check out lane where she’d just been refused service. Facing the clerk, Patsy said, “You wanted a flat bed cart so here it is.” She picked up the package of meat and lay it on the counter.

The clerk pulled her lips into a tight straight line and her eyes opened wide. I think she knew she’d met her match. She scanned the package. Patsy paid and thanked the clerk for her service.

When I asked Patsy to tell this story for the upteenth time, she admitted that as she put her hands on the cart handle she thought it probably wasn’t the thing to do, but she’d made eye contact with other customers who’d shook their heads when they heard the clerk’s remarks so Patsy carried through. Those customers smiled and laughed as Patsy paid. If only the clerk had spoken in a kind voice, my friend would have stood in line for 10 minutes.

Shopping can be more than spending money and buying goods. Sometimes it’s entertaining – when you keep your sense of humor.

It’s All About the Service

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 7.43.02 AMThe sign posted on the van windshield stated, “My job depends on my positive attitude, great service, and the customer’s satisfaction.” The driver had greeted each of us 16 passengers with a nod, a smile, and “Good morning.” He loaded our suitcases in the back of the van and then invited us to find a seat.

Before he started the van he announced, “The ride to the airport will be about an hour. Please tell me if you’re too warm or cold so I can adjust the temperature, and you can adjust the air vents above you. Sit back, enjoy the scenery, and we’ll travel safely.” And that’s what happened. As we travelled, that sign grabbed my thoughts. I sometimes long for the days of full service, especially when shopping for clothes.

About fifteen years ago, I bought a blouse because of great service. I’d found a pair of pants that looked long enough to fit my six-foot tall frame on a sale rack. “I think they’ll be short, but try them,” the sales clerk said. She was right. “So do you only want black pants or are you open to other colors?” Any color, just long enough.

While I sat in the dressing room, she chose pants and brought them to me. Some I tried on. “No. Long enough, but too big in the waist.” “Too tight.” I appreciated honesty. But, the jeans were perfect. “Are you interested a Foxcroft blouse? We just got new ones and they run long.” I wasn’t shopping for a blouse and didn’t know the brand Foxcroft, but I was willing to try.

That button-up-the-front, shirttail blouse is still a go-to. Almost every time I wear it, someone compliments the bright blue color and asks where I got it. I know the salesclerk worked on commission, but she was upbeat and friendly and carried a closetful of clothes to my dressing room.

About three years ago, I shopped for a dress to wear to the Fur Ball in a branch of the same store and the customer service was as expected. After choosing five dresses, I was guided to a dressing room. “Looks like you’re going to Cinderella’s Ball.” The salesclerk hung each dress on a separate hook. “Which is your favorite? Try it first.” I reached for a long black scoop neck dress and salesclerk said, “I can help you with zippers and such or get out of your way.” I welcomed help. None of those dresses fit. So the clerk brought others and when I didn’t choose one, she remained positive and friendly. I worked in a dress shop years ago– in the days when the customer was always right – and I know great customer service takes determination and effort.

Haven’t we all chosen a restaurant based on service? A run-of-the-mill cheeseburger tastes better when it’s served with a smile and a tea glass is refilled without asking.  And if I’m told, ‘have a good day,’ when I’m handed a takeout order through a window, I smile.

Nowadays, it seems that self-service is the norm. I pump gas and clean my van windshield with the service station’s squeegee, and when buying only a gallon of milk, I use self-service checkout. But I truly appreciate good customer service.

So I shop where the employees show positive attitudes and provide great service. Then, just like the driver’s sign said, I’m a happy customer.


Cheap or Thrifty?

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 7.41.37 AMI’m all for saving money when something inexpensive works as well as something high priced. That’s why I have clothespins in a kitchen drawer and an ice cube tray in my clothes closet.

I’ve seen those fancy decorative clips to secure opened bags of chips and bread, but I just can’t shell out a dollar or two for one when I can buy a package of 24 metal spring clothespins for $1.19. I do have two fancy clothespins decorated with rhinestone jewels and blue painted flowers and every time I fasten a bag chips with one, I think of and appreciate my friend Cathy who gave them to me. But the wooden pins with wire springs work just as well for five cents each! Maybe I could have a craft day and decorate my plain clothespins. With markers, a bottle of glue, and some fancy jewels, those ordinary clothespins could be transformed into art, but they wouldn’t keep my chips any fresher.

A white plastic ice cube tray on a shelf in my closet holds my earrings. Expensive and beautiful and cute jewelry holders have never tempted me. When I was a teen I had a jewelry box – just like every female in the 1960s – that set on my bedroom dresser. Now that white box lined with pink satin is stored away with other treasures, like my diary and report cards. For forty years I’ve kept my earrings in the same white plastic ice tray.  It’s perfect. I can put one or two pair in each of the 16 places that was really made for an ice cube. And if I need to replace this tray, it’ll cost less than a dollar. That’s cheap enough!

One of my favorite penny-pinching tricks is making garlic and onion salt. When I learned that these salts could be made from garlic or onion powder and regular table salt, I couldn’t use up the bottles of garlic and onion salts in my cabinet fast enough so I could make my own inexpensive mixture. I made extra batches of Chex Mix at Christmastime and coated pork ribs and chicken breasts – everything I cooked – with seasoned salts until finally the bottles were empty.

It’s a simple 1 to 3 ratio. Use 1 part garlic powder or onion powder to 3 parts salt and mix well. A 2.6 ounce bottle of garlic salt costs $2.19 and the same size bottle of garlic powder is $3.39. A box of salt, that hold ten times as much, costs $0.99. There’s about 5 tablespoons in a 2.6 ounce bottle so for $4.38 I can make more than seven bottles of garlic salt and still have enough salt to fill every salt shaker I own. A 2.6 ounce bottle of my mixture of garlic salt costs about sixty cents! $2.19 or $0.60 cents for garlic salt? The $1.59 difference makes it worth my one minute to measure a tablespoon of garlic powder and three tablespoons of salt into an empty store bought garlic salt bottle and shake the bottle.

I like to think I’m thrifty, not cheap. Thrifty sounds so much better than cheap.