Super frugal gifts for kids

Crayon_LogsI used to rack my brains wondering what gifts to buy for kids for their birthdays or for the holidays. Then I met Marcus and he gave me a simple solution.

There are only two things that he buy as gifts for kids: books and art supplies.

Brilliant, isn’t it?

Books and art supplies are gifts that kids can enjoy for many months or years to come, whereas the latest trendy toy may only get their attention for a days or a few weeks, or even worse, just a few hours.

Books and art supplies help kids tap into their creativity and will also unleash their imaginations. I believe that is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child.

I will warn you now that some kids may not have much of a reaction when they first open your gift–this is especially true if they’re used to getting every gadget or gizmo they ask for–but later, in a quiet moment in their room, that kid will read the books or start tooling around with the art supplies and they will likely really enjoy it.

This gift-buying rule also really simplifies holiday shopping. When you know what you’re buying, shopping becomes easy and way more pleasurable. And don’t we all need a little more ease and pleasure during the holidays?

For ideas on which books to buy, check out your local library’s recommended reading list.

Super Frug gift-shopping tips:

1) Buy art supplies in August/September during Back-to-School sales.

2) Buy used books from Half-Price Books, your local used bookstore (my favorite is Magus Books in Seattle’s University District), or the Goodwill where you can find excellent buys on children’s books.

3) Buy new or used books from your local independent bookstore. Let’s keep the indies in business!

4) When I see something that I know one of the kids in my life will like and it’s on sale, I buy it and store it in my closet. Sometimes, I will wrap the gift and put a post-it on it so I know who it’s for.

NOTE: We also sometimes buy board games. Like books and art supplies, great board games can provide years of fun for kids and their families and friends. Be Super Frug and keep your eye out for sales. Stores like Fred Meyer often put their board games on sale (ie. Buy One, Get One Free) several times a year.

Do yourself a favor and try this simple shopping technique next time a kid’s birthday comes up or the holidays roll around. Shop just for great books, art supplies and/or board games. You’ll thank yourself later–and I’ll bet the kids who receive your gifts will too.

ps. Crayon tower photo by Chris Metcalf.

Super Frug Hero: Bill Cunningham

If Bill Cunningham ever saw this post, he’d probably laugh and say, “Child, I’m no hero!” But that would be typical of Bill to downplay his accomplishments and his incredible career capturing and documenting decades of fashion and beauty for The New York Times.

I saw the documentary Bill Cunningham New York this summer (at the Crest Cinema no less). Immediately, within the first few minutes, I was mesmerized by this 80+-year-old modern day monk in a French working man’s bright blue coat, riding a Schwinn bicycle through the pandemonium that is Manhattan, snapping photos at every turn.

Here’s what the film is about, quoted directly from their web site.

“We all get dressed for Bill,” says Vogue editrix Anna Wintour.

The “Bill” in question is 80+ New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham. For decades, this Schwinn-riding cultural anthropologist has been obsessively and inventively chronicling fashion trends and high society charity soirées for the Times Style section in his columns “On the Street” and “Evening Hours.” Documenting uptown fixtures (Wintour, Tom Wolfe, Brooke Astor, David Rockefeller—who all appear in the film out of their love for Bill), downtown eccentrics and everyone in between, Cunningham’s enormous body of work is more reliable than any catwalk as an expression of time, place and individual flair. In turn, Bill Cunningham New York is a delicate, funny and often poignant portrait of a dedicated artist whose only wealth is his own humanity and unassuming grace.

Bill lives in a modest apartment filled to the hilt with file cabinets full of photo archives. He has no need for a kitchen because he doesn’t cook. He eats out for all of his meals and likes “simple things” like an egg toast sandwich and coffee. Even though he photographs beautiful clothes all over New York, he has just a few utilitarian pieces for himself. Every day, he photographs people, often working from morning until late at night. He loves his work and at 80+ years old, he’s still going strong.

I love the quote Bill says while receiving a momentous honor in France: “He who seeks beauty will find it.” His life is a manifestation of the Super Frug philosophy of knowing what is important to you. Bill is a shining example of how you don’t have to be rich to have a remarkable life.

Hats off to you, Bill!

Super Frug Heroes: Herb & Dorothy

I look for inspiration every day. I don’t do it on purpose, I just try to notice when the spark happens. When inspiration hits, I try to do something with it–even if it’s just sitting still for 5 minutes to think about how I can incorporate that spark, that learning, that catalyst for action, into my life.

I was incredibly inspired when I watched the movie Herb & Dorothy earlier this year. These people are some of the most bomb Super Frugers you will ever meet! They inspired me to live my life doing what I love. And who cares what other people think.

I was so inspired by their story that I had to watch the movie twice. I keep it on my Netflix streaming queue on my Roku so I can watch it anytime I want. (For $7.99/month, Netflix streaming on a Roku gets the Super Frug seal of approval.)

Here’s what the story is about. I am quoting directly from the movie’s ABOUT page.

HERB & DOROTHY tells the extraordinary story of Herbert Vogel, a postal clerk, and Dorothy Vogel, a librarian, who managed to build one of the most important contemporary art collections in history with very modest means. In the early 1960s, when very little attention was paid to Minimalist and Conceptual Art, Herb and Dorothy Vogel quietly began purchasing the works of unknown artists.

Devoting all of Herb’s salary to purchase art they liked, and living on Dorothy’s paycheck alone, they continued collecting artworks guided by two rules: the piece had to be affordable, and it had to be small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.

Within these limitations, they proved themselves curatorial visionaries; most of those they supported and befriended went on to become world-renowned artists including Sol LeWitt, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Lynda Benglis, Pat Steir, Robert Barry, Lucio Pozzi, and Lawrence Weiner.

After thirty years of meticulous collecting and buying, the Vogels managed to accumulate over 2,000 pieces, filling every corner of their tiny one bedroom apartment.

“Not even a toothpick could be squeezed into the apartment,” recalls Dorothy.

In 1992, the Vogels decided to move their entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The vast majority of their collection was given as a gift to the institution. Many of the works they acquired appreciated so significantly over the years that their collection today is worth millions of dollars. Still, the Vogels never sold a single piece.

Today Herb and Dorothy still live in the same apartment in New York with 19 turtles, lots of fish, and one cat. They’ve refilled it with piles of new art they’ve acquired.

Watch the movie. It is an incredible example of how you can follow your heart and live the life you want to live, even on a modest income.

Herb and Dorothy Vogel, you are my Super Frug heroes. And props to first-time filmmaker Megumi Sasaki for making such a fantastic film.

Save money at the movies

I remember the days when my brother, cousins and I would go see a movie in the theater for $3 or less. We wouldn’t just go see one movie either. Oh no. We’d sneak in to see another movie after watching the first one. Or if we really liked the one we just saw, we’d wait outside while they cleaned the theater and then go see it again.

Back in those days the theater staff didn’t care if kids (or adults) snuck into more than one movie. But even if we hadn’t been sneaky and just saw one movie, $2-3 seemed a reasonable amount to pay.

Nowadays, it’s a whole ‘nother story. Gone are the days of sneaking into more than one movie–they check tickets now. Gone are the days of $3 tickets.

Or are they?

When Marcus and I became Super Frug, we agreed that we would try to never pay full-price for a movie. Whenever we want to go see a movie, we ask ourselves whether we think the movie will come to The Crest. The Crest is a second-run movie theater in Shoreline, just north of Seattle, that only charges $3 per ticket. Many of the movies we want to see show up at the Crest within 1-2 months of being released.

If we don’t think the movie will show at The Crest, and we absolutely have to see it in the theater, then we’ll use discount movie tickets from Costco. At Costco, you can buy discount tickets for Regal theaters for $7.50 each or $8 each for AMC theaters. That’s a savings of $2.00-2.50 per ticket!

Our Super Frug goal was to redeem only one pair of Costco tickets per month. Because $15/night at the movies is still spendy, especially if you’re movie buffs like us and like to go a few times each month.

Remember, being Super Frug doesn’t mean denying yourself the things that you love. It means finding ways to spend money on what you care about, and less on things you don’t care so much about.

Before you go to the movies again, do some research.

1) See if there’s a second-run movie theater in your area.

2) If there isn’t one, see if your local theater offers a discount card. Landmark Theatres in Seattle sells a movie pass for 5 Sun-Thur evening shows for the price of 5 matinees.

3) If you’re a member of Costco, buy some discount tickets. If you’re not a member, see if one of your friends can buy the tickets for you and you’ll reimburse them.

You can be Super Frug and still have fun.

In the spirit of Siskel & Ebert, “We’ll see you…at the movies!”

Popcorn photo by Petr Kratochvil.