Penny-pinching: When Meredith learns to budget


It appears that being a human on the Earth costs money. And as nicely as I ask, people don’t give me money. Except once a month, and it’s in exchange for spending 45-55 hours a week in an office working with software and making hump day jokes. Except those people. Those people are fine. You guys keep doing what you’re doing!

I, like many of my peers, send most of my paycheck to my student loan provider before I even think about rent and bills and wheels of brie, but I, like many of my peers, am learning through necessity what is worth spending money on, and what is worth yelling, “not today!” loudly in Target as you proudly march yourself to the cleaning product section where you silently weep over your lost childhood.

The line between the two usually resides in the section of Target where the graphic t-shirts with brunch puns hang out.

And while I’m not wearing a shirt with “Baby got brunch” emblazoned across my chest, let me say, I recognize how fortunate I am that line isn’t called Food or Rent. Here on Under the Parrot Umbrella, we call those “real problems.”

Things are fine. I am fine, but I found out this week my car probably needs new tires.

I need to recalibrate my “You don’t need to buy that thing” line because tires are expensive. Kind of astonishingly expensive. Are they made of road-worthy gold?

I’ve been working the last couple months to save money, and perhaps one crazy, fantastical day, even go on a trip, but thanks to the most expensive pair of shoes I’ll ever have to buy and not even get to wear, I get to continue to save money! Perhaps even do it better! Perhaps not even look at the graphic t-shirt section!

Some of you might be saying, “welcome to the rest of the world, Meredith. Budgeting and saving money is what most people do.” To which I say, “I can’t hear you! I’m singing Whitney Houston too loudly! I wanna dance with somebodyyyyy…”

It’s time to pinch pennies! And you know what people say about pennies. “When you pinch a penny, you pinch a pal who is also a penny!”

Do people say that? I think people say that. I should know. I’m very good at phrases.

Here are some of my favorite penny-pinching techniques…

B’Gawk!

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Eating poultry is boring. Really boring. It all tastes a little bit the same. And that taste is boring. It also happens to be the cheapest thing in the meat section of the grocery store. So while I am basically a vampire, I love red meat so much, and have an awesome cookbook that teaches me only the fanciest things to do with a brisket, I can usually only justify spending money on chicken.

As such, I’ve made it my mission to figure out the best way to make a chicken. I’m becoming a chicken guru. I’m getting my phd in chicken.

Best case scenario: You make some chicken and it’s good. Hooray! Delicious chicken! Worst case scenario: It’s bad. That’s ok. This is for chicken science. You finish off the week, and promise not to make that chicken ever again.

The current “Winner winner chicken dinner” chicken dinner: Thomas Keller’s roast chicken.

Not everything is disposable.

Sometimes you fix things! And no! This wasn’t always obvious to me!

I’ve been armed with basic sewing skills for the greater part of my life. It occurred to me only recently, sewing doesn’t have to be used only to make things.

It used to be a staple of a young girl’s education that she learn how to sew. Young women used to even stitch “samplers” to show off their technique. Whether through industrialization or the fact that schools now focus on, you know, math and science and English and absolutely nothing else, sewing education is obviously something that has faded with time.

I’m not saying we should go back to the day where a woman’s stitching technique is an indicator of her femininity. I do, however, think sewing should be an expected life skill for everyone. Everyone wears clothes. Everyone has a coat or a shirt that has a button. And that button will eventually fall off. Why not know how to fix it yourself?

I had an ex-boyfriend once who asked me to sew the button back on his jacket. I was genuinely surprised he didn’t know how to fix it. If you pause for 15 seconds you’ll realize buttons basically have built in instruction manuals. “You tie a knot. And then you sew through the holes a few times. And then you tie a knot again.”

Give a man a coat that’s missing a button, and he’ll pay five dollars to have the tailor sew it back on. Teach a man to sew that button back on, and he’ll have five extra dollars for activities!

I’m telling you, I’m just really good at phrases.

Sewing skills everyone should have:

Find the “little things.”

Retail therapy is real. Sometimes you just need an outing after hours of sitting in your apartment mumbling, “I will not spend money. I will not spend money,” and it always helps when you come back with something to show for it!

It’s like a prize! A prize you traded money for!

I love antique stores- you know, like your typical kickin’ young person- but more often than not, vintage mason jars you’ll definitely use as vases for fresh flowers and copies of Life magazine from the Thirties that you want to buy for your “archive” cost 1) more than you would expect and 2) too much.

Something I do to give myself a challenge and satisfy my shopping craving is play the “you have one dollar” game. Yes. I am very exciting. Thank you for noticing!

As one would suspect given the name of the game, you have one dollar, and you have to figure out the best use of your one dollar in the antique store/used book store/Target.

Here are some highlights:


1) The Adventures of Gluckel of Hameln- You look at that cover, and you would not expect the book to be about a real woman named Gluckel who ran a factory in the 17th century.

2) Third place ribbon for premium pigeons at the 1955 Wisconsin State Fair- You could have first place pigeons, but they tend to think highly of themselves. You could also have the second place pigeons, but the spend all their time talking about how to they can really bring home the gold this time. I like the third place pigeons. Those pigeons know how to party.

3) A commemorative postcard of Queen Elizabeth II from the 50s

4) An old scotch tape tin- It spends its days holding my bobby pins until those bobby pins go the way of all bobby pins: disappear in the dead of the night, and you never see them again, so you have to buy more bobby pins and are perpetually stuck wondering where all your bobby pins go.

Next blog post: Where do all my bobby pins go?


People say “money doesn’t buy happiness.” It does, however, buy a giant wheel of brie. It also buys my car new tires, and not hydroplaning into winter makes me happy.

I’ll clarify. The tires aren’t bald. They even pass the penny test, but this winter is supposed to be a rough one. I can’t disagree with the mechanic- I call him Tires McCarStuff- for being cautious. I can disagree with the price he gave me, and that seemed pretty set in stone.

I should know. I asked nicely for a better one. Manners get you no where these days.

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