The Thrifty Librarian

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Secondhand Shopping: Part Deux

Post date: Monday, July 25, 2011 - 4:31pm

A few months ago I wrote about techniques for buying secondhand clothes, but what I really love buying secondhand is furniture. I love strolling through the dusty back aisles of a thrift shop lifting the creaky lids of old trunks and flipping through stacks of empty picture frames. Here are before-and-after photos of a chair I found on Saturday:

When you shop for secondhand furniture, imagination is essential! So throw out your preconceptions regarding “used” furniture and ask youself these questions when you start shopping:

  • Does this piece fit a need I currently have? If not, am I willing to give up a piece of furniture I have now to make room for it?
  • Is the piece structurally sound? Even a piece of furniture you acquire for free is not a bargain if you have to spend a boatload of money fixing it up.
  • Do I have the time, expertise and inclination to make necessary small repairs?  The secret of transforming furniture from “used” to “unique, full of character and totally awesome” is to make it look like it never spent a day in the junk shop where you found it. So, do you really want to spend the time finding a set of matching drawer pulls? Do you know how to fix a creaky rocker? Do you want to strip and restain woods?
  • What will be the total cost of this piece? I was given an old cabinet with “potential” last year. It’s a beautiful piece now, but I spent almost $100 on chemical stripper, scrapers, gloves, sandpaper, tackcloth, a paintbrush, wood conditioner, stain and sealant. Can you really afford the project you’re about to undertake?

Now throw caution to the wind and go have some fun! And call me if you find a great used furniture shop.

Stop paying for eBooks!

Post date: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 11:08am

I have wonderful news for all my fellow thrifty bibliophiles out there: you can now download FREE eBooks from the Library! All you need is a Waukegan library card, a computer with internet access and Adobe Digital Editions, which is free, easy-to-install software. Choose from over 100 popular titles to borrow, or browse a collection of 15,000 classic eBooks that are yours to keep.

I’ve already downloaded and read one eBook on my smartphone. The download process was very smooth, but if you have any problems you can let us know about it here. By the way, the book I read was “The Replacement” by Brenna Yovanoff and it was excellent! If there’s a book that you’d like to see in the library’s digital collection, you can recommend a purchase here.

You can browse the titles available for download here. Give eBooks a try this week — they’re convenient, earth-friendly and now that they’re offered by the Library, they’re free!

Homemade - Thrifty!

Post date: Sunday, June 19, 2011 - 3:12pm

I have a killer sunburn this week. I used a Museum Adventure Pass to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden for free and I neglected to put sunscreen on my shoulders. Ouch! I could have picked up a container of after-sun lotion at the drugstore for $10.99, but where’s the thriftiness in that? I prefer to mix up my own home remedies for nuisances like sunburn, mosquito bites and chapped lips. This week, I’m going to share a few of my recipes with you. Unlike the myriad of recipes you find in books, though, mine actually work!

Fair warning: be sure to test these concoctions on a small patch of skin and wait 24 hours to see whether you will have an adverse reaction. Please be smart when exposing your skin to new substances!

After-Sun Soother
Even the most careful of us sometimes get sunburned. To soothe my sunburn cheaply (and naturally!) I start with a cool shower. This dulls the burning sensation on the skin and gets the burned area nice and clean (remember, burned skin is damaged and should be treated with care). Then I soak a washcloth in apple cider vinegar and lay it on the burned skin. It banishes the pain like a charm! Have a glass of cool chamomile tea and you’ll drop right to sleep.

For Mosquito Bites
Get some ice on your bite right away. It’ll lessen your urge to scratch and reduce any swelling. Then dampen a piece of cotton with witch hazel and cover the affected area (or areas, if mosquitoes love you as much as they love me). Witch hazel reduces inflammation and skin irritation. A good preventative, by the way, is lavender. Just rub the flower on your skin and mosquitoes will (mostly) avoid you. Come see me at the reference desk this week and I’ll tell you all about my favorite brand of witch hazel!

Lip Balm
3 T grated unbleached beeswax
5 T sunflower oil
10 drops of your favorite essential oil (mine is lavender)
1 T honey, for flavor
Melt beeswax and sunflower oil over a double boiler, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add honey and essential oil. Mix thoroughly to prevent honey from clumping. Pour into empty cosmetics jars. Your lip balm will be ready to use in about an hour.

Free snacks = thrifty fun!

Post date: Friday, June 17, 2011 - 12:01pm

Come hang out with me at the library every other Friday afternoon for Brag About It, an open book talk where we brag about the books we love and make fun of the books we hated. Brag About It is a great chance to share your interests with other bibliophiles and find people who like the same stuff you do. I’ll bring the snackage if you bring info on a great book you just read. You can read a little more about this program here, or you can come at 3:00p and be surprised! This library program is free and is open to students 13-18.

See you there!

Cool As a Cucumber

Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - 1:09pm

It seems like just last week we were experiencing the first glimmers of spring, and now we’re in the throes of summer. What’s a thrifty person to do when the temperature tops 90? Crank up the air conditioning? No way! A thrifty person examines her home and discovers the best ways to keep cool without tripling her energy bill. Try these small changes at home and watch your bill shrink like an ice cream cone in the sun.

  • Close the drapes on south-facing windows during the day, and open north-facing windows. Blocking the sun and letting in a cool breeze will keep your home temperate while you’re away for the day.
  • Use fans instead of air conditioning. A little moving air can make all the difference. Set ceiling fans to draw air up from the floor, not send it down from the (hot) ceiling. Try opening the cellar door and setting a fan in the doorway to draw up the cool air.
  • Use the oven only when necessary. As much as I love desserts, this is not the time for baking! Make a tasty no-bake cheesecake instead.
  • Slow down. One of the joys of summer is its relaxed pace, so embrace your inner sloth! Sip a glass of lemonade, read a book in the shade, and save the strenuous housework for cool evenings (or don’t do it at all!).

If it’s still too hot in your house, come to the library! Relax in front of the new floor-to-ceiling windows with a good read. See you soon!


Get out and play!

Post date: Monday, May 9, 2011 - 4:26pm

Warmer weather is finally here! Now that we’re all done hibernating, I want to go out and play. But how do you enjoy spending time out & about without breaking the bank? By going to the library, of course.

I don’t mean that you should stay inside at the library all day – come to the library to check out a Museum Adventure Pass, then spend the day at destinations like Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden for free or at a reduced rate.

My favorite pass is for the Chicago Botanic Garden; it entitles the bearer to half off parking for one vehicle – it saves you $10. I love to pack a picnic lunch and drive myself down on a Saturday. Being immersed in the beauty of the gardens is rejuvenating (and free!).

You can learn more about the Museum Adventure Pass online. When you’re ready to check out a pass, come visit us at the Reference and Computer Help Desk on the main floor of the library.

Enjoy the sunshine!

Not Your Mother’s Leftovers

Post date: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 2:21pm

Okay, maybe some of them are your mother’s leftovers, but she is a great cook. This week we’re talking about leftovers because of the astonishing amount of money we spend eating in restaurants. The average American family spends 5.6% of their budget, or $2,430 annually, on eating out. That’s more than $200 every month! I’m betting lots of that money went to lackluster takeout food eaten straight from the takeout container. There are more fun and constructive ways to spend your money.

What did you do with the rest of that roast chicken you made on Sunday? Why did you dump the extra stew you made last week? Here are a few kitchen-tested recipes that you can make using leftovers you probably have in your refrigerator.

Chicken Divan for One

½ package frozen broccoli
2 pieces leftover chicken (any parts you like)
½ C cream of chicken soup
1 T parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350⁰. Cook broccoli in boiling salted water; drain. Grease an 8-inch pie pan. Arrange broccoli over bottom of pan. Top with chicken pieces. Pour soup over chicken. Sprinkle with cheese. If you like, toss in some cumin or cayenne pepper to zip it up!  Bake about 10 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbling hot.


Chicken Salad with Grapes

Leftover chicken – deboned
1 spring onion, diced
¾ C red seedless grapes, halved
2 T mayonnaise

Either chop chicken finely or pulse it a few times in a food processor. Combine it with the halved grapes, spring onion, mayonnaise and salt & pepper to taste. Serve this cool snack on toast points, lettuce or just eat it with a fork. Simple and flavorful!

Note: Statistical data may be verified at Recipes courtesy of

Secondhand Shopping: I Love It and So Should You

Post date: Saturday, April 9, 2011 - 10:33am

I have a gorgeous skirt. It skims just below the knee and it has a delicately printed pattern of the cobblestoned streets of Paris around the hem. Every time I wear it, someone stops me around the library to ask, “Where did you get that skirt?” I smile demurely and reply, “Oh, this? A little vintage shop I know about” and float away into the book stacks. Occasionally, I crash back to earth and tell the truth: that “vintage clothing shop” is a Goodwill store and I paid $5 for that skirt! The point of the story is, nobody has to know where you bought your clothes, or how much you paid for them.

Buying your clothes at thrift shops and consignment stores is definitely the best way to save money on your family’s wardrobe and look great doing it. As long as you follow the guidelines laid down below, you’ll be sitting pretty – and your vintage pockets will be full of cash!

  • Only buy quality pieces. High-quality brands are mixed in with junk brands – and they’re often the same price. Check the tags for names you recognize and associate with quality: they’ll last longer and the fabric will drape nicely.
  • Check an item’s stress points. These are the places in a garment that wear out fastest. Check the hems and knees of pants, underarms of shirts and back seams of jackets. Also check for staining around the collar, sleeves and underarms. Some stains are impossible to remove.
  • Zip the zipper! Also, button the buttons and snap the snaps. Is a fastener missing? Is it worth the purchase price if you have to replace a button or zipper? If you’re not too shy, ask for a discount on the less-than-perfect piece.
  • Don’t neglect to try it on. You may be tempted to toss that top right into your bag – it’s only $1.99, how can you go wrong, right? Wrong! Most thrift stores have a no-return policy so if you buy something and it doesn’t fit, you can kiss that $1.99 goodbye.
  • Dig deep! Bargains are often buried in bins at the ends of aisles. Not everyone bothers to dig through the bins, but you aren’t just anyone, are you? Plunge in up to your elbows and you’ll be amazed at the deals you’ll surface with – especially for children’s clothes.
  • And speaking of children… Thrift stores are loaded with kids’ items. Why buy new clothes for play or school when your family will outgrow them in just a few months? If you see adorable kids’ clothing in the wrong size, pick it up anyway. Your child will definitely grow into it.

Don’t forget to have fun! Thrift store shopping is not as quick as going to the mall so take a friend who loves shopping and set aside some time for you to enjoy the hunt – and one another. Stop by next week for tips on cooking leftovers you actually enjoy eating!

Winterize Your Home

Post date: Monday, March 28, 2011 - 12:14pm


Welcome to the Waukegan Public Library’s newest blog! Every week, we’ll be talking about how to save money on everyday purchases, how to manage your finances more effectively and how to get the biggest bang for your buck. Because of the incredible chill in the air this week, our first topic is winterizing your home!

Everyone knows how cold can creep into your home, driving your heating bills through your (drafty!) roof. But winterizing your home can be staggeringly expensive. Try these low-cost or free ideas for taming your bills this week:
  • Find and plug drafts. If you can’t afford to replace old windows just yet, do the next best thing and employ draft-dodgers in windowsills. Once you block the breeze, you’ll be able to appreciate the character and charm of those old windows.
  • Change the air filter in your HVAC system, if you have one. Colder temperatures means your HVAC system is running more, moving more air through the filter; therefore, the filter is grabbing more impurities. Changing the filter means that air will flow through it more easily, reducing the power needed to run the system.
  • Let the light in! During the day, open the drapes on south-facing windows. It may not be sunbathing weather, but the sun’s rays can warm up your home considerably. When evening falls, close the drapes to keep the warmth inside.
  • Don’t heat an empty home. Do you remember to turn the heat down every time you go out? When the whole family leaves for the day, turn the heat down (but don’t turn it off! You’ll end up with frozen pipes and a big bill from the plumber).
  • Throw an extra blanket on the bed. That’s right, you’ll have to face facts and turn the heat down sometime. Especially if your family’s bedrooms are on the second floor of your home, it makes sense to turn the heat down at bedtime. Pull out those flannel pajamas and snuggle into that extra blanket.
Good luck with next month’s heating bill! Stop by next week for the scoop on secondhand shopping!