Margot Gilman

Bargain Buyer Beware

May 21, 2010 at 2:47 pm , by

3378545830_6ffa6d159cI cannot tell you how much money I have wasted trying to be frugal. It’s my secret shame—and I was reminded of it this morning when I poured myself a bowl of Cheerios from one those 100-some-odd ounce boxes I had purchased at Costco. I remember when I bought the cereal how smug I felt about the money I was saving—at least 50 percent over what the same amount would have cost in my local supermarket. Turns out I’m not so clever: The cereal was inedibly stale and wound up in the garbage.

I know I am not the only person to have ever been so swept up by the quality of a bargain (100 ounces for just $7.59!) to overlook some basic truths: One, you can’t eat that much quickly enough, and two, even if you could, you might not really want to. (The truth is, I don’t like Cheerios all that much and only bought the box because Costco doesn’t carry Corn Chex, which I prefer.) Good deals have a way of getting the better of us, of clouding our judgment. But to prevent wastefulness in the name of thrift, you need to do more than ascertain that you really need or will  use the item you are considering purchasing at your favorite bargain emporium. You need to consider the following:

1. The shelf life may not be as long as you think. That cereal doesn’t last beyond a few months is kind of obvious, but some things that you might think keep indefinitely actually don’t: certain dried grains like brown rice start to loose nutrients, and flavor, after about six months; even bleach starts loses its potency in about the same amount of time. And while some canned items do last virtually forever, many, many others don’t. Go to for the expiration dates of many common food items. Keep a copy in your purse. Read more

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Yard Sale Know-How

April 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm , by

Why do I love spring? For all the usual reasons having to do with better weather, lighter clothes, longer days, brighter moods. But there’s one thing that really makes the season stand out in my book: It’s time for yard sales again!

I am crazy about yard sales. I love the serendipity of them, the crazy karmic luck that sometimes leads you to just the thing you’ve been dying to own (even if you didn’t know it). I’ve found many of my best-loved, and even some of my most valuable, possessions at yard sales. My favorite example: a small, stunning oil painting by a semi-famous artist who has pieces in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. I picked this little gem up at moving sale for 25 bucks. And I still delight in a $195 Williams-Sonoma chrome citrus press that was new in the box. Cost to me: $5. It would never have occurred to me to go out and buy such a thing. Now every summer I make gallons of fresh lemonade with it.

Of course, to do yard sales well you have to have a strategy. Here are the five most important things I’ve learned from my years of experience:

  • Plan your route. Most yard sales are held on Saturdays, so by Friday get a copy of your local newspaper classifieds or Pennysaver, and choose the four or five most promising sales to visit, from closest to home to farthest. Choose the sales based on the merchandise available as described in the ad, but also make judgments based on address. Yard sales on nicer streets in fancier zip codes are usually better—it’s just a fact. Read more

Travel Bargains

February 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm , by


Some women do remarkable things with coupons. You’ve seen them profiled on TV: the ones who assiduously clip and file those little cents-off slips and then fill multiple supermarket carts to overflowing with groceries for something like $3.48. Personally, I think these women need to find something else to do with their time, but I understand the instinct. I’m driven by it too, but instead of food, I like my freebies to come in another form of sustenance: vacations.

In the last several years, my husband, two daughters and I have gone skiing in Steamboat Springs, Colorado; we’ve visited Paris and Disney World and have spent winter breaks on white-sand beaches in Anguilla and Mexico. And not once have we paid for accommodations or airfare.  We’ve stayed in very nice places—usually condos or private homes or apartments. In Paris, we had a large one-bedroom flat with full hotel services near l’Opera. In Steamboat, a ski-on, ski-off two bedroom condo with an outdoor hot tub. In Disney, a 1600-square foot spread at a resort with 5 pools and two golf courses.  In Anguilla, an ocean-front, five-bedroom, five-bath villa that was magazine-beautiful. Jealous yet? This coming March we are going skiing in Squaw Valley, CA, where a very nice two-bedroom condo right at the base is waiting for us.

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Smart Money Moves

January 27, 2010 at 6:37 pm , by

m_FI120106MOTVA001Every so often I am asked to appear on TV to talk about an article that’s run in LHJ. It’s always fun and exciting, but never so much as it was a few weeks ago when I went on the Today Show, because they wanted me to talk about one of my favorite subjects in the whole world: shopping. More specifically, I was there to talk about bargain shopping, which to me is shopping in its most transporting, exalted, rapturous form. It’s shopping with benefits: After all, the more you save, the more you can…shop! I consider myself to be a pretty astute bargain shopper, and have years and years of experience of not paying retail. In fact, as a small child growing up in New York City, my mother took me clothes shopping on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. This is a street (long since morphed into a downtown hipster enclave) that used to be lined with dingy little clothing shops staffed by really obnoxious sales people. But oh, the bargains! These shops were filled with the kinds of pretty clothes that would delight a young girl’s heart for a fraction of the department-store price. Before there was TJMaxx or Marshall’s or Daffy’s or any of the others, there was Orchard Street. It’s where I learned to love the joy of the bargain hunt.

But I digress. On this, my first blog entry, I simply want to present my bargain shopping bona fides, what that they are, and let you know that I’ll be posting now and again with news and tips about how to save money, sometimes based on research, sometimes on my own experience. Incidentally, I’m also the editor at LHJ who handles most of our money pieces. So I know or thing or two and am really looking forward to sharing with you.