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NYC frugalistas explain the art of living on the cheap

New York City frugalistas are ever alert to

New York City frugalistas are ever alert to bargains, such as these shoppers at a NYC Housing Works sale. Credit: Getty Images

Deborah Chase, a beauty blogger who lives on the Upper East Side, says the nation's most expensive city can actually be a bargain.

"I built an entire Armani wardrobe - 20 or 30 pieces" for a pittance, by hitting resale shops such as Encore, church sales, sample sales and thrift shops, said the No-Nonsense Beauty Blog creator

Scarlett Ahmed, a New York State labor service rep, not only grows her own vegetables, but collects horse waste from the bridle trail in her local park to nourish her tomato plants.
"Free, non-toxic fertilizer!" the Woodhaven mom said

Michael Montalbano, a Columbia pre-med student and actor/singer, got the piano in his Astoria apartment for free on, a site that matches people with unwanted pianos to those seeking one. The piano's previous owner inherited it from her opera-singer mother and wanted to honor her mom'smemory by making sure it went to someone who would play it.

Some New Yorkers completely avoid the retail industrial complex - often while building a sense of community - by dumpster diving, swapping, borrowing and freecycling. Or, they reduce outlays by comparison shopping, penny pinching and reselling what they have.

In the age of the Internet, "you just type in what you want and find it," explained Tammay Morton, a leader of the Girls Just Want to Have Funds Meet-Up group. Anyone who doesn't Google a much-desired item to see whether it can be obtained more cheaply online is wasting money, said Morton. Her group mixes saving with socializing as members collectively troubleshoot individual money problems, share tips on how to refinance or consolidate mortgages at competitive rates, or get 0% interest credit cards with money back offers.

Terecille Basa-Ong of Harlem, known as "Q.D" for "Queen of the Deals," by her friends, harnesses the web's power to track steals. "I subscribe to every free newsletter there is: I get 150 emails each morning," which almost always contain listings of cheap or free concerts and events, cupcakes, hotdogs, cut-rate drinks or dinner offers. Whether you're a member of the AARP, the Asian American Journalists Association or a state employee, it's worth checking out what special discounts might be accorded to members, Basa-Ong said. In her case, she's eligible for discounted or free admission to a huge selection of concerts, plays and lectures as an alumna of New York University, and an Apple discount because she works as an educator.

Basa-Ong, who was raised in New Jersey, does as much of her grocery shopping as she can in the Garden State, where she saves about a third off Manhattan prices. She supplements fresh food purchases when visiting relatives in Chinatown, "the cheapest place in Manhattan," to get food, she said.

When Basa-Ong is bored or finished with the clothes and bags she snags at discount, she sells them to resale shops. Others sell their old gold and sell or swap books, CDs and DVDs.

New York may seem like a capitol of consumerism, but its frugalista movement is growing, said Katie Robertson, an Astoria voice teacher who swapped secretarial services for a membership to a swanky gym. "More and more people are being forced to come into the truth and to become smarter with their money," she said. "If you don't, the alternative in New York is scarier than in other places."


How do you start living on the cheap? It's no harder than switching on your smartphone, computer or tablet: - Sign up for the newsletter that hips you to free and cheap events every day in New York City - Provocative, folksy and friendly website that not only posts money-saving tips for people from all boroughs, but carries articles such as "How to Stay in Love When You're Broke." - A  wonderful service originally devised to reduce landfill waste, Freecycle  allows people to give away anything they don't want directly to people who need it. - Click on "community" and then the "community connections time bank," where you can bank the hours you give in service to others to get favors and services in return. You can also offer whatever services you have to someone you know in a direct swap. Deborah Chase, the owner of "The No Nonsense Beauty Blog," has traded press releases for highlights and custom tailoring. Others start babysitting or coops or help each other paint their apartments. - Check out the barter and free sections. - Members swap everything from blush to bras - Sign up to receive alerts on your phone of "mobile deals for the locally curious." - A site to find other like-minded people for free or low-cost outings. - You get credits from other members for sending them books, which you can use in turn to get books you want. - Peruse pics of what other folks have to give away; then make them an offer of what you've got. You can either meet to make the exchange, or send stuff to each other. - These Stop 'n' Swap events run by the City's Office of Recycling Education and Outreach let you bring what you don't want and take away what you do. Talk about a win/win!


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