Home » hardware store » Page 7

hardware store

The second-cheapest way to get household necessities

The topic at lunch at work turned to saving money around the house earlier this week, largely because one of my coworkers suddenly found himself with full responsibility for his two pre-teen nieces. The coworkers who are parents started talking about the best places to get good used clothes, the best places to get food cheap, and other stuff. Not being a parent, I just listened. I’m not at that stage in life.

I’m in a different stage of life, still a relatively new homeowner. Yesterday I paid a grand total of $5 for an ironing board and a stepladder, two things I’ve been surviving without. I’m about ready to quit going to the hardware store and to Kmart.The secret is estate sales.

Estate sales are usually crowded affairs, as people swoop in from all corners of the globe to cram themselves into tiny houses in search of things that are rare, things that are cheap, or best yet, rare and cheap.

I see two types at estate sales. The first is the well-to-do, who are there in hopes of securing antiques and collectibles for pennies on the dollar. The other is recent immigrants, who are generally there in search of inexpensive household necessities. They already know the secret.

The best time to go to estate sales is either really early or really late. If you get there early–it seems like people show up an hour early sometimes–you’ll get the best selection but you’ll pay top dollar. In some cases I’ve seen things priced at literally 10 times what they’re worth. In less extreme cases, I’ve seen tools priced the same as a new one at Sears.

Then again, yesterday I bought a pair of small pruning shears for 50 cents and a sharpening file for a quarter.

If you get there on the last day, reality has kicked in, the sucker prices have generally gone away, and dickering becomes the rule of the day. Prices drop by a factor of two or three, and the later it gets, the more willing they are to listen to prices.

If you’re shopping for household necessities, this is a good thing. The antique furniture dealers have no interest in ironing boards and laundry baskets and trash cans. Recent immigrants do, but chances are they already have those things. Stuff like this is often priced low to begin with, and it gets cheaper as time marches on because the chances of someone buying it are pretty low.

You can get household appliances cheap too. I saw a 20-inch Zenith TV marked at $50 yesterday. I know it works because they had it turned on. I’ll bet someone will get it for $20 today. I saw a washer and a dryer priced around $200 each yesterday. The washer was less than two years old. The dryer was a bit older but it was a Maytag. Those prices were decent, and could go way down if they sat long enough. If you’re willing to live without a warranty, you can save yourself a bundle. Two years ago I paid $900 for a washer and a fridge. A friend gave me a dryer. It looks like it could be 25 years old but it works and I was happy to save $250.

But yesterday I wasn’t looking for appliances. I wasn’t necessarily looking for household necessities either, but I’ve been needing a stepladder and a full-size ironing board. So when I spotted one marked at $4.50 and $6, respectively, I wasn’t going to pass them up. It was around noon, and it was a Friday-Saturday sale. They’d be closing up shop in an hour or two. Anything under $20 was automatically half price. I dragged the ironing board and the stepladder up to the checkout. “Five dollars is fine,” she said.

And it was fine with me too. I still remember the day when I went out to either Wal-Mart or Kmart (I try not to shop at Wal-Mart anymore but I did then), days before I moved out of my mom’s house for good, to buy household necessities. After spending more than $200 on things like trash cans and laundry baskets, there was still a lot of stuff I lacked.

If I’d known then what I know now, I probably could have gone to three sales, spent a grand total of 50 bucks, and ended up lacking a lot less.

Building some cheap train shelves

Needing a place to store my trains, I decided to build some shelves so I could simultaneously store and display them when they’re not on the track. I used materials that I had on hand, exclusively. Other materials would have been better, but I didn’t have them.

I built the shelves on the front of my table. That space is otherwise unused, and four feet of shelf can hold five or six train cars.I used 1x1s to build the shelf supports. I cut them about six inches long, held them up to the table leg, drilled pilot holes, and then screwed them in. I placed them about 5 inches apart, so that the shelves would have enough clearance to comfortably pick up and replace cars.

The shelves themselves are made of 2x4s. Thinner wood would be much better–I could have had another shelf if I’d had anything thinner–but I wanted to use what I had. I have lots of 2x4s and could build the shelves with those in less time than it would take to go to the hardware store. I’ll buy thinner boards the next time I’m out someplace that sells lumber. I still have lots of table space to convert to shelves.

To hold the cars, one could lay a bunch of track on the shelves. Since most hobbyists have lots of track, and many of us had O27 and then upgraded to something else, this would be an economical and true-to-spirit choice.

I didn’t have enough straight O27 track for the job. So I cut 1-inch strips of cardboard, then screwed those to the top of the board. Yes, it’s cheap, but the cars hide the cardboard. One could also use 1-inch strips of balsa or basswood to give a better look.

Or, given the proper tools, one could simply cut two grooves an inch apart lengthwise into the wood.

One advantage of cardboard, wood, or grooves over track is that the cars roll very poorly on it, so cardboard or wood tends to hold the cars in place better.

With the strips secured onto the top of the boards, I then placed the boards on the supports, drilled pilot holes, and then drove one screw into each side to hold it in place.

At some point I will want to replace the wood with something thinner and nicer-looking than pine, and stain it to make it look good. But in the meantime, I have cheap storage for about 16 cars in about four feet of space that had otherwise been going to waste previously, and it only took me about an hour to do it. And it doesn’t look terrible either.

Conversation in a hardware store checkout line

Cashier: (Observing the one-inch fender washers in my hand) You playing washers?Me: Actually, I’m going to try to make wheels for an old train.

Cashier: Did you try Hobby Country?

Me: Oh yeah, but they don’t have anything for something like this (pre-War American Flyer). These wheels haven’t been made for almost 70 years.

Cashier: My brother’s into old trains. He and his son go to England to get old trains.

Me: (Eyes getting big.) Oh yeah, Hornby made some really cool stuff!

Cashier: I’m like, why do you have to go all the way over there to buy trains?

Me: Because Hornby made a whole bunch of cool stuff that never made it over here!

I guess I’ve got it kind of bad, huh? I’m not booking flights for England but I know why someone else is, and what they’re probably looking for…

Outsourcing hurts all of us

Cringely has written eloquently about the effects of outsourcing to India.

Outsourcing hurts more than just IT.Every day, I drive past an old factory. I don’t know what’s in it now. From its appearances, not much, because I’ve never seen any traffic around the place. The sign and the smokestack says “International Shoe Company.” Curious, I did a little bit of digging. It seems that at one time this was the largest shoe manufacturer in North America. It’s pretty obvious that it isn’t anymore. It’s not for lack of people around to staff the factory–there are plenty of people in the neighborhood. From the looks of some of them, they could use a job. But the factory sits, abandoned, for one simple reason.

We don’t want to pay people $5.25 an hour to make our shoes. Those of us who are willing to pay people $5.25 an hour to make our shoes can’t, because not enough other people are willing.

So the once-proud factory sits.

I drive past a smaller operation every day too. It’s boarded up and fenced up, and overgrown with weeds. A faded sign says, “Missouri Candle and Wax Co.” It obviously never employed as many people as ISCO did. But there’s a neighborhood all around it. I’m sure at one time it supported a few households in the neighborhood around it.

Not anymore. The neighborhood’s in better shape than the candle place, due to some rehabbing that’s going on. But I guarantee the people moving into those houses don’t work anywhere in the neighborhood, because the jobs aren’t there anymore.

The jobs aren’t there because we don’t want to pay people $5.25 an hour to make our candles.

Now, I can kind of see paying lower prices for shoes, in some cases. You need shoes. I can’t so much as walk to my car without shoes, some days. If you don’t have a lot of money, you’ll buy the cheapest shoes you can find. It’s a matter of survival.

But candles? Candles are a luxury item.

Like Cringely says, the government isn’t going to do anything about it because the government doesn’t care. Big business wants to offshore, and modern Republicans don’t seem to believe big business is capable of doing anything wrong. If big business says it should outsource, well then, God Himself must have handed them a stone tablet that says, “Thou shalt outsource.” Democrats won’t solve the problem because Democrats need needy people in order to keep their jobs. So Democrats profit from offshoring just as much as Republicans, although for different reasons.

Richard Gephardt suggested solving the problem by instituting an international minimum wage. That would solve it neatly–if a Chinese worker makes $5.25 an hour, then suddenly it’s cheaper to pay the $5.25-an-hour worker who lives next door to make your candles and shoes and computers.

But Richard Gephardt isn’t going to be our next president, and Richard Gephardt knows just as well as you and I know that there won’t be an international minimum wage coming down the pike any time soon. It’s just election-year rhetoric.

That means you and I have to solve the problem.

Cringely said one thing that I disagree with. He said companies who offer good customer service grow. Maybe sometimes they do, but if that were true, virtually everybody would be bigger than Wal-Mart, because at Wal-Mart, “customer service” is synonymous with “customer returns.” If you need to know where you would find mineral oil, it’ll take you half an hour to find an answer to your question. If you’re lucky.

I guarantee if you walked into A. G. McAdow’s in Pharisburg, Ohio in 1883 looking for mineral oil, my great great grandfather could tell you if he had it and where it would be. He’d even know what the stuff was.

I’ll tell you what customer service is. It absolutely shocked me when I got it last week. I went to Marty’s Model Railroads, and I’ll admit, the reason I went there was because they have the best prices I’ve found locally on used train stuff, and I can get it without the hassle of bidding on eBay. I asked Marty if he had a Marx coupler. He went and looked. He came back and said he didn’t have a coupler but he had an entire truck, and asked what I wanted to do with it. I said I wanted to make a conversion car. He pointed me to the cheapie bin, told me exactly what I should look for, and then when I found an $8 car that was suitable, he took the car, along with the Marx truck, into the back room, drilled out the Lionel truck, and came back with the one-truck Lionel car and a nut and a bolt. We put the car back together on his counter, by the checkout. Then he charged me 10 bucks.

Ten bucks would have been a good deal if he’d just handed me all the pieces and said good luck. But with his tools in the back room, he was able to do in five minutes what would have taken me most of an hour.

Later that week, I took in two Lionel locomotives for repair and bought another conversion car–this time, not because I knew I’d get the lowest price, but purely because I knew he’d treat me well.

When I go to pick those locomotives back up, I need to tell him that’s exactly why.

Marty’s business is growing, but I don’t know if that’s because of outstanding customer service or if it’s simply because he’s the only shop left in eastern Missouri that fixes Lionel trains.

Activists talk about thinking globally and acting locally. Building a sustainable economy requires less global thinking and more local acting.

Don’t go to Lowe’s and Home Depot if there’s a corner hardware store you can go to. The last two times I’ve gone to a local mom-and-pop hardware store I got help without asking for it, got exactly what I needed, and got out of there faster than I’d be able to get out of the big-box store. And as far as the price, I probably made up for it on gas. Remember, Lowe’s and Home Depot are megacorporations. More of the money you spend at the mom-and-pop place will stay in the area.

Don’t go to Wal-Mart if you can get what you need someplace else. Target is a megacorporation too, but it puts more money into the communities it works in. But if there’s a locally owned business left, frequent that.

Don’t go to chain restaurants if there’s a locally owned place you can go to instead. It seems like St. Louis has a thousand delightful locally-owned restaurants. There is no reason whatsoever for a St. Louisan ever to eat at Olive Garden.

And wherever you go, check to see where the product you’re buying was made. I needed a putty knife the other week. The cheapest one was made in China. The one on the peg next to it was made in Canada and it cost 10 cents more. I bought the Canadian one. Neither one helps the U.S. worker, but when I buy the Canadian one, I know the guy who made it was paid a fair wage, and that’s worth the extra 10 cents to me.

Sometimes you have to get creative to avoid these things. If I want model train stuff, Lionel and its competitors all seem to be building everything in China. But I don’t have to buy new stuff.

The same goes for clothes. If all the clothes you like are made in countries that operate as the world’s sweatshop, buy used ones. At least then the operation that created the sweatshop doesn’t profit a second time. Besides, used clothes are cheap. And no one will ever know those year-old clothes weren’t originally your year-old clothes.

DVD players are all made in China today. So there, the decision is pretty easy. Buy the cheapest one. Then you’ve got more money left over for the times when you do have a choice.

Finding a list of countries whose workers earn a living wage has proven difficult for me. Does anyone else out there have such a list?

Of course, I would first prefer to buy locally made and then used, given the option.