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Say Hello To My Little Friends . . .

Sure, Obama is winning the pledged delegate count – at least for today. Sure, he swept Hillary in the Potomac Primaries. I could gloat and come up with all kinds of Obama-based words – Obamaudacity, Obamalicious, etc.

But there’s a storm cloud on the horizon that Obama, Hillary, McCain and Huckabee can’t stop.

We’re most definitely headed toward a recession. No one can predict for how long, but even the most grudgingly bullish economists agree that a recession is all but inevitable.

So, in the interest of helping everyone make it through the recession, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my friends. You’ve heard of “FOB’s” – Friends of Bill. I’m sure there are probably “FOO’s” – Friend of Obama. Perhaps the people who oppose Obama are FOO Fighters (pun irresistible). My friends are FOMW’s – Friends of My Wallet. They help me keep household costs down and have kept me afloat in lean times. They include:

1. Winco Foods. God love ‘em. Anybody who makes less than $100K a year and doesn’t shop at Winco is a fool, period. If I could buy stock in Winco, I would, but it’s an employee-owned grocery chain determined to keep prices down by not accepting credit cards and making you pack your own groceries. In exchange, you get super-low prices – lower than Save-Mart, Safeway, Raley’s, or any of the established major chains. I got turned on to Winco when it was Cub Foods in Denver, and since moving to California and finding Winco, I haven’t looked back. For cereals, canned goods, dairy products, pasta, rice, frozen foods, and beverages, Winco can’t be beat – not by Costco, not by the other supermarkets, nope, no way. And when you add coupons to the mix, it’s on like Donkey Kong!

Mind you, there are some things I don’t buy at Winco – meat, for one. But for staples that you don’t want to buy in bulk because you’d go broke doing it, Winco is truly a “Winning Company,” hence the name Winco.

2. Coupons, Starbucks, La Bou, and any coffee shop. But not for the reasons you think. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m the coupon queen. No -- coupon diva. Not only do I cut coupons, I send coupons to my niece in college and to anyone else who looks like they’ll use them. They are free money, and I don’t understand people who don’t use them for things they normally buy at full price.

Which leads me to Starbucks, La Bou, and any other coffee shop around. On Sundays, people like myself go to Starbucks to drink coffee and, if they live in a town which has a sorry daily newspaper, to read the Sunday New York Times. However, in the newspaper recycling bin are usually a boatload of coupons. Yes, I have no shame – I go through the recycling bin, grab the coupons, and laugh all the way to Winco later in the week, coupons in hand.

3. Wal-Mart. Yes, Wal-Mart has its detractors. However, I didn’t make this socially and economically Darwinist game we call Capitalism in America. I’m just stuck playing it, and Wal-Mart helps level the playing field. I buy household cleaners at Wal-Mart, which are usually cheaper there than in grocery stores and not as costly as buying in bulk at Costco. I also buy pants there. Yes, pants. Because I work for the government, I don’t always have to wear a suit to work. To keep dry cleaning costs down, I buy khakis and black jeans at Wal-Mart, dress them up with nice sweaters, fake pearls or a scarf, and slingbacks, and keep stepping. Plus, Wal-Mart, unlike Costco, takes coupons. Score one for the broke folks!

4. Dollar Tree. Yes, it has its detractors, too, but my wallet likes it. I buy some household stuff (plastic food containers, cooking utensils, faux Woolite for my tights, undies, and sweaters, trash can liners I use to pick up dog poop when walking my dog), as well as birthday cards and party stuff, for those rare times when we actually party. I also find good books there for a buck. Gotta love it. Plus, when you can’t score free coupons at Starbucks, etc., you can buy the Sunday paper for a buck there and get coupons. But always try Starbucks first. I’ve gone to Dollar Tree when I was feeling down and out and scored a good book, wonderful bubble bath, and a candle for three bucks and tax, which made for the ultimate poor woman’s spa treatment – a bubble bath by candlelight with a good book.

5. Isaac Mizrahi for Target and the Target Go collection, but only on sale. But for Isaac and the Target Go Collection, I don’t know what I’d do. I’ve been able to score cocktail party-worthy dresses, killer shoes, great jackets (I’m still rocking those Proenza Schouler jackets from last year’s collection and I have the Isaac Mizrahi Jackie O-inspired evening coat from two years ago and – memo to Patrick Robinson: Your sizes run too small!), and great skirts, all on the cheap. Even better – waiting for them to hit the sales racks, either in the store or online. Fashion doesn’t have to be expensive.

6. H and M. OMG! If you want up-to-the-minute fashion at can’t-be-beat prices, H and M is the way to go. I paired a killer black sheath dress from H & M with some killer Isaac Mizrahi for Target black stilletos and pearls, and I received numerous compliments. My feet hurt, but damn, I looked good!

7. Thrift stores. Yep, I’m one of those people – a thrift store shopper. I have bought exercise tapes and DVDs, books, a red Kate Spade bag, and countless other gems at thrift stores. I’ve bought chairs for $15 each, a dresser for $20. What thrift store shoppers know that others don’t is that retail stores often dump slightly damaged merchandise or merchandise that didn’t sell at thrift stores. Also, depending on what neighborhood your thrift store is in, you can score some high-end quality clothes. The Cherry Creek Goodwill in Denver is my favorite for this, although I’ve heard the Goodwill on Market Street in San Francisco is great, too.

8. Costco—but rarely. What you can get at Costco that is worth buying without coupons is toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning stuff, chicken, and movie tickets (Yes, you can get movie tickets at Costco for $7.50 each instead of paying $9.50 at theaters here). The problem is, you’ll leave with a carpet cleaner, a flat-screen TV, and a five-dollar bag of Stacy’s Pita Chips. Well, the pita chips are worth it, too. But keep a short list, and don’t go broke trying to save money there.

9. The library. But not just for books. Libraries now carry DVD’s and CD’s. Plus, some libraries allow you to reserve the newest arrivals so you don’t have to buy them. I know someone who signs up for an e-mail alert whenever the local library gets new CD’s in, reserves them, rips them, and returns them. Now, as an officer of the court, I can’t tell you to commit copyright infringement . . . .

10. Big Lots. If you need to buy household appliances, linens, toys, slipcovers, or gardening stuff, always try Big Lots first. I’ve found stuff so deeply discounted that it beat Wal-Mart.

11. Payless Shoes. Yep, I’m one of those people, too. I can get away with it because I don’t work in corporate America, although the person who turned me on to Payless Shoes was a paralegal in a very old and venerable San Francisco law firm. I loved her shoes and every time I asked her where she got them, she said, “Payless.” Mind you, Payless shoes aren’t going to last forever, but if you’re in a pinch and need to look somewhat professional for work, Payless is the way to go.

12. The Wednesday Grocery Store Circular Ads. I’m like my mother in this respect –if you ask me what’s on the menu this week, I’ll tell you it’s whatever’s on sale in the meat aisle in the local grocery stores. Since I don’t buy meat at Winco and I try to avoid buying meat in bulk at Costco, I watch the Wednesday circular ads in the local paper to find out what meat is on sale, and plan my menu around the sale. I can usually beat Costco with my Safeway Club Card or other affinity card when it comes to buying meat.

13. My dog and the folks at NexCycle. Okay, it sounds weird, but here goes: If you will bend down to pick up your dog's poop for free, why not bend down to pick up recyclable cans and bottles while you’re out walking your dog? Well, I do. I take an extra garbage bag just for recyclables, and I walk my dog on routes certain to yield them – around schools and parks. Plus, I’m doing my part to keep the neighborhood up. I store my recyclables and take them to the NexCycle recycling centers, earning anywhere from $8.00 to $20 per month. It may not seem like a lot to you, but since I have to walk my dog anyway, I might as well make some money while I’m doing it.

14. My crock pots. I have two here (one which I got a Big Lots for $10), one in storage. Crock pots allow me to buy cheap cuts of meat – stew, chicken – and make sumptious and nutritious dishes that both my husband and I love with minimal effort on the weekend. This week it was Jambalaya and stuffed peppers. The week before it was Chicken Cioppino. Next week? Depends on what’s on sale in the meat department.

15. The Internet. As far as I’m concerned, no one need ever buy a cookbook as long as you have internet access. Plus, I do comparative shopping on the internet for all kinds of stuff – from car insurance to slip covers -- before I ever enter a retail bricks and mortar establishment. Markets work more efficiently with perfect information, we’ve been told in Econ 101. Well, we don’t have perfect information, but the Internet is pretty darn close.

16. Park Avenue Dry Cleaners in Elk Grove. For those times when I have to get a suit dry cleaned, at least I won’t pay more than $2.25 for each piece. Score!

17. Garage sales. Yep, I’m one of those people, too. I owe most of my patio furniture to the garage sale one of my neighbors had. Plus, I’m pretty good at giving them, too. Big ticket items are usually scored more easily (translation: cheaply) at the end of the sale.

So, who are the friends of your wallet? If you don’t have any, you better make some fast, because it's not how much you earn that counts; it's how much you keep.

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