Scary Story: Billed for Service I Never Received

In the middle of December I received a bill for $5.30 from Sprint. There's nothing remarkable about this except that I've never had a Sprint account! I immediately called the customer service phone number on the bill. It only took a few moments to reach a live operator. "There must be some mistake," I told her. "Why am I receiving this bill?"

The operator tried to explain. "Well, sir, the Federal government recently approved a monthly fee for certain types of accounts." Notice how this phrasing is meant to make you believe the government is levying this fee.

"No," I said. "I don't care about all that. I mean why am I receiving this bill? I don't have a Sprint account. I don't think I ever have."

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Frugality in Practice: Back Porch Furniture

This is the first in a series of practical examples of how people put frugal notions to use in real-life.

I often claim that the back porch is "my favorite room in the house". It's true. This is partly because it's situated at the home's northeast corner, which is perfect for Portland weather. But mostly I love this place because I've been able to furnish it cheaply and effectively.

This is a self-portrait I took this afternoon, as I convalesced from the flu.

When we bought the house, I paid the former owners $20 cash to keep the chair on the left. It's a perfect chair to sit in and chat. It's handsome and comfortable, if a little old. The wooden stump, which makes an excellent footstool, was a gift from a friend. It can also serve as extra seating.

I bought the endtable for $5 from a garage sale. It's old and it's ugly, but it's perfect for the back porch. There's a drawer (for matches and pipe tobacco) and a lower shelf (for magazines and trashy novels).

The chair in which I'm sitting was a $20 purchase from craigslist. The summer we bought the house, my wife and I became craigslist junkies. We bought several large mirrors, a desk, a metal cabinet, a futon, and this chair. It's a monstrosity: all wood and spring. The cushions are nothing but foam wrapped in pillow cases. But it's damn comfortable. I keep a $3 Goodwill blanket draped over the chair because it has also become a favorite for the neighborhood cats. (It's easy to wash the blanket. Eventually I'll replace it with something just as cheap.)

Finally, the footstool was another $5 garage sale purchase. It, too, can be pressed to serve as an extra seat.

This corner of the back porch is a relaxing haven. When we host dinner parties, it is the favorite retreat for the men, who crowd together to share their various vices and to engage in fine conversation. I furnished the spot for only $53.

(Let it not be assumed that I am always able to exercise such frugality — the book that I am reading in the photo cost $39.95! We each have blind spots.)

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