Champagne Wishes on a Sparkling Water Budget

With my finances suddenly dwindling, I’ve found myself cutting more corners lately. Gone are the extravagant weekly steak and lobster dinners. I no longer take the Maserati through the car wash, I scrub it with a bucket of soapy water and a sponge myself. Worst of all, I had to fire the maid (although really, she wasn’t doing that great a job – I caught her parked on the sofa watching “Days Of Our Lives” instead of washing the windows one day last week, and the writing has pretty much been on the wall since).

French maid
I had to let her go. Her dusting skills left much to be desired. (Courtesy of

And then you woke up, as a friend used to chide me whenever I’d veer off into Fairytaleland.

OK, fine, I don’t have those types of extravagances in my life. But I would if I could. I’ve always had expensive tastes and longed for the finer things in life. I like stuff. Mostly electronic or cutting-edge. It’s why I bought a DVD player when they first came out. Shelled out $500 for it, too. I cringe whenever I think about that now, but hey, at least I was the first person on my block to have one! I guess I was what you’d call an “early adopter” back then. I was also married, and there’s a lot to be said for two incomes. Not to mention high-paying jobs with nice bonus checks twice a year. My, how times have changed.

And in truth, I’ve changed, too. I joke around and say I’ve got champagne wishes and a sparkling water budget, but really…I don’t. When people ask me what my dream car is, I say a 1972 Volkswagen Bus. Which means either I’m a hippie at heart, or I’ve turned into Lester Burnham, and if the latter is the case, better lock up your daughters, I suppose. Seriously, even if I had money to spend, I wouldn’t bother with a fancy sports car or a Rolex or any of the other trappings of the rich and famous. Except the maid. She’d be a worthwhile investment. I like to think that I’ve mellowed with age and gotten more in touch with my blue-collar side.

Which is why I find myself making frequent trips to Value Village (a poor man’s Goodwill, if such a thing exists) and Grocery Outlet. I’ve been a connoisseur of garage sales for years, and no longer think twice about buying somebody else’s hand-me-downs. Half my townhouse is furnished with used goods. I had always drawn the line at clothes, however. There was something, umm, icky – for lack of a better word (and because “repulsive” sounds too crass) – about buying, and wearing, clothing that somebody else had worn previously. The last thing in the world I want is to wear a shirt that some fat guy sweated in. So imagine my surprise earlier today when my feet apparently developed a mind of their own and shuffled over to the clothing section of Value Village. I don’t know what possessed me to make my way over there, but suddenly I found myself browsing the racks and actually finding things I liked and wanted to wear. It didn’t matter that another human had once worn them and did god-knows-what in them, the $2.99 price tag on that green flannel shirt was too damn good to resist, so I quit trying and bought it.

I think this was a breakthrough moment in my life. Now that I have crossed a line I never imagined I would, the sky’s the limit, I suppose. I foresee frequent future forays for flannel and other fashions, friends. There’s no going back. I shall peruse the used clothing aisles on every trip henceforth.

I still draw the line at underwear, though. {Shudder}.

I probably wouldn’t bother with used clothes if I were still gainfully employed, so in some perverse way I’m glad I’m not raking in the dough. Humbleness is a good lesson to learn. I feel more in touch with the common man. Err…because I am the common man…anyway. You get the point.

I have a few things simmering on the burner freelance-wise. I sure hope they come to fruition, because I’ve reached the stage where I could definitely use some money. I am still working through the application process with Groupon; I’ve gotten good feedback on my write-ups but they decided to give me a fourth sample article, which is due tomorrow, to ensure that I continue to display their “voice” and style in my writing. I have to say the whole thing has been arduous, but I’m glad for that – this is a company that cares about their image and demands top-quality writing from their freelancers, so if I make it through I’ll feel confident that I’ve joined a team of creative, dedicated and hard-working writers. They’re not just handing me the job on a silver platter but making me earn it, and that’s great. Well, it’s only great if I get it, but still. I’ve also applied for a couple of other gigs, one of which pays quite well and would allow me to tap into my love for Portland, so fingers crossed.

In addition, I decided to go for broke and start e-mailing queries to every last agent in my guidebook yesterday. My novel is my baby and I feel like I’ve been neglecting her. Well, no longer. I sent out 32 in a single day. One agent already responded with some pretty helpful feedback which, unfortunately, would mean making some changes to the first chapter or two. I haven’t decided if I’m going to do this yet or which angle to take, but it’s food for thought. My dream has always been to become a published author.

A published, used clothing-wearing author, apparently.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

19 thoughts on “Champagne Wishes on a Sparkling Water Budget

  1. When are you going to publish your book? I’m going to submit it for review to be published by November 2011, even though it’s not finished. Talk about lighting a fire under your pants… I urge you to do the same. Challenge me and may the best man win!


    1. I’m trying to exhaust all opportunities with literary agents first. It’s my fault – the book has been done for more than a year but I’ve only queried a few agents at a time, here and there. Now I’m in all-out blitz mode. If none of them bite, I’ll try to raise enough money to self-publish by the end of the year.


  2. “It’s why I bought a DVD player when they first came out. Shelled out $500 for it, too.”

    OMG, I remember when they first came out and were that price! And it’s funny to think that you can buy them now for $25.00!!!

    Believe or not, I too have gone to second-hand stores and purchased used clothing. And I’ve gotta tell ya, I found some really GREAT stuff. I got a beautiful suit coat that looked as though it had never been wore, for like $15.00!

    ” Humbleness is a good lesson to learn.”

    You’re right, it is. I learned this lesson many years ago when I was at a very low point in my life. It made me notice all the things in my life that I had been overlooking.

    “My dream has always been to become a published author.”

    You GO, Mark! And I have great faith that you will!


    1. Thank you, Ron. Hopefully through perseverance (and about a thousand rewrites) it’ll finally happen!

      I didn’t mention that I won $1000 from a radio contest and used my prize money to buy the DVD player. Still, I’m sure I would have figured out a way to get it even if the contest had never come along.


  3. With amazing chain second hand shops like Buffalo Exchange (which I bought used clothing at in Portland’s Hawthorne District) I say good for you for embracing the stylish and trendy cheapskate inside! Woohoo, welcome to the dark side! Plus, all that money you save on clothing could be put to better use like mailing me a voodoo donut, which is something I cannot partake in here in the midwest.


    1. I haven’t been to Buffalo Exchange yet, but I’ll be sure to check it out the next time I’m in the Hawthorne District. I’d send you a doughnut, but I don’t think it would make the trip very well! The real question is, what flavor would you choose?


  4. Call used clothes “Vintage” then people are impressed with your style. lol I have a Vintage Channel Jacket. I found it at Value Village for $5. I took it to the Vintage shop and had it appraised for $500. That was a great find! I’m with you on the vintage undies…ewww


  5. Out to get published in a thrift store ensemble! I think it is wonderful that your tastes have changed. There is something really freeing about feeling like you don’t “need” so much stuff. We’ll be cheering you on (and I might stop to eat a hot wing) on your journey to published author!


  6. Haha, I don’t know if I’m prepared to be struggling writer! I can’t even imagine wearing used clothing. LOL! I have to admit, I’m high maintenance. I build in enough money in my budget to purchase at least one new piece of clothing per month. It’s my favorite time of the month, to buy myself a new shirt or pair of shoes. But, I do use coupons like it’s my job. So I’m trying 🙂


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