In Cheap I Trust

I’ll admit it: I’m a cheapskate. And I have the track record to prove it. As a perpetually-seeking bargain hunter, I live for the thrill of the chase, the pursuit of the ultimate freebie, the exhilaration that comes with turning something old and forgotten into something new and useful. While my penchant for bargains, thrifting, and repurposing has always been a part of who I am, it reached a whole new level when I became a mother. And hallelujah, I’m never looking back!

Backyard Bargains 

Case in point, let’s start with this photo of a small quadrant of my backyard, a newly created space designed for summer fun. It, along with the rest of my yard, proves that I am indeed committed to the bargain lifestyle.

Our backyard pool area has been assembled on a dime
  1. The above ground pool was an OfferUp find for $400 cash. The seller threw in a free palm and banana tree (re-homed in another area of my yard, of course).
  2. Fiberglass steps found on Craigslist: $30. You read that right—$30. Nice, stable, and more visually appealing than some of the off-the-shelf new stairs at pool supply stores. And way cheaper. We used a stepladder for a couple weeks while searching for the perfect option.
  3. Four rolls of bamboo fencing for $44 at Home Depot, to obscure the ugliness of the above-ground pool.
  4. Four bike hooks from Habitat Store: $6. Used for storing pool supplies and hanging towels.
  5. Tree trunk stepping stones: free. Found while driving down my street during brush pickup week. Fun for the kids to hop to the stairs, and people no longer wince as they traverse tiny pebbles.
  6. Plastic lawn chairs: free.
  7. Old cracked upright cooler that I’d been considering chucking saves the day, making a most excellent fun noodle storage receptacle (including the four extra discarded noodles I picked up on a curb). I hid it behind the bamboo fencing, because it’s still an eyesore.

Not pictured: The tiny house purchased on Craigslist that now serves as a backyard Airbnb and provides side income, a playscape gifted to us by a friend, a tire swing scored for $20 complete with hanging hardware, and a myriad of antique store metal chairs, tables, and patio furniture that can only be described as “eclectic.”

Clothes Horses

My two daughters often are complimented on their unique wardrobes and flourishing sense of style. Little to most people know that the frocks they model with such glee are 90% hand-me-downs. Yes, it’s possible to have amazing style without spending a fortune. Even if you don’t have a coveted “hand-me-down-er” to spoon-feed you kid fashions, a simple search on OfferUp, Craigslist, eBay, or Facebook Marketplace is an easy way to find whole “lots” on the cheap. I’ve scored trash bags full of barely worn clothes for $20–$50, and what I don’t love I just donate.

Am I cheap? Maybe. But my habits are about more than saving money. It’s about creating a purposeful lifestyle that examines needs versus wants and rejects the intense consumerism that so many Americans are addicted to. It’s about asking, “Do I need this, really need this?” before making an impulse purchase. It’s about saying, “Is there something I already own that might be able to fill this niche? Can I reuse, recycle and repurpose?” And nine times out of 10, the answer to the last question is a resounding “YES.”

Up-cycling and recycling also make me a more creative person, and the high from “making it myself” lasts way longer than an impulse purchase, because I know I’m saving my hard-earned cash and the environment. Sure, I may be a hair away from being a dumpster diver, but I have no shame about it. Why buy and add to the landfill when you can reuse, recycle, and repurpose?

Perhaps the most important part of all this is teaching my kids to be good stewards of our earth and to think outside the box. What can we keep from going into a dumpster by sharing, reusing, and buying second-hand? This outlook fuels creativity while also putting more money in our pockets, allowing us to take more family trips and eat out more frequently, things that bring us great joy but can be a drain on the wallet for a middle-class family of four. 

Finally, I am a big believer in karma. I don’t go out of my way to resell stuff, unless I’m sure it will be an easy sale. I’d much rather give it away to someone who will appreciate it and love it and then pass it on themselves. I make a rule out of never reselling something that has been gifted to me, but instead passing it along when I’m done. This comes in handy when you have kids who seem to grow faster than weeds.

Thrifty Tips

Still with me? Maybe even a tiny bit intrigued? Others are probably shaking their heads, rolling their eyes, or asking, “Whyyyyyyyyy?” But if you think you’re ready to dip your toes into the welcoming world of thriftiness, here are some of the tips that serve me well time and time again:

  • Be aware of bulky item pickup times. It’s the perfect opportunity to drive around and look for gear. I’ve had amazing luck, especially the time I found two separate playhouses on the same day! 
  • If you’re tempted to buy something, ask yourself, “Do I really need this? Will it bring me great joy and make my life easier?” If the answer is no, push the pause button on the purchase. If the itch is still there, see what you may already have that can serve the intended purpose. Nothing feels better than realizing you can meet your need or want with something you already own.
  • If you do need something, shop secondhand! Thrift stores, Craigslist, OfferUp, and Facebook Marketplace are great places to find nearly everything. Just be sure to use caution when meeting a stranger; meet in a public place or bring someone with you.
  • Ask to borrow. If I need a tool or want to try something, I usually ask through social media, and 95% of the time someone offers to lend or gift something they are no longer using. Win-win.
  • Pass it on! I use social media to post pics of stuff I’m giving away, and it’s always appreciated. It’s true—giving always feels better than receiving. 

Any of you readers into upcycling? Post a pic in the comment thread of the project or bargain that makes you the most proud!

Here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, a sunny, cultura-rich land where la gente are the majority. As a child I spent my days doodling unicorns and puppies and people and anything that caught my fancy. Drawing was my life, and I dreamed of one day being an artist. After high school, I left town for a bit to attend Yale University but ran back to Texas as soon I’d tossed my graduation cap in the air. I got a “real” job in advertising, where I met my wonderful husband, Victor. In 2005, I got a little brave and decided to step into art full time, for the first time. I spent a year recreating the Mexican Loteria, updating it to reflect the symbols and culture I knew: the “Tex Mex” version. The My Loteria game and corresponding line of kitchenware appeared in H-E-B grocery stores and boutiques around the country, which was pretty cool! Fast forward a couple years, and Vic and I decided it made perfect sense to move to the middle of nowhere and sell ice in the desert (in Alpine, Texas, where we opened the Murphy St. Raspa Co., an homage to Mexican shaved ice, candy, art and culture). A baby later and with one more on the way, we decided to come back home to San Antonio to be closer to family. I landed my dream job as the Marketing Director of The DoSeum, San Antonio’s Museum for Kids. Life was good. But I knew deep down in my heart of hearts that I needed to give my art another try. And a little more than a year ago, I took that leap and never looked back. So here I am today: a mom to two awesome little girls, a muralist, portrait artist, wife, and social media addict. I built a tiny house art studio in my backyard, dusted off my paintbrush, and began painting again after a two-year dry spell. I recently completed my first large-scale public mural to celebrate the San Antonio missions’ World Heritage designation, and am plotting my next art move as I type. I spend my days painting portraits, planning murals, perusing social media, and being my kids’ scheduler in chief. And you know what? I’m having the time of my life.


  1. Katie, thank you for your words of encouragement, I love this! And speaking of canvas, you can often find terrible framed paintings at thriftstores for $3-$5, perfect for just priming over and bonus you get a frame too!

  2. Excellent read, Cristina! I have been fortunate to find large scale unused canvases with minor scratches/tears that I patched up and used for my own creations! Found on FB market place for steal of a deal prices. Browsing through the market place is a guilty pleasure of mine 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration to expand my search and joy of creating!

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