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Living well, cheaply, is diva’s gift

Annie Korzen is a hoot.

The curly-haired, 70-something redhead is an author, writer, actress and comedian who has amused audiences everywhere from Comedy Central and the Oprah Winfrey Show to the New York Times and National Public Radio. She’s a woman of many talents, but what I love most about her is that she’s a total discount diva.

In her book, “Bargain Junkie: Living the Good Life on the Cheap,” she describes all the ways her frugal lifestyle has allowed her to have a comfy home filled with objects of value. She explains the difference between being thrifty and stingy (“stingy is nasty”) and talks about the most valuable “object” in her home being her Danish, formerly divorced husband Benni (“He was also pre-loved; I would never get a husband retail.”). But what really got me was the story she told about her mother’s tea-drinking habits which could have been written about my own mom.

“I was brought up in a Bronx railroad flat by poor immigrants,” she writes. “My mother would use a tea bag, then squeeze it dry, hang it up, and use it again the next day. I hated her for this.”

Here are some of her best bargainista tips and tricks.

Haggle effectively – and politely – at yard sales and estate sales. Don’t start with a lowball offer or imply that things are overpriced. Instead, try saying, “You have such cool stuff! If I buy a lot of it, will you give me a discount?” or “That’s a fair price, but it’s a little high for me. Any chance you can do better?”

Buy and sell. Korzen turned her bargain hunting into a cottage industry, picking up cheap clothes at church stores and sample sales, then selling them for a profit on eBay, at re-sale shops and to private dealers.

Her secret weapon is something called rag houses, places that sell vintage clothing by the pound. Google “wholesale vintage clothing” and you’ll find sites such as BulkVintage.com and RagHouse.com. There, you can snag retro men’s blazers from the 1940 for $1.15 per pound, 27 pounds of Mork & Mindy-style ski vests from the 1970s for $45 and 35 pounds of 1980s floral secretary dresses for 60 bucks.

Money grows on trees. All of Korzen’s gardens have sprouted from cuttings she has clipped and nurtured herself. She has exchanges with her friends, during which each person brings a collection of plant cuttings or harvested seeds. She replants them to grow everything from flowers and hedges to tomatoes and pineapples – all of it free.

My father, a very talented gardener, has been doing this for years. He has dozens of varieties of beautiful plants and flowers, including a gorgeous shrub in his front garden, snipped from the landscaping of an Arby’s restaurant.

Shop small and shop local. Local, independent plumbers, mechanics and electricians are often cheaper and better skilled than big corporate chains, Korzen writes. And it’s all about location, location, location. Mechanics and tailors in blue-collar neighborhoods tend to charge less than ones in upscale communities. Eat well on the cheap by dining at ethnic restaurants in neighborhoods where new immigrants have made their homes.

Beauty bargains. Get cut-rate pampering courtesy of beauty school students. Locally, try Salon Professional Academy in Tonawanda or Leon Studio One in North Tonawanda.

Got consumer tips or questions? Email:schristmann@buffnews.com.