We’ve been hearing it for months: The economy is a mess. Unemployment up, home prices down — and you need a strong constitution to even glance at your 401K these days. There’s no doubt about it, belt-tightening has become the norm. But just because you’re pinching pennies doesn’t mean you have to live like a monk. From movies and arts events to clothing stores, gym memberships, even spa treatments — here’s a list of ways you can live high on the hog without mortgaging the farm.
Culture mavens get more than their money’s worth at the Valley’s dozens of art galleries, all of which are free (check out our arts resource guide for a comprehensive list). Art Along the Hudson — a collaboration of arts organizations in Kingston, Beacon, Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Newburgh, Hudson, and Catskill — offers special arts programs on rotating Saturdays each month, year-round. From gallery exhibits to concerts, street fairs to local history tours, each city showcases the best of its arts initiatives; most events are free. Not to be outdone, restaurants and shops often get in on the act, with special deals and sales of their own. (Visit www.artalongthehudson.com for schedule.)
Apparently the feds aren’t the only ones with an economic stimulus package. Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford has three different ways to catch a break on ticket prices to their shows. During their once-a-month “Opportunity Wednesdays,” seats are just $30 (no dinner service, snacks and drinks only). “Family Friendly Fridays” allow patrons who’ve purchased a full-priced adult ticket to bring along a child (age 5-16) for free. And it’s buy-one-get-one-half-price on “Sharing and Caring Sundays.” (Check www.broadwaytheatre.com for specific program dates.)
Flicks for the frugal
Tired of paying upwards of $10 to see a movie at the local megaplex? Silver Cinemas 8 at Poughkeepsie’s South Hills Mall offers a lineup of recent releases for $2 every day except Tuesday — when you can get your seat for just a buck. If you’re looking for more classic fare, both the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie and the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston host Friday night films once a month for just $5 (catch Dirty Harry at UPAC on May 8). At Albany’s Palace Theatre, the Classic Movie Series screens some of the best-loved movies of all time, with tickets just $5; in Peekskill, the Paramount Center for the Arts runs current hit flicks for under $10. New indie films are regularly shown for $7 a seat at Time & Space Limited in Hudson (Girls Rock! and The Silence of Bach are both on tap for May 1-3).
Beauty on a budget
Looking glam doesn’t have to bankrupt you: Local beauty school clinics offer services for a fraction of the cost of a high-end salon. The students who work on your hair and nails are trained and supervised by eagle-eyed professionals, ensuring that you get high-quality style for your money. The Beauty School of Middletown offers a basic cut and style for only $5; highlights run from $30-$50. A manicure at Albany’s Orlo School of Hair Design and Cosmetology will only set you back $6 (and at $15, the pedicure isn’t much more). For high-end treatments, try the Paul Mitchell School in nearby Danbury, Connecticut. Prices for a perm or relaxer session start between $27-$37, based on the student’s expertise and your hair type; bring your own hair extensions, needle and thread, and they’ll put them in for $20-$25 an hour. In the mood for a spa treatment but can’t justify the cost? For half (or less) of the price charged at a typical spa, the Hudson Valley School of Advanced Aesthetic Skin Care in New Paltz provides facials, waxing, laser hair removal, mud or seaweed body treatments, makeup application, and more. Try the moisture-intense Paraffin Facial ($40) for a radiant, fresh-from-the-spa glow.
As it turns out, the Mets and the Yankees picked the worst possible season to settle into new stadiums and jack up ticket prices. The Valley’s teams, on the other hand, still serve up minor-league baseball at major-league bargains. Hudson Valley Renegades fans can purchase the team’s five-game package and receive a complimentary ticket to a sixth game (or buy a 10-game package and go to an 11th game for free). Up north, the Tri-City ValleyCats (who play in Troy) offer “Sunday Fundays” at every Sunday home game: four tickets, four hot dogs, and four sodas for just $25. On July 12, the team hosts an “Economic Stimulus Night” with discounts on foods and drinks. And these are only the special markdowns: Fans of either team can purchase a general admission ticket to any game for $5-$6 a pop.
Pet care for pennies
Cash-strapped pet owners would rather rent their garage out to a hair-metal tribute band than risk their kitten or pup’s health. Fortunately, PETCO’s low-cost vaccination clinics can help prevent families from sinking to that level. The store’s packages are significantly cheaper than what most animal hospitals offer. Vaccinating your dog against the rabies, bordetella, and distemper trifecta, for example, costs well over $100 at a typical veterinary office; PETCO’s clinics charge $49 for the same combination. Cat immunizations, meanwhile, start at $42 and net you identical savings. (Clinics take place as follows at PETCO’s four Valley locations: Colonie, Sat. 2-4 p.m.; Poughkeepsie, Sun. 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Middletown, Sun. 2:30-4:30 p.m.; Nanuet, every other Sun. 2:30-4:30 p.m.)
If the daily stock market report is driving you to drink, consider picking up a free Price Advantage Card at Viscount Wines & Liquor. This Wappingers Falls beverage superstore features an enormous selection of wines from the world over — many of which can be purchased at substantial savings when you flash your VPAC card at the register. The program also earns you rewards points towards discounts on future purchases. (A good rule of thumb: Ask your local shopkeepers if they are running any specials or discount programs. Many retailers are working hard to lure customers in the door by offering on-the-spot deals that you might not be aware of.)
Music for misers
Classical music lovers needn’t travel to Manhattan to hear top-flight musicians. The Vassar College music department regularly hosts concerts by students and faculty as well as “special guests” — which lately have included the vocal ensembles Chanticleer and Cantus, Broadway star Kelli O’Hara (of South Pacific fame), and cutting-edge composer Steve Reich (the subject of the two-week-long Modfest celebration last winter). Most of these events are held in the intimate (and acoustically superior) Skinner Recital Hall. And all of them are free.
Dance for a song
Do the hot moves on Dancing With the Stars have you itching to try some new moves? Most dance schools lock you in for weeks or months with pricey contracts, but you can discover how to dance like Derek and Brooke without foxtrotting your way to bankruptcy. At Hudson Valley Community Dances, a dance meet-up group, you can learn to strut your stuff at a swing jam for only $5, or shake your groove thing at a Louisiana zydeco class for $15. Visit www.hudsonvalleydance.org to pick and choose which classes you’d like to attend; they hold classes at sites throughout the mid-Hudson region. The best part? You don’t need a baby-sitter — children are welcome at most classes, and rates for kids go as low as a dollar a session.
Looking to stretch the family food budget, but don’t want to skimp on quality? Head to one of Adams Fairacre Farms’ three locations (in Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and Kingston). The locally owned market — our readers’ perennial pick as the best place to buy produce — slashes 10 percent off your total bill when you shop between 5 and 9 p.m. on Wednesday evenings. (Insider’s tip: The store aisles can get crowded, especially between 5 and 6 p.m. So bring your patience along with your shopping list.)
Bibliophiles in the Poughkeepsie area, check out the Bookworm. This unassuming shop near Red Oaks Mill is a reader’s delight, offering older and used books at 50 percent off the publisher’s list price. That’s a good deal to begin with, but there’s more. Return the titles you’ve finished reading, and get a store credit worth 25 percent of the list price; apply the credit towards your next purchase. Their extensive selection of romance novels and young-adult series can’t be beat (845-462-3873).
Museums may be highbrow, but that doesn’t mean they’re high-cost: You can enjoy a number of Valley museums without paying a cent. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in Vails Gate, the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, and the Tilly Foster Farm Museum in Brewster are always free, as are the region’s top college museums, including SUNY New Paltz’s Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, Vassar’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Bard’s Hessel Museum of Art, and the West Point Museum. (Westchester’s Katonah Museum of Art is free every day between 10 a.m. and noon.) The Storm King Art Center in Mountainville and Dia:Beacon normally charge admission, but each site waives their fee for Valley residents on special “community” dates. Just flash some ID to prove you’re from that day’s featured county, and you can roam the grounds all day at no cost, floating from exhibit to exhibit on a cloud of proud frugality. (Dia:Beacon: Columbia, June 13; Orange, Aug. 8; Putnam, Oct. 10; Ulster, Dec. 12. Storm King: Orange, June 14; Rockland, June 28; Ulster/Sullivan, July 11; Dutchess/Columbia, July 25; Westchester/Putnam, Aug. 8.)
Grow your own
Fresh produce might be pricey, but that’s no excuse to go out and buy prepackaged food to cut grocery costs. Why not start your own garden? With a little topsoil, some yard space, and a few seed packets, you could be growing and eating your own fruits and veggies for just a fraction of the grocery-store cost. Don’t have enough space? Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, and get produce grown at local farms delivered straight to your door (or to a local neighborhood center) for as little as $25 a month. Go to www.localharvest.org to find a CSA program near you.
Will work for art
A unique — and free — way to enjoy the region’s arts scene: Become a volunteer usher at the Bardavon Opera House or the Ulster Performing Arts Center. After receiving the proper training, the 150 volunteers choose the events they’d like to work at (and see). The program allows for long-standing relationships — some ushers have been working the venues’ shows for 20 years — which can be bad news for those waiting in the wings; at the moment, there are no openings available (but maybe next year). You can reach coordinator Donna Verteramo at 845-473-5288, ext. 107.
Internet surfers looking to save a few bucks should bookmark www.halfpricehudsonvalley.com. This Web site offers gift certificates to mid-Valley restaurants and other businesses for 50 percent off their face value. (For example, the site recently sold $50 gift certificates to Bella Luna Ristorante in Blooming Grove for just $25.) The featured businesses change every Wednesday, and the number of certificates is limited, so you have to act fast — but the savings will be worth it.
Lengthy vacation rentals can be expensive, but have you ever thought of getting away from it all in your own community? Craigslist, the centralized on-line network of free classified ads, features a section of local vacation rentals. They have dozens of postings in all price ranges; you just have to be willing to dig through them to find the good deals. If you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway, $360 for a couple of days spent exploring Hudson while staying in a newly renovated home might be just the thing — and no expensive flight required. Many of the homes also allow pets (saving you even more dough on boarding costs). So if a month of mountain solitude with a feline friend sounds more your speed, try a quiet cottage in the Catskills for $1100 — that’s just $275 per week. (It goes without saying that, as with all good deals, it’s buyer beware: Since these postings are often placed by the homeowners themselves, taking a closer look at the property before you sign on the bottom line is definitely advised.)
Learn something new — and have fun doing it — courtesy of your local public school. Many (if not most) area school districts offer continuing education programs, featuring courses in a wide array of content areas. For a nominal fee (usually in the $40-$80 range), you can take a six-week Pilates class, bone up on the basics of upholstering a sofa, or learn to prepare Italian cuisine just like your Nana used to make (among many other things). Some districts offer special discounts for residents as well as senior citizens; visit the school’s Web site for details.
If you’re a believer in second chances — and more importantly, saving money — then you’ll hold the Sears Parts and Repair Center in Fishkill (845-896-4858) in high regard. The store offers a 20 to 40 percent discount and one-year manufacturer’s warranty on brand-new appliances such as washers, dryers, and microwaves, with the “catch” being that the items suffered scratches or other cosmetic damage before they hit the sales floor. That’s not much of a catch: The machines function perfectly, and most of them represent Sears’ latest models. (Call ahead, though, because selection varies daily.) If you insist on something brand new, you can still net a deal at Statewide Appliances in Poughkeepsie (845-463-3300), especially during one of their holiday sales: Merchandise there is typically 20 percent off during their Fourth of July blowout. Both stores also sell appliance parts, so fix-it families can repair broken fridges and vacuum cleaners themselves to save even more cash.
Sweat for less
The country’s obesity rates are higher than ever — and so are gym memberships. Between enrollment and maintenance fees, locked-in contracts, and wasted services, “joining a gym is like joining the Mafia,” jokes blogger Ben Popken on The Consumerist. So how do you get out — and still get a workout? Make like the Village People and drop by your YMCA/YWCA. At the YM in Kingston, monthly membership rates range from $22 for teens to $45 for adults, compared to $45-$60 at a fitness chain (when start-up fees are factored in). By contrast, your local Planet Fitness boasts a cheap plan — about $20 a month — but you’ll still be committed to a minimum 12-month contract, plus a $58 fee if you decide to cancel membership early. Lucky for you, the Y offers no strangleholds of the sort. And instead of paying an average of $6 for each extra service at one of the more glamorous gyms, the Y offers unlimited use of the weight rooms, wellness center, swimming pool, indoor track, aerobic studio, locker rooms and lounges, as well as spinning and yoga classes. In addition, many Ys offer free membership or some form of financial assistance.
Pampering for paupers
We could all use a little pampering now and then. Unfortunately, spa treatment is one of the first luxuries to get nixed in a budget crunch. But at the Hudson Valley School of Massage Therapy, you can help dedicated students earn their degrees in holistic health care by offering yourself up for — brace yourself — discounted massages and facials. Instead of slamming down $75 for a 45-minute back rub, enjoy a relaxing massage at the Highland school for just $30. Or get an hour-long European facial at the adjoining Center for Advanced Aesthetic Skin Care for the same price. Looking a little hairy lately? The body-waxing rates at the beauty school blow most salons out of the water: pay an average of $10-$25 less for services like eyebrows ($12 versus $20), arms ($20 versus $40), legs ($55 versus $70) — and yes, even the ever-thorough Brazilian wax ($45 versus $80). Seniors over the age of 62 get 20 percent off at both centers, and there are specials each month (like $5 off all treatments in April). Donating your body for the sake of education never felt so good.
With the advent of super-convenient services like Redbox and Moviefone, renting your favorite flicks couldn’t be easier (or more affordable). Unless, of course, it was absolutely free. And through the Mid-Hudson Library System, it is just that; all you need is a library card (also free) and you’re in movieland. Can’t find the title you want at your local library? No problem: At no cost, you can request that any book, DVD, or CD be shipped from any bibliotheca in the system to the library of your choice. The best part? You don’t even have to leave home to put in a request; just log on to the MHLS catalogue, choose what you’d like to borrow, then swing by the reference center and pick it up. With 66 member libraries participating, it’s like having a free Blockbuster around every corner — without the crowds and exorbitant late fees.
News for nothing
If just getting free movie rentals from your library isn’t enough savings to satisfy you, try the MHLS Home Access program. If you don’t have time to stop at the newsstand, or you can’t afford to renew your subscriptions, just grab your library card and log in. There you can access thousands of magazines, journals, and state and national newspapers — all for free. Also available is health information, genealogy research, practice tests (think SATs and civil service exams), and even price rates for your antiques and collectibles. The site even features a “Smart Buying” section that tells you how to buy a house or find the lowest gas prices. Who says libraries are only for bookworms?
Your local consignment or thrift stop just might be the best recession-buster in town. Usually, thrift shops are run by nonprofit organizations and sell donated goods to raise money for a cause. Consignment shops, on the other hand, accept merchandise on a consignment basis, paying the owner a percentage of the sale price when and if the item is sold. Many of these resale stores are a mix of the two.
Northern Dutchess Hospital Thrift Shop
This gigantic thrift shop inhabits a two-story building and an entire barn, and is full of a wide variety of items. Since there is so much floor space, larger-scale items like motor scooters and power wheelchairs can sometimes be found here. The regular inventory includes medical equipment, jewelry, household items, books, and clothing. Shop volunteers accept items in any condition, with damaged goods placed on a dollar rack along with those items that don’t sell. End-of-season clearances take place in early spring and autumn.
â–º Open Mon., Wed., Thurs. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Tues., Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
95 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck
Focusing on art, fashion, music, and “up-cycled” items (other people’s garbage-bound possessions turned into new, usable works of art), Love Me Too Times is a unique mixture of local crafts and creations. Founder Toni Marie Caravello had always dreamed of owning a consignment shop; when she was laid off from her previous job in a company downsizing, she knew the time was right. “I’d always said ‘one day…’ but I never had time to make my consignment shop idea happen,” she says. “And Beacon just seemed to be the natural place to put it — it’s artsy, progressive, and people are into the green movement here.” The shop, which just opened last month, contains mostly consignment clothing, but essential oils, incense, and wares from local craftspeople, artists, and even musicians stock the shelves as well. Caravello opts for locally produced tunes in the shop’s music rotation (“Why play Top 40 hits when you can support local music?”) and sells the albums herself to interested customers. She also brings in a Tarot card reader every Saturday for a spiritual touch. “It’s a mixture of everything I like, and other people happen to like it too,” Caravello says. “I think it’s a one-of-a-kind place.” Call for information on hours and consignment opportunities.
â–º 442 Main St., Beacon
917-273-9418 or www.lovemetootimes.com
Specializing in kids’ clothing from preemie to boys’ and girls’ size 16, Keef’s Kiddie Exchange is a great place to find everything you need for the little ones — and for new parents, too. Offering baby gear, toys, maternity wear, and even a store account program for expectant moms, this thrift shop is very choosy about which items make shelf status. All clothing items must be in like-new or gently used condition, and toys with missing pieces are simply out of the question — which is great for bargain shoppers looking for high quality items. End-of-season clearances discount clothing by up to 75 percent, and remaining items go on a dollar rack after the clearance has ended.
â–º Open Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
636 County Rte. 1, Pine Island
845-258-2555 or www.keefskiddleexchange.com
Established in 1982 and purchased in 2001 by current owner Irene Perl, this chic consignment shop has more than 500 consignors and offers designer clothing and accessories with no imperfections or flaws — practically as good as new, but for a whole lot less. Here you can find designer labels like Armani, Chanel, Coach, Dooney & Bourke, DKNY, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Fendi as well as cool vintage clothing and jewelry. The atmosphere is what Perl calls “a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of the malls,” with accessories and clothing set up in a breezy, easy-to-browse layout. They also have a half-price semi-annual sale of out-of-season items each spring and fall.
â–º Open Wed.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
1629 Rte. 44, Pleasant Valley
845-635-3115 or www.pastnperfect.com
Just for Kids
This thrift shop, which has been in operation for over 22 years, sells children’s like-new clothing, toys, and furniture. The shop holds two sidewalk sales a year — in June and November — to clear out seasonal inventory.
â–º Open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
13 Delavergne Ave., Wappingers Falls
Happy Paws Thrift Store
Sorry pet lovers, this isn’t a doggy discount center; its name comes from the fact that all proceeds benefit the Ulster County SPCA. The shop’s volunteers call it an upscale thrift store, and it’s crammed with linens, clothing, jewelry, artwork, and small furniture. Donations come in daily, and damaged items go to local charities.
â–º Open Wed.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
48 Market St., Saugerties
While the Junior League — a national women’s organization dedicated to improving local communities — is a staple in many towns, not all of them are lucky enough to have a Bargain Box. Tucked away on Poughkeepsie’s Main Street, this small, two-room thrift and consignment shop is run by the local chapter of the League (with all proceeds donated back into the community). The shop is a delight for nearby Vassar students and anyone who gets a thrill out of finding top-notch clothes at bargain-basement prices. “It’s not unusual to find labels from Burberry to Dooney & Bourke to Prada,” says Manager Joan Diamond, who (along with Assistant Manager Deb Davies) mans the shop (and will happily chime in with her opinion on how those designer duds actually look on you). “One young teacher came in and found a Burberry coat for 75 percent off. It fit like it was made for her; she was so happy.” The shop stocks mainly clothes, shoes, and jewelry, but you can also pick up some nice random housewares. Everything is in good-as-new to almost-new condition, and donated items that are damaged are usually put either on the clearance rack or in a free-item box. There’s also a new-with-tags rack, for those who are wary of purchasing previously worn clothing. The end-of-season clearance sales discount clothing up to 75 percent, and twice-a-year “dollar days” (every item is just a buck) offer the ultimate bargain. Ask to be put on their mailing list if you’d like to be alerted to special sales.
â–º Open Tues., Wed., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Thurs. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
794 Main St., Poughkeepsie
845-471-3530 or www.jlpoughkeepsie.org