Cheapskate Chico

Secrets of getting by on a college student’s budget

BY THE YARD Chico residents splay their unwanted goods out on their lawns on yard sale days, providing affordable goods for those willing to pick through it all.

BY THE YARD Chico residents splay their unwanted goods out on their lawns on yard sale days, providing affordable goods for those willing to pick through it all.

Photo By Tom Angel

Chico boasts no fewer than 15 thrift shops.

Unless you’re a trust fund baby or are moonlighting as one of those dot-com whiz kids, it’s a safe bet, if you’re a student, that cash is a precious commodity. If, at the end of the month, you’re torn between the choices of buying a slice of pizza and doing your laundry, we’re here to light your way to some of Chico’s best bargains.

Fill your cart—and belly
College students and senior citizens alike know that the place to stretch your food budget is the Chico Grocery Outlet, located on East Park Avenue at Whitman. Caution: Walk in here without a game plan and you’ll walk out with all kinds of weird things—my impulse purchase was pickle-flavored chip dip—that you never intended to buy.

At the grocery outlet, a single shopper can easily buy a week’s worth of eats for less than $20. And the selection is not limited to canned foods: There’s produce, bread (eat it quick—expiration looms), delicious cheeses, school supplies and that selection of products known as “toiletries.” The trick is, the grocery outlet buys the oddball stuff cheap, like dented cans, boxes of corn flakes with another language on them and discontinued items. For example, a package of M&Ms was only 25 cents —solely because the sweepstakes promoted on the package had already taken place.

During a recent trip, I spied a 24-pack of Pabst draft light (to understand obscure Heineken-vs.-Pabst Blue Ribbon reference, be sure to watch Blue Velvet your freshman year) for $5.99; Oreos for $1.79; Smack ramen noodles for 10 cents; Aquafresh toothpaste for $1.49; and some Pantene shampoo for $1.49.

It’s open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

New life from dead cars
Their motto is “you pull, you save.” When your beater car has taken a turn for the worse and your ’rents aren’t about to spring for a new Jetta, this is the place to patch it up. Behind Chico Self-Serve Auto Salvage’s walls is a veritable graveyard of discarded cars. But they are not yet dead; their organs are just waiting to be donated to a needy vehicle such as yours.

Bumpers, taillights, guts and more can be found at the yard on East Park Avenue. (Hey—right across the street from the grocery outlet!) It costs $1 to get in, but then you can have at it. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than ordering new parts from your mechanic or dealership.

“They have to kind of search around,” says employee Alfredo Palos, but most people find it fun. You’re supposed to serve yourself (BYO tools), but rumor has it that if you ask sweetly (female types probably have an edge here), the kind folks at the auto salvage will help you in your hunting. They keep a list of the hundreds of models they have on the lot, plus what each part goes for. They’re open every day, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Meet and swap
Almost every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a treasure hunt of sorts is held at the Silver Dollar Fair Grounds in the form of the Silver Dollar Swap Meet.

The fairgrounds are located at 2357 Fair St. Just walk in and head to the second building on the right. Vendors spread out their wares indoors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

THINKIN’ THRIFTY Chico’s thrift stores are prime places to outfit your first apartment on the cheap.

Photo By Tom Angel

Two hints: Get there early (by the afternoon, things are really winding down), and keep an open mind about what you’re going to buy. One table may be the exclusive bearer of old tools, while another may boast trading cards. There’s jewelry, toys, books, video games—even a snack bar to fortify yourself during your search.

If you’re looking to forge a second income and know your stuff, keep your eye out for those collectibles that could fetch a ton on eBay.

Your true friends
There’s more to reading in college than backbreaking history texts and heady philosophy books. When you’ve had just about enough of the required reading, head on down to the Chico Friends of the Library Book Sale, held Saturdays (except on holiday weekends) from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Chico branch of the Butte County Public Library, on Sherman Street at East First Avenue.

There are tables upon tables of trade paperbacks—your typical leisure-time reading of mysteries, novels and romances—for no more than 60 cents, usually less. But there’s also plenty of nonfiction books, classics and reference books. Best-sellers make it to the sale within a few weeks and never go for more than $2. Magazines, including the issues that are still on the supermarket stands, are 30 cents each. Typical offerings range from In Style to Consumer Reports to Cooking Light to Fortune. There are occasional records and tapes, too.

You’ll be hard-pressed to spend more than $5 here, and that’s considering you’re leaving with as much as you can carry.

The cheap beauty of it
Just because your pockets are more full of lint than money doesn’t mean you have to look like a slob. How can you keep your folks from thinking college has turned you into a hairy hippie? Six-dollar haircuts at Chico Beauty College.

The beauty college, located at 1356 Longfellow Ave., is full of students learning how to cut and style hair and do perms, manicures and facials. As they practice their newly acquired skills, you reap the rewards. (They’re being graded on your ’do, so they are motivated to do a great job.)

Haircuts start at a paltry $6, and so do manicures. Pedicures are $9. The list goes on.

Call for an appointment: 343-4201. Chico Beauty College is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Thinkin’ thrifty
Want to outfit your dorm or first apartment without going broke? Two words: thrift shops.

Chico is rich with these centers of cheap commerce, and each thrift store seems to have a personality all its own. I’m not going to mention each and every one of them here, but suffice it to say, whether it’s furniture, kitchenware or clothes that you need, you’ll find it in one of this town’s thrift stores.

Try the old standby, Salvation Army (1054 Broadway) for furniture, or its more-upscale brother, Elite Repeat (700 Broadway) for even better furniture. Quality Resale, at 1367 East Ninth St. near the freeway, is also a good bet for that type of thing, and the occasional find can be had at Goodwill (1405 Park Ave.)

If you’re looking to outfit your kitchen with higher-quality vintage gear, stop by the well-organized, friendly shop The Difference (841 Cherry St.). Other good bets for a variety of things include the ARC of Butte County shop at 2020 Park Ave.; college student favorite Thrifty Bargains (2432 The Esplanade), which has big sales on Saturdays; the Discovery Shoppe, near downtown at 315 Flume St.; and This & That at 2260 Park Ave., which offers a student discount.

Going once, going twice . . .
If you want first shot at the furniture and other stuff that will soon be found in Chico’s antique stores and high-end thrift shops, go where the experts go: the Chico Auction Gallery.

The gallery, which is at 925 West Eighth St. near the railroad tracks, hosts auctions most Friday evenings. Go for the preview starting at noon, stake out what you want, and go back later to claim a number. The auction action starts at 7 p.m. Bid on what you want, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be taking home a retro coffee table for $10 or a TV for $30.

Good-humored auctioneer Jack Harbour races through several hours’ worth of items with the caveat of “You snooze, you lose.” Bid quickly and know your limit: Bidding wars are not uncommon here, and things can get out of control real fast.

There’s a 10-percent “buyer’s premium” —money tacked on to the selling price. It’s still a bargain.

Life’s a bowl of berries
There’s one place you’re sure to find die-hard Chicoans on Saturday mornings. It’s the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market.

The market features organic produce, and the selection is seasonal and local. Load up with bags of mandarin oranges, strawberries, squash, almonds, apple juice, bread and more from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot at Second and Wall streets. Prices are often less than you’d find in the supermarket, and the quality is way better.

On Thursday, it’s the aptly named Thursday Night Market, which includes fruit and veggie stands among its entertainment and trinket booths. It’s a nice social event, running from 6 to 9 p.m., and a chance to re-stock the crisper mid-week.

Saling, saling . . .
Standbys for bargain-seekers, yard sales are the mother lode. Chico is no exception. In fact, in Chico the theme is: The students bring and other students taketh away. By this, I mean that students come to college, spend four or more years accumulating random junk, and then unload it cheaply, via yard sales. If you want to reap the rewards, just cruise the student neighborhoods near the beginning and end of each semester and see who’s laid out what on their lawns.

To get the yard sale benefits year-round, check out the myriad of sales put on by families. There’s great, cheap stuff to be had.

Chico’s pretty much a Saturday yard sale town. Not much happens on Fridays and Sundays. Look in the newspapers and plan out your route, map by your side, on Friday night. You’ll need to get an early start to be worth anything. By early, I mean at least 8 a.m. Yes, on a Saturday. Sorry, that’s the price you pay for low prices.