DEAR SARA: What's the difference between a consignment shop and a thrift shop? -- C. York, forums

DEAR C. YORK: Consignment shops sell items that are brought in by individuals. The store helps people sell their unwanted items. In other words, they buy their inventory outright from people. They split the profit, too. The store takes on the marketing and sale of the merchandise. Sometimes the stores will pay a flat rate to the person bringing in the merchandise, and other times they'll give a percentage of the profit after the merchandise has sold. My experience has been that consignment stores offer higher-quality merchandise that is displayed nicely. They're privately owned, too. Thrift stores can be charity-based and accept tax-deductible donations, or they can be a for-profit resale store. While they can sell on a consignment basis, it's not the primary way they stock their inventory. Prices at thrift stores are often lower, but the merchandise isn't usually washed or inspected.

DEAR SARA: How do you decide a need versus a want? There doesn't seem to be a specific answer/definition, and there are lots of gray areas between wants and needs. That started me thinking. How do others define the two? -- J. Moffitt, Michigan

DEAR J. MOFFITT: Food, clothing, heat and shelter are basic needs and essentials. Each person has his or her own personal needs, too. For example, I don't need a car because everything I need is within walking or biking distance, but it's a strong personal need. I don't want to go without a vehicle. My personal need for my computer could be absolutely absurd to someone else. To me, sacrificing a personal need wouldn't be satisfactory. I'm fortunate that I don't have to live on only basic needs. When prioritizing on your path toward frugal living, pinpoint things that are important to you. A want will be something that is nice to have. Only you can decide and separate wants from needs. Start from the basic needs everyone has, and take it from there. Keep in mind that not many people want to live a life in basic survival mode. If your goal is frugality, then consider what things are not necessary, the long-term impact of the choice you make and whether you can afford it. Are there alternatives? How can you be less wasteful? I can't impose my values and views on anyone else. I simply encourage folks to widen their perspective and to aim to live more intentionally through prioritizing what is important and try to minimize what isn't when possible,

DEAR SARA: A group of us is having a progressive dinner. Several people volunteer their homes, and each host home provides a drink and one course, plus the tableware. We want this to be very frugal. We are having four courses: appetizers, salad, entree and dessert. My part is the appetizer. I'm thinking of greeting people outside on the front porch with a pot of hot spiced cider and giving them that for a drink. Then I'll invite them inside for the appetizers. Sure would love to hear your suggestions. Thanks! -- Diana, Missouri

DEAR DIANA: I would make soup and a hot dip. Serve them with cheese, raw vegetables, crackers and fresh bread or baguettes. You can use a slow cooker to keep the hot foods hot. It's simple, stress-free and not too light, but not too heavy.

photo by Steven Snodgrass