Dear Answer Angel: I'm hoping you could write a column on security when shopping. Just this past week I was pick-pocketed. I realized it five minutes later. Needless to say, I have been busy filling out reports and replacing cards that were stolen. It's a scary experience, and I want others to avoid it if possible. I hope you can spread the word for others.
— Jan A.
Dear Jan: The very best advice I can give you is to do what I just did before I started typing this. I took all the credit cards out of my wallet and put them on a copier, making two copies: one for work and one for home. At least I can save time and grief if I do get pick-pocketed!
Now, how to avoid ever needing to use that info? After talking to big-city street crime cops I've come up with some pointers:
•If you're in a crowd, elderly, have small kids, have both hands full or carry an open purse you're a target. Hold your purse close to your body, flap side inward, zipped or closed tight. Pay attention to your surroundings.
•Avoid opening your wallet in view of others. Minimize the cash and credit cards you carry — and put them in a front pocket. Men: Keeping your wallet in a back pants pocket is an open invitation to thieves.
•Never put your purse on the back of your chair or on the ground.
•Don't put a wallet or valuables in a backpack — easily unzipped without your knowing.
•Panhandlers, people asking for directions or requesting you take their picture — they can be scammers who work with partners to relieve you of your wallet.
•Do not use the purse hook in the restroom stall.
•If you feel someone's hand in your purse or pocket, yell your lungs out.
Dear Answer Angel: Can you try on shirts that are packaged at a department store? It seems as if they go through a lot of trouble to package them with pins and tissue paper and stuff.
— A guy who doesn't shop much
Dear Guy: Yes! The only way to be sure it fits properly is to try it on. Unless the store has a specific, posted policy about not opening the packaged shirts, you not only can but should try it. If there is a strict prohibition of try-ons, you can get around the (dumb) policy by asking if the shirt can be returned with tags on and a receipt. Then take it home, try it and return if it's not to your liking.
Dear Answer Angel: My sister's two daughters are having a double wedding, and I cannot find a dress that I can wear. I am a size 14 and old enough to be a grandmother. Most "evening" or "cocktail" dresses seem to be either above the knee or floor length, neither of which I want. Also, because I am tall, dresses are much shorter on me. "Mother-of-the-bride" dresses seem a bit too formal for a guest, and I don't want to look like a member of the wedding party.
You would think that someone would realize that there are a lot of "boomers" who occasionally need a nice dress for a special event. Can you offer any advice?
Dear Susan: I hear this lament all the time, and I totally agree. You'd think that for all those boomers, stores would have a huge selection of dressy dresses. They don't. The search is more frustrating for plus-size women. But I have an answer: separates. "Think about a skirt and a blouse in a dressier fabric," says Susan Swimmer, More magazine's fashion features editor. And if the skirt lengths don't suit you, think pants in a luxurious fabric. I recently saw some beautiful plus-size Tahari pants and blouses that would be perfect for a wedding. Meanwhile, even dresses that would otherwise work often are sleeveless, which can be very unflattering for women over 50. Consider layering with an elegant sweater (perhaps with some sparkle) or jacket. For less formal occasions, I'll create my own sleeves by wearing a skinny T or shiny blouse beneath my sleeveless bargain little black dress. Swimmer says she has had good luck shopping at Ann Taylor, Talbots, White House/Black Market and Banana Republic.
One more thing: Several frugal readers point out that I didn't go far enough in an earlier column on saving money on rental car insurance. I should have added to check with your credit card companies before renting a car because, when you use their cards, many companies offer free or cheaper coverage than the insurance that the car company is trying to sell you.
Shop, drop, get help
Yearning for a friend (only better) to tell you what to choose, where to look, how to get good value? Relax, now you've got an angel on your shoulder. Send questions large and small to firstname.lastname@example.org.