A La Jolla Life on a Mira Mesa Income

Times Staff Writer

Sally Gary has never been so popular, nor her talents so coveted. She has scores of people rapping at her door, begging for secrets.

Some consider Gary an expert at saving money-- big money--in what many construe as one of America’s most expensive cities.

Gary says that San Diego is not America’s most expensive city, but “it’s really right up there.” As a result, living here--and doing so comfortably--demands, in her book, cunning and the cleverest kind of fiscal fitness to make a dollar stretch like a yoga instructor.

Outgrowth of Dating Class


Gary is one of the most sought-after professors in local community colleges. She teaches a seminar at various colleges titled “Fabulous Freebies & Bargains in America’s Finest City--Experience San Diego Like a King Without Emptying Your Pockets.”

Gary started teaching the course two years ago as an outgrowth of a course on dating and the expenses that entails. Since then, she and the schools offering the course have had to turn people away, as if they were scalpers bidding for Super Bowl tickets.

It seems that everyone wants to know how to live like a La Jollan on a Mira Mesa income.

Gary says it can be done.

“I’m like a lot of people,” she explained. “I want to live beyond my means--comfortably. You really can have it all, and you don’t have to pay through the nose to do so.”

Gary, who refuses to give her age but has two grown children, grew up in Washington and later lived in New York, which is to money what cats are to little mice. She moved to San Diego in 1967 when it was “still a relatively cheap place to live.”

Housing a Big Factor

She said the main reason San Diego is so shockingly expensive to newcomers is housing, which she said gobbles up about half of just about everybody’s budget.

San Diego becomes more expensive, Gary said, if a person gets married, has children, gets divorced or all of the above. It isn’t a cheap place to live any longer, regardless of a person’s take-home pay.

The focus of Gary’s efforts goes beyond food and housing to take in “the pleasant little excesses of life,” such as movies, theater, fine restaurants-- entertainment , which most people start to think they have to do without when outgo looms bigger than income. She says entertainment can be a part of anyone’s life, provided they use their heads and don’t spend wildly or compulsively.

She recommends 2-for-1 coupon books, such as “Entertainment ’89" or “Taste of the Town.” She said either can be obtained from local charities. She also recommends low-cost movie theaters, or the $3-per-ticket Mann and Pacific theater gift books available through businesses and at the teller windows of some banks. She recommends shopping for low-cost videos and said some libraries offer free checkouts on current videos.

Rife With Discounts

San Diego is rife with discounts, most of which aren’t advertised, she said, which makes the adventure of finding them all the more enticing.

“There’s different ways of getting into the zoo for less,” she said. “For instance, if you live in the 921 ZIP code area (meaning within the city limits), you can go to a special window and get in for less. There’s all kinds of family plans available and special days at special fares. You just have to look.

“There’s giveaways to the Wild Animal Park and Padres games, all sorts of things. Many companies offer special nights, and many of the people who work for such companies don’t even know about those.”

Gary said her students range from teen-agers to the “very elderly,” from the newly married to the newly unmarried, from seasoned veterans of the local scene to those who have just arrived and are “locked in a state of shock.”

Gary even welcomes a few millionaires to every class.

“So many people become millionaires just by watching every cent they spend,” she said. “People like this want $1.75 value for every $1 they spend. One millionaire came to the class wanting to know more about grocery coupons.”

For “clothes horses,” millionaire or otherwise, Gary recommends factory outlets or half-price sales that some of the larger, cushier stores hold, usually after major holidays.

Gary calls factory outlets “the next-best thing to having an uncle in the business.” She also swears by discount travel companies, which she said are as far away as a toll-free telephone number or can be discovered simply by scanning the ads in the travel sections of local newspapers.

“See, the travel business is really like any retail business. If they haven’t sold all of their fall clothes--or tours--they mark down the rest just to get rid of ‘em. Check about 30 days before a tour is ready to go to get the best deal.”

Older Men Ride Free

One company offers lavish discounts for men 55 or older on cruises, she said, since females greatly outnumber males on such expeditions.

“In some cases, men can go on cruises for free,” Gary said. “There are strings attached, though, like you have to dance with every woman there. You can’t just sit in the corner and sip wine with one of your favorites. Some of these outfits will even pay an old boy’s bar bill.”

Gary said 2-for-1 books also can be obtained for such cities as New York or Paris, provided you know how to score them. She says you can go to Las Vegas for $5 if you’re willing to leave by bus from the Carlsbad Parks and Recreation Department at 7 in the morning.

Gary’s next class, which routinely sells out to as many as 75 students, will be offered Feb. 4 at Grossmont College.