Monday, December 21, 2009

Make The Holidays Pleasant, Even With Fewer Presents

Most of us will be tightening the belt a bit this year, and buying fewer and less extravagant gifts for our loved ones. How do you keep the jolly in the holiday with less material cheer under the tree? What do we do when our few offerings are unwrapped, and we still have most of the day stretching ahead of us?

Dig out those old-fashioned Christmas movies like "Miracle on 34th Street", "White Christmas" or "It's a Wonderful Life." You could also watch one of those animated children's holiday specials that all of the networks run this time of year.

Ransack your closets for costumes, and have the kids put on a Christmas-themed play or talent show.

Get out the cookie cutters, and make some Christmas cookies. Have the kids help you decorate them. Alternatively, you could assemble a gingerbread house. Why not share with your neighbors?

If you live in a snowy climate, get outdoors and build a snowman, make snow angels, go sledding, or have a snowball fight.

Make a Christmas craft together. Projects can be found in abundance on the Internet for both kids and adults. As an added bonus, you'll have an extra decoration or gift for someone for next year!

Pull a holiday classic like "A Christmas Carol" from the bookshelf and read aloud to your family.

Work on a puzzle with a holiday motif, or play a game of Scrabble with the rule that all words must have a yuletide theme.

Make mugs of cocoa and walk around your neighborhood looking at all of your neighbors' decorations.

Get out the karaoke machine if you have one, and sing some Christmas carols. If you don't have a karaoke machine, a willing piano accompanist helps, but a cappella renditions from memory work too. Bonus points if you walk around the neighborhood caroling to your neighbors!

I would love to hear about your favorite Christmas afternoon pursuits. Hopefully I've given you a few new ideas as well!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's A Wrap!

Running low on wrapping paper and need to finish packaging your Christmas gifts? I mentioned some ideas for green gift wrapping in last year's Christmas post , but this year I would like to elaborate on the idea of wrapping with cloth.

The Japanese have a tradition of wrapping gifts in cloth called Furoshiki. Some basic Furoshiki wrapping techniques can be found here: You can buy beautiful Furoshiki cloths, but you can just as easily use your own material.

I like the idea of making the cloth wrap part of the gift, for instance, wrapping jewelry or gloves in a pretty scarf, pajamas in a pillowcase, a kitchen-related gift in a dish towel, or wrapping soap, skin-care items or a manicure set in a hand towel.

This would also be a good way to use well-worn clothing not quite good enough to donate to the thrift store. A plaid flannel, gingham check, or quilt-look fabric in Christmasy colors would work particularly well. I was thinking of buying some clothes cheap at yard sales for just this purpose. Old blankets or throws would work well too, particularly in wool or fleece. After Christmas, the fabric could be used in quilts, or rag rugs, to sew small heating pads or coasters, or simply folded and stored for next year.

Another option is to sew the fabric into bags. My mom made some cute quilted ones one year out of a bunch of scraps. You can either turn the fabric down and make a channel to insert a drawstring, or you can make a closure with a button and buttonhole, or you can simply tie it shut with a pretty ribbon or cord. These can be reused year after year. They are also great for storing fragile ornaments. You could embroider the recipient's name on the bag if you wanted to get fancy.

I hope this has given you some good ideas about how to adorn those holiday gifts. Soon you'll be crossing this chore off your list for another year and saying "it's a wrap!"

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ways To Share And Care When You Have Nothing To Spare

This holiday, more people than ever will need just a little help to enjoy the season. How can we help others when we too are suffering the effects of the economic downturn? Even if you think you have nothing to spare, there are small ways you can make a difference.

Did your child receive a toy from a well-meaning yet distant relative that wasn't exactly age-appropriate, or something he or she would enjoy? Local fire departments host toy drives every year where they ask for still-packaged toys which they distribute to kids in need.

Do you have some cans of soup, chili or vegetables which you bought on sale and your family didn't like? Donate them to a canned food drive in your area.

Do you have some toiletries or makeup samples lying around? Did someone gift you with a bottle of shower gel for your birthday with a fragrance you don't care for, or a book you wouldn't enjoy? Deliver them to a women's shelter or retirement community. They are always looking for donations, especially this time of year.

Are there some holiday decorations that you just don't use anymore? You could offer them on or donate them to a local thrift store so that someone who needs them can have them.

If you are unable to donate money or goods this year, what about giving your time? Many local churches and organizations such as women's clubs, the Salvation Army and Lion's and Rotary clubs need volunteers for relief events they are organizing this season. Check with local organizations to see if they need workers for toy drives, grocery giveaways, holiday breakfasts and dinners for the needy, etc. Local SPCA's and animal shelters may also need volunteers for holiday adoption drives.

Don't forget about people in your own neighborhood who may need help. You may have elderly neighbors that could use some assistance putting up their tree or Christmas lights. A "secret santa" gift left on the porch of a nearby family you know are having a tough time this year would be a nice gesture.

I hope this post has shown you some ways you can help out this season, even if you are experiencing some financial challenges yourself. Please share your own ideas for giving something back to the community.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Uncork Your Creativity This Christmas

I'd like to share the directions for a quick and easy Christmas craft with you. We will be making a cute Christmas tree-shaped trivet which will come in handy for holding those hot cookie sheets and casserole dishes during all of your holiday baking and gatherings. You will need 34 wine corks, some glue such as Elmer's, and one sheet of green felt which you can get at the craft store. If you don't have corks saved up, you can ask friends to save theirs, make friends with a bar owner, or order some on ebay.

It is easiest to work on a non-stick surface such as the backing from a sheet of labels or stickers. This keeps your trivet from sticking to your work surface while it is drying. Arrange your corks in rows on your non-stick surface. The top row will have one cork, the second row will have two corks, the third row three corks, the fourth row four corks, the fifth row five corks, the sixth row six corks, and the seventh row seven corks. The eighth and ninth rows will each have three corks. After you have arranged all of the corks, remove them one at a time, squeezing a line of glue between each where they connect and replacing it. Eventually the corks will all be back in place, and there will be glue between them on all sides where they connect. Leave the trivet to dry overnight. When it is completely dry, place it on the green felt, and draw around it with a piece of chalk. Cut out the felt about 1/2" smaller than the chalk line all the way around. Glue to the bottom of the trivet, being careful not to make the glue too thick or it will seep through the felt and show.

After it is completely dry, your trivet is ready for duty! These trivets also make a nice hostess gift if you are going to a party at someone else's house. Please let me know how you like it if you make one. I use mine every holiday season!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Custom-Made Celebration

This Thanksgiving, why not start some new family traditions? Thanksgiving is one of the few days of the year when extended families are typically gathered together. What better time to start some new holiday customs?

How about a long walk together after dinner? I'm sure everyone would welcome the chance to walk off that turkey and the extra helping of mashed potatoes! If there's nowhere to walk in your neighborhood, you could always drive to a nearby park or trail.

One idea I'm sure the hostess would appreciate is drawing names for chores. Since the person hosting has gone through all the work of preparing the meal, it's only fair that everyone else should pitch in with setting the table, clearing the table, loading and unloading the dishwasher, etc.

A particularly nice tradition, in my opinion, is to invite friends or acquaintances who are not having their own family get-together to celebrate with your family. If your guests are from another country, have them bring a traditional dish from their homeland to share. This should bring some new and interesting foods into the mix!

Some families pose with the entire clan for a picture on Thanksgiving Day. This photo is then used to create their annual Christmas cards. In larger families, sometimes names are drawn on Thanksgiving for the Christmas gift exchange as well.

Another nice idea is a toast at the dinner table in honor of family members who have achieved something during the year. It could be a promotion, high school graduation, a marriage, the birth of a new child, beating cancer, etc. For non-drinkers, make sure to have some sparkling cider on hand so they can participate.

After the table is cleared and everyone is in a turkey torpor, why not pull out those traditional holiday films and get into the holiday spirit? It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street are two of my favorites.

If the women in your family usually go shopping on Black Friday, what about having the women in the family sleep over so they can get an early start in the morning? While they are pounding the pavement for deals, the men can be pulling out the Christmas decorations and getting a jump on decking the halls!

I hope this post gives you a few new ideas for ways to celebrate Thanksgiving with your family. I would love to hear what some of your traditions are, too!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Love Don't Cost A Thing

As I stooped to pull a weed from my neighbor's yard the other day, the idea for this post popped into my head. What little things can we do to help others, and make ourselves feel great, that are absolutely free?

If you have an elderly neighbor, or one that's been injured recently, pull a few weeds in their yard or take out their barrels on trash day.

Give out compliments liberally, but only if you really mean them. People can recognize an insincere compliment.

Leave a few coupons you can't use by their corresponding products on the shelf.

When you bake, bake a little extra for your neighbors.

Hold the door for someone, especially if you see they have their hands full.

In the morning when you retrieve your newspaper from the end of the driveway, grab your neighbor's too and place it on their porch.

Take an extra minute to greet the person who serves your coffee or helps you at the bank. Give him or her a nice smile.

Call someone who lives alone or has been ill recently just to see how they are doing.

Offer to collect your neighbor's mail or water their yard while they're away.

Take a minute to find a few things around your house you can donate to a thrift store, homeless or battered women's shelter, or animal rescue.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I would love to hear your ideas too. Once you get in the habit of doing nice things for others, it will become automatic. Give it a try today, and remember, your good karma is sure to come back to you!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Carve Out Some Frugal, Fun Time With Family and Friends

When October rolls around, one of the things I look forward to the most is my sister's annual Pumpkin Carving Party. We always have at least 20-25 participants in the carving contest, and lots more people just socializing, drinking wine and watching the contestants. She fills the whole house with decorations collected over the years. Some people wear costumes, some wear Halloween t-shirts, and some just come as they are.

It's not a really expensive event to plan, because everyone brings a dish for the buffet, and a pumpkin to carve. If you can't find a pumpkin you like, try a turnip, beet or butternut squash. Those all work well, and have a unique look. The hostess provides drinks, more food, and prizes for the contest winners. We pick up prizes inexpensively at the after-Halloween sales for the next year.

Usually people arrive in mid-afternoon, hang out, talk and eat for a couple of hours, then the carving begins. We have a binder of patterns that we have saved and photocopied over the years for those who don't know what they want to carve, but most people just free-hand a design with a permanent marker. We stock up on those carving kits with the tools after the holiday every year, so we have plenty on hand. We also stock up on those little votive candles at the end of the season. When it starts to get dark, we line all the pumpkins up, light candles inside each one, and draft some party-goers who did not carve to be impartial judges. We have categories like cutest, spookiest, most original, most traditional, scariest, friendliest, etc. We make sure all the small children win a prize so no one feels left out. We always try to have a variety of prizes for different age groups. At the end of the night, everyone takes their pumpkin home to display.

Host a Pumpkin Carving Party this year. You, your family and friends will all have a great time, guaranteed! Don't forget to save and roast the seeds in the oven. Salt lightly for a tasty, inexpensive and healthy snack!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Create, Relate, Celebrate!

Today marks the fourth annual World Cardmaking Day. This occasion was created to celebrate the creativity involved in making your own cards, to provide an opportunity for card-makers around the world to connect, and to officially kick off the holiday card-making season. Why not celebrate by making some handmade cards?

Basic card stock can be found at craft stores such as Michael's or Joanne's, or even sometimes at your local dollar store. Although you can buy a lot of beautiful stickers, rubber stamps and ink at such stores, I think it's a lot of fun to use materials found around the house. A potato can be cut in half and then carved into a stamp. Magazines provide good sources for pictures or letters that can be cut out and glued on, ransom note style. Buttons or dried flowers can be adhered with craft glue. A plain old glue stick works great for flat stuff such as cutouts, photos or postage stamps. One interesting effect is to draw a word lightly on the wrong side with pencil (keeping in mind it will need to be backwards to read correctly on the front) and then poke a pin through at regular intervals along the lines. You can also stitch designs on the card with embroidery stitching. You are limited only by your imagination.

When your card is ready for an envelope, you can either buy a box of blank envelopes, or fold your own. Old calendar pages, wrapping paper, maps or comic pages are great for this. Here is a basic envelope template which can be resized as necessary:

People are so used to receiving electronic greetings these days, think how excited they will be to receive an actual handmade card! Have some fun today and make a card or two. Reaching out to those you love in a creative way is what it's all about!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tweak Your Routine To Sneak In Savings

Adjusting your habits even slightly can result in savings which can really add up over time. What are some of the ways you could tweak your routine to sneak in savings?

One way would be to get up earlier and go to bed earlier, allowing you to do more things by daylight. This would save energy used for lighting, resulting in a lower electric bill. I've also chosen to do things like reading that use more light earlier in the day, and then watch TV or listen to music which require less light, later in the day.

Another slight adjustment I've made to my routine is to walk to the grocery store when I only need a few things, or walk to perform other errands, especially in cooler weather. This saves gas, wear and tear on the car, and I get some much-needed exercise all at the same time.

You could also spend your free time on a paying hobby, such as making crafts for sale, writing articles to be published, or panning for gold, instead of watching TV or pursuing a hobby that costs you a lot of money.

Another small change I've made is to dry clothes in the dryer for a few minutes and then hang to dry after washing. This helps me avoid "crunchy" towels and jeans, and saves energy and wear on my dryer.

When cooking pasta, I always use the Indian method I read about somewhere. Bring the pasta to a boil, then add the pasta, turn the burner off and put the lid on. The pasta will cook in the still-hot water in about 15 minutes. This saves the energy that would be used to simmer the noodles for 10 minutes or so using the traditional method.

One more thing I stopped doing years ago was blow-drying my hair. This saves me time in the morning, and electricity. It works fine for my all-one-length long hair, but may or may not work for your hairstyle. Give it a try and see.

Buying staples such as oats, flour, sugar, pasta etc. from bulk bins is another tiny thing I do differently nowadays. They are much cheaper that way, and I like reusing jars and other containers to store them.

I discovered that my grocery store has an extensive section of marked-down baked goods that have reached their sell-by date in the back of the store, so now before I buy bread, I always check there first. I store it in the freezer anyway, so it never goes bad before I can use it.

When I want to eat out at a restaurant, I always choose between those that I have coupons for, rather than making a completely random selection. This saves quite a bit of money, and I always find one for whatever type of food I might be in the mood for.

I always cook small meals in my toaster oven, because it uses a lot less energy than the regular oven. I have also become very proficient with my microwave and crock pot.

It may sound silly, but if I'm home alone, reading my book on the couch, I use my book light, which is powered by rechargeable batteries, rather than needlessly lighting the whole room.

When I use my dishwasher, if I only have a lightly soiled load, I use the "ecowash" setting, and I always turn off the "dry" setting. These two things save a lot of energy, and my dishes dry just fine if I prop the door open a little at the end of the cycle.

These are just a few of the ways I have made slight adjustments to my daily routine to save money and/or time. What are some of the tweaks you sneak into your routine? I look forward to hearing some of your solutions I haven't thought of.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thrifty Throwdown

Have you ever wondered which of two options is the most frugal? That's when it's time for a quick comparison, or as I like to call it, a thrifty throwdown.

Take toilet tissue, for instance. Which is more economical - single or double-ply? That probably depends on your household's habits. For me it's a toss-up. I pretty much use the same amount either way. If you have a family member that likes to grab the roll and wrap and wrap and wrap great wads of the stuff around his hand, then you will probably find the single-ply to be cheaper. If you have a CVS in your area, I find those $5 off $20 coupons they sometimes let you print out with your card to be great for stocking up on CVS brand toilet tissue when it's on sale. It's very cheap this way.

What about cloth vs. paper napkins? I'd say it comes firmly down on the side of cloth napkins. I have been using the same set of handmade cloth napkins (one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received) for about fifteen years now. I would have had to buy an awful lot of paper napkins in that time, not to mention the environmental impact of using all that paper. What about the cost of laundering the cloth napkins? I find they take up very little space in a load, so it's no trouble just to throw them in with my normal loads. If your family are not messy eaters, they can be used several times before being washed. Use napkin rings to keep track of whose napkin is whose.

Consider bottled water vs. a reusable bottle and a filter system. You would have to figure out how much filtered water you drink, both at home and and away. Then you would need to look at how much bottled water sells for (don't forget the bottle deposit, which you will get back if you return them to a recycling center), the price of the filter system and replacement filters, and how much water you can filter with them. I can get the filters pretty cheap on sale, with a coupon. For me, the home system and reusable bottle makes a lot more sense, although I still can't get my significant other to use a reusable bottle. He says he will just lose it. So, I make sure I at least recycle all his bottles. Economics aside, it takes energy to recycle all those bottles, even if they do all get recycled. For most people, the reusable bottle and filter system will be the better choice.

Should you boil water for tea and coffee on the stove, or heat it in the microwave? That depends on whether your stove is gas or electric, and how much you pay per gas therm or kilowatt. This information can be found on your bill. You would need to calculate how long it takes to boil the water, and how much energy your stove or microwave uses in this time. Even easier, would be to do it one way the first month, and the other way the next month, and compare your bills. You would have to make sure all your other energy usage was about the same as usual to get an accurate comparison.

Is it cheaper to use regular light bulbs, or the new CFL bulbs? The regular bulbs are a lot cheaper to buy initially, but the CFL bulbs last a lot longer. They also use a lot less energy. The only time the CFL bulbs are not cheaper to operate is if you have them somewhere where you turn the light off and on constantly. Then they wear out a lot quicker, and the initial cost of purchasing them will not be recouped in energy savings.

During the course of your day, when you think of something that can be done more than one way, take the time to do a quick frugal faceoff. Once you've done the calculations, you will save each time you perform the activity in the most efficient way. Unless the factors involved change significantly, you only have to do the math once. Save all of us some brain strain, and post your own able analyses here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Apple A Day Helps Keep High Grocery Bills Away

With the first chilly Fall mornings, a frugalista's thoughts turn to - apples? They're cheap this time of year, they're nutritious and they're versatile. Whether you take a weekend trip to your local U-pick farm, or buy them on sale at the grocery store, there's a lot you can do with them.

Apples are the perfect lunch box fruit. They don't need peeling, they're not messy and most kids and adults like them. Just make sure to wash before eating if they're not organic, to remove pesticides.

Peeled and sliced, you can bake them into a pie, or simmer them into a side dish that's good with kielbasa, pork chops or chicken.

Chop them up and simmer them down, add a little cinnamon and brown sugar, and you've got apple sauce. Apple sauce can also be canned and enjoyed year round.

Sliced and dried, you can seal them into air-tight bags or jars and keep them a long time. I see dehydrators all the time at yard sales and thrift stores.

On a really cold winter day, I like to bake apples. I core them, put them in a cake pan, and fill the hole with pats of butter, raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon. Then I bake them at 350 degrees until they're soft.

If you've got the right equipment, you can make cider and juice. If not, you can buy it at your local orchard or farmer's market. It's full of vitamins. I like mine hot, with spices (mulled). Here's a recipe:

2 qts. apple cider
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1 orange (unpeeled)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. whole cloves
brandy (optional)

Combine cider, sugar, ginger and orange in slow cooker. Tie cinnamon and cloves in a small cheesecloth bag; add to crock pot. Cover and cook on LOW 2 to 4 hours. The entire house will smell great! Remove the bag of spices. In a mug put a shot of brandy, then fill with hot mix from cooker. If you don't want the brandy, just serve as is from the cooker.Makes 10 to 12 servings

A little hard on the teeth perhaps, but caramel apples are another Autumn favorite. Just insert popsicle sticks, melt some caramel candies in the microwave with a little milk, dip, and allow to cool.

If you want to get crafty, you can try a project I did once as a kid - apple dolls. There are some instructions here:

No matter how you slice, dice or spice them, apples are an inexpensive, healthful and delicious fruit that should be on your fall grocery list.

Friday, August 28, 2009

In Protest of Premature Promotion

Unbelievable, I know, but I have already begun to hear Christmas music playing in stores and restaurants, and most oddly of all, blaring from an ice-cream truck. I don't know about you, but all this untimely jollity puts me in a decidedly "Bah, humbug!" mood. It was bad enough that they started around Halloween the last few years. Now, before all the kids are even back to school, before the calendar even officially recognizes Fall, it has begun.

All of this early cheer has a purpose, of course. Facing the prospect of another dismal holiday shopping season, retailers are trying their hardest to get us in the shopping mood. Should you feel responsible for jump starting the economy by shopping 'till you drop? I say no. Retailers will adapt by streamlining their operations and selling more affordable merchandise, or they will not survive.

Don't be pressured into buying by the power of suggestion. The best way to shop for Christmas, birthdays or any occasion, is to shop all year. Take advantage of clearance sales, retailer coupons, closeouts, and brand new merchandise at yard sales and flea markets. If you see some great bargains during the actual Christmas shopping season, great. If not, you can sit back and rejoice in the season, secure in the knowledge that you have a well-stocked gift box at home. All that's left is to listen to some free downloaded Christmas music and wrap your gifts (using recycled materials of course!).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Penny Pinching Pioneers

You're probably aware of a lot of great magazines and blogs out there today dispensing advice about frugality and simple living. Did you know that even before the days of the Internet, way back when, there were some masters of the art of saving money, who were scrimpin' it old school? I want to make sure you don't miss out on their wisdom.

Ben Franklin, one of our country's founding fathers, was not only a hard-working man and inventor, he liked to hold onto his cash. "Spare and have is better than spend and crave" he once said. Nor did he believe in abusing credit. "Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt" he advised. He thought it prudent to watch the small expenditures that can wreck a budget. "Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship." he felt. "Shop till you drop" was definitely not his motto. "If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting" he counseled. A fan of "do-it-yourself", he printed wine-making instructions in one of his publications to help people brew their own inexpensive wine. He also started a lending library.

The pioneers were frugal by necessity. They couldn't lug a bunch of stuff with them over such a long distance, over rough terrain, in a rickety wooden wagon. They had to get creative, and make what they used, grow or kill what they ate, and use their stuff until it wore out. What was not strictly useful got abandoned by the side of the trail to lighten the load. Once they established new settlements, they had to keep up their simple ways. There was no local department store to rely on, and no money to spend anyway. Aside from some limited trading with the Indians, they had to make what they needed. That chapter in one of the Little House on the Prairie books where they made all their Christmas gifts - rag dolls, wooden toys, etc., has always been one of my favorites.

Those who lived through the great depression also had no choice but to be thrifty. Jobs were scarce, savings were lost when banks failed, and people had to help each other to survive. No matter how little food a family had, if someone came to the back door asking for something to eat, they would share. People would share clothes, tools, household items, anything they had. Sadly this spirit of giving is scarce today, although a return to this mindset would benefit us all. During this time, many inexpensive recipes were developed to work around shortages of certain foods, and utilize cheap ingredients that were readily available. Some of these recipes can be found here: .

There's even a video on YouTube of a 93 year old woman preparing some recipes from this era:

In the 1970's a teenager named Dolly Freed wrote the book Possum Living. It was about her "back to the land" lifestyle. She lived with her father on half an acre just outside Philadelphia. Much of the information and ideas may be too extreme for most people, but it is fascinating. They lived on a budget of about $700 per year, raised all their own food, and brewed their own alcohol. If you are interested, you can read it here:

Just before the rampant consumerism of the 80's got underway, there was a book published called Living More With Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. Written by a Mennonite woman, the book revealed how wastefully Americans live, and how people in other countries make the most of their meager resources. It is a manual for living more simply and being less attached to material possessions. There are a lot of practical tips for stretching your budget and making do with what you already have. Since the author is a religious woman, the biblical quotes may put some readers off, but if you can get past that there is some great information there.

Amy Dacyczyn, aka The Frugal Zealot, became fairly well known in the 1990's for her newsletter, The Tightwad Gazette. The newsletter was eventually published as a series of three books, The Tightwad Gazette I, II and III. After that, there was a "complete edition" with all the books combined. This series is my bible. Originally a spendthrift, Amy became an extreme frugalite to realize her dream of raising a large family and owning a sprawling farmhouse in New England. Although her and her husband had an average combined income of less than $30,000, after seven years they had saved $49,000, purchased vehicles, large appliances and furniture, and were debt-free! She analyzed things such as the cost of drying a load of laundry or whether it was cheaper to use cloth or disposable diapers, and came up with ingenious ways to reuse things that would normally be thrown out. She also includes some great thrifty recipes. Again, some of the information could be considered extreme, but she always approached saving money ethically. You can use what you want and ignore the rest. I heartily recommend these books as the best I have ever read on frugality and simple living. Now that Amy has achieved her financial goals, she no longer writes books or newsletters, and declines to blog, although many have begged her to. She claims she has shared everything she has to say on the subject.

Another classic frugal living book that came out of the 90's was Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. It was about changing your relationship with money and achieving financial independence as soon as possible. The most useful idea I gleaned from the book was that of analyzing each purchase by the number of hours of work it took to earn the money to pay for it. Things suddenly become a lot less desirable when you realize how long and hard you would have to labor for them. This book also reveals how silly the old model of "keeping up with the Joneses" is. Now that we are in the age of the Internet, there is a website dedicated to the book's philosophy here:

Last but not least, there is the first book that taught me the basics about personal finance and investing. It was originally published in 1997. Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties by Beth Kobliner. It explained everything in very plain, easy to understand language. Nowadays, there is a website, of course, where you can go for more information:

I hope some of these pilgrims of parsimony, explorers of economizing, scouts of saving serve to inspire you. Do you know of any frugal pioneers I haven't mentioned? Please share their stories. I'm always searching for new sources of inspiration.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reading, Writing and Reasonable Prices

It's back to school time. For moms, that means lots of peace and quiet, but what does it mean for the rest of us? It means savings!

All the major department stores and office supply stores are having sales right now on office supplies. Pens, pencils, notebooks, paper, USB drives, tape, glue, even laptops are on sale. Some drugstores and office supply stores have these items for a few cents or even free if you send in a rebate. Check to see if your local stores have a rebate program. Now is the time to restock your home office.

Thanks to the kids heading back to college, a whole bunch of housewares are on sale too. Towels, mini fridges, sheets (usually twin XL only), and small appliances such as toasters and microwaves, are all discounted. Organizational aids, such as memo boards, shelves, closet storage units, hangers and plastic bins are also cheap. Many of the items that are suited for college dorm rooms are also perfectly sized for studio apartments. Now is the time to outfit yours.

Students also need new clothes for school (or think they do). Great prices can be found on clothes, shoes, backpacks, etc. for the next couple of weeks. Act now if your wardrobe needs a boost.

Take advantage of the many opportunities for back to school savings. Why should kids have all the fun?

Monday, July 27, 2009

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

I get by with a little help from my friends. So do you. Have you ever thought about how your network of family and friends helps you to stretch your dollars?

Do you ever watch your friend's or sibling's child so that they can have an evening out without hiring a babysitter? I bet they do the same for you. Not that babysitters don't deserve to earn a living, but employing neighborhood teens is not always in the budget.

Have you shared coupons for things you don't use with your best friend, or the lady who sits next to you at work? Great idea! If nobody you know needs them, put them in that "take one, leave one" box at the library or local coffee shop.

How about asking your neighbor who's on her way to the grocery store to pick you up a pound of those grapes that are on sale? Or splitting a Costco-sized bulk pack of something you could never use up on time by yourself, but it's such a great deal you can't pass it up?

Does your employer offer a "friends and family discount"? How many times have you passed the savings on to your circle of pals? I'm sure they've reciprocated.

When was the last time you invited chums over for a game night, or karaoke night? Hosting your friends cheaply at home saves them, and you, a bundle on entertainment.

Do you swap weed eaters and tree pruners, bread makers and chocolate fountains with the neighbors? Sharing seldom-used gadgets benefits all involved. Don't forget about the little stuff, like books and movies. Buying or renting these can add up, especially with late fees!

Summer is in full swing. Are you trading zucchini and tomato surplus over the garden fence? Don't forget seeds and cuttings! That rooster of yours may be keeping your neighbor awake, but I bet he enjoys the eggs from your chickens!

Remember that cruise you took last month? How much did you save on long-term parking when your friend dropped you off at the airport? I bet it was enough to enjoy a special dinner in port.

While you were away, did your neighbor clean out your catbox, or walk your dog? A pet-sitter or kennel wouldn't have been cheap. I hope you brought him or her a souvenir t-shirt!

No man is an island. Since the time of the cavemen, people have known that they fare better if they stick together. What are some of the ways you get by with a little help from your friends?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Trickling Tributaries

One of the best pieces of personal financial advice I ever read was that you should develop different streams of income to supplement your main income source. I wouldn't say I have streams of income - more like trickling tributaries.

My main alternative income stream, not so much now, but in the future, will be my rental condo. Right now the mortgage, association fees, taxes and operating expenses add up to more than the rent I'm collecting. Many years down the road, the balance will tip, and the condo will start bringing in more than it costs me to maintain. At that point, the rental condo will provide a stream of income.

Another tiny trickle comes from my blog ads. It's hardly anything right now, but my blog is fairly new. If I work on providing some great content, my readership should grow, and this will become another stream.

Throughout the year, I work on various craft projects in my spare time. Several times a year, I sell my creations at local craft fairs. This provides another small stream.

My other rivulets of revenue include payments for completing surveys, participating in the Shopper's Hotline (more on this later, I'm still testing this to see if I want to recommend it), selling books and CD's on, mystery shopping, volunteering for focus groups, collecting promotional fees banks offer for opening new accounts, and savings and money market account interest (although it's pretty pathetic this year).

There are many other possible sources of supplementary income. Start a paper route. Purchase and service a vending machine route. Babysit or walk dogs. Collect cans or scrap metal to recycle. Sell some of your produce if you garden, or eggs if you raise chickens. Buy nice clothes or collectibles at yard sales, and resell for a profit on ebay. Sell cosmetics, jewelry, candles, scrapbooking supplies, etc., via home parties. These are just a few ideas.

The more sources of income you have, the more easily you can weather economic downturns such as the one we are experiencing now. What are some of your income streams?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cheap Chills

During the summer months it pays to have a few cool tricks up your sleeve. Read on for some of my favorite cheap ways to beat the heat.

Stash some grapes, blueberries and bananas in the freezer. Eat frozen for a frosty treat. Buy a plastic popsicle tray from the dollar store and use dollops of leftover jam, yogurt, fruit juice, iced tea, etc. to make your own popsicles. If you don't want to buy a popsicle tray, you can use old yogurt or sour cream containers with saved popsicle sticks.

Make up a pitcher of iced tea (or lemonade if you grow lemons) for pennies and keep your refrigerator stocked. Frozen berries make tasty ice cubes to float in the pitcher. Sipping cool liquids helps to keep your body temperature down.

Fill a bathtub partway with tepid water and relax in there with a book. If you don't have a tub, take a brief cool shower. Pat your skin lightly with a towel when you're done, and let the rest air dry. The evaporation will cool your skin. Sitting with your feet in a bucket of cool water to read or watch tv works well too!

Place a mixing bowl full of ice in front of a fan, and position the fan so it blows over the top of the bowl in your direction. The evaporation from the ice cubes will cool you. When the ice melts, make use of the water to water some plants!

Keep the shades down or curtains drawn on the sunny side of the house during the day.

Run dishwashers, clothes dryers, etc. late at night or early in the morning to avoid heating the house up. Better yet, hang the clothes out to dry and let the heat work for you!

Employ your crockpot, toaster oven or microwave oven for cooking during the summer months. Bonus points for using a solar cooker! The house will stay a lot cooler if you don't turn the oven on. On really hot days, cold sandwiches and salads make the best meals.

Soak a cotton hat in cold water, wring it out, and wear it wet. A towel wrung out and worn around the neck works great too.

Let your umbrella do double duty by carrying it to shield you from the sun. You'll feel a lot cooler without the sun's rays beating down on your skin. Bonus: avoiding skin cancer!

Fill a clean tube sock with rice, tie at the top and freeze overnight. Wrapped around your neck or taken into bed with you on hot nights, it has a pleasant cooling effect.

Plan errands that involve visiting air-conditioned places for the hottest times of the day. Avoid having to turn up your AC at home. After all, they have to run it anyway, whether you're there or not.

I hope these tips help you have a cool summer, not a cruel summer! If you can think of any great tips I missed, please share them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Use Your Noodle

One of my favorite inexpensive meals is pasta. It is so versatile! You can serve it hot or cold. Winter or Summer. There are endless variations of sauces. Most people like it, including kids.

I like to buy mine from the bulk bin at Winco. If you have bulk bins at a supermarket near you, check the price. I bet you'll find it's cheaper to buy it that way than in the box. Then you can store it in a tall canister or other container (I store mine in a heavy cardboard tube that once held whiskey). You don't waste so much packaging that way.Try the new whole grain pasta. I thought it would taste like cardboard, but it's actually really good, and has tons more fiber per serving.

An energy-saving tip I once read said to bring the water to a boil, add the pasta, stir, cover, and turn the burner off. The pasta will cook in the hot water after 15 or 20 minutes (check after 10 or 12 minutes). Before I read this, I used to leave the burner on simmer the whole time the noodles were cooking! Try it. It works perfectly every time.

Being a lazy person, I usually just buy some store-bought sauce (whatever's on sale, that I also have a coupon for) and doctor it up. I look for marked down bags of produce at the grocery store such as mushrooms, summer squash or red bell peppers that have a few dings and bruises. I chop the veggies, saute (or not) and add to the sauce and simmer for a while. I may throw in a little red wine if I have a bottle open. I buy Parmesan cheese in bulk and store it in the freezer. It keeps longer that way, and can be grated over the pasta while still frozen (just break a hunk off).

My second go-to sauce is pesto. I grow my own basil, which I give to my sister. She then makes pesto in the food processor with lots of basil, nuts (we prefer almonds, but walnuts work, and pine nuts are traditional), enough olive oil to moisten it, and a little garlic. The proportion should be roughly two parts basil, one part nuts. She jars it, and divvies it up between us. I store it in the freezer until I'm ready to use it. Then you just defrost it, toss it with the hot cooked pasta, and grate cheese over the top.

Occasionally I make a sorta like Arrabiata Sauce by chopping some eggplant and adding it to the store-bought sauce, along with a couple packets of the red peppers that come with takeout pizza.

Another nice sauce, which lets me take advantage of my mom's very prolific lemon tree, is made something like this. Whisk together about 2/3 cup olive oil with about 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, the juice of 2 lemons, and a little salt and pepper. Add cooked, hot pasta to the lemon mixture. Toss with 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil and 1 T grated lemon zest. If it's a little dry, toss with some of the cooking water from the pasta.

Sometimes we are in a mac n' cheese mood, and I usually use this recipe:

I like to add a little cooked broccoli or cauliflower so I can pretend I'm eating something somewhat nutritious.

Pasta Carbonara is not the healthiest either, but it's good for an occasional treat. The ingredients are very inexpensive. I use this recipe:

Serve with a salad to get your vegetable quota.

On warm summer days, I make one of two pastas. The first is made by chopping my own garden tomatoes, fresh basil and a little garlic, salt and pepper, and simmering for a short time in a saute pan coated with a little olive oil. Then toss with cooked pasta. The second is made by sauteing fresh summer squash, mushrooms, and zucchini, then tossing with cooked pasta and Parmesan cheese. Both are served at room temperature.

On hot as *&$#@! summer days, I like to make a cold pasta salad by tossing cooked corkscrew noodles with store-bought Italian Salad Dressing, sauteed veggies, canned black olives, and cubes of meat and cheese, if desired. Chill until dinner time.

Any of the pastas above can be accompanied by a good loaf of bread. If you are eating pasta, chances are you are not carb-phobic, so you might as well have some bread too. As you can see from the links above, I like the site There are tons of other great pasta recipes there, and you can also search by ingredient, if you have a specific ingredient you'd like to use up. Another tip: leftover pasta sauce makes a good soup base (another inexpensive meal)!

I hope you get a chance to try some of my pasta recipes. Let me know how you like them. Please share your own favorite pasta recipes, especially the quick and easy ones!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Money Maximization: A Game of Skill

What is the best way to make the most of your money? Learn some new skills. The more things you can learn to do yourself, rather than pay someone to do them, the more money you will save. This frees up cash for other needs.

One important skill you can learn is cooking. If you are not a very experienced cook, there are many ways to improve. You can watch cooking shows on TV, rent videos from the library, ask an experienced pal to give you some lessons, or take a class at a community center or junior college. Much can be learned from library books. My library has an excellent selection of recipe and cooking basics books. The Internet also contains a wealth of information on the subject. If you improve your cooking, you will not have to buy as many expensive prepared meals in the store, or visit restaurants as often. You also have a new source of inexpensive gifts! Besides, cooking can be a lot of fun as a shared activity with family or friends.

Another valuable accomplishment is learning to sew. Although in this age of cheap mass-produced clothing sewing your own duds from scratch is not always cheaper, it can certainly provide you with a more unique wardrobe. Acquiring the ability to make basic repairs and alterations, however, can save you some serious money. Tailors do not work cheaply. Cloth napkins, place mats, potholders, etc. to coordinate with the recipient's decorating scheme are also welcome gifts that don't break the bank. Sewing machine shops often provide free classes if you buy a machine there. You can also go the budget route, buying a serviceable machine at a yard sale or thrift store, and asking a snip-n-stitch-savvy friend to impart his or her basic wisdom. Community centers offer instruction in some locales.

Home improvement is another area where the hands-on approach is much easier on the budget. Home Depot offers special workshops to improve your competence in all sorts of areas, including painting, flooring installation, window-screen repair, ceiling fan installation, etc. New workshops are added all the time. Should you be tempted to use your gender as an excuse not to do-it-yourself, they even offer special workshops for women! Simple projects may even be handled with a quick perusal of a library book or web tutorial. I find encyclopedia-type books regarding basic construction techniques and household repairs in the thrift stores all the time. One caveat: please leave any complex jobs requiring the altering of your home's footprint, or those involving any possibly load-bearing walls or electrical work to the professionals!

A facility for basic auto repairs can likewise come in handy. I wouldn't attempt anything beyond changing the oil and wiper blades myself, but those of you with a willing tutor, good, clear set of instructional manuals, or especially informative website may wish to delve a little deeper. The financial savings can be huge!

An aptitude for investing your money is another arrow in the quiver of cash-management. Check out some personal investment books from the library, join an investment club, read Smart Money, Money or Kiplinger's magazine, pick the brain of a friend or relative who has grown their money successfully, or look for a community center or junior college course. Learn all you can, and make sure you understand the risks of any investment you are making. Also, be aware of any commissions or fees that will be charged when you invest, and how these will impact your returns.

Gardening is something that can be attempted with some limited success by even the (pardon the pun) greenest novice. Some additional know-how will greatly improve your chances of success, however. Shadow that green-thumbed neighbor, read the gardening section of your local paper, click on horticultural websites and borrow gardening magazines from the library. Nurseries offer excellent workshops as well. Home-grown fruits and veggies are cheaper, tastier, and more nutritious than their store-bought cousins. Grow your own flowers, too! A decorative pot of herbs, flowers or a cute succulent makes an attractive and reasonably-priced gift!

These are just a few examples of how gaining some expertise can improve your cash flow. Please share some of your own ideas.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Take A Pass And Save Some Cash

There are a lot of great tips out there on things to do to save money. What about things not to do to save money?

One thing I don't do is get expensive haircuts. I pass up Supercuts in favor of Sistercuts. My sister does a great job trimming my ends. I don't color it anymore, either. I don't have to spend hours getting my long hair dyed every four weeks, I avoid all the toxic chemicals, and the expense, and I find I don't mind the grey anyway.

No manicures and pedicures for me either. I find a simple set of manicure tools is all I need to keep my own nails neat and trim. If you like a more elaborate manicure, maybe you could give your friend one, and then she can do yours.

Another thing I avoid is tooth whitening. It weakens the enamel, and how white do my teeth really need to be? I do use a Sonicare toothbrush, which helps keep the stains polished off pretty well.

In this same category would be spray tans and botox. Lest you think I'm crazy for even thinking of these things, remember I live in Southern California. My natural pasty, wrinkled state is good enough for me.

Concerts are a no for me as well. The ticket prices make me cringe, and I hate the crowds anyway. I think I honestly enjoy listening to the CD at home more.

Ditto for amusement parks. It costs a fortune just to get in, the lines are insanely long, and I have motion sickness, so how much enjoyment can I really get out of the rides? If you have kids, you're probably stuck going there at least once in a while (make sure you have a coupon, though!) Seeing them have so much fun is worth the overinflated price.

Also in the entertainment category: movies. With today's ticket and concession prices, I rarely go to the movies. When a movie comes out that I want to see, I put it in my Netflix queue. There are so many in there I want to see, I never run out and don't mind the wait to see a new movie. Besides, that way I can lounge on my couch in my unmentionables and eat my own cheap popcorn.

With my Netflix subscription, I can also forgo an expensive cable package. They have all sorts of network and cable tv series on DVD, with no commercials!

When I go out to a restaurant, I usually skip the beverage and just order water. For a family of four, this can easily save you $10 every time you eat out.

When buying appliances, I always skip the extended warranty they try to talk you into purchasing. I've read that most appliances usually break down within the initial warranty period if they are going to.

Buying life insurance is another thing I haven't done. If you don't have any dependents, you don't need life insurance. For those with kids, though, this is a smart purchase.

Credit protection insurance is another thing I don't need. I don't carry a balance, so why would I need to pay for insurance that would make my payments if I was unemployed? If I simply took the amount of the premiums each month and put it in the bank, I would be self-insured. As far as protecting me if my card was stolen, I'm only liable for $50 anyway, and that's if I don't report the theft in the first 24 hours.

Expensive pet toys are another thing that pops into mind. I learned this the hard way one Christmas. I had bought this contraption that hooked over the back of a door and dangled a toy mouse tantalizingly in front of your cat. My cat walked over to the thing, chewed through the string holding the mouse, and ran off with the mouse. End of toy. I find a box to hide in and a milk cap or ping pong ball to bat across the floor are all that are required for a contented cat.

What if you cut some of these things from your budget and find that you miss them? If you do, bring them back! There's no need to be a martyr. It's about finding the things you really don't need to do or buy, so that you can afford the things you really need and enjoy.

What are some things you pass on to save cash? Would love to hear your comments, as always.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

No School? Do Something Cool!

Pretty soon school will be out for the year. Moms everywhere are asking themselves the same question - how can I keep my kid entertained all summer? I have a few ideas.

Check and see if your local movie theater chain has a free summer movie program. Regal and AMC both offer one in certain areas. The movies usually start around 10:30 in the morning, and tickets are free! All you'll have to pay for is popcorn and drinks.

In most places, free movies and concerts are held in city parks in the evenings. Check with your local Parks and Recreation Program. We bring a blanket and a picnic.

See if your local library or bookstore sponsors a summer reading program. Most have a list of books in different age groups to be read, and offer a prize for reading some or all of the books on the list. It's a great way to keep your children entertained and sharp for school next year!

Check with your local museums and see what their free day is. Most have at least one day a month when admission is free. Enjoy the free air conditioning and soak up some culture!

Take your child camping. This is inexpensive fun for the whole family. Kids love to sleep outside in a tent and cook over a campstove. Besides, some exposure to nature is good for them. Just watch out for poison ivy!

Build a solar oven, and cook dinner outside on a hot day. I haven't tried this yet, but plan to this year! Here is a link to some simple instructions I found:

Use the sun to take photos using special sun print paper. You just place an object with an interesting shape on a piece of the special paper, expose to the sun for a few minutes, soak in water until you see the image appear, and let it dry. Here is one place to buy the paper online:

Play miniature golf. This is a fun and inexpensive thing to do, and if it gets too hot, most places have an indoor putting green.

Go bowling. Your local bowling alley has kid-size balls too. I bet most of you haven't been bowling in years and have forgotten how much fun it is! Many bowling alleys offer a free summer bowl program too, it never hurts to make a few calls and check to see if your local alley is one of them.

Pick up some thrift-store costumes and have the kids put on a play or talent show. Invite other kids from the neighborhood to the performance.

Plant a garden together. It's not too late to start one. Sunflowers, tomatoes, radishes and zucchini are particularly easy to grow. Plant a few pumpkin seeds in June, and you can harvest your own Jack 'O Lanterns for Halloween!

Get up in the middle of the night and watch the Perseids Meteor Shower. Spread a blanket on the lawn and prepare to be impressed. This year it peaks on August 13th and 14th. Look toward the northeast after midnight. During the peak, you will see about 60 meteors per hour.

Send the kids on a scavenger hunt around the yard or house with a list of items they must find. Be sure to have a neat prize for the first one to find all the items.

Three words: water balloon fights!

Try this recipe for making ice cream in a baggie. I'm looking forward to trying this too!

This should be enough to get you started. Please comment with your own great ideas. Let's banish "I'm Bored" this summer!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't Throw It - Grow It!

This time of year, my thoughts turn to gardening. Right after that, my thoughts turn to how I can save money gardening. Over the years, I've learned a few cheap tricks that I'd like to pass on to you.

Many plants can be started from discards. A sprouted piece of sweet potato grows into a pretty vine. A potato that has formed eyes can be cut into pieces and planted in a deep container, such as a trash can. Once the vine has grown and then withered, the potatoes are ready. Simply tip the trash can over to harvest. A pineapple top can be planted, and will often grow into a pretty plant, which in some cases will even produce a new pineapple! An avocado seed, poked with toothpicks and suspended in a glass of water, will grow into a new avocado tree. Just make sure the fat end points down. That's where the root grows. It will take the tree many, many years to produce fruit once it's been transplanted into the ground, but who's in a rush? If you are, you may have to spend $30 or so and buy a more mature tree.

Many fruits and veggies can be easily started from seeds. I have had good luck with grapes, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, tangerines, bell peppers, squash and melons. Some of the seeds you save from supermarket-bought produce may not sprout. They are sometimes sterile, but it doesn't hurt to try. You can save seeds from your own produce that you grow, or trade with friends and neighbors or contacts you make here: Some of these plants and trees will take many years to produce their edible offerings, but in the meantime, they are fun to grow.

In case you don't have a place for a traditional garden plot, what can you use for containers for all these plants? Some clever repurposed options I've seen include old shoes and boots, plastic kiddy pools, wagons, old leaky watering cans or fountains, cat litter tubs (these can be painted with that new plastic paint if desired), coffee or juice cans, old trash cans, barrels, tires (although I'm not sure I would plant edibles in these, toxins might leach into the soil), baskets, chairs with broken seats (line first with moss or coconut fiber), even old tubs and toilets! One of the cleverest examples I ever saw was a box spring and bed frame "flower bed" that had been planted with a variety of blooms. I have a couple of unused cat litter receptacles for one of those fancy self-scooping litter boxes, now kaput, which I intend to plant with herbs.

Whatever you use, make sure to poke some holes in the bottom for drainage. You will have to invest in some potting soil initially, but you can use the same soil year after year - just make sure to add some fertilizer. If you have any place for a compost pile, you can reuse your food scraps to make your own fertilizer. I share a compost bin with my neighbor. We both dump our scraps in the same bin, then after about six months, we divvy up the results.

I hope this has given you a few ideas to get you growing. As always, I'd welcome your tips and tricks. Please comment if you'd like to share your green-thumbed thoughts.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One Small Step For You, One Giant Leap For Earth-Kind

In honor of Earth Day, let's all vow to make just one small green change in the way we live. If everyone made just one change, it would make a huge difference. Once you start doing that one thing, it will feel so easy and natural, I know you'll go on to make other changes as well.

What are some cheap and painless things you can do to help the planet?

1. Change one lightbulb in your house to a CFL bulb.

2. Turn off incandescent bulbs every time you leave a room for more than 5 minutes.

3. Recycle a can or newspaper you would ordinarily throw away.

4. Buy a battery charger and some batteries to replace your disposables.

5. Walk or bike for one errand a week that you would normally drive for.

6. Start growing at least one vegetable or herb for your table. Tomatoes are easy, so is basil.

7. Start carrying your own water in a refillable steel or glass bottle.

8. Plug your appliances with a "standby" feature into a power strip, and turn off when not in use.

9. Use rags for cleaning instead of paper towels.

10. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.

11. Use handkerchiefs instead of tissue.

12. Compost your vegetable peelings, tea and coffee grounds, eggshells, etc.

13. Bring your own mug to work, Starbucks and so forth.

14. Start paying at least some of your bills online.

15. Use tupperware, thermos and a lunchbox rather than disposables for work and school lunches.

16. Wash out glass jars from pasta sauce, etc. and reuse to store rice, beans, and so on.

17. Buy staples from bulk bins and store in recycled containers whenever possible.

18. Choose the brand with the least packaging when grocery shopping.

19. Pass magazines on to friends and eventually donate to the library when done reading.

20. Cancel your junk mail at

21. Always do full loads of laundry, and wash on cold when possible.

22. Make sure dishwasher is full before running, and turn off heat dry setting and open the door.

23. Bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store.

24. Water your lawn and garden early in the morning or in the early evening to prevent evaporation and use less water.

25. Replace your expensive, toxic cleaning products with baking soda and vinegar.

Try adapting one or more of these ideas in your everyday life. I guarantee you will feel good about it, and you will be even happier with all the money you save as a result!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Eggstra Cheep Easter Fun

Even though the price of everything is up, and earnings are down, your kids can have fun this Easter without you plundering your savings. First of all, who says they need a new Easter basket every year? Get a couple of thrift store baskets. You can decorate them differently every year depending on what the kids are into. Themed candy, pens, toys etc. are available at the dollar stores, or even at yard sales and thrift stores. Start collecting stuff at the sales after Easter for next year. If you do buy candy at the drugstore or grocery store, make sure you have coupons. There are a lot of buy one get one, and rebate deals going on right now for candy and basket stuffers. If you want to go lighter on the candy, try popcorn, juice boxes, fruit snacks, etc. You can save the Easter Grass too, and use it year after year. The plastic eggs that you fill and hide can be reused year after year too.

As far as coloring eggs, look for the grocery store deals for free eggs with a purchase of a certain amount. You can pick up the coloring kits for next to nothing after Easter, but if you don't have any on hand, buy them on a good sale, or you can use food coloring. Just be sure to add a little vinegar to each color, and use hot water, then add a little cold. You can save the large yogurt or cottage cheese containers to dip the eggs in, then recycle after Easter. The dye is just food coloring, it will not hurt the recycling process. You can also dye eggs naturally with vegetable and fruit colors. There is a good guide for doing this here:

A white crayon works the same as the one from the kit for coloring on the eggs before dying. Whip up some egg salad with all those dyed eggs for cheap bag lunches during the following week!

If you're having a party, here's an idea for a cute little gift to send home with each child. Use green plastic strawberry baskets. Weave ribbon in and out of the slats to decorate, and use wire or ribbon for a handle. Fill with easter grass, candy and small treats. An egg coloring contest is a fun party activity. Offer prizes for the prettiest egg, funniest egg, most unusual design, etc. Dollar-store garbage bags can be slit at the top and sides for heads and arms, and used as smocks to protect the kids' fancy easter clothing. You can vary the standard egg hunt for older kids by placing scavenger hunt clues inside the eggs, leading them to a prize at the end.

I wish you all a Happy Easter. If you have any fun, frugal Easter tips or traditions, please share!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Porta Party

If you're looking for another great way to entertain on the cheap, I've stumbled across a terrific idea recently. It's called a progressive party. The party starts at the first host's house, where appetizers are served. The guests remain there for about an hour, enjoying their appetizers and drinks, and then it's on to the next house for the main course. When everyone is finished, and has had a chance to digest a bit and chat, it's on to the final house for dessert and after-dinner drinks. You might want to select a holiday theme for your party, or focus on cuisine from a certain country.

The beauty of this type of party is that you are only responsible for one part of the meal, so it's less expensive than serving all three courses. There's a lot less work involved, too. It also keeps it exciting for the partygoers to have three different environments throughout the evening. The bad news is, you still have to clean your house, even though the guests will only be there for a little while!

To make this a little more environmentally friendly by not using a lot of gas to go from house to house, make sure everybody carpools in the most fuel-efficient car owned by the group. Or to keep it even greener, this type of party could be organized among residents of the same apartment building, mobile home park, or neighborhood where the houses were close enough together to walk.

Just a few tips to help your party go off without a hitch. If alcohol is being served at the hosts' houses, you will want to appoint a designated driver at each stop. The guests could take turns, so each gets to have a drink at at least one house. Of course this will not be a problem if you are walking between houses. You'll also want to have everyone RSVP so each host knows how many people to expect. Keep the guest list small, since not every home has space enough to seat a large number of people. Finally, make sure you have directions to any house where the host will not be with you in the car! This should prevent aimless rambling with tummies rumbling!

I hope you all give this a try. I would love to hear how your parties work out. Bon Appetit!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cook Up a Crock of Gold For Less Green

I seem to be preoccupied with cooking lately. This is my second recipe post in a row! I couldn't really let St. Paddy's Day go by without posting my simple recipe for Corned Beef and Cabbage, though. The corned beef brisket is on sale cheap at all the major supermarkets right now, and carrots, potatoes and cabbage are always inexpensive, so this is a really thrifty meal! Buy a couple of extra packages of corned beef while they're on sale, and freeze for later!

Betsy O'Bargain's St. Paddy's Day Corned Beef and Cabbage

1 corned beef brisket, marinated and ready to cook
potatoes, peeled and cut in half
carrots, peeled and cut into pieces
cabbage, cut into wedges

Put the beef into your crockpot, and add water so it comes within a couple inches of the top. Add the spice packet, if one is included with the beef. Place on high until it starts to come to a boil. Turn crockpot to low, and cook about five hours.

Add the potatoes and carrots during the last hour, and the cabbage within the last fifteen minutes. How many vegetables you use will be limited only by the size of your crockpot. It is done when the cabbage is tender.

Scoop meat and vegetables out of the crockpot with a slotted spoon. Serve with vinegar for the vegetables, and spicy mustard for the corned beef, if desired.

Mmmm, good, and that's no blarney!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Good, Cheap Food, And That's No Crock!

All this cold weather we're having lately has inspired me to share one of my favorite cold-weather recipes with you. It meets all my criteria for a great recipe. It's simple, healthy and cheap to make!

Chilly Weather Crockpot Chili


(3) 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes (bought in bulk or on sale with a great coupon, of course!)
(3) 15.25 oz cans kidney beans, drained (ditto!)
a couple handfuls of browned ground beef, or Boca (vegetarian) crumbles (optional)
salt to taste
1-2 packets of those pepper flakes left over from pizza deliveries (you know you have some)
1/2 tsp. cumin (bought in bulk from bins, or from the 99cent store, naturally!)
OR if you don't have any pepper flake packets and cumin, you can use 1 1/2 tsp. chili powder

Dump everything in a crockpot (mine was $1 at a yard sale-so what if it's an ugly 70's orange!). Start the pot on high for about one hour while you get ready for work. Reduce to low when you leave for work. Come home to a fantastic-smelling house. Eat!

Nutritional Tip: If you leave out the ground beef or Boca crumbles, serve over rice to make a complete protein.

P.S. This is very good served with cornbread.

Be sure and let me know how you like this recipe when you try it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Get Paid to Play

Hobbies are fun. Everyone has them. Everyone should. But why not choose a hobby that doesn't cost much, or even earns you money!

Some hobbies, like golf, require expensive equipment, and involve additional costs such as greens fees. Others, such as travelling, can cost quite a bit depending on how far you are travelling and where you choose to stay while you are there. Some pursuits can be very expensive or not so expensive depending on how high-end you like your equipment and materials to be. Cooking and photography are like that. Not that these hobbies are not worthwhile and a lot of fun, but your financial circumstances may not allow you to indulge in such pricey recreational pursuits.

There are some very inexpensive alternatives out there. Gardening can be a very cheap hobby. Seeds can be had for as low as 25 cents a packet, or you can trade seeds with other gardeners. Here is one place to trade: Sow seeds directly in the ground, or save plastic buckets from cat litter or bulk foods to use as planters. Save your kitchen scraps to make compost to nourish your plants. This hobby can also save you money if you grow some of your own food, or plants to sell or give as gifts. Related hobbies include beekeeping and raising chickens. I am told both can be done with minimal expense, and save money since the products can be consumed. They taste far superior to store-bought, too!

Couponing and refunding is another fun pastime that can save you a lot of money. The only costs are for postage (although some rebates can be submitted online), envelopes and a good pair of scissors. There are a lot of good websites out there if you want to educate yourself about this. A related hobby is entering contests online. The only cost for this is an internet connection. I have won a few contests, even though I put very little time into this.

Do you enjoy crafts? Make something to sell on Etsy or at local craft fairs. Lots of instructions and patterns for crafts can be found online or in library books. Even better if you can incorporate recycled materials such as corks, cans or jars into your creations. Supplies can be bought with coupons in your Sunday newspaper from Michael's, Joann's or whatever your local craft store is. Dollar stores and yard sales also have some craft supplies.

Reading can be a free and very rewarding hobby. Patronize your local library. Many books can also be found online now. If you don't have a local library, there are many websites that allow you to swap books. Trade with friends and neighbors. Buy some at yard sales.

Blogging is another cost-free hobby that I obviously enjoy. You can find many websites that allow you to set up a blog for free. You can even put an adbar on your blog and get a penny or so anytime a visitor clicks on it. You are definitely not going to get rich this way, but it's great fun, and very rewarding to pass information on to like-minded people. Everybody has some topic that they are knowledgeable and passionate about that they could share with others. Make sure to visit other people's blogs and comment on them. Before long, you will be part of a vibrant community of bloggers.

Others enjoy putting together jigsaw puzzles, or solving word puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles can often be found at yard sales or thrift stores. Some libraries even have them. Just don't be too upset if one is missing the occasional piece! The word puzzle books can be found at dollar stores or you can even subcribe inexpensively. Crossword and word-search puzzles can also be found for free online. Another plus to this type of hobby is that some studies show that solving puzzles can help prevent Alzheimer's Disease!

I know people that enjoy searching for coins and jewelry with metal detectors. After a while, the stuff they find pays for their equipment. Look for used equipment on Craigslist or Ebay. You never know what you'll find!

There are countless free, cheap or even profitable hobbies out there. Have fun exploring the possibilities. I'd love to hear your suggestions too. Be sure to comment on this post!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Swap Till You Drop

Entertaining on a budget has become an art in this tough economy. One of the best ideas for a party I've heard of lately is the Swap Party. Everyone has stuff in their closets that they never use, that doesn't work for them, for whatever reason. It's still good stuff to someone else, guaranteed! Pick a theme, such as books and board games, craft supplies, clothing and accessories, kitchen gadgets and cookbooks, or home accessories. Invite as many friends as you want, and tell them to bring their castoffs in whatever category you've chosen. If exchanging clothing, it's ok to invite people who wear various sizes. If none of the clothing fits, they will probably find some accessories. When everyone arrives, let the fun begin!

Provide an area such as a large table or clothes rack where the items can be displayed. As people get there, have them arrange their items in the space provided. For clothing swaps, provide a separate area for coats and purses so none of these go home with a new owner by mistake!

While the guests look over the items, it's time to snack and enjoy a glass of wine (or two!). Once everyone has arrived and had a chance to relax, mingle and scope out the merchandise, it's time to trade!

You'll probably want to come up with and explain some basic rules before you start. Provide a try-on room with a full-length mirror if it's clothes you are swapping. Give your guests boxes or bags and have them put their names on them, so they can hold onto their finds. It doesn't have to be a one-for-one exchange. The goal is to get rid of everything. Make sure you donate whatever's left at the end of the evening to your local thrift store.

Your guests will have a blast trying on outlandish outfits, coming up with ways to use craft supplies, discussing the plots of books, or dreaming about how they could use that tablecloth or those candlesticks to freshen up their dining room. The thrill of shopping without the agony of the credit card bill that arrives shortly after. What could be better!

I bet you are mentally scanning the contents of your closets, cupboards and bookshelves right now. Time to send out the invitations!

Friday, January 30, 2009

You'll Have it Made When You Learn to Trade

Barter is a great way to stretch your budget. Trading what you have for what you need, whether it's food, goods or services, can save you a lot of money. Whatever you have a surplus of, chances are someone else needs it. Do you get some sort of free perk from work that you don't need so much of? Do you have a larger crop of fruit or vegetables than you need? Do you have a skill such as cutting hair or doing taxes? Chances are someone else needs that very thing, and has something you could use.

To some extent, I've always traded very informally with friends and neighbors. I'll loan you my vacuum cleaner if I can borrow your bread machine. My tree is full of lemons, and you have a bunch of bell peppers ripe, so let's swap. That type of thing. Lately, I've been trying to expand this concept to trading with strangers, via online forums such as Craigslist and Freecycle.

Freecycle is a very loose form of trading, since you offer things you don't want to others for free, and then you can respond when others offer something, or you can request what you need. You don't necessarily give and receive things all at one time, so it's not really an immediate trade. If you keep participating regularly, though, you will eventually do both. Join your local Freecycle group at today!

Craigslist has a barter category, where I have posted ads, and responded to the ads of others. I haven't had a huge response so far, but I have arranged a couple of trades with some really nice people. My goal is to eventually have a network of contacts with whom I trade regularly. One tip I can offer in regard to Craigslist: you have to delete and re-post your ad every couple of days, because they get so many postings that your ad quickly works its way to the bottom of the list, where it's not seen by anyone. Go to today and check it out. Most cities in the US and lots of other countries are represented there now.

Another place I plan to look for trading partners in the near future is on community bulletin boards. These bulletin boards can often be found in coffee shops such as Starbucks, many apartment and condo communities, community colleges, some grocery stores and libraries. I plan on typing up a simple tear-off ad using a template like this one:

and posting it on local bulletin boards. I will list what I want to trade, what I might like to receive in return, and some simple contact information on the tear-off tabs, such as my name and email address. I'll let you know what kind of response I get!

Obviously, with any of these methods of making trading contacts, you'll want to be careful not to give out too much personal information. Just your name or initials, and an email address, preferably a junk email address that you give out when you don't want to give out your personal email address. When you arrange to meet with someone, agree to meet in a public place, in the daytime, at least for the first contact. Never give out your home address. I personally have never had any problems with anyone I have dealt with from Craiglist or Freecyle, but it pays to be cautious.

As you start to build a network of barter contacts from various sources, you will not only save money and help yourself and others, but you will help to foster a sense of community. In tough economic times like these, it's more important than ever.

Oh, and keep in mind that if you start trading services, the IRS views barter income as income for tax purposes, so go to their website and familiarize yourself with the rules before tax time rolls around.

As always, I would love to hear about your barter experiences, both good and bad, so please leave a comment!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Physically Fit and Fiscally Sound

It's time again for those New Year's Resolutions. One at the top of a lot of lists is getting in shape. This can cost a lot, but it doesn't have to. You can shell out a lot of money for fancy gym memberships, home exercise equipment and spiffy spandex workout clothes, or you can go the frugal route.

One of the best forms of exercise out there is walking. All you need is comfortable clothing and a decent pair of shoes with good arch support. If you want to work your arms out at the same time, get some wrist weights. These are filled with sand and fasten around your wrists with velcro. You can get these at Walmart, Target, Kmart, etc., and they are inexpensive, but I see them often at yard sales or thrift stores even cheaper. I am lucky enough to have some walking trails behind my house, but if you don't have trails at your disposal, walk around your neighborhood, walk in the park, walk up to the grocery store when you only need a few items, walk around the track at your nearest school, walk in the mall - walk anywhere, just walk! Thirty minutes a day is all you need. Walking is good for those people who find exercise boring, because you can look around at your surroundings and forget that you're working out!

If you are more of an indoor exerciser, you can find lots of exercise videos at your local library. Check out different types and change things up to keep from getting bored. The popular exercise magazines also have websites where you can download exercise routines or watch videos. This type of exercise is good in bad weather. All you need is some comfortable clothing, a tv with VCR or computer and some floor space that is clear of furniture. If you have hard floors, an exercise mat can prevent soreness. Again, these can be found cheaply at discount stores.

Don't forget to take advantage of equipment you already have. Do you own a bicycle that's rusting in the garage, or an exercise bike that's really more of a clothes rack at the moment? Dust them off and press them into service. You can even watch tv while you're on the exercise bike, and before you know it, you'll have burned off your dinner calories! Do you still use those skis or skates in the shed? If not, get back in the habit. Do your kids have a Wii or Dance, Dance Revolution? Hook it up and make use of it.

If the idea of any type of formal exercise is still too much for you, just try increasing your activity level. Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator. Sweep and mop floors vigorously. Hang laundry out to dry on the line. Take the rugs outside and beat them. Scrub all the windows until they shine. Walk the dog longer. Just move!