Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sales Perks & Friendly Smiles

It pays to be friendly to the sales staff at your favorite stores. Managers, clerks and personal shoppers often know when new shipments are due and -- most importantly -- when sales will be on the calendar.

That's the word from Shameless Shortcuts: 1,027 Tips and Techniques that Help You Save Time, Save Money and Save Work Every Day!, by Fern Marshall Bradley and the editors of Yankee Magazine ($16.95/Rodale).

Believe it or not, many store employees are happy to share their information if you just ask them. For example, the manager of one of my favorite stores (Marshall's) told me she marks down merchandise every Thursday, and a cashier at a national shoe chain (Payless) advised me to delay my purchase a week to take advantage of an upcoming sale.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Cheap Movie Tickets

It's free to borrow movies from the public library, including recent hits and kiddie favorites. But if you simply must see Blockbuster first-run movies (aka budget busters), here's a frugal option:

Although first-run movie chains charge as much as $10 a head for tickets, various AAA Auto Club offices sell discount movie tickets to auto club members for far less than standard fares. For example, in South Florida, our local AAA Auto Club charges $5.67 each AMC Theatre movie tickets and $6.05 for Regal Cinema. And there is no minimum purchase.

Meanwhile, Regal Cinema sells group tickets for $6 (restricted for the first weeks of new releases) and $7 a ticket; AMC sells discount tickets for $5.50 (restricted) and $7.00. Both companies require a minimum purchase of 50 tickets. You can split the cost with others; or use extra tickets as gifts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Frugal & Generous

Clearly, we are a nation of shoppers. The Nation Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend over $200 billion this holiday season. As gifted shoppers, we can donate our talents and the fruits of our labors to good causes.

Holiday deals and frugal shopping are gift-wrapped opportunities to give to the less fortunate. And even if your holiday budget is tight, there are painless ways to contribute to seasonal charities.

By tapping into sales and assorted promotions, it's possible to satisfy the demands of your gift list, while still giving a bundle to homeless and impoverished families.

Charitable giving is especially important this year. In the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane season, many organizations are working overtime to provide support for hard-hit families. Therefore, donations of merchandise, time and services are appreciated at nursing homes, shelters and other non-profit institutions.


But you don't have to spend a lot to give a fortune during the holiday
season. For instance, buy-one-get-one (BOGO) free offers provide a frugal
outlet for charitable giving. From shoes to office equipment, holiday
catalogues and shopping flyers bulge with two-for-one deals or other
discounts for multiple purchases.

Toys "R" Us., Walgreens, Office Depot and others retailers have been marketing assorted BOGO offers, which include either free or half-off deals on merchandise. Likewise, educational wooden puzzles are three-for-$10 this week at Target.

Other retailers are offering specials on board games, electronic toys and other gadgets. Tapping into those discounts provides an affordable way to share new merchandise with others. Buy one for your gift list and donate the free or discounted items to a toy drive, a charitable thrift store or a homeless shelter.

The idea is not my own. I was inspired by my friend, Beth, a frugal shopper who picked up great deals after Halloween and donated a significant portion of her merchandise-including tissue boxes priced at 19 cents each-- to a local food bank.


I know of other families who incorporate community service into their holiday traditions. Family or group projects include distributing baked goods at a nursing home, visiting hospital patients or serving holiday meals at a soup kitchen. Such activities not only spread good will, but provide parents with a hands-on opportunity to share the values of compassion and community service with children.

I have also heard of families and individuals who operate with a one-in; one-out system that works like this: For every new item (toy, game, or garment) received, a comparable item from the closet is donated to a thrift store or given away. On an organizational basis, this system reduces the glut of toys and trinkets after birthdays and holidays. But more, importantly, recycled merchandise -in good condition-is valuable to others.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Elegant & Thrifty Gift Ideas

Some clichés are accurate. It’s really the thought that counts and homemade gifts are especially appreciated during the holiday season.

For children, the December-January issue of Family Fun magazine offers a variety of gift crafts for the holidays. These items include a jewelry tree made from a small branch, polymer clay, paint and glue. Other child-friendly crafts include furry eyeglass cases and hand-colored candles, fashioned from standard white candles, watercolors and acrylic paints.

Directions for various craft projects are available at the magazine’s website (, where the home page offers an “Easy-to-Make Gifts” option.

Meanwhile, through networking with my other frugal friends in Cyberspace, I have also collected more creative holiday tips. For example, Angela, aka, “The Creative Homemaker,” told me that she is knitting scarves and making glass bead necklaces as gifts. Her other holiday bundles include homemade appliqué tote bags, (filled with cookies) for neighbors and friends. And for the grandparents, she’s making small scrapbooks filled with pictures of her children.

“A really cool thing to do is to take a close up photo and put it into the computer,” Angela told me via email. “Then use a photo editing program that has the charcoal sketch option. Print the photo out on sketching paper and trace the lines with charcoal pencils. A simple black metal frame goes great with it and usually only costs $5.”

Beyond photo albums and hand-crafted scrapbooks, the menu of affordable, but thoughtful holiday gifts is extensive. A free gift-giving brochure called “Simplify the Holidays” is posted on New American Dream’s website and a hard copy is available for $4 if you call 877-68-DREAM.

But if you don’t get around to downloading the brochure or calling, here are a few ideas from the brochure:

· Create a calendar featuring family photographs and children’s artwork.

· Collect a selection of favorite recipes from extended family members and compose a cookbook of family favorites.

· Host a themed-party: board games, skating or other activities.

· Offer homemade certificates for monthly lunch dates, craft lessons or babysitting services.

For those with less time to craft handmade gifts, JLP, the editor of “All things Financial”, recommends that consumers take advantage of special holiday gift rates offered by many magazines or buy a single share of a company’s stock and present the share and the stock certificate as a gift.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Review: Money Magazine Dec. Issue

There's good stuff in the latest issue of Money Magazine (Dec. 2005)

Here are my Top Five Reasons for recommending this issue.

5. Frugal Duchess Parenting Award:

Two articles win top honors in this category.

Toddler Fraud by Michael Sivy (p. 32) provides great information about protecting your kids from identity fraud (the latest crime trend.)

Tip: Eliminate kiddie id theft by ordering credit reports in your child's name. This tactic allows you to spot signs of kiddie credit abuse and id theft.

The other winner in this category: Are Your Kids Normal About Money? by David Futrelle. (p.55) This piece features a cute and insightful quiz about kids and money. Here's a sample:

Q. What's the tooth fairy shelling out for teeth these days?
A. About $2 a tooth, according to a national survey.

4. Frugal Duchess Tax Award:

Beat the Tax Clock by Judy Feldman (p.57) is an excellent guide for meeting year-end tax deadlines.

Tip: Earn 2005 tax deductions for charitable giving by getting those donations postmarked by Dec. 31. It doesn't matter if the charity doesn't open your envelope until 2006; you can still earn that deduction for 2005 as long as you beat the year-end postmark deadline, according to the article.

3. The Frugal Duchess 2006 Financial Planning Award

How to Make Money in 2006 by George Mannes (p. 106) and Pat Regnier provides (p. 99) a comprehensive planning guide for 2006. The package of stories touches on real estate, stocks, careers, health and other key topics.

Tip: It's not the best time to flip in and out of real estate. Houses are staying on the market longer and there are signs that the once hot-hot-hot real estate market has chilled.

And don't ask for a big raise; but push for a healthy, incentive-based bonus.

2.The Frugal Duchess Found Money Award:

Treasures in the Attic by Paul Lukas (p. 126) is a gem. How can you not love an article that gives you the 411 on finding valuable stuff at yard sales and in your attic? One family, for example, purchased a $4 piece of pottery (a rare piece) and later sold it on eBay for $4,700.

1.The Frugal Duchess Plastic Money Award.

What Should be in Your Wallet by Carolyn Bigda and Amanda Gengler is an excellent rundown on credit card fees. (p. 133)

Tip: If you are great at paying your monthly balance in full, go for American Express Clear: no yearly fees and a grace period of one month.

Best for transferring balances: Discover Platinum: Zero interest for 12 months on existing balance and new charges; "relatively mild penalty fees."

Also of note: "How to Survive ER," "Making Peace with the Taste Police," and the annual gift guide. (Most of the stuff is richly priced, but the guide is a fun read.)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cool, Thrifty Gift Baskets & Radio Chat

Frugal Duchess on the Radio

Hey! If you have time on Monday, join me at Hit the "listen now" button on WLRN's website.

I'll be chatting live on the radio with Joseph Cooper, host of Topical Currents at 1 pm on December 5. It's an hour show: Eastern Standard Time.

My frugal buddy Melisa Neuman, another newspaper columnist, will also be on the show.

During the show, you can email questions or comments. We want to hear from you!!!


Budget-Friendly Holiday Baskets

At prices of $50 and higher, many gift baskets are budget
busters. Fortunately, it's relatively easy to assemble gift baskets filled
with skin care products, high-end chocolates or holiday trinkets.

From drug stores to craft stores, the marketplace is filled with empty
containers and baskets at low prices. For example, this week through
December 3, the entire basket collection is half off at some locations of Michael's, a chain of craft stores. And beyond baskets, there are other containers. Empty potters stuffed with garden gloves, seed packets and related items can be bundled together as a holiday package for a gardener, according to the December issue of For Me magazine.

Or consider: a mixing bowl packed with fresh baked cookies, recipes and assorted kitchen tools and a large clear cosmetic bag stuffed with body creams, elaborate soaps and other day spa treats.

Discount retail chains such as Marshall's, Ross Stores and others regularly fill their clearance aisles with expensive personal care products at steep discounts.Other specialty stores also feature rotating sales of chocolates, wines, cheeses and other gourmet treats that are perfect for holiday baskets. Just add the cellophane and the bow.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Radio Chat and Cheap Shipping

Frugal Duchess on the Radio

Hey! If you have time on Monday, join me at Hit the "listen now" button on WLRN's website.

I'll be chatting live on the radio with Joseph Cooper, host of Topical Currents at 1 pm on December 5. It's an hour show: Eastern Standard Time.

My frugal buddy Melisa Neuman, another newspaper columnist, will also be on the show. Alone, I'm just a Frugal Duchess, but together with Melisa, we're the Frugal Queens.

We'll even get to the studio in a cool, white convertible late model sports car.
There's a frugal story behind the car, but don't ask me what model, because I don't drive. Melisa drives and I dream about driving

psst....check out

During the show, you can email questions or comments. We want to hear from you!!!


Money-Saving Shipping Tip

When it comes to shipping out-of-town gifts, procrastination takes a toll in time and money. That’s the word from the United States Post Office. By tapping into, you can prepare, purchase and print shipping labels for outward bound packages, (local and international). What’s more, with a day’s notice, you can arrange for a free package pickup, with no limit on the number of packages. However, a last-minute rush can be costly: The otherwise free pick-up service jumps to $12.50 for same-day “Pick Up on Demand.”

And if you can’t be home for the actual pickup, the website enables you to leave instructions online for the carrier. The shipping rate for priority mail is $3.85 for envelopes and $7.70 for boxes. Size and destination don’t matter; the prices are the same. Allow two to three days for most U.S. cities.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Recycled Paper Towel Tubes

Have respect for the humble paper towel tube. That’s the word from a reader named Toby, who supplied me with a long and creative list of uses for paper towel tubes. From school projects to frugal travel assistance, those cardboard tubes are a pipeline of convenience, with money-saving potential

On vacations, cardboard tubes are invaluable, Toby said. For example, she stuffs dozens of plastic grocery bags (carefully folded) into the cardboard cylinders. Recycled from past grocery store shopping trips, stored plastic bags are useful for carting around wet bathing suits, dirty clothes and even barf bags during family vacations, Toby said.

“You have your portable mess kit,” Toby said.

Over 20 bags can be neatly stuffed into a single paper towel tube, which saves valuable space in tight-packed suitcases during family trips. During a recent far-flung, three-week vacation through Iceland, Greenland and Scotland, Toby traveled with nonperishable spices, coffee and other odds-and-ends that were stored in ziplock bags and then tucked into cardboard paper towel tubes.

“This way the [non-perishable items] didn’t crush and I was able to store so much,” Toby said, who saved money by preparing some of her own meals while staying in rented homes in Europe.

And on the domestic front, she also puts cardboard tubes to work. Children’s art projects, school certificates and other paper items are tightly rolled, then stored in the empty paper towel tubes. It’s the same concept commonly used by galleries to carry and mail posters.

“You write the child’s name and date on it with a Sharpie. That way it’s identified and I have all their art work saved,” Toby said.

Filled with artwork and school papers, the tubes are neatly tucked into boxes, cabinets and drawers, thereby saving space and creating an organized system. Likewise, Toby also saves empty egg cartons, plastic milk containers and other items that are in hot demand for school projects. And after her children are well-stocked, she typically donates left-over materials to various teachers.

Recycling of common household items is also a hot topic in the frugal cyberspace community. For example, Dawn at advocates these money-saving recycling tips:

*Create funnels from the top half of plastic bottles
*Use empty butter and whipped topping containers to store food.
*Clean windows with old newspapers (no lint or streak)

And Pat Veretto at www.frugalliving has recently put together a fun list of “Silly Things People Do and Buy.” Her list includes:

*Consumers who toss away large, empty bags of dog food or empty grocery store bags, but then spend cash on boxes of new plastic garbage bags.

*Homeowners who throw away hoses with holes, but later purchase “soaker hoses,” which are essentially garden hoses with holes.

*People who buy “planters” for seeds instead off using the bottom half of two-liter soda bottles.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Meaningful Holiday Shopping Survey

Simplicity and Significance Top the Shopping List for the 2005 Holiday Season

Okay, as we all think about Black Friday Shopping and frugal choices, here's a survey that will give you a lot to chew on as you munch on Thanksgiving leftovers. Here is a shortened version of the actual release:

"With soaring gas prices and the rising cost of living, Americans are showing signs of financial anxiety about the coming holiday season. In fact, a surprisingly number of Americans say they are looking for gifts that encourage savings rather than spending.

A new poll from the Center for a New American Dream shows that more than three out of five Americans (62%) say they are planning to or considering giving family members gifts such as a savings bond or a piggy bank this year.

"American consumers are encouraged to spend. At the same time, they are being told to save money. This holiday season, a growing number are shopping for piggy banks and leaving their credit cards at home," says Betsy Taylor, President of the Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit group based in MD that helps Americans consume responsibly for a better world.

Concern about Materialism

Americans are concerned about finances but they're also worried about core values. More than 3 in 4 Americans wish that the December holidays were less materialistic and 87% believe the holidays should be more about family and caring for others rather than giving and receiving gifts.

"People are focusing on what really matters - financial security, relaxing time with family and friends, and reduced stress during the holiday season," says Taylor.

Only 28% of those polled said that it is necessary to spend a lot of money in order to have a fulfilling and enjoyable holiday and nearly four out of five Americans surveyed said that they would like to have a more simplified holiday season this year.


The Center for a New American Dream has a variety of free resources for Americans who would like to have a simpler, debt-free holiday this year. The Cemter's website,, has suggestions for saving money, giving innovative, low-cost gifts and connecting with friends and family.

Visitors to have already downloaded over 58,000 free copies of the Center’s popular Simplify the Holidays brochure, (hard copies are available for $4 by calling 877-68-DREAM).


Here are a few alternative ways to save money on gifts this year other than putting it a piggy bank:

· Give the gift of time – design a gift certificate that offers babysitting, a home-cooked meal, a tennis lesson or a monthly lunch date for someone you love.

· Create a calendar of family photographs and artwork for relatives.

· Collect favorite recipes from aunts, grandparents and cousins and assemble them as a book of family recipes.

· Focus on fun rather than gifts. Host a skating party, an evening of board games, or a theme party. Make the gathering a potluck so nobody shoulders too much work but everyone enjoys scrumptious food.

· Kids generally demand at least one store-bought gift but consider giving time, skills, or homemade gifts as well. How about an afternoon of football with Dad and some other guys? Maybe a box of dress up clothes for a young child, purchased for less than $10 from the local thrift store? Perhaps an afternoon knitting lesson from a favorite Aunt or the promise of repainting a bedroom - in fire engine red - or whatever!

Poll Highlights

More than 3 in 5 Americans (62%) say they are going to give family members gifts this holiday season that encourage them to save money, such as savings bond or even a piggyback for a child.

Nearly all Americans (91%) say the cost of living has increased compared to last year, and more than 2 in 3 Americans blame the price of oil or gas (68%).

By a nearly 4-to-1 margin, more Americans say they will buy fewer (37%), not more 10%), holiday gifts this season.

About half (48%) say they will buy the same amount as last year.

More than 3 in 4 Americans (78%) wish that holidays were less materialistic.

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans (87%) believe that holidays should be more about family and caring for others, not giving and receiving gifts.

Nearly 4 in 5 Americans (79%) DO NOT believe that it's necessary to spend a lot of money in order to have a fulfilling and enjoyable holiday.

Nearly 3 in 4 Americans (74%) believe that the giving and receiving of gifts is awarded too much importance duringthe Holiday season.

More than 3 in 4 Americans (76%) say that kids are too materialistic and the holiday season just makes things worse.

This documents provides key findings from a census-balanced and representative telephone study of500 American adults conducted by Widmeyer Research and Polling for the Center for a New American Dream during the first week of November, 2005.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My eBay Shopping Guide

A little while ago, I wrote about a great skirt (below) that I purchased on eBay. With a very cute sweater ($6.49 from Target) and handmade Italian shoes (on sale from Marshall's) I've worn my pretty little skirt to two dress-up parties, and received lots of compliments about my outfit.

So here's my strategy for buying great skirts (and other items on eBay). Chic, classic or trendy skirts (originally sporting triple-digit prices) are available for very low prices (one buck to $45 and up). The skirt featured in the picture below cost $8.99, plus $5 for shipping.

The Frugal Duchess eBay Rules

My little eBay shopping guide is based on my experiences. Please feel free to chime in with your own tips.

Get a grip on your own closet/style/size

Take stock of your measurements and the gaps in your closet. To buy a skirt, you should know the width of your waist/hips and the length of your legs, especially from waist to knee...Trust me: On an earlier purchase, I got burnt because my delightful little silk skirt ($4.99, plus shipping) was too short. A bargain is not a bargain if the skirt doesn't fit or if it matches nada in your closet. Pick up ideas from magazines.

Narrow your search on eBay.

You can search by brandname, designer, retailer. Or you can search by description, such as: Pink Tulle Skirt Anthropologie. (My favorite search).

Determine if you want an item that is new with tags (NWT), almost new or "gently worn." You can search for least expensive, most expensive or quick-ending auctions.

Research the seller.
Read customer comments/ratings. Scrutinize shipping and handling fees. (A $1 skirt is not a bargain if S&H fees are outrageous. You're better off at a hometown discount chain.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Frugal Review: Real Simple Magazine

Every month, a frugal friend shares her subscription of Real Simple magazine with me. Thanks Leah, but I think I need to sign up for my own copies. This magazine is a real keeper.

Here are my 5 Top Reasons for Loving the November issue of Real Simple

5. The Frugal Duchess Assisted Living Award of the Week:

Real Simple’s Know How section (page 43) is superb. Great tips on finding a pet at an animal shelter and on really stashing household items from would-be thieves. Hint: Crooks always scrutinize fake (hollow) rocks and bogus cans of food. Solution: Use carved out wall spaces hidden by outlet plates or vents. Written by Kelley King Heyworth, with additional reporting by Karen L. Smith, and photos by Gemma Comas, this section is a rip-and-save.

4. The Frugal Duchess Problem Solver Award:

The Solutions section (page 63) offers well-chosen words from writers Melinda Page and Elizabeth Wells. (photographs by Jim Franco.) Reading this section, I had spasms of why-didn’t-I-write-that envy. The tips on “Double-Duty Household Items” include using planters as table bases and other bytes of info. This piece ranks high on the cool & practical scale.

3. The Frugal Duchess Consumer Guide Award:

The Buy or Rent feature offers an article (with charts) by Adam Bluestein and photos by Wendell Webber. Excellent overview of the pros and cons of renting baby equipment, heavy appliances and other trinkets. Tip: Rent the fancy frig while posted on a long out-of-town temp-work assignment, but buy your own when you really want to settle down

2. Frugal Duchess Etiquette Award:

Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Sarah Engler and photos by Wendell T. Webber. Great tips for those of us who have trouble getting our notes and cards written and delivered. Hint: Establish a card file of addresses and break your writing chores into a few time slots. Make it a date and get your kids (cute) to address the envelopes.

1. Frugal Duchess Beauty Award:

Undercover Agents by Bora Chang (with photographs by Sang An). This is a super buying guide for facial products. Recommendations include Neutrogena Deep Clean Invigorating Cleanser/Mask ($7) and other affordable goodies.

Honorable Mentions:
How to be a Better Person by Cindy Chupack
Foul-Weather Friends (Boot guide) by Ashley Tate
Slow Down by Peter Jaret (A relaxation guide)

There's lots more, but I’ve exhausted by frugal time budget for the day.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Stocking up on Seasonal Deals

Shortly after Halloween, early-bird shoppers lined up at 7 am in front of a national chain store in South Florida. Those eager consumers were focused on catching steep discounts on costumes, candy, decorations and other items related to Halloween. On the first day of the anticipated mark-down, a few shoppers were on hand to greet the sales staff as the store opened itsdoors.

My friend, Beth, a savvy shopper, offered that eyewitness account to me and gave me a brief seminar on post-holiday shopping. It's a year-round shopping strategy that applies to any major season. Themed-paper goods, gifts and other merchandise are typically offered for 50 percent to 90 percent post-holiday discounts. Of course, the goods can be stored for next year; but many items can be recycled for birthday parties or other home entertainment events.

Consider the multiple uses of Halloween costumes. While some families stock up on boxed outfits, masks and other accessories for future trick-or-treat outings, others use costumes for masquerades, themed birthday parties and other activities. I don't celebrate Halloween, but my kids love to dress up and stage family dramas. Therefore, after Oct. 31, it's great to re-stock the family "dress-up" box with new merchandise purchased at steep discounts.

For that reason, I wish that I had tagged along with Beth as she snapped up costumes (originally $20) for only $1.89 to $1.99 a box after Halloween. Likewise, at 90 percent discounts, bags of themed chocolate candy were 21 cents each. (The wrappers sported Halloween themes, but the candy has the same year-round flavor, Beth says.)

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Other great buys included boxes of candied sprinkles (for baking) goodie bags, plates and napkins in shades of either plain orange or black. Apart from the color, items without other holiday flourishes are ideal for year-round activities.

Apply that same wisdom to other holidays. Paper goods in the fall colors of Thanksgiving can decorate your table after the last bit of turkey leftovers have been eaten. What's more, after Thanksgiving, retailers typically slash prices on themed items. Boxed gift items (soaps, makeup, perfumes, and scarves) are also very inexpensive after the Christmas/Hanukah holiday rush ends.

Meanwhile, Beth's biggest recent shopping coup included Disney themed-boxes of Kleenix tissues for 19 cents a box. The boxes of 85 tissues typically sell for about $1.30 each, but had apparently outlived their promotional tie-in and were placed in the clearance section. Given the steep discount, Beth purchased about 35 boxes and donated many of them to a food bank.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Shoes: A Bit of Sole Searching

I am obsessed with shoes. From $15 discount shoes to $100 designer shoes (reduced from $500) there are many frugal options for shoe shoppers.

Due to growth spurts, we've been buying a lot of footwear lately. Over the last 12 months, my oldest son has outgrown about five pairs of dress shoes and several sets of sneakers. Almost every six-to-eight weeks, his shoes (some in mint condition) are just too small to wear. We give away the too-small shoes and save other pairs for my younger son.

Armed with money from his Bar Mitzvah, my oldest son recently took his sneaker plight into his own hands. He set out to buy a pair of the new Dwyane Wade Converse shoes, which are hip, but pricey. Instead, he found a really cool pair of high-quality sports shoes, which were marked down — for a short period — to $50 from the original price of $120. I was impressed with his frugal sense and more importantly, his friends were very impressed with his sneakers.

As a bargain shoe shopper, my son is in good company. Bargain hunters include, Kenneth Thomas, a national banking consultant. Thomas, who lives in comfort and drives a late model Lexus, enjoys picking up high-end shoes at discount prices.

His purchases include a pair of Bruno Magli shoes from Marshall’s. Leather shoes from that Italian designer can cost as much as $500 a pair at full retail price. Thomas, however, purchased his pair for $100. (A few months ago, I bought a black pair of Bruno Magli open-back, handmade shoes for about $37 at Marshall’s. My best find: a new pair of Nine West shoes -- light blue pumps with a stacked heel -- for only $6 at Marshall's.)

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To save money and time, Thomas prefers to shop at discount outlets, where he hits the bargain rack at Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom.

Those outlets, along with Marshall’s are favorites because of the diversity in brands and styles. On the downside, Thomas does not always find a full range of styles for his size-12 feet. But he’s delighted with the quality of top names.

“You get expensive labels and manufacturers that you may not see at any one store,” Thomas said. “It’s not just saving money. It’s also saving time and for a business person, time is money.”

Meanwhile, I have friends who have received rave reviews for fashionable shoes picked up at Payless ShoesSource. And even the pages of glossy magazines are touting the value of fun but affordable shoes at discount stores.

For example, in Celebrity Living magazine, the editors raved about a pair of $15 daisy sandals from American Eagle Outfitters ( And in that same magazine, a pair of $17 black and silver shoes from Payless ( made the magazine's “hot” Hollywood trend list.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Celebrity of the Week & Gardening with Kids

The Frugal Duchess Celebrity of the Week Award goes to:

Jane Kaczmarek, (“Louis” on hit show: Malcolm in the Middle)

Jane, a gardener, wins FD Celebrity honors for her Green and Frugal comments in the November issue of More magazine.

“I still love growing tomatoes – nothing tastes as good. In fact, when we got married my bridesmaids actually carried vegetables, and instead of an engagement ring, I wanted a state-of-the art wheelbarrow.”

“Gardening,” she told More magazine, “is peaceful, yet there is a great element of failure. It’s the perfect metaphor for life —a lot of pleasure and then it’s over. There’s a great satisfaction in tending something, feeling it needs you even if it’s just a plant on your window sill”
--Jane Kaczmarek, Nov. issue of More

And on the topic of gardending: Organic gardening--a fun thing to do with kids--can save a bundle and the environment. That’s the word from Christine Barney, chief executive officer of rbb public relations in Coral Gables, Florida.

Together with her young daughter Alexa, Barney has an unusual method of protecting her flower garden from predators. In the Barney household, rose bushes and other plants are protected with a frugal supply of ladybugs.

At a cost of $9.98 for a container of 1,200 to 1,500 ladybugs, Barney purchases a supply of natural supply of garden pest control. That tub of ladybugs — slowly released into the garden — lasts three to four months and represents a cheaper and safer alternative to traditional pesticides, which often involve potentially harmful chemicals, Christine said.

“Ladybugs don’t do any other damage to your garden. There’s no comparison in peace of mind because I’m not putting down poison in my yard,” she said. “The flowers look great.”

Organic gardening differs from traditional gardening in terms of fertilization and pest control, according to experts in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Typically, organic gardeners avoid man-made chemicals that may be harmful to the environment or one’s health.

As part of organic gardening, ladybugs are natural predators of aphids and soft body insects that typically plague roses, gardenias and milkweed, according to Diane Manganaro, co-owner and operations manager of Parker Sod, a landscape center in the southern corner of Miami.

As a form of pest control, ladybugs will stay in a garden as long as their food supply lasts, Manganaro said. (Garden supply stores also sell a food mixture designed to attract and maintain the ladybug population in a garden).

To extend the presence of this natural source of garden protection, Barney keeps her supply of ladybugs in an air-tight “deli” container in her refrigerator and in this fashion, the bugs hibernate in the cold air until slowly released into the garden over the period of several months.

There are, however, a few caveats. The transfer of the ladybugs from refrigerator has to be accomplished relatively quickly, Barney said, speaking from experience. Although the insects hibernate in the container, there is a small window of opportunity (about three to four minutes) before they start swarming out of the refrigerated container when the lid is open. Also, household members should be forewarned about the contents of that particular “deli” container in order to avoid unpleasant surprises, Barney said.

But meanwhile, her daughter Alexa especially enjoys the ladybugs and appreciates their role in the garden. Gardening also represents a low-cost source of quality time for parents and children.

And there’s an added bonus for Barney, who enjoys taking her daughter to Parker Sod to purchase Ladybugs because that garden center also offers access to a free butterfly aviary that is popular with children. Ladybugs are also available at other garden stores in the area and can also be purchased from online distributors.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fine Whines: Crafting Complaints

There is an art to whining. You can get a lot of mileage out of consumer complaints filed with a combination of good cheer and forcefulness.

There is no reason to accept poor service or problem merchandise, including toys that are unpacked from a store dead-on-arrival. Likewise, substandard vacation accommodations (dirty rooms or unfulfilled promises) can also be appealed to resort owners or your credit card company if you are dissatisfied.

An honest complaint (filed without fabrications, embellishments or other unethical breaches) can yield coupons, vouchers or refunds if you have mastered the art of polite complaints.

In my household, we go straight to the source when we have a consumer complaint. When dealing with products from a large manufacturer, we locate the 800 number and file our complaint with the appropriate consumers’ relations department. From defective wheels on baby carriages to mislabeled cosmetics, we have found that most manufacturers are quite receptive to our feedback and have shipped — free of charge—parts, coupons and refunds for defective items.

And in some cases, the manufacturer is more receptive to our complaints than even the retailers who directly sold us the goods. That’s because many manufacturers seek to build brand loyalty and consumer confidence. They want your repeat business.

But don’t abuse the process or the call center staff, says one consumer rep for a major toy company, who gave me the inside-story on the complaint business. She estimates that 50 percent of callers are impolite or abusive and that attitude can carry hidden penalties for the consumer. For while her company is generous with its return and refund policy, callers that abuse the system are placed in a “restricted area.”

Of course, every caller is theoretically treated the same, but exceptions can be made for those who abuse the system. The company — one of the largest manufacturers of children’s toys — typically provides vouchers for consumers who have purchased defective toys or those missing parts.

For amounts of $25 or under you do not even have to return the toy, but for refunds of larger amounts, the manufacturer will request a proof of purchase, including the return of some small, obscure part. For example, you may be requested to mail in a battery cover, the consumer rep says.

However, abusive or repeat callers seeking freebies are placed on a special restricted list and may receive fewer benefits. And keep in mind that if you give personal data in order to receive a voucher or a replacement part that information is logged into the system.

“We monitor every call,” she says. “Everything is documented and monitored.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What Kids Really Want

A few days ago, I wrote a piece about playing low/tech and no/tech games with my kids. Likewise, Domestik Goddess has a great blog entry about an old-school book of fun activities that her mother owned. A link to her blog is on my sidebar. It's a thoughtful piece.

Meanwhile, this survey from the Center for New American Dream, a nonprofit consumer group, is really eye-opening and hits the same theme about what really matters to kids. Here is the release:

"Family and Friends are Most Important
* 90% of kids 9-14 say that friends and family are way more important than things that money can buy.

* 57% would rather spend time doing something fun with their mom or dad than go to the mall to go shopping.

Time Starvation is a Huge Problem
* Less than one in three kids 9-14 (32%) say they spend a lot of time with their parents.

* Nearly one in four (23%) say this is primarily because their parents are too busy because of work.

* Almost one in five (19%) say this is primarily because they are overscheduled with homework or school activities.

Kids Want Job Flexibility for their Parents

* If they were granted one wish that would change their parents' job, 63% of kids 9-14 would want their mom or dad to have a job that gave them more time to do fun things together.

* Only 13% wished their parents made more money.

The Pressure to Have it All is Intense

* 63% express concern that there is too much advertising that tries to get kids to buy things.

* 58% feel pressure to buy stuff in order to fit in.

* 74% worry that advertising that tries to get kids to buy things causes trouble between kids and parents.

* 74% say it's too bad you have to buy certain things to be cool.

* 81% complain that lots of kids place way too much importance on buying things."

"In the Art/Essay Contest "What Do Kids Really Want That Money Can't Buy?" sponsored by the Center for a New American Dream, the most common answers were "love," "happiness," "peace on earth," and "friends." Significant numbers of children also wanted time with family, a clean environment, a world where people treat each other with respect, a chance to see lost loved ones, help for suffering people, health, and time to play."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Budget Savvy Magazine Review

The fall issue of Budget Savvy magazine is A+ excellent!

Here are my Top 5 Reasons for loving this magazine:

5. Frugal Duchess Editorial of the Week:

I often breeze through the Editor's Note featured in many other magazines. But Melissa Tosetti, editor/publisher of Budget Savvy, has a real knack for writing meaningful copy. Her ode to her mom and to thrift shops is heart-felt & even features valuable tidbits of advice about finding designer labels at Goodwill and other second-hand shops.

4.Frugal Duchess Helpful Home Design Award:

The feature "Furnishing Your Home Without Breaking the Bank," has solid, real-people/real-budget tips for putting together your home front. This excellent article by Susan Palmquist has a helpful list of websites offering either free or low-cost items for the home.

3. Frugal Duchess Fashion Award:

Ask the Budget Fashionista is a fun, funky and frugal overview of fashion. Written by Kathryn Finney, this Q&A feature entertains & educates.

2.Frugal Duchess Face Paint Award:

I loved this article: The Drugstore Diva. Writer Todra Paine packs a powerful punch for frugal beauty maintenance in this piece. She used to be a high-end makeup junkie at expensive department stores. Now she has downsized her makeup budget and finds quality products at the drugstore.

1. Frugal Duchess Time Management Award:

"More than Money," by Kevin Gibbons provides an insightful look into the conflicting pressures of time and money. The tug of war between those limited resources is expertly examined by Gibbons.

Also of note.... Don't miss: "How I Snuck into the Housing Market" by Kim Trowbridge. Helpful and hopeful.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Low-Tech/No-Tech Fun for Kids

You don't need a lot of bells and whistles to make your kids happy. After days or weeks in the dark due to Hurricane Wilma, some parents walked away with this lesson plan: There are many no-cost and low-cost activities for families, ranging from ''old-school'' classics to high-tech battery-operated gadgets.Art projects with simple crayons and watercolors are also a treat.

One Broward mother, for example, appreciated the sparks of creativity generated by her children during the blackout that recently rolled through South Florida. Simple games of ball and tag provided exercise and entertainment. Other year-round options include board games, puzzles, charades and action figures (my personal favorites).

Classic board games such as Monopoly, Clue and Scrabble are available from a wide range of sources. Thrift stores, yard sales and flea markets often sell popular games for $1 or less. Vendors on eBay also market games at low prices. And major retail chains periodically sell low-tech/no-tech games at steep discounts. I have spotted two-for-one specials and three-for-$10 game promotions at major toy chains.

Don't worry if your existing game pile is disorganized. (Mine is.) Major manufacturers such as Hasbro -- maker of Yatzee, Sorry! Life and Boggle! --
are happy to fill in the blanks.

Using the Internet, it's possible to download missing game instructions by logging onto the "Family Game Night'' section of asbro' website ( The Family Game Night section and other parenting sites also offer great tips for setting up weekly game nights that promote quality time with family and friends.

Hasbro and other manufacturers also maintain an inventory of missing game pieces. Order forms are available online. While shopping at national toy chains, I have also spotted low-cost bags of random game pieces (dices, markers and other common game tokens). Or you can combine second-hand games to create a complete box set.

At affordable prices, Ping-Pong tables, air hockey game sets and indoor basketball courts are sold used at thrift stores or new sets are often sold at a discount at sports and toys stores.

My children also enjoy listening to books on tape. Their favorites include
a recorded story narrated by Rabbi Gedaliah Glatt of Miami Beach, a local storyteller.

My kids (including my oldest son) are enchanted with
Glatt's rendition of The Secret Cave and while the tape recently played, I
found household chores that kept me within earshot of the tale.

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My New Skirt from eBay $13.99

My new skirt (purchased on eBay) arrived this week. It's so cute and it cost me so little. The winning (and only) bid price was $8.99 plus $5 for shipping and handling.

I've become a big fan of high-fashion on eBay for low prices. It's really possible to get high-ticket items for low-ticket prices. And there are new-with-tags skirts with labels from Anthropologie, Old Navy, Ann Taylor and others.

And no, I don't sell skirts on eBay.

I wore my new pink skirt today for the naming/bris ceremony of my new nephew. The baby was so cute & so alert.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Frugal Angie Harmon & Deficit News

Released today by federal government:

The Department of Commerce announced today that total September exports of $105.2 billion and imports of $171.3 billion resulted in a goods and services deficit of $66.1 billion, $6.8 billion more than the $59.3 billion in August.

Market watchers attributed the record eye-popping deficit to a mixture of factors: the loss of U.S. jobs to the overseas market, the impact of Hurricanes Katrina & Rita, and higher oil prices.

Oh well. Just 66 billion reasons to keep a tight watch on your own expenses.

And speaking of personal thrift, Actress Angie Harmon claims to be a real bargain-hunting queen. That's the word from the Nov. issue of Shop Etc. magazine.

Here are her bargain-hunting comments:

"It doesn't matter how much money your make, if I can get something for under $100 that's great," Harmon said. "When they put those big red letters that say SALE in the window, I count down the hours until I can get there." --Angie Harmon, cover story of Shop Etc.

Of course, you can save a lot by NOT shopping at all. But that's another story.


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Frugal News: Consumer Confidence Dips & Frugal Application of Cleaners

Frugal Front Page

Consumers Grow More Cautious

That's the latest news from the Conference Board, a non-profit business research organization. Here are snippets from the release.

"The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index Declines Again

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which had plummeted in September, declined again in October.

“Much of the decline in confidence over the past two months can be attributed to the recent hurricanes, pump shock and a weakening labor market,” says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

Consumers’ overall assessment of ongoing conditions was less positive in October. Those claiming business conditions are “good” decreased to 23.8 percent from 25.2 percent. Those claiming conditions are “bad” increased to 18.6 percent from 17.8 percent.

The employment picture was also less buoyant. Consumers saying jobs are “hard to get” increased to 25.3 percent from 25.0 percent, while those claiming jobs are “plentiful” was virtually unchanged at 20.8 percent."



Frugal Uses for Bounce, WD-40 and other Products

Consumers have contributed to a list of unusual uses for Bounce Fabric
Sheets. For example, a shopper from Bogalusa, Louisiana was hard hit by Hurricane Katrina and without power for over four weeks and offers this tip on a Bounce website.

"All [the food] in refrigerators was lost and the smell was awful. I used
several Bounce sheets in both my freezers and refrigerators after cleaning,
and they lost the bad smell in a matter of days," the consumer wrote.

Other uses for the fabric sheets include odor removal from cars and carpets,
insect repellant and scum cleaner from shower doors.

The WD-40 Company has pulled together a list of 2000 uses for WD-40, a multipurpose spray that lubricates and "displaces" water, according to Liza Gaoiran, brand manager for WD-40. The company's website, features a list of 2000 uses of WD-40.

Here are some of the consumer-to-consumer uses of the product:

a. Rust prevention. The product can be sprayed on outdoor furniture as a preventive measure or sprayed on rusted items to contain the spread of rust.

b. Protection of gaskets on storm windows.

c. Lubricates window tracks on boats and storm shutters.

d. Protects chain saw blades during storage.

e. Removes sand from patio door runners

f. Cleans up adhesive marks left by duct tape and other sticky stuff.

On a related topic, one consumer claims that Tilex (a bathroom tile cleaner)is effective in removing mold spots from wet clothes that were left in a
hamper. (Hint: spay damaged area with Tilex and soak the garment in warm

Procter & Gamble spokeswoman Bev Larkin says that the company has not tested
all of the unusual applications of its products. She does, however, vouch
for one usual application: Dawn dishwashing liquid is effective in removing
oil stains from driveways and sidewalks.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Frugal Stolen Car News & Cheap Blemish Solution

Frugal Front Page

Stolen Vehicle Report:
This story was released today from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (

The nation's motor vehicle thieves continue to favor imports over domestic brands as their targets of opportunity.

For 2004, the top ten most stolen vehicles in the United States by make, model, and model year were:

1. 1995 Honda Civic
2. 1989 Toyota Camry
3. 1991 Honda Accord
4. 1994 Dodge Caravan
5. 1994 Chevrolet Full Size C/K 1500 Pickup
6. 1997 Ford F150 Series
7. 2003 Dodge Ram Pickup
8. 1990 Acura Integra
9. 1988 Toyota Pickup
10. 1991 Nissan Sentra

NICB encourages everyone to follow its "layered approach" to auto theft protection by employing simple, low-cost suggestions to make their vehicles less attractive to thieves. NICB's four layers are:

Common Sense:
The cheapest form of defense is to simply employ the anti-theft devices that are standard on all vehicles: locks. Lock your car and take your keys.

Warning Device:
Having and using a visible or audible warning device is another item that can ensure that your car remains where you left it.

Immobilizing Device:
"Kill" switches, fuel cut-offs, and smart keys are among the devices which are high and low tech, but extremely effective. Generally speaking, if your car won't start, it won't get stolen.

Tracking Device:
On the higher end of high tech are the newer devices which can alert you—and law enforcement—the moment an unauthorized user moves your vehicle.

For the complete story go to and look for the “Hot Wheels” news release.

Random Frugal News: Cheap Zit Zapper

Anyway: Weeks ago I came across this pimple-zapping tip in a women’s magazine called First. The Oct. 17th issue featured this somewhat bizarre recipe for zapping ugly red blemishes

1. Apply an ice cube to the pimple. Hold ice on zit for 30 seconds.

2. Press cotton ball soaked in eye drops liquid onto blemish. Hold in place for three (LONG) minutes.

It really works! I tried it on a red (ugh!) blemish on my nose. Gone, Gone. The procedure also tested successfully on a teenager.

Rationale: According to First, the 1-2 punch of ice and eye drops makes the blood vessels contract. This below the surface action reduces the size and redness of a pimple

Hey! It’s cheaper and more effective than other blemish solutions that I’ve tried.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Frugal Reader: Review of More Magazine

Thumbs Up for the November issue of More.

Aimed at hip, career-oriented women, who care about money, beauty and anti-aging theories.

Age target: 40 and up. But don't call them middle-aged, granny or frumpy. Younger readers would also benefit from insights.

Here are my TOP FIVE FRUGAL REASONS for liking the November issue of More

5. Great interview with Debi Mazar (page 28) about vintage clothes:

A big Frugal Fashion Applause for this quote from Mazar:

I moved to L.A. and went to events and movie premieres, but always wore my own vintage clothes. Even though I was finally making more money, I just couldn't spend a thousand dollars on an item of clothing.

4. Weekly Frugal Duchess Ad Award: Citibank's anti-wrinkle pitch. Tagline: "You really can prevent worry lines....Get a better retirement plan."

The ad shows a mock ad for anti-aging skin cream potions. Really cute. I might even check out the website to find out if it has any info worth noting.

3. Waist Management (page 48): Cute feature from Kim Johnson Gross about bodies and clothes. Very helpful and could save us all from making costly and ill-fitting clothing blunders. Winner of the Frugal Duchess Budget Saver Article Award

2. Mentors for Grown-Ups (p. 58) Winner of the Frugal Duchess Entrepreneur Award

This excellent piece by Mary Lou Quinlan offers great tips about getting pro bono consulting advice for your career or company. Why pay an expensive consultant when you can network your way to insights and corporate feedback?

1. The Money Diaries: Winner of the Weekly Frugal Duchess Must Read Award

Did you ever want to sneak a peak at someone else's net worth ledger statement? The Money Diaries on page 80 (with figures, names and warts) showcases the financial follies, choices and balance sheets of several women. It's very insightful and helpful. I enjoyed the snapshots and the expert advice that concluded each snippet.

Also of note: The Life and Opinions of Sandy Lerner (on page 119) by Kathy Sheridan.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Frugal Cleaning Supplies: Vinegar & Co.

Plain old vinegar and elbow grease are valuable products for beating back mildew, grease and other household problems. That’s the word from a reader named George Knox, who is poetical about the virtues of vinegar.

“Check out Vinegar as a miracle fluid,” George wrote in a recent email. “[Vinegar] kills weeds and makes flowers grow, removes rust; cleans stains and kills fleas. There are a number of websites dealing with its value - and it is among the cheapest items in the supermarket.”

The product is among the many simple solutions touted by Consumer Reports in the classic text: “How to Clean Practically Anything,” which is available at bookstores and through various online vendors.

White vinegar, according to the editorial team at Consumer Reports, “is good for a variety of household cleaning tasks, including removing carpet stains, clearing clogged drains and cleaning coffeemakers, chrome, cookware and countertops.”.

Here is a partial list of other common problems with cheap solutions from Consumer Reports:

Mildew on ceramic tiles: Wipe down tiles and grout with a mix of one-part bleach and four-parts water. A solution of baking soda and water can also be used to remove greasy stains.

Bamboo blinds: Wipe down with a cloth slightly moistened with mixture of dish washing liquid and water.

Damp books: Dry texts in an oven at the lowest setting. Or if needed, place toilet paper between pages to dry out individual pages. Dry the book flat with a light paperweight on top.

Mildewed books. Dip a damp cloth into vinegar or use a baby wipe to gently remove mildew stains from books. Then place the text in direct sunlight for 30 minutes or less.

Deck Stains: Scrub stains with a de-greasing detergent. ( A bleached-base product will remove mildew). Use fine sandpaper to scrub off set-in stains.

Adhesive tape stains: Rub residue with a cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol, water and a mild dish detergent.

Candle wax drips: Rub an ice cube over hardened wax and chip off large pieces. Soften remaining wax with a hair dryer. Rub away remainder with a soft cloth.

Musty futons: Sprinkle baking soda over the mattress. After 24 hours, vacuum up the baking soda. A pet-odor/stain removal product can also be used in place of baking soda.

Arm & Hammer, the maker of a popular baking soda, has a long list of affordable cleanup tips for kitchens, yards and other areas of the home. The tips are well organized-on a company website:

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Frugal Celebrity Quote & Rebates

Quote of the Week:

"The safest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket."
Kin Hubbard
(1868 - 1930), author


In October, I wrote a short piece about bogus store sales. My list included difficult rebate procedures. Sometimes it seems as if you have to hire a personal assistant to keep track of the paperwork from various rebate offers.

Reader David Wolf agrees. Here's his recent email:

"A few weeks ago, my computer broke and I had to buy a new one. However, the $500 advertised cost [for a new computer package], is after you get back the $300 in rebates.

It is not an easy job to get them. You have to carefully cut out the barcodes from 3 boxes, make copies, and make sure you attach the right ones to the 4 rebate forms. Then you have to hope you get the 4 checks in the mail. I really believe this is done to discourage people from collecting the rebate. Otherwise the companies would just lower the price you pay in the store. "

That's just one example. I've heard worse tales of difficult-to-collect rebates. Bottom line: If you can't track the paperwork, avoid rebate offers or just keep your money.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Frugal flower arrangements

For advice about frugal, but elegant floral arrangements, I turned to Richard David, co-owner of Mark’s Garden, a Los Angeles-based retail flower and design shop. The company supplied the centerpieces for the 2005 Academy Awards Governors Ball and have also created floral designs for Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Shaquille O’Neal and other celebrities. We had a fun phone conversation:

His advice:

Check out your own backyard. Homegrown flowers, herbs, vines and greenery can be used to enhance or stretch bouquets purchased from floral shops or supermarkets.

“Just walk around and be creative,” David said. “Sometimes, even weeds can be pretty when you add them to flowers.”

Be creative. At a recent party for my son, a creative friend decorated the buffet tables with banana leaves. Draped over the table cloth, the large green leaves provided an elegant, but unusual flourish to the serving tables.

Don't be contained by vases. Teapots, bowls, cups and other interesting containers provide visual sparks at parties.

Size doesn’t matter. Smaller arrangements provide greater flexibility and facilitate conversation. Fruits, berries and rose petals are also creative but inexpensive materials for decorating tables.

“Always remember candles,” David said. “Little votive candles always add something to a table arrangement. Flickering lights create a warm and inviting ambiance.”

Potted plants are also an option. Indeed, for a recent family function, my husband purchased trays of inexpensive yellow and purple annual flowers from Home Depot.

The trays were wrapped in festive tissue paper and provided an elegant touch to the tables. After the party, we planted the flowers in our small garden and gave the rest away.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Frugal Tips for Beating High Costs of Life

Hi! As a journalist, I receive a steady stream of news releases from different sources. Some of the stuff is really news you can use.

For example, the following news release is from Jim Baird of Midwest-based Plante Moran Financial Advisors.

"Five Consumer Tips for Beating the Rising Cost of `Everything'

"According to Jim Baird of Midwest-based Plante Moran Financial
Advisors, here are some quick tips that can put a little more jingle in
one's pocket now without compromising the long-term financial horizon:

1. Set A Monthly Budget: If you haven't already established a monthly
household spending and saving budget, do so now so there is knowledge
of actual expenditures and savings for both short- and long-term needs.

2. Maintain Current Savings Schedule: Alter spending habits first
before even considering a change in your savings schedule. Do not
reduce automatic savings and 401k percentages just to meet short-term
cash flow needs. Doing so will impact your longer-term financial

3. Re-think Charge Card Habits, Especially on Gas Purchases: Don't charge gas on a credit card if you cannot pay the balance in full at month's end -- this will lead to high interest payments on the balance
and you'll end up paying much more, depending on the terms of your credit card. Assuming common terms such as a 4% minimum monthly paymentand an 18% interest rate compounded monthly, a single purchase of $500 could ultimately cost as much as $716, if only the minimum payment is consistently made until the balance is paid off in five years. Other cards with more lenient 2% minimum payments could increase the total cost to $931, with payments extended to almost eight years. This does not take into consideration additional purchases or previous balances.

The best habit is to simply not use a credit card if you're unable to
pay the balance in full each month. Also, beware of "teaser rates"
which seem like good deals; eventually, a much higher rate will apply.
At best, you're buying time. You will still have to pay off the balance
quickly to avoid high interest charges.

4. Review Work and Errand Alternatives: Discuss with your employer the ability to telecommute to save on gas expenditures; consider forming a car pool with fellow employees living within a five-mile radius of each other and ask your employer to facilitate such car pool organizing
efforts. Multitask on outings and errands versus taking multiple,
single-purpose trips; in a two-vehicle household, use the vehicle that
is most economical.

5. Temporarily Alter Discretionary High Spending Behaviors: Reduce discretionary spending such as restaurant visits, shopping, and personal pampering excursions temporarily until prices even out. A weekly restaurant outing of $40 totals $160 for the month; a bi-monthly visit to the nail salon can eat away another $50 a month. Use this money for necessities first before purchasing what may be personal luxuries.

Plante Moran Financial Advisors is the nation's seventh largest
independent financial advisory firm based on assets under management
according to Bloomberg Wealth Manager magazine. Plante Moran Financial
Advisors is an affiliate of Plante & Moran, PLLC, the nation's 11th
largest accounting and business advisory firm. Our Internet address is"


That's the end of the release. Great tips!
Frugal tips for beating high costs of life

Please visit the sponsors of this page

Monday, October 31, 2005

Frugal Review: Nov. Issue of Lucky Magazine

Okay, so I'm not lucky enough to afford a lot of the stuff in the November issue of Lucky magazine, but do I really need a pair of $570 "diva version" Jeweled suede boots? (Page 108) In South Florida? I don't think so.

But ya' know. I can dream and there's lots of fun stuff to dream about in the latest issue of Lucky Magazine.

Here's my quick overview of the magazine: Thumps up with a few pricey caveats. Great Read!

Top 5 reasons why I enjoyed the November issue of Lucky magazine.

5. The little yes-no-maybe adhesive tabs. (About 20 of the little sticky squares on a page.) They're like mini-Post-its that come free with the magazine. These colorful peel-off stickers are great for marking up your favorite pages in Lucky! What's more, save the unused tabs for marking up your calendar, your To Do list or your favorite poem in a book.

4. Great advice about preventing angora sweaters from shedding on page 92. Hint: Put the garment in a ziplock; then put the bag in a freezer for three hours. Really cool. That process step should halt shedding, according to Lucky.

3. Wonderful feature (with pictures) about wearing belted cardigan sweaters. And the price range has something for every budget. Lucky features everything from a $17 Faded Glory sweater to a $268 cardigan from Victoria's Secret.

2. Great Lashes (page 152). Lucky provides the 411 on mascara products. Goods reviewed range from Maybelline's (drugstore) $6 Great Lash clear Mascara in the pink and green container to a $24 eyelash curling wand from YSL sold at Nordstrom.

(Personally, I'm a Maybelline girl and I love to buy my favorite mascara during two-for-one sales at Walgreen's.)

1. Loved, loved, loved the feature called "Your fashion questions answered." (page 230) Great insights & photos. Take those pages shopping with you while browsing through your favorite thrift store, the sale rack at Bloomies, an outlet mall or in Mom's closet. Warning: If you borrow from mom, your must ask first.

Other favorites: Check out the Flea Market report on page 251. This is an interesting regional roundup of second-hand shopping throughout the country. Great for locals and great for travelers.


Be frugal and have lots of fun.
Frugal Review: Lucky Magazine

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Frugal Health & Exercise

Behind the scenes: My Oct. 29 Making Ends Meet column in the Miami Herald was sparked by a report on National Public Radio (NPR). The broadcast targeted the recent slash in health care benefits for GM retirees.

We all know the drill: Health costs have gotten outrageous, especially for workers and retirees. The best and cheapest medicine is preventive care. So with that in mind, I did some homework and the result was my latest column.

The blast came from Detroit, but I felt the financial chill in Miami: Faced with declining auto sales and escalating costs, General Motors recently announced plans to save billions of corporate dollars by cutting retiree health benefits.

And GM is not alone. Across the country, major employers are reducing or eliminating a variety of health insurance benefits for retirees and workers. Bottom line: Employees face a higher tab for heath care bills. There is no magic pill for saving health care dollars, but you have one long-term tool for cutting out-of-pocket health care costs: Guard your health!

That prescription is not just New Age Mumbo Jumbo: I’ve personally witnessed and experienced the financial benefits of better diet and health. Consider the improved fortune of Todd Bass, an assistant state attorney in Miami. Through a careful regimen of diet and exercise, Bass has minimized the threat and costs of diabetes. He does not spend money on insulin medication or related bills. He literally runs away from those costs by putting on his running shoes.

"I’ve regulated my sugar [levels] by incorporating diet and exercise into my lifestyle," Bass told me. "Exercise and diet! They go hand in hand."

A few years ago, Bass was diagnosed with high sugar blood levels, with an early warning about the onset diabetes. But his doctor gave him the option of avoiding escalating health problems and costs through exercise and a shift away from a high-carb, high-sugar diet. Bass, then an occasional jogger, made the change and became a serious runner.

With increased mileage, he became a marathon runner and now earns thousands of dollars in extra annual income by coaching other runners for various events in Hawaii and other parts of the country.

Likewise, Nathan a family friend, no longer needs expensive medicines for diabetes and high cholesterol thanks to a major weight loss program, a new diet and regular workouts. He now takes vitamins rather than a large battery of pills. His fitness schedule includes regular sessions with a professional trainer.

Instruction from a professional trainer is a luxury that can be surprisingly affordable. For instance, every Thursday night, I work out with a professional trainer named Angela, who puts me through a grueling set of Yoga poses. She charges $65 an hour, but I typically pay less than $10 because the cost of Angela’s time is shared with a small group of women.

If only three of us show up, we face a larger tab of roughly $22 each. But due to the ties of friendship and (friendly) peer pressure, our weekly group typically consists of six to eight women with Yoga mats and eager muscles. Of course, we don’t get the same level of attention that we would receive from one-on-one sessions with Angela, but we each receive a surprising level of individualized instruction and gentle corrections.

Additionally, many professional trainers, gyms and community centers offer a wide variety of exercise programs. I’ve even seen Jazz-ercize classes (exercise set to a funky beat) for about $6.50 a class and sometimes lower. Walking is also an option and it’s free.

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Gratitude and Frugal Philosophy: I love Mom & Dad!

I love my parents and I owe them so much.

Barbara and Ben Harvey are great parents! I could write pages about their generosity and sage advice. For example, on a regular basis, my mother and father feed me money-saving tips for my column in the Miami Herald. From Do-it-Yourself wedding/shower/party invitations to the frugal benefits of organization, my parents provide a steady stream of information and insights.

And if I've lived like a Duchess, that's because my parents have provided royal financial support from childhood to the present moment.

What's more, they provided three great siblings, Ben Jr., Karen and Debra, who have followed the family tradition of open-hearted generosity.

The bottom line: I have many reasons to be thankful.

Love you guys!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Frugal Emergency Supplies

You don't have to live in Florida to maintain a stock of hurricane supplies. For example, I once read about a California man who drives around with a 72-hour emergency supply kit in his car.

I'm sensitive about storms these days. We were hit by Wilma and have tracked the heart-breaking devastation in New Orleans and Mississippi. As a live-for-today girl, I hate to worry about what-if scenarios. But ya know, I'll worry less if I prepare more.

So I've put together my own list of emergency preps:

1. Buy bottled water when it's on sale and save it! (Water that is more than a year old can be used to flush toilets in an emergency.)

2. And speaking of flushed toilets, if your local forecast includes a hurricane, a major electric storm or tornado, fill the bathtub. (Ignore this advice or lock the bathroom door if you have small children in the house.) When we lost our running water during Wilma, I was sooo glad we had filled up the bathtub. That water was used to flush the toilet.

3. Keep soapless hand sanitizers and baby wipes around. Enuf said.

4. Buy batteries on sale. Almost every week, Walgreens, CVS, Target, Rite Aid or other national chains offer batteries on sale. Keep an alphabet at your home. You never know! Buy up paper plates and plastic cutlery. Those items are important if you don't have electricity.

5. Set up a supply drawer and don't borrow from it. If you use it now, you won't have it later. Stock the drawer or shelf with batteries, flashlights, candles, matches, canned goods, nuts and other non-perishables. Buy stuff on sale!

Well that's enough stress for now. Stock up and let it go.


Be frugal and have fun.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Frugal Stars & Coupon Update

We're still recovering from Wilma. In my home, we had no electricity for two days and no water for about 24 hours. But we're very fortunate. I have friends without power; others have lost cars and roofs.

But roofs, glass and trees can be replaced. It's just stuff. Really.

Frugal Celebrity Quote of the Week:

"I don't own anything that I'd be afraid to lose. Nothing material is that important." -- Kelly Clarkson, American Idol winner. Quoted in the September issue of For Me magazine.

Coupon Update:

The discounts are rolling in. A few weeks ago, I called a few companies and
offered my comments about their products. Many of the companies rewarded my efforts with free coupons and samples. Well the coupons are rolling in.
Procter & Gamble Company sent me a sweet letter stuffed with $6.50 in coupons and a free Swiffer Duster, which my 10-year-old son thought was really cool.

Celestial Seasonings dispatched $1.50 in coupons for their teas and an invitation to tour their plant in Boulder, Colorado. And meanwhile, Frito Lay sent me a bunch of coupons (about $5 worth) for differnt snacks.

They all wrote nice letters. But the note from Procter & Gamble -- signed by Kelly Kramer -- earned top marks in my little grade book. It was really chatty and sweet.


Have fun, be frugal!

Frugal Travels: Hotel Phones & Free Internet

Travelers beware. Whether you’re on the road because of business, pleasure or a hurricane, it pays to save your communication dollars. Telephone, internet and fax communications can add up to costly tabs for travelers.

For example, hotels, motels and bed & breakfast inns can slap a variety of extra charges onto your bill for telephone calls made from your room. These charges typically apply to local and long-distance calls and represent an additional fee added to the basic cost of the actual phone call. And if you’re careless or uninformed about potential charges, you could face an eye-popping bill at check-out time.

Minimize your bill, by making full (and smart) use of your mobile phone. Reserve the hotel phone for outgoing calls and if the hotel has a toll-free number, give those digits to friends, families and business associates. Use your cell phone (or buy an inexpensive phone card) for out going calls. And don’t forget to pack your battery charger.

And if you have to use the hotel phone, be brief. The Tightwad Gazette, a frugal textbook, recommends the one-minute phone call. To get under the sixty-minute wire, begin by mapping out “talking points” before you even pick up the phone. And eliminate a costly paper chase by keeping pertinent information (business notes and other facts) close at hand. Don’t keep the meter running.

There are a variety of choices for Internet service. For instance, the Springhill Suites Marriott in Pittsburgh, Pa. offers free wireless Internet services for travelers armed with a laptop. Other chains offer pay-as-you go services for Internet, computer, printing and fax machine access.

Scrutinize your bills when paying for these services and report any failed connections, poor quality printing or other computer errors. On one recent trip, the hotel’s Internet vendor graciously reimbursed me for an expensive, Internet connection that repeatedly failed as I tried to complete an assignment on deadline.

And don’t be a snob when traveling. Public libraries have a wide assortment of computer terminals, programs and Internet service—all free of charge. Indeed, I’ve spent hours at the public library in Kissimee, while vacationing with my family in Orlando. At that library, my kids enjoyed a literary break from the overwhelming amusement park scene and I was able to log on to the Internet free of charge. It was a win-win for everyone and my boys enjoyed using the computer terminals in the extensive children’s section.

And don’t forget, Internet cafes. Many of these outlets have affordable rates and great coffee.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Frugal Magazine Review: Nov. Issue of For Me

I'm an addictive reader and the November issue of For Me magazine gave me a lot to read. The magazine provided a pleasant distraction from our recent marathon of preparations for Hurricane Wilma.

So, here are my Top 5 reasons for loving For Me:

5. The cover price is only $1.45. Hey, that's cheaper than a latte or a bottle of nail polish.

4. I fell in love with the super feature about Do-It-Yourself home spa treatments (p.26). From the Light Cucumber Foot Mask to the recommendation of the Noxzema Continuous Clean Citrus Scrub ($3.99), that piece is a fun and informative read. Produced by Nicole Grippo, with photos by Peter Ardito, the feature provides a great list of products and recipes for creating a high-end spa in your own home.

3. Insightful Quote from Penelope Cruz on page 37: "I have to value every single thing. I have food every day on the table; I have a family, friends, health -- all thngs without which it wouldn't matter how many roles I get to play."

2. Amazing primer on Ebay University by Cari Wira, aka "the Budget Babe." p. 56

1. Helpful step-by-step Thanksgiving planner, with great recipes, frugal tips on wines, and thrifty table decorations. Very elegant, very cheap!

Oooh! I could write more about this great issue. But Wilma is beginning to rattle my glass sliding doors and I want to shut down the computer before the power goes off.


Have a fun and frugal day.