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.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Frugal Phone Cards : Cheap Service?

What's the deal about phone cards? For $20 to $40 a month, one reader purchases pre-paid telephone cards from a small grocery store. Tapping into the phone card network, her overseas telephone calls cost about 4 cents a minute, she told me.

But phone cards are a mixed bag. Here's the 411:

Pre-paid phone cards typically sell for $5 to $15 (and higher) for a fixed amount of telephone service. For long distance calls in the U.S., phone card rates range from a penny to a nickel per minute. But low rates aren't everything. A few low-cost carriers offer poor service. Others are a good bargain.

Newsstands, travel agencies, convenience stores and many mom-and-pop grocery stores typically sell phone cards. Other vendors include the neighborhood post office and national retail chains such as Walgreen's. It's a big business with many pros and cons for consumers.

On the plus side, phone cards provide convenience. After paying in advance, you can eliminate bills for long distance or international calls on your home or cell phone. And various, distributors offer additional time-saving features, including speed dialing for your favorite numbers or activity reports. To use the service, outgoing calls are routed through either a toll-free number or a local exchange.

Saving money is the main attraction for Cecile Richardson, a Florida resident, who has family throughout the U.S. and in Jamaica. For $2 to $5 a card, Richardson purchases pre-paid service for all of her long distance and international calls.

"I don't have long distance on my home phone, so I use the phone card to call my sister and brother in Queens (New York) and Washington, D.C.," Richardson said.

With the $5 card, she receives about 90 minutes of international calls to Jamaica or 100 minutes of long distance service within the U.S. for calls made on her home phone. However, if she uses her cell phone to dial into the toll-free access number, Richardson receives a dramatic drop in available minutes. For instance, when routing calls through her cell phone she receives only 30 minutes of international service versus 90 minutes for calls routed through her home phone.

And indeed, I noticed a similar pattern when I studied phone cards sold at the little bodega near my home. One $5 card, for example, fixed a surcharge of 99 cents on calls from a payphone and "higher" (but not specified) for cell phone calls.

Other companies charged comparable fees. I also noticed that some cards have a very short expiration date, with a time clock that begins running with your first call. I also spotted a "semi-monthly fee" of 59 cents on some cards. I called the company's 800 number for more details. After a long holding period, the customer service representative explained that the 59-cent fee is actually a weekly fee. But since there is no charge for the first week of service, the company uses the term "semi-monthly."

Therefore, it's important to read the fine print when buying a phone card, according to a report from the Federal Trade Commission, a government agency. The list of potential pitfalls is long.

*Disreputable card issuers, who cease operations and leave you with a worthless card.
*Higher-than-advertised rates.
*Charges for incomplete calls (busy numbers or no answers).
*Low-quality connections
*Ineffective or unresponsive customer service lines.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Frugal Philosophying: Ms. Overstocked

Sometimes I get overstuffed
from wanting so much stuff.

For example, I now have nine bottles of hair conditioner around my house. Of course, it's all sale merchandise. But how much do I really need? I can only use a handful at a time. But every week, there I am, hunting for hair conditioner deals on the printed pages of the seven-day flyers from CVS/Walgreens/Target.

More, more, more. And that's a problem. Wanting stuff -- trinkets, trophies and truimphs -- can be an expensive and obesssive passion.

I fear that I've wasted too much of my life (and money) by shopping, shopping, shopping and always, always wanting more.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Frugal, But Quality Deal-of-the-Week

So how does a former spendthrift and an addictive shopper like me get therapy? Honey, you gotta re-direct that energy.

In the spirit of reformation, I use my shopping skills to save money for my family. This week, I've done well. Cheap prices and great quality!

For example, my husband needed shampoo. We had lots and lots of hair conditioner products, (an absolute must for curly, wavy, nappy-happy hair!) But we were running low on shampoo.

I went to Walgreens and purchased White Rain shampoo for $1.00. I had a coupon for $1-off, but the savings only applied to two bottles. So I picked up a bottle of conditioner, also $1. Bottom line: two bottles of hair products for 50 cents each. Not bad.

And the White Rain conditioner actually worked well on my hair. I was pleasantly surprised. Shocked. I'm a snob about hair conditioners.

Of course, while I was at Walgreens, I couldn't resist the special on water. Three cases of bottled water for $8 (less than 18 cents a bottle.)

I wasn't thinking about Hurricane Wilma. It was Sunday and Wilma was still in Bedrock. Now that the Hurricane is approaching Southern Florida, where I live, I'm glad that we have the extra water.

I hoping that Wilma blows away out to sea, where it'll disappear and not harm anyone. That's my prayer. That's my Wrap!


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Desperate Housewives & Payless Shoes

I love it whenever I stumble on news about frugal celebrities or news of frugality in Tinseltown.

A number of frugal fashion choices help to create the style scene at Desperate Housewives. In addition, to a few eye-popping expensive accessories and gear, the stylists for the hit show also hit the racks at Claire's and other low-cost stores.

That's the word from the pages of the Oct. 26 special issue of People Extra magazine: Secrets of Desperate Housewives

The magazine asked Cate Adair, the show's costume designer, where she shops for Desperate Housewives:

Her answer: "Everywhere and anywhere. Swap meets, secondhand shops, boutiques, little shops, big shops, some designer labels. We'll buy stuff at the Gap."

Clothes for the character Bree (played by Marcia Cross) are collected from Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus, Armani and other high-end names. But the magazine also highlighted a few Bree-like items from Payless shoes, including a pair of fake suede, teal-colored shoes for $17 and a Faux, croc purse (also from Payless) in green for $21. (p.77)

The costume team also shops at Claire's, where they reportedly buy dozens of hoop earrings (gold-colored) for $5.50 a pair. Those earrings are for the character Lynette, played by Felicity Huffman.

Meanwhile, Teri Hatcher provided the magazine with a great quote about her thrifty approach to life:

"I'm a very conservative person. I drive my cars for 10 years until they have 100,000 miles on them. To me, feeling comfortable means having way more than I need in the bank."

But here's my favorite part. The actress saves money to enjoy the luxuries that really mean a lot to me.

"I don't spend my money on sports cars or new million-dollar houses," she told People. "But being able to go on the trip of a lifetime is pretty special."

Wow. Hey Teri, that's totally my philosophy.

Save well to live well and spend money on the stuff, the people and trips that really mean the most.

Note: I am a free-lance reporter for People magazine. From time-to-time, I will offer celebrity profiles from a wide variety of magazines. But this blog is independent.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Saving on Makeup and Skincare

My makeup bag is downwardly mobile. Before parenthood, I was well-stocked with cosmetics and skin-care treats from expensive beauty spas and high-end department stores. But after parenthood, I gradually traded down the commodities chain and my makeup table is now stocked with goodies from national pharmacy chains.

And quite, frankly my skin has actually thrived on this discount diet. But based on the you-get-what-you-pay-for doctrine, I’ve been puzzled by my skin’s positive response. But the experts have ready answers, namely: When it comes to cosmetics, high cost does not always equal high-quality care.

“There are very good products at CVS and Walgreens that are very effective and very affordable,” says Dr. Helena Igra, a cosmetic surgeon and board-certified dermatologist based on Miami Beach. “The most expensive products are not necessarily the best.”

So there’s no need to feel deprived, if you can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars a month on skincare products. Nor should, you feel compelled to purchase the high-end over-the-counter skincare products that some dermatologists directly market, says Igra, who does not sell skincare products in her office. Indeed, she’s happy to suggest a number of “very good, very dependable,” drugstore products –from publicly traded household names — that will pamper your skin at a fraction of the costs.

Of course, if you have serious skin problems, prescription-only pharmaceutical intervention may be necessary. But many of the inexpensive, over the counter products work just fine for the every-day nuisances wrought by sun and stress (fine lines, small eruptions and brown spots), Igra says.

And while, some expensive skin-care products live up to their billing, packaging, research/development costs and marketing budgets can also boost lofty price tags, the doctor says.

That same lesson was personally delivered to me, by a local television personality, who discovered the beauty of pharmacy cosmetics after losing her luggage — including a bag of expensive cosmetics — while traveling. In a pinch, she purchased inexpensive cosmetics at a pharmacy counter and was pleased with the results. Other women in corporate circles have shared similar discoveries with me.

Stephen Farrar, a television and video makeup artist, agrees with their insights. As a beauty industry professional, he has peeked into the makeup kits of peers from around the country. Their tools of the trade typically include many inexpensive cosmetic products, including Max Factor, Almay, Covergirl and Maybelline, Farrar says. In fact, when it comes to mascara, the old pink-and-green Maybelline mascara wand ($4.99) ranks as an industry staple.

“It doesn’t have to cost a lot to look good,” says Farrar, who provides makeup services to WPBT (Channel 2), the local PBS station.

And if you’re addicted to one of the expensive department store or designer brands, Enjoy. But learn to streamline and shop for value, the makeup artist says.

“There are some good products at the high-end of the market, but you don’t have to buy the whole line,” Farrar says.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Frugal Review: Oct. Issue of Money

Yup. I read a lot! And on a regular basis, I will review and summarize some of the magazines, etc. that catch my attention.

Here are 10 reasons I enjoyed the October issue of

10. Great (and) short piece about saving gas by Donna Rosato and Lawrence Ulrich. Good tips and not just DUH! information (p. 23)

9. Insightful piece about IBM professional who becomes public school teacher by Donna Rosato (another winner from Rosato.) Engaging details about how Susana Temprano downsized her life from that of a $200,000+ IBM sales executive to a NYC public school teacher ($40,000 salary) Can you say OUCH! (p. 35)

8. From that same piece: Great sidebar with info and websites for professionals seeking to jump from the office suite to the classroom. (p. 36)

7. Generational feedback about spoiled kids. In the "Your Money & Your Life" section, columnist Jean Chatzky interviewed senior citizens at two retirement communities in New York. The question: To Spoil or Not To Spoil (the grandkids.) Great answers. p.32

6. The Do it Now Plan: I've seen lots of information about how to get your free credit report, but this feature has one of the best rundowns on what
to do with the credit report. Great graphics and short blurbs in this 2-page feature: (p.45)

5. "Living on the Edge," by Tara Kalwarski. In the "Fix my Mix," feature, the writer offers a good snapshot of a young couple, with baby, seeking to retire early. This is news you can really use and a good read. (p.70) Hint: The couple needs to beef up their "meager" rainy day savings account.

4. I loved, loved, loved the piece called "Fear Factor" by David Futrelle. Here's the 411: This piece is a rundown of some of the worst-case financial scenarios (Early Death/Disabling injuries/Your job moves overseas) that keep you up at night. It's not just a trailer of your worst nightmares. The article provides triage. On the spot! p.85

3. The "How I did it Feature." The spotlight is on a Sept. 11 widow Dening Lohez, who tells how she is launching an educational foundation (scholarships) in the name of her husband Jerome, an engineer who worked at One World Trade Center. The piece was told to Janet Paskin and is on page 152.

2.Believe it or not: I loved this ad: "The Secret to Living Your Dreams." It's the opening ad for a special advertising section co-produced by the Financial Planning Association. The tips for targeting your real goals (page 2 of the ad) are succinct and cover the same ground as some of the popular self-
help books that cost $20 and up. This ad appears after page 138.

1. "A Long Way to the Goal" by Paul Keegan, This is a solid feature about a professional soccer player (Andy Williams), who has his eye on the ball. He's thinking about life after sports. This piece is helpful and entertaining. (p. 123)

There's lot more, but that's enough for now.
I read lots of mags, I'll review them as I get time.

Take care. Be Frugal and Have Fun

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Free Samples and Coupons!!!!

Every week, I write a column for the Miami Herald. Sometimes the ideas come easy; but sometimes in a dash of desperation (and creativity) I do weird and wacky things.

For instance, once I poured cold black coffee over my head. I heard that coffee was a safe and cheap way to darken hair. It worked (somewhat) well!

Then for my latest column, I just started dialing for dollars.
I called the manufacturers of some of my favorite products and offered feedback. They provided coupons and samples.

The result is the column that appeared in the Saturday, Oct. 15 edition of the Miami Herald:

Get on the Phone for Coupons and Samples!

Feedback is a profitable tool. Tapping into toll-free consumer lines can create a pipeline for coupons and free samples. For example, after a few quick phone calls to various manufacturers of my favorite products, I have received valuable coupons for some of my favorite products. Some of the coupons offered savings of $2 to $3 per purchase, with most offering $1 off the retail price.

It was quick, easy and very profitable. I’ll save even more when I combine the coupons with weekly advertised specials. Both CVS and Walgreens, for instance, encourage consumers to combine store offers with manufacturer’s coupons. Using a combination of store specials and manufacturer’s coupons, I recently paid $1.75 for a bottle of conditioner that normally sells for $4.45.

With my phone and a friendly word, I have earned free samples and/or coupons from Viactiv, a vitamin supplement that tastes like soft chocolate squares, Tylenol, Celestial Seasonings (tea products), Vicks NyQuill cold syrup and Eight O’Clock coffee beans. My biggest haul was a package of coupons worth $13.75 from Unilever for a wide range of products, including Dove and Pond’s skin care treatments, Q-tips and a $1 off coupon for laundry detergent. I received that packet when I called to compliment Uniliver about its Dove hair care line.

Don't think of it as begging for dollars. Most companies enjoy the opportunity to receive consumer feedback, especially if you provide honest insights about the value and the use of their product. Think of the process as a fair exchange: Your insights for their coupons. "That's why we're here," said one consumer rep. But don't abuse the process by calling the same company repeatedly.

My system works like this. Make a list of products that you like or would like to try. Locate the toll-free number on the side of the package. Then multi-task: Use your speakerphone or hands-free headset and undertake a mindless chore. (Washing dishes, paying bills or some other easy task.)

If you have not already used the product, express a desire to try it. But if you already use the item, offer a compliment about the product and a mini-review. Be honest and be prepared. That’s because, savvy consumer service representatives frequently ask questions about the formula or version of the product that you have claimed to use.

For instance, Kelly, the customer rep from Vicks NyQuill inquired about the specific formula, I had recently purchased. Likewise, Asam, a rep from Eight O’Clock coffee, peppered me with a list of questions about the brand: Did I like pre-ground or whole bean coffee? How large was the package and how often did I buy the brand? She even asked for the bar code number on the package. But her enthusiasm kept me engaged in the conversation.

“I’m so glad you like the coffee,” Asam said. “Honestly! Thank you for calling. Would you be interested in a coupon?”

Meanwhile, Marissa Reyes, a consumer affairs representative for Pharmavite—maker of OLAY Vitamins — sent me an especially nice letter with about $5 in coupons.

“Dear Ms. Harvey,” Reyes wrote. “We recently received you phone call regarding OLAY Vitamin Products…As a valued customer, we would be pleased to offer you some coupons which you may use toward your next purchase. We thank you for contacting us.”

Of course, some of the companies used the phone call as an opportunity to obtain data about me with requests for my email address, daytime phone number and other tidbits. Depending on my mood, I obliged with the inquiries or I graciously declined to comment.

Not every company responded to my unsolicited phrase with freebies and discounts. “I’m glad you liked it,” said a perky consumer representative for a national bottled water company. “May I get your zip code so I can pass it on?”

And so the conversation ended. She didn’t offer coupons and I didn't ask. However, a recorded message directed me to promotional offers on the company’s website. I was too busy to log on. I had already overspent my time allowance.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Not all "Sales" are Sales!

It was a wake-up call. Buzzing with enthusiasm, I called my friend Ellen about a terrific sale at a national chain. With every purchase of $50 in merchandise, shoppers received $25 in free clothing.

Who could resist such a deal?

I couldn't, but Ellen could: "I'm saving," she said. I should have followed her example.

But needing a bit of "retail therapy," I headed to the sale where I purchased top-quality clothing for bargain prices, such as a cute $100 jacket for less than $15. But I learned a valuable lesson: A sale is not always a sale.

Consider the evidence: Armed with my register receipt, I looked forward to collecting the free clothing as I had earned coupons worth $50. But the discount didn't work quite as I thought.

The $50 discount applied to a future purchase, the sales staff politely told me.

I smiled back and looked forward to my next shopping trip, with the promise of $50 in free merchandise.

But not so fast, I learned on my follow-up shopping trip. To collect on the advertised deal, I would have to spend another $100.

At that point, I really saved a lot. I left the store, with the merchandise remaining on the shelf.

Clearly, a sale is not always a sale.

The shopping aisles are filled with fellow shoppers,
who, like me, have failed to read the fine print. One of my newspaper editors, for example, recently stood in line at a major retail store, hoping to save dollars with a discount coupon issued by the chain.

Her savings turned to dust as she promptly discovered
that many brand names and products, including items on her shopping list, were excluded from the coupon savings.

Based on that example and many other hit-and-miss shopping exploits, I've put together this warning list of shopping pitfalls.

* Buy one-get-one half off: Don't fall for this promotion, unless you really need an extra pair of shoes, another sweater or an additional pair of frosted sunglasses.
Otherwise, it makes more sense to buy just one item.

* Rebate offers: To save money from this type of promotion, you really need organization.

That's because collecting rebate savings often depends on tracking deadlines, receipts and other documents. If you can't maintain the cumbersome paper trail or find stamps by the postmark deadline, it's best to look for specials where the savings are immediately delivered at the cash register.

* New wardrobe/alterations required: A deal is not a deal if a new garment requires either expensive alterations or a new wardrobe. With that principal in mind, I've recently saved a lot of money by limiting my wardrobe to a small range of colors.

A new garment,therefore, has to match or compliment my existing selection of clothing. And if it doesn't fit, I drop it.

Of course, retail therapy, (I love that term), provides a buzz of good feeling, aka: New-stuff Happiness!

But if your pleasures from shopping are short-lived, consider this a wake-up call. I did.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Java Woes & Small Change Savings

It was an innocent cup of coffee in a disposable cup. A nice jolt of cream, caffeine and sugar in my daily routine.

But that disposable cup of coffee really took a bite out of my disposable income. Consider the math:

Three Dollars a day, plus tip is roughly $20 a week, or $120 a month or $1,440 a year or $14,400 in ten years. And that's without the daily muffin for $2.50 (12.50/wk...$50/month...$600/year... $6,000/10 years)

Ouch! That small change of $5 to $6 a day for a coffee and a double chocolate chip muffin really took a big bite out of my life.

And that's fine! If I really, really enjoy my coffee and muffin. And if that morning kick-start of coffee and sugar really, really makes my day, FINE!!! Enjoy, the luxury.

But if I'm just mindlessly standing in line at the gourmet coffee shop and then just sipping coffee with half a taste bud while surfing the net, then I'm really wasting money.

Consider the frugal options: It only costs a few cents a day to make your own coffe and frankly, I would rather spend $1,500 to $2,000 on a great vacation, a new wardrobe or a series of spa treatments. And still have enought coffee money to give to charity.

Of course, you'll still catch me every now and then at the world's favorite coffee shop (wink) getting a tall latte light or something. But it's an occasional perk that I really, really enjoy and not a daily fix that drains my monetary veins.

So take care and have a frugal day.
Don't forget to live well and enjoy the Five-star treats of life!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Frugal Reader Roundup

I've been busy reading and writing. My ever-growing pile of magazines and newspapers yields lots of good tips.

Please walk all over this shoe-saving advice!

From Quick & Simple (Sept. 13, 2005 issue)

Problem: Dinged up leather
Cheap Fix: Use a matching "sharpie" or some other permanent marker to hide scratches on dark leather. Cover up the scratch and then buff the shoe or boot with a bit of polish and a soft cloth.

Problem: Soaked with water
Cheap Fix: Stuff damp shoes or boots with newspaper or place the item on a shoe tree. Avoid heat while drying out the shoe or boot.

Be proactive: Spray suede shoes with a weatherproofing spray and if you are still blindsided and blind-spotted by rain, take these steps: Dry out the shoe and then use an emery board or basic towel to rub out rain spots.


From Real Simple

This magazine runs a regular feature called "Solutions," which is just great!

Problem: Leather or suede shoes with salt stains
Cheap Fix: Stir up a mix of water and white vinegar using a 50-50 ratio of the two liquids. With a cotton cloth or a brush with nylon bristles, gently rub the solution all over the shoe. Allow time to dry.

First Magazine Oct. 17, 2005 issue

Problem: Inconvenient scuff marks on leather party shoes. You're almost at the party when you notice the ugly scuffs.
Quick Fix: Lip balm to the rescue! Apply a small amount of lip balm (a penny-shaped dap) to the back, front and sides of your shoe. Reach for a white-tissue and rub in the balm for an instant shine. (The wax in the balm sparks the sheen).

Take care, stay frugal and live well!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Walk to School! Save Money; Get Fit!

I have fond memories of walking to Pennell Elementary School through thick piles of autumn leaves in Philadelphia. The route to school was well-marked and lined with uniformed crossing guards and badge-carrying members of the student safety squad.

I am reminded of those memories whenever I see the Barasch family walking to and from school on weekdays. Their daily drill is an exercise in saving money, gas and health, says Stuart Barasch, a lawyer and father of students of Mollie and Jacob.

Unfortunately, the once-popular stroll to school is a rare event for most families. Due to safety concerns and time constraints very few students walk to school. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) estimates that walking or biking trips account for only 15 percent of student commutes.

However, due to the double threat of childhood obesity and rising gas prices, some parents are re-thinking the carpool. (Gas prices are north of $3 a gallon and the percentage of overweight children has tripled over the last 30 years.)

Fortunately, the “Walking School Bus,” has become a popular pedestrian vehicle in some communities. Government agencies, non-profit groups and informal networks of parents are re-claiming the streets through “Walking School Bus” campaigns.

A walking school bus works just like a car pool, and consists of “ a group of children walking to school with one or more adults,” according to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, one of several organizations that promotes walking school bus programs in the United States.

At a very basic level, a walking bus or bike pool involves two families, with adults assigned to different day. On a more involved level, ambitious groups establish an elaborate system of structured routes, meeting points, volunteers and timetables. But regardless of the structure, adult participation and supervision are the keys to the car-less carpool.

The CDC recommends a ratio of one adult participant for every six children aboard the walking bus, with an option of fewer adults for students age 10 and up. However, for children ages four to six, experts recommend a one -to-three ratio.

Of course, walking your child to school requires time and organization. But busy parents can carve out extra time through substitution of work-out hours. For example, once or twice a week, a walking bus workout can take the place of a gym circuit or a tennis match.

And if your family lives too far to walk, consider a partial workout. Park your car at a healthy distance from school, and then walk the remaining blocks. Keep in mind that walking will also help you skip past lengthy and time-consuming carpool lanes at school.

Take baby steps. Begin with a limited walking schedule of once a week or even once a month. But above all, have fun.

Time spent walking with your children (and their friends) is valuable. In the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to walk with my older sons and I have really enjoyed their company. Walking is good for the heart and we’re saving on gas.

Every Saturday, I have a column Making Ends Meet that runs in the Miami Herald. The above piece is my latest column.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Write it Down: Be your own Frugal Pen Pal!


Okay, as a writer, I'm really into words. Of course. But writing can save you money!

How so? Consider this bit of expert insight. Nutrionists and professional trainers urge dieters to keep an eating log.

It's a no-brainer: Write it down and you'll eat less.

Likewise, professional organizers and therapists offer the same advice to clients seeking to break bad habits: Keep a journal of missteps and triumphs and you'll conquer offending habits.

Money mavens preach the same gospel. Write down every penny that you spend and you'll spend less.

Keep a log for at least two weeks, preferably one month or even two. And be honest. An authentic record of your cash flow will reveal the truth. Most of us nickel and dime away our money on silly stuff.

It's not the new skirt or the big-ticket blouse that rocks the budget. Nooo. The real budget busters are loose change leaks:

Here's one of my loose change leaks:

Last week, I purchased three packages of red licorice twizzlers for 99 cents. ($1.05 with tax). Now that's one sale at CVS that I should have passed up. Did I really need to eat that much junk? NO! NO! NO! Did I need to give that junk to my kids? No!
Could I have done something more meaningful with that $1. Yes!!

For example, if I could save a dollar a day for a year, I would have an extra $365 a year, excluding interest. And I would save money on dentist visits also by skipping candy sales. an effort to leak less loose change: I'm going to start the New Year of 5766, the Hebrew month of Tishrei and the month October with a plan to use my writing skills to track my daily expenses.

I hope to have more money to save, more to share and more to spend on the things and people that really matter.

L'chaim (to life)!!!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

From the Frugal Reading Rack (FFRR)

I'm a big reader and I love finding great tips in magazines, newspapers and books. On a weekly basis, (usually Sundays), I'll offer a round-up of some of the frugal tips, I've stumbled on.

Harper's Bazaar (October, 2005 issue)
Jennifer Lopez Beauty Picks

In this feature, Jennifer Lopez provides a rundown of her favorite beauty products and application tips. Of course, her list includes some eye-popping, BIG-ticket items, such as Creme de la Mer ($195 for a small jar of skin moisturizer!)

But, JLo also provides an eye-opening insight about a cheaper --and effective -- skin care routine used by her mother. Using Pond's (about $9), Mom Lopez covers her skin "from head to toe," Jennifer Lopez says in the latest issue of Harper's Bazaar:

"Maybe that's why she [Mom] looks so good. I'm using Creme de la Mer at $200 a pop, and I could just go to Wal-Mart and get Pond's."

Lucky Magazine

Get your free Tweezerman tune-up! In the latest issue of Lucky magazine, the editorial staff reports that the Tweezerman company will sharpen your Tweezerman tweezers for free. By the way, Tweezerman products are on sale this week (Oct. 2 through Oct. 8) at CVS for a 10 percent discount off the normal retail price.

To get your used pair sharpened for free, mail your older Tweezerman tweezers to:

Tweezerman Service Center
235 Blue Bell Road
Houston, Texas 77037

According to Lucky Magazine, the Tweezerman company will sharpen and ship back your tweezers in two weeks.

New life for old magic markers.

This money-$aving tip comes from the Oct. 17 issue of First, a women's magazine.

Revive old magic markers with nail polish. That's the word from the October 17 issue of First magazine. Just soak a dried-up, used-up magic marker in a bit of nail polish remover (about a half of an inch of nail polish remover)for a half minute. Allow five minutes for each marker to dry. Voila! Those old markers will brighten up the page again, according to First magazine. The secret: moisture is restored by the acetone in the nail polish remover. This restoration happens without diluting the color, the magazine reports.
You can save about $18 annually on markers with this trick.

Ciao! Shalom!
Sharon hr