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 www.Frugalforlife.blogspot.com 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 about.com 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, www.newdream.org, has suggestions for saving money, giving innovative, low-cost gifts and connecting with friends and family.

Visitors to www.newdream.org 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 (www.ae.com.) And in that same magazine, a pair of $17 black and silver shoes from Payless (www.payless.com) 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. www.budgetsavvymag.com

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 (www.hasbro.com.) 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.

Reader Feedback, Tips & Suggestions:

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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.

Reader Feedback, Tips & Suggestions:

Please use my comment section to log in your views. I would love to hear from you. I have thick skin and large ears.

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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.


Reader Feedback, Tips & Suggestions:

Please use my comment section to log in your views. I would love to hear from you. I have thick skin and large ears.

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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."

www. conference-board.org


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 www.wd40.com, 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.

Reader Feedback, Tips & Suggestions:

Please use my comment section to log in your views. I would love to hear from you. I have thick skin and large ears.

HIT THE COMMENT BUTTON (below) or email me at Sharonhr@bellsouth.net.

I really care about your ideas and views.



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 (www.nicb.org)

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 www.nicb.org 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.

Reader Feedback, Tips & Suggestions:

Please use my comment section to log in your views. I would love to hear from you. I have thick skin and large ears.

HIT THE COMMENT BUTTON (below) or email me at Sharonhr@bellsouth.net.

I really care about your ideas and views.



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 www.womenandco.com 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.

Reader Feedback, Tips & Suggestions:

Please use my comment section to log in your views. I would love to hear from you. I have thick skin and large ears.

HIT THE COMMENT BUTTON (below) or email me at Sharonhr@bellsouth.net.

I really care about your ideas and views.



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: www.armhammer.com

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

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