Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sales Perks & Friendly Smiles

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

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2005

Cheap Movie Tickets

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Frugal & Generous

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, December 09, 2005

Elegant & Thrifty Gift Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 05, 2005

Review: Money Magazine Dec. Issue

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

Here are my Top Five Reasons for recommending this issue.

5. Frugal Duchess Parenting Award:

Two articles win top honors in this category.

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

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

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

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

4. Frugal Duchess Tax Award:

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

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

3. The Frugal Duchess 2006 Financial Planning Award

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

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

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

2.The Frugal Duchess Found Money Award:

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

1.The Frugal Duchess Plastic Money Award.

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cool, Thrifty Gift Baskets & Radio Chat

Frugal Duchess on the Radio

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

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

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

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


Budget-Friendly Holiday Baskets

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Radio Chat and Cheap Shipping

Frugal Duchess on the Radio

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

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

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

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

psst....check out

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


Money-Saving Shipping Tip

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

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