Saturday, September 30, 2006

Diamonds & Cards: Sports Quote of the Week

Simple Living -- a goal of many frugal folks -- led to today's game-winning bases-loaded, 8th inning triple for the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The deciding hit was delivered by a pinch-hitter in a horrible 1-for-20 slump.

“Before Saturday, Scott Spiezio's numbers as a pinch-hitter from the left side were just as futile as the St. Louis Cardinals' record the last few weeks,” the AP reported, noting that the Cards had “lost eight of the previous 10” games.

But simplicity led to a diamond run for the St. Louis Cards, who are in a feverish wild–card race for a baseball playoff spot. Spiezio powered in the game-winning score by just staying in the moment.

"I just go up there and try to keep everything simple, and that's what I did," Spiezio said

He also succeeded by blocking out past failures and grim stats.

"Numbers to me don't really matter," Spiezio said. "Anything that happens in the past doesn't matter, and if you start thinking about your numbers it can affect the future.”

I have that same theory about personal finance:

1) Keep it simple
2) Don’t obsess about past failures. Just step up to the plate and try to score a diamond-run.

full game report from AP

Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy Birthday, Aunt Norma! Frugal Party Favors from My Aunt's Purse.

Retired and relocated to the deep pockets of Georgia, my Aunt Norma is frugal and lives well. She clips coupons, shops at thrift stores and gives generous gifts. Most importantly, Aunt Norma saves money in order to share, my mom says.

How frugal is Aunt Norma? Check out these Party Favors from Aunt Norma’s Purse. Special thanks to my parents (retired to educators living in Florida) for their brainstorming help. I love you guys!

Aunt Norm’s Frugal Purse:

• She finds all-you-can-eat buffets with the most food and she knows the menus of the best buffets by heart, my mom said.

• Aunt Norma takes full advantage of senior citizen and AAA discounts.

• She has shopped at thrift stores and clipped coupons way before those habits were popular.

• She’s developed a close network of friends of different ages, who help her with chores, menus and other day-to-day quality of life issues: “It’s important to nurture cross-generational ties,” my mom said.

• Aunt Norma has been a pioneer in the area of bulk buying. As a little girl, I remember my Aunt Norm’s big long freezer in her basement in Pittsburgh, Pa. “She was one of the first ones to have a deep freezer one and it stayed loaded,” my mom said.

• As an interest rate shopper, my Aunt has also been far ahead of the curve. Back in the day when banks gave away toasters, casserole dishes and other perks, she shopped around for either the best interest rate or the best gifts whenever she received unexpected financial gifts or faced maturing funds. “She shopped around at all of the banks,” my mom said.

• She married smart. In an era, when African-American college-educated professional males were quite rare, my Aunt Norma married my Uncle Ike, a tax accountant, with educational pedigree and a real estate portfolio. Above all, he’s a great guy and they have been happily married for decades. I love you Uncle Ike.

• Aunt Norma is generous. "She’s always believes in sharing," my mom says. Like my parents, she always remembers birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. With Aunt Norma: The check is always in the card; the card is always in the mail. And the package arrives on time.

We love you Aunt Norma (and Uncle Ike, too). On behalf of Barbara, Ben, Ben Jr., Karen & Debra, Frank & Avi and the third generation kiddies:

We wish you Happy Birthday. We say thank you for all of the gifts and the coupons also.
May you live in good health for at least 120 years: Happy Birthday.

Here's the Code for Extra 60% Discount at --which sells discount coupons for a wide variety of eateries --is having a 60 percent off sale that ends on Saturday 9/30/06!

The discount code is 65639. After you purchase your coupon, type in that code to recalculate additional savings. On this website, most restaurant coupons or certificates cost $3 to $10 for discounts of $10 to $25 or higher, depending on the deal.

I've used this service and recently purchased a $25-off coupon for $10. With that promotion, I would have saved more.

Of course, it's cheaper to just stay home, but as a rare treat, I like to go out to eat. A coupon stops me from leaving even more money on the table.

Spotlight: Financial Freedumb Takes Cheap trip to Crapville

Call him Cheap, but don't strand him in Crapville. That's the word from Financial Freedumb, who writes one of the hippest, smartest & funniest blogs on

From sports to advertising to ethics, Financial Freedumb delivers the stories behind the numbers. Check out the cute picture of his dog Brownie.

This week, FF checks into the Frugal Weekend Spa with this guest column. Thanks FF!

Welcome To Crapville, USA!

by Financial Freedumb

Welcome to Crapville, USA! Crapville is a mid-sized city filled with beautiful houses, cars, and people. Fashion is in! Posh restaurants are the fad! And of course, "buy 3 get 1 free" sales a plenty! People in Crapville love to shop...on credit. Who cares if you don't really need it. It's nice and shiny. Plus everyone will be sooooo jealous! Monthly payments you say? I'll take it! What was that, 0 down? Yes, I want it now! Don't you want to move to Crapville? Everything can be had here on credit! Hey, you only live once right? Live it up!

Credit rich and asset poor are these people I'd say. I know, I're thinking, "Geez, can you exagerate the problem anymore? Americans aren't really that in debt."

But really take a look around many people you know can really afford that brand new BMW? Or how about that fancy home with less than 5% down? Maybe even 0 down if you work some magic on the numbers. Sure people can "make it work," but is that really financially responsible? Is that really affording something?

The problem with debt and credit is rooted deep in the psyche of American mentality. Spend, spend, spend!

What's that? Terrorist bombed the World Trade Center? Americans, go out, live your lives! Spend like there's no tomorrow. Terrorists will not shutdown our economy. Spending is supporting America! Don't be un-American and save! How awful you unpatriotic American.

Consider, on the first date, how impressed would you be if your partner took out a couple of coupons or decided to go and eat at your local, fairly nice, but casual diner. I bet you'd think: cheapskate!. From a moneywise perspective, that's great! Isn't it a good thing? Then why would everone be aghast with embarrasment at the thought? Spending tons of money on the first date, on the other hand, is not bad at all.

Or consider, you're with a bunch of friends and you head on over to McDonald's. You're looking at the dollar menu deciding between an ice cream sundae or a fruit parfait, and your friend says, "Just get both, it's only a buck more." To that you respond, "Nah, I'll just get a sundae." And your friend responds, "Jeez, you know you want it, don't be a tightwad." Why? I don't want both, but I should just buy both because it's a "cheap"?

Or imagine the Frugal Dutchess being called the Cheap Dutchess. What negative connotations come along with "cheap?" Society will almost definitely say, "cheap" is not a compliment, but it should be!

I like being cheap. Being cheap is good. Being called cheap is a compliment. Being cheap is smart. I'll be happy when people realize skimping on the fancy smancy features on that new car is SMART, not cheap. So the next time you want to insult someone, go ahead and call them a loosewad.

And the next time someone calls you a tightwad, just say, "Thanks for the compliment!"

Just a few minutes away from Crapville is paradise. Let's all meet there...

--The link to Financial Freedumb

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Zero-based Budgets & Retirement Plans

Dilema: Retiremment is around the corner and you haven't saved a cent. MSN Money has a great piece on catch-up savings strategies. A useful tip: A zero-based budget how-to.

"A zero-based budget means you start with the absolute essential expenses, and then add expenses from there until you run out of money," acording to the MSN article by Ginger Applegarth.

Budget priorities.

Stage One
*retirement contributions.
*debt obligations
*fixed costs for living essentials

Stage Two: Discretionary Perks
*entertainment (make drastic cutbacks as funds dwindle)
*creature comforts.

Other Catch-up Strategies

*Consider working for a corporation with a better retirement plan
*Start a part-time business
*Delay retirement
*Downsize your residence

Regulators: "Facts of Life" Insurance Tips

September is a busy month: First it was Coupon Awareness month and now there's talk about "Life Insurance Awareness Month." Conveniently, a group of state insurance regulators have put together a helpful tip sheet on life insurance.

The following info is from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) with some interesting stats and profiles based on a survey.

"Three Basics: What All Consumers Should Know About Life Insurance

1. Start by considering how many people are financially dependent on you, what their major expenses are likely to be and whether you're likely to leave them with substantial debts or taxes to pay on your estate. Life insurance can help on all of those fronts.

2. Evaluate the two main types of life insurance: term and permanent. As its name implies, term life insurance pays a death benefit if you pass away within a specified time period (typically a term of one to 20 years).

In contrast, permanent life insurance (which comes in many varieties such as whole life, universal life and variable life) includes both a death benefit and the
ability to build up cash value over your entire lifetime.

2a) Term vs Life
In general, term life insurance is much less expensive than permanent life. In fact, term life premiums have decreased markedly during the past decade due to the fact that Americans are living longer on average. Consumers who purchased their policies more than a few years ago should check out current rates. Also, consumers should ask whether the policy they are considering charges a surrender or cancellation fee if they decide to drop the policy or switch to another one.

3. Understand the major factors that can affect life insurance premiums. Some are uncontrollable, like the age at which one purchases a policy or a serious pre-existing medical condition,
like cancer or heart disease.

Other factors are much more dependent on an individual's behavior, like poor health habits (e.g., smoking and excessive drinking), driving record (e.g., accidents
and Driving While Intoxicated citations), engaging in dangerous hobbies (e.g., sky diving, car racing or rock climbing) and even where one lives, since mortality rates in a geographic region may be used by life insurance companies to help establish premiums.

Life Insurance Tips for Each Life Stage

The NAIC's consumer Web site, Insure U, provides focused tips to consumers based on their likely needs in different life stages. For example:

* Young singles who want to be sure that they can get life insurance later in their lives when they may develop health problems should consider purchasing term life insurance that is guaranteed to be renewable.

They may also want to consider a term policy with a conversion option, which enables them to switch, for a set fee, to a cash-value policy at a time when they have
more money. Those serving in the military should consider Serviceman's Group Life Insurance, low cost term life insurance available to all those in active duty.

* Young families should consider purchasing life insurance for both spouses, even for a non-working spouse, to help pay for child care and other domestic services.

At this life stage, term insurance may be the most cost effective when their salaries are still relatively low and they're paying off a mortgage. Some parents purchase small life insurance policies for their newborns to
guarantee that they'll have some insurance if they develop health problems.

* Established families should consider the probable costs of their children's college education when determining how much life insurance they may need.

* Empty nesters/seniors should evaluate whether they can reduce their life insurance coverage based on such factors as whether their spouse is alive, their home is paid off, their children
and/or grandchildren are financially independent, or if they anticipate high estate taxes that would be a burden on their heirs.

Some older individuals with significant financial assets may choose
to keep their life insurance in force because they view insurance as an estate planning tool that enables them to leave their loved ones money that is exempt from income and estate taxes.

"All consumers should remember to review their life insurance policy every year before paying their premiums and update it to reflect any major changes in their lives - like marriage, the birth of a child, divorce or the death of a spouse," said Catherine J. Weatherford, NAIC Executive Vice President and CEO.

"Before signing up for any kind of insurance, consumers should check with
their state insurance department to make sure the company offering the policy is legitimate, solvent and authorized to do business in their state."

For more information about insurance, consumers can visit the NAIC's consumer education Web site, Insure U.

The Survey

Consumer research conducted by the NAIC earlier this year indicates:

* Only 35 percent of young singles have life insurance. Furthermore, few young singles (28 percent) express high levels of confidence in knowing the difference between the two basic types of life insurance, term and permanent, and a similar number (27 percent) are highly confident that buying life insurance when they are young will guarantee their coverage later in life.

* Among young families, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe it's "very important" for both spouses to have life insurance. Yet fewer than half (48 percent) say they actually have purchased life insurance for either spouse.

* Across all life stages, a significant number of consumers (around 40 percent) fail to review their life insurance policies on an annual basis.

Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is a voluntary organization of the chief insurance regulatory officials of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories.

Formed in 1871, the NAIC is the oldest association of state officials.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Oprah, Jean Chatzky & Debt on the Radio

OPRAH & FRIENDS made its radio debut today at 11 am EST on XM SATELLITE.

Money Guru Jean Chatzky was part of the O-friends menu with “The Jean Chatzky Show.” Chatzy --a financial coach and money expert-- offers talk about debt control, financial discipline, credit score improvement, and milestone money moments.

The interactive format includes calls and emails from listeners. Donald Trump is expected to appear on Oprah & Friends in the next few weeks.


*award-wining journalist
*featured in the "debt diet" television segments on "The Oprah Winfrey Show"
*financial editor for NBC's "Today"
*author of: You Don't Have to Be Rich and Pay it Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day and Make Money Not Excuses.

Other Oprah & Friends show hosts: "legendary poet and bestselling author Dr. Maya Angelou; interior design expert Nate Berkus; renowned exercise physiologist and fitness expert Bob Greene;

O, The Oprah Magazine Editor-At-Large Gayle King; noted cardiologist and award-winning author Dr. Mehmet Oz; distinguished psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Robin Smith; and spiritual teacher and internationally acclaimed author and lecturer Marianne Williamson."

Complete programming information, including show descriptions, air dates and times, is available online at Oprah on xmradio and

Spoils of Life: Brad Pitt& Angelina Jolie Give Back

What do I envy most about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? The perks of wealth, including large homes? hot cars? designer clothes? exotic travel? No thanks. My envy has a higher benchmark. My parents raised me better. Of course, I like nice stuff --check out my closet of great bargain clothes!

But let's be real, it's all just closet clutter: future thrift store materials, gargage sale currency, and landfill. I like trinkets, toys and take-out meals (without the e. coli). But my real goal: Share the Wealth! (Take some and pass it around!). In fact, I'm living frugally, saving up dollars and generatng cash in order to have the luxury of giving back to others.

On that basis, the Frugal Duchess Giving Back Club includes Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who recently created a new "Jolie/Pitt Foundation." The first item on the agenda of the new foundation: "$2 million to the humanitarian organizations Global Action for Children and Medicins sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders," according to a recent Entertaiment news report.

Other donations from the Pitted Pair:

*$300,000 to state hospitals in Namibia for equipment and supplies.

*$4.1 million to charity from the proceeds of the sale of photos of their daughter Shiloh.

*$200,000 for hurricane repairs in New Orleans.

*$500,000 for the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children in Washington D.C.

*Up to $5 million over the next 15 years for wildlife refuge in Cambodia.

I'd make different charitable choices, but the process and giving-power are something to envy and emulate.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Ticket to the Carnival of Personal Finance

Canadian Capitalist has done a great job of hosting the latest edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance.

It's a diverse menu of posts. Topics include library books & credit scores, Mortgage Underwriters 101, Good debt vs. Bad debt, How to Achieve Savings Goals and lots more.

I was impressed with the line-up and grateful to be included.

7-Year-old Guru Delivers Energy Lesson

Jared, a 7-year-old neighbor, offered profound advice as we shared an elevator ride.

''Some people just evaporate their fun,'' Jared told his mother and me.

The adults in the elevator exchanged glances, laughed, then sighed. His comment stayed with me: Fun and funds are often mindlessly squandered in our fast-paced world.

I began thinking about the ''evaporations'' in my own life. My list included costly, last-minute shopping for birthday gifts, late fees on overdue videos and a higher energy bill, reflecting higher rates.

Yet each household could shave hundreds of dollars from utility bills a year through careful consumption of power.

For instance, even when not in use, many appliances still consume energy when plugged into a wall. ''The concept is called standby power,'' said Jill Notini, director of communications and marketing for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Standby power is the energy needed to run built-in, ongoing features such as timers, lights or remote censors in many appliances.

Standby power costs about a penny a day per appliance, according to a consumer rep from Pacific, Gas and Electric Company. Real Simple magazine estimates that consumers can save $175 annually by unplugging idle gadgets. The biggest culprits: DVD players, cable-TV boxes, television sets and microwaves. Additionally, wall warts (plug-in islands that contain multiple outlets) should be turned off or disconnected from the wall when not in use.

It depends which is more valuable in your house -- time or money. Or, as Notini says, ``The consumer really needs to balance the need to be energy conscious with the need for convenience.'', a Florida-based consumer website for finance and savings, estimates that consumers could save more than $200 annually by turning off the tube when no one is around to watch.

You can save up to $500 annually by upgrading your central air with a more fuel efficient system. Older refrigerators (pre-1993) cost about $140 to operate annually, compared to $60 for newer models, according to Real Simple.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers estimates that on an annual basis, late-model room air-conditioning units cost an average of $26 less to operate than units built in 1980. The savings can be dramatic if there are several units in your home.

Sally, who writes the consumer blog, Through a Glass Darkly, told me she and her husband have put in a programmable thermostat to save energy costs. ''Can't tell you about the savings yet, but it definitely is more accurate at keeping our house a constant temperature than our former (probably 1950s!) thermostat,'' she wrote in a comment. ``It's better to keep [the system] at a stable temperature. It doesn't have to work so hard to reach the desired temperature.''

Meanwhile, if you need help cutting your energy bill, FPL offers a free online evaluation of your home. The ''Online Home Energy Survey'' is available at and generates a personal analysis of your energy use, with specific suggestions for cutting costs.

Or you can just take a cue from Jared and conduct your own reality check. The next time I see him, I plan to tell him I've stopped evaporating fun and money from my home.

Tuesday Tips: Olive Oil for Wood, Skin & Hair

I love olive oil, which is great for wood, skin and hair, as a salad dressing (with lemon and salt) and for my nails. Compared to the expensive beauty products that I've sampled over the years, olive oil is cheap & effective, plus I don't have to worry about the side effects of horrible chemicals.

There are actually a number of alternative uses and health benefits for olive oil, which contains: "polyphenols, tocopherols, antioxidants and Vitamins A, B, E and K," according to one olive oil company's website.

For additional info, I checked out the Filippo Berio website and here are some of the tips posted on the company's website about beauty and home uses for olive oil:

Olive Oil Tips

"Rub extra light olive oil into butcher-block surfaces (including cutting boards and tabletops) for a beautiful finish. Repels marking, too!

Dip fingernails into extra light olive oil before manicuring; rub oil into nails.

A little extra light olive oil makes an excellent hair conditioner. Apply after shampooing and rinse well.

After polishing copper or brass, rub it with olive oil to retard tarnish.

Use extra light olive oil as massage oil for silky soft skin."

The Bertolli website also has lists of helpful tips and recipes using olive oil.
These olive oil kitchen tips were my favorites.

A website from an Israeli olive oil company also offered about 40 olive oil uses, ranging from manicures, furniture polish and a butter replacement recipe.

Monday, September 25, 2006

L'Shana Tovah & The Real Bottom Line

L'Shana Tovah (a Good New Year) to everyone. Fall represents a new beginning of many cycles: the new academic calendar (Back to School), renewed investment activity (Wall Street's Post Labor Day trading season) and autumn.

So Happy Rosh Hashana, which literally means "Head" of "The Year!" May we all begin a new cycle with fewer debts, more capital and real happiness.

"Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot." --Ethics of our Fathers (Chapter 4:verse 1)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Fri. Spotlight: NLL Pilots Path to Freedom

Erin of NLL (No Limits Ladies) takes charge of the Frugal Spa with a well-timed flight towards fiscal management. With attitude, fashion and business smarts, NLL provides a hip voice of reason in the personal finance universe.

Big Thanks to NLL for serving as the Friday Spotlight Guest Columnist.


Frugal Duchess Air Flight #190: NLL Managing Risk

(To be read in a quick but calm higher pitched female voice...)

Welcome aboard Frugal Duchess Air Flight #190. My name is Erin, and on behalf of NLL, I'll be serving you today on your journey to financial freedom.

You may have been a little nervous to get on this flight; the seats you bought trying to save money are close and uncomfortable; what can be said about the sip of soda and peanuts we’ll throw at you, except the price is right (free); and yes, that guy next to you will smell and complain the whole way. I'm going to be running you quickly through some investing safety guidelines to help ease your fear and manage risk, making for a more enjoyable ride.

First make sure that all checks and balances are in their proper place, and that all numbers are in the upright position. In the unlikely event that something should not go as planned, know all your possible exit strategies. You may need to use savings as a floatation device, or you may find yourself bouncing out the door on the inflatable slide to cut losses (never bringing on board more than you are willing to lose).

Make sure you place the financial oxygen mask over your own face first, before attending to the needs of small children (grown children college tuitions, weddings, parents, and other people's financial 'needs'). For more information refer to the card located in the seatback in front of you (or blogs, books, advisors, etc.).

Keep your seat belt fastened until the captain has indicated otherwise, sit back and relax, and please try to unclench the death grip you have on the arm rest.

There may a bump or two, but one thing is for sure... you're going to arrive at your financial destination a lot faster than if you had only saved, focused on becoming debt free, tried to live as cheaply as possible, or focused on job security (all of which interestingly enough can put you more "at risk" than learning to manage risk and invest).

We here on Frugal Duchess Air realize that you have a choice in how you spend your money. Being frugal may be uncomfortable for a little while, however, it doesn’t have to be your goal. It should serve the purpose of funding investment vehicles that help you reach your financial goals more quickly, and allow you to enjoy your stay even more once you arrive!

We hope you’ll come and see us again real soon! Buh Bye!

--Erin of No Limits Ladies

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Forbes: Best & Worst-Paying Jobs

Forbes and MSN have profiled, the "Best & Worst-Paying Jobs."

Top-Dollar jobs: Surgeons ($181,850 per year), Anesthesiologists ($174,000), CEOs ($140,880), airline pilots ($134,000,) Computer/Info systems chiefs ($100,110). Lawyers and marketing gurus also make fat salaries.

On the other end, Low-Dollar jobs include: "Fast-food cooks ($15,230), followed by busboys, dishwashers and waiters." The average annual pay for all positions (high and low) is &37,440.

The MSN/Forbes feature offers a link to an informative slide show with details about the best pay per job based on region of the country (top paying state/top-paying metro area). The demographic information is ideal for anyone coming out of college, switching jobs or relocating.

Cracks in Our Nest Eggs

If savings goals are so important, why is it so hard to put together a nice chunk of change? That's the question explored in the A.G. Edwards Nest Egg Score Survey.

A. "It’s the cost of living and debt," according to A.G. Edwards, an investment and money management firm. "Surprisingly, those aged 35-44 – a group with high earnings potential – had the hardest time building a nest egg due to debt."

Here are the survey details.

* "Essential? Extremely important?" That's how 47 percent of Americans feel about building a nest egg, according to the Nest Egg Survey.

* "55% cited cost of living and everyday expenses as the biggest obstacles to building their nest eggs.

* Another 28% said the biggest obstacle was too much debt.

* Only 66% of all respondents have a retirement plan.

* About 58% of non-retired respondents said they have no idea how much of a nest egg they should have to live comfortably in retirement."

Patching the Cracks: Solutions:

"Be proactive. The most important thing is to get started while time is on your side. The more time you have to save, the better off you’ll be.

Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t fund your retirement with the money that’s left over at the end of the month. Using direct deposit, you can have a portion of your paycheck put into your retirement/savings account automatically. What you don’t see, you can’t spend.

Find out what retirement will cost you.

Create a realistic plan to pay down debt. Debt can eat away at your retirement savings. Get a pay down plan to attack the debt – and get rid of it – so you can focus on building your nest egg."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

This Clothes Horse Comment Deserves a Post

Thank You Simplicity in Kansas. Your recent comment about my fashion victim post prompted me to create this follow-up post featuring your response.

Here is the comment from Simplicity in Kansas about overstuffed closets:

"I work at a Fortune 100 company and work clothes for me are important and in the past, I had a huge closet of idle clothes. So what did I do?

1 - Cleaned out the closet by donating 70 percent of all items that I was not wearing.

2 - Exchanged to natural fibers away from dry clean only garments. Decreased my costs, improved the environment and am more comfortable with that decision from a physical perspective.

3 - Learned to do laundry better. Yes, a lesson from my mother: Steaming and hanging the clothes and then a light ironing really works.

4 - Small repairs. In the past, a rip meant into the trash. Today, rips are an opportunity to sew better.

5 - Five pairs of shoes - two basic for work, one for exercise, one for casual, one for fun. Shoe trees a must.

6 - Undershirt (Male perspective). I now wear undershirts to keep my work clothes from being impacted by my 'being human' results of walking and living. This extends my work shirts.

So, my closet is much smaller, cleaner and without the 'run rate costs' of dry cleaning. Also, I am getting more use out of the clothes I am wearing and feel better about my decisions."

Carnival of Debt Reduction at Finandom

The Carnival of Debt Reduction #53 is up at Finandom.

The topics include: Foreclosure Prevention Tips, Freelance Work & Debt reduction, Gratitude & Debt and “Using Windfall to Pay off Debt.” There’s lots more good stuff, including a few stories with more of a personal finance twist.

Thanks to Finandom for including my post in the Carnival.

Hip Hop Mogul Hits the Money Beat

Don't let the bling-bling fool you, money management is the ultimate bottom line. Those sage words come from Hip Hop king and Phat Farm clothing chief Russell Simmons, who recently spoke about the importance of fiscal planning and credit management at a financial empowerment conference at Morris Brown College.

Responsible money management, Simmons told the crowd of 1,500 should be a priority for teens and young adults.

"They don't need to just pay attention to the bling," he said. "Rappers spending countless money are on television. But in real life, these artists are very responsible with their money."

A free financial management workbook called “Get Your Money Right,” was given to all participants. The workbook -- in Spanish and English -- is available at Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.

The event --part of a national tour -- is orchestrated by the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), with co-sponsers Chrysler Financial, the title sponsor, and Anheuser-Busch.

“With rising tuition costs, the cost of books, gasoline etc. young people can’t afford not to have financial know-how,” said William F. Jones Jr., Vice President – Chrysler Financial.

The Atlanta Hip-Hop Summit was held at "the Atlanta University Center on the grounds of the historic black college, Morris Brown College."

The summit included: "hip-hop stars Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris and Young Jeezy," and others.

For additional reading:

Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) news release

AP coverage on Yahoo

Vibe magazine coverage

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Financial Planning with My Blog Revenue

Penny by penny, I'm approaching the $75 mark (WOW!), from Adsense revenue. I'm almost at the coveted $100 mark, which means that a check will soon be in the mail. Faced with that handsome sum, I've begun to consider my investing options and to wonder what other people plan to do with their blog revenue.

Here is my list of options:

1) Take that check -- together with a $50 article reprint check from another source -- and put it into my savings account. Retirement is looking better.

If I save $100 a year, at a 6 percent rate of return, I'll have an additional $1,318 in 10 years. (Thanks to Hugh Chou for the calculations.)

2) Put the check towards the amount I plan to invest in a new web design.

3) Have Frugal Duchess pencils printed with my blog address and pass the promo items out at a local mall. I'll use my foot traffic to drive site traffic.

4) Pay bills.

5) Apply the check to the purchase of a notebook computer, a move that will free up computer time for the rest of my family. (Since, I started blogging, computer time for the rest of the family has been a rare commodity.)

Tuesday Tips: 2000 Uses for WD-40

When our sliding glass door gets stuck, my husband sprays the track with WD-40, a great lubricant. But there are 2,000 money-saving uses for WD-40, including cleaning piano keys, removing crayon from walls, lifting off baked-on cookie batter from baking tins and unsticking old tape.

A List of 2000 Uses is posted on the official WD-40 website.

The company compiled the list based on tips from consumers. These are not company-tested suggestions but ideas from mom-and-pop users. The full list is a downloadable Acrobat file of 9 pages.

Here is a partial listing:

• Use to loosen rusty nuts and screws, clean garden tools
• Cleans piano keys
• Keeps wicker chairs from squeaking
• Lubricates small rolling toys
• Keeps garden tools rust-free
• Cleans patio door glide strip
• Removes crayon from clothes dryer (make sure to unplug dryer first)
• Removes scuff marks from ceramic tile floor
• Keeps metal wind chimes rust-free
• Removes crayon from walls
• Helps join plastic shelving to make disassembly easier
• Removes water spots from mirrors

• Lubricates hinge on pruning shears
• Lubricates screws on lawn furniture
• Lubricates hydraulic rams on slideout of 5th wheel
• Cleans fiberglass bathtubs
• Cleans and prevents rust on oil tank exterior
• Cleans and protects bed of wheelbarrows
• Prevents rust on swamp cooler nuts
• Removes tea stains from countertops
• Removes crayon from wallpaper
• Lubricates gate locks
• Removes crayon from carpet
• Removes crayon from compressed wood furniture
• Loosens rusty parts on lawnmower
• Lubricates sticky drawers

• Removes tape marks from the wall where posters hung
• Shines leaves of artificial houseplants
• Keeps snow from sticking to shovel
• Removes coffee stains on floor tiles
• Keeps hose ends from corroding
• Lubricates moving parts on playground equipment
• Removes crayon from plastic
• Removes decals from bathtubs
• Removes old cellophane tape
• Removes crayon from shoes
• Cleans ashtrays

• Removes crayon from toys
• Cleans and protects underside of cast iron skillets
• Removes ink from carpet
• Keeps garden plant cages bright and rust free
• Cleans lawnmower blades
• Cleans and protects antique kitchen tools
• Prevents mildew growth on fountain
• Removes marks from floors left by chair feet
• Removes crayon from chalk boards
• Eliminates static on volume and tuning control knobs
• Cleans candle soot
• Removes ink from blue jeans

• Cleans residue on luggage handles
• Cleans old muffin tins
• Cleans and protects pruning shears
• Cleans gold-plated faucets
• Removes petroleum stains from clothing
• Keeps sewing needles from rusting
• Removes Kool-Aid stains from carpet and fabric
• Removes gunk from plastic dish-drainer
• Lubricates kitchen sink handheld spray nozzle
• Removes rust from curtain rods
• Removes adhesive from precious china

• Cleans bottoms of pots and pans
• Helps prevent rust on hide-a-key containers
• Cleans vinyl garage doors
• Cleans doggie doo from tennis shoes
• Removes gunk when replacing old faucets
• Cleans and protects medicine door latches
• Protects wrought iron from rust
• Removes tomato stains from clothes
• Prevents rust from forming on washing machines
• Keeps metal wire screens rust free

• Removes blue baked-on acrylic cover shields from acrylic windows
• Preventative maintenance on cooking burner
• Removes coffee stains from leather
• Protects electric pump on furnace
• Removes ink stains from leather
• Prevents corrosion on copper parts of fountain
• Lubricates folding parts of ironing board
• Removes rust from chair feet
• Cleans and polishes gold and brass lamps

• Removes adhesive price tag from shoe bottoms
• Keeps trigger on glue gun from sticking
• Cleans bed frame
• Protects shower heads from rust
• Protects silver from blackening
• Lubricates external pivots on lawnmowers
• Keeps blades from rusting on garden plow
• Cleans black streaks from hardwood floors

• Protects inner machinery in toilet against corrosion
• Removes paint from tile flooring
• Protects hand trowels from corrosion
• Cleans and protects pitchforks
• Lubricates screen channels upon installation of rubber bead
• Removes rust stains from bathroom tubs
• Cleans metal figurines

• Shines shower doors
• Protects patio door from sun damage
• Cleans mildew from refrigerator gasket
• Helps clean rust from wire shelves
• Cleans newspaper ink from tables
• Removes rust stains from floor after mopping
• Cleans and protects TV antenna
• Removes gum from wallpaper

• Penetrates and frees stuck toilet shutoff valve
• Spray on rototiller blades to prevent rust during off-season
• Cleans melted vacuum belt from carpeting
• Removes crayon from television screen
• Lubricates zippers on lawn mower grass catcher bags
• Cleans gunk from chain saws
• Prevents rust on metal patio chairs
• Removes crayon marks from glass

• Camouflages scratches in cultured marble
• Removes berry stains from patio furniture
• Removes gum stuck to concrete
• Cleans heavy dirt from shovels
• Cleans rust from metal exterior of speakers
• Coat outside pipes during winter to help prevent freezing damage or
pipe bursts

• Removes glue deposits from linoleum
• Lubricates hinges on antique smoking stand
• Removes masking tape residue from linoleum
• Cleans gunk built up on doorknobs
• Removes stickers from credit cards
• Cleans smoke stains
• Removes lipstick from carpet
• Lubricates metal latches on chain link fences
• Removes melted scotch tape from dining room table
• Removes stains from coffee cups
• Removes crayon from screen doors

• Removes crayon from plastic tables
• Removes oil stains from nylon
• Spray on hula hoe swivels to clean & prevent corrosion
• Lubricates air holes before inserting hand air pump nozzle onto tires
• Keeps lawnmower wheels turning smoothly
• Keeps plant supports from rusting
• Removes gum from linoleum floor

• Removes strawberry stains from countertops
• Removes tar from shovels
• Keeps plant hangers from rusting
• Removes mascara from tile floors
• Erases marks caused by chair backs on running boards of wall
• Spray on silverware during unused periods to prevent tarnishing
• Clean black marks from shoes off the floor
• Removes labels from medicine bottles
• Removes wax from shoes

• Cleans chair wheels
• Cleans window sills
• Protects snow shovels from the effects of salt
• Cleans and protects washer lid
• Prevents corrosion on outdoor light fixtures
• Removes felt pen marks from floor
• Loosens valve stems on lawnmower tires
• Removes gum from aluminum siding

• Removes wax from vinyl surfaces
• Lubricates mixer gears
• Removes rollerblade marks from kitchen floor
• Adds moisture to and preserves ivory and bone items
• Keeps lawn mower carburetors free of gunk
• Removes Velcro stickers
• Polishes away scratches on countertops
• Lubricates vacuum cleaner roller brush

• Cleans gunk from base of toilet bowl
• Lubricates runners on porch glider
• Cleans roofing tar off circular saw blades
• Protects exposed metal parts on snow blowers
• Removes sticker residue from clothes
• Removes gum from flagpoles
• Keeps clay from sticking to shovels
• Prevents rake from rusting
• Removes laundry detergent stain from washer
• Polishes splash guards

• Cleans crayon off of rock walls
• Lubricates ball valve handle on sprinkler system
• Lubricates return springs on riding lawnmowers
• Keeps kitty-doo from sticking to electric cat-box rakes
• Removes dried toothpaste stains
• Removes silly putty from furniture
• Cleans lime stains from toilet bowls

• Spray on bottom 6 inches of wooden patio table to prevent mildew build up
• Removes glue from refrigerator
• Helps clean showers
• Cleans build up on hedge trimmers
• Lubricates gardening shears
• Cleans dog hair from sliding door rollers
• Removes marks-a-lot ink from most items
• Removes rust from cookie tins
• Keeps flower pots from sticking together when stacked in storage
• Removes gum from dryer lint screen
• Cleans tar from rubber water hoses

• Removes scuff marks from lawn furniture
• Removes rust stains from tile floors
• Lubricates lever on razor scraper
• Removes lipstick from fabric
• Cleans and lubricates the rubber surrounds on stereo sub woofers
• Spray down drain throat to remove scum
• Removes crayon from place mats

• Removes stubborn body oils and shampoo residue from bath mats
• Spray around bottom of garbage cans to prevent animals from getting in
• Removes oxidation from aluminum window frames
• Polishes and protects brass candlesticks
• Cleans music racks
• Cleans peanut butter from shoestrings
• Cleans and protects blades of pruning shears
• Cleans wood planter bed
• Cleans scum from rubber gloves

• Polishes silver jewelry
• Lubricates freezer doors
• Removes grape juice stains
• Cleans marks on shelves made by coat hangers
• Shines aluminum sinks
• Shines wheelbarrow tires
• Cleans lock nuts around gate latches

• Camouflages scratches in linoleum
• Camouflages scratches in ceramic tile
• Keeps clay from sticking to hoes
• Keeps clay from sticking to rakes
• Prevents rust form forming on blender blades during storage
• Spray on trash can lids to keep messes from sticking
• Protects outside of cast iron brake drums on riding lawnmower
• Removes grime from grout on bathroom floor
• Cleans dust from artificial flowers

• Removes starch residue from sole plate on iron
• Cleans vacuum cleaner dials
• Removes fingerprints from bay windows
• Cleans sole plate on iron
• Helps remove flood water marks from cedar paneling
• Shines mother-of-pearl accessories
• Cleans oil burner parts

• Removes marking pen from glass objects
• Cleans outdoor electrical relay contacts
• Lubricates moving parts of vacuum motor
• Shines outdoor sculptures
• Helps remove caked-on dirt and grime from furniture rails
• Removes calcium deposits from dehumidifier
• Removes nail polish from hardwood floors
• Helps remove built up mineral deposits from freezer grid
• Removes caked-on food from bottom of cookie sheets”

Company disclaimer:
"The uses of WD-40 described on this website were provided to WD-40 Company by end-users of the product, and do
not constitute recommendations or suggestions for use of WD-40 by WD-40 Company. These uses have not been tested by WD-40 Company.

Consumers should exercise common sense whenever using WD-40. Always follow the instructions and take heed of any warnings printed on the WD-40 packaging."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Cheapest Cars to Insurse

We recently shaved $1,000 a year from our auto insurance bill by switching from a well-known auto insurer to Geico. On the subject of auto insurance, MSN Money has recently published a list of the cheapest and most expensive cars to insure.

There are 10 cars on each list.

Some of the most expensive models to insure include:

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution,
Mercedes CL-Class
Dodge SRT-4.

The cheapest:

Volvo XC90,
Chevrolet Malibu Maxx
GMC Safari.

By the way, I recently interviewed an insurance agent, who stressed the importance of comparing auto rates. He estimates that consumers could save a couple hundered dollars per quarterly period by rate shopping. He deals with nearly every insurer in the business and has spotted big differences in rates for comparable cars in the same region.

Another Wet Gimmick: Oxygenated Water

Oxygenated Water -- the newest fad in sports drink -- is being pitched to athletes and exercise junkies. But maybe you'd do better to spend your workout dollars on new sneakers and just drink plain water, according to a European report that is featured in the September 2006 issue of Good Housekeeping

The Pitch: Guzzle down oxygenated water before your workout and your exericise regime will be easier.

The Trendy Labels: Oxygenated water labels such as: Life O2, Athletic Super Water and Aqua Rush, are a few of the brands mentioned by GH.

The Truth: "A recent European study showed that oxygenated drinks had no effect on the amount of exercise that subjects could do," the GH article stated.

GH Nutrition expert: "It's not that you don't need fluids when you work out, but regular water will do the trick." -- Delia A. Hammock, GH Nutrition Director

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Spa Wrap: My Favorite Post-its

From Birthday Greetings to Napoleon Hill Gospel truths, there were a lot of good financial posts out there. Here is my roundup of some of my favorite posts from other blogs.

At Frugal for Life, Dawn offers a thoughtful birthday greeting to her mom. It’s really the thought that counts. Happy Birthday to Dawn’s Mom! You have a wonderful, savvy daughter. She's also very kind.

On the employment front, Molly’s Brother does far more than whine about his recent loss of job. He offers a helpful roadmap to others for dealing with financial uncertainty.

Napoleon Hill, author of Think Rich, Grow Rich, lives on through Fearless Money, who provides up-Hill encouragement to those of us who are worried about financial success and plan to work way past our silver hair years.

Self Discipline & better personal finance management. That’s the link explored at Money Matter and More Musings.

Hey shoppers. My Money Blog provides an excellent buyers guide for finding the best seasonal sales. Timing is everything.

Maria Sharapova: Her Financial Racket

Maria Sharapova joins the Money Isn't Everything Club.

She’s 19 and worth millions, but according to a tennis profile in the Miami Herald, Maria Sharapova, (Russian tennis superstar/supermodel) is just a “normal” teen, albeit a teen with $7 million from professional tennis matches and another $19 million in endorsement deals.

"But no matter how much money I have, no matter what cool car or house I have, I'm still Maria, a normal girl who likes to laugh with friends,” Sharapova said in the Herald piece.

Her portfolio includes:

The Entourage: 13 handlers

The Dress: black designer tennis dress

The House: Southern California
waterfront home

The Car: Range Rover

The Celeb buddies: Recently met Usher at an awards ceremony and Justin Timberlake on The David Letterman Show.

The Shock:

''It's crazy,'' said Sharapova in the Herald profile. ``Three years ago, when I went to L.A., I stayed at the Summer Suites and now I have this beautiful glass house. Every time I walk into it, I can't believe I own it. Sometimes I drive around the driveway instead of going right to the garage just so I can look at the front of the house. Every time I'm driving my car, I can't believe it's mine. Honestly, I'm in shock.''

Word Economist: Headlines & Clicks 101

I’ve noticed that the most popular posts often (but not always) have great you-must-click-here headlines. These titles are either funny, very informative, sexy, taunting or puzzling.

But they share a bottom line: Like a frugal mom on a tight budget, the best headlines are economical, but productive with lots of hits and clicks. Headlines, like haiku, represent an economical use of words.

Of course, there are a few long, long headlines that pull in readers because they are so intriguing. But for the most part, a few well-chosen words work well.

Hit-Making Headlines Features

1. Headlines that promise a quick read of tips are usually popular: 5 Tips for (fill-in the blank)
2. Sex sells
3. Humor
4. Controversy
5. Narrative headlines
6. Clean straightforward headlines in which the topic is clearly, quickly and cleanly stated.
7. Intriguing Headlines.
8. Celebrity name dropping
9. Flavor of the month topics. For example, headlines that mention retirement, housing bubble, marriage or relationships often pull in curious readers.
10. Great topic, great reporting/writing with a headline that reflects the efforts.

Here are some of the most popular posts on PFBlogs today, with a few oldies thrown in.

Boston Gal: Why Pay for It When you Can Get It for Free

All Things Financial Oprah's Great American Debt Diet

City Girl:Fortunes Fools: Why The Rich Go Broke

Divorce2Freedom:3:13 am and phone rings

Single Ma; Surprise Money Surprise Money

Penny Foolish Things That I am willing to Pay for

Five Cent Nickel The Hidden Costs of Home ownership

and from me:
Smart Talk from American Idol Star

Pension Envy & Borrowed Time

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Consumer Reports: 6 Tips for Scoring Discounts

We can create our own discounts with a simple question. That's the strategy behind a new shopping guide called ShopSmart;) from Consumer Reports.

The Fall 2006 issue includes a feature called:

"6 Questions to Ask When You're Cruising for A Discount."

(I've paraphrased the recommended questions)

1. Do you know if this item will be discounted soon?

2. Can you meet or beat this deal? (Flash an ad from a competitor or a printout from an online retailer)

3. Is it cheaper by the dozen? (Seeking a "volume discount.")

4. Are there any freebies or extra perks with this purchase?

5. Is this coupon okay? Some retailers will take expired coupons or even promotions from other stores.

6. Is there a cash payment discount? Cash is king. Contractors, service providers and even some small stores will give you a discount for the greenbacks.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Wall St. Journal: Frugal Wine Report

Fine wines at frugal prices are the subject of today’s Wall Street Journal and “The Dow Jones Inexpensive Australian Cabernet Index.”

Based on a blind taste test of Australian Cabernets priced under $20 the WSJ had these comments.

Best Value
Yalumba Winery 2004 “The Y Series’
WSJ comment: “Intense Dark Fruit with some herbs and good acidity. A wine of some conviction.”

Best Taste:
Ringbolt 2003
“Interesting with true grape tastes…Could stand up to a good steak….Real character.

Also Mentioned: Other Good Values/Good Taste

Marquis Philips 2003 $15: “Some spice. Nice with food.”

McWilliam’s Hanwood Estate 2004 $9.99 “Grapey and pleasant with a splash of lemon.”

Wolf Blass Wines: “Yellow Label 2004 $9.99 “Pleasant and easy…Happy Wine.”

Fri. Spotlight: Penny Foolish & The Cost of Living

What's the cost of the life we're supposed to be living? That's the question
Kira of Penny Foolish raises as she checks in this week as the Friday Spotlight guest columnist at the Frugal Weekend Spa.

With a crisp, but engaging style Penny Foolish writes a great blog about personal finance and frugal living. Her first-person essays track her thoughts about taking a tax course at H&R Block and her search for a new job. There's a wealth of information on Penny Foolish.

The Cost of the Life You're Supposed to be Living

by Kira of Penny Foolish

When I had just turned sixteen, my father took me into the DMV to take
the permit test, so I could begin learning to drive. Several of the
boys at the DMV were all pretty excited because Kordell Stewart, at
the time playing for the Steelers, was also there waiting, so they
were all chatting about football.

I wish that were the only memorable thing that happened that day. But unfortunately, I also flunked the permit test. I would not actually get my driver's license until six months ago at the ripe old age of 22.

It's truly ridiculous the number of people who have been completely
shocked by the fact that I didn't have a driver's license - but people
were mostly shocked that I never owned a car. "You don't have a car?" seemed to be a question on par with "You were born with a tail?"

People just don't know how to respond to somebody who hasn't completed
this seemingly basic ritual of adulthood. Having a car, even at
sixteen, has become the new standard in America - and if you don't get
one, there must be something wrong with your life.

But the truth is that I never really needed to drive. I couldn't have
afforded a car in high school or college, and I had close friends who
drove. Now, if having my own car was a necessity for me as much as it
is for a lot of other people, I wouldn't be in particularly good
financial shape, between the insurance, the repairs, and all the other
costs of an older car. My parents would also have had to shell out
thousands of dollars in insurance premiums between 16 and 21 (when I
graduated college), and might still be paying it now.

Hedonic Treadmill

Much has been written about the cost of the "hedonic treadmill" - that
you become accustomed to greater and greater luxuries at greater and
greater costs, never being satisfied with only what you need. Those of
us trying to live a more frugal lifestyle are always fighting this
compulsion - the mantra of the frugal seems to be, "Do I really need
this?" There are many areas of our lives that could be examined in the
same way, because the rapidly rising standard of living in our country
has made many things "standard" that people got along without years

Such as, kids of sixteen having their own car. Or having a car at
college. Or having all-new clothes, household items, or furniture.
Engagement rings must cost two months' salary. Leasing cars is cheap
and easy. Interest-only payments are affordable. Restaurant meals are
for when you don't feel like cooking. You deserve a cruise every year.
Installing fancy appliances is an investment. You know where this

Living the expensive life that has become the new standard leaves you
poor and feeling unfulfilled, because when you try to keep up with
some expectations you will always fall behind in others. I think that
we are doing others a service, to alter their notions of what you
"should" be doing, by taking the bus. By using coupons and cooking at
home. By living a life that is within our financial bounds and lives
by its own rules - not the life we're supposed to be out buying.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Slackers & Catch-up Retirement Savings Strategies

Work part-time or hold a garage sale? Those are a few of the suggestions from this retirement catchup game article from MSN.

I can relate. I'll be holding garage sales, selling stuff on eBay, working part-time and blogging about it to finance my retirement dreams.

Love & Fiscal Fallout: Divorce Prevention Checklist

Couples: Keep two accounts. That's one of six divorce prevetion tips from a national accounting group. With 2.5 million people filing for the divorce each year in the U.S., roughly 57 percent of the splits are prompted by financial arguments, according to a national CPA trade group.

To help prevent fiscal fallout in marriage, the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission has put together a financial marriage check list, designed for engaged couples and helpful for already-married pairs. The group's website features a menu of milestone events. Click on the couples and marriage tab for additional info.

Here is the check list from the CPA organization:

1. "Be honest

Go ahead, show your financial warts! And start with your credit report. Everyone has baggage when it comes to their finances. It could be that pesky old credit card debt or your student loans.

After all, these problems will be a burden shared by both of you. While you’re at it, share information on your spending habits and any other financial commitments you may have made to others in the past.

2. Keep at least two accounts

It may be a good idea to have a pot of money shared between the two of you to be used for paying the household bills. And each spouse should be able to take over the joint account. This way, one person isn't stuck paying the bills all the time. And of course, you may want to keep some discretionary cash on the side.

This way you'll both share responsibility for the daily expenses, while also keeping a budget for things you enjoy. At the end of the day we could all use a bit of autonomy.

3. Beware of joint filing risks

Of course there are a lot of benefits to filing jointly - tax breaks for one. But if you have concerns about your spouse's credit history, you may want to take some precautions. Once you file jointly, you're just as liable.

For example, if your partner is called upon to increase alimony payments or child support and is dragged into court, your own tax return will be scrutinized. If your husband or wife underreports income, you'll be jointly liable and that means all the penalty and taxes will fall on your shoulders.

You can get relief from joint liability if you apply for innocent spouse status to the IRS, but it can be very hard to prove according to Consumer Reports. In fact, the IRS grants less than 3 in 10 requests for innocent spouse.

4. List your assets

If you've been married for a while, it's natural to forget who owns what. But it's always a good idea to list what you have and then determine how you want it to be distributed after your death.

Unless it's specifically stated in a will or a living trust, your assets might all go to your spouse. If you're in a second marriage, you want to pay specific attention to this. If you want to leave your property to your kids from the first marriage, it's something that needs to be spelled out since your assets may automatically go to your spouse.

5. Be 401(k) savvy

Your 401(k) plans are yours. But make sure you know the strengths and weaknesses of each of your retirement plans so you can balance out each others investments.
Plans may have different matching contributions, and investment options.

It's likely that one partner is more conservative and the other is more aggressive, but the takeaway is that the whole retirement pot is allocated properly.

6. Do additional research

Check out the AICPA’s free Web site on personal finance topics to help your family better manage their finances such as strategies couples should consider. This free Web site can be accessed at:"

There are other sources out there as well. For example, Sally of Through a Glass Darkly has written some insightful posts about love, couples and money, with helpful links on the subject.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Meredith Vieira: A Frugal View of Today?

Meredith Vieira — Katie Couric’s Today show replacement - seems pretty frugal, based on a profile in Good Housekeeping. Here are pros and cons about her money attitude.

6 Reasons Why Meredith Vieira Seems Frugal

1) Lack of Celeb trinkets: She walked to the interview without sunglasses, blackberry or a purse. No entourage or handlers.

2) Disowns Clothes. Dressed down for a dinner meeting at co-host Matt Lauer’s apartment. She wore: a white-tee, black jacket and jeans. Clothes: “I don’t own any,” she is quoted as saying in Good Housekeeping.

3) Rarely Shops: “Vieira never goes shopping and has, she says, absolutely no interest in keeping up appearances,” the article states.

4) Family Illnesses. Her husband’s recent spate of serious illnesses (cancer and MS) have made her “grateful for even the simplest pleasures,” according to the GH profile.

5) Because Barb says so. Barbara Walters says Vieira is not into stuff: “She lives in a beautiful home, but she is personally very unmaterialistic."

6) Frugal sound bite: “The prestige, the money, the whole the end of the day, that didn’t matter."-- Meredith Vieira in GH.

5 Reasons Why Meredith Vierira may not be frugal

1) She hosted Who Wants to be a Millionaire for four years.

2) Vieira is the mother of three teenagers.

3) Her Today show salary is $40 million over the next four years, according to industry rumors.

4) She owns a newly renovated home on the Hudson River. Transalation: big-ticket changes in her home.

5) She has expensive highlights in her hair. (I know NYC salon prices, and color stripes (lowlight and highlights) like that don't come cheap.)

Juggling Carnivals: Best of, Debt Redux & Personal Finance

Pragmatic Finance hosts the
Carnival of Debt Reduction. It's a diverse roundup with helpful divisions. The host has even included a few of his favorite posts on the topic of debt reduction.

Owners Manual conducts the Best of Me Symphony. This eclectic roundup includes everything from dating tips to clowns, with a side trip to the Bahamas.

No Credit Needed presents the Carnival of Personal Finance with clean categories and pithy descriptions. Topics include: budgeting, savings and credit.

Thanks to all three hosts for including me in their roundups.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tuesday Tips: Uses for Cornstarch

Here are some alternative uses for cornstarch that were featured in a past edition of Woman’s World.

Carpet freshener: Shake cornstarch over your carpet. Let it sit for 20 minutes. Vacuum. This should deodorize the carpet without heavy chemicals.

Foot fancy: Toss a little cornstarch into your socks. This dusting will soak up the moisture from your soles and help prevent blisters by reducing friction.

Auto Buff: Dust cloth rags with cornstarch before you shine up your car.
This step will remove surplus polish and add an extra gleam to your car.

Natural Face Paint: Recipe: Two parts cornstarch for each amount of vegetable shortening. (2 to 1 ratio) Divide the mix into bowls. Use food coloring to color the different bowls. Apply to face.

Easy-on-gloves: Rubber gloves slide on easily if you sprinkle cornstarch inside.

Leather Anti-Stain-Saver: To banish potential oil stains from leather (furniture, clothing, or shoes) apply cornstarch to the oil spot. Leave it in place overnight in order to soak up the grease. Use a clean cloth to brush off the corn starch. Oil is removed with the starch.

Do-It-Yourself Spray Starch: Recipe: one cup of cold water and a half teaspoon of cornstarch. Shake, shake before spraying and ironing.

--Source: Woman’s World.

My So-called “IRS” Refund: A Scam

So yesterday an email arrives about a so-called $163 refund -- for me -- from the so-called IRS. It’s a total scam. Just another phishing ploy.

Here’s the email:

Subject line: "IRS Notification Please read this"

Actual text:

“After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $163.80. Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 6-9 days in order to process it.
A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.
To access the form for your tax refund, please click here...”
Totally bogus. The real IRS has issued a Consumer Alert
about phishing schemes that use the IRS name and logo.

The real IRS Speaks Out:

Common Phishing Schemes

• One e-mail scam, fraught with grammatical errors and typos, looks like a page from the IRS Web site and claims to be from the "IRS Antifraud Comission" (sic), a fictitious group. The e-mail claims someone has enrolled the taxpayer's credit card in EFTPS and has tried to pay taxes with it. The e-mail also says there have been fraud attempts involving the taxpayer's bank account. The e-mail claims money was lost and "remaining founds" (sic) are blocked. Recipients are asked to click on a link that will help them recover their funds, but the subsequent site asks for personal information that the thieves could use to steal the taxpayer’s identity.

• E-mails claiming to come from, and similar variations told the recipients that they were eligible to receive a tax refund for a given amount. It directed recipients to claim the refund by using a link contained in the e-mail which sent the recipient to a Web site. The site, a copy of the IRS Web site, displayed an interactive page similar to a genuine IRS one; however, it had been modified to ask for personal and financial information that the genuine IRS interactive page does not require.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has found numerous separate Web sites in at least 20 different countries hosting variations on this scheme.

• A bogus IRS letter and Form W-8BEN (Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding) asked non-residents to provide personal information such as account numbers, PINs, mother’s maiden name and passport number. The legitimate IRS Form W-8BEN, which is used by financial institutions to establish appropriate tax withholding for foreign individuals, does not ask for any of this information.

If you receive a suspicious e-mail that claims to come from the IRS, you can relay that e-mail to a new IRS mailbox, or call 1-800-366-4484."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Meet Me on the Radio

I'll be chatting live on WLRN, an NPR station, with Joseph Cooper, host of Topical Currents at 1 pm on Thursday, September 14, eastern standard time.

Tune in anywhere: Hit the "listen now" button on WLRN's website; otherwise for local traffic in Miami it's: 91.3 FM on the radio dial.

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.

We plan to talk about the pitfalls and perks of Off-Season shopping, Off-Season travel and saving electricity.

Leave a comment or send an email (sharonhr@bellsouth) with your favorite frugal tip. Time permitting, I'll mention as many tips as possible, with credit.

The Earthquake and the Talking Dog

An earthquake hit the Florida-Louisiana region on Sunday morning. I thought I was crazy, but I learned a few frugal lessons.

Scenario: 11 am Sunday, Miami Beach. I am on the couch. It’s a large heavy couch, but it’s moving. Initially, I think that I’m experiencing the side effects of a sugar-caffeine overload. But no, the world is moving. I am caught in the Matrix and my reality is shifting

Me: “The couch is moving!”

Hubby: Someone’s kicking the couch.

Me: “No! The couch is really shaking.”

My Daughter, age 8: “And the dog is talking”

Everyone: Laughter. I feel spacey--as usual. But I'm amused by my daughter's wit. My kids are funny.

But about 10 minutes later, my news savvy parents call from Central Florida with a bulletin about an earthquake in Florida. I tell them my experience and I feel validated.

Here’s what I learned from the Earthquake:

1) Trust your gut. Like Neo from the Matrix, I felt a glitch in the Matrix. It was real. But too often, I’ve made silly financial or professional decisions because I’ve denied gut feelings about glitches in products, services or events.

2) Little Things Matter: The couch did not move a lot, but my world view was definitely altered. Small movements can count a lot. Sometimes, in a push to achieve slam-dunk/big-ticket/fill-in-the cliché success, I ignore the “loose change” or the minor gains and focus just on the Major Savings. But honestly, nickel-and-dime moments in savings, in debt reduction and in career growth can add up to Major Shifts in lifestyle. It’s The Long Tail as noted by Chris Anderson.

3) Talking Dog Moments: A sense of humor is worth a large fortune.

$3 billion in Coupons Savings & Kids

On a recent shopping trip, coupons made a big dent in the bill. Using a combination of advertised in-store discounts ($17.55) and coupons ($9.59), my husband saved $27.14, roughly half of our total bill of $56.46.

We're not the only coupon clippers. U.S. consumers save about $3 billion a year with grocery store coupons, according to the Promotion Marketing Association.

Those savings are significant in the current economic climate, according to Manuel Lasaga, president of Miami-based Strategic Information Analysis, an economic and financial consulting firm. ''Coupons can help reduce the gap between what consumers earn and the rising cost of living,'' Lasaga said.

Coupons are also a useful tool for educating kids about finance and organization.

Charles Brown, co-chairman of the Coupon Council at PMA, says he has ``used coupons to turn everyday shopping trips with my twins into great learning experiences and quality time spent together.''

Here are a few tips for building your children's educational skills while saving money.

• Encourage kids to sharpen their organizational skills by arranging coupons by expiration date, category or store. Shoppers who spend 20 minutes a week organizing coupons can shave their annual food bill by 20 percent, according to industry data.

• Although 90 percent of coupons are bundled with the Sunday newspaper, manufacturers increasingly use the Internet to publish discounts. Parents can work with kids to use Web-based search engines to track down deals on toys, equipment, entertainment and food.

• For younger children, coupons provide games in number recognition, counting and simple computations. For older kids, coupons can be used to calculate percentages and multiplication.

• Involve kids in planning a family menu. Provide a fixed dollar amount, coupons and a blank page. Encourage kids to design a menu that fits the dollar limits. A friend tried this with her teenage daughter and was surprised at how strict her daughter became when faced with the chore of managing the family food budget.

And when you feel like taking a treat, many restaurants participate in either printed or online coupon services. Kids can be given the task of using the menu and coupons to keep the family meal within a specific price range.

By the way, it really helps if you offer kids a small cut of the savings. That strategy has worked for me.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Frugal Spa Wrap: Favorite Post-its

The Frugal Weekend Spa wraps up with a weekly wrap of some of my favorite posts from other blogs, divided by topic.

Finance: Nuts and Bolts

All Financial Matters provides a useful list of calculators:
gas calculator, cost of waiting, how much life insurance do you need and others.

Financial Freedumb has a pert answer about why he has so much cash on hand and how he did it. Hint: he’s young but he’s been working since age 14.

Work and College

Boston Gal featured an insightful piece about how more employers are using credit scores as a hire/no-hire tool.

Free the Drone offers a tip on getting free text books. Hint: the books come with advertisements. But hey it’s free.

The Homefront & Personal Stuff

Blogging Away Debts has shaved her budget, with home haircuts. Cute!

No Limits Ladies has an adorable piece about being vocal about your birthday: Brag and collect the Goody Bags.

Blueprint for Financial Prosperity has a fun piece on why we should snap up that Lexus and other status symbols.


Frugal Sports Quote: Cheap & Good Marlins

I like French manicures, but I also like sports. With that in mind, I offer The Frugal Sports Quote. Sportswriter Dan LeBatard has a great quote about cheap money and the Florida Marlins in today’s Miami Herald.

Summary: Cheap Baeball Team makes History

The Setup: The Florida Marlins baseball team – with the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball - is performing amazingly well in a race for a playoff spot. Last night, the Marlins beat the Philadelphia Phillies by a score of 4 to 3, in a great 10 inning game.

Dan LeBatard — newspaper columnist, and broadcast personality — has written a spirited recap of the game.

The Quote: “We interrupt this column…to point out how unfathomable it is that the youngest team in baseball history and the cheapest team in baseball this year is playing meaningful games in September.”

The Bottom Line: The Marlins are a great baseball bargain.

Sunday Word Economist: Blogging & My Career

I've been a journalist for 26 years. I've kept a journal since Oct. 27, 1972 when I was 14. But my real breakthrough in writing began in October of 2005, when I started blogging.

The immediacy of the format, the lack of editors and the pace of self-imposed deadlines have forced me to rely only on myself to create fresh, accurate and clean copy. I've become more economical with my choice of words because I know that I have only a nano-second to catch your attention in cyberspace. So here's my list of:

How Blogging Has Improved My Writing & Work Ethic

My Version of Blogging 101

Better Headlines: As a print journalist, I relied heavily on editors and the copy desk to write great headlines for my stories. I don’t have that luxury in cyberspace. In the world of DIY publishing, it’s my job to write pull-you-in headlines.

Frugal Word Choice: Of course, I have unlimited space in cyberspace, but if I blabber on and take too long to get to the point, my entries in look boring. I’ve learned to write better grab-you-in leads.

Spacing. It’s hard to read a page of straight type. I’ve learned to make my posts easier to read by using lists, lots of paragraphs, sub decks and thoughtful spacing.

The Proofreader: I’ll be frank. I’m a good writer but a terrible proofreader. I cringe when I think of the typos and other errors that I’ve passed through to my editors. Due to blogging, I’ve become better at scanning my copy for errors.

My most efficient proofreading technique: Reading my copy aloud and slowly. Also, I have my mom. She tells me when I have typos online. My father is also a sharp reader. And they tell their friends to read my blog. So I have to keep the folks happy and proud with error-free copy.

Deadline performance. My editors enjoy my copy, but hate getting it late or at the last minute. (Deadlines have been my Achilles heel.) Blogging has changed my deadline performance. The pace of Press-a-button publishing has made me more efficient.

There’s more, but that’s enough for now. Watch this space for the weekly appearance of the Sunday Word Economist.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Spa Chat: $250 Manicure & Cheap Paint

Ten painted, clipped and massaged fingers for $25 each. That's a total of $250 for a manicure at a high-end New York salon, according to a recent issue of People Magazine. But there are far cheaper alternatives.

1. Beauty Schools: for about $5 or 50 cents a finger, manicures are available at many beauty schools.

2. Do it Yourself French manicures cost as low as 50 cents ( or less) per session. That’s a nickel a finger.

3. Avon has a dry paint manicure. It’s like applying thin paint chips to your nails. The paint job looks very professional and lasts up to two weeks. (I've tried it.) The prices for this product range from about $5 to $8. It’s easy and cheap. And you don't have to wait for your nails to dry. No smearing.

4. Just slap on a coat of clear polish for pennies a session. It looks great. It’s cheap and when the paint inevitably chips, no one notice because the gloss is colorless.

5. Or just buff your nails with a good nail brush. Apply olive oil to your cuticles. The proceess provides a natural gleam without the harsh chemicals.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Frugal Spa Celeb: Courtney Cox

Why spend a fortune on make-up? Courtney Cox -- of Friends fame and Jennifer Aniston BBF -- is apparently taking a frugal approach to personal care as she ages, reports the Sept. 18 issue of In Touch Weekly magazine.

The magazine features a timeline of Cox photos dating back to her break-through 1980s fame in a Bruce Springsteen's video ("Dancing in the Dark") through her star turns in the Scream movie series and in Friends.

The verdict: Courtney (now age 40) appears to be spending less on makeup and with the make-under she really looks good. Less is clearly more.

In her own words:

"As I get older, I realize that the less makeup I wear, the better."
--Courtney Cox
Sept. 18 issues of InTouch Weekly.

Friday Spotlight: My 1st Million At 33

Welcome to the Weekend Spa. Frugal of My 1st Million at 33 checks in as this week’s Friday Spotlight Guest. His reader-friendly blog is filled with savvy information about stocks, real estate and other insights about the capital markets.

As this week's Friday spotlight guest, My 1st Million at 33 provides the story-behind the numbers with a personal essay about his father and lessons in business ethics.

What My Father Taught Me About Business

by Frugal of My 1st Million at 33

My father is only a high school graduate. But all of his three children have at least a master's degree. He may not know anything about calculus or quantum physics. However as a successful businessman, he has taught me a few things about how to be a good businessman. He said to me: "A good business is a business in which you let people take out of their money to buy your stuff, and still smile and shake your hands."

My Dad's teaching may sound very plain, but the more I contemplate over it, the more I glean from his insightful words. Every business involves certain exchanges of money and goods or services. But to gain any repeat business, you must make your customers happy. A good business is always win-win. You must provide something of real value to the customers, and in return, you also profit from it. If you are simply trying to cheat money out of your customers, your business cannot last.

Although I have not yet started any business of my own, everytime when I look into any business opportunities, I always ask myself these questions:

* Can I provide any values to my customers?
* What additional values can I deliver to my customers, that my competitors cannot?

If I can answer the above two questions satisfactorily, then I know very well that I can make it into a good business according to my Dad's criterion.

Some people including myself may think that a businessman makes a boatload of dirty money by telling lies and trying to trick money out of your pocket. I never like to lie to people, and so I never wanted to become a businessman. I just cannot tell my customers: "oh! you're getting a great deal," while I'm making lots of profits from it.

But throughout the years of possibly wanting to start a business of my own, I finally realized that being a good businessman is so far from making money by telling lies. Being a good businessman is about delivering values to customers at a lower cost relative to fierce competitors. Ultimately, I grew up from a teenager who couldn't appreciate my father's profession to an adult who understands how difficult it is to "let people take out of their money to buy your stuff, and still smile and shake your hands."

Since then, I have applied the same principle to my dealings with others. To have a lasting partnership or relationship, one must treat the other party like customers, and deliver values in exchange of what you want. I like to be treated fairly, and likewise, everyone else wants to be treated fairly too.

I will never give the short end of a stick to my partners, and always try to be as fair as possible. To do otherwise is called exploitation of your employees or your partners. You can try to put any word spin on it, but facts are facts. A successful partnership is a win-win situation. A lasting relationship is mutually beneficial to each other.

To give values to others, whether it's tangible or intangible, you will be rewarded in the long term. Such is the basic principle of a good business.

--My 1st Million at 33

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Insurers: Warming to Global Warming

It's a Green issue: money and the enviroment. Financial losses from the last few seasons of increased Hurricane activity have made the insurance industry pay attention to the issue of global warming. Affordable home insurance is a big problem in Florida and other coastal areas.

This report offers details about changes and financial incentives that are underway in the insurance sector. It might be all smoke and mirrors, but I'm just impressed with the idea that big business is finally taking global warming seriously.

Here is the text:

"Dozens of new insurance activities, such as 'green' building credits and incentives for investing in renewable energy, are emerging to tackle the causes of climate change and rising weather-related losses in the U.S. and globally, according to a major new report issued today by the Ceres investor coalition. But the report also states that more insurance companies need to be offering similar services to minimize losses and make the most of business opportunities related to climate change.

"Climate change poses unprecedented risks to the insurance industry, but it also creates vast opportunities for new products and services to help consumers and businesses reduce their losses, while also reducing the pollution causing global warming," said Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres.

"We've seen encouraging progress from big-name insurers and brokers since last year's devastating hurricanes, but many more creative services will be needed as we confront what is perhaps the biggest threat in the industry's history."

The report comes on the heels of devastating back-to-back hurricane seasons in the U.S. that caused a record $75 billion in insured losses during 2004 and 2005, including $45 billion from Hurricane Katrina alone.

While no individual weather event can be attributed to global warming, a growing body of new scientific data show that rising temperatures are likely increasing the intensity of hurricanes, floods, drought, wildfires and other extreme weather events in the U.S. and globally.

The report, "From Risk to Opportunity: How Insurers Can Proactively and Profitably Manage Climate Change," highlights the insurance industry's unique, powerful role historically in helping the country grapple and manage emerging risks.

The report, written by two insurance industry experts, identifies 190 innovative products and services available or in the pipeline from dozens of insurance providers in 16 countries. Many provide win-win benefits, by reducing financial losses and greenhouse gas emissions. More than half of the activities come from U.S. companies, covering climate change solutions including energy efficiency, green building design, carbon emissions trading and sustainable driving practices. Among the recent offerings that show promise for customers and insurers:

Green Coverage and other Innovations

* Firemen's Fund Insurance is launching a first-of-its-kind 'green' coverage, including rate credits and other incentives, for commercial building owners who re-build damaged properties using green and LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building practices. California-based Firemen's Fund will begin seeking state regulatory approvals this month so that the products can be offered in states around the country this fall.

* Marsh, the world's largest insurance broker, and AIG, the world's largest insurer, have launched carbon emissions credit guarantees and other new renewable energy-related insurance products that are allowing more companies to participate in carbon offset projects and growing carbon emissions trading markets. The carbon trading market in the European Union alone is expected to hit $30 billion by the end of 2006.

* Insurer-initiated hurricane loss prevention methods used at nearly 500 commercial locations incurred eight times less damage from Hurricane Katrina than properties that did not make the engineering improvements, avoiding $500 million in property damage. Insurer FM Global says the $500 million in savings came after customer investments of only $2.5 million, and helped make the company profitable in a year when few insurers were.

* A Japanese insurer, Tokio Marine & Nichido Life, has reforested more than 7,500 acres of mangroves in Indonesia, Thailand and several other countries to minimize losses from rising cyclone-related risks.

Wake-up Call

"The insurance sector is poised to make a major contribution to long-term national and international efforts to curb the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, while helping to fortify society against the near term impacts of climate change," Mills said.

"Last year's hurricanes were a real wake up call for the industry and many U.S. insurers are creating programs to help businesses minimize future losses. Many of these strategies represent new profit centers for insurers, rather than simply symbolic and charitable activities."

However, the report concludes that the vast market potential related to climate change/other increasing weather damage is still largely untapped by the industry. The report also outlines the growing crisis of insurance availability and affordability in regions of the U.S., especially along the Gulf Coast, Florida and New England.

Ceres ( is a national coalition of investors and environmental groups working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change. Ceres directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), a network of 50-plus institutional investors that collectively manage more than $3 trillion in assets."