Thursday, August 30, 2007

11 Tips for Cutting Grocery Bills from Consumer Union

"Avoid store fake-outs," is one of 11 money-saving tips for grocery shoppers in the Aug/Sept. issue of Shop Smart, a publication from Consumers Union/Consumers Report. Here's a summary:

  • Shop at cheap outlets: The stores with the lowest prices include: "Aldi, Costco, Market Basket, Slater Bros., Shoppers Food Warehouse, Trader Joe's and Walmart." The downside: fewer choices at stores like Trader Joe's and Aldi or shoppers must make bulk purchases at Costco.
  • Be wary of circulars: Featured products in circulars often see a spike of up to 500 percent in sales volume. So stores like to highlight lots of items in their weekly circulars. The catch, says Shop Smart: "Not all items in circulars are on sale [at a discount]."
  • Watch product placement: ("Avoid store fake-outs) Look out for products placed in bins at the end of shopping lanes, in "island displays," or in the middle tier of a shelving unit. Those eye-catching locations typically contain higher-priced goods.
  • Ignore colors: Marketers play head games with color. The concept: certain colors are more apt to gain your attention. So play your own games with the marketing gurus and ignore their color codes.
  • Cut your own fruit/Slice your own cheese: Don't pay extra for pre-cut, pre-frozen, pre-sliced fruits and cheeses. Slices of Jarlsberg cheese, for example, were priced at $7.99 per pound at a deli counter, compared to $3.99 per pound for a block. Likewise,the shoppers at the magazine found a chilled 16-oz beverage for $1.19, but the same bottle was 50 cents cheaper when it was stored warm on a shelf.
  • Buy store brands:The quality of store-brands is often comparable to name brands and the price can be 50 percent cheaper.
  • Use price guarantees: Many chains or stores will match competitors' prices on promotions and sales.
  • Shop alone: You may spend more if you shop with your kids or your spouse.
  • Skip the impulse purchases: Make a list and stick with it.
  • Use store cards: Many stores offer frequent shopper cards, which entitle you to different perks, including unadvertised specials.
  • Check out the scanners: 70 percent of the participants in survey reported finding mistakes made in the checkout line.


    The Frugal Duchess Booktique
    The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

    Book Shop of Fear
    The Poetry & Drama Queen
    Frugal Jazz & Blues
    Frugal Comic Book Connection

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Junk Food Delusions: What I've Learned by Saving $2 Daily

I don't eat a lot of junk food, but when I do it really kills my budget. That's the first major insight from my $2 a Day Savings Challenge. The junk food tally has caught me by surprise. With my house stocked with organic veggies, herbal teas and tofu, I've never thought of myself as a junk food queen. I do yoga! I walk miles!

But while trying to save $2 a day, my daily savings candidates have often come from the junk food department: Chips, ice cream, & candy. I'm stunned and the savings were real. In nearly every case, the money was in my hand before I veered away from the cash register.

Of course, I was traveling last week and earlier this week. But still, I see a disturbing pattern.

Here's what I've learned so far from my daily $2 a Day Savings Challenge

1. Hunt down your delusions. On some level, we all periodically lie to ourselves. From shopping rationalizations to bold lies about our savings accomplishments, we aren't always honest about our money and consumption. If nothing else, my little $2 a Day Challenge forced me to realize that I was lightening my wallet and thickening my waist by spending money on junk food.

2. Pack carefully when traveling: I thought I was a careful packer. But while on the road, we overspent because we failed to pack or misplaced a few necessary items. For example, when we switched hotel rooms, somehow we lost my son's dress clothes and spent a tidy sum on a new dress shirt, pants, and black socks. Thankfully, he looked great for the evening anniversary party.

We should have also packed more snacks for the road and the hotel room. Packing more of our own treats would have prompted us to spend less at the Super Target near my parents' home. I'm embarrassed to report that on one mini-shopping trip, we spent $92* and I'm not quite sure exactly what we purchased. (I'm seeking advice about this expense. See below.)

The good news: I felt guilty about our over-sized bill. Therefore, when I walked over to the Starbucks counter at Target, I couldn't bring myself to order a Latte. I put the money back into my wallet and stepped away from the friendly Starbucks server.

Bottom line: saved $3 @ Target
Spent: $92 @ Target

My $2 Daily Savings Challenge

Day 6 Aug. 24: (away from home)

$2.58: daily portion of $500 telecommunications savings
$3.00: skipped Starbucks coffee (drank the free coffee from the hotel)

But overspent @ Target

Day 7 Aug. 25: (away from home)

$2.58: daily portion of $500 telecommunications savings
$3.00: skipped Starbucks coffee

Day 8 Aug. 26: (away from home)

$2.58: daily portion of $500 telecommunications savings

I also found steep Florida resident discounts for a water park, but someone else paid the total bill, so I can't claim the savings.

Day 9 Aug. 27: (traveling )

$2.58: daily portion of $500 telecommunications savings

Day 10 Aug. 28 (back home)

$2.58: daily portion of $500 telecommunications savings

$5.44: saved on mini notebooks from Walgreens. Full price: $1.29 per book. Sale price 20 cents each. I really use those little books, so purchased five for $1.

Subtotal Days #6 - #10: $23.34

Year-to-Date Total: $201.00*

*By the way, I'm torn about the $92 Target splurge. Should I deduct the amount spent during that -unscripted, undisciplined shopping trip from my daily savings challenge total? Any advice?

The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Avoid Email Away Messages & Other Safe Travel Secrets

I've recently returned from a family vacation to celebrate the 50th Wedding Anniversary of my parents. Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad!!!

While we were traveling, my mom shared her stash of Bottom Line Personal publications with me and I came across this bit of safe travel advice in a February 15, 2006 issue. The tips are from Randall Spivey, director of Safe Travel Institute, My favorite tips are the suggestions about traveling with two wallets and skipping the standard "away on vacation" automatic email notice that are common on our home and work accounts. Here are the tips:

  • Travel with two wallets: Carry around a second wallet packed with expired credit cards and a small sum of cash. If -- heaven forbid -- your mugged, hand over the wallet with the expired cards and the tiny wad to the thieves. (I imagine that you would still have to worry about identity theft, however.)
  • Leave costly jewelry at home.
  • Request hotel rooms on floors 2 through 7. The rationale: Ground level rooms are easier targets for thieves, but lower floors are easier for fire truck rescues during a fire.
  • Skip the away message. Email and voice messages that announce your vacation absence or return date can make you a magnet for criminals. You don't want your automatic email responses to offer too much information."Thieves who send an email to your account and receive the automatic response may use your email address to figure out where you live and then rob your home while you are away," according to as quoted in a Feb. 15, 2006 issue of Bottom Line Personal. Security experts recommend generic information on work or home voice and email accounts.

The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Monday, August 27, 2007

Converting Sneakers into Plant Holders & Other Recycling Tips

Finding new uses for familiar items is a creative way to save money and resources, according to Jeff Gold, senior scientist in the Southeast regional office of World Environmental Organization.
''When it comes to recycling, the most important thing is to try to reduce consumption,'' Gold says. Here are tips for organizing and decorating your home by finding new uses for your old possessions:

• Holiday greeting cards. Old cards can be recycled and used as wrapping paper, Gold says. With scissors, I've also refashioned greeting cards into postcards and gift tags.

• Old sneakers and shoes. World Environmental Organization recommends using old footwear as unusual plant holders. For creative ideas for cast-off products, such as old phones, gym bags, auto floor mats and hairbrushes, go to and select the ''recycling database'' option.

• Muffin tins. Cupcake compartments are ideal for sorting, stacking and storing trinkets, buttons and other small items, according to the editors at Woman's World magazine.

• Toothbrush holders. In glitzy chrome or delicate ceramic, toothbrush holders make great flower vases, according to Real Simple magazine. The slots in the toothbrush holders are ideal for holding and arranging stems. My husband has found a variety of toothbrush holders at affordable prices at high-end boutiques and dollar stores.

• Votive candle holders. After the wax has melted away, short, glass votive candle holders are perfect for stashing toothpicks, especially during parties, according to Real Simple magazine.

• Glasses and bowls. Tea light candles -- sold in packages of 50 lights for $3 -- look especially attractive in glass bowls and cups. The arrangement creates instant atmosphere and unusual centerpieces at small dinner parties or large events.

• Discarded plastic bottles. Empty beverage bottles can be used for a wide assortment of things, even, when properly cleaned, for storing water as a hurricane approaches. Trent Hamm from uses empty bottles to create toddler-friendly bowling pins for his young son, a coin bank and a salad dressing container, in addition to a old-school water bottle.

This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald.



The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Update #5: Saved on Gas, Water & Candy: $2 Savings Challenge

Minor savings today in the $2 a day challenge.

1. We saved on gas. Without driving out of his way, my husband found gas for $2.89 a gallon or $36 total. A competing station charged $3.17 a gallon, which would have cost us $39.48 for the same amount of gas. Total savings: $3.48.

These links are helpful for finding local gas: is great for locating the best prices in a zip code. Fuel calculator will help you figure out the amount/cost of fuel for your road trip.This Top 10 list is one of my favorite links for saving gas. I also wrote this post about saving money at the pump.

2. Water bottles. For long car rides, my husband keeps a case of water in the car. The price: 14 cents a bottle versus $1-2 a bottle at gas stations.

3. Sweet savings: My son opted to buy a small piece of candy (individually wrapped) at a gas station for about 5 cents rather than buy a larger box of Lemonhead candies for about 75 cents--thereby saving his teeth and his money. Since he used his own money, this frugal move is not included in my total. But I feature this example to show how my family has rallied behind the $2 a day savings challenge. Everyone is trying to do something for my daily report. It's a healthy competition and with everyone buying into the challenge, we're finding new ways to save more.

Day 5 Recap of the $2 Daily Savings Challenge
$2.58: daily portion of $500 telecommunications savings
$3.48: saved on the gas bill.
$2.58: savings on three water bottles (Based on $1 per bottle price.)

Day 5 Savings: $8.64
Year-to-Date Total: $177.66

Top 10 College Financial Aid Tips from Sallie Mae

The folks at Sallie Mae sent me their list of 10 college financial aid tips. Some of the items are common sense, but others are insightful. Here's the Sallie Mae Tip Sheet.

"Sallie Mae’s Financial Aid Top 10 Tips

1. Know your budget
In order to determine how much financial aid you will need to cover the full cost of attending a college or university, you should develop a budget. Tuition and room and board are not the only expenses you will incur – books, lab fees, transportation and personal expenses should all be factored into the equation.

2. Know your deadlines
Deadlines for applications and financial aid forms vary by school and state. In addition, some schools require applications in addition to the FAFSA, (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), check with your target schools to make sure you have completed and submitted everything. Know the difference between grants, scholarships and loans.

3. Know what your family’s contribution will be
The expected family contribution, also known as EFC, is the amount that the federal government and your college or university expect your family to contribute toward your education expenses. The EFC is calculated based on the information you submit on your FAFSA.

4. Know that parents can help
PLUS (Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students) loans are federally insured loans for parents of dependent students. Unlike Stafford loans, PLUS loans allow individuals to borrow up to the full cost of the student’s education, less any other financial aid received.

5. Go for the free money first
Unlike student loans, scholarships and grants do not have to be repaid. To search for scholarships, use a search engine like the one at

6. Know what your exact interest rate will be and how it can change
The interest rate on federal Stafford loans issued after July 1, 2006 is fixed at 6.8 percent. Interest rates on private student loans can vary so check with your lender. Also, interest rates can change depending on your payment history so make sure to always pay your monthly bill on time.

7. Know the details or your repayment plan and what your monthly payment will be
Lenders offer a variety of repayment plans that allow you to manage your monthly payment amount. You can make standard payments of principal and interest, pay on a graduated basis or pay as a percentage of your monthly income. In addition, Sallie Mae offers benefits or incentives that allow you to reduce your interest rate or receive cash back in reward for successful on-time payments.

8. Know the difference between deferment and forbearance
Deferment entitles federal student loan borrowers to payment relief by postponing payments in certain circumstances for specified periods of time. In some instances, the federal government pays the interest that accrues during the deferment period. Eligibility is outlined in federal law. A forbearance is also an authorized period of time when a borrower does not have to make payments; however, a forbearance is granted at the lender’s discretion. During forbearance, interest accrues and the borrower has the option of paying it quarterly or it will be capitalized.

9. Know that you can deduct tuition and interest on your income taxes
In many cases, you may be able to deduct up to $3,000 in tuition and education-related expenses from your taxes. In addition student loan borrowers may be able to deduct up to $2,500 of interest paid on education loans. More information is available at

10. Know your loan counselor
Students with federal educational loans are required to receive counseling before they receive their first loan disbursement and before they graduate or withdraw, during which the borrower’s rights and responsibilities and loan terms and conditions are reviewed with the student."


The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Update #4: Lottery Ticket Odds & $2 Savings Challenge

My $2 daily savings challenge has made me take a hard look at lottery tickets. As a small gift, I had promised to buy someone an instant lottery ticket. ($1) I honored that promise and briefly thought about buying a pair of tickets for myself. The odds of winning the top prize ($5,000) are roughly one in 2 million. (See below) So rather than scratch away my money, I put it in the bank.

Day Four Recap of the $2 Daily Savings Challenge
$2.58 daily portion of $500 telecommunications savings
$2.00 skipped the instant lotto tickets.

Day Four Savings: $4.58
Year-to-Date Total: $168.92

"Odds of Winning" for Hot Slots

$5,000.00 odds: 1-in-2,016,000
$500.00 odds: 1-in-60,000

$100.00 odds:1-in-5,000

$50.00 odds: 1-in-1,200

$25.00 odds: 1-in-300

$15.00 odds: 1-in-300

$10.00 odds: 1-in-150

$5.00 odds: 1-in-50
$2.00 1-in-30
$1.00 1-in-12
Free $1 Ticket 1-in-10

Hairspray Star (Amanda Bynes) Sells $20 Clothing

Add another celebrity to the roster of frugal clothes lines. Amanda Bynes, who stars in the movie Hairspray, is launching Dear, a line of $20-and-under clothing at Steve & Barry's.
In her clothes debut, Bynes joins Sarah Jessica Parker, who also has a $20 line at Steve & Barry's. Parker's line is called Bitten and..."was designed for women of all ages and sizes, with a full size range from XS-XXL in tops, 0-22 in bottoms, and 5-11 in shoes. "
I checked out the "Dear" line and it's suited for my nine-year-old daughter. Cute, low-key and age appropriate for pre-teens and teens.
Steve & Barry's has this corporate objective: to sell clothes that cost less than a sack of groceries or a tank of gas. As such their prices are typically "50% to 90% less" than other stores. Here's the link to the company's website.
It will be interesting to see if the brands at Steve & Barry's are of a decent quality.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Update #3: Triple-Digit Savings on The Vet Bill: $2 Savings Challenge

Under my new savings challenge, my daily target is to save $2. That's the minimum, but sometimes even a small target can produce big results. For instance, while I'm running around the house collecting coins and giving up my daily 99-cent bag of Lays Chips, my husband has started to brainstorm for ways to capture larger savings.

Today he saved on the vet bill. Our dog Scruffy really, really needed annual shots. Our vet would have charged about $207 for a round of five shots. But at our local branch of the Humane Society, we paid only $54 for that same pet medical care. Savings: $153.

(Yesterday, for example, he found a way to save $500 on our telephone/Internet bill over a six-month period. On a daily basis that works out to a savings of $2.58 per day.)

Meanwhile, I found a copper penny on the carpet. I didn't buy junk food. I didn't buy any new clothes. But then again, other than walking the dog, I didn't really leave the house today.

Day Three Recap
one penny (found coin)
$2.58 daily portion of $500 telecommunications savings

$153.00 vet bill savings.
Day Three Savings: $155.59

Year-to-Date Total: $163.34


The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Unusual Uses for Ice Cube Trays & My Ice Coffee Recipe

Sometimes my ice trays get too dinged up to use in the freezer. But I can think of several money-saving, time-preserving uses for those old ice trays: The little stackable compartments are great for storing coins, buttons and other trinkets.

New trays--super cheap-- at the dollar store can also be used for several organizational and culinary purposes. In my kitchen, we even use ice trays to prepare gourmet iced coffee drinks. Here's how:

1. Take brewed black coffee. (We use the extra coffee in the pot, which is also great --when cooled-- for darkening grey hair.)
2. Pour the coffee into an ice tray and freeze the tray.
3. As needed, pop out the coffee cubes and toss them into a blender.
4. Add in sugar, cream, milk, Cinnamon, vanilla or chocolate.
5. Blend the mixture
6. Pour the drink into a tall glass. Add whip cream and a straw.

The August 28 issue of Woman's World also has some great tips for ice trays. Here's a summary of that magazine's list.

  • Office supply tray: Stash stamps, paperclips and thumbtacks in an ice tray.
  • Paint holder: Use the compartments to hold and separate the small portions of paint during a craft or DIY project. (This seems great for painting furniture.)
  • Pre-packaged cookie dough holder: Mix up the cookie dough, then freeze and store pre-measured, but unbaked cookie dough in the compartments of the ice tray. Remove the cookie dough cubes for baking as needed.
  • Loose Change: An ice cube tray represents a low-tech, old-school cash register that is more organized than a jar of change.


The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Monday, August 20, 2007

Update #2: Saved $500 in One Day: $2 Challenge

Day Two of the Save $2 challenge included a grand slam. A 30-minute phone call saved us about $500. Here's what happened. Today when he opened the mail, my husband studied a pitch from Earthlink that was priced well below our current plan with AT&T/Bellsouth.So my husband hit the phone.

His (polite) pitch: "Can you match this deal? Or should we consider moving our business?"
The conclusion: Our monthly phone bill/Internet/long distance package dropped by roughly $80 a month for the next six months or $480, plus a $50 refund for the current month.

By the way, the editor of Budget Savvy recommended a similar strategy for cutting your cable bill in this post.

When playing the match-this-deal card, it's important to really have a competing offer in front of you. The rate-cut appeal seems stronger, when you actually quote numbers and terms from the competing pitch.

In terms of our daily challenge, my husband's savings plan equals: $500 or $2.58 a day for the next six months.

Meanwhile, while organizing my working materials this morning, I found a lot of loose change:

  • one quarter

  • 11 dimes

  • six nickles

  • 22 pennies


total $1. 87

Additionally, for lunch I had a Lays potato chip craving, which is easy to satisfy because I live near a little store. But I skipped the chips and saved 99 cents (and about 200 calories)

Day Two Total:

$1.87 found money

$1.00 skipped chips

$2.58 daily portion of $500 telecommunications savings


$5.45 Day Two Savings

Year-to-Date Total: $7.75


The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

My Costly Clutter: How Organization Saves Time & Money

I've let the balance on gift cards and vouchers go unused. But that wouldn't happen if I were better organized. An organized home saves time and money, according to Standolyn Robertson, (pictured on the left) president of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and president of Things In Place. Here's how organization can save resources around the home:

• Generate lists: Standardized shopping lists reduce waste by eliminating duplications, impulse purchases and shortages. Type a shopping list onto your personal digital assistant (PDA), cellphone or home computer. Or keep a notepad near the refrigerator and write down food staples as supplies dwindle. ''Buying what you need and using what you have eliminates waste,'' Robertson says.
• Organize cabinets: With a well-stocked, streamlined kitchen, you're less likely to spend money on gourmet coffee, junk food and takeout meals. A system for organizing food shelves and tracking supplies will encourage you to cook more meals at home.
• Create morning routines: Use kitchen space to organize breakfasts, keys, backpacks and even travel mugs of coffee. A morning routine -- with designated locations for supplies and tools -- saves money and increases your productivity.


• Establish a rebate folder: Create a system for checking deadlines and storing documents -- receipts, UPC codes and other files -- needed to redeem rebate offers.
• Monitor gift card balances: Get the most for your money by creating space and procedures in your home office for tracking the balances on gift cards, vouchers, store credits and frequent shopper/flier bonuses. Too often those perks are squandered because consumers fail to track and use store credits and card balances.
• Store documents: Extra time and money is often wasted when consumers replace lost vital records such as passports, birth certificates and Social Security cards. Create a designated space for those records.
• Maintain a deadline calendar: Save on registration fees and travel expenses by establishing a calendar of early-bird deadlines for personal and professional commitments, conferences and travel. They typically feature significant discounts.


• Buy missing pieces: Purchase the accessories and garments needed to fully use your clothes.
• Donate clothes that don't fit: Request a tax deduction from a nonprofit organization.
• Shop selectively: Don't purchase items that need to be altered or repaired.

This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Update #1: $2 a Day Challenge: Skipping Snickers

A Snickers ice cream cone costs about $2.13 at the little mom-and-pop grocery store near my home. Usually on Sunday, I buy a Snickers cone or we buy ice cream from an upscale ice cream store in South Beach.

Today, however, as part of my $2 a day challenge, I skipped the cone and saved $2.13, which I rounded up to $2.30. The best part: 280 fewer calories for me.

Year-to-Date total: $2.30
Next update: Monday evening.
Thought for the the day: "Do something every day that moves you toward your most important goal." --Change Your Thinking Change Your Life by Brian Tracy

Baby Steps to Wealth: My $2 a Day Challenge

Going through a pile of junk, (finally cleaning and sorting my bookcase), I found an unusual challenge in a March 18, 2007 issue of Parade magazine:

"Goal: Be a Millionaire
Step 1: Save $2 a day."

--How to Set Goals and Reach Them by Joy Browne

The rationale: We achieve our goals by taking baby steps. Indeed, that's how I wrote a book this spring/summer. I gave myself a small goal each day and was astonished by the process: My daily commitment produced a manuscript.

On a bad day, I typically met the minimum small goal; on a great day, I accomplished far more than the daily quota. There is --I discovered --a lot value in momentum and daily habit.

Therefore, I'm setting a daily goal of saving $2 each day. I'm going to find a concrete savings plan each day, stash the cash in a bank and then invest the funds at the end of the year.

On a daily basis, I will post where, why & how much I saved on my blog. On Saturdays, I'll post my $2-a-day-account around midnight. On days that I can't post, I'll post a day-by-day update at a later point.

At the end of the year, Aug. 19, 2008, I'll decide where to invest 90 percent of the funds and give 10 percent to charity. My first post will be made tonight: shortly before midnight.


Digg! src="" width=85>

The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Friday, August 17, 2007

Links I Liked: My Favorite Posts for the Week

Here are a few links that caught my eye this week:

From Ka-Blog!: 51 tips about credit cards

From Finance For Youth: QUALITIES OF SUCCESS: Brittany Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Anna Nicole Smith

From Free Money Finance: Time Shares are a Purchase, Not an Investment

From The Simple Dollar: Summer Camp In The Neighborhood: How To Get A Collective Of Parents Together To Save A Ton Of Money On Daycare During The Summer

From My 1st Million at 33: The Coast is Clear? snippet:

"Yeah, I’m still negative. This market I believe is going to be one of the most treacherous since 2000. The credit crunch caused by homeowners’ default is real."

From AllFinancialMatters: Maybe People Should Listen to Their Gut

From Living on a Budget: How to save on back to school supplies



The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Guest Post:Miserly Mom Offers Frugal Tips

This guest column is from the Miserly Mom:

"Money-saving Tips for the Entire Family

By Jonni McCoy, The Miserly Mom

Bills and expenses are a typical part of life, but some simple changes can go a long way toward saving money. Finding clever ways to stretch the family budget allows for fun activities without breaking the bank.

After I spent ten years as a senior buyer, I had had a difficult decision to make after my son was born. I realized that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but my salary contributed to 50 percent of the family income. That is when I learned first-hand how to manage my family’s budget. Since then I’ve written three books and started a Web site ( teaching others how to make frugality a lifestyle for the entire family. When I talk to parents about their spending habits, the biggest mistake I hear is how they shop. Whether it's for groceries or vacation, changing how we shop can help our budget.

Here are some tips that over time will help you and your family save money without sacrificing the things that are most important to you.

Family Time

Some of the most enjoyable experiences my family’s had are the ones that cost little to nothing. We looked for inexpensive and interesting activities for the whole family, such as:
* Take a hike through a park and watch the sunset. Take a loaf of bread and feed the ducks or pick wildflowers to bring home. Press the flowers and use in bookmarks or gift cards.
*Look for free tours at interesting places such as factories and museums. You'll have fun while you learn. Find children's museums or centers with interactive displays. Many are educational (but the kids still have fun).
* Have a contest for the kids – let them be creative. One of my favorites I did with my kids was an egg-drop contest. Kids have to build something that kept a raw egg from breaking when dropped off the playground.

Family Vacation

Traveling is a great way to spend time with the family and create memories that will last a lifetime, but it doesn't have to be expensive.
* Find hotels with free airport pick up. This can save you $100 per person. Utilize any complimentary breakfasts or happy hours with hors d’oeuvres.
* When we went to Disneyland, we called the local hotel and asked for local attraction deals. We asked if the local grocery store chains were offering any 2-for-1 coupons for Disneyland. We were able to get some and make our trip even cheaper.
* Instead of emptying your wallet to fill your tank, use a rebate credit card to earn rewards or save money. For example, with the Shell Platinum MasterCard (R) from Citi (R) Cards you earn 5 percent rebates on all Shell gasoline purchases and 1 percent rebates on all other purchases. At today’s average price that is a rebate of 14 cents a gallon. To calculate a trip’s total savings, go to to see how much you can save.

Family Meals

Often we are so busy we end up eating out or buying convenience foods which can be costly and unhealthy. We were able to cut our grocery bill in half – that's several hundreds of dollars – by just changing how we shopped and cooked. Here are some simple changes that can save you money:
* Limit your use of coupons. Coupons are for name brand items which cost more than lesser known brands, and coupons are for convenience foods. Use a coupon if the item is also on sale or you really were planning to buy that brand anyway.
* Plan your weekly menu around the sale items on the grocery fliers. This one step can save 35 percent off grocery bills.
* Cook several meals at once and freeze them. It will reduce the chances of eating out when you are busy, and will save preparation time and money when you buy groceries in bulk.

These are simple solutions to enjoy huge savings. As you try out these tips, you’ll find that you can still have a blast as a family while staying on a budget.

Courtesy of ARAcontent


The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jessica Alba's DIY Project & Frugal DIY Tips

Actress Jessica Alba recently shopped at Home Depot as part of a DIY renovation project, according to this account in Us Magazine.

'Jessica Alba (at the home improvement store in Hollywood July 27) oversaw the renovation of her parents' kitchen: "Now we can cook and hang out," she said.'

There are a number of ways to save money through Do-it-Yourself (DIY) projects, according to my husband, a design/construction specialist.

Here are his tips:

1. "Put a price on your time," he says. Given the time demands of the project, are you really saving money by doing it yourself? (Skip this debate if the project involves a hobby or a passion). But if saving money is part of your equation, it's important to figure out how much the DIY project will cost in terms of lost wages and aggravation.

2. Look for simple, low-skill, low-tech projects: Paint, fabric and decorative hardware (new knobs and fixtures) are easy and frugal methods of giving a room a facelift.

"Decorative knobs at $1.50 a piece can make all the difference in the world to an out-dated cabinet," my husband says.

On the Internet, my friend found D. Lawless Hardware (, an Illinois-based company with great deals. ''I was amazed at the incredible selection. Even better, the prices ran the gamut,'' she said. For $1.79 each, she purchased cobalt blue glass knobs, with matching pulls for $3.79 each. The company will match prices if you find better deals elsewhere and my friend received free shipping because her order was over $50.
I wrote about knobs in this post.

This article provides 10 Money-Saving Tips for Home Improvement Projects. Of the 10 Tips, here are my favorite suggestions:
1) Establish priorities: What matters most? What is urgent?
2) Keep the scale manageable: Don't exceed your comfort zone; and
3) Select improvements that will increase the re-sale value of your home.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Money & Management Lessons From a Lemondade Stand

A very profitable lemonade stand fills the gap between school and camp for my kids. My youngest children -- elementary and middle-school students -- earned about $60 in their first two days (less than three hours total) as beverage entrepreneurs.

The lemonade stand did more than fill their wallets with cash. We all learned some valuable lessons about sales and personal finance. Here are our group lessons:
  • Earn money from something you enjoy. "A lemonade stand is an easy way to have fun and get money," my son said. All of the career management/get rich books that I have read make the same point. "No man can succeed in a line of endeavor which he does not like."--Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich (Ballantine Books.) "Successful people do what they love to do." --Brian Tracy in Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life (John Wiley & Sons.)

  • Expect disappointments: "Some people pretend they're going to stop [for lemonade], but don't," my daughter said as she described false leads. Career gurus offer this advice: "Don't take it personally," --says Brian Tracy in Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life . Failure can be our best teacher,” says Gillian Hennessy-Ortega in It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish (John Wiley & Sons.)

  • Accept or solve difficult working conditions: "Being in the hot sun is very hard," said my daughter. On Day 1, she stopped working after an hour. On Day 2, the young entrepreneurs finally accepted our advice and moved to a shady spot.

  • Marketing Matters: "You have to yell lemonade to get attention," my daughter said. Her brother also held an attractive sign. The marketing mavens agree: “In high performing organizations, everything starts and ends with the customer.”-- Ken Blanchard in Leading at a Higher Level (Pearson Prentice Hall)

  • Do the Math: "The hard part: you have to give people change and figure out the math," my daughter says. Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich would applaud her statement: "Money without brains is always dangerous."

  • Carefully select business partners: My 12-year-old son recommends setting up a lemonade stand with a younger partner. Why: "It gets more money," he told me. The cute factor is instant gold. His sales slowed down when my daughter (the younger biz partner) retired early one day because of the heat. As a pair, they were unstoppable. The business management world agrees about the importance of careful selection of partners for professional and personal collaborations. Team work is important: "When teams function well, miracles happen.”-- Ken Blanchard in Leading at a Higher Level (Pearson Prentice Hall)

  • Contain costs: Through trial and error, my children developed a winning and profitable recipe for lemonade. Filtered tap water, ice, powder mix and a few slices and squeezes of lemons or limes. It's expensive and time consuming to produce fresh squeeze juice from lemons and limes, my son said. "Using powder is easier than actually squeezing lemons," he told me. We did, however, enhance the mix with lime slices, juice and pulp.

  • Location, Location, Location: My kids set up shop on a high-traffic corner and on the second day, they moved under a large shady tree. A real estate agent was hosting an Open House for a large home. The corner was decorated with large signs and balloons from the Open House. The real estate agent cut a deal with my kids: She directed traffic to their stand and encouraged them to promote the Open House.

Lemonade Advice from a Corporate Finance Specialist:

Location is very important for many businesses, especially a lemonade stand, says Michael Mitirione, a mergers and acquisition specialist. The kids who operate a highly successful lemonade stand in his neighborhood usually select a high-traffic spot.

"They sit on the corner inside the guard gate," Mitrione says: "Location, Location, Location."

Here are my other tips for parents of Lemonade Stand Entrepreneurs:

1. Keep tabs on the stand. My children were close to our home. I could check on them through the window. My husband and I constantly visited the operation. They were also on a high traffic area under the watchful eyes of neighbors and friends.

2. Let them make the signs. Their handmade signs were eye catchers.

3. Make them pay for the ingredients. When we paid for the ingredients, a fortune was spent on lemons, sugar, cups, etc. When the raw materials came out of their own pockets, they opted for frugal powder mix. (We kicked in a few limes for added spice and flavor). This pay-for-it-yourself procedure provided an education in profits, costs and losses.

4. Encourage the kids to establish their own hours. Let them be self-starters. Our kids decided when to open and when to close.

5. Assist with the preparations, but don't force the kids to accept your ideas. My husband and I had our own ideas about the stand and marketing. We offered our tips, but let the kids select their options and business practices.


Digg! src="" width=85>

The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tip for Converting Clutter into Space, Time & Money

Clutter is a hotly negotiated currency in many homes, especially when one family member's treasure looks like junk to another. Clutter conflicts often develop when a pack-rat shares a home with a space-clearing maven.

I spoke to experts about how to resolve the clutter battle. Here are some of their suggestions:

• Trade treasure for junk. Trent Hamm, author of, a personal finance website, uses a barter system to cut clutter in his home. When his wife insists on hoarding treasure during a closet cleaning session, Hamm negotiates. Waving another hotly debated item, he tries to cut a deal: Keep one, trade one. From that initial bid, the dealing continues until the closets are streamlined.

• Barter with time. When the item-for-item barter system fails, Hamm and his wife trade time for merchandise. She retains her treasure and he earns a golfing session.

• Trade junk for cash. Your unwanted merchandise can be converted into cash, says Catherine Halley, web editor for Domino magazine ( and author of the Scrappy Girl Decorates blog. Your extra clutter can be sold at a multifamily garage sale, through eBay or Craigslist.

• Convert clutter into art.Halley uses household objects -- empty thread spools or an old drawer -- to make multimedium sculptures. Her art pieces have become so popular that friends have started to make requests. Halley also sells her clutter-into-art pieces at, which showcases handmade crafts. ''You can operate your own store [on the website],'' she said.

• Earn a tax credit. Many charities provide tax credits for donations of clothes, furniture and other merchandise. Some charities seek out specific items such as eyeglasses, business suits and prom dresses.

• Give it away. Create your own hand-me-down boutique by giving away the lamps, books and clothes that are cluttering closets. Halley, for example, had held onto a velvet Prada jacket that she found in a thrift store for $8 -- far below the normal triple-digit price tag. But the jacket didn't fit. A few weeks ago, Halley finally surrendered it to a friend.

This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald.



The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Part 2: Frugal Tips from GQ's List of 25 Most Stylish Films

Classic Hollywood films have great tips on dressing well without spending a fortune. That's the insight I acquired after reading "The 25 Most Stylish Films of All Time," by GQ magazine. A little while ago, I featured the first half of the list, here's the rest.
How to Steal a Million, director: William Wyler 1966
Stars: Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn
Style Tip: Excellent fit makes you look like a million.
Due to precise fit, even in a bathrobe O'Toole looked "suave." Here's the style verdict from GQ:

"He looks so fluidly elegant, you almost--almost--don't notice his magnetic costar Audrey Hepburn dressed head to toe in Givenchy." --GQ

In the Mood for Love, director: Wong Kar-Wai 2000
Stars: Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung
Style tip: Hair and attitude matter.

The characters wore beautiful suits and traditional Chinese qipaos, but their hair and attitude grabbed even more attention.

The Harder They Come, director: Perry Henzell 1973
Star: Jimmy Cliff
Style Tip: You don't need a big budget to look good.

As a classic reggae film, the movie was shot on "an extremely tight budget."
  • The cast wore clothes from their own closets.

  • "Cheap local stores" in Jamaica provided additional garments.

  • The film's costume designer imitated high-end fashion by buying a black fake-leather jacket and a fake alligator skin cap.

Also Mentioned:

Blowup, director: Michelangelo Antonioni 1966

Godfather II director: Francis Ford Coppola 1974

Ocean's 11, director: Lewis Milestone 1960


Thursday, August 09, 2007

5 Tips for Saving Money While Unemployed

There's no magic pill for generating cash when a steady paycheck disappears. But there are strategies for saving cash. I recently received a list of cost-cutting tips from Take Charge America:

"Surviving Between Jobs: 5 tips on Cutting Costs During Unemployment

The key to survival is to focus on necessary costs and cut out frivolous expenditures.

1. Revisit your Personal Budget – While employed, your personal budget may have focused on short-and long-term goals such as planning a summer vacation or saving for a child’s college tuition, but now your budget should focus on only short term goals regarding your daily living necessities. Rework your budget to only include essential expenses such as food, clothing, housing, transportation and health care. To help you get started, write down every payment you absolutely must make to survive --- that is, rent or mortgage payment, food, car payment and health insurance.

It is also important to protect your credit during this difficult time. Since you don't know how long you might be without a job, you may want to be proactive and contact any creditors who might allow deferral of payment until you can secure regular employment. For instance, school loan providers often will extend a grace period in case of emergency.

2. Get Out the Cookbook – By preparing meals at home, you can dramatically cut costs. In a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, the average household expenditure for food away from home in 2005 was $1,054 per person. Take advantage of coupons and specials, and try to ignore brands and fancy labels when shopping at the supermarket. There are a number of websites offering easy at-home meal planning and ideas for creating low-budget, healthy home-cooked meals.

3. Cut Out Credit Card Spending – Using credit cards can often lead to poor spending habits – something you can’t afford, especially when you have no income coming in. Remove the temptation by removing your credit cards from your wallet and placing them in a safe place like a desk drawer. By avoiding credit card spending, you can more easily track where your money is going and where you can eliminate unnecessary spending.

4. Create a Cushion – It is important to set aside money for emergencies. You should put away as much as possible, but at least enough to cover an emergency like having an unexpected car expense. The important thing to remember is to make sure you can cover all of your necessary expenses and have a reserve for an emergency. A fun hands-on way for kids to participate and learn good money saving skills is to have them hunt for loose change around the house and in the car and collect it in a bottle or jar. By including the entire family, everyone can learn from and feel good about making good money management choices. For more kid-friendly money saving tips visit

5. Drive Less – With gas prices continuing to rise, carpooling or use of public transportation can help you cut your expenses. Since you will be searching for a job, you may need to drive to interviews, so save your gas money for these critically important trips. If you must drive, save gas and time by planning trips in advance and combine your trips whenever possible.

Plan your meals for an entire week and make one trip to the grocery store instead of sporadically throughout the week. Also, if you need to make multiple stops, plan the best route so you are not driving all over town. Visit for more tips on saving gas, time and money.

Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, says that cutting out needless expenses is a lot easier than you might think. “If you saved all of the money spent on coffee runs, vending machines, movies and late fees, you would probably have a small fortune,” he said. “By being creative and committing to trimming down costs, surviving between jobs is possible.”

By keeping these tips in mind, you can greatly reduce your monthly costs and easily manage your budget between jobs. Sullivan says, “The key is to be creative in the ways you cut back and to analyze all aspects of your spending trends to see where you can save money while maintaining basic needs and protecting your credit as much as possible.”


The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Is Back-to-School Shopping A Big Scam? The Hype & The Numbers

When and why did back-to-school shopping become such a spending big holiday? The average family will spend about “$563.49 on back-to-school merchandise, up 6.9 percent from last year’s $527.08 average. Total back-to-school spending this year is expected to reach $18.4 billion,” according to data from the National Retail Federation.

Here’s how we’ll spend the money:

Electronics: $129.24 vs. $114.38 in 2006
Footwear: $108.42 vs. $98.34
School supplies: $94.02 vs. $86.22
Clothing and accessories: $231.80 vs. $228.14 in 2006

With a 13 percent year-over-year increase, electronics represent the back-to-school category with the largest hike. Here the explanation from the National Retail Federation:

“Electronics have evolved from luxuries to necessities, not only for college students but also for their younger siblings,” said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. “While some students may be pleading with mom and dad for an iPod or a cell phone, parents are also investing in desktop or laptop computers, educational software and printers to support their children’s learning.”

Hmmmm? Is this just hype?

Clothing, represents about 95 percent of the back-to-school budget and consumers are expected to spend about $7.6 billion on clothing and accessories.

But I just don’t get it: Many schools — including those attended by my children — require uniforms. School uniforms have been marketed as big money savers and many school districts (public and private) require uniforms. The concept: School uniforms reduce peer pressure and trim the family school clothes budget because there’s less need for all kinds of accessories and trendy clothes.

Plus many schools have uniform banks where families can pick up second-hand school uniforms. Other families pass around hand-me-down uniforms in good condition. And if you’re in the market for new uniforms, I’ve seen school uniforms at very affordable prices at different stores, especially days after the school year starts.

So where and why is all of this money being spent? Is back-to-school shopping just a scam and are we being hyped into spending far more than needed?



The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

How to Recycle Cell Phones, Printers & Computers

At my children's school, old cell phones have been collected as a fundraiser and as a recycling project. Those were worthwhile drives. Overall around 130 million cell phones are thrown away annually, (about 65,000 tons of waste), according to the April 2007 issue of Real Simple magazine.

With recycling in mind and help from my son Tali ( a great intern), I've put together a list of recycling resources

To Recycle Cell Phones:

To Recycle Computers:

Recycling old computers is tricky, especially if you are paranoid about data on the hard drive. There are, however, a few options for recycling computers, monitors and printers. You can even make a few bucks in the process. Here is a great list that I found in the April issue of Town & Country magazine.

  • Donate computers to schools: Computers for Schools is a Chicago-based organization that refurbishes and donates computers to schools.
  • Gadgets for underprivileged: connects old computers and gadgets with those who need those items.
  • High-Tech donations: National Cristina Foundation ( provides high-tech equipment to underprivileged consumers.
  • Dell Computers and Apple: When you buy new equipment, you can get your old hard drive and monitor recycled free through or Apple.
  • Hewlett-Packard: Sell your used equipment (any brand) to HP "for $13 to $34," according to Town & Country magazine.


The Frugal Duchess Booktique
The Frugal Duchess of Beauty Store

Book Shop of Fear
The Poetry & Drama Queen
Frugal Jazz & Blues
Frugal Comic Book Connection

Monday, August 06, 2007

How to Make the Home-Office Work

As our personal and professional responsibilities continue to merge, a home office has become a fact of life. Home-office experts offer these suggestions:

Identify your work style. Make the office work for you, says Linda Formichelli, co-author of The Renegade Writer. For instance, some home-based workers thrive in the center of family activities, but others operate best with a closed-door policy. Arrange space and buy products -- especially organizational systems that really fit with your personality. ''If it isn't something that works for your lifestyle, it'll be a waste of money,'' Formichelli said.

Understand your assignments. Before you shop, study your job description, says Melissa Perlman, an Office Depot spokeswoman. Do you need file space, a wide desk area for projects or a conference table for meetings? You can save money by defining your purpose.

Buy flexible products. A living room can easily double as a home office, says Andrew Schneider, director of brand management for Staples. Many home-based workers work in multipurpose spaces. Flexible products includes the Mission Pop-up table at Staples, which looks like a traditional coffee table, but has a surface that pivots into a pop-up desk with storage space. The product is featured in the photo above.

Be creative. Make a large desk by placing a door ($10) over a matched set of filing cabinets ($5 to $40), says Nancy Daly, chairwoman of The Habitat for Humanity Restore in Broward County. Restore sells desks priced from $25 to $250. The store's merchandise includes new furniture donated by area stores such as City Furniture and El Dorado. In South Florida and throughout the country, Restores receive new furniture (slightly damaged or discontinued pieces) from major retailers.

Keep supplies close at hand. Make sure you have easy access to high-use items, recommends Formichelli. ''You don't want to walk across the room to get something five times a day,'' she says.

Shop with the school calendar. You can get office supplies at bargain prices during back-to-school sales. ''From early July to early September, there are a number of killer deals of different items,'' Schneider says.