Friday, January 30, 2009

I Met the Mango Lady: Making Money in Miami

I met the Mango Lady and she sells fruit to make ends meet. She's one of several people that I've met in my daily travels on foot, bus and train. For about $2 a day --round trip costs with a discounted monthly metro pass -- I commute to a traditional office job. The trip is cheap and I get to see a lot for my money.

And I learn more about the economy. Here's a short sketch of the people I see:

Mango Lady: She pushes a wagon of fruit purchased from a wholesaler and then sells her fruit on the street. Her wagon contains pineapples, oranges, mangoes and other fruit.

Orchid Man: Today the Orchid Man had a cart of white orchids for $8 each. His traveling floral store also contained red roses. But I couldn't see all of the price as I walked by.

Sock Peddler: Traveling east on a bus, a middle-aged man opened a plastic bag filled with a wide variety of tube socks. I did not need socks. I smiled. He smiled and closed his bag.

Sweat Shop: From a wire cart --old school grocery cart -- a woman sold all kinds of sweat suits. She had a brisk business. A pair of sweat pants were about $12, but I shook my head. Besides the athletic store near my office had cheaper prices due to a super red tag sale.

Cafe to Go: At one bus stop, a woman sells hot coffee from a thermos, which she pours into small paper cups. Her cafe also includes breakfast snacks, and she even sells brown bag lunches to commuters leaving for their jobs.

I see all of that either before or after I go to work.


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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

And This is Why I Avoid Shopping - A Hijacked Cart

Candy is my gateway drug for higher spending. Tonight, I just wanted a box of Jujyfruits candy for $1.49, but I left with a bill for 10 times that amount: $14.80. My shopping cart was hijacked by poor planning, and I don't plan to make that mistake again.

Here's what how I veered off the frugal path, and here's how I plan to adjust:
  • Candy: Although I feast on organic fruits and vegetables, I have a weakness for Gummi Bears and fruity, chewy candies. In contradiction of my all-natural health values, my sweet tooth involves ingesting lots of artificial colors and flavors. The hidden health and dental costs should prohibit me. I should eat less candy. As a gateway drug, it's clear that my urge to buy a small box of candy has sent me spiraling down the path of greater expenses.

  • Automatic Doors: Why do so many stores have automatic doors? Answer: Even as you try to scoot by without entering, the automatic doors pull you in. And once inside, the cash register is a magnet for your wallet. Solution: Avoid automatic doors and don't take the first step inside of most retail stores.

  • Shopping List: If I had entered the store with a shopping list, I would have left the store with more money. Without a list, I walked around and convinced myself that I needed: Burt's Bees Super Shiny Zesty Red Natural Lip Gloss ($6.99), Women's World magazine ($1.79) and cotton pads for my face ($2.99).

  • Exit Strategy: Once I picked up the box of candy, I should have marched to the cash register and then headed to the red exit sign. The best exit strategy: Do not stop at "Go." Do not linger at "Free Parking." This is real life Monopoly, and the store is high-rent property.


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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Honey, Eggs & Olive Oil: Home Day Spa Treatments

A home spa experience is tucked into the family kitchen. I'm 50 years old, wrinkle-free, and some of my favorite beauty products are stored in the refrigerator and food cupboard.

Here's the logic: A lot of expensive facial products use fruit acids, honey and olive oil to promote the removal of dead skin and minimization of fine wrinkles. But why pay a fortune for skin care products spiked with food, when you can opt for do-it-yourself recipes without the harmful preservatives and chemicals that are bundled into some personal care products.

With the following ingredients, I have created home spa treatments for my face and hair.

Tomato and citrus fruits. Slices of tomatoes, oranges and grapefruits promote external and internal health. I slice and eat a bit of the fruit. Step 1: I rub a few of the slices on my face. Step 2: I leave the fruit pulp and juice on my face for 20 minutes. Step 3: Rinse with warm water. Fruit acids brighten the complexion and help your face shed old cells. Test the fruit on a small patch of skin before applying to the entire face.

Honey and eggs. Whether mixed together or applied separately, honey and raw eggs make a great facial mask. Honey tightens pores and moisturizes the skin. And there's nothing like egg or egg whites on your face. Let the food harden and then rinse with warm water.

Olive oil. This oil is a wonder product for beauty treatments. I dab olive oil around my eyes and rub it into my hands. Additionally, warm oil is a great hair conditioner. Indeed, many expensive personal care products feature olive oil. I prefer to buy my supply at supermarkets or gourmet food store for a lot less.

Aloe. One of my favorite home spa treatments comes from the garden on the balcony. I pluck and open a plump leaf from one of our aloe plants. I smear the inner goop on my face and let the green film stiffen for 15 minutes. When I remove the aloe film from my face, my skin feels smoother and tighter.


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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Weekly Roundup & Frugal Blog Network

Here are a few of the posts that have caught my eye:

From Brunette on a Budget: "Going out of business" doesn't mean the lowest prices

From Young Black and Prosperous: Over $200.00 on Groceries

From Harvesting Dollars: How Much Emergency Fund Is Enough?

From The Diary of a Reformed Spendaholic: Establishing a Routine

From The Smarter Wallet: Would You Go Into Business For Yourself During This Recession?

From Fabulous Financials: How to Get Your Boss to Pay Your Tuition

Favorite Posts from the Frugal Blog Network:

Not Made of Money: Low Cost Healthy Eating: Five Tips for the New Year

Tight Fisted Miser: Google Adsense Revenue Going Down?

Almost Frugal: Inexpensive Ideas for Kids’ Birthday Parties

Frugal Babe: Are You Teaching Your Kids Financial Responsibility?

Frugal Zeitgeist: That's why they call it a stereotype


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Personal Finance Lessons from Jars of Henna for My Hair

While tinting my hair, I have acquired new views on diversification, financial oversight and due diligence. Three jars of natural, plant-based Henna dye have taught me a lot about investment, money management and frugal living.

Here's my story. I have great hair and a healthy attitude about aging. I'm 50 and I'm proud. I work out (weights, treadmill, yoga), my face in unlined, and I've learned to make peace with past mistakes and ongoing imperfections.

But my hair has gone gray in a weird fashion. Most of my head is still dark, but I have these odd, odd patches of gray. Henna, a natural dye fashioned from a plant, has been my safe, do-it-yourself fix for my faded hair color.

Here's what I have learned about hair coloring and personal finance:

  • Know your risk profile: I am suspicious about most commercial hair dyes. The disclaimers and the long list of chemicals scare me. The reward of complete gray coverage does not adequately compensate me for the risk of chemical exposure. Quite simply, the risk-reward ratio does not meet my risk-adverse personality about health. Therefore, I have opted for a natural henna dye. Likewise, when putting together my investment profile or personal finance plan, I have to make sure that the risk-reward ratio fits my personality. And when it comes to that ratio everyone has a different breaking point.

  • Diversification: I mix powder from three jars of henna to develop the right portfolio for my hair. From light brown to a dark Persian blend, the customized mixture provides a rich blend of natural color with a few highlights. When I used just a single jar of one color (black henna), I was not happy with the color. It was flat and unnatural. But diversification provided the right fix of color. Likewise, for my 401k investment plan, I've tried to create a blend of at least three funds, with a variety or risk and riches.

  • Do your homework: In the investment world, they call it "due diligence." It's our responsibility to investigate the chemicals that we apply to our skin and hair, and the investment tools that we apply to our money. Don't take any one's word. Don't accept incomplete or dubious (so-called Black Box) explanations about how a process works. Investigate and digest how financial and beauty processes work.

  • Conduct a patch test: All hair dyes (natural hennas and traditional hair color products) recommend a patch test. That means that you apply the product to a small area of your hair or skin for an early evaluation. You want to test for allergies, color and suitability. The same principle applies to money. Test a new fund manager or investment style with a small portion of your funds before committing to a large amount. Look at the past track record and examine the short-term/long-term gains of the investment style before moving forward.

  • Know your limitations: I have long, thick kinky/curly hair, which is not a limitation. But my hairstyling talent is the limitation. Given the thickness of my hair and my styling talent, it's been frustrating, messy and defeating to apply henna to my entire head at once. What's more, I have had very poor and short-lasting results when I tried the all-in-one approach. Through trial and error, I've learned to work on small sections of my hair at a time. During one session, I applied henna to one area only. In a later session --maybe a few days or a few weeks later -- I will work on another area of my hair. With this approach, massaging in the product and rinsing it out has been so easy when I limited the task to one section at a time. With money and financial goal-setting, I've learned to operate in baby steps. During one session, I'll focus on the monthly household budget and during subsequent planning sessions, I'll work on college-savings plans or retirement goals. I just can't do everything at once.

  • Green isn't everything: The black henna dye proved to be a problem for me. Quite simply, the black henna gave my hair a dark green glow. A head of black, dark green and graying hair was not appealing. Green is not everything. The softer henna colors --dark, medium and light browns -- did not offer complete dark coverage, but at least I did not look like an evergreen tree. Likewise, green money is not everything. Life has different colors and sometimes, we have to make compromises in spending, saving and investing to find a financial plan that matches our world view and lifestyle.

  • Do it yourself: My henna-colored hair costs about $2-$3 per session, and I don't have to pay tips, parking fees or other travel expenses. The do-it-yourself box kits cost $6 to $15 per session and a salon visit to a professional colorist can cost $50 to $250 and higher, which can translate into thousands a year for color maintenance. Obviously, the DIY version is much cheaper. With money, we all need to be DIY investors even if we have professional stockbrokers or financial planners. Even with the expertise from a professional, we need to provide layers of DIY oversight. We have to cover our own assets with the right questions and constant scrutiny. The buck really stops here.


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Friday, January 23, 2009

How to Work Harder and Saner: Professional Organizer Speaks Out

How can we preserve time, money and sanity during the workday? Suzy Wilkoff, owner of Tasks Unlimited and Founding President, National Association of Professional Organizers-South Florida Chapter, offers this guest post:

Tips to Eliminate and Minimize Interruptions at Work

  • To feel less overwhelmed by e-mail, handle it only twice throughout the day.
  • So callers are alerted that you will be out for an extended period, change voice mail greeting daily.
  • Focus on one aspect of a project at a time and one project at a time (i.e., don’t multi-task, if you are not good at it!)
  • Avoid conducting personal business at work. If you must, do so during your lunch hour.

Skills to Increase Effectiveness

  • Be persistent with others regarding deadlines
  • Return calls the same day and your reputation with colleagues and friends will improve.
  • By allotting fifteen minutes a day to organize your desktop before leaving the office, you will prevent filing from getting out of hand.
  • Handle business and personal postal mail daily.

Improving Scheduling Abilities

  • Draft a list of (long, mid and short term) goals and to stay on target, refer to them regularly.
  • Prepare daily “To Do” lists. Cross off your accomplishments and move items that weren’t completed to the next day’s list. If you see that an item is getting moved day after day, it will alert you that it’s time to accomplish that task!
  • Delegate (Don’t take on responsibilities for others.)
  • Reconfirm appointments the day before, to prevent no shows.
  • For emotional well being, incorporate personal time for exercise, volunteerism and social activities.

When asked to participate in a project or attend a function, we often hear ourselves saying “I don’t have time.” Have you ever thought it’s because you choose not to make time. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day. It is how we schedule our time that is critical to our happiness and well being! " --Suzy Wilkoff

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mad Reader: Your Frugal Ways Are Silly! Too Thrifty?

Maybe somebody took the last muffin from the frig, or maybe there was not enough milk for his coffee, but one reader fired off a sharp retort about one of my recent articles about thrifty living: ( More Ways to Squeeze Savings From Home and Food Products )

Basically, the reader told me to get a life and go shopping in language that delivered a sharp rebuke to my alleged political affiliation. ("You've got to be an Obama voter," he said.) He also used the word "silly."

His arguments: Squeezing the last drop out of a bottle of hair conditioner and using smaller amounts of paper towels represented silly wastes of time. He implied that I was suffering from a recession of the mind and that my columns about thrift were only contributing to the economic woes.

And if I really wanted to save money, I should take real action and stop chatting on the cellphone, he said.

"Get a life. Really, if times are so tough that your skin-flint ways must be utilized, then get rid of your cellphone, cable TV, and start washing the dishes manually."

Hmm...There was more a bit more, but that's the main thesis.

Personally, I think the little things count. Squeezing the last drop of conditioner from a plastic bottle, conditions my mind to think about how I can get the greatest mileage from other areas of my life.

It's like playing scales on a violin. When I practise my violin, I play boring, scales -- nothing fancy. But I play small, basic notes -- over and over again -- to prepare my fingers, ears and eyes for concertos and other complicated compositions. It's an exercise in discipline.

Besides, small things count. That's what countless editors have told me during my days as a television desk assistant and, later, a newspaper reporter. When I would shrug about a small typo in a name or title, my editors would give me stern lectures. "If I can't trust you with the small facts, how can I trust you with the big facts?" -- one editor argued during a grueling editing session. (With that voice in my head, I have learned to master the art of fact-checking!)

As a writer, reporter and frugal blogger, I am far from perfect. But I've absorbed the lessons that I have learned from news directors, editors and other media professionals. I've learned to count small change in order to enhance my ability to count the big-ticket items in life.

And, Dear Reader, I already know how to shop. Trust me! I've been shopping for years. I could write a book on shopping. In fact, I have written a book about shopping. And I will continue to make purchases as needed, with a few personal treats and periodic manicures/pedicures. That's the Duchess part of my frugal gig. I don't believe in deprivation. I am so spoiled. I eat organic blueberries almost every day.

But the truth is: I have spent a lot of money during my young adult years, and I'm all shopped out.

And FYI: I have a frugal cellphone plan; I don't have cable television. I run my dishwasher about once a week, and I often wash my dishes by hand. But those frugal actions are also driven by another green -- I also believe in an eco-friendly approach to living. I've been shrinking my carbon footprint.

I'm grateful to that reader for writing. Thank You! He made me consider how the slowdown in consumer spending could further deflate the economy. He has a point! But his note prompted me to think about the shopping bags stuffed in my closets and cabinets, and he gave me something to write about on a rare cold day in Miami.

So, again, thank you sir!


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More Ways to Squeeze Savings From Home and Food Products

With a pair of scissors, I clipped a bottle of hair conditioner and baffled my kids.

Why, they wondered, was that bottle cut in half? The explanation was simple. In order to scoop out the last little bit of conditioner I cut the container open. I wrote about this episode in an earlier post: Who Cut Open the Conditioner? I Did to Save Money

It's one of several tricks I have used to yield more from personal care and household products. Here are other ways to extend the shelf life of merchandise:

· Lip gloss and lipstick: Cotton swabs are great for scooping out the remaining flash of color from lipstick tubes or lip gloss containers. A small makeup brush also works well.
· Towels: Many household chores can be accomplished with less paper. Rip paper towels in half before each use.
· Dish-washing liquid: Most liquid soaps, dish and hand soaps, work just as well when diluted with water. Find an empty bottle and fill it with a 50-50 mix of water and soap.
· Salad dressing: Don't throw out the last little bit of hard-to-reach salad dressing. Pour in a dash of vinegar and olive oil to revive a bottle of Italian salad dressing or vinaigrette.
· Honey: Several ounces of warm or hot water will help capture the last dab of honey from a bottle or jar. This method works best if the honey is used to sweeten a beverage or for baking.
· Cut fruit. Pour or squeeze juice (from lemons or oranges) over cut fruit. The citrus acid keeps the fruit fresh in salads or school lunches.
· Nail polish. A few drops of nail polish remover will freshen up a bottle of nail polish that has become stiff or dry. Additionally, it's possible to extend the life of a manicure (salon or home spa special) by coating nails with a clear coat of polish. A manicure will last for over a week, if clear coats of polish are applied every two days.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

More Free Ways to Watch the Inauguration

Yesterday, I had a list of free inauguration viewing options for those of us without tickets or TVs. As promised, here's another list:

Colleges and Universities: Across the country, many colleges and universities are opening their doors for big-screen inauguration viewing parties.

Museums and Community Centers: Many cultural centers are hosting various free events related to the inauguration. Check your local paper.

Town Hall and Municipal Governments: Some local governments will have viewing facilities for the public.

The New York Times: Through the Internet, NYT will offer a live broadcast. Here's a short description from the Times:

"Live Streams: The New York Times will be live-streaming Mr. Obama’s speech from its home page; video Web sites Hulu and Joost are among the other sites broadcasting Tuesday’s events." source: The New York Times

MSNBC: Yahoo offered this overview of a broadcast from MSNBC:

"For those who prefer to get the inauguration feed while mixing it up with other Americans, MSNBC will beam its coverage to movie theaters around the country. Click to for free tickets. The partnership extends to a simulcast into 650 Starbucks stores in New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Celebrants can also head to to find a local inauguration party. Already, history buffs are heading to the Web for assistance on the Inauguration Day details, looking up "hbo
," "inaugurationday schedule," and "inauguration time."
--source: Yahoo
Tweet: Here's a rundown from the New York Times:

Live Tweeting: Similar to its coverage of the presidential debates, Current TV is joining with the microblogging site Twitter to showcase inaugural day musings from the Twitter universe, in 140 characters or less" --NYT

For more information: check out this technology piece from the New York Times

"Barack Obama’s inauguration will be televised. It will also be tweeted, live-streamed and simulated in virtual worlds. " full article


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Sunday, January 18, 2009

15 Things to Do on MLK Day-- Even if You Have to Work

Is it possible to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday when a full day of work is on your agenda? Even if it's a regular workday, there are meaningful activities that we can add to our to-do agenda, including self-improvement, random acts of kindness, volunteer work or private reflection. Here are a few ideas:

1. Read or watch MLK speeches: Video results for Martin Luther King speeches

2. Donate time or supplies to an area school or after-school program

4. Talk to a child about Martin Luther King Jr. Here's a great piece: Martin Luther King - Biography

6. Learn about MLK's life or read a bio about another famous person. Check out or MARTIN LUTHER KING JR BIOGRAPHY, Barack Obama

7. Make a list of 10 areas of self-improvement. Create a long-term plan based on that list.

8. Make one small change based on your self-improvement list.

9. Commit an act of random kindness. Check out: The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

10. Call or write someone from whom you have been estranged. How to Fix a Broken Friendship

11. Write. Write a letter to a friend. How to write a great letter Write a letter to yourself. Lesson/Activity: Write a Letter to Yourself Open Planner

12. Buy a blank notebook and start a journal.

13. Go for a long walk.

14. Write your own prayers.

15. Buy note cards and write three thank you notes dated on MLK day: How to write a thank you note.


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No Ticket, No TV? How to Watch the Inauguration for Free

A free HBO hookup will help those of us who want to see Barak Obama's inauguration celebration. Free links are ideal for those of us without a television, cable box or tickets to any of the inauguration celebrations in Washington. I plan to closely track inauguration festivities and the Internet is my connection. Here's an inauguration guide for those of us without tickets or television sets.

Free HBO: a live blog post from USA Today reports that "HBO has offered its broadcast to cable providers for free, and is webcasting the event here. " I checked into the HBO webcast, and I was impressed with the photos and the menu of video options, including re-broadcasts of top events. Edited to add: The free HBO broadcast was for the We Are One concert. I will update if HBO offers other free event programs.
C-Span: This C-Span connection offers a full menu of webcasts, videos and photos.

NPR: Tune into your local NPR station or listen to this Internet-based connection. "NPR has the audio streaming here," according to USA Today.

CNN.Com: Here's the pitch about the live webcast from CNN.Com :"Tuesday January 20th, Watch President-elect Barack Obama become the next President of the United States on Live."

Network news. ABC, CBS and NBC will all have a variety of news programs and other specials posted on the Internet. Check out the news videos offered online by the different networks or follow the link to live webcasts. For example, here's the option offered by CBS: "Live Simulcast & Webcast CBS News will be live all day on TV and the Web Tuesday, beginning here with the Early Show at 7 a.m. ET. "

I'll have additional links in later posts.


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Friday, January 16, 2009

Will People Continue to Take Buses & Trains

Trains and buses were crowded when gas prices flirted with $5 a gallon. But now that gas prices have dropped to the $2-per-gallon range, I wonder if ridership on public trains and buses will also drop.

So far it looks good in my area. Even in the middle of the day, I still have plenty of company when I ride trains and buses in Miami. Keep in mind, that South Florida is not an ideal environment for public transportation. It's a sprawling area where people are in LOVE with personal vehicles.

People used to pity me -- a former New Yorker -- when I would hitch rides on buses and trains. But when gas prices spiked, my opinion and expertise about public transportation was in hot demand. Suddenly, there was a crowd of people who wanted to share my frugal rides, and I have had trouble finding seats on packed buses and trains.

The crowds in South Florida continue to show interest in public transportation. Here's a release from our regional transit authority:

"Tri-Rail Sets New Ridership Records

In 2008 Passenger Count Tops 4,000,000 for First Time in History

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority announced today that Tri-Rail carried more than four million passengers during 2008, marking the first time in the system’s 20-year history that ridership has broken that benchmark in a single, calendar year.

Preliminary figures show that Tri-Rail carried 4,303,509 passengers in 2008, representing a 22.9 percent increase over the 2007 total of 3,501,704 passengers.

“These statistics show that the trend of double-digit growth that we have experienced over the past three years is continuing,” said SFRTA Executive Director Joe Giulietti.

“Even with the dramatic reduction in the price of fuel, ridership continues to grow at a record pace. People in South Florida, like record numbers across the country, have come to realize that using public transportation isn’t just about saving money on gasoline; it’s also about mobility, sustainability and taking responsibility for the environment.”

According to the American Public Transportation Association, Tri-Rail has consistently been one of the nation’s leaders for ridership growth in the commuter rail sector since 2006, when it showed the largest percentage of growth of any system in the country. Ridership on Tri-Rail has more than doubled since 2005. For more information, call 1-800-TRI-RAIL (874-7245). "


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Thursday, January 15, 2009

From the Vault: Extra Uses for Paper Towel Tubes

From my vault of past posts, I have recycled this article* about paper towel tubes.

Have respect for the humble paper towel tube. That’s the word from a reader named Toby, who supplied me with a long and creative list of uses for paper towel tubes.
From school projects to frugal travel assistance, those cardboard tubes are a pipeline of convenience, with money-saving potential. On vacations, cardboard tubes are invaluable, Toby said.

For example, she stuffs dozens of plastic grocery bags (carefully folded) into the cardboard cylinders. Recycled from past grocery store shopping trips, stored plastic bags are useful for carting around wet bathing suits, dirty clothes and even barf bags during family vacations, Toby said. “You have your portable mess kit,” Toby said.

Over 20 bags can be neatly stuffed into a single paper towel tube, which saves valuable space in tight-packed suitcases during family trips. During a recent far-flung, three-week vacation through Iceland, Greenland and Scotland, Toby traveled with nonperishable spices, coffee and other odds-and-ends that were stored in ziplock bags and then tucked into cardboard paper towel tubes.

“This way the [non-perishable items] didn’t crush and I was able to store so much,” Toby said, who saved money by preparing some of her own meals while staying in rented homes in Europe.

And on the domestic front, she also puts cardboard tubes to work. Children’s art projects, school certificates and other paper items are tightly rolled, then stored in the empty paper towel tubes.

It’s the same concept commonly used by galleries to carry and mail posters.

“You write the child’s name and date on it with a Sharpie. That way it’s identified and I have all their art work saved,” Toby said.

Filled with artwork and school papers, the tubes are neatly tucked into boxes, cabinets and drawers, thereby saving space and creating an organized system. Likewise, Toby also saves empty egg cartons, plastic milk containers and other items that are in hot demand for school projects.
And after her children are well-stocked, she typically donates left-over materials to various teachers. Recycling of common household items is also a hot topic in the frugal community.

For example, Dawn at advocates these money-saving recycling tips:

  • Create funnels from the top half of plastic bottles

  • Use empty butter and whipped topping containers to store food.

  • Clean windows with old newspapers (no lint or streak).

And Pat Veretto , another writer, put together a fun list of “Silly Things People Do and Buy.”

Her list includes:
  • Consumers who toss away large, empty bags of dog food or empty grocery store bags, but then spend cash on boxes of new plastic garbage bags.

  • Homeowners who throw away hoses with holes, but later purchase “soaker hoses,” which are essentially garden hoses with holes.

  • People who buy “planters” for seeds instead off using the bottom half of two-liter soda bottles.

*This post originally ran November 29, 2005


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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Weighing the Diets: A Financial Guide to Weight-Loss Plans

Every year, consumers spend more than $30 billion on weight-loss programs and products. But what diets offer the best deal for the money and are the safest? The January/February issue of Health magazine has put together a top 10 lists of diets, snacks, supplements and tricks, with a top pick in each category.

"Health magazine harnessed a panel of experts to test more than 60 well-known diets and narrowed them down to the top 10."

Top 10 Healthiest Diets:
1. The Structure House Weight Loss Plan
2. The Step Diet
3. Weight Watchers
4. The Eating Well Diet
5. The Volumetrics Eating Plan
6. The Best Life Diet
7. The Solution
8. You: On a Diet
9. The Sonoma Diet
10. The Spectrum"

source: America’s Healthiest Diets

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Monday, January 12, 2009

How I Plan to Create a Better Budget

Goal setting is an annual exercise as we try to whip our home and other fiscal assets into better shape. And so we crunch numbers and try to tone up our financial abs.

But like a new diet or workout resolutions, goal-setting efforts can be exercises in futility. That's because improper or poorly planned budgets can leave us feeling winded and strained. So I've spent some time trying to think about the shortfalls and possible solutions.

Here are my lists of pitfalls:
Failure to look back. We need to check in before pushing forward. How much was saved last year? Where did the money go? How did we waste money? What speed bumps and roadblocks appeared in the past 12 months? What home expenses are likely to appear in the future?
Ignoring weaknesses. I hate doing sit-ups, I'm scared of free weights and I detest push-ups. But if I want a jiggle-free body, those exercises must be included in the fitness program. Likewise, financially I need to accurately assess spending weaknesses and find a plan that will address those sore spots.
Unrealistic targets. Why train for a marathon when it's hard to run a mile? A good fitness program begins with baby steps. We should use that same philosophy with fiscal goals and aim for modest, but doable savings targets. Otherwise, financial resolutions can crumble under the weight of trying to do too much too soon.
Comparison tests. I have wasted time and energy by watching the training progress of others. Comparisons are draining exercises that throw me off track and lower the resources in my personal account. I have to learn to track my own numbers.
That pace is enough to keep me busy for the next 12 months.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Saving Money on the Flip Side: Cutting the Paper Trail

I'm two-faced. It's one of the oldest recycling methods, but being two-faced saves money and reduces waste. I use both sides of the paper when printing or taking notes. Of course, this system does not work if I am writing a formal report or saving sensitive documents.

But for most of our stationary needs, we can use both sides of the paper. Recycled paper is great for note-taking, kids' art projects, rough drafts and other informal printing needs. And I think twice about printing out e-mails, maps and other files.


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Monday, January 05, 2009

Free Music on the Internet; Create Your Own Playlists

I've opened Pandora's box on my home computer and laptop. An extensive catalog of free music is available for dinner parties, yoga classes and personal happy hours at my home thanks to recommendation from my friend, Leah.

Free music is available at Pandora, an Internet radio station. Unlike traditional radio stations, Pandora puts together a playlist based on your tastes. For instance, fans of songstress Anita Baker can select a favorite tune from Rapture, Baker's top-selling R&B recording. With that input, Pandora will play Sweet Love -- one of Baker's signature tunes -- and after that will provide an endless loop of music that echoes Baker's sound as performed by a variety of artists. The catalog includes classical, hip-hop, new age and other categories.

My teenage son has introduced me to, another free music website. At Imeem, you can develop a playlist based on a favorite performer, song or composer. You can also sample playlists created by other listeners, including recordings of dance music, alternative rock, jazz or ''old school'' dance tunes. Based on your musical selections, Imeem will suggest a sound-alike menu of music.

Frugal For Life, a top-rated thrifty living blog, has created a great list of free music and audio sites. Here are a few favorites:

Yahoo music: After registering, create your own playlist of music and videos. Additionally, Yahoo offers a station guide for Internet-based radio outlets in different categories. The site also offers links to music blogs, concerts and news.
Live 365: This site provides links to broadcasts that offer category-specific music, such as movie soundtracks, jazz and oldies. The music guide includes thousands of stations. The service is free, but for a fee you can sign up for a VIP membership that offers links with CD-quality sound.
Last.FM: This site offers a wide selection of music and makes playlist suggestions based on your prior selections. The site also has concert information, news and station spotlights

Saturday, January 03, 2009

6 Ways to Cut Home Technology Costs

A representative from Earthlink recently sent me a list of tips for cutting technology costs in the home. I was expecting PR fluff, but the tips are actually helpful. Here's the list:

  • "Assess your Needs Look at the ways you use technology in your home. Take a week and monitor how often you are on the phone, watching television, or surfing the net. Once you see how much time you are using these services, compare it to your plan. Many people have access to high-speed Internet at work, making it unnecessary to pay for high-speed bells and whistles at home. The key is to avoid paying for excess.

  • Downgrade Once you assess your needs, get rid of services that you aren’t fully using. Are you downloading video and playing games or just checking email and sports scores on the Internet? If it’s the latter, it doesn’t make sense to pay for a high-end, super-fast Internet connection. A less expensive but safe and reliable service such as dial-up service – which some providers offer with a special Accelerator option – may be just what you need.The same applies to your cable bill. Do you need the premium channels or DVR? Better yet, if you can watch most of your favorite shows online, cancel your DVR. Be honest about what you really need, and don’t pay for services you aren’t using to their fullest potential.

  • Take Advantage of Freebies Look for companies that offer free services. Some Internet providers offer free virus protection, which saves you from buying costly software yourself. Others offer free spam protection and other security enhancements, a good bet if you’re looking to maximize savings and still surf safely. Also, leverage your Web access by surfing special cost-savings sites, like, or Look for any special promotions your provider might offer on their home page. A lot of Internet providers have partnerships with other online merchants to offer special savings to their subscribers. If yours doesn’t, consider looking for one that does.

  • Avoid Bundles Advertisers may create a “need” that might not really exist for you. If you’re a cost-conscience consumer, look closely at what you’re paying for popular, but often pricey, bundle packages that include phone, cable and Internet. It may be easier to pay all-on-one bill, but it doesn’t allow you the flexibility to choose the best individual services that fit your lifestyle. You may not need all the “bells and whistles” of a high-cost bundle. In fact, if you opt for options like Freestanding DSL for your Internet access, you might be able to ditch your home phone altogether.

  • Study Your Bill Read the small print. Know what you are paying for and make sure you’re only paying for services that you actually use. Also, be familiar with your contracts and look for changes to the Terms of Service. Know when your contract ends, so you don’t unwillingly default into another one. And be aware, not all Internet providers offer free, 24/7 customer support. If your provider doesn’t, you could be eating up dollars you don’t need to spend.

  • Pay Smart Finally, make sure you are taking advantage of special deals and incentives. Some service providers offer discounts up to 40% for annually pre-paying. Others offer special pricing for a year’s commitment. And always ask for what you want from your provider. A customer-service focused Internet provider may be willing to give you a month’s credit if there’s been a serious issue involving your service or account."

source: Earthlink