Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jeans for 99 Cents & Other Consignment Store Deals

Consignment stores offer value and selection. That's what my sister Debra discovered after she complained about the cost of maternity clothes at a national chain. A fashionable co-worker shared her money-saving secret:

Try consignment shops, which include items that are new with original tags. Shopping with a friend, my sister purchased a wardrobe of affordable maternity outfits and school clothes for a 10-year-old boy at a well-organized consignment store. Here's how they filled the shopping bag.

• Red-tag specials. Consignment and thrift stores have weekly specials, including red-tag sales on different categories of merchandise. For example, my sister and her friend found several outfits, including jeans and school clothes, for a total of $12. The price included a 50-percent discount from the weekly red-tag special. The affordable clothes were ideal for the pre-teen, who had outgrown his last wardrobe within months.

• Fruitful deals. At one national chain, my sister found a pair of maternity jeans for $79. At the consignment store, Debra found six pair of jeans and dress slacks, in excellent condition, for $10.20 and a pair of maternity denim shorts for 99 cents. At those prices, my sister was able to splurge on a wardrobe that she would need for less than a year.

• Seasonal garments. Consignment stores are an excellent place to hunt for ski clothes and other specialty outfits that may have been barely or never worn. For example, at one upscale consignment store, a friend spotted a full selection of ski clothes for pre-teens and teenagers. The deals included an insulated overall set for $12.

• Designer fashions. At one consignment store in a fashionable shopping district, I've found designer clothes, including Chanel bags, Prada dresses and Manolo Blahnik shoes. The prices are steep, but far less than the full retail prices at designer outlets.

Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Loan Scams: How to Spot the Red Flags

This piece offers some solid tips about avoiding lending scams:

"Challenging economic times, declining home values and skyrocketing foreclosure rates have homeowners looking for solutions to help them keep their homes. An appealing option for some is loan modification—which involves working with your current lender to alter the terms of your existing loan. A loan modification usually means your monthly payments are reduced, either by lowering the interest rate or extending the term of the loan.

“For homeowners struggling to make monthly mortgage payments, the opportunity to renegotiate the terms of their current loan may help them keep their homes,” said Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

“Unfortunately, there are businesses that will take advantage of consumers’ fears. Homeowners need to know that help is available from many HUD-approved nonprofit counseling agencies and they need to investigate any company that requires a payment for these services.”

CCCS cautions consumers to be aware of some of the red flags of typical scams:

Guarantees – Be wary of any company that offers a guarantee of stopping foreclosure regardless of your circumstances. Keep in mind that oral promises and agreements relating to your home are not usually binding, so a guarantee in an ad or from their representative may be meaningless.

Up-front fees – Some companies charge a fee before reviewing your situation or making a single call on your behalf. Beware of any attempt to collect payment from you before providing a service.

Redirected payments – Do not agree to make payments to a third-party. Some scams involve having the homeowner pay a company with the promise that they will make your mortgage payments. If they fail to do so, you have lost your money and may still wind up in foreclosure. Always make payments directly to your mortgage company.

Buy-back or Lease-back plans – In this case, companies have homeowners sign over the deed to their home and then rent it back from the company. The terms of the agreement may require high up-front and monthly fees and failure to meet these terms may result in the loss of your money and eviction. It is important to note that transferring your title does not change your payment obligations—you are still responsible for your mortgage debt even though you no longer own your home.

Consumers need to be especially cautious of any attempts by a company to stop them from communicating directly with their lender, with an attorney, or with a housing counselor. They need to carefully read every document and fully understand what they are signing. Never allow the company to complete the paperwork for you or pressure you into signing a document you have not thoroughly reviewed.

Loan Modifications Are Available –The federal government has developed a major loan modification and refinancing program to help homeowners find affordable loans and to save their homes. For more information on these federal mortgage modification and refinancing programs, visit"


Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cheap Drinks, Great Food & Other Low-Cost Party Tricks

Dinner parties and potluck meals provide inexpensive options for celebrating special occasions. And you don't have to sacrifice elegance when creating festive do-it-yourself events, according to Susan Gladstone, an adjunct professor of special events at Florida International University and owner of Susan Gladstone Productions. Here are a few suggestions:

Elegant barbecues. A creative theme and decorations add extra seasonings to the standard backyard grill. For instance, with elegant picnic baskets and other decorative touches, Deco Productions, an event planning company, once created a cookout with a "weekend in the Hamptons" theme. Dollar stores, discount outlets and other specialty retailers are a great source of affordable decorations, which can be saved and recycled for other events.

Upgrade appetizers. Lobsters, prime steak and other expensive treats may be too pricey to serve as a main course. If so, Gladstone recommends serving smaller portions of luxury treats during the appetizer course. "You can still have the expensive item and serve something more affordable for your main course," she said.

Go green. Shop in season and purchase organic produce directly from local growers, a food co-op or a farmers' market. Save paper and postage by sending electronic invitations.
Save on centerpieces. "You don't have to go to florists to make wonderful centerpieces," Gladstone said. Select flowers and greenery from your own backyard. Design centerpieces based on the party's theme or the dinner menu. For example, a centerpiece arrangement of bell peppers in a variety of colors or festive containers of different herbs and spices can create visual accents for an Italian meal.

Lower the bar. Cut the cost of an open-bar by serving a "signature drink," which is a cocktail that has been creatively renamed to reflect an event, the host or the season. Serve sparking white wine instead of champagne, Gladstone said.
Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Friday, May 22, 2009

How to Be a Great Party Guest: 7 Mostly Frugal Tips

A friend of mine keeps a stash of vases -- pretty, but cheap vases from thrift stores and yard sales -- and uses them to deliver flowers to a dinner or cocktail party. Flowers delivered in water and in a vase offer a host-friendly gift.

Here are other tips for being a great guest. Most of the suggestions are frugal and fun. The tips are from Lolita of the Lolita Store --and yeah she's pushing her trinkets as gifts, but the tips are good, and that's why I'm running them.

1. "RSVP (and do it on time)! That way, you're already being a good guest before you even get there.

2. Offer assistance. When RSVP-ing or any time before the event, ask how you can help. Your offer will be appreciated (and, most likely, not accepted).

3. Never arrive empty handed! Bring a thoughtful gift the host or hostess can use. [Editor's note: There was a soft-sell here for Lolita's products.]

4. Mingle, mingle, mingle. People want to see their guests having a good time with each other. Ask people questions, and be willing to share information about yourself.

5. Use that camera. Don't just bring your camera, use it. Get some photos of guests, the host, the venue, the food... People often forget to capture the moment.

6. Clean up after yourself. Unless specifically directed not to do so, minimize your party footprint. And if you're one of the last to go, ask if you can help clean up after others as well.

7. Follow up with a "thank you." A simple call, email or (gasp) hand-written note is always nice to receive. Remember those pictures you took? Sharing those with the host is another way to show how much fun everyone had."

Source: Lolita of the Lolita Store

Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

10 Creative Ways to Save Money: Bank Survey

Stash away all $5 bills. Keep piggy banks around the house. Save money in soda bottles. Those are three of the 10 creative savings tips from bank customers, according to a recent survey.

Here's the item:

"A survey conducted by Huntington National Bank with more than 1,000 respondents indicates that consumers’ most popular saving method is to place a portion of their paychecks in a savings account, as soon as possible, so that they will not be tempted to spend it.

The most often used phrase from respondents was: “I pay myself first” by depositing money in a savings account before paying monthly bills. Not only do they put some of their earnings away immediately, but many also reported using piggy banks and soda bottles to collect their daily change.

Once those containers are full, they put the money in an account so that they will “not buy on a whim.” Some even go so far as to open accounts without debit card access in order to avoid impulse buying. Fifty-seven percent reported recently opening a savings account, money market or CD to help them save.

In the survey conducted from April 7, 2009 to April 30, 2009, Huntington asked consumers to complete the phrase ‘My most creative way of saving is to…’ While 30% said they deposit money in an account, the second most popular method of saving is clipping coupons (10%). This was followed by eating at home or packing lunches (5%), and limiting shopping to what you need vs. what you want (3%).

Here are 10 other popular tricks:

1. “We have piggy banks throughout the house and every coin I find in the washer or on the street is put in the piggy bank. Once full, it is deposited in our savings account.”

2. “For every dollar I spend when I pay bills, I try to save a half dollar. It sounds hard, but once you learn to live frugally, it is a lot easier than you think.”

3. “I do not spend $5 bills. When I receive a $5 bill in change, it goes into an envelope for savings. This money is deposited at the end of each month. I can save $100 to $150 using this method.”

4.“Every time I take cash from the ATM, I transfer the same amount to my savings. It was my New Year’s resolution. It works!"

5. “I have five accounts, each account has a purpose. Gas, bills, savings, Christmas and just spending.”

6. “I transfer at least half of our checking balance that remains the day before payday into our money market account.”

7. “Personally, if I do not carry cash with me, I tend to spend less on the little things like pop and snacks. I am more careful if I have to put these items on a card.”

8. “I remind myself on a daily basis that I need to ‘do without some things.’ Then I make it a game for myself to see how much I can hold on to in the span between paychecks. Then I dump that money into my savings account.”

9. “I hold an annual swap with my friends. That way we can exchange our unwanted items for other things we might need that someone else is getting rid of.”

10. “I take the stimulus money and put it into my savings account every two weeks. I didn’t have the extra before so no need to make it a part of my monthly budget.”

Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Financial Emergency Kits and Other Storm Preps

With the recent earthquakes in California and the June 1 start of hurricane season in Florida, the annual ritual of preparing for weather-related emergencies and storms is underway in my home. In addition to collecting candles and batteries, we're also creating an emergency plan for our money. Here's a quick roundup of tips from different sources.

From Consumer Credit Counseling Service:

"Start an emergency savings account. Most experts recommend having a minimum of three to six months of living expenses in an emergency fund. This fund can provide financial security in the event a hurricane hits, and can greatly reduce the stress of recovering from a major storm or other disaster. These funds can be used to make disaster repairs, cover insurance deductibles, or pay monthly bills if your income is interrupted by job loss.

Review your insurance coverage. Review your policy and make sure you have the proper amount of coverage to repair or replace your home and belongings. Pay special attention to deductibles that apply to specific events, such as hurricanes, which can be a percentage of your home's value. Also review your flood coverage, which must often be purchased separately from your homeowner's insurance. You do not want to be in the position where you need coverage that you thought you had, but do not.

Secure critical documents. Take some time to make sure that your critical documents are in a safe, secure place and could be taken with you if you have to evacuate. Collect critical paper records and if you have records on your computer, be sure to make a backup and store it away from your home. Documents you will want to secure include identification records (driver's license, green card, passport); social security and tax information; titles, deeds, and registrations for property and vehicles owned; insurance policies; credit card, bank and investment records; birth certificates, marriage certificates, and wills. Invest in a fire-proof box or safe-deposit box to keep these records secure.

Review your "what if" scenarios and make a plan. What if your place of employment is damaged and will close either for a few weeks or indefinitely? What if your employer is ready to reopen but schools are still closed and you don't have a place to bring your children? What if your home is damaged and no longer safe to live in? It is a good idea to think about all the ways the storm could impact your life and what you would do if that happened. For example, if your place of employment will not reopen for weeks or months, do you have an emergency savings fund to carry you through? Is there another place you could work in the meantime? The rebuilding effort following a storm often creates new job opportunities. Talk to friends and neighbors about sharing the childcare responsibilities until school reopens so that you all miss as little work as possible."

Here is a roundup of emergency preparation tips from the folks at Wise Bread:

From Will Chin: "I like this tip from New York Times about creating a secure USB disk backup with all your essential financial info. Linsey Knerl has a good tip about how to prep your freezer when you know power will fail."

And from Myscha Theriault: "Frugal hurricane prep - we are just gearing up for that as well. A couple of things we're doing:

  • Buying cases of things like cracker snack packs, dried fruit and shelf-stable things

  • Making sure we have multiple propane tanks filled for both our grill and our Coleman two-burner camping stove. This will help us not have to order takeout as much when the power goes out.

  • Extra containers for water storage."

Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money and a contributing author in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Monday, May 18, 2009

How to Unspoil Kids: A Crash Course from Money Magazine

What do you give to a teenager who has a lot of stuff, including a $1,700 designer purse? The answer: A brown bag of reality.

The June issue of Money magazine offers an insightful and practical guide for parents seeking to "unspoil" their kids. The piece offers solid advice for parents who have lost income or face layoffs. Here's a quick overview:

The problem:
"We've been extravagant with our kids and ourselves," says one mom. "Now we're readjusting."

The solutions:

  • Downsize birthday parties: Veto extravagant birthday parties.

  • Fewer gadgets: Parents are declining to replace misplaced electronic toys.

  • Yanking credit lines: Shopping trips fueled by plastic credit cards have been grounded.

How to correct bad financial habits:

  • Full disclosure: With complete honesty, identify how badly your child has been spoiled and how you have contributed to the scenario.

  • United front: Parents and other adults involved in a child's life have to stick to the same rules about money, spending, presents and other fiscal habits. Kids will exploit holes and inconsistencies in the financial network.

  • Recruit the kids: Offer age-appropriate explanations and lessons about the current economic environment and family finances. Teach children and teens kids how to budget their money and allowances.

  • Be a role model: Money offers a three-point plan for parents: 1) stop spoiling yourself, 2) be transparent about your own spending and saving priorities and 3) "stick to cash."

  • Build strong work ethics: Household chores and part-time jobs create a solid connection between the value of hard work and the value of a dollar.

  • Ignore whining: "As bad as you feel, don't cave," says Money magazine. "Doing so sends mixed messages and teaches that pushing back works."

Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money and a contributing author in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wise Bread Book Excerpt: DIY Ten-Finger Discount

A 10-finger discount? Without theft or fraud, I score big savings with my manicured hands. Through careful maintenance and do-it-yourself enamel, I create my own 10-finger discount.
After a visit to a salon, I follow these steps:

Let the paint dry. Meditate, breathe deeply or count to 1,000. The goal: Keep your mind active and your hands still. This Zen-like approach to nail polish will preserve a manicure. That's because nothing fades faster than smudged, nicked or dented nails.

• Wear a top coat: a glaze of clear polish will serve as an invisible barrier between your manicure and the world. Clear polish works like slipcovers on a sofa. It's all about preservation. So, beginning 24 hours after a salon visit, I apply clear polish every day.

Cover up: I clean with gloves, since washing dishes, gardening and other daily activities can crack, scratch and chip our nails. For protection, wear appropriate gloves -- rubber, canvas or cotton -- while completing household chores.

A DIY manicure is also a money-saver. Groom and polish your own hands for less than 50 cents a session, compared to salon visits that typically cost between $10 to $25 per visit, plus tax and tip. Here's how I give myself a manicure:

Pay attention. Professional manicurists have a variety of tricks for softening, filing and painting nails. Watch and learn.

Buy the right tools. It's easier to create a salon finish if you have the right tools, including a nail clipper, a pumice stone, files and enamel. Don't forget the cotton swabs and nail polish remover. Those tools make it easier to tidy up whenever you paint outside the lines. There are also great painting kits that make it easy to apply a French manicure.

Be patient. Painting nails is like meditating. Focus, breathe and concentrate on a small canvas of life. Don't be afraid of making mistakes; goofs can be removed or painted over.

Editor's Note: This excerpt--written by Sharon Harvey -- is from 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget, a Wise Bread book coming out Monday, May 18! It's the best of the personal finance blogosphere! In addition to the Wise Bread writers , 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget also features top finance bloggers JD Roth (Get Rich Slowly), Trent Hamm (The Simple Dollar), Leo Babauta (Zen Habits), and Sharon Harvey (The Frugal Duchess).


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Friday, May 15, 2009

Tomatoes & Celery Taught Me How To Save More Money

An assortment of organic vegetables taught me how to pay myself first. Thursday was payday, and I treated myself to a pint of organic cherry tomatoes, a small container of humus dip and celery -- all sale items. I added a handful of round crackers to the mix.

My lunch plate was inviting with the bright red tomatoes, the green stalks and the pale blond humus. But the bland white crackers caught my eye. I love carbs and I reached for a handful.

And like a public announcement for the food pyramid, my hand paused over the carbs. As a carb-loving woman, I knew that I was going to get my fix of wheat, sugar and salt. And then, after I was stuffed with crackers, I would eat the veggies with whatever appetite was left. And if I didn't finish off the veggies, I could save them for a snack.

I almost swallowed that carb-filled lie. But I knew -- for me -- carbs are like discretionary spending and veggies are like savings goals. And I knew that with a carb-driven rush of energy, I would speed through the afternoon without taking time for a late afternoon snack of organic veggies. So much for good intentions.

So I ate all of the veggies first, and then I dipped the crackers into the humus. After lunch, I went to the cash machine and checked my bank balance, which was flush from an after-payday, pre-bill paying rush of cash. I hit the transfer button and moved some money from checking into the savings account. That way, I paid myself first and saved my carbed-out binge for later or never.


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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Graduation Present: A Financial Lesson Plan For Seniors

What Every Graduating Senior Needs to Know About Money," that's the title of this guest post from Consumer Credit Counseling Service:

"Here are a few things every graduating senior needs to know....

How to create a budget – Every high school senior needs to know how to create and stick to a budget. Start with the basics—help them analyze their spending habits, create financial goals, and set spending priorities. Work with them to develop a budget, estimating their monthly income from jobs, babysitting, allowance, etc., and monthly expenses—everything from entertainment, gas and insurance costs, cell phone, and other expenses that they are responsible for. If they are moving into an apartment with a roommate, they need to consider what would happen if that roommate suddenly leaves—how will they handle the bills on their own?

How to use a checking account – Whether your child is heading off to college or starting down their career path, they will need to know how to manage a checking account. Have them take responsibility for some of their own expenses, even if you are providing the income, and let them use their checking account to pay the bills. Have them sit with you when you pay the monthly household bills so they get an idea of what it takes to cover groceries, utilities, rent, and other expenses. Consider having them sign up for a CheckWise course at, which will help them learn to manage an account responsibly and may help them be approved to open an account at a local financial institution.

How to save – If your son or daughter doesn’t already have a savings account, help them open one. Then talk with them about developing a savings plan and setting aside a certain amount of their income each month for savings and to cover unexpected expenses. Consider matching some of their savings. This is a great way to teach them the relationship between building a savings account and the positive rewards that follow.

How to use credit cards – Many college students fall prey to credit card offers and quickly get in over their heads with credit card debt. Teens and college students should not apply for a credit card until they have a job. A responsible first step might be getting a debit card that is tied to their checking or savings account and will prohibit them from overspending.

How to protect their credit score – A credit score tells potential lenders how well you have used credit in the past and how likely you are to repay in the future. It impacts the types of loans you will be approved for and the better your credit score, the better interest rates you will receive. Have your high school senior pull their credit report. This can be done for free at If they haven’t established a credit history, they might not have anything on their report, but it is a good idea to monitor the report on a regular basis. Remind them that a credit report is a record of their past financial transactions and that an important part of using credit wisely is to annually review their credit reports. Checking your reports helps you spot errors and serves as a safeguard against credit fraud.

“For most young adults and college students, it isn’t typically a single event that leads to financial crisis, but a lack of basic money management skills—skills they won’t likely learn in school,” said Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

“Common sense and goal-setting can put students in charge of their money and on a steady financial course. Parents need to take the lead in providing them with the information and hands-on practice that will lead to sound financial management down the road.”



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Catch Me on Twitter: Mavs & Nuggets Post-Game Chatter

Last night, I was blown away by Dwight Howard's soft-spoken, verbal smackdown of Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, (former Miami Heat Coach). Tonight, on Twitter, I'll be virtually attending the post-game news conference following the Dallas Mavericks - Denver Nuggets.

With economic prose, I'll try to capture the essence of the post-game comments.

The live post-game media conference -- available at -- is great for sports fans, reporters and news junkies who want an instant fix of sports news.

The format provides Internet access to an unscripted question-and-answer session with coaches and top-performing players from both sides. The coaches and the players offer a lot of insightful comments about life, work and competition.

And yes, sports fan, I think Mark Cuban should offer a better apology to K-Mart's mom & family. You can be frugal with money, but never frugal with apologies or gratitude.

I plan to recap post-game comments live on Twitter after the game. Join me then or follow me later at

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I Found Money in Vanilla Yogurt

Peeling back the foil lid of a yogurt container, I found 50 cents. Of course, there were no coins floating in the yogurt like blueberries. But a 50-cent-off coupon was imprinted on the label. Lesson: It pays to read the fine print. Some manufacturers are spending more marketing dollars on direct-to-consumer promotions, which means that coupons and other discounts are directly tattooed on to the product.

That strategy has prompted me to pay more attention to packaging and labels. And I have been rewarded. Here's a sample of the information and promotions that I have found bundled into containers of my favorite organic yogurt brand:

  • Cooking Lessons: I found a recipe for strawberry muffins on one label.

  • Green Tip: Buying a 32-ounce container of yogurt involves less packaging/less waste than purchasing five containers of 6-ounce yogurt. In fact, on a penny-per-ounce basis, buying the larger container is like getting one extra serving free of the smaller container. That green and thrifty tip was printed on the large yogurt tub.

  • Free Magazines: By purchasing and saving four foil yogurt lids from 32-oz containers, I could have qualified for a free subscription to one of my favorite magazines. I purchased the required amount; washed off the labels and saved them in a desk drawer. And then my organization skills stalled. The postmark deadline came and went. The foil lids are still in my desk drawer. Maybe I'll use them to create an origami sculpture.

Meanwhile, I saved over $1 on my most recent yogurt purchase: The large tub was on sale for $3.00 (down from $3.79). I redeemed the 50-cent-off coupon, and I received a 10-cent rebate because I had my own re-usable shopping bag.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Catch Me on Twitter: NBA Post-Game Media Chatter

This is an off-topic post on sports with a frugal twist: Tonight I'll be on Twitter with an instant recap of the post-game news conference following the Boston Celtics -Orlando Magic basketball playoff game.

Here's the frugal news peg: After each playoff game, offers a live, Internet-based feed of the post-game media conference. Last night, for instance, I listened and tweeted about the post-game comments from LeBron James, who chatted about the Cavs recent sweep of the Atlanta Hawks.

The coaches and the players offer a lot of insightful comments about life, work and competition. I've grown mentally taller by listening to LeBron James and his coach.

Additionally, the live post-game media conference is great for sports fans, reporters and news junkies who want an instant fix of sports news. The format provides Internet access to an unscripted question-and-answer session with coaches and top-performing players from both sides.

I plan to recap post-game comments live on Twitter after the game. Join me then or follow me later at

my book:

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Gum Surgery Extracts New Frugal Lessons From My Head

Oral surgery has left stitches in my mouth and a new frugal pattern on my brain. I've learned to be more frugal with time, money and words. This is what I have learned:

  • Talk less/work more: How much work can I get done when it hurts to talk and smile? A lot! Oral surgery deposited more time in to my work day. I'm sure that the folks in the offices and cubicles around me also worked harder because my constant chatter was MIA.
  • Have empathy (Part I): I used to smile when people complained about "oral surgery." Oh please, I wanted to argue, it's just another trip to the dentist. I now know the difference between oral surgery and a routine trip to the dentist. It's like the difference between having a baby and getting a pap smear exam. Both are uncomfortable, but one involves a lot more pain and labor.
  • Plan ahead: Why didn't I eat a huge dinner the night before my oral adventure? Why didn't I have a proper breakfast and coffee before taking on six shots of Novocaine, one ice pack and several stitches? I have to do a better job of planning. On a positive note, fasting has given me a head start on my goal of losing five pounds.
  • Be creative: With limited oral skills, I became creative about communicating and working. I learned to say a lot by nodding my head, lifting my eyebrows and shrugging my shoulders. I found other step-saving solutions.
  • Take a break: Immediately after surgery, I went to the office. I wasn't looking for sympathy. I wasn't trying to make nice with my boss. I'm not masochistic. I was a) clueless about how yucky I would feel when the painkillers first wore off and b) too stubborn to admit that I had made a mistake by coming in to work.
  • Rediscover thrift: I saved a lot of money because looking at food made my mouth buzz as if an angry hive of bees had landed on my gums. Therefore, I avoided most of the food, snacks, drinks, candy or other junk I am tempted to buy. And I was in no mood for recreational shopping.
  • Appreciate treats: I love salads, but after surgery, my menu was limited to yogurt, broth and smoothies. Therefore, I learned to appreciate all of the yummy, crunchy, chewy food that I had taken for granted.
  • Have empathy Part II. A friend of mine recently had major surgery, with a three-day hospital stay, blue gown and flowers. If gum surgery left me feeling sluggish and full of aches, I can imagine how she must have felt after open surgery. In fact, I feel like a brat as I review this list of complaints. It was just a bit of dental work to prepare my mouth for a new crown on an old molar.


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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Prepping for College Exams Without Spending a Fortune

With a 16-year-old high school student in the house, we're preparing for the college entry exam also known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

Paying for exam prep classes can be expensive. Prices range from $1,100 for a series of classes to about $3,400 for 26 hours of private tutoring. One private company charges $400 for an Internet-based self-study program.

We found an attractive, instructor-led prep course in the Miami-Dade College catalog. A two-week program, representing about 24 hours of classes, is available this summer for about $200.

In addition to affordable college programs at community colleges, I found several other options.

Check out the library. The local library branch may offer free SAT preparation workshops or other resources. The Broward County Library system has offered SAT prep classes. Likewise, Miami-Dade Public Library has a ''learn-a-test'' database, with sample tests and other study tools. Log on to the library's home page and use your library card to browse through the database.

• Create a study group. Before enrolling my teen in the exam prep course at Miami Dade College, I considered launching an SAT study group with other families in my neighborhood. The group would share the cost of a tutor, and each family would be responsible for purchasing learning guides and other study aides.

• Target online sources. From sample tests to study guides, I found several free online resources. For instance, provides model questions and ''self-improvement links,'' with step-by-step help in algebra, essay writing and other topics. The site also offers useful tips about controlling test anxiety. Other online sources include:, and Of course, some of the online sites offer fee-based options, but the free menus typically include excellent material and study tips. ______________

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Readers Prompt Me to Increase Retirement Savings

Saving more money for retirement has been one of my top goals, ranked below the emergency fund (#1) and college savings goals (#2)

But recent feedback from readers about my savings priorities, prompted me to re-examine the numbers. Here's a sample of the comments that prompted me to take a second look at my financial plans, which were outlined in this post: Financial Battle: Emergency Fund vs. Retirement Savings vs. College Accounts

While you may not plan to retire, a medical condition in your age might force you to retire! Make sure you keep that in consideration. As much as we all would like to think we are invincible, you never know whether you will get cancer/Alzheimer's/arthritis/ etc and be derailed from working.

My grandmother also has no plans to retire, but I know when she has medical problems, her kids will fund her unplanned "retirement" so I am sure your kids would rather take out loans for college and have you save in your IRA! Just a thought. --Anonymous

That advice, from "Anonymous" hit a chord with me and made me think about the advice offered by flight attendants on airplanes. You know the drill: In an emergency, parents are instructed to secure their own oxygen masks first and then turn their attention to fixing masks on kids. Security begets security.

Inspired by Anonymous, I pulled out the investment statements and examined my retirement savings account. I discovered that I was saving only 4 percent of my income in a retirement account. Through an automatic deduction program, I've increased that contribution to 8 percent.

The other savings goals remain priorities. But I don't want to be a burden to my children or other relatives.


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10 Steps for Moms to Max Out on Money: Kiplinger's

Handle your money like a savvy single woman! That's one of several financial tips for mom's from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. Just in time for Mother's Day, the following piece caught my attention.

"Studies consistently show that by margins of 60% or more, women tend to be the ones who pay the family bills and balance the checkbook. So on Mother's Day it makes sense that Mom should give her own finances the same TLC she applies to the rest of the family. That's particularly true because the time mothers spend performing the ten most popular "Mom jobs" would add up to annual cash compensation of $122,732 for a stay-at-home mom and $76,184 for a working mom, according to

In the article “10 Ways Moms Can Make the Most of Your Money,” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance editor Janet Bodnar offers smart money moves for mothers:

· Think Single, Even If You're Not. Don't rely on your husband or any other interested party to take care of you. But if you're in a relationship, work together; each of you contributes different strengths and a unique financial perspective. When it comes to investing, for example, men tend to be more willing to take risks, while women are more conservative. Together, you can compensate for each other's weaknesses.

· Set Up A Spousal IRA. Even if you're a stay-at-home mom, you should always have, and control, your own retirement savings. As long as your husband has a paying job, in 2009 he can contribute up to $5,000 to an IRA or Roth IRA for you, in addition to squirreling away $5,000 in his own account. That also doubles the tax breaks and savings power available to you as a couple.

· Make Extra Retirement Contributions If You're 50 Or Older. You can kick in an additional $5,500 to your 401(k) and an extra $1,000 to an IRA. These catch-up provisions are especially helpful for moms who entered the work force late, after their kids were grown, or delayed their own saving to pay for those braces or that college tuition.

· Buy Life Insurance. Statistically, women tend to be the survivors. And loving as your relationship may be, you can't count on your spouse to provide for you and the kids if he's not there. As a rough rule of thumb, figure that insurance coverage should equal eight to ten times your total household income. When figuring your insurance needs, consider the income you earn outside the home or the amount you contribute to the family with the services you perform. To shop for a low-cost term insurance policy, go to or AccuQuote.

· Write A Will. If you don't have one, your state's one-size-fits all estate plan kicks in, and it may not be tailored to your needs or your children's. For example, as the surviving spouse, you may get only a fraction of your husband's assets, with the rest going to your children. If you and your spouse both die, the state decides who will raise your kids. With a will, you call the shots.

· Name A Guardian. Think of a will as a way to protect your most precious assets -- your children -- if something should happen to you and your spouse while the kids are still minors. Parents are often tempted to rely on informal guardianship arrangements. But those arrangements don't have legal standing. Without a will naming a guardian, the courts will decide who brings up your children, and you'll have no say in the selection.

· Get What You Deserve. Make sure you're the beneficiary on insurance policies, pension and profit-sharing plans, IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement plans. "
--source: Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

A link to the article in its entirety.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Gift of White Gardenias: A Frugal Lesson

A pair of white gardenias -- freshly plucked from a bush -- provided me with an unexpected gift and a life lesson. Here's what happened:

Two days ago, I walked from the bus stop to my home. I said hello to familiar faces; we exchanged small talk and smiles. But I stepped outside my normal routine and said hello to a stranger. She was watering a garden, scented and accented with white gardenias. Even with my diminishing sense of smell, the scent of the flowers had reached me from a short distance.

She responded to my greeting with a smile. Encouraged, I complimented her gardenias, which were stunning. As a gift, she snipped a few flowers, complete with leaves, and presented them to me.

Her gift yielded a few lessons about life and money.

  • Speak up. By stepping outside of myself, I opened the door for a neighbor's generosity. A short greeting and a heart-felt compliment produced a small and unexpected bonus.

  • Be generous. The gardenia woman usually picks most of the flowers for her own floral arrangements, but she always saves a few on the bush for passersby who admire the flowers. Her philosophy prompted me to think of random acts of kindness that I can offer. What are the areas of abundance in my own life and how can I be more generous? Her generosity did not cost her much and meant a lot to me.

  • Listen. After presenting her gift, the woman offered suggestions about creating floral arrangements. Her No. 1 suggestion: Fill a small bowl with water, and let the gardenias float on the surface. I listened carefully, wishing that I had paid more attention to others in my life when they had offered free lessons in life, money and relationships. But mostly, I felt grateful that I have -- finally -- developed enough patience to listen to wise strangers and to stop to smell white gardenias.


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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Introducing the Money Tips Network

It's my pleasure to introduce you to the Money Tips Network. We're a new network that includes 13 of the most trusted personal finance blogs in the world. (Please see the list below.)
Our Mission

Money Tips Network exists to provide you with honest and helpful money tips from the best personal finance blogs.
Real life money management tips for the people, by the people.
You know who we are. You know our struggles getting out of debt, what we did last weekend, and how we sometimes break our own frugality rules to treat ourselves. You trust us to share openly and honestly. We hold this trust to be sacred, and we're always looking out for you.
Trust goes both ways -- our readers trust us and we trust our readers.

We give you credit for being smart. We challenge the idea that finance is too complicated for people to understand. Money Tips Network bloggers love actionable, easy to follow tips that empower you to be your own financial consultant.
We know a preachy, one-size fits all philosophy doesn't work in the real world. It's your wallet, your life. We want you to read our advice, throw in your thoughts and comments, and then apply it based on your own family's needs.
Like you, the Money Tips Network bloggers come from vast and varied personal experiences. But we share a common belief:
You can lead a better life by practicing smart money management. And we're here to help.

Money Tips Network Members
MTN blogs collectively reach more than 5 million visitors a month and over 200,000 subscribers. These blogs represent the best of what the personal finance blogosphere has to offer.
Bargaineering - Written by Jim Wang, Bargaineering is a blog that chronicles his personal finance life. Jim is co-host of the Personal Finance Hour podcast with JD Roth of Get Rich Slowly.
Consumerism Commentary - Created in 2003 by Flexo, Consumerism Commentary has been honored by Kiplinger as a must-read blog and named as one of Yahoo's "Ten Money Blogs Everyone Should Read". Flexo runs the original (and still the best) PF blog aggregator, and recently started the Consumerism Commentary Podcast.
Five Cent Nickel - Written by a man who has been meticulously recording his finances since 1997 (stored in Quicken), Five Cent Nickel is one of the oldest and most respected blogs around.
Free Money Finance - This site is about one simple thing: growing your net worth. The 5 Principles of Free Money Finance is a PF blog classic. Business Week says Free Money Finance "offers an inspiring mix of timeless investing wisdom and money-making ideas".
Generation X Finance - Jeremy Vohwinkle is the blogger behind Gen X Finance, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor, and the editor of's Financial Planning section.
Get Rich Slowly - Get Rich Slowly, recently named "most inspiring money blog" by Money magazine, is devoted to sensible personal finance. JD Roth is the other half of the Personal Finance Hour podcast.
No Credit Needed - NCN started this blog in 2005 to track his debt reduction efforts, and has since been inspiring others in their debt reduction efforts. In addition to the blog, check out theNo Credit Needed Network and the No Credit Needed Podcast.
Squawkfox - Making frugal living sexy, delicious, and fun. "Fox" has a new book coming out in 3 weeks! 397 Ways to Save Money will help you spend smarter and live well on less.
Stop Buying Crap - Despite the title, Cap doesn't preach being cheap. Stop Buying Crap is about understanding your unlimited wants and how you may fulfill it with your limited resources.
The Digerati Life - You can always count on Silicon Valley Blogger (SVB) to churn out practical, comprehensive, and helpful advice about personal finance and small business.
The Frugal Duchess - Miami Herald columnist Sharon Harvey Rosenberg offers a fun, frugal and fashionable way to save money & live well. Sharon is the author of The Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save.
The Simple Dollar - Trent Hamm is arguably the most respected personal finance blogger today. There's a great new article on The Simple Dollar everyday, and Trent's book reviews are legendary. Get a copy of his recently published book, 365 Ways to Live Cheap: Your Everyday Guide to Saving Money, that helps you save money every day of the year.
Wise Bread - That's us! A community dedicated to helping each other live large on a small budget.

What Now?

As of right now, you can visit the Money Tips Network homepage. It aggregates the latest posts from MTN blogs and has profiles of members. You can also subscribe to the Money Tips Network feed via RSS or email. Be sure to check out each of the individual blogs and browse their invaluable archives.
If you're a money blogger, check out the Bloggers Corner of the Wise Bread forums. That's where PF bloggers ask questions, swap stories, and share best practices all day long. Come hang out with us.
We've got a slew of ideas to roll out in the coming months including guest posts on Wise Bread from MTN bloggers, roundups that gather the best financial advice, and product reviews to help make smart choices. It all adds up to more of the best money tips for you so stay tuned.

Here's how to buy my book:

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Monday, May 04, 2009

How to Squeeze a Nickel: Tips from Consumer Reports

Shrink your cell phone bill; flatten toilet paper rolls and rent an apartment when you travel. Those are a few of the money-saving ideas in the June issue of Consumer Reports. The magazine polled staff members and readers about their tips for squeezing a nickel.

“These tips show that it’s important to be creative when trying to cope with the recession,” said Kim Kleman, Editor-in-Chief, Consumer Reports.

Here are a few of the tips:

  • The website can help you analyze your cell-phone bill to determine whether you’ll save money with a different plan.
  • Call up your Internet, phone, and cable companies and try to get a better deal. It could cut your bill in half.

  • Many plumbing fixtures have a lifetime warranty. Try calling to get parts sent for free.

  • Rent an apartment when you’re on vacation. You live like a local and it’s cheap.

  • Forego buying tub and toilet cleaners. Consider using white vinegar and baking soda for cleaning chores.

  • Flatten the toilet paper roll a bit. It doesn’t spin around as much and waste paper.

  • In the supermarket, look at the unit price. Many items such as tuna have a quantity surcharge—the bigger container has a higher unit price than the smaller one.

  • Buy kitchenware (pots, pans, knives, etc.) at kitchen-supply wholesalers. Many are open to the general public.

  • When shopping online, check Google for a coupon for the site before checking out. "

The complete report, “How to squeeze a nickel,” is available in the June issue of Consumer Reports, on newsstands May 5 and online at Consumer Reports.


Here's how to buy my book:

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Snackwell Effect: Small Binges Create Large Electric Bill

Monitoring the electric bill is an ongoing project in my home. Unfortunately, like inconsistent dieters, our money-saving results spike and wane from month to month. My home bill may suffer from the ''snackwell syndrome,'' according to the Alliance to Save Energy, a coalition of government, business, environmental and consumer groups. Here's a list of habits that can sabotage efforts to contain energy costs:

• Self-deception: ''Snackwell dieters'' are those who binge on low-fat or low-calorie treats. Driven by this form of self-deception, some dieters fail to realize that large servings of small calories can create hefty gains. Likewise, with energy consumption, our purchases of energy-efficient gadgets and appliances can be sabotaged if we use those appliances more often or unwisely.

• More gadgets: My energy bill has grown as my children have aged. Our home is wired for two desktop computers, one laptop, video game consoles and several radios for my teenage and tweenage children. The addition of other products, including big-screen televisions and other gadgets, can spike energy consumption. Therefore, if you are unhappy with your energy bill, ask yourself about recent purchases and increased use of electronics and gadgets, the Alliance says.

• Homeward bound: In tough economic times, home entertainment has become popular, and some frugal consumers are spending more time watching DVDs or recorded television shows. But a portion of the money saved from the entertainment budget may be reflected in higher electric bills. Likewise, if you're saving gas and time by telecommuting, your home energy bill may be slightly higher, according to the Alliance.