Friday, July 31, 2009

Pick a Savings Sacrifice: An August Challenge

Is there fat or folly in your budget? During the next month, I'm going to carefully examine my spending habits and make a list of areas where I could cut back and save more. It's my August challenge. During the first week of September, I'll publish my areas of weakness and opportunities for increased savings.

The ritual of saving should be sacred during a recession. A survey from Women & Co. shows that "affluent women cited regular savings as one of their smartest financial moves."

Below are some decent savings tips from Women & Co. My favorite is the "savings sacrifice," which involves reflection, honesty and discipline.

"Take a snapshot of your finances. Saving requires you to analyze, plan, organize and evaluate. But first, you need to know the current state of your finances. Start by downloading Women & Co.’s helpful worksheet.

Set savings goals. Slice and dice your savings needs, first into long-term (e.g. retirement) and short-term (e.g. home repairs) goals. Then you’ll be able to better decide how to allocate your money to help you reach them.

Make a “savings sacrifice.” Track your expenses carefully for an entire month and then evaluate them. Are there services or products that you don’t use or can stretch between uses, like visits to the salon or dry cleaning? You may have to make a lifestyle sacrifice for a limited period until you meet your goal.

Save some money monthly. Automatically put a set amount – no amount is too small – of every paycheck in your savings account. Immediately deposit unexpected income such as birthday checks or garage sale proceeds.

Establish an emergency fund. Aim to accumulate enough to cover 3 to 6 months of living expenses at a minimum. Determine as a household what defines an “emergency.”

Pay down debt. It doesn’t make much sense to scrimp to put money into emergency savings if you are carrying high-interest debt. Put money toward paying down this debt first, while still adding as much as possible to your emergency fund.

Invest in your future – before your child’s. If you can’t save for both college and retirement, save for your retirement first. There are other options to fund college – grants, loans, scholarships, etc. – but none for funding your retirement.

Stay up-to-date and involved. The lives and financial needs of women are unique, and can potentially impact our retirement, Social Security benefits, and healthcare expenses. Continue to build your knowledge about your finances and stay up-to-date on the key issues impacting your savings plan. Actively seek out the financial information you need."
--source: Women & Co.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Frugal Thrill Rides for Last Days of Summer: Low-Cost Vacations

Between seasonal discounts and neighborhood promotions, my kids are staying busy this summer -- and we're saving money. Here's how:

Theme parks: Seasonal promotions are available to Florida residents at Busch Gardens, Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and others. At Busch Gardens, we purchased two-day passes for the price of a single day -- and tapped into additional savings by taking advantage of an online-purchase offer from AAA. Our cost worked out to $30 per person per day compared with the full price of $70 a day for adults and older children. Other parks have comparable deals.

Local passes: Through Sept. 30, Miami Metrozoo, Miami Seaquarium and Wannado City offer a combined Summer Savings Pass that offers unlimited admission to all three for $20 per person with the purchase of a general admission ticket at any one.

Summer reading: With school just weeks away, a visit to the library is a frugal way to get going on required reading for school-age children. In my house, we're counting pages and creating a reading log to avoid a last-minute literary crunch.

Indoor malls: Through August, Dolphin Mall is hosting a Summer Fun Celebration with a changing calendar of activities for families. Summer events at Aventura Mall include storytelling, character days and an indoor playground. Check for similar activities at the shopping center nearest you.

Public parks and recreation centers: From free movie nights to low-cost eco-tours, local parks and recreation centers offer no-cost or low-cost family entertainment. Our youth center, for example, has ice skating, swimming and bowling at budget-friendly rates.

• Friends and family: During a recent five-day trip to Tampa, we saved $500-$1,000 in lodging and meal expenses by staying with friends. We're lucky to have accommodating family in the Orlando area, too. We give our hosts gifts, consideration and reciprocity. In fact, our Tampa friends plan to stay with us when they visit South Florida.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

To Shred or Not To Shred? Paper Management Tips

When should you shred old bills, financial records and other documents? Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast offers these tips for managing the paper trail of home documents.

Out with the Old

"Do you really need to keep that water bill from 1998? How about your tax returns? Keeping good financial records is a critical part of managing your household finances, and spring cleaning is a great time to review them, purging what you no longer need. These records can help you ensure timely payment of bills and avoid late fees, dispute errors on credit card statements, apply for retirement or disability benefits, file insurance claims, and more. Bankrate has an excellent table that summarizes how long to keep financial records.

Here is a summary:

  • Keep any tax-related records for seven years.

  • Keep records of IRA contributions permanently.

  • Keep quarterly retirement/savings plan statements until you receive an annual statement. If the numbers match, shred the quarterlies and keep the annual summaries permanently.

  • Shred unimportant bank records after one year; keep the rest permanently.

  • Keep brokerage statements until you sell the securities.

  • Most of the time you can shred bills once you get a cancelled check. Keep bills for big items permanently.

  • Keep credit card receipts to reconcile with your statements; then keep the statements for seven years.

  • Paycheck stubs should be kept until you receive your end-of-year tax statements.

  • Keep house records permanently.

  • Don't just throw away statements and other records you no longer need to keep. Discarded financial records are a prime target for identity thieves, who look for account numbers and personal information to use. Purchase an inexpensive cross-cut type shredder and make sure it is conveniently located so that you will use it-like right next to your garbage can.

  • Shred all documents that contain personal or financial information, including credit card offers and receipts.

  • Review your insurance coverage-Review your life insurance policy to ensure it provides adequate coverage for your family. You can also save money by raising your deductibles on auto and homeowners, or renters, insurance. Every several years, shop rates, comparing policies point for point.

In with the New

Start by evaluating your current financial health-log on to CCCS and take the 60-second financial health exam. It will help you assess your financial risk and get a realistic picture of your current spending habits.

Create a system, and stick to it- You can organize your records in a filing cabinet, in hanging folders, or some other system, but choose one that works for you so that you will use it.

Develop a spending plan-Outline how you will spend, and save, your money. In addition to regular monthly expenses, such as housing, utilities, groceries, and insurance, you should also plan your spending for things like entertainment, lunches out, haircuts, and an occasional luxury. As rising gas prices continue to account for more of your monthly expenses, reduce spending where you can, such as eating at restaurants and your daily purchase of premium coffee. Don't forget to plan your savings too. If you have a spending plan, you are more likely to stick to it.

Track your income and your expenses-Use a calendar to note when you will receive income and also record when bills are due. Avoid late charges and unnecessary finance charges by paying bills on time. If you are mailing your payments, allow at least a week for them to arrive. If you pay on-line, be sure to adhere to deadlines by your bank or creditor to ensure payments arrive on time.

Record all spending, not just bills-That daily trip to the coffee shop, the few dollars you spend on lottery tickets, your highway tolls, and other "forgotten" expenses can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars each month and can stand between you and financial freedom.
Tax Organization-Start a tax folder for 2009 and start gathering information that will help reduce your stress at tax time. Include receipts for charitable gifts and out-of pocket medical expenses, documentation of work-related expenses like travel/mileage if not reimbursed, educational or child care costs, etc."

Source: CCCS

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

Friday, July 24, 2009

Be Green. Forget Race: Consider Police, Gates & Customer Service

If you’re puzzled by the fallout from the conflict involving Harvard Professor Gates and the Cambridge police, forget about race, politics and racial-profiling. Instead, view the situation as if it were a business or shopping scenario. Forget about black-and-white issues. Let's be green* --as in money.

Be honest: What would happen if you were mistakenly accused of shoplifting in a grocery store? Bottom line: The store would apologize. Here's why:

Consider this scenario: You are shopping at a grocery store. A fellow customer suspects you of shoplifting and reports those allegations to store security.

The situation looks suspicious. You have been spotted cramming food packages into a bag. It looks bad.

The reality: Prior to arriving at the store, you had purchased items at another store. In the second store, you were comparing ingredients to make sure your new purchases will match the other items.

Bottom line: The situation looks suspect, but you have a valid explanation.

Security officer: Doing his or her job, the officer confronts and arrests you. Eventually, the situation is resolved when you produce receipts and match the “suspected merchandise” with the legitimate documentation.

The fallout: In the meantime, tense words are exchanged. Both sides – the customer and store security – get belligerent and angry. It’s not pretty. We won't even talk about race. Let's stay green.

The smart Customer Relations strategy: However, at this point, either the store manager or the security officer realizes that a serious mistake launched the entire scenario. As the well-meaning, but misdirected agent of the mistake, it’s the store’s obligation to diffuse the situation. That was not done in Cambridge.

The Green Solution: The customer has been wrongly accused. In a savvy mode, the store apologizes. The officer apologizes. The wrongly accused accepts the apology and apologizes for the subsequent belligerent tone.

Everyone moves on. And that’s what happens when you remove race from the situation.

The Cambridge Police made a mistake. We all make mistakes. For the police, there’s a civic obligation to acknowledge that a mistake – however well-intended -- occurred.

It’s not (just) about race.* It’s about good customer service.

*Edited to add: It's not JUST about race. The above scenario was created to show that even if we remove the racial element from the story, the Cambridge Police Department erred.
News Roundup:

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kiplinger's Monthly Guide to the Best Sales: When to Buy Stuff

To get the best deals, you've got to know when to shop, according to the folks at Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Some purchases are difficult to time perfectly, such as stocks, airplane tickets and gas. But many other consumer staples—from cars to electronics to produce—go on sale predictably at certain times of the year. To help you plan your purchases (and save a bundle), has developed a Month-by-Month Guide to Best Bargains.


· Furniture. New furniture hits showrooms in August, which means you can save 10% to 50% in July as retailers make room for the new inventory

· Broadway tickets. The official Broadway season kicks off in the fall, so summer is a good time to see the outgoing year's hits at cheaper prices. Look for discounts of up to 50%. Not in the Big Apple? Check out your city's consolidated ticket booth to snag a last-minute deal on theater admission year-round.


· Patio furniture. Buy outdoor furniture in August as summer wraps up and retailers clear out their inventory. You'll still have a couple months of nice weather to enjoy your purchase — not to mention you'll be ready for next year. Retailers usually start marking down pieces around July 4, but the big discounts (up to 50% off) roll in during August.

· Outdoor toys. August is the best time to buy swimming gear, swing sets, beach toys and other items for outdoor fun as retailers make room on their shelves for fall and winter merchandise. Look for discounts of 30% to 75%.

· School and office supplies. Even if you don't have a student in your household, you can benefit during the back-to-school shopping season, when retailers offer some of the year's lowest prices on pens, pencils, paper and notebooks. You can also find bargains on staplers, printer paper, file folders and other home-office necessities.

· Swimwear. The August/September back-to-school shopping season is also a great time to buy swimwear. Families' minds—and wallets—shift from summer to fall, so retailers clear out bikinis and replace them with coats.


· Produce. From strawberries and peaches to tomatoes and corn, fruits and vegetables abound in June, July and August. This glut of supply makes for a good time to stock up. You can freeze, can or dry the bounty for eating in the leaner months ahead. See to find out what's in season. --source:

Here's the complete month-by-month buyer’s guide.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Delivery Charges, Massages & Other Ways to Earn Cash at Yard Sales

Sell food, set up a massage chair or display crafts. There's more to garage sales than second-hand merchandise, according to Kathryn Vercillo, of the Money Saving Blog. In this guest post, she offers suggestions about making extra money at yard sales.

Making Extra Cash at the Yard Sale

The most efficient yard sales are those that allow you to make easy cash with some bonus sales. In addition to selling your junk, you might offer the following items for sale:

Beverages. It’s cheap to make lemonade or iced tea and people will be happy to pay you for a glass on a hot day.

• Snacks. You may consider buying some snacks in bulk and selling them for a markup during your sale.

• Crafts and artwork. If you’re crafty or artsy, then you may want to make some items for the sale. I know one artist who threw a bunch of her old Polaroids in a box and listed them for $1 each; a surprisingly large number of people bought some of these on a whim at her yard sale.

• Delivery charge. If you have large items available for sale then you may let people know that you’d be happy to deliver the item to them at the end of the day for a small fee.

• On-site services. Are there any services that you can provide to people who are at your place? For example, massage therapists may set up a chair and offer 15-minute massages for a fee.

• Future services. If you operate any type of business or provide any services, then make your brochures and business cards available during the sale. You just never know who might see them and want work from you down the line.

--written by Kathryn Vercillo of the Money Saving Blog, which was named one of the Top 20 British personal finance blogs earlier this year.

Related articles:

How to sell crafts
How to make lemonade


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

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Roundup: Links I Liked

Happy Monday! Zero-waste lunches and the beauty of multiple savings accounts are just a few of the topics in this collection of posts and quotes from fellow bloggers. Here is a roundup of articles that caught my attention:

Will "forced frugality" last?

Many colleagues and family members say they feel a need to be frugal in this economic climate due to job loss and investment losses. With this shift to frugality it seems that shopping at thrift or dollar stores is suddenly trendy. However, will this new wave of frugality last?

How To Get A Job By Thinking Outside Of The Box

In this jobless era, however, the few and the bold (to paraphrase a military slogan) are the ones who will get the good positions available.

Forget Economic Stimulus! 20 Ways To Improve Your Finances Today

But no matter how stormy it gets out there, your best bet is always to remain diligent and conservative — otherwise you may ride the wave right into the gutter. Use the following tips as guidelines to keeping your head above water — fiscally, physically and emotionally — in these particularly unsteady times.

The Psychology of Having Multiple Savings Accounts

Back in 2007, I finally designated a savings account specifically...So it's no surprise that I've become a fan of having multiple savings accounts for specifically designated purposes.

Zero Waste Lunches: How to Make Your Own Executive Style Supply Kit

Ready for a make-it-yourself zero waste lunch kit you can take from backpack to briefcase in the blink of an eye? Read on.

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

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Free Event-Planning Tools: DIY Party Tips

With seven party planners in three states, organizing an August baby shower for my youngest sister has been a challenge. Fortunately, we've found a practical to-do list at www.babyshower101.

With this planning tool, we have time to delegate chores and to shop around for the best prices. That strategy applies to other seasonal, daily or milestone events including vacation planning, back-to-school shopping and emergency preparations. There are several checklists online and on paper. Here are a few tips for using no-cost or low-cost event-planning lists.

Check your PC. Excellent planning tools may be right under your fingertips. For example, my laptop is programmed with Microsoft's "Task Launcher." This program has templates for different projects, such as "plan a vacation" and "prepare for the holidays." Each project has a preset checklist that can be tailored for your event. My favorite feature is the deadline option that links a specific chore to a built-in calendar, which generates periodic reminders of deadlines and appointments.

Avoid the soft sell: Many Web sites and blogs offer great to-do lists for college planning, spring cleaning and retirement planning. Search engines also provide links to checklists or to-do lists for different activities, events or functions. Some planning tools, however, include pitches for fee-based products and services. I stick to the free material.

Pick up time management tips: At there are great techniques for managing time and setting goals. The site, like other Web sites, also offers a free blank template for creating to-do lists and a system for establishing priorities.

Go old school: Seasonal to-do lists are standard features in many consumer magazines and newspapers. And of course, pen, paper and a traditional calendar are low-tech tools for creating a checklist and a timeline.


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

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Guest Post: Planning a Great Yard Sale & Extra Money-Making Tips

In the guest post, Kathryn Vercillo, of the Money Saving Blog, has a sweet list of tips for running an efficient garage sale:

Tips for Running an Efficient Yard Sale

Yard sales aren’t just an easy breezy way to make quick cash. They require a lot of planning and a little bit of work. Nevertheless, if you put in that effort then you should be rewarded with some cash in hand at the end of the day. Plus you’ll have less stuff cluttering up your home. Following you’ll find some top tips for running an efficient yard sale so that the process goes along easily and you maximize your profits.

Preparing for a Yard Sale

The bulk of your work will go into preparing for the yard sale. Here are some tips to make that go smoothly:

• Set aside enough time to prepare. You’ll need time to gather the stuff for sale, sort it, label it with prices and announce the event. Set aside that time on your calendar.

Gather sale merchandise. Make a pile and put it in one room in your home so you can see what you’ve got.

Sort through everything by creating piles by price. You should have a $1 pile, a $5 pile, etc. Small items can be organized in bins, boxes and bags so that they stay within their price-based pile.

Label each pile with its price. Signage works best but price stickers are another option.

Make every item look nice. This may be junk to you but it could be treasure to someone else and you want them to think so. Wipe the dust off of your things and iron the clothes that are for sale. You don’t need to do major repairs but make an effort to make things look as valuable as possible.

Announce the yard sale. List the sale in local classifieds (such as Craigslist). Send an e-mail out to everyone you know. Post an announcement on your Facebook. All of these announcements should clearly state when and where the sale is and should list some of the best items that you have available. Photos of top items are a good idea.

Post signs around the neighborhood. On the night before the sale (or early the morning of) put up signs to point people in your direction.

Get cash. Make sure you have change for making sales.

Running the Yard Sale

The day of your yard sale may feel hectic but these tips should make it efficient:

Get started early. People start showing up for yard sales as early as 6am so you want to make sure that you’re up and out in your yard even before that.

Check signs. Make sure your signs are up. Double-check them if you put them up the night before.

Set up. Lay out your items based on the prices you designated earlier. Use blankets and tables to separate the piles so people can clearly see what things cost.

Get some help. People show up in clusters at yard sales. Having a friend or two to help run the sale makes it go a lot more smoothly.

Be friendly but not aggressive. People want to see a friendly face at a yard sale but they don’t want to be approached by a salesman!

Cut prices. Slash your prices in half in the afternoon. Very few people come to yard sales late in the day and those who do are looking for bargains. Pick a time to end the sale and cut prices a couple of hours before that.

When the Sale Is Over

You’re going to have some stuff left over when the sale has come to an end. You should deal with it efficiently to finish out your sale. First you should identify if there are any items that you would like to try to sell elsewhere. If you have high-end furniture, vintage clothing or other good items then you may try to sell them on eBay, Craigslist or to local stores. Make a commitment to list these items for sale within one week so you’re not just hanging on to this junk. Everything else should be bagged up and dropped in a donation bin within the same week.

--Kathryn Vercillo of the Money Saving Blog, which was named one of the Top 20 British personal finance blogs earlier this year.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fun on a Budget: Surprise Savings in the Amusement Park

Even at a theme park, you can spend less and still have lots of fun. We found some great deals at Busch Gardens in Tampa. Some of the savings are no-brainers, but other thrifty deals took us by surprise. Here's are our frugal finds:

  • Cheap ice cream: Don't assume that prices are the same at every stand in the park. Here's what happened to us: Near the main entrance we found a stand with a two-for-one ice cream special. The sales person told us that the price drops toward the end of the day. In the summer, when the park closes at 9 p.m., the price of ice cream drops by 4 p.m. Not all stands cut prices, but it was standard procedure at the stand just outside of the main gate. As such, we purchased four ice cream pops for $1.50 per item.

  • Affordable lockers: Shop around for lockers when you are in amusement parks. We carry a small backpack stuffed with food, snacks, water bottles, sunscreen and other creature comforts. It's a money-saving option. Rather than toting the bag around, we rent a small locker for safekeeping. At Busch Gardens, we found different prices for lockers. Outside of the park - near the ticket gate - lockers cost $6 to rent, with unlimited visits. But inside the park, we found smaller lockers for 50 cents. Of course, each visit to the smaller locker required another 50-cent toll, but even three visits cost $1.50 versus the $6 rental for the other lockers. Plus, the smaller lockers were more conveniently located.

  • Water fountain: We were surprised to find that the water fountains at the park were cold and tasty. This was a budget-friendly option when our water bottles ran out. (We had purchased bottled water before going to the park.) Before recycling our water bottles, we used the water fountains for several cool, quick-and-easy refills. This strategy saved us at least $30 during the course of an eight-hour trip to the park.

Here are related articles:

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

Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Save $1,000 & More on Moving Costs: Tips From

A while ago, I ran a piece with moving tips from Myscha of Wise Bread. Here is a guest post from the folks at Relocation. com:

"With moving season in full swing this month putting moving services in higher demand, the costs can add up quickly. , a leading online consumer resource for moving services, shared five tips that can help consumers save more than $1,000 on their move.

To calculate the estimated savings, looked at a hypothetical move from New York to Los Angeles with 7,500 pounds of household goods, which is roughly the size of a three-bedroom house. Depending on the moving companies and the services required, the costs will vary. However, according to the moving calculator, someone moving this distance with this amount of goods would average $6,500 in moving costs. These numbers serve as a general guide for a typical move.

1. Be Flexible on Dates – Save $300 to $600

Many moves take place at the end or beginning of the month, or on Fridays or Mondays. Consumers who are able to move on “off” days might be able to work a deal with a moving company.

Here’s how to do it: Once the movers have come to the home to give a moving estimate, tell them the move date is flexible if it can save some money. If they are full on the weekends, they might have room in a truck that's going out during the week. The same goes for the destination: If delivery times can be flexible, ask the movers if that could cut some costs.

For the ultimate money saver, schedule the move outside of peak moving season, which takes place June, July and August. Inquire about any seasonal discounts.

2. Get Rid of 10 Percent of Belongings – Save $250 to $400

The less that needs to be moved, the less it will cost, and the fewer headaches to be had. Here are a few simple ways to determine what belongings can be shed:

Only pack the items that have been used in the past year. If something hasn’t been used in the past 12 months, it probably won’t be used again – and there’s no point to have to pay to move it.

As each room is packed, have two plastic bins – a 'definite' throwaway bin and a 'maybe' throwaway bin. When the room is finished, throw out everything in the ‘definite’ bin, make a decision on the ‘maybe’ items and then move on to the next room.

For clothes, in the months before the move, divide a clothing rod between ‘must-move’ and ‘not-to-move’ clothes. Which is which? After an item of clothing is worn and washed, put it on the 'must-move' side of the closet. When it’s time to pack, get rid of all the clothes on the 'not-to-move' side of the rod.

3. Don’t Use Packers to Pack Everything – Save $400-$600

Many consider packing an all or nothing thing: Either you pack everything yourself, or the moving company packs everything. In fact, companies can do what is called a partial-pack, which can save some money.

Roughly 50 percent of what needs to be packed is breakable, such as dishes and glassware. Let the movers take care of these items, since they are the most difficult to pack safely. In addition, moving insurance usually will not cover items that are not packed by professionals, unless there's clear damage to the outside of the moving box.

The other half – items that won’t break, such as clothes, toys and books – can be packed into boxes relatively easily and don’t require special handling or supplies. Not using packers for these items can save big bucks; it just requires some extra time and work.

4. Disconnect It – Save $150-$200

If the moving company provides any third-party moving services to handle disconnecting electronics and appliances, the cost of these services will be passed on to the consumer. Eliminate these extra fees altogether by taking the D.I.Y. route. Learn how to safely dismantle any electronics systems and how to disconnect/connect appliances. The estimated savings are based on the cost of using a third-party disconnection/connection service.

5. Avoid Moving Large, Breakable Items – Save $200-$300

There are certain items a moving company won't move without special crating, such as glass tables, flat-screen TVs and specialty artwork such as pottery or big oil paintings. Here are some options to cut down on the need for special, more expensive crating:

Glass items, such as shelves or tables, are generally cheap to replace compared to how much it costs to ship them. Consider the costs of moving them versus buying a similar type of shelf or tabletop at the new home.

For a flat-panel TV, the least expensive method is packing it in the box it came in. If that’s not an option, search online for boxes designed specifically for TVs, which contain special foam inserts for extra protection.

If it’s a long-distance move, fragile or valuable items can also be packed in the car. Or, rent a separate small moving van or a trailer in which to tow them. It will cost more for this, but the greater peace of mind about damages might be worth it. If there are enough items that would require crating by the moving company anyway, the costs might break even.

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

Friday, July 10, 2009

51 Frugal Goals for a Birthday Weekend

It's the birthday weekend, and I'm celebrating the 51st candle on my slice of lifetime cake.

With a gin and tonic and a lime-scented spirit of frugality, I am making these 51 wishes (goals) for the next 12-month period.

  1. To save an extra $5,000 in my retirement account.

  2. To spend less money on junk food.

  3. To write 51 letters (snail mail) -- roughly one letter per week.

  4. To write or revise 51 poems.

  5. Read 51 books on finance or business development.

  6. Read 51 books on spirituality and personal development.

  7. To fine tune my strategy for the next 51 years.

  8. To have 51 sugar-free days a year. (One day each week without sweets.)

  9. Cook or bake 51 new recipes.

  10. To giveaway 51 bits of clothing, books or merchandise that I don't need.

  11. To compete 51 acts of random kindness.

  12. To make 51 new friends on Twitter.

  13. To finally open a Facebook account.

  14. To have a 51 clutter-busting days: one per week.

  15. Create and update photo books and scrapbooks for my kids.

  16. Commit to 51 special one-on-one moments with each of my three kids: Special notes or activities.

  17. To do 51 extra sit-ups each week.

  18. 51 minutes of meditation each week.

  19. To let others speak 51 words for every word I speak.

  20. 51 manicures...fresh polish each week with either DIY or periodic salon splurge.

  21. 51 facials and deep conditions.

  22. 51 pedicures.

  23. 51 new pairs of shoes ---just joking! How about: 51 sunrise yoga sessions.

  24. Regular conversations with family members.

  25. Create 51 new play lists featuring Anita Baker, Steely Dan and my other favorite artists.

  26. To take 51 new photos of my family and dog.

  27. To get all of my annual checkups.

  28. Encourage family and friends to get all of their checkups.

  29. To make amends to everyone I have offended.

  30. To get up 51 minutes earlier.

  31. To go to sleep 51 minutes earlier.

  32. To learn 51 new words in English, Spanish, French and Hebrew.

  33. To exercise 51 minutes per day.

  34. To say "thank you," "bless you" and "love you" 51 times daily.

  35. 51 acts of charity.

  36. 51 minutes of laughing each day.

  37. 51 minutes of forgiveness each week.

  38. To let go of old grievances.

  39. To forgive myself.

  40. To forgive others.

  41. To floss daily.

  42. To drink at least 51 cups of water a week.

  43. To increase my emergency fund by 51 percent.

  44. Improve deadline performance by 51 percent.

  45. To increase my income by 51 percent.

  46. To write 51 percent more each day.

  47. To pray more and to complain less.

  48. To look at the moon through a telescope.

  49. To climb 51 stairs a day.

  50. To think of 51 reasons to be at peace with myself.

  51. To think of 51 reasons to be grateful for friends, family and loved ones.

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

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Kiplinger's List of Great Summer Reads: Pages & Pages of Money

"Kiplinger’s editors have compiled a list of their favorite books — imparting financial wisdom as well as entertaining tales — in 14 Great Summer Reads. Whether you’re looking for plot, thought, or want to be taught, it’s all here. Titles include:

· Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (Dover, $3.50)
Yes, it's a novel from the 1920s, and no, it's not about picking stocks or mutual funds. But it's one of the original business novels in American letters and still one of the best.

· Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis (Penguin, $16.00)
The author's first big hit, this 1989 book chronicles Lewis's time working as a bond salesman for Salomon Brothers. If Solly hadn't been acquired by Travelers Group (later to become Citigroup) in 1991 and had survived to reach this century, there's a good chance it would have met the same fate as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.

· Enough by John C. Bogle (Wiley, John & Sons, $24.95)
There's nothing new about Bogle's financial advice. Vanguard's founder still touts simple, low-cost investments such as the index funds he created. But his observations hit home at a time when investors are trying to squeeze every penny out of their investments.

·Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein (Penguin, $16)
Cleverly written and refreshingly readable, Nudge is an insider's guide to how our own psychological quirks and predispositions affect our decisions about health, wealth, and happiness

· Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties by Beth Kobliner (Simon & Schuster, $16) In this book, you'll find a collection of life's basic lessons on buying insurance, paying off debt, purchasing a home, saving money on taxes, managing your daily finances and investing for the long term. "

Monday, July 06, 2009

Cheap Icing Tricks & Other Baking Tips From a Pro Baker

Baking can be both frugal and entertaining, an activity for kids as well as adults, says Sharmila Melwani, owner of Cookies by Shar, a wholesale bakery in Davie. Here's how she stretches the dollar while baking.

Bulk up and store: Melwani buys all-purpose flour in 10-pound quantities and freezes it in sealed plastic bags. Those steps preserve the flour and save work later. ''It makes the dough firm enough to cut cookies out right away as opposed to refrigerating the dough before you cut them out,'' Melwani says.

Mix in cream: Adding a tablespoon of sour cream or cream cheese to a recipe extends the shelf life of the dough and cookies by making them less vulnerable to humidity, she said.

Use paper: ''I use parchment paper a lot. You can actually reuse parchment paper a few times to bake cookies before you throw it out,'' she says. Parchment is also useful for storing dough. Roll cookie dough between two pieces of paper. ''You can store it like this in an airtight bag or container,'' Melwani said.

Consider craft shop tools: ''Inexpensive craft sticks make a great tool for spreading a thin glaze or icing,'' she said. ''You get enough control to create the effect you want and at the same time, have a disposable and inexpensive tool.'' Melwani also buys inexpensive cookie cutters at arts and crafts shops and cookware stores for under a dollar.

Cheap icing trick: Place icing in a small plastic sandwich bag. Zip closed or fasten the top with a rubber band and cut a small hole into the bottom. By gently squeezing the bag, you can create piping, letters, numbers and designs on a cookie. For added effect, sprinkle on decorative sugar in different colors.


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

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

How I Use Calendars & Notebooks to Reach Savings Goals

Yesterday, I mentioned that a new 18-month calendar is helping me to save money. One reader asked how. Here's the agenda:

The Composition Notebook

In late April, I attended a very private goal-setting conference. I was alone with a pen and a clean notebook. I spent large blocks of time thinking about where I wanted to be in April 2014.

The five-year financial plan included:

  • fully funded college savings plans for my kids.

  • a retirement savings target.

  • an emergency fund with 3-6 months of savings.

  • a debt-free goal.

The Countdown

For each category, I created a plan that included:

  • a goal for May of 2014.

  • an annual goal, with a May 2010 deadline.

  • monthly objectives running from May 2009 through May 2010

  • weekly goals with regular reminders.
  • The 18-Month Calendar

    Every month and every week, I review the notebook and study the goals. Like a teacher at a student conference, I give myself progress reports in each category. Goals and savings targets are transferred to the calendar, with reminders. Here's an example: "Transfer $100 into savings." I make revisions if the goals are too easy or too difficult.

    In June, for example, the goal was to run a half-mile twice a week at a 10-minute mile pace. By mid-month, I had exceeded those goals in terms of time and distance.
    Work in Progress

    The system is still pretty new for me, but I'm confident that it will work. Organization is my biggest challenge, and the notebook/calendar system keeps me on track. I have calendars for every major area of my life: kids, college planning for my oldest child, creative goals, fitness goals, etc. I need a system because I'm either super-organized or completely discombobulated.

    Every day I review my calendars. I wish that I weren't so time-bound, but that's just how I'm hard-wired.


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