Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Saving Money on Gift Baskets

Themed gift baskets have become big business in recent years. Groceries and gourmet shops tout their expertise in putting together sumptuous assemblages of tempting goodies. Companies have formed whose entire purpose is to create and market an assortment of gift baskets. Even florists have jumped on the gift basket bandwagon. While I love the concept of the gift basket, the prices that most retailers charge is troubling to a tightwad like me. Invariably, the total cost is significantly higher than the sum of the gift basket components -- in part to account for the work of putting the basket together, but also because that's the price the market will bear.
So it isn't hard to figure that you can save money by putting together your own gift baskets. You, too, can fill a pretty basket with exquisite fruits, cheeses, jams and nuts. Or tuck a bottle of bubbly and two champagne flutes into a basket and tie it with a pretty bow. But if you're saving money by making your own gift basket anyway, why not let your imagination soar and create something really distinctive. Consider the following ideas, and then think about what special container and contents will work for you:
1. Office supplies, like pens, pencils, in wastebasket
2. Beach toys in a bucket
3. Picnic supplies, including a pretty tablecloth, in a picnic basket
4. Tote with travel goods, like guide books and maps
5. A diaper bag with baby essentials like diaper cream, cornstarch and wipes

Monday, December 21, 2009

Inexpensive Gift Wrapping Ideas

Use interesting containers for homemade goodies (such as decorated cookie tins) and you won’t even need to wrap your gift. You can also shop for pretty bowls, teacups, mugs, platters, and plates at discount stores and yard sales. Just wrap the whole thing in cellophane, tie it with ribbon and you're good to go!

I also think it is fun to wrap gifts in unconventionally-shaped boxes. This prevents the recipient from immediately guessing what's inside and reflects your sense of humor. So go ahead and place a gift of jewelry in huge carton; wine in a large shoebox, silk tie in cylinder, etc.

Want more inexpensive gift wrap ideas? Check out our previous post on this topic.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bargain Holiday Shopping Lists

Lots of retail web sites offer lists of "great gifts under $100" or "fabulous finds for $500" but we tightwads are really only truly impressed by gift lists with much smaller sums in mind. As the final shopping days before Christmas wind down, here are some to consider:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Top Tightwad Tips for Stocking Stuffers

I’ve seen ipod shuffles ($99), cashmere and leather gloves ($150), classic Ray-Ban sunglasses ($139) and the like listed as stocking stuffers. To tightwads like me, anything that costs that much is a major gift, meant to be wrapped and placed under the tree so it can be opened with much hoopla and oohing and aahing.
Stocking stuffers are meant to be just a little something, like an hors d’oevre to whet the appetite for the main meal. When I was growing up, we received things like socks, toothbrushes, and oranges in our stockings. And while I don’t necessarily advocate going that far into thrift and practicality, it does seem that there is a middle ground of items that are fun, fanciful, and frugal at $5 or less. Here are some ideas:
for adults:
  • Flavored lip gloss or lip balm
  • Hand and body lotion
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Seed packets
  • Candles
  • Soap
  • Cookie cutters
for kids:
  • Small toys: matchbox cars, little slinkies, mini-play dough containers
  • Crayons, colored pencils
  • Trading cards
for both:
  • Candy canes
  • Chocolate bars
  • Fun pens and pencils
  • Personalized gingerbread men
  • Playing cards

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Give the Gift of a Pretty Pomander

I mentioned clove-studded oranges in my post about great home-made holiday gifts. Here's how to make one:
  • Place 2 wide rubber bands around a lemon or orange. The bands will leave spaces for a ribbon later.
  • Use a wooden skewer to pierce the exposed skin of the lemon/orange with holes about ¼ inch apart, then insert whole cloves into the holes.
  • On a plate, mix together 3 tablespoons each of cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ground ginger. Roll the lemon/orange in the mixture to coat it.
  • Keep the lemon/orange and plate inside a paper bag in a dry spot in the house. Roll the pomander in the spices once a day until the lemon is hard and dry; this can take 2 to 6 weeks depending on your climate.
  • Once the pomander is dry, remove the rubber bands and tie fancy ribbon around it. Use the pomander in a closet or on your tree.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fabulously Frugal Gift Tags

Gift giving is sharing love – so of course you want to present your gifts attractively. In previous posts, I wrote about ways to wrap your gifts in ways that are both beautiful and budget-friendly. Now it's time to think about how you will address your presents in a way that is both appealing and distinctive, without resorting to spending big bucks at the Hallmark store. Here are some ideas:
  • Use old Christmas cards, cutting off the side with the picture (which typically does not have writing) and trimming it with pinking shears or another type of craft/scrapbooking scissor. Tie to package with ribbon or yarn.
  • Make your own address labels on your computer, using clip art from the Internet. For the best effects, use colored paper and/or a colored printer.
  • If you are making homemade treats as gifts, paste labels announcing your "Outrageously Decadent Triple-Chocolate Brownies" or tuck in the amusing story of the origin of the Tollhouse cookie.
  • Skip the gift card altogether and write right on package with marker – make it festive with a silver or gold sharpie and make sure to include your most flamboyant lettering. (We learned this trick at kids birthday parties where gifts often get separated from cards. )
  • Buy plain oak tag labels at the stationery store and decorate them w/stamping, stenciling, stickers, etc.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Frugal Gift Wrap

For years, we laughed at my mom who dutifully saved and reused wrapping paper each year. We joked that our gifts would get smaller and smaller, so she could use the same piece of gift wrap the next year without even having to take off the tags. The irony was that she didn't even have to pay for the wrapping paper -- as the owner of a small print shop, my dad received boxes of it each year from his paper suppliers.

But although my family eventually got into the habit of tearing and shredding paper in response to my mom's frugal ways, to this day, I still save nice ribbon, especially wired or fabric ribbon (but not the plastic-y stuff or curling ribbon which is hard to reuse). I also stock up on wrapping materials for the year at the after-Christmas sales: I look for neutral patterns and colors that can be used throughout the year. And since I buy sale paper and other materials in bulk, I create a signature look each year that I use for everyone, from teacher gifts to presents for the extended family.

Here are some other ideas for frugal gift wrap:
  1. Use newspaper (especially the comic pages), old maps, and other colorful paper you have on hand
  2. Wrap gifts in plain Kraft paper (which can be bought inexpensively at office supply stores and craft stores ), then decorate it by stamping, stickering, drawing with markers or crayon. Can stencil design on it, too. Or tie the package with twine and then add an embellishment made of pine cones and evergreens for a rustic look.
  3. Use wallpaper (from leftover projects or from sample books).
  4. Wrap gifts in bits of leftover fabric – I once saw squares of Japanese silk on sale for this purpose in a museum gift shop -- and it adds an elegant touch that can't be beat.
  5. Reuse gift bags and shopping bags (spray paint the latter to cover up names and logos).
  6. Use cut felt, yarn, colored twine in place of store-bought ribbon.
  7. Create a reusable fabric-covered box – just tie with ribbon and add a card.
  8. Buy clear cellophane (you can get it from craft store or florist in sheets or bags) – wrap the gift in colored tissue underneath and then tie the whole thing with ribbon or twine. This is especially useful for odd-shaped gifts that are hard to wrap in other ways.
  9. Add a special touch to each package with glittery accessories. You can easily add glitter to pine cones, evergreen branches, acorns and other natural materials: thin Elmer's glue w/water until it’s the consistency of paint; brush this liquid on the item you want to sparkle; dip it in the glitter; let it dry on waxed paper for 10 minutes, then affix to the wrapping using a hot glue gun.
12/6/2011 update: for more ideas on using commonly found objects to create beautiful but inexpensive wrapping and packaging, see Wrapping Ideas Featuring Recyclables.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    More Homemade Gifts

    Flavored coffee mixes make a unique and splendidly frugal gift. Package them in a glass jar and print up labels from your computer with instructions for using them. Here are our favorites:
    1. Café Vienna: ½ cup instant coffee, 2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup nonfat dry milk solids, ½ tsp cinnamon, stir and process in blender until powdered. Instructions: use a ratio of 2 tsp mix to one cup hot water. 35 calories each.
    2. Italian Mocha Cappuccino: 1 cup instant coffee, 1 cup sugar, 4 ½ cups nonfat dry milk solids, ½ cup cocoa, stir and process in blender until powdered. Instructions: use a ratio of 2 tbsp to one cup hot water. 60 calories.
    3. Swiss Mocha Espresso: ½ cup instant coffee, ½ cup sugar, 1 cup nonfat dry milk solids, 2 Tbsp cocoa, stir and process in blender until powdered. Instructions: use a ratio of use 2 tbsp to ½ cup hot water. 40 calories.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Frugal for the Holidays: Homemade Gift Ideas

    One of the best ways to save money on your holiday shopping is not to do it at all. Instead make homemade gifts that reflect your personality and the time and care you are willing to devote to family and friends. Here are some ideas:
    • Fire-starters (dip pine cones in hot, colored wax) and package in a pretty basket.
    • A clove-studded lemon or orange pomander (which one of my children's Kindergarten teacher rated as his all-time favorite gift).
    • Baked goods (how about making large gingerbread men, customized with the recipients name and perhaps personal characteristics like hair color, eye color, etc.).
    • Homemade candy (e.g. fudge).
    • Coupons good for services (staying up late, dinner of choice, etc. for kids; massage, breakfast in bed, and chores for spouse); housecleaning or homemade meals for elderly relative; closet organizing for friend who shops all the time but can’t seem to find anything to wear. Make them funny and fancy.
    • Cookbook of your favorite recipes (w/description of how you encountered it, serving tips, memories of dinner parties, etc.)
    • Photo album or scrapbook.
    • Map coasters.
    • Home-made tree ornaments.
    • Tin can luminaries.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    A Word About Regifting

    Regifting has an ugly reputation. Seinfeld devoted an episode to mocking it. Nancy Reagan was criticized for doing it. Etiquette mavens generally frown upon it. And yet to frugal folks like me, it makes more economic sense to pass along a (new and unused) item rather than to let it waste away at the bottom of the closet. The key is to make sure, as you would when you purchase a new gift, that you are matching the regift with the needs and tastes of the recipient. Even if you aren't buying something, gifts should remain a token of affection and appreciation - not a way to get rid of something you dislike. The Internet is brimming with thoughts about when and how to regift, so if you want to explore the topic further, check out:
    Re-gifting Etiquette from GiftingResources.com
    12 Rules for "Regifting" without Fear from MSNmoney.com
    Three Dos and Don'ts for Regifting

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Tightwad Tree Ornaments

    Department stores and specialty shops offer beautiful and unique Christmas tree ornaments. But you could spend thousands decorating your tree if you buy all your ornaments there. So why not create some unique ornaments of your own? Here are some low-cost ideas:
    1. Make gingerbread cookies - you can even personalize them to make them more special.
    2. Rather have ornaments that last from year to year? Use the gingerbread cookie idea, but make and decorate the shapes with home-made play dough instead.
    3. Create painted wooden ornaments, using jigsaw-cut shapes from your craft store or cutting your own.
    4. Cover Styrofoam balls from the craft store with glossy thread and then decorate with bits of fabric, lace, beads, buttons and other pretty bits 'n' pieces.
    5. Make egg shell ornaments by pricking holes in each end of a raw egg with a pin, blowing out the insides, and then carefully cutting out an oval shaped hole in one side. Paint inside and out with nail polish or high-gloss paint and then decorate with bits of fabric, lace, beads, buttons and other bits 'n' pieces.
    6. Cut out paper snowflakes.
    7. Crochet snowflakes (use starch to keep them stiff).
    8. Rely on the tried and true: paper chains and strings of popcorn and cranberries.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Tin Can Luminaries to Give or Enjoy

    Luminaries made from tin cans are great both as holiday decorations for your home and as inexpensive gifts you can make yourself. Here's what you do:
    1. Fill an empty can with water and freeze it.
    2. Trace the shape you want (festive forms like a snowflake, Christmas tree, or Star of David are all contenders) on a piece of paper.
    3. Wrap the paper around the can and secure it with tape.
    4. Punch holes with nail to create an outline of the shape you've chosen. The ice keeps the can from denting while you hammer the holes. We've found that keeping the holes about 1/3 inch apart works best.
    5. Once you’re done and the ice has melted, you can paint the can or leave plain.
    6. Use a store-bought or homemade candle (to make the candle, fill the can halfway with melted wax; as it starts to firm up, put in a wax-coated string for the wick).

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Frugal Holiday Decorations

    You don't need to spend lots of money to make your home look festive and fun for the holidays. Here are some low cost ideas:
    • Place inexpensive votive candles among masses of evergreens to provide a festive feel.
    • Use inexpensive (or old and damaged) tree ornaments in bowls or apothecary jars or mixed in with the greens on mantel or tabletop – the more the better.
    • Raid your jewelry box – I decorated my first Christmas tree with earrings, bracelets tied on with ribbon and beaded necklaces and it looked great.
    • Gather masses of pinecones, nuts, etc. and paint them silver, gold or red and green. Or leave as is. Heap them on mantels and tabletops. Display in glass apothecary jars or in bowls. You can also affix fasteners with hot glue and hang them on the tree.
    • Find tall tree branches – they look wonderful painted and set into an umbrella stand or tall vase. You can even decorate them with lights.
    • Don't forget the classics: paper loop chain (use construction paper, old wrapping paper, the colorful parts of old Christmas cards), paper snowflakes, and strings of cranberries and popcorn.
    • Keep a tight color scheme of 2 or 3 colors to tie everything together. For example if your color scheme is white and gold, accent a white tablecloth with a gold runner, gold rimmed white china, with a centerpiece of gilded tree branches, pinecones, and ornaments looks great.

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    A Frugal Approach to Christmas Cards

    While I'm all in favor of reaching out to extended family and friends at this time of year, the costs of buying and mailing elegant holiday cards (and you do want them to be quality cards that reflect your aesthete) can be significant. Here are some money-saving ideas:
    • Trim your list. As with gift-giving, it doesn't make sense to always do things the same way year after year just because you've always done it that way. If you haven't heard recently from that nice family you met on vacation 10 years ago, now is the time to strike them from the list. Also, there is really no need to send cards to close family members if you'll be sharing the holidays anyway, or to office-mates who you see every day.
    • Make your own cards. My sister and her husband are extraordinarily creative and I look forward to their imaginatively crafted cards each year. Sometimes they send cards with witty pen-and-ink drawings; other years they employ clever cut-outs; and one year they photoshopped their faces on a couple of mall Santas. But you don't need to have graphic arts or computer skills like they have to compose a heartfelt greeting and add an illustration to make your annual card uniquely your own.
    • Send email greetings instead of mailing letters. It's faster, more planet-friendly, and costs literally nothing. Plus there is no space limit if you want to describe your family's accomplishments for the year and you can easily link to photos and videos that illustrate what's on your mind this year.
    • Shop the sales. If you plan ahead, you purchase your cards at 75% off (or maybe even more if you time it right) by shopping right after Christmas for the cards you'll use the following year.

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    The Tightwad Approach to Gift Giving

    Some folks contend that only Scrooge would skimp for the holidays. To that, I reply, "Bah humbug!" Honestly, if you buy bargains for yourself, it is certainly ok to do the same when you shop for others. Of course, on the other hand, if you buy your clothing at Bergdorfs, it IS cheap to buy all your gifts at the Dollar Store.
    The spirit of the season doesn't require that we all go deeply into debt or go hungry just so that we can lavish luxurious gifts on our loved ones. Gift-giving is just one way to express the joy of the holidays. So don't obsess about what you can't afford. Instead, set a reasonable budget and then work on finding thoughtful and imaginative gifts that reflect your affection towards the recipient. Remember that some of the most appreciated presents don't require a cash outlay at all: for example, you can volunteer to babysit for parents with young children; cook a meal for someone who hates to turn on the stove; or run errands for busy friends.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Frugal for the Holidays

    The media has been full of stories about holiday shopping for days now. All the stores are bedecked with sparkly decorations (and many have been since Halloween). And even after Cyber-Monday, email boxes are still receiving a full complement of come-ons and special holiday offers.
    But don't let all this holiday hoopla entice you into spending more than you intended. Throughout this month, Top Tightwad Tips will be suggesting ways that you can save money, while still enjoying the spirit of the season. So sit back and relax and let the frugal holidays begin!
    One of the best ways to save on gift-giving costs is to trim your gift list. Suggesting to your extended family members that this year, you hope to buy only for the kids or buy only one thing for each household/nuclear family (like a gift basket or museum membership) is not being a Scrooge. Instead, once you suggest that everyone cut back a little, you'll be surprised by how relieved everyone will be (because even those who aren't trying to spend less money shopping will be happy to spend less time shopping!). Other options for trimming your list include picking names out of hat so you're responsible for just one family member or officemate instead of many. Some groups agree to go even further and limit the cost of each present to, say, $5. Then part of the fun becomes seeing the variety of imaginative gifts available in that price range.
    So whether you cradle it, dreidel it, deck-the-halls it, matzo-balls it, O-Holy-night it, 8-Days-of-Light it… celebrate the season...frugally!

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Polite Persistence Pays

    I've written before about the value in asking for discounts whenever you shop, whether it is a retail situation, for travel or entertainment, or even for medical services. The key is to be persistent and polite.

    I was reminded by the value of persistence yesterday, when I made a purchase at Target.com. I had clicked over from the college-saving site Upromise, com, where Target was promoting free shipping for members who made purchases of at least $50. Since I met that criteria, and the site calculated the shipping fee at a whopping $27 (for a few frames and household items), I was anxious to get the discount. Unfortunately, Target.com didn't automatically apply the discount to my order, so I called their 800# (listed on the site). Their customer service reps knew nothing about the Upromise.com relationship and were basically useless and rude. But I persisted, both writing a quick email and calling the corporate headquarters. The result? I received my savings along with apologies for the original mistake. So don't give up -- get the discounts you deserve!

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Frugalista Fashion Finds

    There are some companies that consistently deliver fashionable looks for a fraction of what you'd expect to pay elsewhere. Here are some of my favorites:
    • Newport News get high marks and frequent mentions in magazines like Lucky and Oprah for interpreting the season's top trends at low prices. Sign up to receive their email newsletter and you'll save an additional 15% off. And be sure to check out their online clearance section for great deals at up to 65% off and lots of items you'll love for less than $10.
    • Spiegel features a variety of luxury fabric collections, like sequined cashmere, silk velvet, and pinstripe suiting, in rich textures and dramatic colors. Right now, their online outlet has items for up to 90% off.
    • Chadwicks is a good source for low-cost, high-style fashions. And now, with a clearance sale of up to 80% off and a Thanksgiving special of an additional $50 off a $150 purchase; $30 off a $80 purchase; or $25 off a $75 purchase, the savings are better than ever.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Saving Money at the Grocery Store

    Since everyone has to shop for food one way or another, saving money at the grocery store is an easy way that everyone can cut expenses. Here are some ideas:
    • Get the frequent buyer card at all grocery stores you frequent regularly. Most of these cards will allow you to get weekly discounts automatically (no need to clip coupons from the weekly flyer!). As a bonus, you may also find that you'll get extra savings by registering your card at sites like Upromise.com.
    • Use your credit card to pay for your food shopping and receive extra frequent flyer rewards (the assumes you are enrolled in a reward program and that you pay off your balance every month).
    • Check out online coupon sites for discounts on brands you intend to buy before you leave for the store.
    • Make a shopping list based on your meal plan and stick to it.
    • Don't be tempted to buy loads of perishables just because they are on sale - lettuce that wilts at the back of your fridge is not really a bargain. But if pantry staples are on sale, you should load up.
    • Shop seasonally - buy strawberries in June, apples in October and so forth. Not only does seasonal shopping save you money, but it is tastier, too.
    • Know when things go on sale: for example, turkeys and baking items are cheapest during the holidays when they are often priced as loss-leaders, and use your freezer to help you take advantage of these sales.
    • Buy food that is in its most natural - and most inexpensive - state. Prepared and packaged foods are always pricier. So opt for a whole chicken instead of chicken parts; for plain rice instead of seasoned rice (it's easy to add your own herbs and spices) and so forth.  Here are some easy ways to save on convenience products:
      • Make your own croutons by cubing stale bread, coating the cubes with olive oil, sprinkling on some salt, pepper and herbs of your choice, and toasting them in a 350 oven until they are golden brown.  You can store the bread in the freezer until you are ready to make the croutons.
      • You can also use stale bread (or the heels of each loaf) to make bread crumbs.  Just put slices of any type of bread in the oven at 300 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Then grind them in a food processor or with a rolling pin. For seasoned bread crumbs, add dry herbs like oregano or thyme (a little garlic powder tastes great, too). To make flaky panko-like crumbs, mince fresh bread by pulsing it in a food processor, then dry the crumbs at 250 degrees F.

      • Instead of buying jarred spagetti sauce (which is full of sugar and salt), saute a bit of chopped onion, a minced garlic clove or two, and 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium saucepan until soft. Add a 28-ounce can diced or chopped tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon dry oregano and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with ground black pepper.
      • And who needs Bisquick or Aunt Jemima pancake mix when you can quickly make pancakes and waffles from scratch?  All you need is 1 3/4 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl.  Then, in another bowl, whisk 2 eggs and 3 tablespoons vegetable oil into 1 1/2 cups milk. Add liquid to dry mixture and whisk. Don't overmix; batter should be lumpy. Makes 10 to 12 pancakes.
    • But at the same time it is good to buy food in its most natural state, don't overlook frozen fruits and vegetables - they are often less expensive than the same item in the produce aisle when it is out-of-season (for example, you can save by buying frozen blueberries instead of fresh in January and they will taste just as great in muffins and pancakes) - and just as packed with nutrients.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Getting "the Look" for Less

    For all you fashionistas out there, here is a handy web page that compares designer duds to less expensive knock-offs: Cosmopolitan's round-up of "splurge vs steal" articles. You'll see photos of both the pricey original and the cheaper copy with complete pricing info and links of where to buy both.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    How to ... Make a Starbucks Caffè Mocha at Home

    I've blogged before about how giving up little, but relatively pricey habits (like a daily barrista drink from Starbucks) can save lots of money in the long run. So we were delighted when we found this inexpensive alternative to our favorite $4 drink at Marie Claire magazine:

    1. In a small bowl, combine equal parts warm water and sweetened cocoa powder.

    2. Stir until it forms a smooth syrup.

    3. Pour 2 Tbsp. of the syrup into an 8 oz. cup.

    4. Add a shot (1 oz.) of espresso or double-strength, dark-roasted coffee. (To brew double-strength coffee, use 4 Tbsp. of ground coffee for every 6 oz. of water.)

    5. Fill the rest of your cup with steamed milk. (If you don't have a milk steamer, heat milk on the stove to between 140 and 160 degrees.)

    6. Top with whipped cream and enjoy!

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    $20 Gifts That Look Like They Cost More

    You don't need to wait until Christmas to take advantage of these low budget (but not at all cheap looking) gift ideas - I like the idea of the Chalk Note Glassware, the Cocktail Maker Set, or the Champagne Flutes as a Thanksgiving hostess gift.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Making the World a Better Place... One Penny at a Time

    Experts estimate that there are over $2 billion of unused pennies in homes across America. Each autumn Penny Harvest has worked with American school children to put those pennies to good use. The students and their families collect pennies for charity and the results are truly amazing. For example, during last year’s Penny Harvest, students across New York City raised about $750,000 – in pennies!

    This collection is just the beginning. When a school fills 25 canvas sacks with 30 pounds of pennies each, it is awarded a grant of $1,000 and forms a Philanthropy Roundtable. A roundtable is where student leaders meet to research community needs and decide how to allocate their grant money to charitable organizations or community service projects. Not a single penny collected by students is used for overhead, operations or any other purpose.

    One of the great things about this program is that it empowers kids by letting them experience how even a group of small kids working together can do big things - the same way a lot of practically useless pennies can add up to $750,000!

    One of the consistent messages of this blog is to offer money-saving tips that are easy to implement. Many of them require lots of little, every day actions that pay off big over time, much the same way that the pennies - worth almost nothing alone - provide a big pay-off when combined together.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    The Great American Apparel Diet

    I'm intrigued by the idea of The Great American Apparel Diet. The premise? A group of women have vowed to buy no new articles of clothing for a full year. Some of them appear to be real fashionistas, others express ambivalence about staying in tune with fashion trends; but all of them recognize that while this experiment will surely save them money, it has value far beyond that.

    Like many of the women participating the the Apparel Diet, I have full closets and drawers (and yet, amazingly, often "nothing to wear"). Sometimes, my shopping is a source of entertainment ("I wonder what's new?"). But more than anything else, it is the result of my constant search for the perfect outfit that will hide all my figure flaws and make me feel truly beautiful.

    Even before reading about the Apparel Diet, I toyed with versions of it on my own. I've gone months without new clothing purchases (e.g. nothing in June or July, took advantage of sales in August, nothing in September, treated myself big for by birthday in October, going cold-turkey now in November). For a while, I wouldn't allow myself to buy anything new unless it was replacing something I was getting rid of. Some times I include shoes and accessories in my new clothing ban; other times I don't.

    I'm lucky that most of my clothing purchases are discretionary. I did really need a new winter coat last year. And because I'm a runner, it is essential that I replace my running shoes regularly. But other than that, I can mostly do without new things. So while I probably won't be joining the Apparel Diet, I applaud the women who are participating in this experience and I wish them luck.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Halloween Candy Alternatives

    For several years now, I have been offering the trick-or-treaters who come to my door an alternative to loading up on even more sugary candy. No, I don't mean that I am one of those dreaded homes that offers apples, raisin boxes (or worse!). I have plenty of Reese's, M&Ms, Snickers and the rest to give out. But along with candy, I fill my Halloween basket with leftovers from the goody-bags from my kids' birthday parties: things like pencils, fun key chains, mini-games and card decks, stickers, temporary tattoos and magnets. I encourage everyone who comes to my door to pick what they want from the basket. Inevitably, the non-candy doo-dads are chosen first. Even those tough-to-please pre-teens ooh and aah over the unexpected booty.

    I like the money that I save by buying less candy. And I like using up the odds and ends that never made it into party bags (you know how it goes - goody bag trinkets always seem to be sold in lots of 8 or 12 and we always seem to have just enough guests that I have to order the extra pack). So everyone wins!

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Frugal Halloween Decorations, Part II

    Earlier this month, I wrote about frugal Halloween decorations. Amazingly, though, I did not mention pumpkins at all. Not even once! How could that be?! Pumpkins are the symbol of the season! And they are totally in sync with the tightwad mentality: for those with gardens, they are easy and inexpensive to grow; for those without gardens, they are still cheap on a per pound basis. And because you can use them for decorations, and then later as food, they serve multiple purposes (and having multiple uses is completely in keeping with the sentiments of these top tightwad tips!). Whether you buy big or small pumpkins; carve or paint your pumpkins; stick with traditional orange jack o'laterns or investigate exotic gourds, pumpkins are the perfect centerpiece to your Halloween decorations. And if you want to see some great ideas of what to do with your pumpkins, check out Country Living's great pumpkin ideas.

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Tightwad Tips for Entertaining Your Tots

    Before we had children, I heard loads of horror stories about how expensive child-rearing is these days. And while it's true that college costs have risen dramatically in recent decades - even in these recessionary times, college prices rose again last year well above rest of the Consumer Price Index - other things haven't been quite as dramatically costly as I was led to believe they might be. Perhaps one reason for this is that rather than spending tons of money on the latest electronic game, battery-operated gizmo, or media-hyped toy, I've opted to entertain my children with activities that cost nothing or almost nothing.

    Here's a list - in no particular order - of some of my most successful activity ideas:
    1. Cook up a storm – let your kids measure and mix to their hearts' content. And while cookie baking is fun, don't limit their involvement to shaping and decorating cookies during the holidays. Cooking is very tactile and messy - which most kids like. So have them sprinkle grated cheese on lasagna, squeeze the juice from lemons, add raisins to quickbread dough, season the chicken with salt and pepper -- as a bonus you'll be teaching them valuable life skills!
    2. Watch flowers drink - pick daisies or queen’s anne lace and put them in an assortment of containers filled with water mixed with different colors of food color and watch the flowers turn color. Note: you can do this with celery, too.
    3. Become a beach bum. Look for shells, sea glass, smooth rocks, and driftwood at the beach. Build a collection to display at home or use your treasures to decorate a sand castle.
    4. Boxes are best. It is no joke that lots of young children like the cardboard boxes their gifts come in as much as they like the presents inside. So play up on this idea by asking an appliance store for big boxes (like those for refrigerators) to make play house.
    5. Banish “I’m bored” complaints by compiling a list of ideas (my sister even put her ideas into binder for her daughter) including crafts, inexpensive outings (take a walk in the woods, go to the library), games (including board games and tag, freeze tag, mother may I, hide-and-seek, hopscotch, etc.), and projects (turn the dining room table into a fort, playhouse, etc. with sheets and tablecloths) that will occupy your kids on a rainy Saturday.
    6. A variation on an old favorite. Play hide and seek in the dark with flashlights (when light shines on you you’re found) – a variation.
    7. Have book, dvd or toy swap with other families (we did this at my son's school) – kids won’t mind giving away things they’re tired of, when it means getting new stuff in exchange.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Cheapskate China

    You don't need an assortment of fancy serving dishes to make your table look attractive when you entertain. Instead, you can use various fruits and vegetables as festive containers: scoop out a watermelon half (and make jagged or scalloped edges to make it extra special) for a fruit salad; use a bell pepper for the dip you serve with crudité (lots of colors to choose from); and use a large pumpkin to serve pumpkin or squash soup.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    A Frugal Fashionista’s Four Fashion Rules

    The key to looking great all the time means dressing elegantly, not expensively. Here are four fashion rules that will help you look like a million, even on a very limited budget:

    1. Quality beats quantity.
    • For items that you'll wear again and again (pieces like a classic trench coat, sheath dress, black pumps), buy the highest quality you can afford. The higher quality pieces will last longer and since you won't have to replace the items as often so you'll save money over time.
    2. Timeless trumps trendy.
    • Shop at the end of the season for bargains on classics like black wool pants, a great jacket, cashmere sweaters.
    3. It’s all in the details.
    • A great haircut can set the tone for your whole look. Get the best cut for the least dough by attending the training schools run by high-end salons.
    4. Accessories make the look.
    • We've all heard how metallic sandals, dangling earrings, and an embellished clutch can take a work-day dress to an evening event -- stylists repeat this mantra so often because it's true. Accessories also allow you to update classic clothing so it looks fresh and contemporary.
    • http://www.taroonyc.com/ is good source of fun, inexpensive accessories (think beaded bags, chandelier earrings, and wonderfully large cocktail rings).
    • Find fun but inexpensive vintage pieces at thrift shops, flea markets and yard sales.

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Live Lavishly (Without Breaking the Bank)

    A frugal lifestyle doesn't mean sitting at home with nothing to do. It isn't necessarily all about clipping coupons and abstaining from all the fun in life. You can live lavishly without breaking the bank - all you need to do is make some minor adjustments. Here are some ideas:
    • Enjoy brunch and a matinee instead of dinner at a fancy restaurant and a show
    • Take advantage of community freebies - like the free outdoor movies that many towns offer in the summer
    • Borrow dvds from your public library instead of using a commercial service
    • Get on the invitation list to art gallery openings – and delight in free wine, hors d’oevres, and art
    • Try a wine tasting at your local wine shop
    • Test drive the car of your dreams (even if you’re not buying)
    • Go to open houses (even if you’re not thinking of moving)
    • Watch the sun set
    • Watch meteor shows

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    A Rant About Repairs

    The New York Times had an article today about a group of folks who meet regular to try to fix broken objects. I wish there were more groups like this available. I use a cobbler to mend shoes that will last longer with a few repairs, and I use a tailor (at my dry cleaner) to mend small tears and holes (that are beyond my sewing acumen) to get the most out of the family clothing. Most jewelers have a "fix it" department for replacing watch batteries and bands, repairing chains, and the like. But for many other things, I'm at a complete loss. Small appliances seem to break regularly and neither the stores that sell them nor the manufacturers that make them have maintained an easy way for consumers to have them repaired. Years ago, my microwave stopped working just days after the warranty ran out. A local repair shop charged almost half the cost of replacing it, only to tell me that they didn't know what was wrong with it. Similarly, when my washing machine went on the fritz, the repair company offered to come take a look and diagnose the problem for a price that was half that of a new washer -- warning me that there would be additional fees for the manpower of the actual repair and for the parts. In both cases (and in many others), I've opted just to replace the broken items. Like many other consumers, I've been warned away from pricey extended warranties, and so when something breaks (as it invariably does) beyond the warranty period, I've got limited options for having it repaired. I'm not handy myself, and so when a clock radio or a telephone/answering machine or any similar object stops working, I just go and buy a new one. These items seem to made to be disposable - and so I treat them as such. It is expensive and wasteful, but the price of repairs seems to leave no other option.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Frightenly Frugal

    Catalogs chock-full of elaborate Halloween costumes with prices starting at about $30 and rising sharply from there have been filling my mailbox for almost two months now. But why spend lots of money on a costume for your child (or for you!), when you probably have plenty of odds and ends that together can make an outfit that is both frugal and festive:
    • Become a fortune-telling gypsy with a circle skirt, peasant blouse, and lots of jewelry. The quality doesn't matter here - just put on every jewel, bangle and chain you own. Add a colorful scarf over your hair and a shawl (or two) over your shoulders.
    • Cinch a clear plastic garbage bag at your neck and knees and fill the interior with colorful round balloons. Presto! You're a gumball machine!
    • Here's another use for a clear plastic garbage bag if you have a partner: one of you will wear all-black, fill the cinched bag with white Styrofoam peanuts and tape a S to your chest; the other will wear all-white, fill the cinched bag with black peanuts and tape a P to your chest; both will wear metal colanders as hats -- and you are transformed into salt and pepper shakers.
    • The transformation to a train-hopping hobo is easy: a kerchief tied to the end of a stick, and mismatched old clothing - if it is too big or too small, so much the better!
    • A large cardboard box with holes cut for head, arms and legs has almost endless possibilities. Paint it anyway you want: you can be a TV, a Thomas-the-Tank engine, or just a box!
    • Knight in Shining Armor: cut a sword and shield from corrugated cardboard and cover with aluminum foil; use more foil to cover a bike helmet; put on an old sweatshirt and sweatpants and wrap additional foil around your arms, trunk and legs (do your top and bottom separately for ease with bathroom breaks) and secure it here and there with clear tape.
    • Tried and true: an old white sheet with holes cut out for your eyes.

    Monday, October 5, 2009

    Inexpensive Halloween Decorations

    Ever since the back-to-school rush abated, the stores in my area have been over-run with over-priced and over-hyped Halloween decorations. Let's be clear: I love to set a scary scene (in fact, we've been the "go-to" house in terms of Halloween decorations and haunted happenings in the past few years), but I don't feel that I need to spend hundreds of dollars to do so. Here are some ideas for getting the greatest ghostly impact with the fewest greenbacks:

    Take advantage of the dark. Everything is a little more frightening if you don't know exactly what you're seeing, so keep your lighting as dim as possible. Turn off all the lights and rely primarily on candlelight. I like inexpensive tea lights, which I put all over the place in highball glasses to reduce the chance of fire. You can find all kinds of fancy colored and decorated candles especially for Halloween, but you don't really need these since the real reason for the candlelight is to provide a flickering and spooky atmosphere.


    Free foliage. Autumn leaves, scattered on a tabletop or mantle, provide a nice touch and are free for the taking!


    Cobwebs and Spiderwebs. You can buy black gauze and spiderweb materials for a pretty penny at most party stores. Or you can make it very inexpensively yourself with materials from the craft or fabric store. Dye cheesecloth black and drape it around the room for an eerie effect. And use cotton batting, stretched out to represent spider webs.

    Construction Paper Critters. Cut life-size bats from black construction paper and tape them to the windows and walls. You can also use fishing wire to hang them from the ceiling. In dim light the effect is quite startling.


    Spindly Trees. Draw free-hand trees (just the trunk and branches) on paper with luminescent paint. Don't worry too much about perfection - the idea is to have tall, spindly images that are reflected in the candlelight.

    Paint it Black.  Everything looks more on-theme if it is painted black, so go ahead and bring out the spray paint for everything from candle-holders to vases.  One look I especially like is bare branches sprouting from a big black urn.

    Go Crazy with Candy Corn.  Fill clear glass vases with it, scatter it across the dining room table, use it to anchor votive candles, decorate bare branches with it -- nothing says "Halloween" quite like this tasty treat!

    Halloween howls. Don't forget about sound. Having a soundtrack of eerie moans, groans, and scary music (e.g. Michael Jackson's Thriller) will help set the mood you are creating with your decorations.

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Flowering Frugality

    The gift of flowers is a lovely gesture. A bouquet of blossoms can cheer up a sick friend, assure loved ones that you've remembered their birthdays, and, of course, send a flamboyant declaration of your love. But sending flowers can be expensive. Here are some ways that you can reap all of the benefits without incurring all the costs:
    • Go local. Call a local florist in the recipient's town, rather than using a nation-wide service like 1-800-Flowers or FTD. Doing so may involve a bit of online research, but the payoff will be a more impressive bouquet for less money, since the local florist can use what is already abundantly and beautifully in stock, rather than trying to match a pre-set arrangement.
    • Deliver it yourself. The cost of delivery manpower plays a large role in the cost of delivered flowers. So if you can drop off the arrangement yourself (perhaps even using a container you already own, thereby saving even more money), you'll save plenty of dough.
    • Start from scratch. If you are planning a gift in advance, grow your own flowers from seed, clippings, or bulbs, replanting them in a pretty container (perhaps an old teacup for a bunch of marigolds or a teapot for some bright tulips.
    • Go Green. Cut flowers are beautiful for only a short time, so for the best bang for you buck, buy a plant instead. You can even match the plant you choose to the specific interests of your recipient, buying a rosemary plant for someone who loves to cook, and a rose plant for someone who enjoys gardening.

    Friday, September 25, 2009

    Reuse, Recycle, Redesign!

    The steps you take to save money and to save the environment are actually very similar. In both cases, you don't want to buy lots of extra stuff you don't need. In both cases, you don't want to pay for extraneous packaging. And in both cases, you want to reuse the stuff you already own, even if that means re-purposing it in some way (like shortening a skirt to keep up with fashion trends or turning an old door into a desktop).

    With all of this in mind, we were interested to hear about love2design's redesign program. They take your old gold jewelry and turn it into something new for yourself or as a gift for a friend or family member. With gold at record high prices right now, it can be tempting to just sell pieces that you no longer like or wear. But since jewelry can have sentimental value that far exceeds its monetary worth, this is a way that you can still hang on to something you received as a gift or heirloom.

    Here's how it works: You send your old jewelry to love2design and they'll tell you how much it's worth, so you can choose a piece from their collection. If your gold is worth less than the piece that you choose, you'll pay the difference. If it's worth more, then they'll return the difference to you. They can also incorporate your stones into the piece or they can return the stones to you. Now how's that for a bit of recycling?!

    For more info, send an email to lori@love2designjewelry.com.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    Beauty on a Budget

    You don't need to spend a lot of money on beauty products to look great. Here are inexpensive products that really work well:
    • Petroleum jelly serves as a great lip gloss.
    • Petroleum jelly also works well for softening calloused feet – apply liberally before bed and put on cotton socks. Your feet will be nice and soft in morning. You can also do this before your morning run. And in the winter, when the skin on your hands gets very dry, apply the petroleum jelly to your hands and wear cotton gloves to bed at night.
    • You can use petroleum jelly to lubricate your lashes, too.  It's an easy way to draw attention to your eyes without putting on a pile of mascara or eye shadow.  Just comb the petroleum jelly lightly through the tips of eyelashes to get a sexy, subtle sparkle.
    • Use a lip brush with your lipstick – it will help you apply just the right amount (eliminating the need to blot and throw away all the color on a Kleenex) and the lip brush will help you use every last bit in the tube.
    • Don't forget the tried and true method of using black tea bags or cucumber slices over your eyes to reduce puffiness. Just chill, apply, and keep on as you lie down for 5 to 10 minutes.
    • In a pinch, you can use a pea-size amount of toothpaste to zap a zit.  Let it sit for about 15 minutes to absorb the oil, then wash off.
    • Use cornmeal mixed with water as a gentle exfoliate. Or mix oatmeal with plain yogurt – the oatmeal will absorb oil and exfoliate, and the natural acidity in the yogurt will firm your skin.
    • Sugar (brown sugar or regular white granulated) mixed with honey, olive oil, or milk makes another good all-over exfoliator.
    • Apple cider vinegar works as well as pricey clarifying shampoos at gently removing excess product from your hair and leaving it smooth and shiney.  And as long as you rinse well, you don't need to worry about any smell lingering in your hair.  For best results, rinse with a 1/4 cup of vinegar mixed with water about once a week.
    • Do double duty with your conditioner by using it to shave your legs as well as to make your hair soft and managable.  Just smooth a dollop onto your legs prior to shaving.  It will soften your hair so it's easier to shave off and will make your legs feel nice and silky.
    • And speaking of gloriously smooth legs, I used to use baby oil on my legs to keep them shiny in the summer, but I have to admit that baby oil alone can be a bit too greasy.  But I've found that if you blend a drop or two of baby oil into your normal body lotion, you'll get the best of both: legs that have a nice luster but aren't too greasy.
    • Here's another way to customize your lotion:  add a few drops of your favorite fragrance to scent-free body lotion and you'll have an expensive perfumed body product for a fraction of the price you'd pay at the department store perfume counter.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    Fun on a Budget

    You don't always have to sacrifice fun for the sake of saving money. There are plenty of entertainment options that are free or almost free. Here are some of them:
    • Support your local college or high school sports team by attending their games instead of paying big bucks to see the pros.
    • Similarly, high school and college concerts and plays are a low-cost alternative.
    • You can often attend open rehearsals for the symphony or opera performance you want to see for a fraction of the regular price.
    • You can visit art galleries for free instead of paying costly museum admission fees.
    • Take a hike at a nearby nature preserve or state park. Bring a picnic lunch to optimize your time outdoors.
    • Church suppers, pancake breakfasts and the like organized in your community (or even elsewhere, while you’re on vacation) usually cost less than a restaurant meal and support a good cause, too.
    • You can save money by having friends over for poker night, a game of monopoly, or the like, instead of going to a movie or bowling together.
    • Find out if the museum, zoo, aquarium or other attractions you'd like to visit has “free or discounted days” – just call them or check web site.
    • Pick your own - strawberries in June, apples in October, lots of other choices in between - you'll pay less than at the grocery store and have a fun time on the farm, to boot.
    • In the winter, go ice skating on a community rink or local lake/pond (but only if the ice is very solid)
    • Spend a Saturday cruising yard sales or flea markets. Set your budget as low as possible - or plan to buy nothing at all, and entertain yourself by figuring out how much all YOUR stuff is worth!

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Sweet Scents

    You don’t need to spend lots of money on fancy sprays, potpourris, or plug-ins to keep your home smelling nice. Boil a pot of water with your choice of cinnamon sticks, lemon peels, or vanilla extract and the aroma will spread throughout the house.

    Saturday, September 19, 2009

    Take Five

    Saving money requires, more than anything else, taking a good hard look at your current spending habits and determining what you are willing to give up now, in order to meet your future financial goals later. One way to do this is to come up with 5 items that you are willing to live without. When you really push yourself, sometimes the savings appear more obvious. For example, would you rather have that package of cookies you routinely put in your shopping cart at the grocery store each week, or put that money toward a special beach vacation (and look better in your bathing suit, too!).

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    Two (or Three) in One

    You can save lots of money by using items that do double (or triple) duty. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
    • Tinted moisturizer with SPF 30 is essentially three products in one: you can skip foundation and sunscreen simply by moisturizing your face.
    • Fabric softener sheets also good for wiping down TV screens and computer monitors (use them for this purpose after they’ve dried a load of laundry – or two).
    • You can also put used fabric softener sheets in the boxes in which you pack out-of-season clothes – the sheets will keep the clothes smelling fresh.
    • Use turkey baster or rubber bulb ear syringe in place of can of compressed air to blow dust from key board and other delicate or tough-to-clean places.
    • Women can shave their legs with lather of soap or shower gel rather than special shaving lotion.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Frugal Furniture Care

    We've blogged before about the benefits of buying quality, solid wood furniture. Here are some tightwad tips on caring for it:
    • Instead of buying pricey furniture scratch cover, fill in dents and dings with colored wax from your crayon collection (not sure of which color will match best? better to start lighter and move darker), with a similarly colored shoe polish (use a light touch), or break the meaty part of a walnut, Brazil nut or pecan in half and rub it over the scratched spot.
    • Remove water marks with toothpaste (it really needs to be the old fashioned white paste; gels don't work).
    • Dust at least weekly using a soft cloth. You don't need sprays or polish - just removing the dirt on a regular basis will help keep your furniture looking nice. And any soft cloth will do - we cut up old t-shirts for this purpose.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Inexpensive Entertaining

    As we move toward the holiday season and you begin to think about celebrating with your friends and family, remember that entertaining doesn't have to be expensive – the whole point is to be together. So if you are on a very limited budget, don't be shy about asking everyone to contribute to the meal (you can opt for potluck or assign specific dishes to each guest). You might also plan a progressive party if everyone lives close to one another, with each course served at a different house. If you make the event festive, who cares that you are serving chili or a pasta dish rather than an expensive roast? Trying to impress your guests? Consider splurging on just once fancy thing -- perhaps have a shrimp appetizer before a linguine carbonara entree, with simple fruit sorbet and cookies for dessert.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Top Ten Bargains on Broadway

    Since one of New York's great free outdoor events, Broadway on Broadway, was held today, it seems like a good time to mention some other ways that you can enjoy Broadway music for just a fraction of the usual price. (Broadway on Broadway is a free concert held each year in the heart of Times Square and attended by more than 50,000 fans. It features musical numbers and appearances from almost every play and musical on Broadway, as well as sneak peeks at several upcoming shows opening in the new theatre season.)

    Here are 10 ways to see a great show without paying more than $100 (plus a handling surcharge and a credit card fee) per ticket:
    1. Join the Club And Save. One of the best kept secrets in the theater world is the discount ticket series run by the Theatre Development Fund. This program was designed to help students, teachers, union members, retired people, the clergy, members of the armed forces and other performers afford the theater. You pay an annual fee of $25 to be added to their mailing list, which will alert you to upcoming bargains. You can buy up to 9 tickets for each show you attend at less than $30 per ticket for Broadway shows and major music and dance performances; you will also be eligible to purchase TDF vouchers which serve as admission to over 400 experimental and Off-Off Broadway theatre, music and dance groups. A set of four TDF vouchers is only $28.
    2. Audience Extras, a promotion service, offers their members free tickets (for a $3 processing fee) to over 1,000 different entertainment events each year, including dance performances, concerts, movie premieres and sporting events. They do not specifically focus on Broadway shows (although in the past, they have offered tickets to many Broadway performances), but their extremely low prices and the variety of their selections make the $115 membership fee worthwhile.
    3. Another option is to check out Broadway Bucks, a free subscription service which also offers coupons for discount tickets (up to 50% off).
    4. Go With A Group. If you tend to go to the theater with a group of friends or relatives anyway, invite a few extra people along and sign up for a group discount. Discounts of 10-20% are usually available for groups of 20 or more. You can order tickets by calling the box office directly or by calling 1-800-833-3121.
    5. Standing Room Only. Many places still offer low-priced tickets to theater-goers who are willing to stand at the back of the theater to see a sold-out show. But don't worry -- it is rare to have to stand for the entire performance since there are usually at least a few no-shows whose seats you can take. Discounts can be considerable: standing room only tickets are usually only about $20. Call the theater in advance to see if standing room only tickets are available.
    6. The Best Seats For A Low Price. Many theaters reserve a block of seats at the front of the house for friends of the stars and other people connected with the show. If these tickets are not being used, they are usually sold off by the box office shortly before curtain time. There may be a line of people waiting for the tickets with you, but with luck, you will be rewarded with the best seats in the house for a fraction of the full price.
    7. Savings For Students (and others). If you are a junior or high school student, check out the High 5 program: participating theaters offer tickets for only $5! Incidentally, High 5 isn't just for theater: tickets for hundreds of New York's best dance, music, film, museum and spoken word events are also available through this program. Best of all, there is no enrollment. There are no applications to fill out, and no lines to stand in. All you need is some form of school ID. Each student may be accompanied by one adult -- just buy one extra $5 ticket. That means a parent, teacher or mentor can tag along. Another good program for students, as well as teachers and librarians, is the School Theater Ticket Program, which provides discount coupons to musicals and plays on and off-Broadway, events at Lincoln Center (including Opera and Ballet) and other events in New York City.
    8. Take Your Binoculars. There is usually a considerable range in the prices of the best seats and the worst seats. For example, prices for Showboat tickets several years ago ranged from $35 to $75. So we saved the $40 and sat in the rear mezzanine. Use your binoculars during the first act for a better view of the stage and to scout out empty seats with a better view that you can move to after intermission.
    9. Getting In For Free. If you are willing to swap some time in return for watching a show for free, ushering might be just the thing for you. Policies vary from theater to theater and even from show to show, but generally all you have to do to get in for free is arrive well before the show starts, hand paying customers a program and escort them to their seats. Some theaters already have long lists of available ushers (and your name will go to the bottom of the list), but you still may be needed as a last-minute fill-in. To get on the list, simply make a quick phone call to the theater. The best time to call is on weekdays from 10 am to 4 pm.
    10. The Old Standby. Although most people know about TKTS, it's worth a mention. At the TKTS booth, you can buy tickets the day of the performance at prices up to 50% off (plus a service charge of $3).

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    When to Save; When to Splurge

    With the plethora of fast-fashion shops (like H&M, TopShop, and even Target), it can be tempting to fill your wardrobe with quick and easy pieces. But sometimes it is worth spending more to get classic clothing of high quality that will last for years. Here are some tips regarding when to save and when to splurge:
    • Save on basic cotton t-shirts, especially white, which often yellows over time - there is no need to spend big bucks on items that are virtually indistinguishable from their less expensive counterparts.
    • Splurge for tailored items that you'll wear every day, like a winter coat that goes with everything - getting a coat of the highest quality you can afford assures you that you'll look as good in it in March as you did in October.
    • Save on the big trend of the season - whether it is a certain color or a funky accessory -- you don't want to blow your budget on something that will look dated in a few months.
    • Splurge on high quality shoes and purses - well-made items in real leather are never confused with their cheap-looking faux cousins.
    • Save on garments and accessories that you won't wear that often (say a blouse that only matches one skirt).
    • Splurge on items that are versatile, seasonless and classic -- the staples of your wardrobe that you'll reach for again and again.
    Update: I'm not the only one who advocates mixing high and low-cost items to create a fashionable wardrobe, allowing you to look like you spent way more than you did.  Check out the "save and splurge" tips from Rouge magazine here.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    From Beds or Bath to Bottoms

    When my son was an infant I was always looking for ways to save money and time. Here's one of my best inspirations:

    Instead of purchasing standard covers for my son’s changing table pad (which I found rather pricey for polyester-blend fabric), I used king-size pillow cases. Not only were they significantly less expensive, but I had a much larger range of colors and fabrics to choose from. And the fit was perfect! Plus, there were no straps or elastic bands to worry about; I’d simply slide the pillowcase right over the pad. An added benefit: I could reverse the pillowcase if it got slightly soiled by drool, and double the wear (and reduce my dirty laundry pile).

    Another good idea is to use a bath mat on top of a dresser or a table instead of a separate changing table. This way you won't need to get a specialized piece of furniture that you'll just use for a short while. And the bathmat (look for all-cotton) provides the softness of towel while the rubber backing keeps it in place.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    Brown Bagging It

    Almost everyone has heard the cost-saving advice about taking lunch, coffee and snacks to work rather than buying over-priced (and often unhealthy and not-so-tasty) meals – but, we can’t emphasize enough how much this one small change can make over time. Even if you're just having pizza or a sandwich from the corner deli or local fast food joint, it is hard to buy lunch for less than $5 per day. Add a $2 cup of coffee in the morning and a $2 soda/snack combo from the vending machine in the afternoon and you're spending $2,160 in after-tax dollars each year (or $64,800 in take-home pay during a 30-year career). Can't you think of something else you'd rather do with all that money?

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Gift Card Exchange

    I stumbled across Plastic Jungle and had one of those "I wish I had thought of this!" moments. You can do three things on this site:

    1) Sell or swap gift cards that you might otherwise allow to languish in a drawer (thereby turning "plastic into gold")
    2) Buy gift cards at a discount (so you can save up to 35% of the value of the restaurant and retail gift cards)
    3) Donate unwanted gift cards to the charity of your choice (so you can give away something you might not use anyway and still get the tax deduction!)

    Gift cards have become one of the most popular gifts around - so whether you're giving or receiving cards, this is a great site to check out!

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    Ten More Tightwad Quotes

    A quick follow-up to our previous post of famous quotes about the value of frugality:
    1. Arnold Bennett: “Much ingenuity with a little money is vastly more profitable and amusing than much money without ingenuity.”
    2. Arthur Wellington: “Budgeting is the art of doing that well with one dollar which any bungler can do with two.”
    3. Charles Dickens: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."
    4. Proverb: "Waste not, want not."
    5. Sir John Templeton: "Those who spend too much will eventually be owned by those who are thrifty."
    6. Benjamin Franklin: "If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting."
    7. Thomas Tusser: "A fool and his money are soon parted."
    8. Agesilaus: "By sowing frugality we reap liberty, a golden harvest."
    9. Francois Quesnay: “To secure the greatest amount of pleasure with the least possible outlay should be the aim of all economic effort.”
    10. "Meanness inherits a set of silverware and keeps it in the bank. Economy uses it only on important occasions, for fear of loss. Thrift sets the table with it every night for pure pleasure, but counts the butter spreaders before they are put away.”

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Frugal Fund-raising

    As the kids head back to school this month and PTAs all around the country gear up to raise much-needed monies for their schools, we encourage parents to try some of these frugal fundraisers. Why have students sell you expensive chocolates or pricey wrapping paper when these low-cost options can be just as successful in filling the school's coffers?
    1. Have families and friends clip the Boxtops for Education logos from the packaging of specific brands and send them in to school. Although each logo is only worth about 10 cents, the dollars really add up when you ask friends and families to contribute, too.
    2. Encourage families and friends to do all their online shopping through programs like OneCause and Upromise which then donate a portion of the proceeds to the school.
    3. Hold a potluck supper with a modest admission fee.
    4. Organize a group tag sale - everyone is likely to have something donate and as we all know, one man's trash is another man's treasure.
    5. Have a penny or coin collecting drive - school families will find a home for their spare change and the school can easily raise thousands without much effort.
    6. Hold a pie-throwing contest, where students pay to throw cream pie at the principal, and other administrators and teachers.
    7. Try the new programs from Go-green-fundraising.com which provides flower bulbs, tree kits, etc. with no start-up costs for schools.

    Monday, August 31, 2009

    Top Ten Tightwad Quotes

    Throughout human history, famous and successful people have advocated a thrifty lifestyle. Here are our favorite quotes about why being a tightwad is a good thing:
    1. Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.”
    2. George Bernard Shaw: “Economy is the art of making the most of life.”
    3. Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.”
    4. Ben Franklin: “Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.”
    5. Cicero: "Cannot people realize how large an income is thrift?"
    6. Samuel Johnson: "Frugality may be termed the daughter of Prudence, the sister of Temperance, and the parent of Liberty."
    7. Confucius: "He who does not economize will have to agonize."
    8. Rudyard Kipling: “Any fool can waste, any fool can muddle, but it takes something of a man to save, and the more he saves, the more of a man does it make of him.”
    9. Socrates: “Those who have little, if they are good at managing, must be counted among the rich.”
    10. Yiddish proverb: “With money in your pocket, you are wise and you are handsome and you sing well, too.”

    Saturday, August 29, 2009

    Pick Your Own Produce and Save!

    When it is harvest-time, there is no better way to celebrate the bounty of the season than by picking your own fresh produce from a local farm! This is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours on a warm summer day or a crisp autumn afternoon, and the quality and price easily beat those of the mega-market down by the mall. The Boston Insider lists a number of farms in the greater Boston area which offer pick-your-own fruits and vegetables; a quick Google search will help you find similar places closer to your own home.

    Friday, August 28, 2009

    Frugal Weight Loss

    If you're trying to lose weight, counting calories (both those going in and those you exercise out) is often the most cost-effective way to go. You won't have to purchase any special foods, so you can eat with rest of your family (and so feel less deprived), you can eat the things you like (just in smaller quantities), and you can eat low cost meals that fit your budget.

    And when you lose weight – we recommend that you have your clothes tailored rather than buying whole new wardrobe (as tempting as that may be). It will save you the cost of lots of shopping, but you'll still look great.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    Household Tightwad Tip

    There is no need to hire a handyman to fix doorknobs that rattle, or make a trip to the hardware store to replace any screw that is slightly stripped. Instead, simply put a small piece of clay inside the female part. The clay will fill in the space around the thread and hold the screw in place.

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Consult the Experts

    Here are three titles with useful tightwad tips:

    a. The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn
    b. The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
    c. Yankee Magazine’s Living Well on a Shoestring

    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    Cost of Contentment

    Make list of five things that make you smile, that make your day, that make you happy, that make you laugh -- the things that really bring you true joy. Chances are they include chillin’ with the family, playing tickle monster with the kids, going for a great run – in other words, the things that matter most don’t cost you a dime. The price of a few of your favorite things – free!

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Sales, Sales, Sales!!

    The bargains I'm finding these days are amazing: Anne Klein pumps that were $265; now just $40. A classic leather purse that was $159; now just $34.99. High quality cashmere sweaters for men and women that are now as little as $39.99. With prices like this, it's hard to resist! And yet, the tightwad in me knows that the #1 rule of frugal fashion is not to buy if you don't need it. So I consider each purchase very carefully, in light of what's already in my closet and what my sartorial needs are for the next year or so. I also follow these other frugal fashion rules:
    • Invest in staples. Buy the highest quality basics you can find – items like black trousers, structured jackets, a good leather purse and leather pumps, an A-line skirt. You can always fill in with less expensive accessories and trendy pieces (for example, you don’t need to spend lots on t-shirts).
    • Buy quality, not quantity because you will save money in the long run if clothes are well made. It's better to have one or two really well-cut jackets that flatter your figure and work with everything, than a closet full of ho-hum pieces.
    • Always invest in tailoring. Clothes that fit you well look more expensive.
    • Consider maintenance costs for every item you purchase.  A $20 pair of pants that needs to be dry cleaned may cost me more in the long run than a $50 pair of pants I can throw in the wash.

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    Magazines on the Cheap

    If you're a magazine junky like me, remember that you can read most magazines at your local library for free. I also like to browse a stack of magazines at Barnes & Noble (even if you grab a cup of coffee at their cafe to do so, you'll be ahead financially). It is also cheaper to subscribe than to buy issues at newsstand on a regular basis. And you might thing about sharing a subscription with a friend to save even more money.

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    Taking a Staycation

    This summer's economic climate has made "staycations" all the rage. Consumer Reports' website has some great tightwad tips on how to make the best of yours.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009

    Today's New York Times included a write-up about a new study that shows that when it comes to money, opposites do attract: “spendthrifts” and “tightwads” tend to marry. And so perhaps the best tightwad tip for someone considering marriage is to have serious conversations about money habits and expectations, so that this spendthrift/tightwad conflict isn't part of the relationship.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Faster Drains on the Cheap

    You don't need to buy Drano or other similarly expensive clog-cutters to clear a slow-draining sink or bath tub. Instead follow this time-tested tightwad tip: pour cup of baking soda into the sluggish drain, followed by cup of vinegar, followed finally by a pot of boiling water.

    Of course, you can always reach for the plunger, too, if necessary.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Cheaper Cooking

    One way to save money when you cook is to substitute what you have on hand for specific (often more expensive) specialty items. For example, you don’t need to buy buttermilk just for one recipe – you can use milk mixed with a little lemon juice or vinegar instead. If you want a thicker consistency, you can use the same amount of plain or vanilla yogurt. Whatever you choose as a substitute, you aren't wasting the rest of a quart of buttermilk, if the recipe just calls for 1/2 cup. Similarly, you can substitute applesauce or pumpkin puree or a similar product (whatever is cheapest for you) for ½ the fat in baking – doing so is healthier, too! Here are some other common cooking substitutes:

    • small curd cottage cheese, sour cream, or yogurt in place of ricotta in lasagna and similar dishes
    • 1 cup milk plus about a tablespoon of butter instead of a cup of light cream
    • 3 tablespoons or unsweetened cocoa plus 1 tablespoon of butter for 1 ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate
    • 7/8 cup of all purpose flour sifted with 2 tablespoons cornstarch to replace 1 cup cake flour
    • 1 cup of sugar mixed with 1/4 cup water to replace 1 cup honey
    • 1 cup of granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon molasses equals 1 cup light brown sugar; add an additional tablespoon of molasses to make dark brown sugar
    You'll also find that many cookbooks feature common cooking substitutes at the back of the book. Or check out the list of recipe substitutions online.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Top Tightwad Tips for Moving

    Late summer is prime moving season. Not only are college students moving into their dorms and school housing, but recent grads who have taken the summer off before starting new jobs are getting set up. And families with school-age children who are anxious to be settled in their new home before the school year starts are also on the move.

    Moving can be a very expensive process, costing thousands of dollars if you have professional movers pack up your belongings and truck you to your new destination. The least expensive (possibly free) way to move? Scrounge boxes and packing materials and do it all yourself with a borrowed truck. For most people, though, it is most practical to do something in between both extremes.

    So assuming you fall into this last category, here are some tightwad tips to help you save money on your next move:
    1. Get rid of excess possessions – don’t pay the mover to move stuff you don’t really need or want. Eat up the food in your pantry and freezer, hold a yard sale, and give items to charity.
    2. If you're moving locally, have rugs, window treatments and furniture picked up for cleaning and then delivered to new place, so you don't have to pay the mover to move them.
    3. Moving companies charge boat loads of money for moving materials and can waste a lot of these supplies, which typically, you are paying for (in our last move, I remember opening boxes that contained 1 pillow in box and finding rolls and rolls of half-used tape on the floor after the movers had finished packing). So obviously, anything you can do to save money on moving supplies will be useful. Try to find a good source of free boxes (try liquor stores, copy shops, and grocery stores) rather than paying your mover or the local office supply shop for new boxes. If that doesn't work out, find out if you can buy used boxes directly from a local moving company. Look into using your own blankets/sheets/towels as padding instead of renting blankets. You can also use these free padding materials to pack fragile things.
    4. Whether you are renting a truck or using a moving company, you are likely to save money (sometimes as much as 50%) if you schedule your day for a weekday rather than Saturday or Sunday.
    5. Remember not to pack boxes too full – if boxes are too heavy, it is more likely that things will break.  And replacing your precious possessions will cost more than finding a few more boxes.
    6. If you'll be renting a truck or van, follow The Insider Travel Guides' rental rules.
    7. Get firm quote in writing from your mover. And before you hire anyone, be sure to check them out with the Better Business Bureau.

    Monday, August 10, 2009

    Star Gazing

    fHere's a great idea for some free summer entertainment: watch the Perseid meteor shower, which occurs each year from August 10-14. The best viewing time is usually after midnight. You'll see the wonder of about 60 meteors each hour without any special equipment, admission fees, or other associated costs.

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Essential Tips for Saving Money at Home

    Although these ideas are very basic, and well-known to most tightwads, I mention them here because they are essential components of any money-saving regiment:
    To save electricity:
    • use compact florescent bulbs or LED lightbulbs (from Pixi) which are more like incandescent but use less energy and last up to 17 years
    • turn off lights when not in use
    • unplug appliances that use electricity even when in “off” mode - including phone chargers, tvs and computers - at night and when on vacation
    • wash clothes in cold water
    • keep your freezer running most efficiently by keeping it full of food (or ice)
    • similarly, keep your refrigerator running most efficiently by keeping it full of food (or containers of cold water)
    To save heating/air-conditioning costs:
    • insulate, especially around windows and in the attic
    • have an energy audit (many utility companies will do it for free) to find other leaks
    • turn down the thermostat a couple of degrees in the winter and turn it up a couple of degrees in the summer
    • open curtains and drapes to take advantage of daily sunshine in cooler weather; close curtains during the day in warmer weather
    To lower water costs:
    • don’t leave the faucet running while brushing teeth
    • don't rinse your dishes under the faucet before putting them into the dishwasher - just scrape off the food into the garbage
    • use dishwasher rather than hand-washing dishes; save more by running it at night (off peak hours)
    • run dishwasher/washing machine on shortest cycle that is still effective
    • insulate hot water pipes to keep water warm longer (so you don’t have to run the tap for several minutes to get hot water); and insulate your hot water heater, too
    • take showers instead of baths, and take the shortest shower with which you're comfortable
    To reduce utility costs:
    • if you don't watch a lot of tv, why not skip the cable bill and watch tv and movies on hulu.com
    • combine tv, phone, and internet charges with a single provider (like Time Warner Cable)
    • use a family plan for cell phones, if you have several
    • think about eliminating your home phone land line and just use your cell phone (unless you need it for a home office fax or some other reason)

    Friday, July 31, 2009

    Homemade Cracker Jack

    Buying snacks at the movies and at baseball games can be really expensive. Last time we took the kids to a show, we spent more on munchies than we did on the tickets themselves! The solution? Take home-made Cracker Jack with you. Here’s how to make it: you'll need ¾ cup packed brown sugar, ¼ cup butter, 3 tbsp corn syrup, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp baking soda, ½ tsp vanilla extract, 8 cups popped popcorn, and 1 cup shelled peanuts. Combine the first 4 ingredients in saucepan over low heat until the butter is melted, then cook without stirring for 3 minutes. Add baking soda and vanilla, then pour onto baking sheet spread out with popcorn and peanuts. Stir to mix evenly. Bake 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Break into pieces.

    Monday, July 27, 2009

    Tightwad Tips for the Frugal Fashionista

    If you are shopping for clothing and accessories at discount stores, remember that not all discounters are created equally. Off-price retailers - such as Century 21, Daffy’s, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Loehman’s - sell designer-label or other brand-name merchandise, at a significant percentage off the regular retail prices. But beware: some of the off-price merchandise you’ll find at these stores and in outlet malls isn’t the same stuff sold by Bergdorf Goodman. That’s because some name-brand fashions (including those from Polo Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani) are made in cheaper fabrics specifically for the discount stores. That's one reason that these days, we are now finding our best frugal fashions online (see related post). We also like the high styles and low prices found in some big box stores, like Target, which have hired big-name designers to create special collections. And knock-off houses like H&M and Topshop can also have great, trendy fashions at low prices.

    Of course no matter where you shop for fashion bargains, it makes sense to follow these basic shopping tips:
    • Bring a calculator (or use the one on your cellphone) to compare prices, figure out prices w/percentage markdowns, calculate tax, etc. so you'll know the total price of each item well before you approach the cash register.
    • Make friends of salespeople and get on mailing lists for advance info about sales (why pay full price today if it will be an extra 40% off tomorrow?).
    • Be comfortable: wear comfortable clothes and shoes, bring snacks and a bottle of water.
    • Plan ahead: wear socks of the right weight for shoes you’ll be trying on; wear appropriate undergarments (don’t wear sports bra if you’re shopping for a formal dress); bring the skirt you want to find a blouse for.
    • Think fit first. If it doesn’t fit well (jacket doesn’t sit on the shoulders and close in front; clothes bind, pinch, or sag and droop) or can’t be fixed with simple tailoring (e.g. hemming the length) it isn’t right for you. If you will be taking a trip to the tailor, remember that it is always easier to take a seam in than to let one out, so it's better to fit your widest part, and make the adjustments where you are smaller.
    • Consider price per wear. Pricey pieces that you’ll wear again and again might be worth it; super trendy clothes you’ll wear once might not be, not matter how cheap they are.
    • Look carefully for stains, holes, make-up marks, snags, missing buttons etc. Even if a slight imperfection can be fixed, you can still ask for a deeper discount. And if the pen mark is permanent, you want to make sure it is returnable.
    • Think about the whole picture. If you’re going to have to buy a new sweater and accessories to match those great pants, they might not be worth it, even at 75% off.  And even if the skirt fits, if the shape doesn't flatter your body type, it's probably just going to sit in your closet.
    • Natural fabrics are often more expensive than synthetics and often require more care, but they may look better and last longer and so may be worth it.

    Friday, July 24, 2009

    Live lavishly without breaking the bank

    Make “gourmet” coffee by adding ground cinnamon or cocoa powder to the grounds in your coffee pot. Or, you can also add a drop or two of vanilla, almond extract, or other flavors (check the baking aisle in your grocery store) to each cup of home-brewed coffee for a gourmet coffee-shop taste.

    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    Chillin'

    There was an article in today's New York Times about turning off the air conditioning as a way of saving money on utility bills. The piece offered some useful tips about keeping your house cool with fans and open windows that take advantage of cross breezes. It also helps to drink cold water and to eat less (thinner people have less natural insulation and cool off more quickly). Reader comments also offered some good tightwad tips about how to stay cool when temperatures climb. But overall, readers seemed to agree that moderating your use of the air conditioning (and in cold weather, the heater) is a more appropriate response to high energy prices.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    Write it down!

    Experts always suggest that if you want to lose weight, you should keep a log of what you eat, describing when you were able to stick to your eating and exercise plan, and what conditions caused an episode of binging. They say that dieters who faithfully write down their weight loss goals and the steps they take to achieve them (including the occasional falls off the wagon) are considerably more successful in meeting their goals in the long run.

    So it makes sense that if you are trying to reduce your spending, you should also keep a log. Write down your financial goals – both what you want to budget for savings and for spending - and then track your progress. Just the act of having to note what you spend money on is likely to curb any excessive extravagances. You might also find spending patterns that you hadn't realized. And if the experts are right, you'll reach your financial goals faster.

    Why is this so?  Often it is the little things that we don't realize we are spending money on everyday that keep us from reaching our long-term goals.  For example, that $4 latte that helps you get through the afternoon is costing you about $1000 a year - enough for a really fun getaway.  Perhaps this trade-off makes sense to you and you prefer a daily splurge to an annual one.  But maybe what you really want is an excuse to get up from your desk at 3 pm every day, and you'd rather take a short walk and save the $4.  Either way, tracking your expenses helps you make these decisions.

    And really, that is what saving money is all about.  You shouldn't save just to have a pile of cash hoarded away somewhere(remember, you can't take it with you!), but you should save so that you have the money you need to do the things you really want to do with you life, be that buying a house, sending your kids to college, travelling the world, starting a new business, or enjoying your retirement.

    Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    Saving the U.S. Economy

    There has been a lot of talk in the news about how the U.S. needs to stimulate the economy and get Americans to spend more money again. The evening news shows pictures of deserted malls and laments that no one is there buying more stuff. The New York Times complains about empty storefronts in the big city's major shopping districts and worries about the downward spiral they will cause.

    So, is it true that individuals who try to save money are actually hurting the economy? I don't think so. What’s good for Americans is ultimately good for America as a whole. Right now many of us need to shore up our savings. In time, the money we set aside in the bank to assure ourselves a secure future will provide more capital for businesses to use to invest in expansion and for individuals to borrow for houses, cars, and such. Yes, this may take a while, but in the long term we'll all be better off.

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    More Tightwad Travel Tips

    Finding really inexpensive accommodations when you travel can be a real challenge. But with some creativity, it is possible to see the world on a very limited budget. Here are some ideas:
    • Many colleges and university make their dormitories available to travellers for a modest fee. The Campus Lodging Guide is old, but the contact information it contains is useful as a starting point for finding college dorm rooms.
    • YMCA lodging
    • Hostels
    • Vacation home exchanges/Time share swaps
    • House sit or house swap
    • We also know couples who have offered to dog/cat sit and have thereby found the use of homes in wonderful vacation locations

    Friday, July 17, 2009

    Saving on Dry Cleaning Costs

    One obvious antidote to the high cost of dry cleaning is to do it less. You can achieve this in three ways:

    1) buy fewer clothes that require dry cleaning;
    2) hand wash delicate fabrics and wool (and cashmere) sweaters in cold water with Woolite or a similar mild detergent instead of sending them off to the dry cleaners; and
    3) getting a few extra wearings from clothing articles before sending them to the cleaners.

    Remember that too much dry cleaning wears out clothes faster. If you don't wear the item right next to your skin (as with most suit jackets), it probably doesn't need to be cleaned as often as you think. If you send things out mostly because they are wrinkled, trying freshening them with a steamer at home (or have the dry cleaner do it - it is considerably less expensive than cleaning).

    You might also try a home dry-cleaning kit (the best-known brand is Dryel), which sells for about $10 at drugstores and grocery stores. To use it, dab the stain remover on any spots and on the underarm areas. Then place the clothes and the cleaning pad into the special plastic bag from the kit. The whole thing goes into the clothes dryer for a half hour at the lowest setting. Clothes come out clean and smelling fresh.

    Incidentally, I'm a big fan of hand washing (or even machine washing, on the lowest cycle using a mesh bag) white cottons and silk knits, which can turn gray or yellow after frequent dry cleaning. I've always hand washed my sweaters - they'll dry faster if you roll them out in a clean towel to squeeze out all the extra water (just make sure you have a well ventilated place for them to dry flat). I even occasionally wash white linen (since it can come back from the dry cleaners looking dingy), although linen requires intense ironing. In fact the only things that absolutely must go to the cleaners are tailored items that are lined, items that are heavily embellished, and most formal wear.

    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    Top Tourist Attractions at Tightwad Prices

    One way to save money when you travel is to find out if the attractions you want to see have times when the admission is free or discounted. For example, admission to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is free on Fridays between 4 pm and 8 pm. Since the cost is usually $20 for adults, these savings are quite significant.

    To find out if the sights you want to see offer special savings, all you need to do is call them or poke around on their web site. Or you can check out the list of free museums in Boston, NYC, and San Francisco.

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Escape Hotel Surcharges

    We travel a lot. And as the recession puts pressure on hotel profits, we’ve seen an alarming uptick in the practicing that we call “nickeling-and-diming” – imposing phone surcharges, health-club fees, and mandatory valet parking – on the rise at many hotels. While a single fee might not seem like much, add a few here and there and your bill becomes outrageously high at check-out time. We think it is time to fight back – here’s how:

    Join the frequent-guest program. Some programs include benefits like free health-club use, which can rid you of the fee altogether. But if you are still hit with those annoying surcharges, your membership card will give you additional status and clout when you ask the manager to have the charges removed from your bill.

    Put things in perspective. Extras like parking rates and telephone access fees (typically $1 to $2 a call) are a gouge. But these fees are small in comparison to the other charges you’ve probably incurred. We always tell the manager, “Look, I've just spent hundreds of dollars at your hotel, and you're trying to charge me a two dollar fee for each local phone call. If you were in my shoes, would you think this was fair?" We have yet to have a manager refuse to remove the extras from our bill. Of course it is possible to avoid all of this by using your cellphone - so we do that whenever possible.

    Use the # key. Remember that some hotels levy charges for any calls -- even those made with a calling card. If you call from your hotel room using your calling card and know the hotel is charging, plan on making several calls in succession. If you stay on the line after the other party hangs up, you can press the pound key to make the next call. This saves you the extra charge of making another call, as your hotel's telephone system will not recognize that you are making multiple calls.

    Avoid the mini-bar. Do you really need that $6 Diet Coke or that $3 Snickers bar? The hotel uses the lure of convenience to lead you into temptation. Don't let them profit at your expense! If you are dying for a drink or a junk-food snack, hop on the elevator and pick up your goodies at the newsstand in the lobby. You'll save yourself a bundle and work off a couple calories to boot.

    As in most other endeavors, it pays to be polite, rather than aggressive and confrontational when you negotiate waivers of hotel surcharges. We like to ask the front desk personnel if they can "help us out" and always express our gratitude when they do.

    Incidentally, these tips are courtesy of TheInsiderTravelGuides.com, which is a good source of many other useful budget travel ideas.