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

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 which provides flower bulbs, tree kits, etc. with no start-up costs for schools.