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.