Friday, April 30, 2010

Saving vs Hoarding

I'm fascinated by the fine line between the kind of saving that tightwads do (along the lines of putting things aside to reuse for another purpose) and, hoarding, which is basically what my dad used to call "saving string too short to save."  I save the rubber bands that come wrapped around plastic boxes of produce (unless they are stained by, say, overripe raspberries) rather than purchasing new elastics from Staples for my kids to use in their various slingshot and projectile projects.  I reuse plastic bags from the drugstore to line wastepaper baskets.  But I remember being horrified by my mom's collection of plastic grocery bags - she had drawers and drawers of them in an unused bedroom - more than she would ever reasonably use.

Compared with the people Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee write about in their book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (see the Wall Street Journal review here), my mom is an amateur, of course.  There is no doubt that hoarding is a problem, like obesity is, that arises from affluence and abundance.  But my mom's "collecting" tendencies seemed to arise from a desire to save money, so I do worry...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Avoiding Checked-Baggage Fees

You can avoid the now-standard $25 fee that most airlines for checked luggage when you fly JetBlue or Southwest Airlines, neither of which has yet adopted the fee.  Or you can shave a few dollars off (usually $2 or $3) by checking in online.  But if you have lots of luggage and/or heavy or oversized items (think skis, snowboards and golf clubs), you might do better to have the items shipped ahead.  The Postal Service, UPS and FedEx provide this service, of course, but you can also try one of the companies that have risen up to take on this task.  Check out the Insider Travel Guides for a list.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Frugal Yogurt Face Mask

This is the last -- I promise -- in a series of posts about cheap and easy ways to use household items as beauty treatments.  I've written about the benefits of avocado, olive oil and egg whites.  Today, I want to talk about yogurt. 

We eat lots of yogurt in my house.  But not every family member likes every type - my younger son likes the fruit-filled little dannon and stoneyfruit cups; my older son likes greek-style yogurt; and I prefer la liberte yogurt that has some walnuts already mixed in.  So with all these types of yogurt sitting in the fridge, inevitably, someone isn't in the mood for yogurt for a while and it slips past its expiration date.  I hate to throw food out, but I also hate the idea of eating something that isn't quite right.  What to do?  I use it as a face mask!

If it already has stuff in it, I just put it on as is.  If it's plain, I add a little honey and sometimes some pureed cucumber.  Either way, I smooth it on my face, let it sit for 15 minutes or so (while I read the morning paper) and then rinse it off.  My face is refreshed -- plus I feel virtuous for having put the old yogurt to a good use.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Go Green, Save Green

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day tomorrow, it seems worth mentioning that saving the planet and saving money have a lot in common.  Almost any time you conserve your own resources -- whether it is by turning off lights to reduce the electricity bill, taking a shorter shower to save on the water and electrical bills, buying in bulk rather than individual servings so that you aren't paying for excess packaging, or walking/biking rather than driving your car to save on gas -- you are also taking steps that are earth-friendly.  So keep up the tightwad habits tomorrow and be happy knowing that you're also doing your part for Earth Day!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bargain Beauty Tips from the Kitchen

There's no need to spend big bucks on fancy salon or department products when you can easily -- and very inexpensively --  create a wonderful facial, scrub or hair treatment with something you probably have sitting in your kitchen right now. 
  • All you need to do to revive tired, dull skin is crack open an egg in a bowl, separate the yolk (and save it for another purpose, of course!), and whisk the egg white.  Apply the egg white directly to your face, leave it on for five minutes, then rinse off.  The proteins help to heal and restore skin's moisture.
  • Looking for an inexpensive way to exfoliate?  Try some cornmeal.  Mixed with warm water, it makes a nice scrub that has the extra benefit of absorbing any extra oil in your pores.  Use no more than twice a week.
  • Sugar mixed with a little olive oil makes another good facial scrub.  And while you're busy cleansing, don't forget your lips - they look plumper and smoother if you scrub them, too.  Note that any sugar - granulated, brown or raw unrefined works well for this scrub.   If your skin is on the oily side already, use milk instead of olive oil.
  • Lemon juice is a well known hair lightener.  Mix it with chamomile tea to keep your hair's texture smooth.
  •  Create that "just been to the beach" look by spraying your hair with a mixture of water and a dash of salt.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Priceless Advice: The Key to Saving Money Is Spending Less!!

I've been a big fan of Neil Templin's Cheapskate column in the Wall Street Journal and so I was sad to see yesterday's announcement that it will be discontinued.  But I encourage everyone to take a look at the archived columns, where he described (with good humor) his attempts to save money and his family's attempts to foil him at every turn.  Above all, I urge you to heed his timeless advice: the key to saving money is spending less.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More Bargain Beauty Tips

As a follow-up to yesterday's avocado mask and moisturizer recipes, it's nice to know that even something as simple as olive oil can be used to make an at-home cleanser.  Mix a quarter cup of olive oil with a teaspoon of brown sugar and dab onto dry or flaky areas to exfoliate the dry skin.  Note that this is best for normal-to-dry complexions, and those with oily skin are better off using a formulation designed especially for them.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Avocado-based Beauty Treatments

Avocado is a natural moisturizer, making it the perfect basis for a variety of inexpensive beauty treatments.  Here's a sampling:

Soften Your Skin All Over
Remove the pit and skin from several ripe avocados and mash them up in a bowl. Smooth the mixture all over your body, let it sit for 20 minutes, then shower. It is a messy process (you'll want to sit on a towel for sure!), but the resulting soft skin will be well worth the effort.

Treat Yourself to a Facial
Remove the pit and mash one ripe avocado with a little bit of lemon juice. Apply this mask to your face and neck for toning/firming treatment.

Long-lasting Hand Cream
Mash a peeled and pitted avocado with course salt and rub all over your hands.  Again, you'll want to protect the surfaces around you while you sit for 20 or so minutes to let the avocado do its job.  Then rinse it off and you're good to go!

Enriching Hair Mask
To soothe dry hair and tame split ends, make a mixture of the mashed flesh from one avocado, one egg yolk, and a teaspoon of olive oil.   Mix well and apply to hair in sections.  After 30 minutes, rinse the mask off, then shampoo and condition as usual.  Especially helpful for curly hair.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Save on Books - Redux

I come from a long line of avid readers, married a bookworm, and together we produced two more book lovers. So it is no surprise that left unchecked, our tendency to aquire books to read would quickly take over every corner of our home, emptying our bank account along the way. Here are some strategies we've developed to keep that from happening:
  • Use the local library whenever possible. Even if our branch doesn't have the book we want in stock, they can use the inter-library loan system to obtain it for us.
  • Buy used books from online sellers at and Barnes& (and then sell them back to someone else, when we're finished).
  • Check out web sites that allow you trade books you have for books you want, like and
  • Try Project Gutenberg, which offers more than 20,000 books, like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, as a free download.
Of course lots of other places to find books at bargain rates: for starters, look for school-sponsored book swaps, thrift shops, library sales, yard sales, etc. (it seems like everyone has books to sell!). A friendly reminder: as with everything else, if you are just browsing at these sales and end up buying books that you wouldn’t have otherwise, just because they were cheap, you really haven’t saved money in the long run.

I should note that there are some online programs that just haven't worked for us -- but maybe they will appeal to you. 
  • lets you organize a "pool" of titles you'd like to rent (just like a Netflix queue) for as little as $13.98 and as much as $59.95 (shipping included), depending on the number of titles you'd like to have at a given time.  I can imagine that this is valuable to folks who don't have time to visit their local library or don't have access to a wide pool of used books, but since my family has both of these, BookSwim is, comparatively, a pricey option for us.
  • collects used books for free and then sells them online, donating a portion of the proceeds to a variety of charities.  But their prices are generally high compared with thrift shops (which, by the way, also sell donated books for a good cause).  In fact for bestsellers, their prices are more in line with retail bookshops.  The prices I get with my Barnes and Noble membership undercut Better World Books for every title I looked at -- so if I want to do good, I could just donate the difference to the charity of my choice and call it even!
11/7/11 Update: Try, an online service (now in beta) that allows you to read all the novels you want, anywhere, anytime, on any e-reader device, for free.

6/25/14 Update: Check out this list of places to find free and low-cost ebooks.