Thursday, December 22, 2011

Decorating with Pinecones

If you are looking for inexpensive holiday decorations, pine cones can provide lots of fun, festive looks for free (assuming you collect them yourself).  Their association with evergreens - one of the classic symbols of Christmas - make them especially appropriate.
  • Fill baskets of pine cones in various sizes
  • Make them into tree ornaments by gluing on ribbon
  • Use them to surround candles in hurricane lamps or on plates or mirrors
  • For extra pizazz, spray paint them gold or silver, and/or add a dusting of glitter
  • Add them to floral arrangements
  • Sprinkle tiny ones across the dinner table
For more ideas, see How to Decorate with Pine Cones.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pretty, But Penny-Pinching Christmas Decorating

Using what you already have on hand is one of the best ways to save money.  So instead of heading to the mall to pick up some new holiday decorations, take a look at what you already have.  A bowl of colorful (but burnt out) Christmas tree bulbs is pretty, as is a table featuring greens and fruit (citrus, apples, almost anything will do).  Spell out "Merry Christmas" with your Scrabble set.  Place paper snowflakes in a fancy frame.  Click over to the Better Homes & Garden web site for photos that will inspire you. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Glitter-y Christmas

Glitter - widely available with stationary and craft supplies -- is a festive yet frugal way to add sparkle to your holiday decorations.  Here are a few ideas:
  • Dress up plain tree ornaments with a dusting of glitter.
  • Stencil a design onto taper or votive candles and outline it with glitter.
  • Cut seasonal shapes (e.g. trees, stars, doves) out of felt and decorate with glitter.
  • Make home-made cards and gift-tags out of construction paper festooned with glitter.
While there are now many ways to apply glitter -- glitter pens, etc. -- the easiest way is to use the little tubes.  Simply apply glue (white, Elmer's type) to the area you want to sparkle and sprinkle on the magic.  Once the glue has dried, shake the item to release the excess -- it can be recycled for your next project.  Be sure to cover your work area with newspaper before you get started.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Festive Meets Frugal

The BH&G article Pennywise Projects for Christmas has lots of good ideas for holiday decorating that use objects you may already have on head.  From recycling old colored Christmas tree lightbulbs, to making a tree out of tinkertoys, there is something here for everyone.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Top Tightwad Gift Lists

Every year I try to post the best gift lists that I can fine -- lists that include desirable items that will make your friends and family swoon at reasonable prices that will keep you out of debt.  Here's this year's selection:

Real Beauty's Best Gifts Under $10
63 Gift Ideas for Under $10
Frugal Finds Under $20
Good Housekeeping's Gifts Under $20
Uncommon Goods Gifts Under $25
Yahoo Shopping's Top 10 Gifts Under $25 (with categories for everyone on your list)
Solutions Gifts Under $30
30 Presents Under $30
Crate & Barrel Gifts Under $50
Glamour's Gifts Under $50
Red Envelope Gifts Under $50
Soft Surroundings Gifts Under $50

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Linoleum Block Print Cards

There are quite a number of ways to send lovely but inexpensive holiday greetings.  You can stock up a year in advance when boxes of holiday cards are heavily discounted in the days after Christmas; you can send e-cards; or you can make your own cards.
If you choose to make your own, the possibilities are almost endless.  But if are producing lots of cards, I like the idea of homemade block print holiday cards, which can be as simple or as fancy as you like.  Linoleum blocks are easier to carve than some other mediums, so linocut cards are a good place for a beginner to start.
I was first introduced to linocut cards by my dad.  He ran a small commercial printing company, and he was totally enamoured by the craft of printing.  He loved discovering new fonts, he loved finding unusual paper stock, he loved the beauty of ornate endpapers.  And he was interested in many different forms of reproduction.  He showed my siblings and me how to print rudimentary stationery with rubber stamp letters when we were just learning to write our names.  A bit later we learned about silk screening.  And then when I was about 8 or 9 years old, he taught us how to make linoleum block prints for Christmas cards.  I was impressed with his precise cuts and his talent, which I was amazed to see went beyond that of a draughtsman (which I knew he was), veering toward the artistic.  Our family only made cards a couple of years -- I'm sure that with all the busyness that accompanies the holidays it was one thing that could be easily given up -- but I remember the experience fondly.  After my dad passed away, I thought about asking my mom for his linoleum block tool set, but she got rid of his things so quickly I never really had a chance.
Want some more DIY ideas for the holidays?  See our full list of thoughts for being frugal for the holidays.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Go Where the Money Is

Willie Sutton is said to have declared that he stole from banks because "that's where the money is."  By the same token, when you are trying to stop spending so much money, you want to look at the biggest items in your budget because that is where the biggest savings are likely to be.

For example, for most people, housing consumes the biggest chunk of their paycheck.  If you haven't refinanced within the last 12 months, it is probably worth it to check out the latest rates to see if you can drop your monthly mortgage payment even more.

Property taxes are another big ticket item.  If you've been reassessed recently, it might be worth it to challenge the higher rate, to see if you might squeeze out some savings here as well.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saving vs Spending

Today's Wall Street Journal reviewed two new books on the topic of consumerism: Shiny Objects by James A. Roberts and Against Thrift by James Livingston.  The gist of the former seems to be that buying new things generates an endless and soul-sucking cycle of keeping up with the Joneses; the gist of the latter seems to be that buying things not only provides personal pleasure but provides economic growth.  The author of the article rightly takes the books to task for recycling old ideas: many other books as various as The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko and The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn address these points of view.

I would argue that both ideas are valid -- up to a point.  There is real pleasure in acquiring special, longed for possessions and this pleasure should be as acceptable as any other human endeavor.  The problem lies with the excess of stuff, with obsessions in accumulating things, and with trying to buy more than you can afford -- which all tend to be related.  If you think about purchasing items as a series of choices -- spend now vs later; buy this and not that -- rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet, the lure of shiny objects becomes more reasonable -- and life is ultimately more pleasurable.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bartering - The Ultimate Bargain Shopping

What if you could set your own price for the things that you wanted?  With bartering, you can!  Whether you want to trade your skills (e.g. book-keeping), your time (e.g. housesitting), or physical objects (that Christmas gift you didn't really like), you can offer what you have for the things (both goods and services) that you desire.  Here are some sites that offer tips and tricks on how to get started:

How to Barter Anything from Real Simple magazine

How Bartering Works from

Google's list of Barter Sites

Craigslist has a good Barter section

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree

If you are using pumpkins as part of your Halloween decorations this year, once their decorative need is over, you can also use them to make easy pumpkin puree for pies and other recipes.  Note that pumpkins you have carved must be used within a day or so for puree because they spoil so quickly.  And if you are painting the pumpkin or gluing on decorations, make sure all are non-toxic if you will also be cooking them.

Here is how to make pumpkin puree: cut the pumpkin into small, evenly-sized pieces and remove the strings and seeds.  Put the pieces (skin side up) on a sheet pan, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and bake for an hour at 375 degrees.  Let it cool slightly.  Then separate the pulp from the skin (you can scoop it with a spoon) and process the pulp in a blender.  You can use it right away in a pie or other dessert or freeze it for later.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

DIY Halloween Treats 2011

Sweet shops and bakeries are full of all kinds of beautiful Halloween treats at this time of year.  But you don't have to pay big bucks or have the decorative skills of Martha Stewart to create fun seasonal treats.  Here are a few examples that are both fun and frugal:

(from Ladies Home Journal)
Serve by themselves or use to decorate a cake.

  • 2 egg whites
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. 
2. Combine egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a heat-proof bowl.  Place bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk the egg white mixture gently until the sugar is dissolved (about 3 minutes).  Remove from heat.
3. Beat egg whites with electric mixer on medium-high until a stiff peaks form (about 10 minutes).
4. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a #12 plain tip, then pipe 3-1/2- to 4-inch-long bone shapes on two baking sheets that have been lined with parchment paper.
5. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn oven off and let meringues dry in oven for 30 minutes more. Let bones cool before carefully removing from parchment paper.


  • 1 14-ounce package of caramels
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 6 apples
  • 6 popsicle sticks

  1. In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, stir the caramels with 2 tablespoons of water until melted.
  2. Slide a stick into an apple, dip the apple into the caramel, then place on wax or parchment paper.

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 10-ounce package cinnamon-flavored pieces
  • 1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan. Butter foil; set pan aside.
2. In a 3-quart heavy saucepan combine sugar, butter, evaporated milk, and pumpkin. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture boils. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan. Reduce heat to medium-low; continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate, stirring frequently, until thermometer registers 234 degrees F, soft-ball stage (20 to 25 minutes). (Adjust heat as necessary to maintain a steady boil.)
3. Remove saucepan from heat; remove thermometer from saucepan. Stir in cinnamon-flavored pieces until melted. Stir in marshmallow creme and walnuts.
4. Immediately spread fudge evenly in prepared pan. Score into squares while warm. Let fudge cool to room temperature. When fudge is firm, use foil to lift it out of pan. Cut into squares. Cover tightly and chill for up to 1 week. Do not freeze. Makes about 96 pieces.