Friday, February 25, 2011

Drugstore Beauty: Best Products Under $25

The Real Beauty web site recently named its top 17 beauty bargains - products that are great, but inexpensive and available at drugstores everywhere for under $25.  Many of the brand names are old favorites - including CoverGirl, Maybelline, Burts Bees, and Revlon.  But there are some new names on the list, too.  Check it out by clicking here.

Good Housekeeping has also released a list of their top 30 best drugstore beauty picks.  You can find their list here.

I'd add one more: Neutrogena Tone Correcting Tinted Moisture SPF 30 from Ageless Intensives (about $19), which provides a triple whammy of a sheer color, sun protection, and anti-aging retinol and vitamin C.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Schedule Your Savings

Sometimes it is all in your timing.  There are certain times of year when bargains abound on specific items.  Here is an updated guide (click here for the original) for when to shop to save the most:

January
  • Stock up on giftcards from sites like Plastic Jungle - lots of folks who received cards as holiday gifts from stores that don't interest them will be unloading them for a fraction of their face value.
  • Department stores generally hold their "white sales" in mid-January so that is a good time to stock up on sheets and towels.
  • Dry cleaners are often slow at this time of year and often discounts to entice you to bring in your comforters and other big items.
  • Need to replace your central air conditioner?  Do it now in the dead of winter and save thousands.
  • January is also a good time to redecorate with new rugs and furniture -- not only have sales dropped off from the busy fall when people spruce up for the holidays, but new lines come in during Feb/March and stores want to sell off old inventory first.
  • Many gyms and fitness programs take advantage of New Year's resolutions to offer good deals for new members.  You can find bargains on fitness equipment, too.
  • January is a good time to plan your next vacation, too.  Doing so will help you through the post-holiday blues -- and you'll find big savings when you shop for travel packages.
  • Produce: blood oranges are in season and at their tastiest and lowest price of the year.
February
  • Right after the SuperBowl, count on large flat screen TVs to go on sale.  Just waiting until after the big game can save you hundreds of dollars.
  • Look for discounts on chocolates, jewelry and other Valentine's Day items right after the 14th.
  • Towards the end of the month, you'll want to take advantage of clearance prices on shovels, snow-blowers and other snow removal gear.
  • Thinking of buying a new home?  Houses and condos traditionally sell for the lowest prices duirng February.
  • Produce: parsnips are a good buy.
March
  • Luggage - look for sales of excess inventory that didn't sell during the holiday travel rush.
  • Fill up your freezer throughout the month of March - it's National Frozen Food Month.
  • Scour the stores for the last of the winter clothing and gear: boots, heavy coats, mittens and gloves for almost pennies on the dollar.
  • Produce: look for fresh Hawaiian pineapples on sale.
April
  • If you have a wood-burning fireplace, have your chimney cleaned now instead of in September and you can probably save $50 or more.
  • Running shoes and other outdoor sports gear is discounted now to get people excited about spring and summer sports.
  • Spring produce: asparagus, rhubarb, apricots, spinach.
May
  • Late spring and early summer is the best time to buy firewood.  It's also a good time to buy a new air conditioner (don't wait until the heat of July and August!).
  • This time of year is also a good time for buying kitchenware, vacuum cleaners, and the like -- stores discount housewares for both gifts to new grads and to June brides. 
  • And as the temperatures rise, you'll find home improvement materials on sale, too.
  • At the end of this month and the beginning of the next, look for seasonal deals on produce like fresh strawberries.
June
  • Father's Day brings discounts on tools, suits and ties, and other manly items.
  • June is also a great time to haggle for a lower gym membership price -- not only are many former members now exercising outside, but New Year's resolutions are long gone.
  • Early summer is also the time of year to find deals on furniture and mattresses, since new styles hit the stores mid-to-late summer, so merchants are clearing out old inventory.
July/August
  • Sales on bathing suits and other summer clothing start in mid to late July.
  • End-of-summer sales also mean great savings on gas grills, sprinklers, pool items and outdoor furniture and toys.
  • Stock up on office supplies during the back-to-school sales in August.
  • Back-to-school sales also offer great deals on dorm room items, including bed linens.
  • Garden centers discount plants and shrubs to make room for holiday plants in August.
  • Summer produce: tomatoes, green beans, nectarines, blueberries, corn on the cob.
September
  • Buy the bulk of your kids' back-to-school items in mid-to-late September when the stores aren't so crazy and all the items you need will be severely reduced in price.  Summer weather will still be in force the first week of school anyway, so chances are they wouldn't have even been able to wear their new duds yet.
  • Gyms and fitness programs offer discounts to attract new members, both folks who have been exercising outside all summer and people who still have that "back-to-school" mentality that translates to fall resolutions.
  • Shop for new cars in the fall before the new models are released - dealers will be eager to clear their lots to make way for the new inventory.
  • Fresh figs are in season, so look for them on sale.
October
  • Jeans and other back-to-school clothing items are on clearance and will soon be gone to make room for holiday duds.
  • Need a new winter coat this year?  Buy it in on sale in October -- or wait until the big sales hit again in March.
  • Fall produce: sweet potatoes, yams, apples, pomegranates, acorn squash.
November
  • Buy next year's Halloween decorations right after Oct. 31.
  • Thanksgiving specials: cranberries, turkey, stuffing, baking needs.  And look for all kinds of coupons on your favorite food items - more grocery coupons are issued in November and December than any other time of year.
  • If you can stick to the door-busting specials, Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) can be a great day for bargains.
December
  • Winter produce: winter squash, cabbage, snow peas, meyer lemons.
  • Stock up on Christmas ornaments, wrapping paper and decorations starting Dec. 27 (you'll want to avoid the crowds on the 26th when people flock to return and exchange gifts that didn't work out).
Want to save big on big ticket items like cars and appliances?  At the end of every month, quarter and year, shop for these major items when sales people are most eager to fulfill their sales quotas.

For big grocery store savings, pay attention to the sales cycle: most products are discounted every four to 12 weeks.  By keeping track of how often your favorites go on sale, you'll be able to stock up just enough to last you until the next sale.

Update: here is another good overview of when to buy things: Lifehacker: The Best Time to Buy Anything During the Year.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Good Cents Guide to Valentine's Day Gifts

There are lots of great reasons you might not want to spend a fortune on a Valentine's Day gift for your special someone that have nothing to do with the depth of your love.  Maybe you're saving all your money for a really fabulous vacation together this summer.  Maybe you're trying desperately to dig yourself out of debt.  Maybe you are in school and have no income.  Whatever the reason, we've got the solution for you with this list of free or inexpensive Valentine's Day gift ideas. All are low in price but high on romance!
  • Instead of signing up for dance lessons at a pricey studio, gift your sweetie with a series of DIY lessons, using YouTube or another web-based video series as your teacher.  Whether you heat things up with the salsa or tango, or choose the classic romance of ballroom dancing, you'll have a chance to touch and most likely, to laugh together -- both of which will remind you of how happy you are together.  Be sure to end each lesson with some simple slow dancing!
  • Even if you can't whisk your lover off to a fancy destination spa, you can create the same feeling by setting up the bedroom with scented candles and serene music, turning the lights down low, and getting ready for some pampering. Throw some flower petals on the bed (note: red roses can stain so we recommend a lighter color) and take turns giving each other a slow, sensuous massage.  After you're both relaxed, run a steamy bubble bath and and enjoy a good, long soak together.
  • Give a booklet of gift certificates for kisses and cuddles.  Make it fun by including the history and fun facts related to kissing through the ages.  Then update your own kissing techniques and get ready for some smooching!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tightwad Trade-Ins

We're big fans of recycling for environmental reasons, but when there is a financial incentive to recycle, we get even more excited.  Here are some programs that pay you, when you dispose of your old items responsibly:
  • Costco's Trade-In Program has joined forces with Gazelle, a recycling service, to swap laptops, cell phones, cameras, MP3 players, Blu-Ray discs, games, and more for a Costco Cash Card.
  • SecureTradeIn.com and YouRenew will also pay you for your old cell phone.
  • Recycle ink and toner cartridges in exchange for $2 in Staples Rewards.
  • Send your old books, electronics, dvds and video games to Amazon: just sign in to their trade-in section and indicate the ones you no longer want, they'll send you a postage-paid envelope, and once they receive the goods, you'll get an Amazon credit you can use to shop online.  Amazon allows you directly sell books and dvds you no longer want, and although selling through their site is sometimes more lucrative, you must wait for a buyer and pay for shipping and a commission to Amazon out of the proceeds.
  • Receive a Best Buy gift card when you trade in old video games, musical instruments, select electronics, and CDs and movies. You can ship items to a trade-in center (print out a prepaid shipping label at bestbuy.com/recycling) or bring them to your local store.
  • Trade in used sports equipment at PlayItAgainSports and receive cash or new sports equipment from the store.
  • GameStop is another good place to trade in used video games.  You'll receive a Gamestop gift card good for purchasing anything at their stores or website.
  • Half.com (an ebay.com company) offers an "instant sale" option for books, music and movies, that allows you to list your old goods via ISBN or UPC, sell them without the lengthy auction process, ship for free, and then get paid via paypal or Half.com coupons.
  • RadioShack has a useful program for trading-in old electronics.  The service is available in their stores and online.  As with many other programs, you'll receive a Radio Shack gift card.
  • MyBoneyard is another website for recycling used electronics.  You can estimate the value of your items online, and then choose to receive a prepaid shipping label for mailing items in.  Assuming your items have a cash value, you can elect to receive the money yourself or donate it to charity.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Frugal But Fun - Valentine's Day Date Ideas 2011

Valentine's Day doesn't have to include a pricey meal at a fancy restaurant.  In fact, you don't need to spend lots of money to have a memorable night on February 14th. 

Here are some suggestions for creating a special evening with your sweetie right at home.  All are easy on the wallet, while still providing the romance that the occasion demands:

  1. Take a bubble bath or shower and lather each other well (light candles and have glasses of champagne on hand to make the moment extra special).
  2. Create your own wine tasting, cheese tasting, chocolate tasting – or whatever tempts you -- comparing notes on what you like and what you don't.
  3. Do home-spa treatments like facials or massages on each other, making sure that the massage oil is warm, the lights are low, and the towels are fluffy. 
  4. Take turns serenading each other with love songs at karaoke.oddcast.com or karaoke.com.
Prefer to get out of the house together? Here are some ideas for dates that are frugal but fun:

  1. Go to a free wine tasting. Many wine stores offer complementary samples so check the shops in your area or click over to LocalWineEvents.com for a city-by-city list.
  2. Check listings in your local paper or web site -- many libraries and museums offer free film screenings and concerts that would make a wonderful date.
  3. As the sun sets, head to the highest point in town and hold hands (and smooch a little) as you watch the twinkling lights turn on.
  4. Dress up in your sexiest styles and sip champagne at a fancy hotel bar, playing footsie under the table.  Then after a glass or two, head home for a finger-food only feast of grapes, bread and cheese.