‘Tis the time for Economical Entertainment! Saturday, Oct 31 2009 

www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

Imagine a fabulous place that contains every magazine you long to pore over, just about every television show you’ve ever loved, every movie you’ve been dying to see, every single book you’ve ever wanted to read, and oh, I almost forgot, several computers with high-speed internet access… and almost all of it is available for FREE!

Fellow frugalities, this wonderful place exists near each and every one of you – it’s time to rediscover your public library! If you envision your library as the domain of herds of school-aged kids working on an overdue book reports, it’s time for me to remind you that it is your personal frugal GOLD MINE!

We have a spectacular one near us, in Exton, PA, with a computerized system linking it electronically to a dozen other fantastic libraries in Chester County (excuse me, I’m drooling. Apologies). www.ccls.org

This networked system ensures that I now have access not only to the resources of the magnificent Exton library, but that at the tap of a keyboard, I can summon anything within the system and have it sent to Exton for me to pick up. To a book/movie lover like myself, who adores great customer service, this appeals tremendously to my inflated sense of self-importance… Also appealing to my sense of self-importance, the Chester County Library System now offers a brilliant book on frugal living for your enjoyment… http://catalog.ccls.org/search/t?SEARCH=brilliant+frugal+living&searchscope=1&sortdropdown=-&b=

Don’t get me wrong, I adore a coffee chat at our local bookstore as much as anyone. But before you buy another just-off-the-press bestseller, read it, and put it on your overstuffed bookshelf (like I used to…), take a random count of how many books you’ve purchased full price only to read it once and never have the time to read it again. If you’re anything like me, you’ll stop counting at around 50 hard cover best sellers that cost about $25 each. Don’t bother doing the math, I’ve already cried enough for both of us. Please note, this doesn’t include the hundreds of magazines I’ve acquired over the years at full price, or the (*gulp*) 240 videos currently shelved in our family room. A few of these items were received as gifts…and the vast majority were simply ones that I just HAD to have when they first became available, watched once, and haven’t glanced at since. Again, don’t even do the math on this, I beg of you – even if I paid $1 each for every book, magazine, video & DVD, it’s still terrifying. And trust me, I paid more than $1 each. If you have similarly stocked homes, no worries, we’ve all been there. The vast majority of resources at your local library will be free, with very agreeable terms for rental (books usually check out for two weeks, videos, CD’s & DVD’s are usually one week). Everything on the New York Times bestseller list is usually available the week it comes out in print. Note: some libraries have a minimal $1.50 charge for the latest bestsellers, far more agreeable to the $25 you’d pay in the bookstore.

Another fantastic service at most libraries – state of the art computer access!   I’ve spoken to more than one person who gave up trying to keep their home computers up to date when they realized they’d spent thousands of dollars in a few years time.    These brave souls had the nerve and audacity to (dare I say it) give up maintaining a home computer, and now simply visit their nearby library frequently for any online needs. Despite computer-addicts’ shrieks to the contrary (including my very-computer-savvy husband), social e-mail from family & friends needn’t be checked every 90 seconds.  Some do just fine checking it once a week, and suffer no negative physical side effects from their electronics withdrawal…  For those who haven’t rolled their eyes yet, I ask, how much does YOUR computer cost every year for maintenance and high-speed networking?

When it comes to my favorite library offerings, I’m a movie addict. Before my friends & I started families, we’d go to the movies constantly, easily once a month. In the last five years or so since we’ve all had kids, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually gotten my act together and made it to the theatre! We’re talking going cinematic cold turkey here. Imagine my delight at seeing the library shelves filled with THOUSANDS of DVDs of every movie I’ve ever wanted to see. Just like the bestselling books, the latest, up-to-date blockbuster movie hits are stocked usually the day they become available on DVD, and LONG before they’re available on cable.

Speaking of cable television, here’s another quick math scenario – to those of you with cable television/internet access who think the library offerings are irrelevant to your lifestyle, I ask: how much are you spending per year for premium movie channels and internet access? Hundreds of dollars a year? Perhaps over a thousand dollars a year? Around here, cable/network fees are often over $100/month (more than $1200/year). We’re talking about an average mortgage/rent payment (or TWO) for most Americans.   How long do you work to earn $1200?  Is it worth it?  I know current cable packages offer thousands of movies, but how many of these movies are busy Americans really watching?

Most of us (my household included) require the basic cable package to ensure a decent television signal for the regular channels. This is easily $50/month. Pare down your current “Ultra Premiere Mega Fabulous” package down to the basic cable, and you could save hundreds over the course of a year. If this sounds too extreme, try this real-life scenario on for size: in one of my workshops, I met a wonderful woman who (after decades of paying household bills on time) found herself unable to pay the mortgage not once, but twice this year alone. Scared to death, and fed up with being tapped out, she canceled her cable & internet access, saving herself $1300/year (which ironically is the same as two of her mortgage payments). Her household immediately became talk radio & news radio fans, they used the computer for word processing & school projects, and they kept their television hooked up to the DVD player.  Twice a week they hit the library for books, magazines & internet access, as well as their favorite movies, which they watched on the weekends. Book reading & family time skyrocketed in their household, her kids’ grades improved, numerous house projects were finally completed, she herself says her house has NEVER been so clean, and she’s lost 25 pounds in the past year, which in turn resulted in her no longer requiring costly blood pressure medication.

Taking all that into consideration, how much is your top notch cable/internet access REALLY costing your family over the course of a year??

Take care everybody, and Happy Halloween! Kris
www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

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Get your produce “Down Under”! How shopping “Aussie-style” saves you hundreds of dollars! Thursday, Oct 22 2009 

www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com  by Kris Hagopian

G’Day Mates!   Welcome to another commercial-free blogisode of “Keeping Up With The Hagopians”!  

Okay, let me repeat something for those of you who don’t know – I state flat out in my book that I’m truly a food snob.  I’m a food snob to the point where I MAJORED in food in college (Bachelors in Hotel & Restaurant at Penn State) – how many of YOU took your foodie obsessions to THAT degree? (pun intended…)

Since we had kids, organic is now the preferred produce at Casa Hagopian.   Thankfully, in a never-ending quest to stay competitive, most supermarkets have a fantastic, constantly-updated (and often organic) produce section.  

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t shop at 37 stores a week; rather I stop by two stores regularly – BB Grocery Outlet and Martin’s Country Market, both  in Morgantown, PA.  Both stores have wonderful customer service, and both stores offer fantastic markdowns for certain items.  B&B has amazing prices on dozens of items that we use regularly, saving us significant amounts of money.  When it comes to produce, Martin’s Country Market has an incredible offering that I adore.  A Produce Section “Down Under”…you’re going to love this.

Martin’s Country Market keeps their produce offerings so ultra-fresh that whenever new produce is delivered, they pretty much stock it on their shelves the nano-second it arrives.   So, what becomes of the produce that was placed there perhaps just the day before?  Why, it goes under cover – in discreet heavyweight boxes just under the regular produce shelves, heavily discounted to not only keep it from going to waste, but to also ensure that the store gets at least a small return.   

The first time I caught sight of them, the produce inside was so clearly fresh I thought it was just brought out, about to be loaded onto the shelves.   Then, I saw the prices – everything was at LEAST 50% off, and in some cases up to 80% off!  And the food was TERRIFIC!  Since I discovered my “Down Under” gold mine, I’ve found the following discounted produce on a regular basis…

Organic Ready-Made Salad: regularly $3.99/bag, reduced to .59/bag
Broccoli: regularly $1.99/pound, reduced to .29/pound
Grapes: regularly $2.49/pound, reduced to .59/pound
Tomatoes: regularly $1.49 /pound, reduced to .49/pound
Potatoes: 5 pound bag regularly $2.99, reduced to .80 for 5 pound bag.
Baby Carrots: regularly $1.19/bag, reduced to .49/bag
Shitake Mushrooms: regularly $3.99 for 3.5 oz, reduced to.59 for 3.5 oz
White Onions: regularly $1.29/pound, reduced to .40/pound
Yams: regularly .79/pound, reduced to .29/pound
Green Beans: Regularly $1.49/pound, reduced to .29/pound
Bell Peppers: Regularly $3.99/pound, reduced to .79/pound
Ready-Cut bagged veggies: Regularly $3.99/bag, reduced to .59/bag
Ultra-Fresh Brand Name Salsa: regularly $4.99/container, reduced to .79/container
Bananas, past their prime, but PERFECT for Banana Bread Muffins (a Hagopian household staple): regularly .65/pound, here .19/pound

Now, some days you’ll find bag upon bag of produce that your family will love – stock up!  Other days you’ll find yourself staring at a huge head of cauliflower for .25 and five pounds of eggplant for $1…uh, yeah.  NO worries, Scarlett O’Frugal, tomorrow IS another day!    

The thing to always remember is to STAY FLEXIBLE.  If you were planning on serving salad with dinner that night, and that morning you find no salad, but you DO find one pound of fresh organic green beans for .19, guess what?  You’re having green beans at dinner instead.  That’s called “Cutting your suit to fit the cloth”!   Start cutting YOUR suit – and your produce – to fit what you find at your local supermarket. 

The next time you shop, look about for one of these “down under” offerings.  The management might be subtle about it, and that’s understandable.  So be subtle as well – if you don’t see discounted produce, discreetly pull the Store Manager aside (no bullhorn required) and ask if they have this type of Frugal Produce Section.  Important side note: it never hurts to have this conversation in plain sight of your grocery cart, which will of course be filled with REGULARLY priced offerings. 

Here’s to filling up on Frugal Fiber!   Take care everybody!  K

Famous cities known for great fashion – Paris, Milan…Morgantown, PA?! Wednesday, Oct 21 2009 

Hi all – Kris checking in with another blogisode of “Keeping Up With The Hagopians”. 
I have to share.  It’s been well known for some time that I’m a Goodwill addict worthy of a 12-step program.  However, my Goodwill lust has taken a dangerous turn recently, as I’ve just discovered a little-known Goodwill asset that even I ignored for years.  The Goodwill OUTLET.  Yes, as if the prices at Goodwill weren’t fabulous enough, there is indeed (in some Goodwill locations) a “back room” where all unsold merchandise is reduced yet again.  Clothing is .75, Coats are $2, shoes are $1.50.  Toys, books, furniture, all prices take a huge nosedive from the usual Goodwill prices.  But wait, it gets better…

For years, when I’d frequent Goodwills with a back room, I would merely glance in its direction as I perused the “regular” store.   Completely absent of racks or shelves, the Outlet is actually comprised of huge wooden bins stuffed with piles of clothing of random sizes, colors, shapes & fashions.  From the start, I assumed the Outlet simply a throwaway room filled with items so outdated and unstylish that even the fantastic standard Goodwill prices couldn’t fetch a sale.   

Well, that theory was blown to bits on a recent visit, when – purely by chance – I watched a phenomenally well-dressed woman (think Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada”) stroll thru the Goodwill main doors in her gorgeous high heels, past all racks, and STRAIGHT into the Outlet.   Wait, was she taking a wrong turn?  Did she know where she was going?  Don’t go there, Meryl, that’s where clothing goes to die!…  Unless, Meryl knew something I didn’t??  Click, click, click went Meryl’s heels, and thud-thud-thud followed my sneakers.   Okay, Meryl is looking in a bin, perhaps I will too. 

As I rifle thru the bins, I find my eyebrows raising into my forehead.  Hey!  This sweater isn’t bad!  Not my size tho, bummer, back it goes.  Hey, nice skirt!  Uh, a size four – yo-kay, MOVING ON!!   Suddenly, I happen upon it.  Like they were waiting for me.  Beautiful (dark chocolate colored) slacks, and I needed a new pair of slacks this color!  Hey, my size!  Hey, it’s Jones New York!  Wha?! With the original tags still on them – they were $120!  And now they’re mine!  For .75!   Another lady shopping nearby catches my jaw-dropped expression and throws me an understanding smirk that silently says “oh look, an outlet newbie finding her first prize…isn’t she adorable?!”  Within an hour, I’ve got my Jones New York slacks, two Talbots sweaters (retail $80 each), and a pair of Anne Klein plush brown 3” pumps (easily $100 retail) that match my new slacks perfectly.  This is so much fun!  Until…
OH.
MY.
GOD.
Is that…it couldn’t be…ARMANI!!!!!
Armani slacks.  My fingers shake as I type this.  And yes, my size, in gorgeous midnight blue.  The tag says it plainly, for all to see.  “Made in Italy”.  I’m officially in couture heaven.  These slacks go for $630.  How do I know?  BECAUSE THE ORIGINAL TAGS ARE STILL ATTACHED!!   Retail, all of today’s finds would have cost $910.  Here, it’s less than $5.  Absolutely incredible!   

Briefly ripping myself from my first Goodwill Outlet trance, I look about for Meryl.  Where’d she go?!  She’s gone!  And I never even got the chance to thank her….  

Follow Up Note:  In the two months since I started frequenting the Goodwill Outlets, I’ve shopped there four times, and my wardrobe has taken a spectacular turn.  Some of the more noteworthy items I’ve purchased are listed below, all in outstanding condition (no pulls, rips or stains, and often with original tags attached!)…

CLOTHING –
Jones New York trousers for .75
4 Talbots sweaters for $3 total
Talbots trousers for .75
Herve Bernard wool pencil skirt for .75
Sag Harbor trousers for .75
Ann Taylor wool pencil skirt for .75
Three pair Original Lee Jeans for $2.25 total
Talbots blazer for .75
Burgundy Satin floor length evening gown for .75 (do I have anywhere to wear it? DO I CARE?)
Last but not least, Armani slacks for .75 (side note, it’s amazing how a pair of $630, well-made slacks really DOES make your backside look smaller)

COATS –
Original Macintosh wool peacoat for $2
Black leather coat for $2

SHOES –
3 pair Enzo Angiolini pumps for $4.50 total
Sam & Libby pumps for $1.50
Anne Klein pumps for $1.50
Enzo Angiolini boots for 1.50

The two Outlets nearest me are in Morgantown and Lancaster.  If you find your wardrobe is in need of updating, perhaps for an important interview or event, get yourself to one of these spectacular outlets!  And if you happen to see Meryl, give her my best!

Diaper “Jeopardy” – I’ll take Cloth Diapers for $1,000, Alex! Tuesday, Oct 20 2009 

Hey all!  Important date in the “Keeping Up With The Hagopians” calendar: Our FREEDOM FROM DIAPERS day!  No, 2-year old Robbie isn’t potty trained yet, BUT, we’ve tried something new that is clearly going to pay off huge – the “new” technology known as CLOTH diapers.  My daughter Katie (now 5) was a disposable diaper baby all the way.    Three years of disposables put us back about $1500 (yikes!).   Robbie is two now, and will probably be in diapers for another two years.  Hmmmm, another $1000 if we go the disposable route.   Ick.

Okay, okay.  I decided to give cloth diapers an experimental run for their money, BUT ONLY if I didn’t have to use the ones that required pins.  All I could envision was me constantly sticking the baby!  No no no, I could only do this if I used the cutsey, practically-like-disposable-diapers out there, and at a reasonable price.  Could NOT believe the retail outlets were charging $20 apiece for these things!  No way Jose!  

Went onto Craigslist, and within a week found a Mommy goddess who was getting rid of hers for about $3 each, so I bought all of hers, along with the eco-friendly flannel wipies and rubber pants she included.   Truthfully, I’m not as into the “eco-friendly” as I am into the “bank-o friendly” aspect of all this, but HEY, if it’s good for the planet as well, what the hoo.  

A meeting setup at a mutually convenient place – and $80 later – we were the proud owners of a box full of diapers & acroutement that I had pretty much no flippin CLUE how to put together.    Too mortified to ask for help, I put the college degree to work and finally figured out what’s what.  Actually, these Bum Geniuses are kinda cute!

Okay, so if Robbie blitzes thru these at the same speed as disposables, I’ve got enough for three days.   Robbie doesn’t mind them…much.  Much poofier on his backside, and now he’s walking like an extra in a B-rated cowboy film.  “Howdy, pardner!”.   But he’s a trooper.  However, when I attempt to put the plastic pants on him, he becomes all kicking legs and grabbing hands – THIS we don’t like.   Truthfully, it DOES sound like he’s dinner leftovers that I’m wrapping up in plastic wrap.    Unnerving at best.

Okay, first day, so far so good – and then we do our first cloth diaper poo.  All right, I was expecting one of these.  But Good LORD.   Wait, are my eyes supposed to water like that?…  Okee dokee – instructions say to “flush everything we can down the toilet…” YA THINK?!  Okay, got a lot into the toilet.  And there’s a LOT LEFT on the diaper.  Gloriosky.   This is Robbie’s revenge for me putting plastic pants on him.  Well done, my son.   Bleah.

Okay, got as much off as I could, then into the washer they go – my new rule (brand new upon this first pooey diaper) is that as SOON as we have a pooey diaper in the inventory, we WASH DIAPERS.   One warm-water “Heavy Duty” cycle later, and I wince as I pull them out with pinched fingertips…HEY!  All clean!  Whaddaya know?! 

Now, critics of cloth diapers mention that any cost savings are eaten up by drying them in the dryer.  Understandable, but not such an issue for us since we started hanging our wash out to dry (see earlier blog!).    My bigger gripe is the cost of cloth diapers retail – purchase 20 of them to get yourself started, and you’re out $400! That’s almost one year’s disposables right there!  If you’re in the market for cloth diapers, hit your local Craigslist instead – chances are good you should be able to find them for MUCH less. 

Okay, so bought $80 worth of cloth diapers two months ago today.   Two months of disposables would have cost about $80 as well.  So today, here we are, break even day!  After today, the diapers have paid for themselves, and are now saving us money.  If Robbie uses these for another two years, we save approximately $1,000.  Good stuff. 

If you’re tempted to give cloth diapers a try, I think you’ll like it!  The savings are tremendous, and the hassles are much less than you’d think. 

Happy Diapering!  Kris

Frug-nobyl – A Frugal Experiment goes horribly awry… Sunday, Oct 18 2009 

And I welcome you to another episode of what I like to call “Keeping Up With The Hagopians…”
Okay, so September 1st, I decided to end my personal speculation over how much electricity my ultra-efficient dishwasher & ultra-efficient clothes dryer were costing me a month.  Sure, the steam coming off the dishwasher’s “Energy Saver” dry cycle gave me a daily facial (*Nice!*).  And okay, sure, the top of the dryer felt like it could cook an egg by the time the towels were done.  And alrighty, yes, I HAVE seen firsthand a number of times the electric meter spinning like a Russian skater on steroids.  But HEY, these are energy-efficient appliances we’re talkin’ about here. 

So, for the month of September, I decide to go cold turkey.  No dishwasher, no clothes dryer.  Only caveat – if the weather was rainy & crummy, I gave myself permission to use the clothes dryer.  Hit the basement workshop and found 50 feet of clothesline, which I found would wind itself well off the back step railing…thru the rings on the kids’ swingset…and back to the other side of the back step.  Et voila!  A frugal, easily-taken-down clothesline.  I then hit the Dollar Store to invest $4 in clothespins, a small rubber tub and a pair of rubber gloves.   I rediscover at the age of 41 that rubber gloves come in THREE sizes – who knew??…  and find that I have what is considered “medium” hands.  When 95% of your wardrobe is a size “large”, this is just the kind of ego-boost a girl loves to stumble upon…   $4 later, I bring my frugal items and medium hands home and plan my experiment.

Week One – Weather is nice, sunny, breezy & warm – bonus!  Two loads of wash fit nicely on the line.  Perfect.  If I get it outside by 7:30A or so, everything is dry well before the afternoon.  On the dishwasher side of the experiment, I quickly come across the realization that our family of four uses a HONKIN’ RIDICULOUS amount of dishes.  From a washing standpoint, we’re not talking about a whole lot of extra work here.  When we were using our well-maintained dishwasher, I used to practically wash dishes out before I put them in the dishwasher anyway.  Now it takes a minimal amount of extra effort to actually wash them with soap, rinse them, and use my ultra efficient dishwasher now solely as a drying rack.  
Extra time spent per day hanging wash on the line: 10 mins max
Extra time spent per day washing dishes: 15 mins max

Total time spent per day on this frugal experiment: 25 mins

Week Two: more good weather, tho I wouldn’t mind a day of freak thunderstorms at this point.   It’s hurricane season here on the East Coast, for crying out loud – where’s the rain??  Annoyingly, it’s obvious that handwashing the dishes are resulting in much clearer glasses, no grungy “thingies” on the dishes, and much shinier silverware. 

Week Three: things going great, AND BEST OF ALL, two days of rain – WOO HOO!  Christmas in September!  🙂  I throw items in the dryer for the first time in weeks, and I swear I could hear it snort awake as I push the ON button (“HUH!” WHA!” whuppa-whuppa-whuppa…).  I look out the laundry room window to see the meter waking up in a similar fashion… Man, that thing is zippin’. 

Week Four: In the home stretch, and – frighteningly – I’m finding it rather relaxing to hang wash on the line.   I’ll come back out in the afternoon to fold it up, and get much too smug at having put the sun to work for me, like I INVENTED the frickin’ clothesline or something.   In the kitchen, the dishes have never looked so good.   I’m looking at my glasses like a proud housewife in a dishsoap commercial circa 1973.  You know, the overly cute ones where the wife smiles smugly at her water glasses?  I actually had THAT smug smile on my face.  This is gettin’ scary. 

October 1st – I hereby parole myself for time served and good behavior!    Dishwashing/clothes hanging experiment is COMPLETE!  I run a dishwasher load thru that night to celebrate.  Everything comes out noticeably grungier than the handwashed jobs of weeks past.    Bleah.   It’s fun to use the dryer again tho, zero lint on the clothes!  Tho I notice my jeans are a-smidge-tougher-to-put *gasp*-on-than-when-I-used-*pant!*-the -clothesline…

October 7th – Moment of Truth!  The September Electric Bill comes in the mail!  Last year, September of 2008 we spent $190 on electric.  I’m CERTAIN this September’s bill will be close to that, but I just LOVE when an experiment comes successfully to a close!  I rip open the blue envelope from PPL like a long-awaited love letter, scan the amount, and actually FEEL my pupils dilate.  This month’s bill: $110.  We saved $80.  The bill is down 40%.   Frugal-geek math immediately kicks in – if we do this for a year, we save almost $1000.00.   That’s almost a mortgage payment!  I’m completely screwed.   Frugal geek math kicks into high gear when I think of what more we could have had in the bank if I started this five years ago.   Not cool. 

Like I said, a frugal experiment goes horribly…HORRRIBLEEE…WRONG!   And yes, as of October 18, we are back to the clothesline & handwashing dishes.  LOVING the SAVINGS, and AMAZED at how much these “efficient” appliances have been costing us all these years!    Final note: Come ON hurricane season!!  🙂 🙂 🙂

Magazine article – Main Line Today Saturday, Oct 17 2009 

Had a major Main Line thrill when the book got a great review in Main Line Today’s September issue – read the review here!
http://www.mainlinetoday.com/Main-Line-Today/September-2009/Things-We-Like/

Saving with 6-ABC Interviews here! Saturday, Oct 17 2009 

I had a request to put these interviews online!
Here’s our May 8th interview with Amy Buckman – fantastic reporter.
http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/video?id=6803218

Here’s the interview from last week, about saving on kids’ haircuts – Katie & (my niece) Lilly were such troopers (non-stop M&M cookies didn’t hurt…)
http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/video?id=7065415

Welcome to Brilliant Frugal Living! Saturday, Oct 17 2009 

Loving the blogosphere!  Having a great time promoting the new book and website www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com.  Just did a terrific news story on Thursday with Philadelphia 6-ABC “Saving with 6-ABC” on saving money with kids’ haircuts – Amy Buckman is a fantastic reporter.  We’ll upload the interview to the website ASAP.  Most fun of all – Hot on the heels of the news story, I find out that the stylist in the story (from the Jason Matthew Salon in Rittenhouse Square) caught the interview, and immediately offered me a free Spa Day at the Salon!  Is this a compliment?  Is it pity?  DO WE CARE?!  🙂  I’m so excited! WOO HOO!!!