Thanks for checking us out on Fox 29! Thursday, Nov 19 2009 

To go directly to the Brilliant Frugal Living website, please click here!

To replay the Fox29 newscast, please click here!

Brilliant Frugal Living is now on FACEBOOK! Thursday, Nov 19 2009 

And we are having a BLAST with it!  Join us on Facebook, see everything new and fabulous in the Brilliant Frugal World, and add your tips and suggestions as well! 

Click here if you’d like to join – and Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Hug your neighbor and set your TIVO’s (oh wait, maybe that’s just for my Mom…) Wednesday, Nov 18 2009 

Greetings frugal universe!  Welcome to another commercial-free blogisode of “Keeping Up With The Hagopians”!.  This blog will be staggeringly short compared to blogs of late.   Just a quick heads up to let you know that Fox29 just gave us the air date for the first segment of Brilliant Frugal Living’s “Saving at the Holidays”! 

It will be airing tomorrow (Thursday) at 5:00P, and again at 10:00P.  Would love to hear your feedback!  Take care everybody!  K

Thanksgiving 2009 at Chateau Hagopian: One tight budget, Two in-laws, and Three desserts! Tuesday, Nov 10 2009

Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and welcome to another commercial-free blogisode of “Keeping Up With The Hagopians”!  As we find ourselves solidly in the 2nd week of November, our household is firmly into Thanksgiving planning mode.  What is TOTALLY great is that here in Pennsylvania, we’re having a freakish heat-wave, and I’m typing this entry with the windows WIDE OPEN ‘cause it’s 72 degrees outside.  Insane.

If your house is anything like mine, your Thanksgiving guest list is finally becoming a solid number, and like many households, you’re looking at around 10 guests total.  Many *gulp* at this point when they think of the potential cost of a fabulous family shindig.   According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Thanksgiving dinner for 10 guests cost Americans about $45 in 2008, and truthfully, it represents a rather lame menu (turkey, a couple of side dishes, and one dessert).  Now, no one wants a nightmarish adjective like “lame” to fly around their Thanksgiving table, but let’s face it, we’re watching our wallets more than ever this year – and wisely so.    But fear not, fellow frugalities!  “Frugal” does NOT equate to “LAME”, if you do it right.  Read carefully, follow some simple Brilliant Frugal Living guidelines, and beautiful words like “lovely, spectacular, and holy-crap-this-is-fantastic” will be the words that describe YOUR Thanksgiving 2009.

We’re hosting Thanksgiving in our house this year, with none other than my IN-LAWS coming to dinner.  I’ve been married for 14 years, and in that time, the urge to wildly impress my in-laws has never diminished.   As I cannot be the only cook to feel that there’s “no pressure like self-imposed-psycho-Thanksgiving-with-your-in-laws-pressure”, I think some of you might relate…

So here’s the Thanksgiving Menu at Chateau Hagopian:

Oven Roasted Fresh Turkey
Cornbread and Wild Rice Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes with Gravy
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar & Maple Syrup
Tossed Green Salad (which will make all other carby calories go away…)
Organic Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
Hot, baked rolls
Gourmet Deep Dish Wild Maine Blueberry Pie
Belgian Mini White Chocolate Mocha Cream Puffs
Pumpkin Cake topped with Fresh Whipped Cream & Cinnamon
Sparkling Cider

Purchase all of the above items retail in the supermarket, and you’ll pay over $70.00.  Worth it?  Sure.  But use some Brilliant Frugal Living tips, and we’re about to take the price down to $29.90, with VERY little effort.  Here’s how…

General rule of thumb in purchasing turkey – start with one pound per guest.  Calculate that number, then tack on 4-5 pounds for leftovers.  For our crowd, we’re talking about a 14 pound turkey or so.  Purchase it at the supermarket at the usual $1.29-$1.59/pound, and you’re spending over $22.  However, in the two weeks prior to Thanksgiving, every supermarket in America is throwing sales to bring in customers, and just about all of them will greatly discount their turkeys.  I’m heading to Martin’s Country Market in Morgantown, where they have outstanding meats (always purchase your turkey where you purchase your high-quality meats throughout the year!).  In the two weeks leading to Thanksgiving, Martin’s is slashing their turkey prices to .89/pound.  Fantastic jump start to Thanksgiving savings! MONEY SAVED: $9.80

Gourmet Cornbread & Wild Rice Stuffing:
You’re about to be let in on a Restaurant School trick (Penn State Restaurant Management Grad, right here…).   Do you want incredible stuffing?  No need to slave over a labor intensive stuffing recipe.  Rather, use one box Stove Top Stuffing (cornbread variety is best!), mixed with one box Uncle Bens (or similar) Wild Rice mix.  Put the two together, and you have a rave-review stuffing that guests will ask for year after year.  Check your local discount grocery, and you might find your ingredients for as little as $2 total.  Purchase both for full retail price, and it’s a still-reasonable $3.68 total. 

Mashed Potatoes
For 10 people, go with the 5-pound bag of potatoes.  Often priced as high as $2.99/bag, I find these 5# bags almost every week in the discounted produce at Martins (see my earlier blog!)  In our house, we’re all set, with our 5# bag costing .99.  MONEY SAVED: $2.00

Another restaurant school trick – ready made gravy, with 3-4 tablespoons turkey drippings stirred in for fantastic depth of flavor.  I could torment myself trying to make my Mom’s fantastic recipe from scratch, but it’s finally become painfully obvious to me that her gravy-making DNA has clearly skipped a generation.  This year, we’re going with delicious, always fab Heinz ready-made gravy with lots of drippings stirred in.   Regular price $1.69, we got ours at our local discount grocery for .50.  MONEY SAVED: $1.10

Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar and Maple Syrup
Super simple, and absolutely delicious.  For 10 people, get 10 small or 5 large sweet potatoes (about 3# total).  Wash & slice potatoes, putting them into a single layer on baking pan.  Top each with small dot of butter, and ½ teaspoon of brown sugar.  Bake at 350 for one hour.  Put into serving dish, and drizzle maple syrup over top.  Regularly $3, we got ours “down under” (see earlier blog!) for $1.48.   MONEY SAVED: $1.52

Green Salad
I’m a huge fan of the bags of ready-made salads.  Open the bag, boom, you’re done.  Regularly $3.00, we got ours “down under” for .59.  MONEY SAVED: $2.41

Organic Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
Don’t you dare subject your guests to that freaky gelatinous muck with the can ridges indented in the side!  BLEAH!  Go with whole berry sauce, organic preferred.  Regularly priced at $1.49 for 16 oz, instead we found ours at our local grocery outlet for .50.  MONEY SAVED: $.99

Fresh Hot Rolls
Damn the carbs, full speed ahead!  Regularly priced at $3.99 per dozen, we get ours at the “one week until expiration” shelf at Martin’s for $1.99 instead.  Fresh, delicious, and fabulous lightly heated in the oven.   MONEY SAVED: $1.99

Gourmet Maine Wild Blueberry Pie, Belgian White Chocolate Cream Puffs, and Pumpkin Cake with Whipped Cream & Cinnamon
Yes, three desserts.  At this point, the nuclear-level carb hit has usually overloaded any rational thought, and my three dessert selections seem downright nutritious.  (“look, BLUEBERRIES!  PUMPKIN!, HEALTHY STUFF! Bring it ON!…”)  Yeah, welcome to my mind.    Also, see earlier notes about impressing the in-laws…    This is also usually where the “holy crap this is fantastic” comments come in, so do yourself a favor, and throw in a couple of extra desserts.  It’s the end of the meal, people like to linger and talk, and it’s easy to keep them in the room and reminiscing about holidays past when you’ve got gorgeous desserts on all sides.  When it comes to this year’s holiday desserts, we’ve got homemade (pumpkin cake), home-baked (gourmet blueberry pie) and store bought (absolutely freakin’ fantastic Belgian white chocolate cream puffs.  So ho ho goooood….Gloriosky…)  This selection ensures everybody around the table will find something that they like. 

Huge Deep Dish Blueberry Pie, regularly $7.99, purchased at local discount grocery for $1.99.  MONEY SAVED: $6.00
Belgian White Chocolate Cream Puffs, regularly $5.99, purchased at local discount grocery for $1.99.  MONEY SAVED: $4.00
8” Pumpkin Cake with Whipped Cream, retail price $8.99, made at home for $1.75.  MONEY SAVED: $7.24

Sparkling Cider
I’m not huge on having a lot of alcohol at the Thanksgiving meal, but I like the beverages to look good in the crystal wineglasses.   Sparkling alcohol-free beverages are gorgeous, and everybody loves them.  For a party of 10, we have two bottles, one sparkling peach juice, and one sparkling apple juice.   Regularly priced at $4.58 total, we bought ours at the local discount grocery and spent $1.98 total instead.  MONEY SAVED: $2.60.

Okay, so a quick recap.  All of the above items would regularly cost $70.14 retail.  Instead, we shopped at two local stores, and with very little effort, spent $29.90 instead, for savings of $40.24.  That’s 57% off!   That extra $40.24 will come in handy if you find yourself possessing the necessary energy to host the December holidays as well!  (In-laws optional…)

Above all else, remember that  Thanksgiving isn’t so much about the food at the table, as it is the faces around it.  Don’t forget to give thanks for the tons of things going RIGHT in your life, and when your mind strays to the few things going in a wrong direction at the moment…put those Belgian White Chocolate Cream Puffs to good use!  Take care, everybody!    Kris

Americans tip the scales to balance budgets? PUH-LEEZ!! Monday, Nov 2 2009

Welcome to another commercial free blogisode of “Keeping Up With The Hagopians”! Okay, so I’m reading a news story that says Americans are turning to less expensive culinary choices (read: junk food) and saying it’s in an attempt to save money.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a comfort food lover of the highest order. There are those insane days when the chef salad with healthy dressing just isn’t going to cut it, unless it comes with a quarter pounder & biggie fries on the side.  But for those lunging at unhealthy fast food choices on a pathological basis and then trying to blame it on a recession, it not only completely fails the smell test, but it truly ticks me off.    Man up!  (Ladies, you too!)  Show this recession what you’re made of!    Seek food choices that will benefit both your wallet and your waistline – it can be done!

To the meat lovers in the crowd – I’m with you, comrades. In fact, it was my husband who introduced me to the “no meat, no eat” concept in meal planning. When I have at least a bit of protein in every meal, I find I’m more focused, as well as satisfied with less. However, there’s no need to go overboard on meat choices – always remember that hamburger at $1.29/pound has the nutritional equivalent of Prime Rib at $12.99/pound. With two pre-school kids in our house, our family of four will use about one pound of meat for a standard supper dish.  Chicken is the overwhelmingly preferred protein of choice at Casa Hagopian. It’s versatile, easy to prepare, and when purchased on sale, an outstanding frugal meat staple.

Around us, boneless, skinless chicken breasts sell for between $3.99-$4.49/pound. And anyone who buys it at regular price can turn in their Frugal Deputy badge right now. Every major supermarket chain will have regular sales on chicken – start marking the dates when they’re going to occur! My favorite supermarket has half-price meat sales once a quarter, with chicken breasts selling for $1.99/pound. They also have spectacular sales twice a year, in which fresh, boneless, skinless chicken breasts sell for $1.25/pound. You can all guess when I buy mine. Our family eats chicken at least twice a week, meaning that we eat about 100 pounds of it a year. Purchasing it at $1.25/pound rather than $3.99/pound means we save at least $274.00 every year on chicken alone. The same types of sales yield high quality hamburger for .99/pound, whole roasting chickens for .49/pound (great Sunday dinners!), Italian sausage for .99/pound (great in casseroles & spaghetti sauces) and pork roasts for $1.49/pound. I would conservatively estimate the amount we save on meats to be about $800/year, making it well worth the few minutes a week I take scouring the sales flyers.

Smart strategies on produce can yield even bigger savings. When you get a moment, take a look at my earlier blog on buying your produce “Down Under”. My kids are fruit-lovers, with apples & bananas as top favorites. Most important Produce Rule: never spend more than .99/pound for produce.  If you see pretty produce at $1/pound or more, keep walkin’. Using our “Down Under” strategies and the .99 rule, we save about $1200 a year on all fruits & vegetables.

When it comes to side dishes, do your mental & physical health a favor and steer clear of the processed, white sugar, white flour junk. The more whole the food, the more you’ll enjoy it and the less you’ll need to feel satisfied. Stick to whole wheat pastas & breads. Try brown & wild rice rather than white. Try neat new grains like barley & buckwheat. They taste great, are very versatile with meats, and best of all, the next day you can dazzle friends & family with casual statements like: “we had the most spectacular buckwheat kasha with sauteed chicken last night…”  Watch their eyebrows shoot up, their jaws drop, and their opinion of you change radically.  (“Did you hear?  Kris had buckwheat kasha with sauteed chicken last night! What a culinary FREAK!”)   We buy all of our pastas, breads & grains at half-price or better at our favorite stores. Start seeking them out in your favorite stores as well.

Before Victor & I had kids, it wasn’t uncommon for us to spend $800/month on food, between groceries and eating out. Now, two kids later, using all of the above strategies, we keep our food budget at $300/month for our family of four, and enjoy outstanding, high-quality food, much of it organic. If I can do it, anybody can do it. The next time you grocery shop, throw some of the above ideas in play. Over time, you will LOVE the change in your wallet AND your waistline!

Take care everybody! K