A Birthday tribute to a fabulous Grandmother! Friday, Oct 29 2010 

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BFL Grandmas Short Story from 1931

Hey all! Happy Friday!

A completely non-frugal blog on tap for today!

Today’s blog is about a fabulous, very hip lady, and a role model of mine – my Grandmother! When this amazing, go-getting, great lady passed away a few years back at the age of 95, as my Dad was organizing her things, he came across a short-story she wrote back in 1931!

It was a wonderful, journal-type bit of storytelling, detailing her first weeks as a Prairie schoolteacher in South Dakota. Considering I’m a huge Laura Ingalls fan, the similarities between my very hip Grandma and Laura Ingalls were fantastic. Despite starting their teaching careers over 50 years apart (Laura Ingalls started her teaching career in 1873, and my Grandmother had her first teaching job in 1926), the similarities detailed in Grandma’s story are amazing – teaching all classes to all ages of students, boarding with the students’ families at two week intervals until the term was finished, riding in horse-driven wagons to get from place to place, etc.

Today would have been Grandma’s 102nd birthday. As a birthday present, I thought I’d “publish” her story and make her story available to everyone courtesy of the magic of the internet.

Enjoy this fantastic story, by Author Lillian Mack Herreid – and Happy Birthday, Grandma!
Love you! K

ps – Happy Birthday from your Great-granddaughter, Katherine Lillian Hagopian

Halloween Code Orange! Last minute costume request, accomplished for $3! Thursday, Oct 28 2010 

www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

Hey gang! Happy (almost) Friday!
Okay, I knew this would happen one year, and this was the year. Katie had a last minute request for a costume change. Up until a day ago, she was totally hip to the Snow White costume, couldn’t wait to wear it. I had the candy ready, thought we were set. I should’ve known things were going much too smoothly.

As of yesterday, she wanted to be “Jessie” from Toy Story 3. I should have seen this coming, truly I should have. She received a Jessie doll for her birthday, and she’s been inseparable from it ever since. HOWEVER, with ready-made Jessie costumes running $30 and up (for 2 hours time collecting candy? don’t think so…) it was quickly obvious a “Plan B” might be called for. I had some friends & family recommend I make Katie stick with the Snow White costume, but in my mind, that skirted a bit close to a “No Wire Hangers!” zone. The kid is six, for crying out loud. Between that, and not wanting a posthumous bestseller written about my evil ways in 50 years or so, I thought I’d give Costume #2 a shot. For added humor, I tried something a bit daring (read: idiotic, given my lack of sewing skill). Making one myself.

In truth, a Jessie costume is MUCH easier to make than say, a Belle costume from Beauty & the Beast. A quick study of Katie’s Jessie doll told me it started with a pair of blue jeans and a white turtleneck. No problem. The rest seemed to require just a comfy red cowboy hat, a bit of yellow felt, some red cord, and some cowprint material for over her jeans.

The dollar store was the first stop, and sure enough, they had the red hat, along with the red decorative cord to sew onto the yellow felt. Fab. There’s $2. Believe it or not, I had some yellow felt from God-knows-what project sitting under my bed along with my ancient embroidery thread. I used to do cross stitch embroidery, but since one of those projects requires having more than 90 seconds at a time to focus on it, I haven’t touched it since having kids.

The only thing I needed to grab from the craft store was the cowprint fabric, and Joann Fabric had exactly what I needed. I only required ¼ yard, so that piece of material cost $0.99.

Headed home, and hand stitched the white thread around Katie’s dollar store hat. Super simple. Then, with nary a straight cut OR straight stitch, was able to piece the rest of the costume together with only about an hour’s work. The collar drapes over the turtleneck like a little poncho, the wrist bands pin on with safety pins, the cowprint is sewn very loosely onto the jeans, and will easily snip off when Halloween is done! (Close up shots of my sewing machine stitchery getting the red cord on will show EXACTLY how little skill I possess at this). Et voila!

If you get any last minute requests for costume changes, give it a shot. You’d be surprised how delighted your youngster will be over completely uneven stitches and floppy wristbands. FYI, she now wants to wear her costume to bed. I think we pulled it off. Happy Halloween, everybody!

A Birthday Party fit for a (fabulously frugal) Princess! 17 kids, 20 adults, $99 total! Friday, Oct 15 2010 

www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

My Katie turned six last weekend, and for weeks prior I found myself obsessing over “perfect party” ideas. More than once, I’ve been asked by people what I’d recommend for a fabulous (yet frugal) kid’s party that packs a punch, and now was my chance to prove I had a blessed clue how to pull it off.

Considering she’s a new Kindergartner, loving school and having constantly talking about her classmates, I wanted to make it a really special occasion for all, but without breaking the bank. Easier said than done, especially when the guest count did a spectacular vertical climb within 24 hours of the invites going out! Katie’s teacher has a wonderful (understandable) rule that if we invite one classmate, we invite them all, and I couldn’t agree more. Besides, I wanted a chance to meet Katie’s classmates’ parents, and this party was the perfect opportunity. I was thrilled when the RSVP list revved into high gear, and within days of sending out the invites, we had a attendee list of 37 kids and parents! Helpful friends and family chimed in immediately recommending we take the crew to a local pizza parlor for one of their party packages. I’m not naming restaurant names, but with the price of a two hour party at those places averaging $15 per kid, the price would have run into the hundreds with little to show for it but pizza-crashed kids and parents walking out with possibly permanent eardrum damage.

I had my reasons for wanting to pull off a great event at the house. Not only am I almost (miraculously) done with the fixer upper I call home, but also with so many parents attending, I wanted them to get a sense for where we lived for future play dates! It was also a no-brainer that costs would be much more easily contained with a shindig at Casa-de-Katie, not to mention a lot more comfortable. When all was said and done, with a touch of planning, the party was a fabulous, fun, ultra-over-the-top Princess affair for 37 people, for $99 total, including Katie’s gift! Here’s the breakdown…

Decorate your own cookie project: $7.
I purchased gorgeous ready-baked sugar cookies from the discount grocery (24 cookies for $2), along with the little squeeze bottles of decorators icing, the perfect size for little fingers. The decorators icing was in boxes of four colors for $1/box, so I loaded up on 5 boxes (20 squeeze tubes total) for $5. Great stuff, and the culinary geniuses whipped up adorable designs on their cookies for a half hour!

Decorate your own door hanger project: $6
I love seeing kids in action when they’re drawing, so it was a blast to get them into a doorhanger project. With adorable doorhangers purchased in packs of 4/$1 at the dollar store, colored in with a set of 20 markers for $1 at the dollar store, it kept the mini-Monets busy for another half hour!

Food! $45
The menu was very kid friendly, not to mention wallet-friendly, all purchased at the gourmet discount grocery. All name brands, suitable for guests. 40 hotdogs and buns, gourmet chips purchased for .35/bag instead of the usual $4 retail, name brand sodas, juices, all fabulous, yummy, and purchased for $20, (along with $20 in pizzas purchased from the nearby pizzeria) came to a total of $40. (note, I didn’t count the cost of extra leftover pizza that I froze for future easy meals!) Dollar store princess plates, napkins, silverware tacked on an additional $5.

Katie’s cake, 48 servings: $12
I saw some gorgeous bakery cakes with princess themes, but not only did my ego demand I try something on my own, cakes big enough for a group our size were pricing at $50 and up. Besides, Katie is my big helper in the kitchen and she adores making cakes. So, again, it’s a no brainer we do something on our own. What it lacks in professionalism it makes up for in fun! The best part is that her cake couldn’t have been easier. Two batches of batter for the bottom cake, topped with cupcakes (all frosted by me, then topped with sprinkles by the birthday girl). To achieve the princess theme, we cut out stickers from one of her (many) princess activity books, then taped them to toothpicks and stuck one in each cupcake! We then stood her favorite princess books on each side of the cake, and put two Princess Barbies on either side, each of them holding a little dish of candy. Hysterical, and Katie loved it.

Balloons: $0
We lucked out huge with these. Katie’s Nana (my Mom) made two dozen balloons one of her gifts. Days before the party, she handed me 24 balloons and a helium tank with just enough helium left in it to do the job – Katie loved helping! If you don’t have balloon-laden relatives at the ready, you can get yours at the dollar store for $1 each.

Playtime fun – behold, a decent size yard with a swing set! Cost: $0
I obsessed (as only I can) on the pros and cons of getting one of those inflatable bouncy thingies that everybody (and I mean everybody) recommended I get for this party. I was this close, but decided against it. They’re often $100 or more to rent, and with the party more than half over by the time the projects were thru, it didn’t seem quite the right fit for this get together. Instead, we headed outside! The weather gods were spectacularly kind (giving us 80 degree weather in the middle of October), and the kids loved tearing around the yard. Those who weren’t playing hide & seek were on the swing set, the rest were tossing around various balls from the playroom, playing soccer, baseball, and an adorable form of Kindergarten-esque football (where you can run wherever you want to, so long as you’re holding the football under an arm and holding the other one out in front of you as if you were posing for a Heisman trophy as you tear on by…) The kids had a blast, and blew off some sugar-infused steam in the process.

Posterboard card: $1
In addition to all of the fabulous pictures, I wanted something special to remember this wonderful little birthday. So I purchased a huge piece of posterboard and had all of the guests sign it in their adorable Kindergarten handwriting with different color magic markers! I dated the back of it, will add party photos shortly, and it will hang in a special place of honor in her room!

Katie’s gift! $15
Working again with a princess theme, I wanted something really fabulous that she’d love. I came across an adorable Princess-theme table & chairs, regularly priced around $70, at the local Goodwill for $15 instead – see the pic! Katie LOVED it, and it was the perfect place for her classmates to place their wonderful gifts of princess-theme books, toys, dolls, jewelry kits, you name it. Such wonderful little friends!

Goody take home bags for 17 kids: $13.
Dollar store to the rescue again, baby! Little party bags run 3/$1, so grabbing six packs took care of our little guests. I filled them with candy pops (4/$1), chocolate candy ($3 total), an additional cupcake (with princess sticker!) and tied a balloon to each. As our soon-to-sugar-crash little guests departed, they looked delighted with their parting gifts.

So there you have it, a fun, fabulous, frugal party fit for a princess, complete with 17 sugar-crashed kids, wonderful conversations (and future playdates planned) with parents, and all done for $99. If you’re thinking of doing a party for your little one and don’t want to break the bank, have NO fear. It can be easily done. Above all else, have a great time!

“Frugnobyl” / Cloth Diaper update – One year later, $2700 saved! Wednesday, Oct 13 2010 

www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

Hey guys! How about this amazing weather! Gorgeous blue skies & 65 degree weather here in Chester County, PA!

Frugalista geek checking in with boring-yet-substantial math update!

Some of you might know, as of September 2009, I officially gave up on my “energy efficient” dishwasher & started washing dishes by hand. At the same time, I gave the “energy efficient” clothes dryer a semi-permanent break by hanging laundry on an easy makeshift clothesline (only using the dryer on rainy days).

Hanging clothes & washing dishes took a surprisingly fast 20 minutes of easy labor per day. Startup cost: $4 for rubber gloves & clothespins, + $80 for 20 cutesy cloth diapers on Craigslist.

Comparing electric bills over the last 12 months, and factoring in the 30% PP&L increase effective January, 2010, I’ve now saved $1600 on the electric bill, and $1100 in diapers, for a total of $2700 (AFTER TAX bucks!) saved!! Any investment that costs less than $85 to start, requires only 20 MINUTES of easy effort a day, AND yields $2700 in the bank in one year’s time, well…. that’s blog-worthy baby!

If you’ve got a household similar to mine, and you’re in the mood to keep an extra $2700 in the bank over the next year, give it a try!

Any energy-saving ideas, send them my way! Have a good one, everybody!

Seven easy Halloween costumes, all under $3 each! Wednesday, Oct 6 2010 

www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

You can also see this column at the online magazine GalTime!

Okay, considering I never really started my summer dieting in earnest, you can imagine my astonishment that Halloween is upon us. The weather is cooler, the leaves are changing, and hey, LOOK! CANDY CORN! Oh, yeah!

I’m getting emails this year from cash-strapped parents looking for ideas on how to make a fabulous Halloween for their kids, while spending less than in years past. They recall stories of Octobers past, when they meant to keep spending in check, but between costumes and candy, found themselves shelling out over $100! I love this year’s attitude because, let’s face it, Halloween is a great holiday, but it’s no reason to break the bank! Luckily, this is a day in which fun and frugal go hand in hand. I have to admit, I had a blast researching this article – the ideas for easy, terrific costumes are EVERYWHERE! Best of all, the resources necessary to pull them together are close to just almost everyone, courtesy of your local dollar stores and thrift stores!
After exhaustive research (and a bag or two of creativity-inspiring candy corn), here are my favorite costume ideas. These got top marks for being easy to put together, fun, comfortable, and best of all, available for $3 or less! What’s not to love?

Fireman – If your child has a red, yellow or black raincoat, pair it with appropriate dark colored clothing that they already own. Black pants and black turtleneck are perfect. Every dollar store I’ve been to has a $1 plastic fireman’s hat, as well as a $1 “Fireman’s Kit” complete with small extinguisher, official badge, walkie-talkie and (completely safe) play-axe! Adorable!

Cheerleader – The dollar store has $1 cheerleader sets complete with outfits, pom poms and megaphone! If you can, simply pair the pom poms and megaphone with any combo of cute skirt and matching sweater that your daughter already owns, along with ankle socks and sneakers, and have her practice her “Ready…OK!” move as she rings the doorbell.

Pirate – Ahoy, Matey! Hit the black clothing combo again (black pants, black turtleneck), and put it together with a pirate set, complete with a combination of eye patch, pretend hoop earring, hook, telescope, coins and the requisite (in this case, ultra-safe, pretend) dagger. Note, the pirate packaging specifically mentions that the smaller items (coins, etc) could be choking hazards. Keep this outfit for your 3+ trick or treater!

Nemo- More fun at your local thrift store – I found this adorable $50 Nemo costume for $1 in the Goodwill outlet. How cute is this?! Perfect for my three-year-old. Fabulous, comfy, and WARM in case the weather turns colder.

Scary ghoul – Okay, when I was a kid, I’d see these masks and get completely freaked out. Whoever designed them had nerves of steel. Now that I’m in my forties, I’m better around them. Kinda. I open the door to a kid wearing one of these and my pupils are still going to dilate, but I can keep my cool. I hope. You have to admit, they ARE freaky. However, paired with black pants and black sweater, it makes for a fabulous frugal costume!

Knight – I have held a lifelong affection for White Knights. Miniature ones coming to my door are positively adorable and are automatically eligible for double candy rations. Hit your local dollar store for the Knight’s shield, and spend another $1 for the archery playset, and you’re in fabulous shape. I love this costume, and it’s so easy to pair with the black pants and turtleneck!

Princess – My five-year old daughter is still deep in her princess phase, as are many of her Kindergarten friends. No need to go out and spend serious cash on the princess get up tho. Here’s a thought: Has your daughter been in a wedding as flower girl within the last year or so, complete with shiny, silky, ruffly, fluffy dress? The one that’s currently residing in the back of her closet with the perfectly matching shiny shoes? Pull it out and have her try it on, you would be surprised how forgiving those loose little waistlines are. If you’ve got a winner, check the toybox for a princess tiara and assorted bling (we’ve got loads in our playroom). If your searching comes up short, just add a tiara, wand and bling set from the dollar store et voila! Best part, comfy sneakers can fit right under the dress & nobody will see!

Special mention: Snow White’s Encore Performance! While costume shopping this year, check out your local thrift store; they are stuffed with fabulous name brand costumes! The selection is incredible, the costumes are very well made, and the prices are often 90% off retail! Last year, we found an adorable Disney-brand Snow White costume that was beautifully made and wonderfully comfy. Originally $50 retail, we came upon it in perfect condition and priced at $5. This year, after much debate about the pros, cons and personality traits of all two quadrillion Disney Princesses, Katie decided she wanted to be Snow White again. Keeping fingers crossed, we tried on last year’s costume, and sure enough, it fits perfectly! Putting my sophisticated math skills to work, a $5 costume, used twice, works well in the $3 or less costume category!

Another Halloween note about your local dollar store – it’s a fabulous place to get your candy! Great selection, always fresh, and the price can’t be beat. If you’re planning a kids’ party at your house (rather than have them walk house to house) check out your store for party supplies as well! Happy Halloween, everyone!