A Deliciously Frugal 4th of July! Wednesday, Jun 26 2013 

Happy (almost) 4th of July, everybody! As we get closer to this summer holiday – and touch even closer to my birthday later in July – I’m reminded that it’s also shorts and t-shirt weather, a.k.a. hardcore dieting time. Much as I love a good holiday dessert nosh, I’ll love fitting into a fabulous dress I’m planning to wear on my birthday even more! With that in mind, what better way to exorcise the dessert demon than by going into gooey, delicious praise of my favorites right here. 99.9% less fat, calories and carbs, with 100% of the fun! When I put out the word getting opinions on everyone’s favorite Independence Day Desserts, they came thru in red, white and blue glory. Read on for readers’ favorites, we’ve got something to tantalize every patriotic taste bud out there. Best part: they’re all easy to create – often for less than twenty-five cents per serving!

First of all, let’s take care of the kids in your crowd. Top votes for them are clearly cupcakes and popsicles! Take the edge off the heat by freezing up some red, white and blue beauties and serve them flower-style in a vase filled with ice cubes. As for the cupcakes, be daring with some red velvet cupcakes topped with white buttercream and 4th of July sprinkles – extra credit if you find toppings in the shape of stars!

For the teenagers, top votes go to milkshakes and sundaes! Get the vanilla ice cream out (keep strawberry or blueberry ice cream in reserve as well) and let the kids get mega creative with some frosty red, white and blue creamy concoctions. Ingredients for this culinary extravaganza are super easy – just make sure you have plenty of whipped cream, berry syrups, berries and toppings on hand. For guaranteed hit reviews, head to the Dollar Store of your choice for some sundae bowls, long sundae spoons, milkshake glasses, and sturdy straws.
Once you have the kids sugared-up properly, dazzle the adults with healthy and guilt-free parfaits! Layer ice-cold fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries with yogurt or sugar-free whipped cream. It’s easy to prepare, delicious, and hugely appreciated by those who are looking to save their holiday calories and carbs for the potato salad, some chips and perhaps a hot dog roll or two. For those on your guest list who don’t make a habit of counting carbs, calories or fat grams (a.k.a. the guys), go straight for pie. There are fabulous patriotic-looking varieties awaiting you in the freezer section – cherry, blueberry and strawberry are outstanding bets. For mega-extra credit, make one yourself (ready-made pie crusts wholeheartedly recommended) and create a magnificent “homemade” berry pie (canned filling works for me!) with the kids cutting out star-shaped pieces of dough to decorate the tops and circle the sides.
Above all else, enjoy the day for what it is – a fantastic birthday bash and well-deserved celebration of our Country and our independence. Happy Birthday, America!

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host & Author of “Brilliant Frugal Living”. “The Kristen Hagopian Show – Living a Luxurious Life, for Less!” airs Thursday and Saturdays on Philadelphia’s WWDB-AM 860-Talk. You can find Kristen online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

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Create a Fabulously Frugal Father’s Day! Saturday, Jun 8 2013 

As another beautiful summer unfolds, we come upon one of my favorite holidays – Father’s Day! When I put out the word to my social media army requesting tips for a fabulously frugal Father’s Day, they didn’t disappoint! For everyone out there with a special Father, Grandfather, Stepfather, Godfather or someone “whose like a Father to me” they’d like to honor on June 16th, read on for a list of four thoughtful sentimental gifts that Dad will LOVE, without breaking the bank!

(1) A Flawlessly Clean Car: Ladies, I hate to break it to you, but you know how you and I personally really don’t mind a somewhat-cluttered car? I mean, really, what’s the biggie about having a baggie of crushed goldfish crackers keeping company with your kid’s empty hamburger wrapper? Newsflash: it makes the guys nuts. This Father’s Day, pull out all the stops with a car-cleaning session that will make him instantly forget the time your daughter left her lunchbox in the hot back seat for an entire weekend…open…with an uneaten dill pickle marinating in 140-degree heat for two days. Plug an extension cord into your vacuum, haul it to the driveway and use every attachment it possesses to reach every crevice from the front seat to the trunk. A couple of rags and some Windex (Febreeze also highly recommended!), and the interior will sparkle as well.

(2) Personalized Golf Balls: For some reason still completely unknown to medical science, 99.9% of Dads are somehow drawn to the sport of golf. Put the paternal DNA in its happy place with personalized golf balls! Get your hands on a dozen or so from his golf bag, scrub them well, and let the kids (or grandkids!) have fun with their favorite markers – I’m told just about every type of marker out there will stick. Make sure the kids initial it and add the year, and you are guaranteed Dad will keep these wonderful mementos for decades to come.
(3) Buffet on the Barcalounger: You know how Moms adore the Mother’s Day Breakfast in Bed? Allow me to introduce the male counterpart: a Father’s Day Buffet on the Barcalounger! Get Dad in his favorite chair, and surround him with the snacks he loves most, as well as a free pass to pick the television programming of his choice (golf, anyone?). It’s a no-carb-left-behind kind of holiday, make sure he does it proud.
(4) Certificate of Achievement: As hard as the Dads in our lives work every day, we exist in an economy where raises and recognition are at undeserved historic lows. It’s time for an Awards Ceremony that shows Dad how much he’s appreciated. Take two minutes on the computer to draft something along the lines of: “For outstanding accomplishment and performance, dedication, commitment to excellence in all aspects of work and home, for being a wonderful husband and outstanding Father, and in recognition of your superb and tireless efforts to support your family well, Happy Father’s Day!” Put it in italics, center it on the page, tweak it a bit here and there for effect, print it out and have the kids sign it. Then put it into a classic frame from the local dollar store. I guarantee you he will hang it with pride.

Above all else, use this wonderful holiday to unabashedly tell the wonderful Dads in your life how incredible they are and how grateful you are for them. A special side note to Victor and my Dad – the two best Dads on Earth – Happy Father’s Day!

Summertime Habits that save BIG money! Saturday, Jun 8 2013 

As I sit typing this week’s Column, I look up at my reflection in the window and see my hair frizzing to oblivion. Yup, it’s official – we’ve just done a cannonball into another outrageously humid summer. Honestly, I love it. The trees are green and gorgeous, flowers are blooming and the industrial-strength weeds covering my yard are so lush that (when just mowed) my lawn looks worthy of a Masters Tournament. (insert polite, muted golf clapping here…)
Best of all, now is the time you can put some fabulously frugal summertime moves into play that will save your household big money (and reduce big-time stress) in just a few months time.
(1) Start walking – No more excuses, it’s time to get moving. The weather is too gorgeous to enjoy it by looking out the windows. It’s time to get out there for a well-deserved stroll. Your health, wellness and stress levels will thank you for it. If you’re working in an office, walk to your local eatery for lunch, or just put that mid-day break to good use with a healthy stretch – just get outdoors and get that oxygen pumping. Better yet, “forget” your cell phone at your desk and take some time just for yourself. For those working at home, take a half-hour out with the kids and head to the nearest park. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll sleep like a rock that night. Bonus!
(2) Start using the grill – If it’s heating up outside, it’s heating up doubly-fast in the kitchen. Bake one batch of cookies for your kid’s class and suddenly your kitchen feels like it’s 20 feet from the surface of the sun. If one of your summertime goals is to reduce your air conditioning bills, do as much cooking outdoors as you can. Practice safe grilling (of course) and put your imagination to work on fun items you may never have thought to cook on your grill! DLN readers have emailed me fabulous grilling tips (many gleaned from imaginative cooking techniques created during last year’s Hurricane Sandy power outage) that include boiling water for ice tea, boiling eggs, making toast, cookies and brownies, boiling noodles, scrambling eggs in a frying pan directly placed on the grill surface, etc. Basically, I realize now that anything short of a soufflé can be done with your outdoor grill. Gotta love it.
(3) Start scouting out flea markets and garage sales – This tip is two-fold. If you have things that you need in your home (clothes for growing kids, items for your house), start checking out your local garage sales and flea markets – they could have just what you need for a fraction of retail. Same goes for Craigslist – ‘tis the season for organized people to get their houses cleaned out and their hundreds of unwanted items online and ready for you to grab for 95% off. On the flip side, if you’re looking to create a bit of additional income this summer, give some thought to snagging a booth at your next local flea market or holding a garage sale of your own. You empty the house of everything you’ve outgrown, someone else benefits from it – everyone’s a winner.
Here’s to another money-making, money-saving Summertime!

Inexpensive Summer Getaways! Saturday, Jun 8 2013 

As the evenings warm up and the remaining days of school count down, it’s time to turn our attention to another glorious summer ahead! However, rather than focus on productive summertime projects (heaven forbid!), my mind is steering more towards fabulous getaways that your family will love and won’t break the bank! I have to be honest, I really didn’t originally see myself doing a Column on this. Then, during last week’s Show I received a call from a listener who admitted to me she was maxed out on her credit cards, her household is living paycheck to paycheck, and she was asking me for advice on how to swing a trip to Disney this year! Um, what? Don’t get me wrong, I adore Disneyland, Disneyworld, Disney movies, and all other things Disney. However, if the budget doesn’t allow wiggle room for a trip of Mickey-magnitude, that’s just the way it is. With that in mind, I put out the word to DLN Readers, asking for fabulous input and their ideas on super-fun-yet-inexpensive trip ideas, and received a boatload – I love you guys! Here’s the top recommendations:
(1) Camping: I know people who literally count down all year to the summer day in which they pack up shop and head to the hills to camp in the outdoors, often for weeks at a time! My childhood memories of family camping trips were total fun, with pop-up campers, cookouts, all fabulous stuff. Best part – you won’t believe how inexpensive it is! Ask your camping buddies for recommendations (if they’re really good friends, ask to borrow their camper!), or Google some of the campgrounds near you to see which are closest and could best fit the bill. My only camping requirement now as an adult: make sure there’s an easy way for me to plug in my coffeemaker. My needs are small.
(2) Dutch Wonderland: I’m right there with DLN readers; I adore this place. In my mind, DW has all of the benefits of Disney without the expensive travel, overpriced hotel and over-the-top pricey food. It’s Mickeyland with Amish carriages, the best of all worlds for my 8-year old daughter and 5-year old son. Best of all, it’s right there in Lancaster, home of fabulous shopping and incredible Amish food. It’s a traveling frugalista’s savings trifecta! Florida, Schmorida.
(3) Washington D.C.: There are so many reasons to love this town, especially the incredible, one-of-a-kind museums, many with free admission, including the Smithsonian Institutes! The Museum of American History, Natural History, and the Air & Space Museum are phenomenal, everyone in the family finds something to love, you can spend all day there (did I mention the outstanding air conditioning?) and it’s all available for free. One of the best things about Washington, D.C. – the hotels just outside the beltway are incredibly reasonable, and the Metro train system is extremely user friendly. Even I can manage it, and that’s saying something.
(4) Downtown Philadelphia: For all that you and I know about Philadelphia, there are dozens of new places, sights and Events you’ve never even heard of (many with free admission!) that await you this summer. Get onto visitphilly.com to see the dozens of Events available each and every day, the vast majority with very inexpensive (or free!) admission. What’s not to love?
The best thing about getaways is that – whatever brings you the greatest summertime fun with your family – there are always strategies to help you do it for less. Here’s to summertime, everybody!