Slash your Air Conditioning Costs! Friday, Jul 19 2013 

Hey, gang!  You’ll never guess where I got the idea for this week’s Column.   Good Lord.   With my July birthday, I’ve found myself thanking my Mom profusely time and again for being nine months pregnant in the July heat way back when.  This year, I felt like I should erect a statue in her honor (Thanks again, Mom!).   If you’re one of the millions who feel that battling this latest heat wave has sapped your strength – and your bank account – read on for fabulously frugal tips on keeping cool, without going broke in the process.
(1) Do your math – In the hottest months of summer, my own frugal experiments show time and again that a simple twenty degree difference between the outside temperature and the inside air is all it takes to feel refreshed and cool.   If it’s 98 degrees outside, and your air conditioner is set to 65, it’s huge overkill that’s taking a monster bite out of your wallet.  Believe it or not, you can easily and comfortably escape your 95-degree outdoor surroundings with an indoor air conditioner set to 75 degrees.  You read right – 75 degrees.   Give it a try!  Trust me, not only is it far less of a shock to your system, it’s far less of a shock to your utility bill at the end of the month. 
(2) Meet your summertime cooking buddy, your microwave – If there’s one thing that goes against the grain in the summertime heat, it’s blasting up the oven to 350 degrees or putting a couple of stove burners on “high” to get dinner on the table.  While you’re planning your meal menus, think big and think cool.  If your family is big time pasta lovers, try cooking two pounds at a time.  Keep the leftovers in the refrigerator and heat them up the next night in the microwave rather than cooking up a whole new batch on the stove.  If your crew is into the protein, try cooking two chickens in the oven rather than just one at a time.  The leftovers will heat up beautifully in the microwave the next day – with much less heat in the kitchen, therefore much less air conditioning required to counteract it – you get the point.  Extra credit to those who also employ their outdoor grills and/or energy efficient crockpots.  

(3) Don’t even think about using your clothes dryer – It’s 95 degrees in the shade, if there’s ever been a better case to be made for giving your dryer a summer vacation, this is it.  Grab some clothesline and string it up around anything that stands still – a tree branch, the edge of your swing set, the side of your garage – trust me, it doesn’t have to be fancy.   Not only will your clothing dry faster than you ever thought possible, but you’ll be astonished to see what you’re saving on your energy bill.  Case in point: I put a batch of towels on the line last week, and not only were they dry within 90 minutes, they were ready to spontaneously combust. 
Whatever you do to combat the heat this summer, try to incorporate at least some of these proven tips so you’re not stuck battling a huge utility bill at the end of summer.  Frugal On!

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A Gorgeously Frugal Porch and Patio Project! Saturday, Jul 13 2013 

Hey, everybody – I hope you had an outstanding 4th of July! Now that we’re in the middle of another gorgeous summer, the timing is perfect to tackle an inexpensive home improvement project you and your family will love – your porch and patio! This time of year, your outdoor spaces are extensions of your home, extra “rooms” that can provide immense value for outdoor living and entertaining. Put your porch and patio to fantastic use with inexpensive projects that help them look their best.
(1) The Furniture – You’ll want a comfy set of furniture if you’re going to entertain outdoors. Here’s the good news – friends, family and neighbors that went out to buy a pricey new set for their 4th of July parties now need to unload their “old” set. If they haven’t traded up, no worries, dozens (if not hundreds) of people who live within quick driving distance will be trying to get rid of their old set via Craigslist. Time for you to come to the rescue! If you’re one of the lucky recipients of what looks like somewhat-banged up pieces, never fear. Porch furniture is designed to withstand the hard knocks of Mother Nature, and chances are excellent your “weathered” loveseat, sofa and/or chairs will come right back with a little TLC. Your best bet – hit your local hardware store for some outdoor furniture spray paint and go to town! If you have a handful of scratched-up (originally) white pieces, even if they’re from different sets, it’ll spruce right back up with a fresh coat of paint and look completely new by the time you’re done. Perhaps you want to be daring with a dark cherry brown color this time. Maybe the kids want to paint the wicker rocker cherry pink – who cares? Considering what you (didn’t) pay for the set, show no fear and have some fun! If the cushions are looking worn as well, no worries – local department stores, discount stores and thrift stores often have them by the truckload for at least 50% off retail.
(2) The Paint! – Have a look at your porch and patio floors and railings. If the floors are banged up, one can of paint and a huge roller should take care of the job in no time. If the railings need a touch-up, get to it! A small can of paint (and an even smaller brush) will cover scratches and make it look better than ever.
(3) The Plants – One of the best eye-catching colors for your porch and patio is vibrant, summertime green. One of the easiest ways to acquire it is with plants. Many of your local hardware stores and home improvement centers are in the midst of a full-scale “unload it now” mentality with regards to their lush-looking summertime plants. Get your hands on a few tropical beauties (trees, hanging plants, palms, potted flowers) and place them in the corners of your porch and patio where they can pick up the breezes.
Whatever the size of your porch or patio, a weekend, a can (or two) of paint, and a fearless attitude can transform it into an entertaining paradise for family and friends. Viva summertime!