A Fabulous Valentine’s Day on a Frugal Budget! Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

I have to be honest, between the snow, school closings and power outages, not to mention being the last house in my neighborhood to put away the Christmas decorations, this year’s Valentine’s Day snuck up on me. How is it February already? If you’re like me, stuck in the solid grip of a “Will this winter ever end?!” mindset, Valentine’s Day — when embraced with the proper frugal thinking — can be a holiday godsend that gives us a temporary break against Mother Nature’s wrath. I heard that the average consumer could spend close to $150 on Valentine’s Day this year! Unless a solid chunk of that is on a good pre-owned snowblower, I urge V-day spenders to read on for a trifecta of Valentine’s Day happiness that doesn’t demolish your debit card.

(1) The flowers – You all know me to be a solid, upstanding, card-carrying Frugalista, not easily sucked in by overpriced gifts with a fleeting shelf life. That being said, I’m a huge fan of roses on Valentine’s Day. It’s embedded deep within my DNA, and it shall not be silenced. The trick here is to get them at a fraction of retail, and I know just the places. Hit your local Produce Junction, where a dozen long-stem beauties can cost less than $20, or hit your local warehouse stores where gorgeous flowers await you at very reasonable rates. Side note: If you think the odds of your significant other bringing you roses are about as likely as you being abducted by an alien life force, take the bull by the horns and buy yourself a beautiful bunch!

(2) The jewelry – I have as much need for glamorous jewelry as I do for the long-stem roses. However, see my earlier notes about the chick DNA. Add to that my lifelong adoration of old movies, and you can see where my addiction to vintage jewelry comes from. Guys, take it from me, when the ladies open up a box with a beautiful piece of bling inside, they’ll see jewelry, but you’ll see the solid gold “get out of trouble free” card that could come in handy as the year progresses. Again, the trick is knowing where to find it. Answer: hit your local consignment stores & thrift stores, where jewelry case upon jewelry case awaits you, filled with vintage bling that will make her heart sing, right along with your wallet.

(3) The chocolate – Valentine’s Day with no chocolate makes about as much sense to me as Thanksgiving without a turkey. I mean, really, what’s the point? You could try making your own – I’ve heard from people who do just that, and they earn a huge A+ for effort in my book. However, if your schedule is as pinched as your budget, opt for easier homemade chocolate goodies – chocolate cupcakes get rave reviews, and they’re super simple to create. Remember, chocolate calories don’t count on Feb. 14!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

Kristen Hagopian is a syndicated radio talk show host and columnist, consumer reporter, motivational speaker and author of “Brilliant Frugal Living.” The Kristen Hagopian Show airs on Philadelphia’s WWDB-AM TALK 860, and nationwide via Business Talk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County with her husband and two children. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

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Stay fabulously, frugally warm! Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

Hey gang – looks like January is determined to remind us time and again that we’re in deep winter mode. I’m not trying to whine here (much), but where are the freakishly warm January days that we’ve had in years past? Is having just one January day at 80 degrees too much to ask? Where’s all this global warming I keep hearing about? And my biggest gripe: what’s with the little negative signs next to the temp when we’re talking about wind chills? Who ordered that?

Okay, whining is done. For now. Instead, read on for some fabulously effective frugal strategies to keep your winter heating bill low and your bank account (and body temperature) high – trust me, springtime is right around the corner!

• Time for serious body armor: Some of you know that I grew up in Wisconsin, right off the (windy, freezing cold) Great Lakes. Anyone who grew up in Green Bay knows you’re issued your first pair of long underwear about the time you speak your first words (usually a Lombardi quote). By contrast, I was out shopping recently with a friend of mine (born and raised in Philly), who literally didn’t know what long underwear was. Gang, try them. You’ll not only fall madly in love with the toasty warmth of them, you’ll love the money you save setting the house thermostat just those few degrees warmer.

• Rock those space heaters: Before we had kids, my husband and I wouldn’t hesitate to fire up the kerosene heaters during the coldest days of winter. Now that we’ve got young kids in the house, kerosene heaters (combined with my deeply overprotective parental nature) get me nervous. Edenpure heaters to the rescue! I love these things. Safe, effective, they blast hot air into the room at no risk to kids or pets, and – when purchased on Craigslist – they’re incredibly economical. For extra points, shut the doors in the room as well (or just put easy spring-rod curtains up in doorways) and you’ll find the rooms heat up beautifully.

• Electric blankets and flannel sheets: I am a huge fan of flannel sheets. If you’ve never tried them, I highly recommend it – they hold body heat beautifully and make for a marvelously toasty night’s sleep, even on the coldest winter nights. When it comes to electric blankets, I have to admit I’ve never really gotten into them. However, people who read this column and listen to my show have emailed me more than once to rave about them, so they definitely warrant an honorable mention. At about $25 each, they cost around $1/night to run. Turn down the heat at night and you’ll still have noticeable savings on your heating bill at the end of the month.

• Clean your air vents: We’ve had an entire autumn and winter with the heat running pretty much nonstop. It’s a perfect way to clog up your air vents. If you haven’t cleaned your vents or switched out your air filters in the last few months, be sure to do it soon. Clogged air vents can put a huge (read: expensive) extra burden on your heating system.

Gang, above all else, remember that springtime is just a few months away – until then, hang in there and layer up (with something preferably flannel). You can make it – Frugal On!

Kristen Hagopian is a syndicated radio talk show host and columnist, consumer reporter, motivational speaker and author of “Brilliant Frugal Living.” The Kristen Hagopian Show airs on Philadelphia’s WWDB-AM TALK 860, and nationwide via Business Talk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County with her husband and two children. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

Brilliant Frugal Investments for 2014! Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

Hey gang – ready for spring yet? Me too. Until then, let’s focus on some great January investments that will reap big returns on your hard earned money over the course of 2014. Many think investing requires large amounts of money – not true! Read on for three inexpensive investments that can save you hundreds or more by year’s end.

(1) Warehouse club cards – We’ve got three clubs in this area: Sam’s Club, BJ’s & Costco. Here at the Hagopian house, we’re proud to carry cards for all three! They offer tremendous discounts on items compared to retail, and each have membership fees that run about $50/year. If used correctly, they’ll easily pay for themselves in a month. Extra credit to Sam’s Club for their tremendous prices on top notch tires and amazing meats, not to mention a free cookie for the kids and cream and half & half at about 50 percent off retail. Given my undeniable caffeine addiction, you can understand why I’m at Sam’s on a weekly basis.

Check out your local warehouse clubs to see which one best fits your needs (Management should be happy to let you look around before you commit to a membership). Important Note: resist the urge to impulse buy. Many times I’ve heard the tale of those who ran into a warehouse club to buy bread, and emerged dazed and confused an hour later with the bread, 10 bestsellers and a leather sofa. Buddy up with a trusted friend for those first trips if necessary.

(2) Continuing education – We’re lucky around here in that there are schools near everyone to take classes in just about any subject matter you wish. Head online to see what your local schools and colleges have to offer and learn something new this year – it’s empowering. Whether you’re interested in learning Spanish (looks great on a resume), yoga (great for the looming 2014 swimsuit season) or perhaps you’d like to take a class on how to change the oil in your car or how to do your own haircolor (personally, I save about $150/month on that skill alone).

Think outside the box and learn something new – the benefits could extend well beyond your wallet.

(3) A library card – For every 100 people reading this, 95 don’t own a library card. It’s time to unleash your inner book-geek. Library cards are not only free, but can save you hundreds in one year’s time alone. Magazines, cookbooks, instructional videos, workout DVDs, they have it all.

Remember the dozen or so movie DVDs you bought at full price last year (for $15 each), only to watch them once and never touch them again? You just spent $180 on dustcatchers. Or perhaps you went that one step further into debt and saw those movies last year at (gulp, shudder) full movie theatre price. A family of four hitting the movie theatre once a month, sharing one tub of popcorn and two large sodas will shell out $720/year (don’t hate me, I just work here, hate my calculator instead!). Instead, try renting those fabulous flicks at the library for $3 and enjoy with as many friends as you wish, not to mention large amounts of homemade popcorn.

Gang, you get the point – you work hard for your money, don’t let it go to waste in 2014! Keep an iron grip on it, let it grow like bunnies in your bank account. Final thought: Don’t forget to find all of those movie-themed toys at Goodwill for about 95 percent off retail in a few months or so.

Here’s to a fabulously frugal 2014!

Kristen Hagopian is a syndicated radio talk show host and columnist, consumer reporter, motivational speaker and author of “Brilliant Frugal Living.” The Kristen Hagopian Show airs on Philadelphia’s WWDB-AM TALK 860, and nationwide via Business Talk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County with her husband and two children. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com