Save Money & Prep for Summertime Weather! Wednesday, Jul 2 2014 

Remember last winter, when I was whining non-stop about the extreme cold, record-setting power outages, heating bills, etc? Yeah, me too. I vowed then and there, no matter how hot it got this summer, no matter how much my hair frizzed and I looked like an sweaty extra in a prison-chain-gang movie, I wouldn’t complain about summertime heat. Let’s face it, no matter how hot it gets, you can still drive (no ice on the roads), and in the 90+ degree heat, chances are excellent that power lines won’t cake over with ice and snap like thread. So for a refreshing change of pace, I’m going to instead kavetch about other summertime weather phenomena (severe storms, tornadoes), and how you can prep your household – frugally! – for maximum peace of mind at minimal cost.

First thing to get, a backup generator. If you don’t already have one, think about getting one. Hardware stores everywhere have them in stock, and my favorite online secondhand store (Craigslist) has dozens for sale near you. Best part about buying from Craigslist – those generators are practically new, and usually at least 50% off! Often, the current owner will detail how it’s only been used for 12 hours total during the last power outage, and now they’re upgrading to the newer, bigger model (which will be outdated & ready for Craigslist this time next year…but I digress). One of these discount beauties will save you big stress, multiple costly trips to a nearby hotel, everything in your refrigerator/freezer… you get the point. Biggest money-saving tip – don’t get sucked into buying a generator that will power everything (including the central air conditioning system) in your house – it’s unnecessary overkill. Make sure it can handle your kitchen appliances (except your clothes dryer, you can hang everything outside for free!), and go old school with a window air conditioner and box fans until the power is back up. Head to a hardware store online calculator to determine what size generator you need.

Next: a Weather Alert Radio. It’s uncanny how a good percentage of scary “get to the basement pronto” weather happens in the nighttime hours while you’re sleeping. Get yourself a weather radio that’ll go off every time severe weather is in your area. They’re available everywhere, and usually cost less than $20. It’s great peace of mind. Side note: if you’re in possession of a cell phone that’s more sophisticated than mine (99.9% of you fall into this category), then simply download severe weather alert apps directly to your SmartPhone – just don’t forget to bring the phone to bed with you at night!

Last: Batteries, in all sizes, and lots of them: It’s funny how many of us have all of the sophisticated software necessary to know what the weather patterns are anywhere on the planet, only to have us slapping every flashlight in the house against our palm in the pitch dark of a nighttime blackout because the batteries have gone dead. Check your flashlights now to make sure they’re up to snuff, and have lots of extra batteries at the ready for when they inevitably die out.

Here’s to being fabulously frugally outfitted with all the equipment we need for another fickle summer weather season. Please Mother Nature, don’t make us have to reach for it.

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host, Columnist & Author of Brilliant Frugal Living. She co-hosts WCHE 1520’s Morning Show, and “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs Tuesdays at 4P. She resides in Chester County with her family. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

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Slash Food Bills with your local Grocery Outlet! Wednesday, Jul 2 2014 

Summer’s here! The kids are getting out of school and starting their fabulous summertime sports and hobbies, get-togethers and playdates. I love it! Basically, this is the time of year when I swear I can hear them growing – have you got anything like that going on at your house? It’s also a time of year when I’m finding they’re enjoying not only the standard three meals a day, but often in-between snacks as well, all rapidly burned off with best friends, bicycles, skateboards and playground equipment.

When it comes to keeping your family well-fed during this wonderful summertime blitz of activity, look no further than your local Grocery Outlet! Take it from a fellow frugal foodie, one of the best in the area is Swann’s Pantry Grocery Outlet in the Marchwood Shopping Center in Exton – I’ve been going there for years, and it’s my grocery goldmine. All of the brand names that my hard-working family adores, and I’m often spending 50% less than I would at the major supermarkets nearby. It’s divine. If you haven’t hit this place yet, get there pronto, Tonto. Meats for the barbeque, fabulous produce, breads & pastries and a mack daddy bulk food selection – one of the biggest in the area!

Fringe Lifestyle Side Note: Now that my family is really getting big into the whole ultra-hip (read: “ultra-expensive”) gluten-free and/or low-carb lifestyle, Swann Pantry Grocery Outlet has been a lifesaver, offering fabulous goodies for a fraction of retail. One of the best things about this place is that it proves without a doubt one of my favorite frugal rules – that living and eating fabulously doesn’t have to break the bank. “Foodie on a Budget” is no longer an oxymoron – it can be done!

Also, some interesting facts – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household of four people can spend anywhere upwards of $1200/month for groceries. Insane, no? Compare that to my household of four foodaholics, purchasing the best brand names out there, and often spending less than $600/month. Five seconds with a calculator tells me that I’m saving over $7000/year compared to other families of four – that’s some handy coin to stash into savings, pay down debt, add to your kids’ college accounts, or even pay for that next quality-used car with cash.

Whenever people connect with me to ask my advice on how to cut their budgets down to a manageable size, I’m astonished at how few are making use of their local Discount Grocery. If you’re looking to slash that food budget, while still getting the best brand names out there for you and your family, get yourselves to your local Grocery Outlet and watch your food bills plummet faster than you can say “Bon Appetit”.’ Frugal On!

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host, Columnist & Author of Brilliant Frugal Living. She co-hosts WCHE 1520’s Morning Show, and “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs Tuesdays at 4P. She resides in Chester County with her family. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

Frugal Summer Activities for Kids – The Sequel! Wednesday, Jul 2 2014 

What a fantastic response to my “Frugal Summer Activities for Kids” Column back on May 13th! Thanks so much for the emails, texts, voicemails and Facebook feedback – you guys are the best! This week’s Column is dedicated to even more ideas for keeping the kids entertained this summer without draining the bank account and/or driving Mom & Dad crazy. Win-win in my book! Gleaned straight from crafty, creative DLN readers – here’s a list of even more great indoor and outdoor activities that are proven hits with the soon-to-be-paroled school age crowd.

Discount Movies – Hannah P. of West Chester emailed to tell me that last year’s heat wave will be etched on her mind forever (Amen, sister!). Despite the heat, her sons were great about playing outside and keeping busy, so once a week, she’d treat them to discount matinees at local theatres. I did some checking, and sure enough, Management at Regal Cinemas in Downingtown confirmed they have a kids’ movie festival starting June 24th, ending August 20th. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, kids can attend morning movies (starting by 10A), for just $1 per ticket. That’s a couple of hours of highly-entertaining air-conditioned goodness right there. Just to put the cherry on top of it, when the movie is done, you can take your ticket stub to the nearby Chick-Fil-A (same day) for a free chicken sandwich (like they’re not addictive enough to begin with). Sweet!

Stargazing – Charlie T. of Glenmoore bought a second-hand telescope three years ago on Craigslist for his teenage kids to enjoy, and it’s been popular beyond his wildest expectations. Each summer, when the sun goes down, the kids spent hours checking out the moon, planets, stars, and anything else in the night sky that caught their attention. They often invited friends over to join them, and sure enough, they got hooked as well! (X-box, Schmex-box, I can see Jupiter’s rings in my telescope!) Side note from Charlie – even his older model digital camera had enough of a zoom lens for his daughter to get some great close-ups of moon craters, creating some wonderful framed pics for his daughter’s room, not to mention a budding astro-photographer. Get your own teenage astronomers on the case this summer, and get them psyched for the spectacular Perseid Meteor Showers in August!

Other Fun Chester County Venues — Gee, if only there were a detailed website telling everybody where they could find inexpensive kids’ fun in Chester County… oh wait, there IS! Debbie Z. of Exton sent a link to a great website called kidschesco.com, and it’s packed with fantastic ideas that are not only close by, but inexpensive. Festivals, fairs, please touch museums, camps, workshops – Chester County is buzzing with terrific, inexpensive activities for kids!

Whatever you do to keep the kids entertained this summer, don’t let it break the bank – Chester County has you covered. Frugal On!
Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host, Columnist & Author of Brilliant Frugal Living. She co-hosts WCHE 1520’s Morning Show, and “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs Tuesdays at 4P. When she’s not at WCHE, she’s usually shopping the fabulous deals at Swann’s Pantry Grocery Outlet in Exton. She resides in Chester County with her family. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

Frugal Summer Activity ideas for kids Wednesday, Jul 2 2014 

You might think I’m crazy, but I’m looking forward to having my kids out of school for the summer. My nine-year old daughter and six-year old son have cranked out incredible amounts of work this past year, and I can’t wait to let them play their little hearts out when school lets out in a few weeks.

That being said, I’m getting a good amount of email from readers saying that each year it seems a bit tougher to find fun, safe, inexpensive activities that the kids will love. So, when Susan T. of Frazer emailed me a great article from myblessedlife.net titled 101 Summer Kids’ Activities, it was like striking gold! Read on for my favorite picks of the best Summer Kids’ activities, none of which will break the bank!

1. Lawn Sprinklers – I don’t care how hot it gets, when you pull out the sprinklers, intense summer heat with 95% humidity actually becomes an asset. Now, I’ve seen amazing sprinklers in action that look like they belong in a car wash, and quite frankly, they freak me out. Stick with the easy, dependable ones that you can get at any hardware store for about $30. They last forever. If you really want to see pure delight on your kids’ faces, put two or three of those sprinklers close together in your yard, fire them up, and watch as your kids look at you like Mom of The Year. Add some Kool-Aid to the scenario an hour later and they’re ready to carry you around on their shoulders.

2. The Library – Air conditioned, quiet, and no big bugs. Need I say more? It is a trifecta of Mommy summertime happiness. Add in the fun activities and workshops for the kids, not to mention all of the coolest books and magazines for Mom as you hang out while they’re in the workshops, and you’ve got a great activity that can take up the better part of a hot summertime afternoon.

3. Sidewalk Chalk – If you’ve got kids ten and under, invest in a pack of these delightful little creative gems. Find them a shady spot in the driveway and let their little chalky Michelangelo hands go wild!
4. The Park – It’s free, it’s loaded with mack-daddy swing set equipment that you’d never find in your own yard, and it never gets old for the kids. They also often have excellent, flat, paved areas that are great for the Big Wheels and bikes. Throw in a picnic lunch from home and you kick it up another notch for the 10-and under crowd. From the Mom standpoint, I love connecting with the other Moms as we all hang out and drink in some sunshine therapy after the crazy winter we had! Viva Vitamin D!

Whatever you do, don’t worry about summertime activities costing an arm and a leg. Trust me, the most priceless thing for your kids is being out of school! Add a popsicle and a lawn hose to the scenario, and you’re perfectly set up for another fabulous summer. Frugal On!

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host & Columnist, Motivational Speaker & Author of Brilliant Frugal Living. She co-hosts the Morning Show on West Chester’s WCHE 1520, and “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs Nationwide via The BizTalk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County with her family. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

A Fabulously Frugal Cinco De Mayo! Wednesday, Jul 2 2014 

Hey everybody – Thank heavens we’re coming up on May! I couldn’t care less how hormonal Mother Nature has been these last few months, once we’re past April 30th, she has no choice but to usher in some serious, sustainable Springtime weather. Now you know that I’m not much for hallmark-ish holidays, but at this point, I’m ready to leap onto any and all holidays that get people into a warmer weather state of mind. Cinco de Mayo to the rescue! This fabulously festive holiday has been the theme for many magnificent shindigs, and why not? The fun, the food, the colors, the music – we deserve it all! Read on for spicy, frugal tips that will have a great party ready to roar, without biting your wallet in two.

First things first – The Food! I’ve been to several Cinco de Mayo parties, and the proof of a great get-together is always in the food. This is no place for a deli tray, people! Get creative and spicy Mexican-style with a make-it-yourself taco bar. The crowds universally adore them, they’re delish, and when done right, they’re easy and inexpensive to make. Start with some spicy ground beef, add some shredded chicken, put out lots of salsa, tortilla shells and shredded cheese, add a couple of taco sauces, guacamole, some sour cream, and you’re set. Classic side dishes are beans and rice, chips and be sure to get a colorful fruit salad in there too. Friends are going to want to bring something, so put them each onto a spicy dish or dessert of their choosing – later on you can do a casual contest to determine who brought the most authentic Mexican dish!

The Dishes and Décor – Super simple. One trip to your local dollar store will have this locked up. Even with my deep, intensive knowledge of dollar store inventory, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the quality and selection of this year’s perfect Cinco de Mayo dishes, decorations, even margarita glasses! Go with bold colors and fun designs – there’s no such thing as “over the top” color schemes when it comes to Cinco de Mayo decorating!

The Invitations – keep it ultra simple and just go online. Evite.com is one of my favorite sites, but there are dozens out there! With the click of a button, you can send out dozens of colorful, eye catching invites, and when your friends and family respond with the click of a mouse, you’ll have everyone’s RSVP automatically inserted into your calendar, as well as any notes on what they’re going to bring! Saves time, postage, and serious hassle. You have to love modern technology, especially when it helps to pull off a great party.

The Music – As if I even need to say it, magnificent Mexican music is key to a fabulous fiesta. Tell your friend with the seemingly surgically-attached iPod that he is now in charge of music! When the party date arrives, plug that iPod into your speakers, et voila! You’ve got hours of perfect Mexican music at the touch of a button.

Here’s to ushering in a beautifully warm month of May – Bon Appetit and Party On!

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host & Columnist, Motivational Speaker & Author of Brilliant Frugal Living. She co-hosts the Morning Show on West Chester’s WCHE 1520, and “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs Nationwide via Business Talk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County with her family. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com