A Fabulously Frugal Valentine’s Day! Tuesday, Feb 14 2012 

www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com Like a gift from romance gods, another magnificent Valentine’s Day is upon us. A day dedicated to chocolate, romance, flowery cards, jewelry, and anything that can get stuffed into a heart-shaped box. Now I know other frugalistas who scoff from start to finish on February 14th, treating it with utter disdain for the overpriced Hallmark holiday that it is. On the other side of the spectrum, you find me, going “What are you, crazy? A day designed around wearing red, eating chocolate and fabulous romance? Sign me up!”.

The good news here is that all of the great earmarks of a fantastic Valentine’s Day – the romance, the flowers, the jewelry – can all be had for a fraction of the price of retail. Read on for tips on creating a full-blown Valentine’s Day for easily 75% off…and to this frugalista, that’s romantic!

The Jewelry – Mark Twain once wrote: “It is far better to have secondhand diamonds than none at all, and who should know the difference?”. Not only was the guy an amazing writer, but these sentiments prove him to be a genius at gift giving as well. Is gorgeous jewelry on your wish list this Valentine’s Day? By all means, indulge it! Simply steer clear of the regular jewelry stores, and head to the upscale Consignment stores near you, where glorious cases of lovely jewelry – diamonds, rubies, pearls, you name it – can be found at phenomenal prices. My favorite aspect of jewelry shopping in local thrift stores is that much of it is vintage antique – absolutely gorgeous. Channel your inner Liz Taylor this Valentine’s Day, ladies, and steer the lucky Significant Others in your life towards some fabulously affordable bling.

The Flowers – whatever you do, don’t go near the absurd prices for flowers online. I’m looking at websites that will happily deliver two dozen roses anywhere for you, so long as you fork over $140 for it, not including tip — you’ve got to be kidding me! Do yourselves a favor and head to one of the best kept secrets in the floral world – your local Produce Junction. Renowned for their high-quality fruits and veggies at phenomenal prices, your local Produce Junction also carries gorgeous long-stem roses for $10/dozen or less! The only catch: bring cash, Produce Junction doesn’t take credit cards.

The Romance – whoever said romance has to cost big bucks never went shopping with me. Looking for stores that can deliver romance for less? Hit your local secondhand book store and peruse the shelves for an older copy of Shakespeare, Lord Byron, maybe some Keats. If you really want to get daring, try writing some marvelous poetry of your own into a card you create yourself. And Hallmark, Schmallmark – sure, a card you buy at the store will be appreciated, with a definite “Oh, how nice!” for good measure. But a card you make yourself will get cried over, shown off at work, framed, and quite likely, insured. The choice is yours.

Above all else, whether you’re with friends, family, or Significant Others this Valentine’s Day, embrace it for the marvelous holiday it is – one revolving around love, laughter, working the fabulous red dress in the back of your closet, and – yeah baby! – heart-shaped boxes of chocolate for 50% off come February 15th! Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

Three Easy Ways to Save Big at Thanksgiving Tuesday, Nov 8 2011 

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Greetings, fellow frugal fans! I hope you’re all dug out from last week’s freak snowstorm. Not sure about your house, but last week I discovered that nothing says “Happy Halloween” like helping your kids trudge thru snow-covered yards as they continually tug at Rapunzel & Nemo costumes over an oversized parka and snowpants. This, while the entire neighborhood has power generators roaring in their driveways, unintentionally giving kids the impression they were trick-or-treating along Runway Six at Philadelphia International Airport during peak air traffic, rather than an ordinarily quiet Chester County suburb. Alas, I have kids that – if they know candy is waiting for them at the door – they’ll happily face down flame throwers for a chance at a free Butterfinger. You can blame maternal DNA on that one.

With Halloween candy now at a solid 50-75% off at stores (candy corn, come to Momma…), it’s clearly time to start preparations for one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. I’m hearing from people who are used to spending $250 for a table of eight at Thanksgiving. With food costs on the perpetual rise, it’ s true, the cost of entertaining at the holidays can often shoot higher than we expect. But Turkey day doesn’t have to be a budget buster – especially when you use these three simple tricks to put together a fabulous feast, for far less.

The Turkey: Turkey prices can go upwards of $1.69/pound (or more!), depending on the brand name you prefer and where you shop. Do yourself a favor and wait until less than a week before Turkey Day. Then hit the big retailers, where turkey prices are drastically reduced as “loss leaders” to bring you thru their automatic doors. You’ll enjoy the best brand name turkeys, for easily $0.89 a pound instead.

The Side Dishes & Desserts: At my house, Thanksgiving is one of those “Bring On The Carbs!” holidays. Good thing too, as I can already envision the sweet potatoes, rice pilafs, bread stuffings, crescent rolls…and that doesn’t even begin to count the desserts! Care to create the same carbohydrate nirvana for less? Hit your local discount gourmet grocery (Amelia Grocery Outlet has all of the above, for easily 50% off retail!) to stock up on all of the fabulous side dishes and desserts you and your family love, for easily half the price of retail.

The Extras: Decorations, flowers, wine, … all the extras really up. This is where visiting family and friends come to the rescue! All of the visitors around your table are going to want to contribute to the festivities, so have them lend their perfect touches by bringing the perfect hostess gifts. When they ask “what can I bring?”, be specific. Have your flower-loving friend hand the centerpiece, the wine expert handle take care of libations…and watch your “additional extras” costs drop to zero.

Above all else, remember that this fantastic holiday is all about the faces around your table, and the many blessings we all have to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

Spooktacular Halloween — For Less! Wednesday, Oct 19 2011 

What a gorgeous October! Around here, the leaves are changing, the weather is getting just cool enough so I can pull out the turtlenecks, and we’re coming up on Halloween again. Love it! Personally, I adore this holiday – it’s fun, it’s a great excuse to dress up for a fabulous party or two, and one of my all-time favorite soul foods – candy corn – is as readily available as oxygen. Life is good.

That being said, the scariest aspect of Halloween 2011 seems to be the insane spending people feel is necessary to pull off a decent holiday. I’m hearing stories of $100 (or more!) for costumes, $50+ to purchase treats for the neighborhood kids, $200+ to skip the trick-or-treating and throw a party for the kids instead. Forget the terrifying ghoul masks out in abundance, it’s the idea of Halloween spending running into the hundreds that has me waking up in a cold sweat at night. But never fear – your candy-corn-loving frugalista is here! Read on for some fabulous tips on a fun and memorable holiday that keeps the good times going and your money in the bank.

Costumes –
Let’s attack once and for all the illusion that you need to spend hundreds for great costumes. I’m talking to people who are still spending $50+ for their kids, and $100+ for their own adult costumes for neighborhood parties and office shindigs. Unless nuclear-level anti-frugal sentiment runs in your family (or your last name is Gabor), this thinking has to cease at once. This is not to say you have to skimp on costumes or settle for less than Halloween fabulousness. Far from it! Just rethink your shopping locales, and enjoy the dazzling fun of scouring your nearest thrift stores, consignment stores, even church stores, where any establishment worth its cash registers has racks upon racks of fantastic costume offerings in all sizes, genres and categories. Southern belles, pirates, sports figures, movie stars, you name it – it’s waiting for you there, and as fantastic as the adult costume offerings are, they’ll probably have double that number of kids’ costumes! Get out there and find the perfect get-up for your kids, and for you, for 75-90% off!

If you don’t find the perfect costumes for your kids at the local thrift stores, try your local dollar store, where dozens of costume pieces await you! If your little one is longing to be a pirate, cheerleader, police officer or fireman, you will find just about everything you need for – you guessed it – $1 per piece.

One more costume-creating tip: look online to see if your city or nearby town is having a “costume swap” this year! This swapping trend is growing like wildfire, and is the perfect solution for fellow frugalistas looking to create a great costume for next to nothing.

Candy –
For Halloween aficionados like myself, it’s an already established fact that candy calories consumed just before or during the actual holiday don’t count. Yes, the day after Halloween, calories do count, however, if you find candy for 50% off, I find it morally acceptable to knock 50% off the calorie count as well. But I digress. When shopping for your Halloween candy, keep it simple, steer away from the retail stores, and hit the local dollar stores where fresh, fabulous, name brand candy awaits you at easily 30% off. If you have loads of kids appearing at your door year after year, saving 30% (or more) adds up big time.

The Halloween Parties –
I’m hearing from an increasing number of households that are steering away from sending kids door-to-door this year, opting for an equally fun shindig for the kids, their classmates and nearby relatives at their homes instead. Personally, I love this concept. I live in an area where houses are acres apart, and the idea of my kids having all the fun, the candy, and all of the fabulous Halloween karma right on their home turf is extremely appealing. Don’t let costs go thru the roof, though. Work with the other kids’ parents; everybody is going to want to contribute, and each will have their area of expertise. Let one parent handle the cake, perhaps another will donate the decorations, another will handle the bobbing-for-apples setup, yet another will handle any spider-shaped piñata on the opposite side of the room. You get the picture. When all is said and done, you can create a party that will win you fame amongst your daughter’s elementary school class (no small trick) for very little cost, and save you miles of walking around strange neighborhoods on the scariest night of the year.

Above all else, remember what Halloween is all about – clean fun, lots of laughs for the kids, a great opportunity for grown women to jump into a corset, adopt a southern accent and be Scarlett O’Hara for the night, and – let us not forget – store upon store selling off their excess candy corn for 50-75% off in the days after Halloween. Oh yeah! Happy Halloween, everybody!

Five Frugal Tips for Summertime Savings! Thursday, Jul 14 2011 

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Well, we’re halfway through a gorgeous summer, and while we’re all enjoying the blue summertime skies, the heat-related bills are definitely adding up as well. Cool off your summertime spending with these easy, money-saving tips!

(1) Time to Tweak the Thermostat – when we first fired up the air conditioning this summer, the heat was just starting to inch up to the 80-degree mark. Now that we’re kissing the melting edge of 90+ degrees several days a week, it’s time to tweak the air conditioning a bit as well. If you’re used to setting your air conditioning at 68 degrees, do yourself a favor and bring it up to 70 (or even 75 degrees) instead. Many experts agree that a simple 20-degree difference between outside and indoor temperatures are ideal for optimal comfort. Regardless of how you’re cooling your house, you’ll enjoy tremendous savings with the increase of just a few degrees in your thermostat. This is also a perfect time to replace your air conditioner filters (if you haven’t already) for maximum output at minimum costs.

(2) Fans to the rescue! – Daytime temperatures are hitting 90-plus degrees at their peak, and air conditioning is a must. However, nighttime temperatures are still consistently in the 60-to-70 degree range, so put Mother Nature to work for big time savings! Open up bedroom windows when you hit the sack – using a box fan during nighttime hours alone will save you big bucks on utility bills and give your cooling systems a well-earned break. For those who fear their unbearably hot sunrooms are currently off limits (unless you want to fry an egg on the coffee table), give serious thought to installing ceiling fans for fabulous air movement and far superior comfort levels for friends and family.

(3) Cool off the Kitchen! – No doubt about it, cooking at home rather than eating out saves big bucks on your food bill. One of the few downsides is the resulting heat it creates. Keep your kitchen fabulously cool (and save money doing it) with some simple tricks. First, a utility FYI: your microwave costs a fraction of your other appliances, and gives off far less residual heat than stove burners or oven broilers. With that in mind, keep your stove cooking to a minimum and utilize your microwave instead. if your family loves pasta like mine does, try cooking a double batch on the stove next time, keep the extras in the refrigerator, and microwave leftovers as you need them for fast, simple meals that won’t take a lot of time or require heating up the stove. Tip: when you do cook on the stove, keep pots covered to reduce heating costs as much as possible. Does your family love French Toast? Great! Make a triple batch, keep the leftovers in the fridge or freezer, and simply reheat as you need it in the microwave, rather than cooking batches time and again on a hot stove in an already warm summertime kitchen.
Another fabulous summertime trick – put your grill to work! If you can, designate at least one night a week to grill outside rather than cook inside. Hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken, fish, you name it – it all tastes fabulous grilled outdoors, and saves the money and hassle of cooling your kitchen back down after an already-hot day.

(4) Keeping your car cool – Summertime is synonymous with lovely, long drives, beautiful day trips and fabulous car vacations. All of that extra mileage, usually with air conditioners blowing non-stop, can take a serious (read: expensive) toll on your car if it isn’t properly maintained. Luckily, maintenance is as easy as getting the occasional tune-up, regularly checking the filters, getting the oil and fluids changed on schedule, and keeping tires at their proper pressure for optimal use and top-notch gas mileage. By investing in proper maintenance, you’ll save in the long run with lower amounts spent on gas, tires, and longer life of the car itself. It’s a no-brainer.

(5) Emergency Power Outage Kit – I’m still trying to figure out if the violently stormy summer weather is getting progressively more dangerous each summer, or if I’m just getting old (both, perhaps?). With each summer that passes, my mind is filled with increasingly-vivid memories of storm-induced power outages that catch me off guard in some way or another. During the next power outage, keep your comfort level high, your irritation levels low and your expenses to a minimum with a brilliantly frugal Power Outage Kit. Here’s the basics to include: two flashlights per person in your household, with enough new, fully charged batteries to replace the flashlights at least twice. Add a small battery-powered radio and/or television set to keep up with news and weather announcements, as well as your Deluxe Scrabble game and a full set of playing cards for some perfect power-outage entertainment. Make sure you have a car-charger for your cell phone (you obviously can’t charge it in the wall outlet at the moment) and if you currently have only cordless phones in your home (unusable in power outages), give some thought to installing a hard-wired phone for emergencies.
Then, write down your utility company information on an index card, including phone numbers for the power company to report the outage and your account number. Please trust me on this, there’s nothing more annoying than rummaging through a pitch dark home office at 1:00am groping for the file cabinet so that you can then search for an impressively-elusive account number. Next, have an inexpensive ice chest at the ready, with blue-ice packs in your freezer ready to throw in there to keep food, beverages (and if necessary, medications) cold. Talk about a money saver! Keep a water supply handy, the general guideline being one gallon per person in your household. Add some easy-to-eat food items like cans of mixed nuts, granola bars, crackers, canned fruits, etc., as well as paper plates and plastic cutlery. Keep a well-stocked first-aid kit handy and close to your Power Outage kit for any (dare I say “inevitable”?) slips, trips, bumps and wipeouts inherently connected with pitch-black rooms. Put together a Power Outage kit for yourself pronto, and give some thought to creating a few for friends and family as well. Any friends that initially respond with raised eyebrows and good humor will no doubt follow up with worshipful feedback after the first black out with stories of how it saved their sanity.

Above all else, remember that the numerous hassles inherent in a power outage are more than offset by how fabulous we look playing Scrabble by romantic flashlight. Viva triple word scores!

Enjoy a Fabulously Frugal 4th of July! Tuesday, Jun 28 2011 

Hey everybody – Happy Independence Day! Read on for some effortless ideas on doing up this wonderful red, white and blue holiday without spending a lot of green!

The Food – Nowhere in literary or movie history have I witnessed a 4th of July menu that required champagne, filet minion and crème brulee. We’re talking hotdogs, hamburgers, chips, lots of cold beverages and some fabulous apple pie here! Et Voila! Fourth of July menu perfection achieved! If you really want to dazzle, finish off the meal with a delicious red, white and blue-themed dessert. Try a light cake topped with white buttercream, blueberries and raspberries! Or perhaps a gorgeous fruit salad loaded with watermelon, blueberries and raspberries! Hit your local discount gourmet grocery to stock up on the best brand names for a fraction of the price, and remember at all times that calories don’t count when you’re celebrating America’s independence. Trust me, Betsy Ross didn’t snack on Fiber One bars while she was creating the American flag. I’m sensing she went straight for the carbs. If weather permits, save on utilities by cooking outdoors on the grill! It keeps the kitchen cool and saves loads on air conditioning.

The Sales! – Stores nationwide of all shapes, sizes and offerings, whether they’re huge Department Store conglomerates or corner Mom & Pop shops, long for a worthwhile reason to drive shoppers thru their doors. Black Friday is legendary in the wintertime, what’s slightly lesser well known is its summertime twin – 4th of July weekend. Sales are everywhere! Have a look in your favorite stores – if you’re in need of housewares, clothes, appliances, even automobiles – 4th of July weekend sale offerings could fit the bill nicely.

The Fireworks – I don’t know about your neighborhoods, but around me, stands and tents are everywhere offering these colorful little explosives (‘scuse me, “fireworks”) for sale. It could be the Mom in me, but every time I drive by one of these lovely tents, I cringe. Huge. If I see anything other than hand-held sparklers in the neighborhood kids’ hands, my pupils tend to dilate wildly. Trust me folks, the statistics on injuries is insane. Save yourself the effort, expense, and potentially painful and pricey emergency room visit by heading to one of the dozens of parks near you for a fantastic, professionally-run, free fireworks display!

The Clothes – Make it clear to the world you’re proud to be an American by wearing your most fabulous red, white and/or blue outfits – and the more colorful, the better! Dig deep into your closets for some fun combinations, or hit your local thrift stores for a few new pieces – the sales are huge! Some ideas? Try a fantastic casual white dress, paired with navy blue pumps and a red scarf or belt. Or have some fun and go totally flamboyant with pumps of different colors (one red, one blue), paired with a white blouse and red skirt. Or just make it a Bruce Springsteen kind of holiday, with your classic blue jeans and a fabulous white t-shirt. Pull some red flats out to complete it, et voila! A fitting 4th of July wardrobe for next to nothing.

The Fun! – if you’re looking for some inexpensive activities to enjoy, check your local newspapers and get online! A few minutes of searching on Google (try entering “4th of July festivities”) will turn up fairs, festivals, and – if you’re lucky – a parade or two within close distance. Important Frugalista Tip: Pack a snack (that $2 soda cart is selling items you can buy for .15 at your local discount grocer… you get the point). Bring small flags for everyone to wave (available on sale in just about every hardware store and dollar store this time of year) and have a ball!

Above all else, remember that thinking, acting, and adoring all things frugal is as quintessentially American as apple pie – what better way to celebrate America’s independence than to do it with some fabulously frugal fun? Happy 4th of July, everybody!

Kristen Hagopian is a Motivational Speaker and Author of “Brilliant Frugal Living”. You can listen to her money-saving tips Wednesday mornings on Montgomery County’s WFYL 1180AM, (stream it live at http://www.wfyl1180.com!) and her book is available at her Web site http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com.

Create a Fabulous Summer Barbeque Without Roasting Your Wallet! Wednesday, Jun 15 2011 

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Yup, this first heat wave of the year makes it official – it’s Summertime! Bring on the barbeque! I’m hearing from a lot of people how the double whammy of tighter wallets combined with rising food prices is putting the potential squash on summer entertaining plans. But no fear – your food-loving-frugalista is here! Read on to throw a fabulous summer bash, without getting bashed at the bank.

The Food – If you’re like most summertime party-throwers, the neighborhood all-you-can-eat-steak cookout of years past might be well out of your budget comfort zone this July. No worries, easy solutions abound that will still satisfy your heartiest meat-loving friends. A fabulous alternative: take one of those gorgeous steaks, cube it, and skewer it with fabulous veggies like zucchini, grape tomatoes and peppers to create enough beef kebobs for four people! If one of your wonderful neighbors is just starting to get produce in their garden, encourage them to bring as much as they’d like, and add it to the mix! It cuts down the food costs significantly, and guests will adore your culinary touches.

To cut down the costs further, never forget your meat and potatoes purist buddies who come to a barbeque looking for nothing more than a fabulous burger, a hotdog or two, and a handful of chips. Keep the costs low by hitting your local discount gourmet grocery to get the best brand names of those summertime staples, for easily 50% off. And don’t forget to pick up fresh jars of condiments as well! This time, in addition to the usual ketchup, mustard and relish, keep an eye out for some of the more exotic fare. Burgers are great, but burgers put together with some salt, pepper and oregano, topped with jalapeno-studded-swiss and a touch of herbed mayo are going to be raved over. It’s the little touches that your guests will adore, and they’ll cost pennies to create.

The Side Dishes – Here is where a brilliant summertime host can really shine without breaking the bank. Potato salads, pasta salads, green salads, all easy to make (don’t you dare hit the supermarket and pay $25 for a container of potato salad you can easily make for $2!). The secret is in the ingredients. The simplest of herbs, the perfect blend of spices, the right vinaigrette will turn an average salad into a showstopper. Hit your local discount gourmet grocery for the ingredients, then head to a dependable recipe database like http://www.FoodNetwork.com and go straight for the “Easy” recipes. There you’ll find thousands of recipes for every bite of your BBQ menu – fun, fabulous, and zero stress. You’ll have a table full of incredible side dishes faster than you can say “Paula Deen”.
The Alcohol – I’ve spoken to people (who clearly party far heartier than I do) who have regaled me with stories of parties of years past in which the alcohol budget inadvertently surpassed that month’s rent. Yowsa. It’s generally acknowledged that an alcohol budget can be one of the toughest things to keep under control when you want to pull off a great party. The fabulous fact here is that all of your guests are going to want to bring something to your get-together, and here is where their offerings can keep costs down considerably. Have your buddies with the more expensive beer tastes bring a pack of their favorites; let your designated driver friends bring a pack of their favorite organic carbonated cola. You supplement with the sodas and mixers. Always remember, the more the thermometer peaks at your party, the more you need to stay hydrated – above all else, keep the ice water flowing!

The Kids at Your Party – Throwing a bash that will ensure lots of little ones running around? How fabulous, the more the merrier! Keep in mind that your ingrained frugalista mindset is perfect for a munchkin menu. Kids have wonderfully simple tastes that couldn’t be easier to satisfy. Your fabulous orzo and zucchini medley delicately tossed with raspberry vinaigrette will get little more than a wary glance from these guys. However, hotdogs, chips, brightly colored soda and some fun desserts (unlimited cupcakes and popsicles, anyone?) will put you at hero status with the 12-and-younger crowd. Hey, you’re only young once.

Above all else, remember that these fabulous get-togethers are about celebrating another gorgeous, long-awaited summer and having a terrific time with family and friends. Bon Appetit!

Create a Mega-Mother’s Day on a Modest Budget! Tuesday, Apr 26 2011 

Erma Bombeck, one of America’s favorite Moms, once said “Before you try to keep up with the Joneses, be sure they’re not trying to keep up with you.”. Talk about fabulous – not to mention frugal – advice to live by! This year, honor the special Moms in your life (including Grandmothers, Stepmothers, Godmothers and Mothers in Law!) with wonderful, personalized gifts that they will adore, yet won’t break the bank.

Mother’s Day Cards: Sure, they’re everywhere in the stores. They’re also pricey, unimaginative and completely forgettable. If you have school age kids, help them create a card out of colored paper and – depending on their writing skill level – a small note in crayon. Trust me gang, the standard Hallmark card will be appreciated, but it’s the jaggedy cut-with-the-kindergarten-scissors construction paper special that your child spent 20 minutes carefully writing “Thank you for being my Mommy!” in 5-year old script that will really get Mommy bawling with pride. While the Hallmark might eventually find its way into a keepsake box, rarely to be seen again, the handmade one will be framed, hung with beaming pride in the family room, and quite likely insured.

Breakfast in Bed: A timeless, priceless classic, off the charts on the brag-o-meter scale, and loads more potential for fun stories than taking Mom out to eat in an over-crowded, over-priced restaurant. Depending on the age of your kids, menu suggestions range from toast, jelly & a juice box (don’t forget to put the homemade card on the breakfast tray!) to older kids carting scrambled eggs, a scone and perhaps a champagne glass of sparkling apple juice up the stairs. Whatever you decide for the menu, trust me, Mom will adore it – proudly taking it to new brag-worthy heights as she recalls it in perfect detail to friends, family and strangers on the street later that day.

Mommies need bling too!: Whatever age the Mom/Grandmom/Mom-in-Law on your shopping list might be, chances are excellent she would love to add some new jazz to her wardrobe. Hit your local consignment stores and thrift stores (a.k.a. “Tiffany’s for Tightwads”) for a fantastic selection of jewelry, scarves, handbags and other fabulous accessories. My favorite finds at local thrift stores: Hermes scarves for $5 each, Prada and Coach handbags for $7 each and gorgeous antique diamond jewelry sets for $10. Nuff said.

New Mommy Gift: When there’s a new baby in the house (especially if it’s their first), Moms will find it virtually impossible to throw out anything the baby uses, drools on, talk to, teethes on, adopts as a woobie, or generally smiles at. A perfect gift for the new Mommy is a keepsake box to hold anything and everything that commemorates Baby’s Year One. Take any larger-size box (a box used for copier paper, compete with lid, is perfect, and often available for free at your local copier, Staples, Kinkos, etc). Cover it with sturdy wrapping paper in appropriate colors, ribbons, whatever makes it fabulous. Mom will love it.

Nana/Grandmother’s Gift Idea: My daughter and son are blessed with grandmothers that adore showing off anything they create. When it comes to my kids, seeing their artwork on Nana’s refrigerator door is the equivalent of winning the Pulitzer Prize. Somehow, defying all science, their creations constantly manage to stick to the door despite none of the prior artwork being removed first. To keep up at this rate, ever more powerful magnets are clearly called for. A fantastic and appropriate gift: a small, framed picture of your kids with their Nana, with a (need I say it) powerful magnet attached to the back, the perfect accessory to attach future artwork to the refrigerator door. It’s a fabulous gift from miniature Michaelangelos to their Art-Affecionado Grandmothers.

However you decide to celebrate May 8th this year, make it memorable and priceless with your creativity, rather than your cash. To all the Moms out there (including mine!) that make our lives so special, Happy Mother’s Day!

Can you feed 4 people (fabulously!) for less than $300/month? YOU KNOW IT! January Challenge is COMPLETE at $289! WOO HOO! Monday, Jan 31 2011 

BRILLIANT FRUGAL LIVING
AMELIA’S GROCERY OUTLET – SAVE MONEY!
Challenge, Schmallenge – we knocked it out of the park, folks! WOO HOO! It’s official! Where (so called) experts are proclaiming a household of four requires $800/month on average for food, it’s now been proven that it can EASILY be done for $300/month, if you know where to shop!

Hitting Amelia’s for all of my groceries this past month has been an amazing experience. No matter what store in the chain I visited, it had what I needed. Fruits, vegetables, dairy, pasta, meats, snacks, breads, and of course, my beloved coffee – I found everything I needed to create fantastic, frugal feasts! One stop, quick shopping, at 50-70% off. Big Saturday Brunches, Big Sunday Chicken Dinners, Italian Food, Mexican night, good old stick to your ribs ham & potato dinners, even Chinese food – this month’s menu had it all, and took care of a household of four hungry people, for less than $300.

One of the best parts of the Challenge – all of everyone’s suggestions, recipes, ideas, and feedback! The blog has hit over 10,000 viewers time and again as a result of the Challenge, and the Facebook friends list for me AND for Amelia’s Grocery Outlet is going thru the roof!
Many thanks to everyone for making this month’s Challenge so much fun to do! You guys are the best!

Day 31 Total: $12.25, total for the month is $289.95!

Today’s Menu:
Morning Coffee: (0.75) – double batch of Hazelnut, with (celebratory, super luxurious) Heavy Cream, instead of half & half. Yes, I’m a wild woman. Fun fact: if I’d bought all of my coffee ready-made at a fun coffee/donut shop, it would have cost $85!!

Breakfast: ($1.50) — Adults had HB eggs (4 total), kids had freshly baked banana muffins with juice!

Everybody’s Lunch: ($1.00) Katie was at school, so I packed her lunch box with crackers & cheese, grapes, juice box, pretzels, and a cookie ($1 for everything). The adults had leftover pot roast w/scalloped potatoes (Victor brought his to work to microwave), and Robbie had a bite of pot roast with corn.

Afternoon/After School Snack – ($2) More grapes! Grapes in January, what’s not to love?

Dinner: ($6) – Kept it simple for this last night of the Challenge! Delicious beef ravioli (25 oz frozen bag for $2.50), topped with organic marinara & parmesan cheese (1.50), with side salad, (.50), breadsticks ($1), and cake for dessert (.50). Bon Appetit!

Evening Snack: ($1) – yes, last night’s nachos with TGIFriday’s nacho cheese (only .50/half-pint at Amelia’s!) were fabulous, but I felt a deep need to wrap up the last day of the Challenge with the snack that saw me thru – POPCORN!

Total for today: $12.25, total for the month is $289.95!

Many thanks to everyone’s emails & suggestions – you helped make the January Challenge a fabulous, frugal success (go team!). Now, it’s time to set our sights on a Frugalista Challenge for February! I’ve got a few ideas here & there, and would love to hear from you! Frugal On!

Can you really feed 4 (fabulously!) for less than $300/month? Abso-frugal-lutely! Day 30 Update! Sunday, Jan 30 2011 

BRILLIANT FRUGAL LIVING
AMELIA’S GROCERY OUTLET – SAVE MONEY!
Hey guys! Hope you had a fantastic weekend. I ran out with the kids earlier, and everywhere we went was PACKED! Looks like everybody else is getting stocked up for Wednesday’s weather whammy too. Over here, I’m so thrilled at the numbers on the Challenge I can’t stand it. As of this morning I had only two days left on the Challenge, and $35 to spend to cover it! WOO HOO!
Option A: I could spend a bit of it out in a restaurant to prove you can keep a household food budget to $300/month AND afford to go out once in a while. Option B: keep doin’ what I’m doin’ and delight in the ultra low numbers. Going with Option B and denying myself NOTHING when it comes to some fun home cooked meals.

Day 30 Total: $12.75, total for the month is $277.70!
Today’s Menu:

Morning Coffee: (0.50) – double batch of SnickerKicker. Love that stuff. Can’t quite describe the flavor, but it’s very holiday-ish. Goes great with all the snow outside the window.

Breakfast: ($.00) — Loads of leftover french toast from yesterday. Super easy to heat & eat.

Everybody’s Lunch: ($0.00) Leftover Chinese food for adults, leftover chicken & pilaf for little people.

Afternoon Snack – ($2) Kids are loving the grapes, and they appear to tide the kids over for ages between lunch & dinner. Works for me!

Dinner: ($7.75) – Love of a big Sunday dinner (combined with tons of wiggle room in the budget) calls for a fab-u menu. Went with a beef pot roast ($5), with scalloped potatoes (.75), corn (.50), salad (.50), rolls (.50), and cake for dessert (.50). Gotta love Sunday night dinner.

Evening Snack: ($2.50) Nobody panic, but I’m going for something other than popcorn tonight. Spotted some fantastic TGIF Restaurant brand nacho cheese sauce (normally $3/pint) for .50/pint at the Amelia’s in Thorndale, so I splurged & grabbed some on Friday. Heats up beautifully and goes fantastically with some nacho chips for $2. Nice way to wring the last few hours out of the weekend!

Total for today: $12.75, total for the month is $277.70 !
Amazingly, I have the family room to myself tonight…which also means I have the TiVo remote all to myself. And wait, do you hear that? Off in the distance…from the kitchen! It’s Tortilla Chips & hot, melty TGIF Nacho cheese calling my name! “Coming, darling! Coming!” Have a great night, everybody!

January Challenge: Feeding 4 (fabulously!) for less than $300/month! Day 29 Update! Saturday, Jan 29 2011 

BRILLIANT FRUGAL LIVING
AMELIA’S GROCERY OUTLET – SAVE MONEY!
Hey everybody! I hope you’re all having a fantastic weekend! The snow is beautiful, the roads look pretty clear, and fear not fellow citizens, I’m still not driving on them, so it’s all good. Got a TON done in the house today, lots of stuff organized, feels FABULOUS. Time to veg out on the couch. With popcorn, of course. But first, today’s Challenge Update!

Day 29 Total: $13.79, total for the month is $264.95!

Today’s Menu:
Morning Coffee: (0.50) – another double batch, this time a delicious “Morning Blend”. Packs a nice punch! Definitely adding it to the favorites.

Breakfast: ($4.00) — weekend breakfast calls for something cooked on the stove, I went for French Toast this morning. One loaf of whole wheat bread, one dozen eggs, oil to brown them in, and syrup on top.

Everybody’s Lunch: ($0.00) Loads of lasagna leftover from last night, heated in minutes and everybody loved it.

Afternoon Snack – ($2) More grapes – they are FABULOUS for January, not a mushy one in the bunch. The kids were in heaven. Nice treat.

Dinner: ($6.29) – loads of fantastic wiggle room in the budget, went for a Saturday night dinner splurge. TaiPei General Tso’s chicken for the adults (two HUGE servings for $2.29), with extra rice (.25), and egg rolls $1.50 for 6, so we had leftovers. The kids had a half pound of chicken breast ($1) sautéed in olive oil (.25) with a side of rice pilaf (.50). Made another cake today, this time a yellow one with chocolate icing. It cost $2, but it should last four days, so I’m pricing it out at .50 per day.

Evening Snack: ($1) Big batch of popcorn!

Total for today: $13.79, total for the month is $264.95!

That about wraps up a Saturday night for me, gang. I’ve got a big bowl of popcorn here, and I’m not afraid to use it. Have a great evening, everyone!

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