Seven easy Halloween costumes, all under $3 each! Wednesday, Oct 6 2010

You can also see this column at the online magazine GalTime!

Okay, considering I never really started my summer dieting in earnest, you can imagine my astonishment that Halloween is upon us. The weather is cooler, the leaves are changing, and hey, LOOK! CANDY CORN! Oh, yeah!

I’m getting emails this year from cash-strapped parents looking for ideas on how to make a fabulous Halloween for their kids, while spending less than in years past. They recall stories of Octobers past, when they meant to keep spending in check, but between costumes and candy, found themselves shelling out over $100! I love this year’s attitude because, let’s face it, Halloween is a great holiday, but it’s no reason to break the bank! Luckily, this is a day in which fun and frugal go hand in hand. I have to admit, I had a blast researching this article – the ideas for easy, terrific costumes are EVERYWHERE! Best of all, the resources necessary to pull them together are close to just almost everyone, courtesy of your local dollar stores and thrift stores!
After exhaustive research (and a bag or two of creativity-inspiring candy corn), here are my favorite costume ideas. These got top marks for being easy to put together, fun, comfortable, and best of all, available for $3 or less! What’s not to love?

Fireman – If your child has a red, yellow or black raincoat, pair it with appropriate dark colored clothing that they already own. Black pants and black turtleneck are perfect. Every dollar store I’ve been to has a $1 plastic fireman’s hat, as well as a $1 “Fireman’s Kit” complete with small extinguisher, official badge, walkie-talkie and (completely safe) play-axe! Adorable!

Cheerleader – The dollar store has $1 cheerleader sets complete with outfits, pom poms and megaphone! If you can, simply pair the pom poms and megaphone with any combo of cute skirt and matching sweater that your daughter already owns, along with ankle socks and sneakers, and have her practice her “Ready…OK!” move as she rings the doorbell.

Pirate – Ahoy, Matey! Hit the black clothing combo again (black pants, black turtleneck), and put it together with a pirate set, complete with a combination of eye patch, pretend hoop earring, hook, telescope, coins and the requisite (in this case, ultra-safe, pretend) dagger. Note, the pirate packaging specifically mentions that the smaller items (coins, etc) could be choking hazards. Keep this outfit for your 3+ trick or treater!

Nemo- More fun at your local thrift store – I found this adorable $50 Nemo costume for $1 in the Goodwill outlet. How cute is this?! Perfect for my three-year-old. Fabulous, comfy, and WARM in case the weather turns colder.

Scary ghoul – Okay, when I was a kid, I’d see these masks and get completely freaked out. Whoever designed them had nerves of steel. Now that I’m in my forties, I’m better around them. Kinda. I open the door to a kid wearing one of these and my pupils are still going to dilate, but I can keep my cool. I hope. You have to admit, they ARE freaky. However, paired with black pants and black sweater, it makes for a fabulous frugal costume!

Knight – I have held a lifelong affection for White Knights. Miniature ones coming to my door are positively adorable and are automatically eligible for double candy rations. Hit your local dollar store for the Knight’s shield, and spend another $1 for the archery playset, and you’re in fabulous shape. I love this costume, and it’s so easy to pair with the black pants and turtleneck!

Princess – My five-year old daughter is still deep in her princess phase, as are many of her Kindergarten friends. No need to go out and spend serious cash on the princess get up tho. Here’s a thought: Has your daughter been in a wedding as flower girl within the last year or so, complete with shiny, silky, ruffly, fluffy dress? The one that’s currently residing in the back of her closet with the perfectly matching shiny shoes? Pull it out and have her try it on, you would be surprised how forgiving those loose little waistlines are. If you’ve got a winner, check the toybox for a princess tiara and assorted bling (we’ve got loads in our playroom). If your searching comes up short, just add a tiara, wand and bling set from the dollar store et voila! Best part, comfy sneakers can fit right under the dress & nobody will see!

Special mention: Snow White’s Encore Performance! While costume shopping this year, check out your local thrift store; they are stuffed with fabulous name brand costumes! The selection is incredible, the costumes are very well made, and the prices are often 90% off retail! Last year, we found an adorable Disney-brand Snow White costume that was beautifully made and wonderfully comfy. Originally $50 retail, we came upon it in perfect condition and priced at $5. This year, after much debate about the pros, cons and personality traits of all two quadrillion Disney Princesses, Katie decided she wanted to be Snow White again. Keeping fingers crossed, we tried on last year’s costume, and sure enough, it fits perfectly! Putting my sophisticated math skills to work, a $5 costume, used twice, works well in the $3 or less costume category!

Another Halloween note about your local dollar store – it’s a fabulous place to get your candy! Great selection, always fresh, and the price can’t be beat. If you’re planning a kids’ party at your house (rather than have them walk house to house) check out your store for party supplies as well! Happy Halloween, everyone!

Saving Mega money on Monets! Tuesday, Sep 21 2010 

I ran some errands a bit ago and hit the Exton Goodwill (shocker!), and came across a gold-framed Monet print that I NEVER saw before, “The Bridge At Argenteuil”! It was only $7, so, being a faux-Monet junkie, I of course grabbed it. It is SO cool to look at! The guy really knew how to throw paint on paper. Go Claude!

Now I just have to figure out where I’m going to put it in the house!

Main Line School Night course roster filling up FAST! Tuesday, Sep 14 2010

Hey gang! Just heard from Main Line School Night that the class roster for the October 9th BFL workshop is filling up fast, and we’re getting a bigger room! WOO HOO! We’ve now got plenty of seats available, and I’d love to see you there!

Signing up for the course couldn’t be simpler – just click on the link to their website, and they’ll lead you thru it in minutes.

Enroll for the course at this link!

Have a fantastic afternoon! K

All I want for Christmas…is to be finished shopping for it by Labor Day! Monday, Aug 30 2010

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Okay, I’m well aware that the Christmas / Hanukah holidays are over 100 days away. Make no mistake, I’m the type that gets seriously irked when I hit the dollar store in September only to have Halloween décor, candy and costumes smack me in the head, much less the Thanksgiving and Christmas décor that I’m now seeing in those same stores. Give me a break.

However, the up side to this “let’s try to sell them some Candy Corn/Turkey/Christmas Trees/Menorahs in September” mentality is the opportunity to discuss a concept so radical, so insane, and so unheard of, it’ll have you stopping in your overworked tracks. A concept that will save you such huge amounts of money, time and sanity this holiday season you’ll never go back to doing the holidays the same way again.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am finished with my Christmas shopping, all before the Labor Day weekend. Yes, I’m a freak. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a 42 years old red blooded American female who loves to test her shopping mettle with the best of them. Until a couple of years ago, I was amongst the holiday herds who took last-minute Christmas shopping to an Olympic sport level year after year, despite being benched multiple times for Excessive Use of Force. Then, I had kids, and my “kill or be killed” holiday shopping mentality morphed into a gentler kind of non-contact sport. Nicer for all involved, but clearly, I’d lost my competitive shopping edge, and another strategy had to evolve for me to pull off any kind of decent holiday. Luckily, my piranha-to-puppy shopping style metamorphosis coincided with a 50% reduction in our household income (when I quit the corporate workforce to start a family), and by sheer necessity, spending for the holidays needed to be at an all time low in order for the household budget to handle it.

It was about this time I started shopping at the huge, gorgeous, meticulously organized thrift stores near me on a regular basis, usually for household goods and clothes for the kids. An informal glance at some of the other departments quickly educated me on the fabulous bargains to be had at these frugal goldmines. Designer shoes, top-of-the-line handbags, designer clothes, scarves and accessories for 90% off. Books, movies, DVDs, CDs, jewelry (new and vintage) for 90% off. Toys still in the boxes for 90% off. Designer holiday clothes for everyone in the family (Dior for the kids? Hello!), often with the tags attached, for 90% off. The list goes on forever. Trust me, no one was more surprised than I was at the offerings. The only thing surpassed my shock at the prices was my shock at the fabulous customer service and the fact that it looked like you could eat off the floor.

Every time I visited one of these fabulous thrift stores (a.k.a. “Tiffany’s for Tightwads), I’d pick up not only what I needed for the house, but often a gift or two for an upcoming birthday, Mother’s Day, kid’s birthday, hostess gift, you name it. When I saw a gift perfect for an occasion months away, it was stashed on a shelf in my closet for safekeeping. When I happened upon perfect Halloween outfits in August, they were stashed as well. It was when I was pulling out said Halloween costumes back out of the closet that year when I glanced at the “gift shelf” and realized I had quite the stash. I started matching gifts to people and realized within minutes that my holiday shopping was already complete! WHA?! Is that possible? Sure enough, the dozen or so people with whom I purchase gifts were covered with designer gifts in spades. Specifics? How about $500 worth of educational toys, videos, games, dolls, trains, and more for my two kids, which I purchased for $25. Eight Designer shirts and sweaters, three hardcover books on the NYT bestseller list, four DVD’s and a CD for my husband. Golf shirts from the Masters for my Dad, crystal for my Mom, cashmere sweaters and designer handbags for my sisters. Gifts with equal “wow factor” for two brothers in law, a niece and nephew. Total tab on multiple designer gifts for 12 people ages 1 to 70? $195. Considering the national average on holiday spending is now over $1400 per household, nuff said.

Even more fun, from the first week of November thru the entire holiday season that year, I had my first holiday experience in which I had nothing to concern myself with but decorating the house and planning/attending a couple of holiday dinners. No shopping panic, no wild search for elusive gifts. It was…surreal. Everywhere, I saw throngs of people around me in pure adrenaline-fueled panic, embracing the holiday season like Rambo embraced a flame thrower. Not exactly an environment that makes you feel like breaking out into an Andy Williams medley. And yet, I felt serene, moving thru it as tho I was in a protective frugal bubble, like one of those CDC suits in the movie “Outbreak” where you could experience the chaos firsthand, and no matter how close you got, it couldn’t infect you. It was AMAZING.

To those of you reading this, I implore you to try this just one year – you’ll never go back! The feeling of fabulousness upon finishing up your holiday shopping by September is surpassed only by the serious bragging rights inherent with such a feat. Designer gifts for everyone on your list, purchased for 90% off or more, finished with plenty of time to enjoy the season? Somebody put a price tag on that trick. We’re barely into autumn, and the dollar stores and department stores may be on to something with their holiday décor. Get out to a local thrift store, church store or consignment store near you and hit the ground running. Start stocking up now and you’ll not only be saving huge amounts of cash this holiday season, but a good chunk of time and your sanity as well, three things in short enough supply nowadays already.

Dare I say it? Happy Holidays, everybody!

Fabulous mention in! Friday, Aug 6 2010 

Hey all! Happy Friday!
Well, I’m almost ready for Sunday’s Book Signing at Sam’s Club, SO excited! As if that wasn’t enough fun, I’ve also had the great pleasure of being featured in several fantastic online magazines. Today, I heard from fabulous journalist Heather Lawson that some of my back to school tips were featured in her latest Bankrate article! How fabulous is that! Just the way an egomanical frugalista like myself likes to start the weekend. Thanks, Heather!!

Click here to see the article!

Operation “Frugalight” Complete! Saturday, Jul 31 2010

Hey guys! Hope you’ve all got a fabulous weekend planned!

Okay, over here at Chateau Frugal, I’m wrapping the final day of my Operation Frugalight Experiment. My goal: to have my July, 2010 electric bill come in at LESS than my July, 2009 bill, this despite the fact that rates have been raised 30% since last year. Actually, I have to expand upon that last statement, as I’ve just been informed by the electric company that the rates may have been raised even MORE than that, given that it’s a “sliding scale” on rates dependent upon usage prior to the increase…whatever the freakin’ heck that means.

Okay, so the month is almost up, and – compared to last July – here are the specific strategies I’ve used in my quest to make the bill nosedive:

(1) switched our electric over to, which guarantees a 15% decrease in rates. The switchover to Dominion was on July 8th, so hopefully that’ll make a good sized dent.
(2) last july, I was still drying clothes in the clothes dryer. This July, I’m doing everything on the clothesline. It’s been doing us a lot of good since we started doing it last September; with any luck it’ll contribute nicely to lowering this month’s bill.
(3) last july, I was still using my dishwasher. This july, the dishwasher is ME. I use the actual dishwasher as a drying rack only, and run it once every two weeks just to keep it in good shape.
(4) I replaced eighteen 60-watt bulbs with the new squigeldy GE Energy Star bulbs (they’re 13 watt bulbs that light like 60 watts). Boiling down the math as described on the back of the package, I’m supposed to save approximately .92 per month per bulb. These bulbs alone should save us around $17. Let’s hope!
(5) Turned off the computers whenever not in use. I used to keep them up & running even when I was out of the house (I know, I know…), but this month, if I was out, the computer was out too.

With any luck, this 5-pronged attack will result in savings over & above the rate increase from last year. I usually receive the bill around the first week of the month. As soon as I get it (sometime around August 8 or so), I’ll let you know how we did. Between now & then, keep your fingers crossed!

Thank you GalTime! Tuesday, Jul 13 2010

Huge “THANKS!” to fabulous magazine GalTime for reprinting my blog/article on “Foods that Will Benefit Your Wallet AND Your Waistline!” GalTime is a fantastic magazine, with hysterical, helpful articles on Health, Home, Fashion & Beauty, Parenting, Food, Money & more. Check out the link!

Operation FrugaLight Update – so far, so good! Tuesday, Jul 13 2010

Hey guys! It feels wierd not doing daily updates on Operation FrugaLight (like we did with The Frugalista Diet). Hope everybody is doing great!

Well, so far, so good. Thermostat is tweaked, and as of July 8th, the power has been switched to a lower-cost supplier. I’m psyched to see the impact that’ll have on the bill.

Something I neglected to mention before – I’ve replaced dozens of light bulbs in the house with those new curly-cue ones that are supposed to save tons of power. Between all of the above, and drying clothes on the clothes line & keeping dishwasher use to a bare minimum (once every two weeks to keep it in shape), I’m hoping that’ll do the trick to reduce the bill to LESS than last July. Keep your fingers crossed!

What I need more than anything is your great tips – the more “outside the box” the better! What’s worked best? What do you keep your thermostat at? Do you have central air or window airconditioners… perhaps no air conditioners at all? What is your biggest energy hog, and how do you tame it in the summertime? Send any and all tips, advice, stories of theories & strategies gone right (and wrong!).

You all stay cool out there! 🙂

Fantastic MSN Money article re: saving on your electric bill! Friday, Jul 9 2010

Hey gang! Hope you’re all handling the summer heat! Be honest, this IS still FAR better than the wintertime snowstorms…

Just read a fantastic article on MSN Money regarding saving on your electric bill. Plays beautifully into our Operation Frugalight Challenge to slash July’s bill by 30% or more. Take a look at the link when you get a chance! Some of the recommendations you’ll probably have already heard, and perhaps even implemented. How did it work out for you? Other recommendations in the article will be brand new ideas for you – think you’ll try them out?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, AND keep those fantastic ideas coming in YOUR best strategies for saving in the summertime heat!

An enlightening Homework assignment: how much are YOUR appliances costing you? Tuesday, Jul 6 2010

Hey everybody! Hope your week is going great!

I’ve stumbled upon a utility-related website that I felt was appropriate to mention during our Frugalight Challenge. It’s an energy-analyzer that can tell you pretty much what every, single appliance in your home (from freezer to hairdryer) will cost you to run & use. You go in thinking you’ll spend 30 seconds to determine what a new hot water heater would save you, and suddenly you’ll become obsessed by how much the light in the fridge is costing you whenever you open the door! (or maybe that’s just me).

Anyhoo, if you’re curious at ALL as to what your appliances (Big screen TV vs. little regular model) are doing to your budget, have a click onto this site & see what you’re paying. Could be eye-opening (or at the very least, an excellent reason to put off that big-screen for just ONE more year…)

Question for you – what are YOUR biggest energy hogs? Were they the ones you thought (clothes dryer, dishwasher), or were you surprised by something new? Would love to hear your findings!

Have a great day, everybody! K

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