A Brilliantly Frugal wrap up to the Year! Thursday, Dec 27 2012 

Happy (almost) New Year! I hope this Column finds you surrounded by family, friends, and fabulous food. Considering we have a solid few days left before 2012 departs for good, I wanted to throw some ideas your way on how we can make the next seven days pack a fabulously productive punch, Frugalista style!

First, let’s talk weather. Who ordered the insane cold, what’s with the wind and rain? If hair frizzing was an Olympic sport, I’d bring home the gold. But hey, it’s winter, best to deal with it, so we’re talking crummy forecasts for the foreseeable future. Have you got a couple of coats in the closet? Long ones, short ones, poofy ones, sleek ones? Ones that you absolutely adore and love and could never part with? Yeah, me too. Push those to the side, and grab at least two (three is better) that have been hanging in the back of your closet in hypersleep for a few years. You haven’t used them, you aren’t going to use them. Well guess what – there’s somebody out there that could definitely use them, and right now, they’re just using up space in your closet. Throw them in a pile, then take fifteen minutes going thru your sweater drawer the same way. Jeans too, if you have the time. Extra points for shoes and boots. Mega extra points if you can get spouse and kids to do the same. Collect everything together (take a moment to marvel at how little time it took) and take the clothes to your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or homeless shelter. As fabulous as it feels to help those in need, it doesn’t hurt to discover you’ve just taken the long-unused stuff in your closets and transformed it into a monster tax writeoff. It’s all good.

Then, take a look at your kitchen cupboards. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got cupboards full of food, and yet still go out every week to get more. Sure, some of the stuff we go thru like clockwork each week, like produce, milk, eggs. Then – not so useful – there’s the five cans of creamed corn I bought by accident (thought it was regular), just sitting there, next to the canned salmon that I bought on a lark before I realized it had bones in it (ewwwwww). Sound anything like your cupboards? Grab a box and start throwing things in. Literally, I give you permission to throw. Try it, it’ll feel good – and it will keep other family members away for fear you’ll lob something in their direction. In my box, we had the creamed corn, salmon, 4 boxes of cake mix, canned spinach, 3 boxes of jello, bag of beans, two bags of rice and about 6 cans of evaporated milk. I always evaporated milk at the holidays, convinced it’ll make me look like a fabulous Food Network Chef, certain I’ll get a wild urge to make homemade fudge, only to receive some each year from a marvelous friend who is far better at making that glorious goodness than I ever could be. How fabulous is THAT?! Out the door it goes to the Chester County Food Bank!

There you go, folks. Two of the big necessities in life, food and clothing. Given the latest headlines, I’m feeling over-the-top blessed simply to have two healthy kids running around adoring the holiday. If you’re feeling like your cup is running over at the moment as well, don’t be afraid to show it. Somewhere out there, a person down on their luck who loves outdated poofy coats and creamed corn awaits. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year, everybody!

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Celebrate Hanukkah – For Less! Saturday, Dec 1 2012 

Hanukkah starts December 8th, and already I’m receiving emails from people looking to keep their spending lower than in years past. Hanukkah may last for eight fabulous nights, but it doesn’t mean you have to emerge broke on the other side of it. With some simple strategies, your holiday will be a wonderful affair for a fraction of the cash!

The Food –I have friends who have always been master cooks – during Hanukkah, they take it to an art form. Latkes, doughnuts, anything and everything fried in oil taste like they belong on a dessert cart at the Four Seasons. I’ve asked their secrets on occasion, and I’m told they always cook with only the best ingredients, usually purchased in rather pricey custom groceries. Now, if you’re cooking Kosher, you do indeed have to hit some specialized stores, but even famous online kosher groceries have sales pretty regularly (example: check out http://www.kosher.com). As for your local kosher groceries, keep up to date on their sales and be sure to schedule your shopping trips around those sale items you’ll use the most. If you have some latitude working in your favor (you’re cooking for Hanukkah but not cooking Kosher), resources are everywhere to bring down your food bill considerably! Best bet: hit your local discount gourmet grocery’s kosher aisle. Every single discount grocery I visit has Hanukkah and kosher items. Take a look at the ones nearest you, you might be amazed.

The Gifts –We all want to be generous at the holidays. That being said, I’ve heard from too many people whose lovely generosity was always surpassed by a crushing post-holiday spending hangover. By all means, be generous with gifts – simply find them for less! Wherever you live, chances are excellent that untapped resources are everywhere to find all of your favorite designer names for greatly reduced prices. My best tip is always to head towards your local thrift stores and consignment shops, where fashion meets frugal fabulousness. Examples? Try the Jimmy Choo boots I found for my sister, which I’m guessing retail for a bit more than the $2 I purchased them for. How about Louis Vuitton & Coach bags, Ralph Lauren scarves, cashmere sweaters, golf shirts from the Masters, bestselling books, outstanding DVD’s and more, easily for 95% off the retail price. Get yourself to your nearest shops, and see which ones best fit your needs.

The Kids –Everyone wants to make the holidays a spectacular time for kids, but there’s no need to equate “Wow, this is GREAT!” with “Let’s overspend!”. Trust me, down the road, they’ll be glad you sunk your extra income into a college account year after year rather than the latest holiday gadget that gets outdated within a half hour. Stick to the same consignment and thrift stores where you find friend’s and family’s gifts for 95% off, and you’ll no doubt run across kid’s clothes, gadgets, jewelry and electronics that will dazzle. I’ve also heard charming comments from people my age who are reverting back to the Hanukkah gelt gifts consisting entirely out of chocolate coins, rather than actual money. Now, if you’re a parent or grandparent with a lot of wiggle room in your budget, by all means go for a couple of real coins. But note, I’m in my forties, and I’d shriek with delight if someone gave me a bag filled with chocolate.

Above all else, remember that the holiday is about friends, family (and perhaps a touch of fabulous food). Happy Hanukkah!

Got Caulk? Winterize your Home! Tuesday, Oct 16 2012 

The month of October is the perfect time to winterize your home – the weather isn’t too hot, isn’t too cold, and there’s still lots of daylight. It’s a great opportunity to move around your home on a beautiful weekend afternoon to plug up energy leaks before they cost you big time in upcoming months. Read on for five easy tips that will save you hundreds of dollars this upcoming winter.

(1) For Drafts around Doors & Windows: these pesky drafts are everywhere, and are often responsible for upwards of 20% of your energy bill! Forget the home shows that would suggest getting rid of drafts requires a contractor or pricey new technical gizmos. Instead, hit your local hardware store for a few tubes of caulk and some easy-to-use weatherstripping! With a few dollars worth of materials, you can save hundreds on energy bills with just a few hours of work.

(2) Exterior Vents: wherever you have a vent leading out of the house (dryers, telephone, electrical, cable, gas, water lines), you have huge potential for energy-draining gaps and leaks. Behold, an easy to use caulk gun! It’s a top notch asset in any frugal household, and – let’s face it – the kids think you look totally cool when you pull one of these out and put it to work. “Look! Mom’s fixing that hole in the house with a big tube of toothpaste!” If it saves big energy costs and entertains the kids, that’s a win-win in my book.

(3) Clean out your air/furnace filters – the windows are about to stay shut for months, and the furnace is about to go into overdrive. Keep your air quality high (and the workload on your furnace as low as possible) by keeping the filters changed on a regular basis.

(4) Wrap your pipes! It sounds like a boring chore (and let’s face it, it is). Trust me on this tho, experience has shown me time and again that it pays off huge as soon as we have our first deep freeze. Where the neighbors will have frozen pipes (or even worse, burst frozen pipes), you’ll have running water and far fewer mornings with a hair dryer trained on a ceiling pipe in the basement.

(5) Buy a sweater! Looking for a frugal investment that costs $5 and can save you up to $500 (or more!) in the three months of winter? Behold, a fabulous, thick, gorgeous designer sweater, purchased for 95% off at your local consignment or thrift store. Even in the coldest winter days to come, wearing a heavy sweater keeps your body comfortably warm even if you turn the heat down by as much as 5 degrees. That kind of lower house/office temperature translates into huge savings when the winter energy bills roll in.

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host, Syndicated Columnist, Motivational Speaker & Author of “Brilliant Frugal Living”. The Kristen Hagopian Show airs Nationwide via Business Talk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County, PA with her husband and two kids. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

This Christmas, Think Inside The Box Saturday, Dec 17 2011 

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of connecting with The Chester County Food Bank’s Program Director, Phoebe Kitson, on my “The Brilliant Frugal Living Show” on News/Talk 1180AM. I knew from past experience that any conversation with The CCFB would be informative and entertaining (and it was), but this interview unintentionally became one of the biggest heartstring-tugging chats of all time, leading to loads of email feedback from listeners, and giving me some new thoughts on gift-giving in general.

One of the most touching segments of the interview was Phoebe’s description of an anonymous Middle School student in our area, who broke down in his School Counselor’s office because he wasn’t sure if his house was still going to be there when he got home (at imminent risk of foreclosure), much less if there would be food on the table for dinner that evening. Thanks to The CCFB, his family, and hundreds of others like it, were able to create a Thanksgiving dinner that otherwise would have been impossible. With new studies confirming a staggering number of children (1 in 4) now run the risk of going to bed hungry, this was a story that really hit home.

During the interview, emails and texts started pouring in: “How can I help, what types of food do they need?” (Answer: Just about anything, but peanut butter, canned fruits, vegetables and meats are a great start.), “Does the CCFB take credit card donations?” (Answer: They do!), “Does The CCFB accept food stamps in exchange for food?” (Answer: The food is FREE, there is no need for currency), and so on.

Here’s the statistic that really stuck with me: This holiday season, a box of food, comprised of all the staples and basics a household depends on (see earlier mentioned peanut butter, canned goods, etc.), can be put together to feed a family for a week, for $25. Think about that – for the price of an average holiday gift (NYT bestseller, music box, sweater), you could feed a family desperately in need this holiday season for an entire week. It got me thinking – we all love Christmas for the family times, laughter, fun food, and memories created. Honestly, when it comes to receiving gifts, I’m blessed in that I have just about every single thing I need, and there are probably many of you out there who feel the same.

This Christmas, give some thought to donating a $25 food box to the CCFB, in the name of someone you love (Mom, Dad, Spouse, etc.), and in your loved ones’ Christmas card, try something along the lines of: “Mom & Dad, I remember when I was young, I never went hungry a day in my life, thanks to you. This Christmas, a hungry family in our area can also say they have food on the table, thanks to you. Merry Christmas, love Kris”.

For more information on how you can easily donate to The Chester County Food Bank, please log onto their website at http://www.ChesterCountyFoodBank.org, stop by their Warehouse at 1208 Horseshoe Pike in Downingtown, or give them a call at 610-873-6000. Merry Christmas, everybody!

Kristen Hagopian is an Author, Columnist, Motivational Speaker and Radio Talk Show Host with WFYL 1180AM. “The Brilliant Frugal Living Show” airs Tuesdays and Saturdays at 11:00A. She lives fabulously & frugally just outside Philadelphia with her husband and two kids. Log onto http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com for more information.

Celebrate a Brilliantly Frugal Black Friday! Tuesday, Nov 22 2011 

JOIN ME TUESDAYS AND SATURDAYS AT 11A ON PHILADELPHIA’S 1180am WFYL FOR “THE BRILLIANT FRUGAL LIVING SHOW”! LIVESTREAM IT ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD AT THE LINK! WWW.1180WFYL.COM BRILLIANT FRUGAL LIVING
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Happy Thanksgiving everybody! We all have a lot to be thankful for. Personally, as I look at healthy family and friends around me, I realize I am truly blessed. Now, I realize Thanksgiving-related articles, recipe ideas, home décor suggestions and such are going to be found in abundance this week, so I thought I’d look ahead just a smidge to the next big date on the books – Black Friday.

Nicknamed such because it became known to be the first date in a Retailer’s calendar year when their books were “in the black”, it has since evolved from a simple, tasteful shopping day to what appears to be a full body contact sport, complete with seasoned shoppers armed with first aid kids and pepper spray lest someone cut ahead of them in line. Combine that with the fact that many stores are opening their doors to Black Friday shoppers at 12:01A on Friday (as compared to the far more reasonable, say, 4:00am of years past) and I’m honestly starting to freak out.

If I may, I’d like to suggest an alternative Black Friday routine that will not only keep your sanity and sleep patterns intact, but your wallets and bank accounts in fabulous shape as well.

First stop: your local Thrift stores! Hit the big chains of course, many Goodwill stores have fantastic Black Friday deals and bargains waiting for their shoppers. Personally, my past finds include Jimmy Choo boots for $2, Hermes scarves for $5, New York Times Bestsellers for $1 and Baccarat crystal for $10. Enough said. When you’re done, don’t forget the stop by your local Mom and Pop Thrift stores, often decked out to the nines and stuffed with incredible bargains on brand names as well. I’ve found breathtaking antique jewelry sets at some of these local stores, picture frames, artwork, you name it, all at incredibly low prices.

Next stop: your local independent book stores! Everybody loves receiving books as gifts, and there are few things more therapeutic than the fantastic fun of poking around a book store, especially during the rush of the holidays. The big bookstore chains will be nuthouses – instead, hit the marvelous, local booksellers for fantastic sales, and if you’re lucky, a small attached café where you can recharge your batteries with a fabulous cup of caffeine.

Last stop: your computer keyboard. In the last ten years, online sales shopping has skyrocketed, and it’s not hard to see why. You can shop anytime, it’s far easier to find a parking space in your own driveway compared to the local rabid stunt drivers taking over the mall parking lots, and depending on the gift list you’re trying to accommodate, with a few clicks of a mouse, most (if not all) can be handled online in minutes. What’s not to love? Ebay, Amazon and hundreds of other reputable websites stand at the ready to fulfill your every gift whim, from books, tapes, CD’s, DVD’s and tens of thousands of other gift items. Best bets are the smaller, lighter (a.k.a. cheaper to ship) items that will make it to your home with little difficulty.

This Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend, may your family and friends be healthy and fabulous, your turkeys be tender, your pumpkin pies be perfect, and your local thrift stores a holiday goldmine. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Kristen Hagopian is an Author, Columnist, Motivational Speaker and Radio Talk Show Host with WFYL 1180AM in Greater Philadelphia. “The Brilliant Frugal Living Show” airs to a listening audience of 3 Million people Tuesdays and Saturdays at 11:00A (Eastern), with fabulous strategies for slashing spending and keeping more money in the bank. She lives fabulously & frugally just outside Philadelphia with her husband and two kids. Her book is available at her website: http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com
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Three Easy Ways to Save Big at Thanksgiving Tuesday, Nov 8 2011 

JOIN ME TUESDAYS AT 11A ON PHILADELPHIA’S 1180am WFYL FOR “THE BRILLIANT FRUGAL LIVING SHOW”! LIVESTREAM IT ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD AT THE LINK! WWW.1180WFYL.COM BRILLIANT FRUGAL LIVING
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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!

Easy Ways to Save on Labor Day Weekend! Tuesday, Aug 30 2011 

“If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day Weekend.” – Doug Larson

Yup, this fast-moving summer is winding down and another autumn is right around the corner – it’s time to take that one day out of the year to celebrate our labors with a day built just for us. With gas prices finally coming down a bit, more Americans are looking a bit further away on the map for a fun destination to create some Labor Day memories. Wherever you wind up, always remember: there’s no better way to pay homage to Labor Day than to find a way to enjoy it without spending a lot of money! Read on for some fabulously frugal Labor Day activities that will help you enjoy the weekend without breaking the bank.

Labor Day Frugal Fun Idea #1: CAMPING! Keep it easy and inexpensive by renting a camper or tent from a reputable source (better yet, borrow one from a friend!) and spend some time away from all of the trappings of labor this Labor Day. And need I say it: Leave the laptop at home! It simply does not compute compared to the gorgeous solitude of a beautiful campsite. Leave the computer games at home and instead try a sharpened stick filled with marshmallows roasted over the first campfire of the season to relax.

Labor Day Frugal Fun Idea #2: Labor Day weekend means a three-day break for many, so take advantage of it with activities you wouldn’t think to try on a regular two-day weekend. Take one full day to enjoy a local art museum, take a long hike at a nearby trail, hit a local winery for a tour, linger thru a fabulous festival, or host your own full-day barbeque. The sky is the limit!

Labor Day Frugal Fun Idea #3: Apple picking at your local orchard. It’s harvest time at many local orchards, and regardless of weather, the vast majority of local growers are offering great deals during Labor Day weekend to entice families to come out and relieve them of their extra produce, often at tremendous discounts! So grab your biggest apple picking bags, load up, and bring them on home to create every single apple dish you’ve ever loved. Pies, Strudels, compotes, sauces, side dishes, you name it, it tastes all the sweeter when the apples you use in it are easily 75% off the price of retail.

Labor Day Frugal Fun Idea #4: Yes, I’m saying it – you have permission to eat out. Now, those who know me rarely hear me endorsing the idea of eating out. However, national holidays over long three-day weekends have their own special rules, especially when there are specials galore at restaurants everywhere this holiday weekend. Half price deals, BOGO’s, family specials, the deals are everywhere – check out newspaper ads, online coupons and more. Take a look at your favorite restaurants first and choose the deals that will suit your family best.

Above all else, remember that Labor Day weekend is about relaxing, kicking back, and forgetting about work for a while. The less you spend, the less actual labor you’ll have to expend to make up for it. Keep with the spirit of the holiday by enjoying the weekend in a way that will keep the fruits of your labors right in your pocket, where they belong. Happy Labor Day Weekend!

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

Brilliant Frugal Living Website!
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.

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