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!

Renovating Robbie’s Room! Monday, May 17 2010 

At long last, it’s time to get kids into their own separate rooms. Katie gets to keep the nursery, and Robbie gets his own big boy room, with a Thomas the Tank Engine theme!

I’m so excited about this – Robbie’s Room will be the last room in the house to complete! Yes, it was I, ten years ago, who assured my husband “OF COURSE we’ll be done renovating the house in a year – TWO MAX!”. And ten years later, I’m giddy at the thought of it being done…

Yesterday’s spackling dried, so I (along with the kids) sanded it out & scrubbed the woodwork. Tomorrow, we prime! Can not WAIT to get his room done! Next, onto Craiglist to find Thomas the Tank Engine bedroom stuff! 🙂

UPDATE: Found some GREAT stuff on Craigslist, AND connected with a FAB fellow frugalista (and fellow 1986 SHHS high school alumni) with an extra Thomas the Tank Engine comforter that she’s ready, willing & able to part with. Too cool!

Another “Mary Talks Money” episode wrapped up! Thursday, Apr 22 2010 

Had SO much fun with the Live Well HD crew back on the 15th – fabulous time! I think they got some great sound clips for their “Saving On Baby” segment. Many thanks to Executive Producer Susan Barclay for this opportunity, and THANKS to cameraman extraordinaire Sean Bernard for working with not only a cluttered playroom but also two little ones who “just want to see the cool camera ONE more time…”.

Not sure when this episode will air; if it’s anything like the last one, we should have about 18 nationwide airings over the course of June. SO excited!

Saving on Baby! The first (frugal?) year… Friday, Apr 9 2010 

Hey all – Happy Friday! Just wrapped up a truly fun week, and getting excited for Katie’s first T-ball game tomorrow morning. Hysterically cute.

Received an e-mail from LiveWellHD/6ABC about another possible “Mary Talks Money” piece, which would be SO much fun. They suggested a segment regarding saving money on baby the first year. This is an outstanding subject; I often get questions about this at my workshops. I’ve also got a 5 year old and a 2 year old, so I’ve experienced this firsthand, and rest assured, made just about every mistake in the book…

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, it can cost between $9000-$11,000 to care for a child in their first year alone! When it comes to saving money on baby, there are some excellent places to start:

Formula: Yes, we’ve all heard that it’s best to nurse a baby for the first six months; if it’s feasible in your household, it will save a tremendous amount of money. However, some women are physically unable to do this, and sometimes work schedules make it utterly impossible. If you’re unable to, the average cost of formula can come to $200/month. I was a Mommy who was physically incapable of nursing, however, I did find our brand name (organic no less) baby formula at our local discount gourmet grocery for approximately 75% off on a regular basis. Often the reason for the discount was a small tear along the label. As a result, we spent $50/month for formula our first six months. Money saved compared to national average: $150/month for 6 months = $900 saved

Diapers: When I had Katie, my wonderful family had a “diaper shower” for me, in which we received six months worth of disposable diapers – very appreciated! However, in the time it took to get Katie potty trained (at age 3), we went thru approximately $1500 in diapers. Ouch! Would prefer to have that in the bank, thanks very much…that’s an average mortgage payment!!! For Robbie, in an attempt to keep that money in the bank, I decided to go the cloth routine (see earlier blogs). Today’s cloth diapers are ingenious, and very easy to use. They’re also an average of $20 each retail! RIDICULOUS! It can cost $400 just to get started! If you’re planning on using cloth, and can count on receiving them as gifts at a baby shower, by all means, get new. When I myself shopped for them, I found them for $3 each on Craigslist. I purchased $80 worth, which gave me 3 days worth of diapers. They have worked beautifully. Many mention the savings from cloth diapers is offset by drying them in the dryer, however, I dry mine on a clothesline outside, so it’s not such an issue. Money saved yearly compared to national average: $400+

Food: Once baby is ready for solids, forget the ridiculously overpriced jarred foods, and pull out your food processor. Chicken, beef, pasta, vegetables, fruits, soups – whatever you’re eating, chances are excellent (if it’s not too exotic), it’s fine for your baby. Add a touch of baby cereal to the repertoire, and you’re in fine shape. If you have any questions about foods or potential allergic reactions, ask your pediatrician. A word about juices – more and more pediatricians are warning against giving too much to your baby, as it’s usually empty, sugary calories, and expensive to boot. Try water & milk for your child’s needs. Money saved compared to jarred foods / juices / etc = hundreds of dollars

Furniture: Beautiful furniture, well built, can cost hundreds, if not thousands. We all want the best for our kids, but paying retail is insane. Start with Craigslist listings in the towns near you. I’ve seen every possible type of baby furniture (cribs, rockers, changing tables, dressers, etc) for up to 90% off, in wonderful shape. Often, the current owners are simply desperate to get rid of it and free up space. The only caveat is that you will usually have to pick it up yourselves. Ask a neighbor with a truck if he/she will help out in exchange for a tank of gas – no doubt they’ll be glad to lend a hand. Money saved = hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

Clothing: There are dozens of resources to tap when you’re looking for children’s clothing. Outstanding resources I’ve found include local thrift stores, Church sales, and by far, the best resource: Craigslist. This last year, I’ve purchased dozens of outfits for both of my children, and clothed them both (including special occasion outfits) for less than $50 total, thanks to Craigslist. My kids are dressed like royalty for approximately 90% off. Money saved = hundreds of dollars

Daycare: Today’s trying economic environment is transforming a lot of two-income households into one income households. If there is any silver lining to this, it is that the cost of daycare for pre-school age children in these households is now zero. If the stay-at-home parent is Dad, I recommend a “Mr. Mom” movie night. If it’s necessary for both parents to work, start thinking outside the box with regard to daycare. I’ve connected with parents in which one took a job working primarily weekends, the other week days. Another couple alternated working nights & days to ensure kids were supervised. Another family had a wonderful, energetic grandparent move in to ensure proper supervision. With the cost of daycare topping $200/week for babies, finding an at-home solution with family will save a significant amount of money. Money saved per child: $200/week for one year = $10,000+

Baby Gifts – most of us are very blessed in that the wonderful news of a new baby will often send loved ones into a frenzy of gift-giving. If possible, try to steer them towards useful items, ones that will benefit the baby for years to come. You’ll notice the above items (furniture & clothing in particular) are not only top gift items, but ironically are also rather easy for a parent to acquire for next to nothing nowadays. With that in mind, you might want to steer family & friends into a slightly different type of gift, the “not glamorous but AMAZINGLY helpful gift”.
Some examples:
– When I was born in 1968, my folks had a lock on just about everything I needed with regard to clothing, furniture, etc. When family & friends asked what to buy for me, my parents recommended (brace yourself) Savings Bonds. Dozens of (middle class) family & friends did just that – these small bonds (for between $5 & $50) then went into the bank where they sat untouched until they came to maturity. I redeemed them my junior year of college at Penn State, where they pretty much paid my tuition for an entire semester. Not a bad gift, and those same family & friends were delighted to hear from me at age 20, touching base from college and thanking them (with a laugh) for my incredibly helpful BABY gift!
– Insurance covers a big portion of the average maternity stay, but there’s usually an amount due by new parents when they come home. If you’ve got family & friends each eagerly looking to give a $25+ gift, explain how you’re looking to pay down the amount due the hospital, and set up a special bank account for it. I’ve spoken to “Brilliant Frugal Living” workshop attendees who knew of people who did just that – and received over $1000 from family, friends & co-workers. Rather than a hodge-podge of well-meant but somewhat useless gifts, they were instead able to pay down a good chunk of their hospital bill. Fantastic stuff.

If you have other ideas/suggestions regarding saving for baby, I would love to hear them – please send them my way!

Have a great weekend, everybody!

FYI – Put this on your calendar – GOODWILL CUSTOMER APPRECIATION SALE! Sunday, Mar 7 2010 

Hey everybody! Hope you’re having a great weekend.

This news just in from the FAB Goodwill store near me (the one where I got the genuine Prada Handbag earlier this week…for $5).

They are having a “Customer Appreciation Sale” on Friday & Saturday, March 12-13 (Snow dates: March 15-17), at the Morgantown Goodwill ONLY. This is one of the best Goodwills I have ever shopped at. Go once and you’ll be a hopelessly addicted Goodwill groupie as well.

The flyer says:
— New Spring Merchandise
— Great Prices on NEW Toys
— Different Specials Each Day
— Outlet Specials (KLH note: Good GOD, like the prices there aren’t heavenly enough…picture me drooling right now.)
— Lunch Available Saturday.

The Goodwill Store is open 8AM to 8PM, and the Outlet is open from 9:30A to 8:00P. If your schedule is free, DEFINITELY do yourself a favor and come check it out! See you there!

Tonight’s “Meet The Author” postponed by one week! Thursday, Jan 28 2010 

Tonight’s “Meet The Author” at The Honey Brook Library has been postponed by one week. Honey Brook Library will now be hosting a “Meet The Author” for “Brilliant Frugal Living”, on Thurs, Feb 4, from 5P-7:00P. – Tim, Sherry, Michelle, Julie, Christa, Alan, Annalisa & Diane, loved your notes. If you and your friends can make it on the 4th, I promise to double the number of brownies I bring.

To anyone else in our neck of the woods, if your schedule is free, and you’d enjoy strategizing with a group of like minds on where to locate fantastic-yet-frugal fashion, food and furniture finds, as well as the previously mentioned non-stop brownies & coffee for all attendees, please join us. No charge to attend, but space is limited to 20, so reserve your seat!

Location: Honey Brook Library, 687 Compass Road, Honey Brook, PA 19344 Phone: (610) 273-3303