Inexpensive last minute gifts they’ll love! Monday, Jan 26 2015 

Okay guys – it’s December 23rd – it’s crunch time.   The entire month has flown by at Mach 2, and you’re looking at a somewhat scary list of people you have yet to shop for.   You’re not alone!  Read on for effortless, fabulous gift ideas that your family and friends will love, that you can put together inexpensively in minutes.

Gift Cards – one of my top picks.  Adults love them, kids love them, they’re highly appreciated and they’re used quickly.   For adults, best bets are gas stations that have not only fuel but excellent coffee – clearly Wawa & Sheetz get top marks.  Come January, just imagine the look on your broke buddy’s face when they had to run out the door without their caffeine fix and see they’re hitting “E” on the gas tank as well.  They’ll pull your gift card out of their pocket and sing your praises all the way to the coffee stirrers.

Magazine subscriptions – in today’s economy, people are cutting back on the fun little luxuries, including magazine subscriptions.  Think about your gift recipient’s favorite hobbies (Sports? Cooking? Hunting? Fashion? Decorating?) then get online to buy them a year’s subscription to a fantastic magazine – or two – that they can look forward to month after month.  Boom, gift giving is complete.

Homemade baked goods – these are still such a hit, and honestly not that hard to create – no mixers required!  Why?  Because in my book, if you take a tube of ready-made cookie dough off the supermarket shelf, and cut it open at home, slice them down into odd-shapes and let the kids add tons of sprinkles and/or icing, that counts as homemade.   It’s appreciated, it’s customized, it’s delicious to boot.  If you’ve got an afternoon to spare, carve an hour out to get these in the oven, let them cool, put them into some inexpensive tins and watch the lucky recipients dive in!

Lottery tickets – Honestly, I’ve never been into the lottery.  Odds are just slightly against my winning (don’t I wish), and I’d rather put my cash into a good cup of coffee.  That being said, there are so-ho-ho many people out there practicing their “Oh my GOD, I WON!” faces, and you and I know they’d love a ticket – or two – to put in their pocket.   Make their day, and make it clear that – if they win – you get a 10% commission.  Everyone’s a winner.

Dollar Store Gift Baskets – These gems have saved me too many times to count!   Easily made within 5 minutes for $5 or less at the Dollar Store.  They have it all gang – gift baskets, colorful shredded paper for fluff, coffee mugs, candy, cookies, chocolate, snacks – even small crafts and toys for kids’ baskets.  Et voila!  The possibility for hundreds of gift combos (all for $5 or less) await you!

This Christmas, I’m hearing from people right and left who find themselves even more cash-strapped (and time-strapped) than last year.  Trust me, whatever you give your buddies, they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness more than anything.  And if you’re subsidizing their caffeine intake as well, hey, what’s not to love?  Frugal On!

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

Readers send in Fabulously Frugal Holiday Shopping Finds! Monday, Jan 26 2015 

Merry Christmas & Happy Hanukah, everybody!   With the holiday shopping season now in full swing, I sent out a Social Media Challenge to our fabulous DLN readers to share some of their favorite money-saving, gift buying hot-spots.  As usual, they came thru with flying colors!  Read on for some of your fellow DLN’ers top tips for inexpensive, elegant gift giving.

Maggie T. of West Chester swears by the big warehouse stores, especially BJ’s – “I love the one-stop shopping, the gifts are wonderful, and not overpriced.  I honestly get more than half my Christmas shopping done there in one trip.  I find myself buying a lot of books as gifts too, and BJ’s has all of the good ones.  One of my favorite things there are the baked treats, especially the cookies.  My 7 grandkids spend a lot of time at my house during the holidays, and it’s easy to have fresh cookies and goodies in the house when I make a trip there. They also have good heat-and-eat side dishes that I’m going to be using for Christmas dinner.”  Thanks, Maggie!  And Girlfriend, I’m with you.  Hands down, some of the best prices around on food, gifts, toys & batteries.

Leslie K. of Exton makes Goodwill her first big stop when she goes holiday shopping – “I have four sisters, and we all love fun purses and lots of jewelry.   Budgets are crazy tight this year, but I always find awesome designer names for purses, shoes, sweaters, jewelry, you name it.   It’s without a doubt one of the best places you can shop in Chester County.”  Amen sister!  I’ve got two younger sisters, and we will forever adore our bling!  Also just found two lovely Christmas outfits for my rapidly-growing kids at the Goodwill in Exton.  Katie’s dress was originally priced at $180 (I know because the tag was still on it), and I got it for $10! Robbie’s Christmas suit only cost $6, it’s so adorable – and he’ll probably outgrow it by the end of January.

Carmen S. of Downingtown loves to shop local for gifts, and finds that restaurant gift cards are one of the best gifts she’s ever given.  “They’re a hit every single year – most of my family & friends have cut back on eating out to save money, so when you give them a gift card to Buca Di Beppo or some other great local restaurant, you know they’ll like it and they’ll use it – especially when she adds a handmade “gift card” for free babysitting while her friends enjoy a well-earned evening out.   Talk about a huge hit of a gift!

These are just a few of the fabulous emails & texts I got from DLN fans – I want to hear from you as well!  If you have a favorite Chester County shop where you’re finding amazing holiday deals and bargains, find me online at www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com.  Frugal on, everyone – Merry Christmas!

The Fabulously “Frugal” Days of Christmas! Thursday, Dec 26 2013 

I’ve loved the non-stop comments from Daily Local News readers regarding their shopping habits this Christmas season (thanks, everybody!). That being said, it was the email from DLN reader and fellow frugalista Marge W., who suggested someone write a “Frugal Days of Christmas” song that really got me thinking. I put out the feelers to get everyone’s input on the best items to focus on, and DLN readers didn’t disappoint – that’s so much for your emails! It was those suggestions – and some serious caffeine – that yielded this festively frugal song, for all of you.

“F” is for the FUDGE – a Christmas staple. Although my Mom still makes the best, Seth M. of Frazer sent me a fantastic recipe that costs just $2 per batch, but makes me look like a million bucks! Perfect for gift giving, hosting guests, and yes, the ideal pick me up for midnight wrapping marathons. Note to self, don’t calculate the carb count. Just don’t go there. Let’s talk carbs in January, shall we?

“R” is for the REINDEER – As in the big, plastic light-up jobs you can put in the yard. The new ones in the stores are a smidge pricey, so I’d suggest you aim for the antique ones on Craigslist that are being practically given away. James R of West Chester apparently has quite a herd of them on his front lawn, much to his kids’ delight, and he paid a fraction of retail for them. James, when that electric bill shows up in January, throw me an email and we’ll figure out how to knock that sucker out.

“U” is for the UGLY SWEATERS that are required by Pennsylvania State Law to be worn, given and received as gifts this holiday season. Extra gift-giving points if the sweaters have obnoxious reindeer horns, hoofs or noses knitted into them. Super bonus points if you find matching mittens. I’m finding that your best bet is to head to your local Goodwill or Thrift Store, although I heard from Annabeth T. in Exton that she found awesome ones for $1 each on Craigslist – you go, girl!

“G” is for the GIFTS – and the more homemade and heartfelt, the better. This Christmas season, I hope you threw out all those outlandish ideas of expensive gifts, and stuck with the presents that were memorable, easy, homemade and inexpensive – see my earlier notes on fudge! See also my notes on how carbs won’t count until January. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“A” is for AMAZON – as in, the website. Home of tons of holiday gifts, priced at a fraction of retail, and many even offered free shipping this Christmas. Kudos to DLN readers who saved yourself the hassle, parking, long lines (and in some cases, tazers) of the local malls and did your shopping right at your computer. When you’re driving around today, have a look at the UPS, Fedex & Postal Service drivers scurrying about. Notice the professional-yet-nearly-panicked looks on their faces? There’s a reason for that – all of the online shoppers kept them in business big time, and those delivery drivers don’t disappoint!

“L” is for the LIGHTS — This was the overwhelming “L” response from DLN listeners – thank you all! You’re all so right, after the craziest days, there’s nothing like driving about and seeing the light displays on homes everywhere – to those who outdid yourselves yet again this year, you rock! Put them all together, you’ve got a fabulously frugal holiday that focuses on all the right things. God Bless you and your families this Christmas, and frugal on, everybody!

Delicious Christmas Gifts that Save Money, Time and Stress! Monday, Dec 16 2013 

Hey gang, it’s happening again. People are freaking out over Christmas gift-giving, and they’re getting set to spend way too much again. The crowds are getting ugly, too – when you start hearing news stories in which the words “Shopping Mall” and “Tasers” go together, you know we’re in for a rough one. When it comes to spending, I’m getting emails you wouldn’t believe, from wonderful people who normally think quite frugally, yet are still convinced that a magnificent holiday is tied to the money spent. So not true! Don’t believe me? Then just gently put the credit card down for a moment and try this little experiment on for size. Think back to your wonderful childhood Christmas memories. Chances are you spent a good 20 years under your parents’ roof. We all have fantastic holiday recollections, but can you name three things you received as gifts as a kid? Many of my readers can recall a cherished bike (myself included, it was a pink Schwinn with red and white tassles, and it was dynamite). Beyond that however, gift memories become extremely hazy; rather, it’s the vivid memories of childhood fun, food, laughter with relatives who came from miles around to celebrate the holiday, and of course, the treasured two weeks off from school that truly stick in my mind. Trust me, your kids and family feel the same way. With that in mind, read on for fantastic, frugal gift ideas guaranteed to be a cherished hit for family and friends, not to mention clients and co-workers!

One of the best gifts of all – fabulous food! Back in Victorian times, the average family spent 25% of their income on food, an incredible number. To add insult to injury, the food of the era often wasn’t even that good, bland due to lack of spices, not to mention created in unsafe conditions a good deal of the time. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that delicious homemade food gifts were a huge hit at the holidays, created with loving care from cherished family recipes, and often sent in tins that were used again and again for years to come. Now that is a memorable gift. For those of you on a tight budget this holiday season (and who isn’t?), it’s time to harness your inner Victorian and put your favorite recipes to work for you. Cookies, candies, brownies, pastries, cakes – whatever your passion, have fun with it, and put the kids to work “helping” (another fun childhood memory of mine). Hit your local dollar store for tins and trays to present them on, et voila! The end result will be wonderful, memorable gifts that will be truly appreciated by the recipients, created for a fraction of the price of forgettable store-bought trinkets. Fabulously frugal side note – these types of gifts ship beautifully as well.

So let’s review – When it comes to frugal gift-giving this Christmas, there are many reasons to indulge your inner Julia Child. First, you’re succeeding in every gift-giver’s goal: You’re sending gifts that will be loved, appreciated, and remembered. Second, when you open your credit card bill in January, you’ll be one of the few that draws a huge sigh of relief at the low number due. Third, you’ll be steering clear of the high-voltage, taser-toting rabid shoppers that are apparently out in full force! Let’s keep the high-holiday wattage to the outdoor Christmas lights, shall we? Merry Christmas everybody, and Frugal On!

Think like a Victorian this year for your gift-giving inspiration! Thursday, Dec 9 2010 

Here’s some food for thought: In Victorian times, it wasn’t unusual for a household to spend at least 25% of their income on food (often mediocre-quality at best). With that in mind, it was common – and adored – to give fabulous, high-quality food gifts at the holidays. It was delicious, appreciated, and it went to immediate use. When it comes to gift-giving today, a top priority shoppers share is that the recipient feels their gift was intended just for them, and fits their taste perfectly. Usually, “customized” gifts are synonymous with “expensive”, with one marvelous exception this holiday season – fabulous gift baskets you make yourself in five minutes or less with the gourmet offerings at Amelia’s Grocery Outlet!

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got an arsenal of varied-size baskets, most of which you have utterly no clue from whence they came. I have at least a dozen in my pantry. If you’ve got a similar collection, it’s time to drag that out – you’ll find the vast majority of them will work spectacularly for this project. Big ones, small ones, doesn’t matter. The food items you purchase are all going to be various sizes as well, and you’ll be astonished how well your inventory already fits the bill. If you feel that you need to purchase a few more, hit your local dollar store. They’ve got a fantastic selection of baskets (and decorative tins, for that matter) that will handle your every need.

Since you’re filling these baskets with special culinary delights your friends and family adore, the items are easily found at your local Amelia’s when you make your next food run – a fabulous time-saving perk that won’t add hours of shopping or travel to your already-busy holiday season. Everything I purchased for the baskets described below were found in one trip to my local Amelia’s Grocery Outlet. Check out their website at www.AmeliasGroceryOutlet.com to find the location nearest you!

Coffee Lover Basket – Three 12 oz packages of fabulous flavored gourmet holiday coffees, delicious Bailey’s creamers in Chocolate, Irish Cream and Almond Toffee Cream, et voila, this fabulous gift is done in minutes. Easily $75 purchased retail when you take five minutes to order online, this one is only $13.50 when you take five minutes to make it yourself! You do the math – saving $60+ in five minutes makes for a nice hourly wage, no? Now, any self respecting coffee addict you’re giving this gift to will already have a dozen mugs in their cupboards. However, for a coffee gift with extra kick, you can personalize the gift even more with fabulous ceramic mug selections at your local dollar store. Add two mugs and you’re still below the $16 mark, with a rave-worthy gift basket at the ready.

Fruit Lover’s Basket – Gorgeous fruit basket gifts have been classic holiday favorites for centuries, and are usually the first things to sell out with gift basket companies. Beautiful (often tropical) fruit in the coldest days of winter – what’s not to love? Back when I was working in the corporate sector, it wasn’t uncommon to see several of these gorgeous towering baskets crossing our desks, and they were always immediately devoured. Crisp apples, juicy citrus, gorgeous pears, exotic fruits like mango added for some holiday fun – fabulous! Ten seconds with a calculator quickly revealed they were running about $15-$20 a pound for fruit. Yokay then. Top quality fruit is of course a necessity for these gifts, and they’re just as easily found at your local Amelia’s! Trust me, I’ve enjoyed many of those high-priced baskets, and the fruit was fabulous. At Amelia’s, it’s equally fabulous – crisp, juicy, and about 90% less expensive. On my last trip, I quickly bagged two pounds of beautiful oranges, one pound of grapefruit, two pounds of pears, three pounds of apples, one huge mango, all gorgeous and blemish-free (another requirement for snooty moi as I assemble these baskets for friends and family). A basket with all of the above would easily retail for $75. With five minutes of effort in the produce aisle, I’m recreating it for $7.

Tea and cookies basket – perfect for teachers, friends, family, neighbors, you name it. I used to exhaust myself spending hours every holiday season making delicate little butter cookies with the finest ingredients, delicate raspberry jam centers, the perfect dusting of powdered sugar on top. Then my brilliant, adorably honest six year old casually informed me as she blitzed thru the kitchen “Hey Mommy! These ones in the box taste like the ones you do! Except these have neat swirls on the top and yours don’t. Bye!” Alrighty then. That critique (combined with the fact that the store-bought cost half of what I spent making them myself) made it a no-brainer to go with the gourmet boxed version. Adding two beautiful canisters of organic tea create the perfect gift in minutes. Cost online: easily $25 or more. Cost when I took two minutes to create it myself: $1.79. As with the coffee lovers basket, chances are excellent the recipient will already have mugs, but if you want to add an extra touch to your gift, you can always pick up one or two more at your dollar store.

Gluten Free Gift Basket – this may seem like an odd category for gift baskets, I’ll admit. However, in the past year, I’ve connected with no fewer than four friends who have introduced gluten-free foods to their households with absolutely fabulous impacts on their health. The only non-fabulous aspect of this healthy eating plan is the cost – a bag of chips for $5? Give me a break! You can imagine their pleasure at receiving baskets filled with gluten-free chips, pretzels, chocolate chip cookies and cake mixes. Talk about a gift that will be immediately used! Retail, I’ve seen similar gifts retailing for more than $60 (and they’re often sold out!!). Purchasing the same items at my quality discount grocery, and I spent (ready for this?) $6.75 instead. Fabulous stuff.

College Student Gift Basket – Okay, who didn’t love getting food packages when they were in school? I remember packages arriving in the dorms where the recipient (upon opening a tin of cookies) had to fight off friends with a whip and a chair. Imagine creating a basket perfect for their tastes – fun, useful, and forget the calories or sodium, full speed ahead! The gift I crafted contained no fewer than 10 packs of Ramen noodles, gourmet chocolate chip cookies, chips, snacks, and (to diminish my non-healthy gift guilt) a bag of organic granola. God only knows when that granola is going to be opened, but I know for a fact the rest of the gift won’t last 24 hours. A gift like this, purchased online, is easily $50. Putting it together yourself (adding whip and chair is optional), came to less than $10. If you’re shipping this any kind of distance, my advice would be to skip sending any energy drinks. The extra weight sends shipping costs thru the roof, and the probability of shipping mishaps will have you biting your nails the entire time it’s in transit.

Chocolate Lover – This is so me. Not only am I a chocolate addict worthy of a 12-step program, but the holidays for me have always been synonymous with chocolate intake abandon with no guilt, no worries, and no calories and/or carbs if consumed between December 1 and December 31. If you have friends and family with an equal addiction, indulge it to the hilt with truffles, biscotti, high-end gourmet crafted chocolates and the like. Online, they can run more than $50 each. I put together three gorgeous huge baskets in minutes for less than $10 each.

All of the above examples are just a small taste of what is possible when you create perfect basket gifts for friends and family. They’re easy to make, custom-tailored to those you care about, absolutely adored and quickly put to use – everything we hope for in a holiday gift. This year, if you’re in a gift-giving creative stall and looking to try something new (without breaking the bank), try shifting to a Victorian mode this holiday season and see what you create! Happy Holidays, everybody – see you at Amelia’s!

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!