Slash your Back to School Budget in Half! Thursday, Nov 13 2014 

According to the National Retail Federation, families are spending nearly $700 per child for back to school costs!  This includes $400+ for clothing and shoes, $100 for supplies and over $200 for electronics.  Even crazier, that $700 estimate is about $85 more than parents spent last year.  If you’re one of those parents whose finding that getting the kids ready for another school year is costing the same as your average mortgage payment, read on for some proven tips to cut that figure in half, effortlessly. The Clothes – we all want our kids to be comfortable and feeling stylish.  But if your budget is as strapped as ever (and whose isn’t?), I suggest a new clothes-shopping strategy that will fill your kids’ closets with the name brands for easily 75-90% off.   Hit your local thrift stores and consignment shops, where every single name brand that you kid loves is waiting for you, in fantastic shape, at rock-bottom prices.  Five dollars for name-brand jeans, two dollars for fantastic tops, $8 for coats and often $5 for beautiful shoes still in their original boxes, never worn.   Trust me, find a fabulous thrift store near you, and try outfitting your child with a name-brand wardrobe they will adore, for a fraction of what you spent last year.

The Supplies – I could be dating myself, but when I was a kid, the back-to-school supplies list was a half-page long, consisting of a notebook, number two pencils, and if you felt like going over the top, perhaps some pens.  These days, a Kindergartner’s back-to-school list of “necessities” reads like a 72-point NASA pre-launch list.   Do yourselves a favor, and take that list first to your local Dollar Store, where aisles of school supplies await you, often for 50% or more off the usual retail prices.  If there’s anything you need that you can’t find at the Dollar Store, then head to the office supply chains to get the remaining items on your list.   With that strategy in action, you’ll easily spend 25-50% less than the national average. The Electronics – Now I know I’m dating myself here, but when I went to school, all the way from Kindergarten to graduating College, the only sophisticated electronics I really needed to get for myself was a calculator, which I think I got for free from the bank.   Now I realize the list of kid-adored, “get-it-for-your-child-or-they’re-destined-for-failure” electronics has exploded in recent years, and it’s all incredibly impressive.  However, might I be bold enough to suggest that the typical American student (from ages 5-18) really doesn’t need their own cell phone, iPad, Kindle or laptop to succeed?    Unless your third grader has a conference call scheduled over their lunch break (doubtful), or your Kindergartner needs to check the Weather Channel app on his iPhone before venturing out to recess (also doubtful), extravagant electronics purchases do not guarantee a successful, thriving student.  Just about every home has a computer (if not, hit the library down the street), and every school out there has a sophisticated computer lab that’s more than adequate.  As for the phones, computers, Kindles and iPads, kids can use the phone and computer at home and the library.  If they truly feel that they need certain electronics as a teenager, let them pay for it themselves with the money they make over the summer – and tell them that they can find last year’s “gotta have” models for about 80% off on Craigslist.  Happy Back-to-School season, everybody!  Here’s to another fabulous year of learning!

Check out Kristen’s website at http://www.brilliantfrugalliving.com

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Save Money & Prep for Summertime Weather! Wednesday, Jul 2 2014 

Remember last winter, when I was whining non-stop about the extreme cold, record-setting power outages, heating bills, etc? Yeah, me too. I vowed then and there, no matter how hot it got this summer, no matter how much my hair frizzed and I looked like an sweaty extra in a prison-chain-gang movie, I wouldn’t complain about summertime heat. Let’s face it, no matter how hot it gets, you can still drive (no ice on the roads), and in the 90+ degree heat, chances are excellent that power lines won’t cake over with ice and snap like thread. So for a refreshing change of pace, I’m going to instead kavetch about other summertime weather phenomena (severe storms, tornadoes), and how you can prep your household – frugally! – for maximum peace of mind at minimal cost.

First thing to get, a backup generator. If you don’t already have one, think about getting one. Hardware stores everywhere have them in stock, and my favorite online secondhand store (Craigslist) has dozens for sale near you. Best part about buying from Craigslist – those generators are practically new, and usually at least 50% off! Often, the current owner will detail how it’s only been used for 12 hours total during the last power outage, and now they’re upgrading to the newer, bigger model (which will be outdated & ready for Craigslist this time next year…but I digress). One of these discount beauties will save you big stress, multiple costly trips to a nearby hotel, everything in your refrigerator/freezer… you get the point. Biggest money-saving tip – don’t get sucked into buying a generator that will power everything (including the central air conditioning system) in your house – it’s unnecessary overkill. Make sure it can handle your kitchen appliances (except your clothes dryer, you can hang everything outside for free!), and go old school with a window air conditioner and box fans until the power is back up. Head to a hardware store online calculator to determine what size generator you need.

Next: a Weather Alert Radio. It’s uncanny how a good percentage of scary “get to the basement pronto” weather happens in the nighttime hours while you’re sleeping. Get yourself a weather radio that’ll go off every time severe weather is in your area. They’re available everywhere, and usually cost less than $20. It’s great peace of mind. Side note: if you’re in possession of a cell phone that’s more sophisticated than mine (99.9% of you fall into this category), then simply download severe weather alert apps directly to your SmartPhone – just don’t forget to bring the phone to bed with you at night!

Last: Batteries, in all sizes, and lots of them: It’s funny how many of us have all of the sophisticated software necessary to know what the weather patterns are anywhere on the planet, only to have us slapping every flashlight in the house against our palm in the pitch dark of a nighttime blackout because the batteries have gone dead. Check your flashlights now to make sure they’re up to snuff, and have lots of extra batteries at the ready for when they inevitably die out.

Here’s to being fabulously frugally outfitted with all the equipment we need for another fickle summer weather season. Please Mother Nature, don’t make us have to reach for it.

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

Frugal Summer Activity ideas for kids Wednesday, Jul 2 2014 

You might think I’m crazy, but I’m looking forward to having my kids out of school for the summer. My nine-year old daughter and six-year old son have cranked out incredible amounts of work this past year, and I can’t wait to let them play their little hearts out when school lets out in a few weeks.

That being said, I’m getting a good amount of email from readers saying that each year it seems a bit tougher to find fun, safe, inexpensive activities that the kids will love. So, when Susan T. of Frazer emailed me a great article from myblessedlife.net titled 101 Summer Kids’ Activities, it was like striking gold! Read on for my favorite picks of the best Summer Kids’ activities, none of which will break the bank!

1. Lawn Sprinklers – I don’t care how hot it gets, when you pull out the sprinklers, intense summer heat with 95% humidity actually becomes an asset. Now, I’ve seen amazing sprinklers in action that look like they belong in a car wash, and quite frankly, they freak me out. Stick with the easy, dependable ones that you can get at any hardware store for about $30. They last forever. If you really want to see pure delight on your kids’ faces, put two or three of those sprinklers close together in your yard, fire them up, and watch as your kids look at you like Mom of The Year. Add some Kool-Aid to the scenario an hour later and they’re ready to carry you around on their shoulders.

2. The Library – Air conditioned, quiet, and no big bugs. Need I say more? It is a trifecta of Mommy summertime happiness. Add in the fun activities and workshops for the kids, not to mention all of the coolest books and magazines for Mom as you hang out while they’re in the workshops, and you’ve got a great activity that can take up the better part of a hot summertime afternoon.

3. Sidewalk Chalk – If you’ve got kids ten and under, invest in a pack of these delightful little creative gems. Find them a shady spot in the driveway and let their little chalky Michelangelo hands go wild!
4. The Park – It’s free, it’s loaded with mack-daddy swing set equipment that you’d never find in your own yard, and it never gets old for the kids. They also often have excellent, flat, paved areas that are great for the Big Wheels and bikes. Throw in a picnic lunch from home and you kick it up another notch for the 10-and under crowd. From the Mom standpoint, I love connecting with the other Moms as we all hang out and drink in some sunshine therapy after the crazy winter we had! Viva Vitamin D!

Whatever you do, don’t worry about summertime activities costing an arm and a leg. Trust me, the most priceless thing for your kids is being out of school! Add a popsicle and a lawn hose to the scenario, and you’re perfectly set up for another fabulous summer. Frugal On!

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host & Columnist, Motivational Speaker & Author of Brilliant Frugal Living. She co-hosts the Morning Show on West Chester’s WCHE 1520, and “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs Nationwide via The BizTalk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County with her family. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

A Fabulously Frugal Cinco De Mayo! Wednesday, Jul 2 2014 

Hey everybody – Thank heavens we’re coming up on May! I couldn’t care less how hormonal Mother Nature has been these last few months, once we’re past April 30th, she has no choice but to usher in some serious, sustainable Springtime weather. Now you know that I’m not much for hallmark-ish holidays, but at this point, I’m ready to leap onto any and all holidays that get people into a warmer weather state of mind. Cinco de Mayo to the rescue! This fabulously festive holiday has been the theme for many magnificent shindigs, and why not? The fun, the food, the colors, the music – we deserve it all! Read on for spicy, frugal tips that will have a great party ready to roar, without biting your wallet in two.

First things first – The Food! I’ve been to several Cinco de Mayo parties, and the proof of a great get-together is always in the food. This is no place for a deli tray, people! Get creative and spicy Mexican-style with a make-it-yourself taco bar. The crowds universally adore them, they’re delish, and when done right, they’re easy and inexpensive to make. Start with some spicy ground beef, add some shredded chicken, put out lots of salsa, tortilla shells and shredded cheese, add a couple of taco sauces, guacamole, some sour cream, and you’re set. Classic side dishes are beans and rice, chips and be sure to get a colorful fruit salad in there too. Friends are going to want to bring something, so put them each onto a spicy dish or dessert of their choosing – later on you can do a casual contest to determine who brought the most authentic Mexican dish!

The Dishes and Décor – Super simple. One trip to your local dollar store will have this locked up. Even with my deep, intensive knowledge of dollar store inventory, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the quality and selection of this year’s perfect Cinco de Mayo dishes, decorations, even margarita glasses! Go with bold colors and fun designs – there’s no such thing as “over the top” color schemes when it comes to Cinco de Mayo decorating!

The Invitations – keep it ultra simple and just go online. Evite.com is one of my favorite sites, but there are dozens out there! With the click of a button, you can send out dozens of colorful, eye catching invites, and when your friends and family respond with the click of a mouse, you’ll have everyone’s RSVP automatically inserted into your calendar, as well as any notes on what they’re going to bring! Saves time, postage, and serious hassle. You have to love modern technology, especially when it helps to pull off a great party.

The Music – As if I even need to say it, magnificent Mexican music is key to a fabulous fiesta. Tell your friend with the seemingly surgically-attached iPod that he is now in charge of music! When the party date arrives, plug that iPod into your speakers, et voila! You’ve got hours of perfect Mexican music at the touch of a button.

Here’s to ushering in a beautifully warm month of May – Bon Appetit and Party On!

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host & Columnist, Motivational Speaker & Author of Brilliant Frugal Living. She co-hosts the Morning Show on West Chester’s WCHE 1520, and “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs Nationwide via Business Talk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County with her family. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

Three Easy Steps to a Fabulously Frugal Easter! Friday, Apr 11 2014 

Hey everybody – we made it! Winter is officially in the rear view mirror, and we’re about to hit one of my favorite official Springtime holidays – EASTER! In my opinion, we have earned the right to maximize this wonderful day, complete with fabulous warmer weather, pastel-themed holiday clothes and an Easter table surrounded by our favorite people and surrounded with our favorite foods. My mission for this week’s Column is to blitz the notion that a fabulous Easter has to cost big money – nothing could be farther from the truth! I’m hearing from people spending $120 on a child’s dress because it was “on sale” – are you nuts? Don’t make me throw an Easter egg at you! Rather, read on for a wonderful one-two-three punch that will create a beautiful Easter for a fraction of what you might have paid last year.

First things first – the Food! The time has flown since January, and if you’re like me, you’re about halfway towards your summertime dieting goals. Keep up the great work! That being said, I officially give you permission to relax the usual dieting rules at Easter dinner (kind of like I did a month or so ago when Valentine’s Day candy went on sale for 90% off). When it comes to your Easter feast, the best bet to keep your sanity and wallet intact is to delegate with pure abandon. Everyone coming to your home is going to want to be helpful, so let their Easter contributions to straight to the dining room table! Let family and friends bring side dishes, desserts, wine, even the flowers! Before you know it, the only thing you’re responsible for is the main dish ham or turkey, et voila! Your Easter table is set, and you didn’t have to spend your Easter stressing over an oven and four stove burners simultaneously.

The Easter Baskets – My kids love a good Easter candy hunt around the house. I have to admit it, I still love it too. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s that I have a tendency to purchase way too much candy. Shocking, I know. Do yourselves a favor and bring one of last year’s Easter baskets with you to the Dollar Store when you buy your candy. You’d be surprised just how little you need to fill the baskets and make a fabulous candy hunt. Add a good size chocolate bunny, and you’re in great shape.

The Clothes – There are precious few occasions in the year when I can justify buying a new outfit for a holiday. Easter is one of those occasions. My beautiful kids are growing like weeds, and I love marking that fact with brand new outfits for Easter. Hit your local thrift stores and consignment stores where you’ll find beautiful new clothing (worn once counts as “new” in my book!) for easily 90% off department store prices. Fabulous side benefit – those same thrift stores are often a glorious gold mine of one of my Easter fashion favorites – Easter hats. The bigger, the better and all at fantastic prices. Ladies, I kid you not, try wearing a hat to Easter Mass just once – you’ll never go bareheaded again.

Above all else, remember the reason for the Season – have a wonderful time with family and friends, and don’t forget to send me family pics of the whole crew in their fabulously frugal Easter glory – extra credit for hats! Happy Easter, everybody!
Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host & Columnist, Motivational Speaker & Author of Brilliant Frugal Living. She co-hosts the Morning Show on West Chester’s WCHE 1520, and “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs Nationwide via Business Talk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County with her family. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

Save Huge Money with a Tiny Garden! Friday, Apr 11 2014 

Gang, I give up. When I turned in this week’s Column in to the Editor a few days ago, it was nearly 60 degrees. By the time you’re reading it today, the temperature is going to dip into the 20’s with a good chance of (I can barely say it) SNOW. Welcome to Springtime in Siberia – minus the vodka. This is nuts. However, I remain ever hopeful (bordering on delusional) that one day soon, we can look out the window and actually see a few consistent days that look like Springtime. With that in mind, let’s turn our thoughts to a fabulously frugal, easy, Spring-themed project that not only welcomes warmer weather, but can save you hundreds by the end of the year – a Garden!
For those of you who have never given thought to creating a small home garden, hear me out. I’m about to give you three excellent reasons to give one a try.
Reason #1: Food prices are rising substantially this year. According to the USDA Consumer Price Index, food prices could increase as much as 3.5% this year, as wages remain stubbornly stagnant. Don’t forget the drought in California, coupled with ridiculously cold weather in other parts of the United States. What does this mean for you? A substantial uptick in food prices, this as we’re trying to pay off our heating bills from this past winter. The good news is that you can take a huge bite out of your food costs with even a 10-foot square garden! I’ve spoken to people who simply enjoy potted plants on their patio (tomatoes, carrots, herbs, etc.) and still cut their food costs substantially.
Reason #2: The most expensive items on supermarket shelves are often the easiest to grow. In our house, we love our salads, fruits and herbs. Have you seen the price of a head of iceberg lettuce lately? Don’t even get me started on the price of strawberries! And the price of those small packets of herbs you see in your Supermarket’s produce aisle? Where were they grown? The moon? Plant a few simple rows of your favorites this Spring, and enjoy all of the benefits of fresh produce, for a fraction of the cost of retail.
Reason #3: The immense personal satisfaction of having your own garden. There’s nothing like putting a fresh salad, or a bowl of delicious, organic, homegrown strawberries, raspberries and blueberries on the table and knowing it cost pennies (compared to the $10 you’d pay in the supermarket for organic produce), and knowing you can do it all over again tomorrow with a stroll through your own garden. If you have young kids at home, let them help as much as possible, and rejoice in the fact that you’re teaching them a healthy hobby that can save them hundreds – if not thousands – over their lifetime as well.
Side note: With the economy still doing its “one step forward, two steps back” cha-cha, our local food banks are very much in need. When you plant your rows of favorites this year, give some thought to planting a row of hardy cucumbers, carrots, onions or other easy items, and donate them as they grow. You’ll be doing your local community a world of good, for pennies.
Happy Gardening, everybody!

Brilliant Frugal Investments for 2014! Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

Hey gang – ready for spring yet? Me too. Until then, let’s focus on some great January investments that will reap big returns on your hard earned money over the course of 2014. Many think investing requires large amounts of money – not true! Read on for three inexpensive investments that can save you hundreds or more by year’s end.

(1) Warehouse club cards – We’ve got three clubs in this area: Sam’s Club, BJ’s & Costco. Here at the Hagopian house, we’re proud to carry cards for all three! They offer tremendous discounts on items compared to retail, and each have membership fees that run about $50/year. If used correctly, they’ll easily pay for themselves in a month. Extra credit to Sam’s Club for their tremendous prices on top notch tires and amazing meats, not to mention a free cookie for the kids and cream and half & half at about 50 percent off retail. Given my undeniable caffeine addiction, you can understand why I’m at Sam’s on a weekly basis.

Check out your local warehouse clubs to see which one best fits your needs (Management should be happy to let you look around before you commit to a membership). Important Note: resist the urge to impulse buy. Many times I’ve heard the tale of those who ran into a warehouse club to buy bread, and emerged dazed and confused an hour later with the bread, 10 bestsellers and a leather sofa. Buddy up with a trusted friend for those first trips if necessary.

(2) Continuing education – We’re lucky around here in that there are schools near everyone to take classes in just about any subject matter you wish. Head online to see what your local schools and colleges have to offer and learn something new this year – it’s empowering. Whether you’re interested in learning Spanish (looks great on a resume), yoga (great for the looming 2014 swimsuit season) or perhaps you’d like to take a class on how to change the oil in your car or how to do your own haircolor (personally, I save about $150/month on that skill alone).

Think outside the box and learn something new – the benefits could extend well beyond your wallet.

(3) A library card – For every 100 people reading this, 95 don’t own a library card. It’s time to unleash your inner book-geek. Library cards are not only free, but can save you hundreds in one year’s time alone. Magazines, cookbooks, instructional videos, workout DVDs, they have it all.

Remember the dozen or so movie DVDs you bought at full price last year (for $15 each), only to watch them once and never touch them again? You just spent $180 on dustcatchers. Or perhaps you went that one step further into debt and saw those movies last year at (gulp, shudder) full movie theatre price. A family of four hitting the movie theatre once a month, sharing one tub of popcorn and two large sodas will shell out $720/year (don’t hate me, I just work here, hate my calculator instead!). Instead, try renting those fabulous flicks at the library for $3 and enjoy with as many friends as you wish, not to mention large amounts of homemade popcorn.

Gang, you get the point – you work hard for your money, don’t let it go to waste in 2014! Keep an iron grip on it, let it grow like bunnies in your bank account. Final thought: Don’t forget to find all of those movie-themed toys at Goodwill for about 95 percent off retail in a few months or so.

Here’s to a fabulously frugal 2014!

Kristen Hagopian is a syndicated radio talk show host and columnist, consumer reporter, motivational speaker and author of “Brilliant Frugal Living.” The Kristen Hagopian Show airs on Philadelphia’s WWDB-AM TALK 860, and nationwide via Business Talk Radio Network. She resides in Chester County with her husband and two children. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

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!

Have a Fabulously Frugal Black Friday! Monday, Dec 16 2013 

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! Don’t laugh, but I thought it might be a good move to start the Column with that bold statement because – terrifyingly – I’m finding myself getting more questions about Black Friday than Thanksgiving at this point! If you (or someone you know) is getting sucked into that psychological phenomena known as “Black Friday”, where you’re convinced you must do the bulk of your holiday shopping doing hand-to-hand combat with other shoppers while you’re still digesting a pound of turkey, sweet potatoes, croissants and a monster helping of desserts, you’re not alone. Read on for outstanding holiday shopping tips that will have your gift list wrapped up faster than you can say “Alka Seltzer”.

Rule #1 – Remember that it’s called “Black Friday”, not “Black Thursday” – I completely respect a retailer’s need to exercise all options to stay financially afloat in this tough economy. How they manage it is completely beyond me sometimes, and I applaud them for it. When a savvy retailer jumps into the shiny boat of “Black Thursday” opening their doors on Thanksgiving day with spectacular sales, they’re simply trying to get an edge over their competition and keep their staff employed. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you find it completely necessary (perhaps due to work schedules, etc.), by all means join them with abandon. But keep in mind that no human being ever left this earth feeling like they should’ve spent less time around the Thanksgiving table with loved ones… and more time gift shopping. Just putting it out there.

Rule #2 – Remember your best shopping buddy – your Computer! Gang, the days of fighting over parking spaces just to earn the right to wrestle into an overcrowded mall so you can argue over the last overpriced bell-encrusted reindeer sweater are over. Instead, grab a cup of coffee, pull a chair up to your computer, put on some Christmas music and do your shopping in a fraction of the time. For kid’s gifts, remember Craigslist for gorgeous toys, clothes, bikes, books – you name it. It’s all there, it’s waiting for you, and it’s generally about 90% off retail. For adults, give a look to Craigslist as well! Antique china, anyone? How about beautiful crystal, cashmere sweaters, jewelry, fur coats or antique books? I’ve bought them all on Craigslist, and I highly recommend it. When it comes to electronics, if you’re buying for anyone under the age of 18, remember that last year’s must-have, overpriced gizmo is now available on Ebay or Craigslist for easily 95% off, and it’s one of the lightest gifts on earth, meaning low shipping costs. No driving, no parking, no hassle – and it all comes right to your door.

Rule #3 – Remember how you felt last January when the credit card bills started rolling in! There’s two possible answers for this. You might fall into the group that opened their January credit card bills with shaky hands, looking at it with your fingers covering 99% of your eyes (as though the numbers could scorch your retinas) and then – upon seeing the amount due – promptly falling into deep despair. Or, you might be part of the crowd that opens your bills without a care in the world, looking at the amount due, cackling with glee and shouting “WOOT-WOOT!” as you do the “Stir The Pot” dance move from the mailbox back to the house. You work hard folks, you deserve to fall into that second category – this year, make sure “Black Friday” means that your books are in the black by the end of the day as well. Happy Shopping, everyone!

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