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!

Slash your Back to School Budget in Half! Saturday, Aug 10 2013 

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!

A Gorgeously Frugal Porch and Patio Project! Saturday, Jul 13 2013 

Hey, everybody – I hope you had an outstanding 4th of July! Now that we’re in the middle of another gorgeous summer, the timing is perfect to tackle an inexpensive home improvement project you and your family will love – your porch and patio! This time of year, your outdoor spaces are extensions of your home, extra “rooms” that can provide immense value for outdoor living and entertaining. Put your porch and patio to fantastic use with inexpensive projects that help them look their best.
(1) The Furniture – You’ll want a comfy set of furniture if you’re going to entertain outdoors. Here’s the good news – friends, family and neighbors that went out to buy a pricey new set for their 4th of July parties now need to unload their “old” set. If they haven’t traded up, no worries, dozens (if not hundreds) of people who live within quick driving distance will be trying to get rid of their old set via Craigslist. Time for you to come to the rescue! If you’re one of the lucky recipients of what looks like somewhat-banged up pieces, never fear. Porch furniture is designed to withstand the hard knocks of Mother Nature, and chances are excellent your “weathered” loveseat, sofa and/or chairs will come right back with a little TLC. Your best bet – hit your local hardware store for some outdoor furniture spray paint and go to town! If you have a handful of scratched-up (originally) white pieces, even if they’re from different sets, it’ll spruce right back up with a fresh coat of paint and look completely new by the time you’re done. Perhaps you want to be daring with a dark cherry brown color this time. Maybe the kids want to paint the wicker rocker cherry pink – who cares? Considering what you (didn’t) pay for the set, show no fear and have some fun! If the cushions are looking worn as well, no worries – local department stores, discount stores and thrift stores often have them by the truckload for at least 50% off retail.
(2) The Paint! – Have a look at your porch and patio floors and railings. If the floors are banged up, one can of paint and a huge roller should take care of the job in no time. If the railings need a touch-up, get to it! A small can of paint (and an even smaller brush) will cover scratches and make it look better than ever.
(3) The Plants – One of the best eye-catching colors for your porch and patio is vibrant, summertime green. One of the easiest ways to acquire it is with plants. Many of your local hardware stores and home improvement centers are in the midst of a full-scale “unload it now” mentality with regards to their lush-looking summertime plants. Get your hands on a few tropical beauties (trees, hanging plants, palms, potted flowers) and place them in the corners of your porch and patio where they can pick up the breezes.
Whatever the size of your porch or patio, a weekend, a can (or two) of paint, and a fearless attitude can transform it into an entertaining paradise for family and friends. Viva summertime!

A Fabulous Mother’s Day on a Small Budget! Wednesday, May 8 2013 

Happy Mother’s Day, everybody! If you’re a Mother, Grandmother, Stepmother, Godmother, or you often hear “you’re like a Mom to me!” from someone special – this week’s Column is dedicated to you. I love Erma Bombeck’s quote – “Mothers have to remember what food each child likes or dislikes, which one is allergic to penicillin and hamster fur, who gets carsick and who isn’t kidding when he stands outside the bathroom door and tells you what’s going to happen if he doesn’t get in right away. It’s tough. If they all have the same hair color they tend to run together.” Erma’s right – especially about the hair color. When you’ve got two wildly energetic, dark-haired kids zooming by at Mach 2, it’s tough to know which one you’ve got to scold for squirting toothpaste all over the train set, or who sprinkled KoolAid powder into the toilet to watch it mix into cool swirly colors when they flush. Or maybe that’s just in my house.

I have fabulous news for all of the households honoring Mom this Mother’s Day. Moms are – without a doubt – the most sentimental slobs on earth. Making the day ultra-special requires very little money, just a touch of imagination (and a lot of dry macaroni). If you’re ready to create a fabulous Mother’s Day for the special lady in your life, read on for gift ideas that have historically gone off the charts on the brag-worthy scale.

Noodle Necklaces – How important are these little gems? Let’s put it this way – I’ve received bits of jewelry here & there all my life. I can generally tell you where to find the somewhat-sentimental pieces (High School Rings, special earrings, etc.). However, I can tell you with concrete clarity where my wedding & engagement rings are (left hand, 24/7), and my two noodle necklaces, circa 2007 & 2010 (in a protected, cotton lined box way in the back of my “special stuff” drawer). Trust me, Creamettes never had it so good. if the Mom in your life (of any age) doesn’t have one of these, she’s missing out on the most priceless jewelry on Earth. Get to it.

Breakfast in Bed – the perfect gift from kids, and off-the-charts brag worthy to any and all that cross Mom’s path later that day. Fabulous menu choices (that don’t require an insurance adjuster coming out to the house to assess the damages) are toast with jam, cereal, fruit salad, and a big cup of coffee. Four Seasons, Schmore Seasons, let’s see them make a burned piece of toast topped with strawberry jam and mayo that even comes close to your preschooler’s version. Bon appétit!

Homemade Card –Store-bought cards are lovely, I grant you. I’ve received lots of them in my life. They’re all…..somewhere. However, all of the hand-made cards (and I do mean ALL of them), that my children wrote out carefully in crayon, with the words “I Love U Momy” (with the forgotten “m” smushed in later), are now keeping company next to some very lucky macaroni necklaces. Dads, this means you too. A hand-written paragraph or two, with an extra helping of well-thought out mush, is serious currency, I kid you not. If the idea of hand-writing something puts you into a full blown panic, however, I don’t want that on my conscience. Hitting your local dollar store for a fabulous card is perfectly acceptable as well.

However you decide to celebrate Mother’s Day, make it priceless with your imagination, rather than your cash. To all the Moms out there (including mine!) that make our lives so fantastic, Happy Mother’s Day!

Save Big Money With a Little Car Care! Friday, Feb 15 2013 

I’ve been blogging about saving money for years at this point – you guys know me by now. There are a number of subjects I can speak about with unflinching confidence. Recommendations on chocolate brands, coffee types, body shapewear capable of altering the laws of physics – I’m your gal. Car maintenance recommendations? Not so much. When I was sixteen, my Dad had the herculean task of teaching me how to change a tire and check the oil. The man deserves a medal. Decades later, I haven’t picked up many additional car-related skills, short of managing a Chick Fil-A drive thru without whacking my bumpers. Yet I know that regular maintenance is an excellent money-saving move that will save me big time down the road and extend the life of my beloved, aging car.

So when I decided to do a Column stuffed with tips on keeping cars in great shape and saving you from costly repairs or replacements down the road, I connected with Tim Firlein, Manager at the Tolsdorf Oil Lube Express in Exton (next to Target). This place is great, and Tim is a goldmine of money-saving car info. This family-owned business has been serving Chester County for over 25 years, with four locations in Exton, Kennett Square, Phoenixville and West Chester. You never need an appointment, and in the dozens of times I’ve visited them I’m usually out of there within 15 minutes or so, and that includes the time they take to vacuum out my car. That’s a lot of Cheerios under the seats, my friends – these guys are good. I’m not even going to mention the free coffee, or I shall stray off topic. Suffice it to say it’s divine.
Tim’s top tip for keeping cars in great shape? Keep your eyes on the numbers. Check that oil after every 2nd gas fill up (no excuses, ladies – if I can do it, you can do it!). Have your oil changed at 3000 miles; trying to make your car work thru 5000+ miles between changes (I know many who do) is causing huge stress on an expensive piece of machinery – your car engine. An oil change (and unlimited coffee while you wait) is $36.99. An average car engine runs around $5500. You do the math. Want to talk about another pricey car part? Let’s talk about transmissions. There’s nothing quite like the despair of hearing you have to shell out thousands of dollars to get yours replaced. Been there, done that. Reduce the odds by getting your transmission serviced every 30,000 miles. When it comes to keeping automobiles in good shape on these cold winter mornings, do your car a favor and start it up at least 10 minutes prior to leaving – you’ll be glad you did.

Best of all, Tolsdorf does all of these services and much more, checking filters, fluids, and even tires. Find out more at Bottom line, for busy people like us, they’re a godsend. One of the things I like best is that they’re an ideal blend of a Mom & Pop auto shop combined with the best technology on the market. Everything’s computerized, they’ve saved all of the information on past work so it’s easy to keep track of what needs to be checked and what can wait, and they’ve even gone green with emailed receipts sent right to your computer. The next time you need to get your car serviced, swing by one of their locations for outstanding service that you, your car, and your bank account will love. See you at the coffee machine!

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host & Columnist, Consumer Reporter and Author of “Brilliant Frugal Living”. She lives in Chester County with her husband and two kids. “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs on Philly’s News/Talk 1180 WFYL on Saturdays and Sundays. You can find her online at

Today on The Brilliant Frugal Living Show: Five outstanding strategies to earn more income from home! Tuesday, Jul 17 2012 

Then, Isagenix millionaire Jimmy Smith joins me on the air to discuss his story – a butcher for 40 years who retired due to injury, he turned to a Network Marketing career, and has earned thirty million dollars in the last 10 years. Sound interesting? It’s all today on Philadelphia’s News/Talk 1180 – tune in at 11A (Eastern) or livestream us at the link!

A Brilliant Frugal Homage to Mom! Tuesday, May 8 2012 

Happy Mother’s Day, everybody! To all of the mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, godmothers and “just like a mother to me” ladies out there who know how to stretch a buck and balance a budget in these crazy times, this one’s for you!

M: is for Money – To all the moms who prove daily that a fabulous life doesn’t require a lot of cash. From delicious bag lunches to fun, free library trips to birthdays at the park to gorgeously maintained hand-me-downs, you have mastered the mantra “Never try to keep up with the Joneses,” and in doing so, have no doubt surpassed them in your bank account – not to mention taught the next generation how to do the same.

O: is for Options (Eating Out, or Eating In?) – Guys, need I say it? Don’t spend this Mother’s Day in an overcrowded, overpriced restaurant. You have the opportunity to create one of Mom’s most brag-worthy moments today – breakfast in bed! Strap on the fabulous “World’s Best Cook” apron she got you for Christmas and get to it. Put the kids on toast detail, throw some eggs in a frying pan, try not to break anything as you head up the stairs, and watch Mom as she not only beams with pride at your creation, but eats charred toast and runny eggs with the delicacy and enjoyment of Queen Elizabeth sitting down to tea at the Four Seasons.

T: is for Thrift Stores – One of the last bastions of frugal hope for incredible holiday gifts, as well as an amazing place to score beautiful clothes, books, furniture and jewelry for easily 90 percent off. Is Mom in the mood for any of the above? Hit your local “Tiffanys for Tightwads” and find her something gorgeous!

H: is for Handbags – It goes without saying that, regardless of how many handbags currently line a frugal Mother’s closet, there’s always room for one more. While you’re in your local thrift store, hit the accessories section to peruse the gorgeous selection of Coach, Tommy Hilfiger and Kate Spade lining the shelves. My latest find was a Louis Vuitton number for $9. I’m still glowing from the experience. Got bling?

E: is for Erma Bombeck – It wouldn’t be Mother’s Day if we didn’t acknowledge one of the world’s greatest moms. A classic quote: “Mothers have to remember what food each child likes or dislikes, which one is allergic to penicillin and hamster fur, who gets carsick and who isn’t kidding when he stands outside the bathroom door and tells you what’s going to happen if he doesn’t get in right away. It’s tough. If they all have the same hair color they tend to run together.”

R: is for Radio – Where better for a loudmouth frugalista to honor her favorite, female, frugal role model! Join me on The Brilliant Frugal Living Show today at 11 a.m. on 1180AM WFYL as I have the great honor and privilege of interviewing one of the great frugal minds of all time – my mom! Learn firsthand the strategies and money-saving tactics she used for decades (then handed down to her three daughters, no easy task), to keep the budget balanced, the food fabulous, and the financial goals on track, including a retirement schedule featuring numerous cruises to tropical locales. Mom, did I mention my expert luggage carrying skills?
Happy Mother’s Day, everybody!

— Kristen Hagopian is a Radio talk show host, columnist, consumer reporter, motivational speaker & author of “Brilliant Frugal Living”. The Brilliant Frugal Living Show airs Tuesdays & Saturdays at 11 a.m. on Philadelphia’s 1180AM WFYL. You can find her online at

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!

January Challenge: Feeding 4 (fabulously!) for less than $300/month! Day 29 Update! Saturday, Jan 29 2011 

Hey everybody! I hope you’re all having a fantastic weekend! The snow is beautiful, the roads look pretty clear, and fear not fellow citizens, I’m still not driving on them, so it’s all good. Got a TON done in the house today, lots of stuff organized, feels FABULOUS. Time to veg out on the couch. With popcorn, of course. But first, today’s Challenge Update!

Day 29 Total: $13.79, total for the month is $264.95!

Today’s Menu:
Morning Coffee: (0.50) – another double batch, this time a delicious “Morning Blend”. Packs a nice punch! Definitely adding it to the favorites.

Breakfast: ($4.00) — weekend breakfast calls for something cooked on the stove, I went for French Toast this morning. One loaf of whole wheat bread, one dozen eggs, oil to brown them in, and syrup on top.

Everybody’s Lunch: ($0.00) Loads of lasagna leftover from last night, heated in minutes and everybody loved it.

Afternoon Snack – ($2) More grapes – they are FABULOUS for January, not a mushy one in the bunch. The kids were in heaven. Nice treat.

Dinner: ($6.29) – loads of fantastic wiggle room in the budget, went for a Saturday night dinner splurge. TaiPei General Tso’s chicken for the adults (two HUGE servings for $2.29), with extra rice (.25), and egg rolls $1.50 for 6, so we had leftovers. The kids had a half pound of chicken breast ($1) sautéed in olive oil (.25) with a side of rice pilaf (.50). Made another cake today, this time a yellow one with chocolate icing. It cost $2, but it should last four days, so I’m pricing it out at .50 per day.

Evening Snack: ($1) Big batch of popcorn!

Total for today: $13.79, total for the month is $264.95!

That about wraps up a Saturday night for me, gang. I’ve got a big bowl of popcorn here, and I’m not afraid to use it. Have a great evening, everyone!

Feeding 4 (fabulously!) for less than $300/month! Day 28 Update! Friday, Jan 28 2011 

Hey everybody, Happy Friday! Still beautiful views around here, it really is pretty once everything is shoveled out. Thought the driveway was good to go this morning, it really looked clear, but Katie & Robbie learned a new word this morning when the car slid slowly yet uncontrollably down the driveway, stopping before we got to the street, which was handy, because a PECO snowplow moseyed by a few seconds later. In retrospect, there was no danger, but the crass word I shrieked in the heat of the moment was quickly echoed by little people in the back seat. I explained while hyperventilating how only Mommy talks like that, and they graciously complied. Here’s praying Katie doesn’t repeat it in front of her Kindergarten classmates. I can see the note from her teacher now…

Okay, onto the Challenge Update!

Day 28 Total: $11.05, total for the month is $251.16!
Today’s Menu:

Morning Coffee: (0.50) – double batch is now the norm. I shudder to think of going back to just 4 cups. Perhaps in February…

Breakfast: ($1.25) — two hard boiled eggs each for the adults, apples & cinnamon toast for little people

Everybody’s Lunch: ($0.80) Leftover linguine w/marinara for Victor to microwave at work, Katie had lunch at school (cheese sandwich, juice box, animal crackers and a sugar cookie for .55), Robbie had leftover soup pureed over noodles (.25) and I had leftover soup ($0.0)

Afternoon Snack – ($2) GRAPES! Katie got home from school, and the kids snacked on a pound of grapes – at $1.97/pound it was a bit of a splurge, but we’ve got some good wiggle room in the budget, and they were too gorgeous to pass up at the store today! FABULOUS.

Dinner: ($5.50) – Stuck with the easy-yet-yummy italian theme, went with a lasagna for $5, with salad (.50), and we had some leftover breadsticks from yesterday that wrapped up beautifully (0.0). No more chocolate cake left, so we went with the last of the sugar cookies for the kids (0.0)

Evening Snack: ($1) Double batches of coffee seem to mirror my double batches of popcorn. Works for me!

Total for today: $11.05, total for the month is $251.16!

Okay, not only more snow possible for tomorrow, but another big honkin’ blizzard set for next week. Lordy. Happy Friday, everybody!

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