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 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

Day 18 Update! Feeding four (fabulously) for less than $300/month! I am so in the mood for Italian… Tuesday, Jan 18 2011 


Hi guys! Well, the snow kept Katie home from school today (Robbie was delighted), so the day became a bit of a blur of Go Fish games, coloring books and a Toy Story 3 marathon, but still managed to get a couple of things done. Updated the website, confirmed a couple more speaking engagements. It’s all good! If you’re anywhere near the East Coast, WHAT is with the ICE?! Is it Springtime yet??

Day 18 Total: $9.68, Total for Month: $167.36!
Today’s Menu:
Morning Coffee: (0.50). Still on the double batches – both kids have colds, which is making for rough nights for them, followed by ugly mornings for yours truly. Poor little boopers. Coffee might not be a nice smushy pillow with soothing music lulling me off to sleep, but it’s a nice 2nd place.

Breakfast: ($1.56) — Four HB eggs for the adults (two each), Cheerios with milk for little people ($1)

Kids’ Lunch: ($0.0) Kids are both home, so they had the leftover chicken & corn from last night.

Adults’ Lunch ($0.70): Leftovers for the adults too – salmon & green beans (Victor brought his to work, along with two big apples, about a pound, $0.70)

Afternoon Snack – ($1.00) More apples & bananas. Life’s good, and it’s a perfect tide-me-over snack for little people.

Dinner: ($5.57) – Huge batch of spinach tortellini with cheese (no preservatives or artificial coloring, LOVE that stuff!), comes in a 1-pound package ($1.39 each), I boiled two packages to ensure leftovers, topped the tortellini with Organic Muir Glen Marinara Sauce ($1.19), parmesan cheese, added a side salad (.50), and baked a gorgeous Simple Sweets Berry Pie for dessert. The berry pie ($1.19) is small, only 4 servings, but only the adults are into it, so the kids had cookies (.25). There will be leftover pie for tomorrow night, so I’m only counting $.60 of the pie’s cost tonight.

Evening Snack: (.35) Popcorn is ON, I’m eating it as I type this.

Total for today: $9.68, total for the month is $167.36!
Off to chill with my good friend TiVo (here’s hoping the kids get more sleep tonight). Night, all!

Frugalista Diet Update: Total for today: $0.83, Total for June: $6.34, PLUS a MONSTER Scharffen Berger score! Thursday, Jun 10 2010

Good evening frugal friends – as the sun sets on Day 10 of the Frugalista Diet, we are doing GREAT. With the help of blogging frugal foodies with fabulous ideas, we’re getting some great fresh recipe suggestions that will undoubtedly help carry me thru the rest of the month. Thanks, guys!

Menu for today!
Breakfast – coffee, two eggs (why change the perfect breakfast?)
Cost = .23

Lunch – Pasta/bean salad consisting of 2 oz whole wheat rotelli topped with the diced tomato & chiles (they are AMAZING, it’s like instant Mexican food). Added black beans, minced garlic, olive oil, S&P, and oregano. Got a great suggestion to add parmesan cheese, and it put it over the TOP. Thanks, Steve! Best part is that there was PLENTY of this leftover for at least TWO extra meals.
Total cost: .24.

Daytime Snack – Mandarin Oranges. LUV these.
Cost = .05

Dinner – Organic Chicken Broth, with another serving of the pasta/bean salad. Wow, grown up food…ALL day!
Cost = .05

Nighttime (blogging) snack – my beloved chocolate, BUT with a twist! Was at the B&B with the news crew today, and it was SO perfect – we headed down the chocolate aisle just as they stocked about a zillion bars of Scharffen Berger chocolate 82% cacao bars. Normally about $4/bar, these were $0.25 each. SCORE! Grabbed about 10 of those, eating one now. Yep, .25, rather than the usual .15 for the Dagoba bars, but hey, we’re celebrating.
Cost: .15

Total cost of food for today: $0.83.

Have a great night, everybody! Keep sending in those great ideas, comments & suggestions! 🙂

Brilliant Frugal Living’s “Frugalista Diet” – Menu for Day 10! Thursday, Jun 10 2010

Howdy, frugalistos y frugalistas! Day 10 on the lovingly nicknamed “Fruga-System” diet, where our heroine is about 30% done with an eating plan that not only takes Chef Boyardee factoids to an obsession (each can runs 71-88% of your RDA for sodium, did ya know?!), but will also show conclusively that just about ANYONE out there can drastically cut their food budgets, and live to tell the tale.

Heard from “Tara” via email (the young lady who inspired this challenge), and she is thrilled at the progress in our little experiment. She & her son are doing great, and getting ever closer to admitting that they too could throw this eating plan into play when their budget gets too tight. My inner egomaniac is already having a great day… 🙂 🙂 🙂

Menu for today!
Breakfast – coffee, two eggs (yup, this WILL be breakfast each & every day. Kris likes her rituals…)
Cost = .23

Lunch – We’re going to do some more pasta, organic whole wheat rotelli this time (.60 per 12 oz box!). Two ounces of that, and I’m going to top it with a bit of the diced tomato & chiles that I have yet to try. That, and some black beans, perhaps a touch of minced garlic & some olive oil, Salt & Pepper, and of course, oregano. Janinne, if you’re catching this menu, Ms. Caterer Extraordinaire, what else should I put on top of this?
Cost: .09 for pasta, .05 for diced tomato & chiles, .05 for black beans, and I’m going to say .05 for garlic, EVOO & spices.
Total cost: .24. (Yikes, hope there’s leftovers…)

Daytime Snack – Mandarin Oranges. Light, & no extra sugar added! (I’m suddenly becoming hyper – no pun intended – about extra sugar in canned goods…)
Cost = .05

Dinner – Organic Chicken Broth, with whatever leftover pasta & bean salad there might be from lunch.
Cost = .05

Nighttime (blogging) snack – my beloved chocolate.
Cost: .15

Total cost of food for today: $0.73. This works – my main goal is just to keep it well below $1 per day (to come in under $25 for the month). So far, so good!

Keep sending in your thoughts, ideas & suggestions!
Have a fantastic day, everybody – only one more day until the weekend! K

Day 9 Total: $0.48 Total for June: $5.51! Wednesday, Jun 9 2010

Hey gang, hope your Wednesday treated you right! Here in Chester County, PA, we’re talking rain, colder than usual, and windy, but kind of nice compared to the blisteringly hot temps the last few weeks. Fabulous not having to put on the A/C today. Considering the latest PP&L bill, this cooler weather TOTALLY works for me!

So as we wrap up Day 9 on the Frugalista Diet, I’m suddenly obsessed with not only saving money, but losing a few pounds as well. Can’t BELIEVE I lost a pound this past week, too cool! Stuck to plan today, and the day FLEW by ’cause I’m getting ready for the “Mary Talks Money” crew to head here to the house tomorrow. At this point, the house looks decent, so all is well in my world.

Total cost for today:
Breakfast – coffee, two eggs
Cost = .23

Lunch – Overstuffed Ravioli. Again.
Cost = .05

Daytime Snack – Dole Peaches.
Cost = .05

Dinner – Leftover soup from two days ago. Total cost: = $0.0

Nighttime (blogging) snack – my beloved chocolate.
Cost: .15

Total cost of food for today: $0.48.

Special Note for the anti-sodium crowd: sodium content for today’s diet was at 92%. Again, the vast majority (80%) was at lunch, but we’re still under the limit, so it works for me!

Truthfully, I’m kind of hungry as I type this, but I’m fighting off the munchie monster by thinking about another weigh-in after week two. That, and looking decent on camera tomorrow.

Love all the nicknames bloggers are giving this diet! “Frugi-System”, “The Bomb Shelter Diet”, “Wallet Watchers” – Great stuff! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Keep sending in your thoughts, ideas & suggestions!

Have a great night, everybody, and wish me luck for tomorrow! K

Brilliant Frugal Living’s “Frugalista Diet” – Day 9, a pound down & under budget for the month! Wednesday, Jun 9 2010

Happy Wednesday everyone! (I shall refrain from using the tacky-yet-hysterical nickname everyone has for Wednesdays…. A fellow blogger just sent me a note opening with an enthusiastic “Happy Hump Day, Frugalista!”, and I nearly choked on coffee. Thanks, Henry! 🙂

Okay, we’re on Day 9 for the Frugalista Diet (FrugalistO to YOU, Henry), and we’re down a pound & right on budget. * WOOP-WOOP! * Today is all about cleaning the house for the “Mary Talks Money” crew coming out tomorrow, although we’ll be spending most of our interviewing time out of the house (doing a bit on the B&B Grocery), thank GOD.

Pretty much staying in all day, which means that I’ll have a much better probability of staying on the proposed menu. That and the fact that (after a day of extreme, amazingly fun over-exersion in Philadelphia yesterday) I’m so sore I can barely move means that I’ll be much more likely to stay close to home & keep to plan. If I have time tonight, I’ll start leafing thru the magazines I got last weekend while I was visiting M-I-L Doris in Brigantine, SUCH a blast! We hit a local church store where I got six of my favorites (Martha Stewart, Victoria, Good Housekeeping, worth $25 at the newsstand) for $3. FAB.

I get questioned pretty frequently on where I find magazines at such steep discounts. I usually have great luck at local libraries (when they sell off their latest editions to make room for the new ones), and church sales, like this weekend. GREAT stuff. If you know of another place to find magazines for next to nothing, let me know! Who pays retail for a magazine anymore?!

Back to Frugalista Diet talk: Menu for today!
Breakfast – coffee, two eggs
Cost = .23

Lunch – Let’s try the Overstuffed Ravioli again.
Cost = .05

Daytime Snack – Dole Peaches – and YES, one day this month I’ll get my act together & mix it with jello. Way summery, I’m SO in the mood for it.
Cost = .05

Dinner – I have some leftover soup in the fridge that I made a couple of days ago (broth, beans, some veggies & spices) that’ll be perfect for wrapping up the day. ALSO, the cost can’t be beat (I counted the entire cost a couple of days ago, so today’s cost for it = $0!)
Total cost: = $0.0

Nighttime (blogging) snack – my beloved Dagoba organic chocolate bar.
Cost: .15

Total estimated cost of food for today: $0.48.

Keep sending in your thoughts, ideas & suggestions!
HAPPY HUMP DAY, everybody! K

Day 8 total: $0.90, Total for June: $5.03 Tuesday, Jun 8 2010

Hey all! Sorry tonight’s blog is so late, I’m still coming down from a fantastic time in Philadelphia today. Off the charts amazing.

The menu for Day 8 underwent a bit of a shakeup, courtesy of my previously mentioned trip to the city. No big deals in budgeting, just skipped the eggs for b’fast & the planned lunch & the canned peaches for a snack. AND, best of all, instead of Overstuffed Ravioli & canned peaches, I ate the most amazing fruit salad I’ve ever had in my life. Yes, it was that good. Truly.

Breakfast – coffee = .15

Lunch – ’86’d the ravioli, and instead had a few bites of a friend’s generously offered amazing fruit salad. Bite of mango, touch of pineapple, bite of strawberry there, I was a mere mortal in fresh fruit heaven! It all became a bit a blur very early in. Not sure if they saw the blog or not, but their generosity was very appreciated. 🙂 Tempted to cost it out at zero, considering it was a gift, but in the interest of exact accounting, I’d estimate the cost at around $0.50.
Cost = .50

Dinner – 2 oz of whole wheat linguine (.09), with a small portion of “Four Cheese” spaghetti sauce that I opened earlier in the week (the entire can was .05, I’m calling this serving .01 worth…)
Total cost: = .10

Nighttime (blogging) snack – my beloved Dagoba organic chocolate bar. I’m ready to call this ritual “chogging”.
Cost: .15

Total cost of food for today: $0.90.

Great ideas sent in by bloggers & facebook buddies suggesting I invest in the upside down tomato plant that hangs from a hook outside, one person wonderfully recommended that I hit a local orchard and see what they want for “drops”, and one other reader recommended joining some kind of a recycling co-op. Great stuff! Keep up the fantastic suggestions! Have a great night, everybody. K

Brilliant Frugal Living’s “Frugalista Diet” – Menu for Day 8, AND a shocking, unexpected development! Tuesday, Jun 8 2010

Howdy fellow frugalistas & frugalistos – hope the day is treating you great! Over here, a truly shocking, “deflating” development. I lost a pound on this diet! WOO HOO! Truthfully, not eating this way for weight loss, and I’ll NEVER argue or question the forces that help me to lose weight, but truly didn’t expect it! Lovin’ it!

The menu for Day 8 is as follows:

Breakfast – coffee, two eggs = .23

Lunch – necessity (and 20 cans in the inventory) dictates that I return to my culinary love, Chef Boyardee, for lunch. Going with Overstuffed Ravioli.
Cost = .05

Daytime Snack – Can of Dole Peaches.
Cost = .05

Dinner – B&B had their usual sale on pastas (some that cost as much as $2.60/box all selling for .60 a box instead!), so our heroine has some wiggle room in her diet. Going with 2 oz of whole wheat linguine (.09), with a small portion of “Four Cheese” spaghetti sauce that I opened earlier in the week (the entire can was .05, I’m calling this serving .01 worth…)
Total cost: = .10

Nighttime (blogging) snack – my beloved Dagoba organic chocolate bar.
Cost: .15

Total estimated cost of food for today: $0.58.

Keep sending in your thoughts, ideas & suggestions!
Have a great Monday, everybody! K

Day 7 total: $0.73 Total for June: $4.13 Monday, Jun 7 2010

Hey guys! Hope you all had a great Monday! Here in Fabulous Frugalville, life is pretty damn great. Ran some errands today, including hitting the Goodwill (yeah, I know, a shocker), and found a beautiful Gucci bag that I SWEAR was looking at me like a puppy in the pet shop window…just lookin’ for a home. A $3 price tag didn’t make it a hard decision… Black leather, it’s like butta. Put wings on me gang, ’cause I’m in Gucci Heaven.

Back to Frugalista Diet Talk – Stuck to plan, very healthy food choices, made a fantastic soup this evening for dinner, enjoying my beloved organic chocolate bar as I type this, and looking at GORGEOUS blue skies at 7:20P here in Chester County, PA!

Breakfast – coffee, two eggs = .23

Lunch – tuna, a side of green beans
Cost (two cans @ .05 each) = .10

Daytime Snack – Can of Dole Pineapple.
Cost = .05

Dinner – another frugal soup, this time consisting of one can of organic chicken broth, add some pinto beans, corn, and peas, along with pepper, oregano, basil. Turned out REALLY well! Would have been great with a salad, but that would have been a budget breaker, all things considered. Ah well.
Cost = 4 cans @ .05 each = .20

Nighttime (blogging) snack – my beloved Dagoba organic chocolate bar.
Cost: .15

Total cost of food for today: $0.73.

Loving all of the suggestions. More than one person has suggested that – for future challenges – I go all organic vegetarian and see what the costs are. I have to agree, it’s an interesting idea. Your thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? I’d love to hear them! Have a great night, everybody!

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