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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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!

A Fabulously O’Frugal St. Patrick’s Day! Friday, Apr 11 2014 

Okay, I don’t mean to make a lot of what is essentially a “Hallmark” holiday, but I have to be honest – with this ridiculous winter wrapping up (It IS wrapping up, right?…. please?), it’s time for a great excuse for some fabulous Springtime celebrating. St. Patrick’s Day to the rescue! Whether you’re full-blooded Irish-American, or you’re like me and can’t claim a drop in your family tree, read on for fun St. Patty’s Day ideas that will help usher in the warmer weather without frying your wallet.

(1) The Food! – On St. Patrick’s Day, keep it simple and delish with fabulous Irish favorites like Ham and Cabbage, Sausage and Potatoes, etc. Easy to cook, fun to eat, and remember – carbs don’t count on St. Patrick’s Day! I had some great crock-pot ideas sent in from readers (thanks, gang!), and for more super-simple recipes that your family will love, try hitting the “Taste of Home” or “Food Network” websites for fun lunch, dinner & party ideas. For dessert, let the kids decorate a fabulous green themed cake (sprinkles, anyone?) and if you head out for some St. Patrick’s Day fun, and find yourself driving by an extremely popular fast-food chain that features a little (inexpensive) treat called a “Shamrock Shake”, indulge with no guilt. St. Patrick’s Day just comes once a year!

(2) The home décor! – Keep it simple with a trip to your local Dollar Store. I swear, the local stores have taken St. Patty’s day Décor to a whole new level. Highly impressive, and very reasonably priced. Take even moderate care of it, and it’ll store beautifully for next year as well! Side note – if your kids are feeling creative but your schedule is too strapped to get out of the house, dig out the remaining green, white & yellow construction paper from the Christmas holidays and create loop chains to hang around the house. It’s easy, the kids love doing it, and trust me – they look hysterical draped over ever, single, conceivable nook and cranny of your house.

(3) The Crafts! – One word for you crafty types out there. Pinterest. Good Lord – Martha Stewart with a cappuccino I.V. drip running thru her veins couldn’t compete with all of the crafty ideas that Pinterest has to offer. If you’ve never looked before at that website, I urge you to give it a review. Squelch the urge to feel completely overwhelmed, and instead rejoice in all of the fabulous craft ideas that will fit your brilliantly creative kids skill levels perfectly.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everybody – Frugal On!

Get Rid of Fallen Branches – FRUGALLY! Friday, Apr 11 2014 

Hey guys! Again, you’ll never guess where I got the idea for this week’s Column. Good Lord. If your yard is anything like mine, you’ve got huge fallen branches and limbs everywhere. If Mother Nature took out some serious wrath on your yard as well, read on for easy, inexpensive ways (gleaned from readers’ fabulous emails and texts) to rid your yard of the wooden carnage.

One of the most popular responses from readers – rent or borrow a chipper! Around here, rental rates range anywhere from $50-$80 for a few hours, and it’s a fabulous way to transform ugly fallen branches into decorative mulch for your house, or fantastic nutritious mulch for your garden. If you borrow the chipper from a neighbor or friend, make sure you compensate with some mulch they can use in their garden, as well as some fabulous baked goods and/or the beverage of their choice. If you’ve got more mulch than you can possibly use, put out the word to neighbors on social media. One West Chester resident tells me he got rid of a six-foot pile of mulch in one day by mentioning it on his Facebook page!

If you’ve got big piles of branches downed in your yard, and the branches are decently thick (perhaps an inch thick or more), think about listing them on Freecycle or Craigslist. We’ve got a lot of people around here who heat their homes with wood, and giving away your branches for free kindling and firewood is an great solution for everybody involved. If you don’t have the machinery or strength to cut the wood into stackable piles for pickup, make sure that’s clearly stated in your ad. Even if there’s work involved, chances are excellent that the prospect of free wood will still have people responding.

Another great option sent in by readers is to donate the wood to local charities. If you’re interested, start by contacting your local Church or charity and spread the word that you have wood available for free. You get rid of ugly branches in your yard, the tree goes to good use and a needy household gets some extra warmth. Talk about a win-win!

Without a doubt, the most popular method for getting rid of wood in your yard cheaply and quickly – cut it, stack it and put it in your front yard in neat-ish piles with a big sign saying “FREE”. According to readers, cars driving by your property will notice it, and put out the word. Without fail, readers report that even the biggest piles are often gone within 48 hours.

Above all else, pat yourself on the back for surviving another nasty mood swing from Mother Nature. Here’s to a fabulous Springtime!

Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host & Columnist, Consumer Reporter, Motivational Speaker & Author of “Brilliant Frugal Living”. The Kristen Hagopian Show airs Nationwide via Business Talk Radio Network Wednesday nights. She resides in Chester County with her husband and two children. You can find her online at http://www.BrilliantFrugalLiving.com

A Fabulous Valentine’s Day on a Frugal Budget! Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

I have to be honest, between the snow, school closings and power outages, not to mention being the last house in my neighborhood to put away the Christmas decorations, this year’s Valentine’s Day snuck up on me. How is it February already? If you’re like me, stuck in the solid grip of a “Will this winter ever end?!” mindset, Valentine’s Day — when embraced with the proper frugal thinking — can be a holiday godsend that gives us a temporary break against Mother Nature’s wrath. I heard that the average consumer could spend close to $150 on Valentine’s Day this year! Unless a solid chunk of that is on a good pre-owned snowblower, I urge V-day spenders to read on for a trifecta of Valentine’s Day happiness that doesn’t demolish your debit card.

(1) The flowers – You all know me to be a solid, upstanding, card-carrying Frugalista, not easily sucked in by overpriced gifts with a fleeting shelf life. That being said, I’m a huge fan of roses on Valentine’s Day. It’s embedded deep within my DNA, and it shall not be silenced. The trick here is to get them at a fraction of retail, and I know just the places. Hit your local Produce Junction, where a dozen long-stem beauties can cost less than $20, or hit your local warehouse stores where gorgeous flowers await you at very reasonable rates. Side note: If you think the odds of your significant other bringing you roses are about as likely as you being abducted by an alien life force, take the bull by the horns and buy yourself a beautiful bunch!

(2) The jewelry – I have as much need for glamorous jewelry as I do for the long-stem roses. However, see my earlier notes about the chick DNA. Add to that my lifelong adoration of old movies, and you can see where my addiction to vintage jewelry comes from. Guys, take it from me, when the ladies open up a box with a beautiful piece of bling inside, they’ll see jewelry, but you’ll see the solid gold “get out of trouble free” card that could come in handy as the year progresses. Again, the trick is knowing where to find it. Answer: hit your local consignment stores & thrift stores, where jewelry case upon jewelry case awaits you, filled with vintage bling that will make her heart sing, right along with your wallet.

(3) The chocolate – Valentine’s Day with no chocolate makes about as much sense to me as Thanksgiving without a turkey. I mean, really, what’s the point? You could try making your own – I’ve heard from people who do just that, and they earn a huge A+ for effort in my book. However, if your schedule is as pinched as your budget, opt for easier homemade chocolate goodies – chocolate cupcakes get rave reviews, and they’re super simple to create. Remember, chocolate calories don’t count on Feb. 14!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

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

Stay fabulously, frugally warm! Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

Hey gang – looks like January is determined to remind us time and again that we’re in deep winter mode. I’m not trying to whine here (much), but where are the freakishly warm January days that we’ve had in years past? Is having just one January day at 80 degrees too much to ask? Where’s all this global warming I keep hearing about? And my biggest gripe: what’s with the little negative signs next to the temp when we’re talking about wind chills? Who ordered that?

Okay, whining is done. For now. Instead, read on for some fabulously effective frugal strategies to keep your winter heating bill low and your bank account (and body temperature) high – trust me, springtime is right around the corner!

• Time for serious body armor: Some of you know that I grew up in Wisconsin, right off the (windy, freezing cold) Great Lakes. Anyone who grew up in Green Bay knows you’re issued your first pair of long underwear about the time you speak your first words (usually a Lombardi quote). By contrast, I was out shopping recently with a friend of mine (born and raised in Philly), who literally didn’t know what long underwear was. Gang, try them. You’ll not only fall madly in love with the toasty warmth of them, you’ll love the money you save setting the house thermostat just those few degrees warmer.

• Rock those space heaters: Before we had kids, my husband and I wouldn’t hesitate to fire up the kerosene heaters during the coldest days of winter. Now that we’ve got young kids in the house, kerosene heaters (combined with my deeply overprotective parental nature) get me nervous. Edenpure heaters to the rescue! I love these things. Safe, effective, they blast hot air into the room at no risk to kids or pets, and – when purchased on Craigslist – they’re incredibly economical. For extra points, shut the doors in the room as well (or just put easy spring-rod curtains up in doorways) and you’ll find the rooms heat up beautifully.

• Electric blankets and flannel sheets: I am a huge fan of flannel sheets. If you’ve never tried them, I highly recommend it – they hold body heat beautifully and make for a marvelously toasty night’s sleep, even on the coldest winter nights. When it comes to electric blankets, I have to admit I’ve never really gotten into them. However, people who read this column and listen to my show have emailed me more than once to rave about them, so they definitely warrant an honorable mention. At about $25 each, they cost around $1/night to run. Turn down the heat at night and you’ll still have noticeable savings on your heating bill at the end of the month.

• Clean your air vents: We’ve had an entire autumn and winter with the heat running pretty much nonstop. It’s a perfect way to clog up your air vents. If you haven’t cleaned your vents or switched out your air filters in the last few months, be sure to do it soon. Clogged air vents can put a huge (read: expensive) extra burden on your heating system.

Gang, above all else, remember that springtime is just a few months away – until then, hang in there and layer up (with something preferably flannel). You can make it – Frugal On!

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!

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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