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

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

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!

8 Best Buys for Fall! Thursday, Aug 29 2013 

As the kids get back to school, it’s time to ramp up for another beautiful Autumn.  The cooler weather, the gorgeous foliage, you have to admit, Mother Nature really outdoes herself around here in the Fall.  With that in mind, read on for phenomenal deals your local stores have to offer as we say goodbye to another Summer.

Air Conditioners – I don’t know about you, but after this year’s blistering summer heat, I’m ready to give my air conditioner the appliance equivalent of the Medal of Honor.  If your air conditioner is ready for a replacement, September is the perfect month to shop for it.  Home Improvement Centers nationwide use September as the month to rid themselves of their summertime stock, and they will slash their prices big time to get it out the door. 

Charcoal Grills and Lawn Mowers – Every store that sold charcoal grills and lawn mowers this summer now has the challenge of getting rid of some very bulky excess inventory.  Keep your eyes open for some super sales that can slash prices by as much as 40% in some stores. 

Swimwear – I know I’m dating myself here, but when did swimsuits start costing $200 or more?  Call me crazy, but I really hate spending that much money on an item of clothing that weighs 2 ounces.   Keep an eye out in the next few weeks for mega sales on swimwear that can reduce prices by 50% or more.

Travel and Airfare – Whether you’re considering a cruise, train trip, flights to exotic locales, you name it – travel agencies consider September the top month for discounts on travel.  If you’re in the market for a fabulous trip at fantastic prices, get to your local travel agency and see what they have to offer – you’ll often find prices are reduced by 25% or less!   On a related note:  If you’re planning on traveling for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s, the best time to book and buy your tickets is 6-8 weeks prior, aka now.   If getting over the river and thru the woods to grandmother’s house involves a jumbo jet, get those tickets soon to ensure your biggest discounts.

Shrubs and trees – your local garden nursery was probably doing a booming business during the summer, but still has lots of bushes and shrubbery to get rid of before the weather gets colder.  Scan the circulars and snag some serious deals, often for 50% off.

Cars – At car dealerships across the country, next year’s inventory typically arrives in September.  What does that mean to you?  Sales on this year’s models, that’s what!  Dealerships are ready, willing and eager to get rid of the glut of this year’s models still on their showroom floors.  Get in there, show no fear and snap up a deal!

Cookware – if you’re in the market for some new cookware, Autumn is the month to snag it.  Department stores are clearing their current inventory to make way for some new holiday offerings, and that means that they need to offer some fabulous sales to make some space.  Time for you to channel your inner Julia Child and get yourself some new pots and pans!  Bon Appetit! 

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!

Create a Fabulously Frugal Father’s Day! Saturday, Jun 8 2013 

As another beautiful summer unfolds, we come upon one of my favorite holidays – Father’s Day! When I put out the word to my social media army requesting tips for a fabulously frugal Father’s Day, they didn’t disappoint! For everyone out there with a special Father, Grandfather, Stepfather, Godfather or someone “whose like a Father to me” they’d like to honor on June 16th, read on for a list of four thoughtful sentimental gifts that Dad will LOVE, without breaking the bank!

(1) A Flawlessly Clean Car: Ladies, I hate to break it to you, but you know how you and I personally really don’t mind a somewhat-cluttered car? I mean, really, what’s the biggie about having a baggie of crushed goldfish crackers keeping company with your kid’s empty hamburger wrapper? Newsflash: it makes the guys nuts. This Father’s Day, pull out all the stops with a car-cleaning session that will make him instantly forget the time your daughter left her lunchbox in the hot back seat for an entire weekend…open…with an uneaten dill pickle marinating in 140-degree heat for two days. Plug an extension cord into your vacuum, haul it to the driveway and use every attachment it possesses to reach every crevice from the front seat to the trunk. A couple of rags and some Windex (Febreeze also highly recommended!), and the interior will sparkle as well.

(2) Personalized Golf Balls: For some reason still completely unknown to medical science, 99.9% of Dads are somehow drawn to the sport of golf. Put the paternal DNA in its happy place with personalized golf balls! Get your hands on a dozen or so from his golf bag, scrub them well, and let the kids (or grandkids!) have fun with their favorite markers – I’m told just about every type of marker out there will stick. Make sure the kids initial it and add the year, and you are guaranteed Dad will keep these wonderful mementos for decades to come.
(3) Buffet on the Barcalounger: You know how Moms adore the Mother’s Day Breakfast in Bed? Allow me to introduce the male counterpart: a Father’s Day Buffet on the Barcalounger! Get Dad in his favorite chair, and surround him with the snacks he loves most, as well as a free pass to pick the television programming of his choice (golf, anyone?). It’s a no-carb-left-behind kind of holiday, make sure he does it proud.
(4) Certificate of Achievement: As hard as the Dads in our lives work every day, we exist in an economy where raises and recognition are at undeserved historic lows. It’s time for an Awards Ceremony that shows Dad how much he’s appreciated. Take two minutes on the computer to draft something along the lines of: “For outstanding accomplishment and performance, dedication, commitment to excellence in all aspects of work and home, for being a wonderful husband and outstanding Father, and in recognition of your superb and tireless efforts to support your family well, Happy Father’s Day!” Put it in italics, center it on the page, tweak it a bit here and there for effect, print it out and have the kids sign it. Then put it into a classic frame from the local dollar store. I guarantee you he will hang it with pride.

Above all else, use this wonderful holiday to unabashedly tell the wonderful Dads in your life how incredible they are and how grateful you are for them. A special side note to Victor and my Dad – the two best Dads on Earth – Happy Father’s Day!

Inexpensive Summer Getaways! Saturday, Jun 8 2013 

As the evenings warm up and the remaining days of school count down, it’s time to turn our attention to another glorious summer ahead! However, rather than focus on productive summertime projects (heaven forbid!), my mind is steering more towards fabulous getaways that your family will love and won’t break the bank! I have to be honest, I really didn’t originally see myself doing a Column on this. Then, during last week’s Show I received a call from a listener who admitted to me she was maxed out on her credit cards, her household is living paycheck to paycheck, and she was asking me for advice on how to swing a trip to Disney this year! Um, what? Don’t get me wrong, I adore Disneyland, Disneyworld, Disney movies, and all other things Disney. However, if the budget doesn’t allow wiggle room for a trip of Mickey-magnitude, that’s just the way it is. With that in mind, I put out the word to DLN Readers, asking for fabulous input and their ideas on super-fun-yet-inexpensive trip ideas, and received a boatload – I love you guys! Here’s the top recommendations:
(1) Camping: I know people who literally count down all year to the summer day in which they pack up shop and head to the hills to camp in the outdoors, often for weeks at a time! My childhood memories of family camping trips were total fun, with pop-up campers, cookouts, all fabulous stuff. Best part – you won’t believe how inexpensive it is! Ask your camping buddies for recommendations (if they’re really good friends, ask to borrow their camper!), or Google some of the campgrounds near you to see which are closest and could best fit the bill. My only camping requirement now as an adult: make sure there’s an easy way for me to plug in my coffeemaker. My needs are small.
(2) Dutch Wonderland: I’m right there with DLN readers; I adore this place. In my mind, DW has all of the benefits of Disney without the expensive travel, overpriced hotel and over-the-top pricey food. It’s Mickeyland with Amish carriages, the best of all worlds for my 8-year old daughter and 5-year old son. Best of all, it’s right there in Lancaster, home of fabulous shopping and incredible Amish food. It’s a traveling frugalista’s savings trifecta! Florida, Schmorida.
(3) Washington D.C.: There are so many reasons to love this town, especially the incredible, one-of-a-kind museums, many with free admission, including the Smithsonian Institutes! The Museum of American History, Natural History, and the Air & Space Museum are phenomenal, everyone in the family finds something to love, you can spend all day there (did I mention the outstanding air conditioning?) and it’s all available for free. One of the best things about Washington, D.C. – the hotels just outside the beltway are incredibly reasonable, and the Metro train system is extremely user friendly. Even I can manage it, and that’s saying something.
(4) Downtown Philadelphia: For all that you and I know about Philadelphia, there are dozens of new places, sights and Events you’ve never even heard of (many with free admission!) that await you this summer. Get onto visitphilly.com to see the dozens of Events available each and every day, the vast majority with very inexpensive (or free!) admission. What’s not to love?
The best thing about getaways is that – whatever brings you the greatest summertime fun with your family – there are always strategies to help you do it for less. Here’s to summertime, everybody!

Five Steps to Fabulously Frugal Spring Cleaning! Sunday, Apr 7 2013 

Hey everybody! Enjoy the sneak preview look of next week’s Daily Local News Column! K
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Five Steps to Fabulously Frugal Spring Cleaning!
What a great week! In the last seven days, I’m thrilled to report that my daffodils sprung into bloom, I’ve firmly retired my snow shovel back to the shed and my winter coat is back where it belongs – way in the back of the closet. Way back – as in “not seeing the light of day until at least October” way back. We made it folks, it’s Springtime! What better way to celebrate than with a wonderfully freshened up house – it’s (trumpet blare) Spring Cleaning time! Yeah, yeah, okay – I’d prefer a round trip ticket to Hawaii too, but hey, let’s get our kicks where we can, shall we? Trust me, a sparkling clean house goes a long way towards ushering in the warmer weather perfectly, and with a few – incredibly inexpensive – tricks, you’ll love how fast your house gets into spic and span mode!
Step One – Forget about the expensive household cleaners. Not only are they filled with chemicals I can’t even pronounce (once you get to 14+ syllables, you know you’re in trouble), but they’re ridiculously priced to boot! Make your cleaners effortlessly at home from ingredients that are highly effective and safe for kids and pets to be around as well. Best bet – mix equal parts of white vinegar and warm tap water into a spray bottle and use everywhere. Sinks, windows, vinyl floors, mirrors, fixtures – you’ll love the shine and you’ll adore the price.
Step Two – Declutter. There’s nothing like the feeling of a de-cluttered closet. Start a donation pile with the shoes that you haven’t worn in three years, add to it the suits that haven’t fit in ten years, and top it off with the sweaters that went out of style long before you even bought your suits. Get the picture? Don’t forget to write it all off on your tax return!
Step Three – Throw open the windows! Even the cleanest, dust-free homes could use a massive blast of fresh air after a long (emphasis on long) winter of closed windows. On the next balmy (say, higher than 60-degree) day, throw open the windows for at least 30 minutes, and get a box fan or two running for good measure, to speed things up.
Step Four – Change your Filters! Start with the filters bringing air into the house. While you’re at it, change (and/or clean) the filters in your vacuum cleaner. If you can’t remember the last time you cleaned your vacuum filters, brace yourself. If your vacuum filter is off-the-charts gross (I’m not speaking from experience or anything), placate yourself with the knowledge that all of that dust and gunk are far better in your vacuum filter than embedded in your carpets.
Step Five – Don’t forget the cars! If you think it’s a fabulous feeling coming home to a sparkling clean house, imagine the feeling of driving back to Home-Sweet-Home in a car that looks like it’s right off the showroom floor! Get rid of every speck of trash and ancient grocery receipts, haul your (newly-filtered) vacuum out there with the extension cord and get rid of the pulverized Cheerio and cracker crumbs embedded under the seats, then take your vinegar cleaner spray bottle and go to town getting everything to sparkle.
Above all else, pat yourself on the back for getting through another winter intact. Happy Springtime, everybody!

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