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

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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

Brilliant Frugal Investments for 2014! Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to a fabulously frugal 2014!

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

The Fabulously “Frugal” Days of Christmas! Thursday, Dec 26 2013 

I’ve loved the non-stop comments from Daily Local News readers regarding their shopping habits this Christmas season (thanks, everybody!). That being said, it was the email from DLN reader and fellow frugalista Marge W., who suggested someone write a “Frugal Days of Christmas” song that really got me thinking. I put out the feelers to get everyone’s input on the best items to focus on, and DLN readers didn’t disappoint – that’s so much for your emails! It was those suggestions – and some serious caffeine – that yielded this festively frugal song, for all of you.

“F” is for the FUDGE – a Christmas staple. Although my Mom still makes the best, Seth M. of Frazer sent me a fantastic recipe that costs just $2 per batch, but makes me look like a million bucks! Perfect for gift giving, hosting guests, and yes, the ideal pick me up for midnight wrapping marathons. Note to self, don’t calculate the carb count. Just don’t go there. Let’s talk carbs in January, shall we?

“R” is for the REINDEER – As in the big, plastic light-up jobs you can put in the yard. The new ones in the stores are a smidge pricey, so I’d suggest you aim for the antique ones on Craigslist that are being practically given away. James R of West Chester apparently has quite a herd of them on his front lawn, much to his kids’ delight, and he paid a fraction of retail for them. James, when that electric bill shows up in January, throw me an email and we’ll figure out how to knock that sucker out.

“U” is for the UGLY SWEATERS that are required by Pennsylvania State Law to be worn, given and received as gifts this holiday season. Extra gift-giving points if the sweaters have obnoxious reindeer horns, hoofs or noses knitted into them. Super bonus points if you find matching mittens. I’m finding that your best bet is to head to your local Goodwill or Thrift Store, although I heard from Annabeth T. in Exton that she found awesome ones for $1 each on Craigslist – you go, girl!

“G” is for the GIFTS – and the more homemade and heartfelt, the better. This Christmas season, I hope you threw out all those outlandish ideas of expensive gifts, and stuck with the presents that were memorable, easy, homemade and inexpensive – see my earlier notes on fudge! See also my notes on how carbs won’t count until January. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“A” is for AMAZON – as in, the website. Home of tons of holiday gifts, priced at a fraction of retail, and many even offered free shipping this Christmas. Kudos to DLN readers who saved yourself the hassle, parking, long lines (and in some cases, tazers) of the local malls and did your shopping right at your computer. When you’re driving around today, have a look at the UPS, Fedex & Postal Service drivers scurrying about. Notice the professional-yet-nearly-panicked looks on their faces? There’s a reason for that – all of the online shoppers kept them in business big time, and those delivery drivers don’t disappoint!

“L” is for the LIGHTS — This was the overwhelming “L” response from DLN listeners – thank you all! You’re all so right, after the craziest days, there’s nothing like driving about and seeing the light displays on homes everywhere – to those who outdid yourselves yet again this year, you rock! Put them all together, you’ve got a fabulously frugal holiday that focuses on all the right things. God Bless you and your families this Christmas, and frugal on, everybody!

Delicious Christmas Gifts that Save Money, Time and Stress! Monday, Dec 16 2013 

Hey gang, it’s happening again. People are freaking out over Christmas gift-giving, and they’re getting set to spend way too much again. The crowds are getting ugly, too – when you start hearing news stories in which the words “Shopping Mall” and “Tasers” go together, you know we’re in for a rough one. When it comes to spending, I’m getting emails you wouldn’t believe, from wonderful people who normally think quite frugally, yet are still convinced that a magnificent holiday is tied to the money spent. So not true! Don’t believe me? Then just gently put the credit card down for a moment and try this little experiment on for size. Think back to your wonderful childhood Christmas memories. Chances are you spent a good 20 years under your parents’ roof. We all have fantastic holiday recollections, but can you name three things you received as gifts as a kid? Many of my readers can recall a cherished bike (myself included, it was a pink Schwinn with red and white tassles, and it was dynamite). Beyond that however, gift memories become extremely hazy; rather, it’s the vivid memories of childhood fun, food, laughter with relatives who came from miles around to celebrate the holiday, and of course, the treasured two weeks off from school that truly stick in my mind. Trust me, your kids and family feel the same way. With that in mind, read on for fantastic, frugal gift ideas guaranteed to be a cherished hit for family and friends, not to mention clients and co-workers!

One of the best gifts of all – fabulous food! Back in Victorian times, the average family spent 25% of their income on food, an incredible number. To add insult to injury, the food of the era often wasn’t even that good, bland due to lack of spices, not to mention created in unsafe conditions a good deal of the time. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that delicious homemade food gifts were a huge hit at the holidays, created with loving care from cherished family recipes, and often sent in tins that were used again and again for years to come. Now that is a memorable gift. For those of you on a tight budget this holiday season (and who isn’t?), it’s time to harness your inner Victorian and put your favorite recipes to work for you. Cookies, candies, brownies, pastries, cakes – whatever your passion, have fun with it, and put the kids to work “helping” (another fun childhood memory of mine). Hit your local dollar store for tins and trays to present them on, et voila! The end result will be wonderful, memorable gifts that will be truly appreciated by the recipients, created for a fraction of the price of forgettable store-bought trinkets. Fabulously frugal side note – these types of gifts ship beautifully as well.

So let’s review – When it comes to frugal gift-giving this Christmas, there are many reasons to indulge your inner Julia Child. First, you’re succeeding in every gift-giver’s goal: You’re sending gifts that will be loved, appreciated, and remembered. Second, when you open your credit card bill in January, you’ll be one of the few that draws a huge sigh of relief at the low number due. Third, you’ll be steering clear of the high-voltage, taser-toting rabid shoppers that are apparently out in full force! Let’s keep the high-holiday wattage to the outdoor Christmas lights, shall we? Merry Christmas everybody, and Frugal On!

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Fabulously Frugal Thanksgiving! Friday, Nov 8 2013 

Hey gang – it’s almost Thanksgiving! How did that happen? Honest to God, it feels like I was just writing about fabulous Springtime getaways and Summertime projects, and now suddenly I’m seeing ads for “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” on television. I love that show, by the way. Every Thanksgiving, I’m tempted to pull a Snoopy and launch plates of popcorn & toast at people as they sit dumfounded around a ping-pong table. So home-video worthy…but I digress.

This year, it’s my turn to have family over, so it’s high time for me to kick the planning into gear to get a fabulous Martha-Stewart-worthy Thanksgiving on the table. If you’re on the hook for Thanksgiving dinner as well, and a dinner of popcorn and burnt toast on a ping pong table won’t quite cut it, read on for some fabulous strategies that will put together a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner for a fraction of the time, effort & stress of years past.

Step One – the Main Course. Chances are excellent a roasted turkey will be a part of your Thanksgiving dinner. Whatever you do, don’t overspend for it! Hit your grocery the week before Thanksgiving, when sales are hitting their peak – with any luck you’ll see prices around .79/pound, perhaps even less! When it comes to deciding what size to get, go with one pound per person, then tack on 4-5 pounds for leftovers. Don’t worry about roasting it, you won’t screw it up. Just pretend it’s a big chicken, show no fear, and shove it in the oven. Honestly, I douse mine in some olive oil, put some salt & pepper on it, baste it once an hour until it’s done, and people rave about it. If I can do it folks, so can you.

Step Two – the side dishes & fun extras – I have one word for you when it comes to the side dishes. Delegate. Seriously, give each and every one of your guests a side dish to do (or a flower arrangement to bring, or decoration to create) and watch your Thanksgiving dinner come together beautifully with nearly zero effort and stress. Think about it – every one of your guests is going to want to bring something as a hostess gift, what better gift than a side dish to be included on the table? Have one relative in charge of potatoes, another on rolls, another on a fabulous salad, one more on yams, you get the point. Your table is stuffed with fabulous food, and your stove burners aren’t doing quadruple overtime. Win-win in my book.

Step Three – the desserts! I have very simple rules regarding desserts at Thanksgiving. More is better, and carbs don’t count. I’m a fan of the “four or more” desserts for this fabulous holiday. I have wonderful family that loves to linger around the table, and I find that four separate desserts, combined with some strong coffee (to make the calories melt away) is just the ticket to keep conversation going for easily an hour after the turkey is put away. It’s fabulous.

Gang, above all else, remember what this wonderful holiday is for – to give thanks for all of our blessings and show those closest to us how much we care. If you’re anything like me, you’re marveling at how quickly the year has gone by – make Thanksgiving the day to kick back and enjoy every minute with family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

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!

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!

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