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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Money Smarts for Free!


With tax season already upon us, our thoughts turn from the frivolous to the budget. Here are several websites to help you along the way:

www.creditkarma.com (check your credit score for free)

www.quickenonline.com and/or www.mint.com (free money tracking and budgeting tools)

www.cobraoptions.com (check to see if COBRA is your best option if you lose your job)

www.paycheckcity.com (see if you are over- or under-withholding on your income tax)

www.dinkytown.net (provides a wide range of financial calculators)

I'd say "enjoy," but I suppose that is a bit out of line with this topic! How about "good luck?!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

By (or is that "buy"?) the book


I am an avid reader and love real books (not the "e-books" or audiobooks) - the ones where you can feel the texture of the pages, smell the mustiness of an old volume...and I read everything from mysteries, to biographies; from history to "how to train dogs" (and FYI, that one didn't work!).

I've said before that I love used book stores and picking up used books at the library sale or garage sales. But every now and then there is a book that I absolutely want to own (or buy new for someone as a gift). I am a Barnes & Noble fan and prefer their cafe to any other chain, but I must admit that given my limited purchasing these days, I really can't justify paying for a membership there. They want $25 (might have changed since I used to pay for it!) to provide you with a 20% discount on any purchase you make. That isn't a bad deal if you are a frequent shopper!

I am slowly leaning toward Borders though as their membership is free and you earn rewards...really good coupons to use in the store or online. My deals come out better this way, but again, consider your book/music/gift shopping habits to determine which option is most cost-effective for you!

Friday, January 29, 2010

...and since we were talking about coupons yesterday...


Just a quick note about coupons that I don't believe I've covered in here before...
Did you know that if you have a manufacturer's coupon for an item AND a store coupon (i.e. Walgreen's, Target, Safeway) that doesn't say "manufacturer's coupon" on it, you can usually use both at that specific store, often doubling your savings?!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beauty has its price...and it doesn't have to be outrageous!


Here is a great deal if you ever shop at ULTA Beauty! At www.ulta.com there is a coupon code for 20% off your entire purchase (but read any fine print in advance as sometimes there are exceptions to products included). FYI, the coupon code is 20680 and in addition the site offers free shipping on orders of $50 or more. Your dollars go a long way at ULTA on a normal day, but with the discount you should get some amazing deals!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A new look for the new year!


Starting today, you will notice some changes to my blog - all designed to keep readers interested and to make it easier for you to find archived posts on the topics you are most interested in. Following each post, you will see labels that define the topics covered in that particular post. You can search for other similar ones by entering one of these labels (see the following list)in the blog's search! Following each item in the list is the number of posts on that given topic.

* BARTERING (2)
* BEGGING FOR INPUT (8)
* BEING GREEN (4)
* BOOKS (5)
* CLEANING (4)
* COUPONS/DEALS (37)
* DIY (13)
* DONATING (8)
* EDUCATION (7)
* ENTERTAINMENT (22)
* FOOD HINTS (4)
* FREEBIES (32)
* GARAGE SALES (3)
* HEALTH/FITNESS (5)
* HOLIDAYS (15)
* HOME IMPROVEMENT (5)
* JOBS (4)
* JUST FOR FUN (6)
* MISCELLANEOUS (3)
* MOTIVATIONAL (7)
* ORGANIZING (8)
* PERSONAL FINANCE (17)
* PETS (3)
* PHOTOS (2)
* RECIPES ON A BUDGET (8)
* SCRAPBOOKING (1)
* SOCIAL (1)
* TRAVEL (6)
* WARDROBE (6)


The colors and fonts have been changed - please feel free to let me know what you like or dislike about the new look. Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 22, 2010

On the Road Again...Just Can't Wait...(be glad you can't hear me singing this one!)


Wednesday my husband and I had free tickets to the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction in Scottsdale and fortunately the weather was sunny given the stormy weather now! But, I digress! I saw an exhibit for "Cruise America RV Rentals and Sales" at the show, and it seems like a fun way to take a vacation. Granted I haven't had time to look at the ins & outs of the budget for such a trip (i.e. gas, rental, etc...), but at first look it had the comforts of home and the fun of camping! If you want to check it out for yourself, go to their site: www.cruiseamerica.com Be sure to check out the "Hot Deals" on the site to see the latest specials!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fun, Games and Frugality!


I admit it...I am hopelessly addicted to a couple of the games you can play on FaceBook - in particular one where you are the chef in your own cafe. The catch is, it consumes time and you don't really win anything, so eventually the novelty wears off (though I'm not there yet!).

I did, however, find a link on FaceBook for a game that teaches families how to budget money while playing to win cash or a new car...hmmmm...OK, so I haven't tried it yet, but if you do, let us know if it's just a gimmick or if it has any educational value at all (and, by all means, let us know if you win)!

The web address is: http://www.thefrugalitygame.com/Home/Index.aspx

Monday, January 18, 2010

Free tickets (yay me! as my teen daughter would squeal!)


Yes, I certainly need a life...and preferably an inexpensive one! Hence the reason for my ongoing entries into local radio contests...hey, you never know! Once in CT I won an above-the-ground swimming pool...yeah everyone needs one of those in Stamford, Ct, but still...I WON! On 9/11, I won a gift certificate from a lovely Darien, CT boutique (yeah, and then I took the train into Grand Central in time to see the Twin Towers fall...but that's another story!)...On Wed (this past week!) I won 2 tickets for the Barrett Jackson Auto Auction in Scottsdale via KEZ 99.9.com...YAY!!! I enjoy the show, but David, my husband, is an auto fanatic...a free date!!!! Touche (I need an accent mark on this blasted keyboard!)...vrrrrrooom!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Build your own outdoor fire pit!


I have frequently priced and sighed over the costs of fire pits - you know the ones...copper bowls, brick pits custom-designed or even the less ornate wrought-iron versions. But, no, we still don't have one. Fear not...there is hope for those of us with fire pit delusions and low budgets!

Check out: http://home.aol.com/diy/experts/eric-stromer/how-to-make-your-own-outdoor-fire-pit-instructions

In short here is what you need to do:

1) Locate the area where you want the fire pit to be located and level the ground (avoiding any fire hazards such as structures, bushes, trees, etc.)

2) Determine fire pit size and mark it - then dig a six-inch trench around it.

3) Mix concrete using shovel or hoe and aim for a thick (i.e. peanut butter-like) consistency.

4) Fill pit with concrete, leaving one to two inches of the dirt area for the pit exposed at the top.

5) Level the concrete using a scrap piece of lumber and then allow it to dry for at least four hours (overnight is even better!)

6) Wash rocks

7) Mix mortar to consistency slightly thinner than the concrete and begin stacking the rocks while apply mortar to them, covering about 3/4 of the bottom surface of the rock with a trowel. Continue stacking the rocks until your fire pit is at desired height.

What you need: rocks, concrete, mortar, water, trowel, mixing tub, shovel or hoe, scrap piece of lumber.

I may just have to try this one!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

And when spring cleaning is done...decorate!


As an avid reader of all things "cheap and easy" (well, except Playboy and the like!), I ran across another money (and face) saving article in the 2/1/10 issue of Woman's Day...(yep, just skip my blog and subscribe!...kidding, just kidding!).

Check out the complete article for all 50 cheap and easy decorating ideas, but here are a few of my absolute favorites:

* Add plants to your rooms - they filter out pollutants and "add life" to your home. (ok, my friends know I have the exact opposite of a green thumb, but they do suggest money plants and spider plants as they are the easiest to care for)!

* Move your furniture around...give it a different look with the stuff you have!

* Give a new look to your kitchen by filling clear glass jars with grains, coffee, tea, etc. (hint - check out IKEA)

* Don't replace carpets - get them professionally cleaned (or do it yourself to save a few more dollars) and/or layer a rug on top of them!

* Put out fresh flowers & guest soaps in your bathroom...look like it is guest-ready all of the time...

* Make windows look taller simply by raising your curtain rods!

See the article for even more amazing ideas...you won't believe you didn't think of them yourself...so simple and yet so cool!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Get motivated!


Just something simple today...I think I may have found my (new?) favorite quote:

"Nothing is impossible; the word itself says, 'I'm possible!'"
-- Audrey Hepburn

Share your motivational words to live by with us...can't ever have too much motivation!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'll show you mine if...(nope, not what you are thinking!)


So, in line with my post the other day about sharing, the same Woman's Day article (2/1/10) suggested bartering as another way to save cash. Personally I am not sure how this would work for me...none of the places I frequent (doctor, dentist, grocery store, etc.) really have an overwhelming need for my research and consulting skills, I don't cook well (we've established that, I'm pretty sure!), and I can't teach aerobics or computer programming or design a website. But you never know, this might appeal to you! Check it out on womansday.com or in the print issue...and if you need research, let me know...we'll talk!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spring Cleaning AND a Show!?


First, let me preface this by acknowledging that I do realize it is not spring yet. For those of you in chillier climates, however, I am sure you would agree that our 70-degree weather in Phoenix could be considered spring (even summer for some of you)!

That said, I continue...I spent a good portion of the past weekend cleaning and reorganizing the garage. This is not a small task since (a) it is a 3-car garage and (b) none of our cars can fit in it yet! And, in yet another burst of enthusiasm aimed at saving money this year, I emptied out and canceled our storage unit at our local U-Haul.

The idea that this could be a fun project never (nope, not even once!) crossed my mind. But soon everyone in the family was rummaging through boxes... Legos, stuffed animals, movie ticket stubs, school concert programs...it became cleaning and a family event all at once! Too bad cleaning the kitchen or their rooms doesn't hold the same appeal!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Play nice with others and share...


I found a topic that presents an interesting approach to saving money (Woman's Day, 2/1/10). Co-authors Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow (The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community)suggest working together with our friends and neighbors to share everything from memberships to warehouse stores (& the related bulk purchases!), tools, lawnmowers, babysitting and season tickets to sporting or theatre events. What a great concept! This sort of fits in with the post I did months ago on making extra meals and sharing among friends and neighbors, but this takes it to a higher level! I for one plan to check out this book and see what would work best for our neighborhood. One additional (and very important) word of advice from the authors; you should put everything in writing and make sure everyone involved in the "sharing" is clear on how expenses, responsibilities, time frames and any conflicts will be handled. Let me know if you've read the book and if you've tried this yourself!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Words of Wisdom...


Jennifer Aniston (yes, she of many relationships and "Friends" fame) is quoted in the 2/10 issue of Woman's Day: "I always say don't make plans, make options." How true is this? The best laid plans...well, you know the rest...! Not everything will go your way, but having options in place salvages everything! Keep this in mind during 2010!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Food on the Cheap!


My regular readers are by now familiar with my affinity for any way to make meals on a budget, but let us not forget that often neglected group of cheapskates, college students! So, given that my son who attends U of AZ and of necessity with high tuition and loan rates, often lives on ramen noodles and mac & cheese, I took a great deal of interest in the AOL food article entitled "Cheap Foods" (12/28/09)!

Here are a few highlights, but for all of the associated links, check out this site (and, YES, one of my New Year's resolutions is to figure out how to attach REAL links into my blog!):

http://food.aol.com/dinner-tonight/cheap-foods'?feeddeeplinkNum=0

1) Boxed Macaroni & Cheese: add a couple of spoonfuls of mustard + a pinch of nutmeg to make it tangy. Crumble crackers or breadcrumbs over the top and give it some crunch! And if you are short on milk sub half with water or use extra butter...yum!

2) Rice: add something extra by using fruit juice or broth for some or all of the water.

3) Canned Soup: Bulk it up and make it more of a meal by adding a handful of quick-cooking rice or some pre-cooked pasta. Even fresh veggies (roasted in some olive oil in the oven?) can perk up soups!

4) Frozen Pizza: add some home-roasted (in oven) veggies or sprinkle it with grated cheese and/or diced (or roasted or sauteed) garlic OR fresh herbs.

My own suggestion? (I know, you were just dying to ask...!) Bake a potato in a microwave (every college student has one or at least access to one!) and top it with canned chili, cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, onions, or any/all of the above or just about any other topping that suits your fancy!

Add your own suggestions in the comments section (my son would love any new ideas!)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fame & Fortune? (yeah, right!)


First, I'd like to note that I am relieved that I have gotten past the need to post to my blog EVERY single day of the year...most days, yes, but all is far too aggressive for my taste!

Secondly, I would like to recommend the movie "Julie & Julie" - Meryl Streep is superb as Julia Child - for those who ever saw clips or full versions of Julia's show, you would swear Meryl was the real thing! But, I digress! My main point here is the interaction that Julie Powell received from her so-called "bleaders" - Blog readers - where are you people? I need input, sarcasm (well, a little anyway!), suggestions and above all comments to maintain the interest of everyone (or anyone?) who checks out this blog!

I would love to have a goal like Julie did...anyone have suggestions for something that fits my "modus operandi"? Please advise as fame and fortune would be lovely (though somehow being cheap doesn't seem to warrant a book or screenplay)!

TTFN!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A few more shopping tips to speed things along!


Here are a few grocery shopping hints to start you off this year (you may already know some of these, but just in case...)!

While not all stores have exactly the same layout, fresh foods are generally on the outside aisles while packaged goods are in the center. When making out your grocery list, write down items in category groups (i.e. produce items, meat, dairy, frozen, canned, etc...) so that you don't have to keep running back and forth between aisles.

I've mentioned checking store ads before shopping, but use that info to indicate on your list which items are on sale (mark an "S" by those) and/or which ones you have coupons for (mark with a "C")...best deals may have both marks!

Be sure that you have all of your coupons with you and organized (an envelope is ideal).

Finally, start at the beverage aisle (or pet food possibly) first to get the large, heavier items first to avoid crushing bread, produce, etc. during your shopping trip.

These may seem like "no-brainers" but when you are in a hurry they are easily forgotten!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Freezing your grocery deals


Occasionally my grocery stores of choice will run great deals on steaks, roasts, butter, bacon...you name it! The other day I had a coupon at Albertson's for a deal on pork loin roasts - buy 1, get 2 free (yes, you read that correctly). But we can only eat so much meat in any given week, so into the freezer these items go!

Good Housekeeping (Sept '08) offers some tips for freezing these amazing finds - the following can freeze in freezer bags (or in original packaging and then in freezer bags) for the indicated lengths of time (this assumes the freezer is set at or below 0 degrees F):

Steaks, 10-12 months
Chops, 4-6 months
Roasts, 10-12 months
Hamburger (raw) 3-4 months
Bacon (opened or unopened), 1 month
Lunch meats (opened or unopened), 1-2 months
Poultry (whole bird), 1 year
Poultry pieces, 9 months
Poultry (ground), 3-4 months
Butter, 6-9 months
Blocks of hard cheese, 6 months

They also suggest lean fish (cod, flounder or sole) can freeze for 3-6 months, but oily fish (salmon) for only 3 months.

So, take advantage of sales in your dairy and butcher aisles and freeze some away for a "rainy" day!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Organizing one little item at a time!


Ah, yes, some do spring cleaning, but me, I think of January as my time to "get it together!" I clean, organize and make grandious plans, some of which work and others which roll over and die by the beginning of March. I haven't tried this one myself (sorry, not in the craft/scrapbook organizing phase yet!), but the Jan. '10 issue of Family Circle suggested using those cheap plastic ice cube trays (check your local dollar store) as a great way to store nails, screws, tacks, etc...and from a craft perspective, to separate beads, buttons, brads, etc. Just think of the possibilities! (OK - this may not make it through March with me, but it is a great idea regardless!)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Being Green and Saving Green


Now, as my friends know, I am not "super-housewife" - I am not fond of cooking, interior decoration is beyond my budget at the moment and I am always up for a good Martha Stewart joke...OK, now I will eat my words (since I can't cook, that's my best bet!) - First, I actually prepared a simple, yet impressive meal, from a recent issue of Martha's magazine and my son (who can cook) went back for seconds. Further into said issue (sorry, I neglected to record the precise date, but it is most likely the October or November '09 issue) there was an article about conserving resources in your home - good for both the environment and your budget!

Suggestions included:

* Switching to a "smart" power strip - they save elecricity while protecting your electronics. They recommended Belkin's Conserve surge protector ($50 at www.belkin.com).

* Opting for "low-flow" fixtures in your bathrooms to cut water usage...every little bit helps! These include low-flow showerheads and dual-flush toilets.

Check out tips for all the rooms in your house at www.wholeliving.com/green-home.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Science websites to help your kids


What better way to help our kids who are tech-saavy learn more about science than by introducing them to these three amazing sites?

* At www.tryscience.org, you can find safe experiments using household items.

* At www.earth.google.com, kids can take virtual trips to distant places, explore the ocean floor in 3-D or journey back in time to see sites before and after natural disasters.

* At www.planetforward.org, kids can watch videos about climate change, alternative energy sources and how to reduce their carbon footprints.

The kids are our future so let's set them off with the right tools - a great way to start a new decade!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Include "being charitable" in your resolutions


Even if your wallet is a bit light after the holidays, there are ways to donate to a charity without writing a check or pulling out your credit card. Here are some great suggestions from the Nov. '09 issue of Good Housekeeping:

* Donate used athletic gear for distribution to kids in need (sportsgift.com)

* Donate extra kids' books, markers or other school supplies to teachers who can use the extra help in their classrooms (iloveschools.com)

* Send used DVDs to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for their viewing pleasure (and children's titles will go to families of the soldiers) (amvets.org/taskforcedvd)

* Donate your family's old cellphones to programs that recycle or refurbish them and pass along the proceeds to various charities (reyclewirelessphones.com).

Nothing makes us feel better about ourselves than doing something for someone less fortunate! Happy New Year!