Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 5/3/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.
  • Tip #1: Remember your reusable shopping bags when you go to the store. Not only are you helping to keep down the use of plastic bags, some stores even reward you for being so conscientious. (Target gives you a 5-cent credit for each bag used. Might not seem like much, but it adds up!)
  • Tip #2: For many of us pet owners, it’s time to start thinking about flea and heartworm meds. Instead of purchasing these from your vet’s office, you can save some money by getting a written prescription instead. Then shop online (at reputable sources) to get these meds online. (For other ideas for saving on pet care, see this post or my guest post on My Pet Savings.)
  • Tip #3: Use olive oil around the house: rub or spray some on your measuring tools for easy clean-up of sticky substances like honey; rub it onto hand and arms (or faces) and allow the oil to soak into the skin for five minutes, then rinse with soap and water to remove paint from skin; rub a bit on a clean rag to prevent streaks, corrosion, and tarnish on stainless steel or brass.
You can check out last week's tips here. All of the tips so far are available here. And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 4/26/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.
  • Tip #1: Keep moving without spending a cent! For a low-cost workout, check to see whether you cable plan offers any free on-demand fitness channels. Netflix has a good selection of online exercise videos. And your local library likely has a good selection as well. 
  • Tip #2: Save time, energy, space and money when wrapping gifts. Instead of having various rolls of paper or gift bags for birthdays, weddings, baby showers, housewarmings, retirements, hostess gifts ... stock only white paper and gift bags. You can then customize with colorful ribbons and/or tissue paper to suit the occasion.
  • Tip #3: An easy, inexpensive way to clean your microwave: Add four tablespoons lemon juice to 1 cup water in a microwave-safe, four-cup bowl. Boil for five minutes in the microwave, allowing the steam to condense on the inside walls of the oven. Then wipe clean.
You can check out last week's tips here. All of the tips so far are available here. And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How to be generous on a budget, Part 1: Charity

Despite signs that our economy is picking up, times are still tough. Grocery prices keep going up, and the cost of gas is frightening. So, how do you strike a balance between being wise with your money and being generous?
The good news is that it can be pretty easy to give back without having to spend a lot.
1.      Pick up extra. If there’s a good deal on something that you use—say, toothpaste or cans of tuna—(or even something you don’t) such that you can get it for free or with little cost, think about picking up that item to donate.  Food pantries will take non-perishables.  Many soup kitchens will take produce. Women’s shelters are thrilled to receive shampoo, soap, toothpaste, feminine hygiene items, deodorant, shaving cream and the like. And don’t forget out furry friends! A can of dog or cat food can be less than $1 and will allow someone receiving their own meals from Meals on Wheels to feed their pet.
2.      Instead of throwing it out, donate it. Did you know that most animal shelters will gladly take old blankets, towels and pillows? Often they can use old stuffed animals and even empty pill bottles (they use them to send home meds with adopted pets). In Rochester we have a “craft thrift store” which accepts and then resells craft items and unfinished craft projects. Many school teachers are grateful to get craft supplies for their classrooms. Old magazines might be welcome at local medical or dental offices; I take mine to the waiting area at my mechanic’s.
3.      Donate your time.  Charitable organizations need physical help as much as they need monetary and in-kind donations. Habitat for Humanity would not be able to build houses if people did not volunteer their time to lay the foundations and build the walls of those homes. The local poor would not get fed at the soup kitchen if volunteers did not help prepare the food. Yes, it is a sacrifice. But it won’t cost you a cent.
4.      Better yet, donate a skill. If you have a professional skill, a few hours of your time donated to a worthy cause can be invaluable. If you’re a seamstress, you could sew costumes for the local high school’s theater department. Or make pillowcases dresses for little girls in Africa. If you’re an artist, you might make a great docent at the local art museum. Do you know how to repair bicycles? There are organizations that help fix up old bikes for kids whose families can’t afford their own. I knit blankets for the animal shelter using leftover yarn and yarn I wouldn’t use for other projects. Project Linus provides homemade blankets to children who are terminally ill or traumatized. If you can read, then you have a skill that is in demand by Literacy Volunteers.
5.      Does your company match gifts? My employer has policy of matching certain gifts, and also offers a “dollars for doers” program where they will match volunteer hours by employees with a monetary gift to the charity. They also provide two paid volunteer days to full-time employees. Find out if your employer offers any similar programs and be sure to take advantage of them.
If you’re not sure where to begin, try VolunteerMatch.org to find a charity that supports what is important to you. If you aren’t sure what charity might be able to use whatever items you have to give, a few Google searches, or looking at local charity “wish lists” might be helpful.

Next up: How to be generous on a budget, Part 2: Gift giving

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 4/19/2011


In honor of Earth Day (April 22), here are three things you can get for free this weekend:
  • On April 22, bring a reuseable mug or tumbler into Starbucks and get a free brewed coffee or tea, hot or iced. Or you can get your free drink in a "for here" cup and enjoy it in the store. (Linmited to participating stores in U.S. and Canada.)
  • Lowe's is celebrating Earth Day by giving away a million trees
    Visit your local Lowe's on April 23 to get your tree.
  • Home Depot is offering free classes on April 23: Live Green. Save Green. Spring Eco Workshop, Eco-Friendly Gardening, Spring Interior Projects Checklist, and/or Spring Interior Projects Checklist may be available in your area. Call your local store or visit http://www.homeimproverclub.com/workshops.aspx?Type=3 to see what they are offering.
You can check out last week's tips here. And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday's Tips for 4/12/2011

This week's three tips to help you conserve time, money and/or resources.
  • Tip #1: Keep a few basic tools handy in a kitchen drawer for everyday use and avoid digging out the toolbox. I suggest this collection should include a flat head screwdriver, Phillips head screwdriver, tape measure, needle-nose pliers and maybe a hammer.
  • Tip #2: Make your own laundry soap. It's pretty easy, really cheap and you'll know what's in it. Find recipes here: http://tipnut.com/10-homemade-laundry-soap-detergent-recipes/.
  • Tip #3: If you have dogs or cats, it's likely that you are constantly battling their fur ... everywhere. To help get the fur off your clothes when you launder them, wash all loads on the highest water level. The higher water level helps jostle the fur out.
You can check out last week's tips here. (Well, they're really from two weeks ago--sorry!)
And if you have a tip to share, I'd love to hear it. Email me

Monday, April 11, 2011

The frugal queen of my castle: Saving on home repairs

So, as previously mentioned, I bought a house toward the end of 2009. Unlike renting a home owned by someone else, owning a house makes you solely responsible. Responsible if the blower motor on your furnace (which furnace happens to be almost as old as you are) goes out on the coldest weekend of the year. And responsible for paying the oil bill to keep said furnace well fed through Western New York winters. Responsible for cutting the grass, shoveling the drive and battling the industrious planting of squirrels. (I’ve got a half-dozen trees growing in the two-foot strip between the garage and the fence that I now have to kill. Thanks guys!) If the roof leaks, or the tub leaks, or the utility sink drain leaks, I’m the one who gets to decide when and how it gets fixed. There’s a definite upside to homeownership; don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the decision I made. But that’s not what I’m talking about today.

What do you do then, when the faucet won’t stop dripping, you need to change the locks or you accidentally flush a plastic bottle down the toilet and it gets stuck? Thankfully, there are options.
1.      Fix it yourself. Seriously, once you stop laughing, you’ll realize that there are some home repairs that aren’t that tough. I replaced my old thermostat with a programmable one. I also changed all the locks myself. I’ve learned how to use a miter box and am steadily increasing my stash of power tools. Don’t take on big projects first, if ever. Ask friends and family if the task is one they’ve completed and the relative level of difficulty. There are great online resources, like doityourself. They tend to be pretty upfront about the complexity of the repairs or improvements. There are also free videos on sites like YouTube that will walk you through basic repairs.
        Home Depot offers free Do-It-Herself workshops that cover various things--like how to change a faucet, paint a room or plant a garden. You might want to look at your town's community or continuing ed courses. You'll often find classes on such topics as how to tile a shower or counter, or how to change a light fixture.
2.     If you have a boyfriend, brother, father, friendly neighbor, etc., who happened to be at all handy at home repairs, now’s the time to beg or barter. Play the damsel-in-distress card if you must. But be aware that there can be consequences. Often home repairs look simple enough—until you attempt to fix them. So, you might assume that the task at hand will simply require something straightforward (a bathroom drain that needs to be snaked) but as the work progresses, it turns out that it’s not that easy (it’s blocked with roots). Will your knight in shining armor know when to say “uncle”? If his attempts to fix the problem make it worse, how will that affect the relationship? And who will cover the cost for the professional?
3.     Find a good handyman. If you can find a competent, trustworthy jack-of-all-trades who can fix things around the house, you’ll save yourself some cash. My handyman has taken care of plumbing and electrical issues for me, as well as put in a door where there used to be a window and replaced my kitchen sink and faucet. He also got the hot water heater working again when the pilot light mysteriously went out. All for $30/hour, plus materials. Hiring a plumber costs about $125 for the first hour and $60 for each additional hour. An electrician will cost about $50/hour.
4.     And, if all else fails, call in the professionals. If you don’t already have a relationship with a plumber/roofer/electrician/landscaper/HVAC-person ask friends and family for recommendations. Also, services like Angie’s List can be a great help in finding someone who is trustworthy and reputable. Sites like ServiceMagic can also be helpful. I do have to admit that in desperation, I used ServiceMagic and went with the person they recommended to replace some gutters. It did not go well, but was resolved in the end.
5.     Also, when dealing with a professional, make sure to get a written estimate. In fact, get at least two, and maybe three. Compare. Ask questions and understand where the differences are. When I needed a new roof, I had one estimate for $3500, another for $4500 and one for $7000. The first was someone who was uninsured. The second was from a reputable, smaller operation recommended to me by friends. The third was from a larger company, one that advertises on television. What were the differences? Well, insurance to start with. The larger company also provided me with lots of glossy, pretty brochures. Their people show up in matching shirts and vans printed with the company logo. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I went with the less formal, less expensive option and saved myself a couple thousand dollars in the process.
6.     If you do hire someone, make sure that you feel comfortable with him (or her) and that he or she is willing to explain what work is needed and how AND WHEN it’ll be completed. This service professional should be able to provide you with a written estimate.  Make sure that whoever you hire (and his or her crew, if applicable) is insured. Also make sure that he or she is bonded. (This allows a client to make a claim to be reimbursed or compensated for any money lost if a contractor quits or abandons a project without completing the project.) If licensing is available (plumbers, electricians), ask whether this person is licensed. Ask for references and call them.
7.     You can also consider a home warranty. There are various companies and various options available. Most of the reviews I’ve read have not been favorable, and most experts do not recommend investing in this type of warranty. The house I purchased was part of an estate and came with a one-year home warranty. It was more trouble than it was worth. First, they sent a plumber who lied to me and/or them (and I had to pay him $100 just to come by and assess.) Then they sent out a roofer who was uninsured and told me he planned to work on my roof during the days after working all night at Wal-Mart. The contractors they used routinely failed to call me. The warranty company got dodgy when I tried to register complaints about their contractors. (You’d think they might care if one of these folks was uninsured!)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Save at the salon

The cut I settled on.
I was raised by a hairdresser. My first job was, in fact, in a beauty salon. My sister and I were often guinea pigs for new techniques and processes. So, I will tend to take risks with my hair that most people probably wouldn't. Things like a new cut or color are usually done on a whim. My hair had gotten fairly long for me and so I decided yesterday that I needed it chopped. I tend to stick with what is roughly a chin-length bob (and this style is no exception.) But as you well know, salon services are expensive. So, here are some ideas to help you save.
First, though, a general rule: remember to tip on the price the service would be without discounts.

So, definitely not a blond...
 Getting the most out the money you spend on your haircut
1. Know what you want before you walk in. If you saw Michelle Williams' pixie cut and want a short cut that resembles hers, print out pictures or take in some magazine photos that show what you want. You're more likely to be satisfied if you--and the stylist--know what you want. It also doesn't hurt to know the lingo--inverted bob? stacked? texturized? You can try using an online program that lets you "try on" different hairstyles. I did this yesterday before getting a new cut. It can provide you with some idea about how styles might look, like, is blond for me? how would I look with bangs? (You can see some of my trials in the photos with this post.)
2. Make sure your stylist knows a little about you. Do you hate your curly hair and so you straighten it daily? How much time are you willing to spend on styling your hair each day?
3. Pay attention during your haircut. If you have questions or concerns about what you see the stylist doing, say so. It's okay to ask him or her to explain why he or she is doing something.
4. Remember styles that don't require a lot of maintenance are going to give you the most bang for your buck.

 Saving money at the salon
1. Use deals from sites like Groupon or Living Social. Make sure you understand what the deal actually entails before purchasing. Is it for a specific type of service, say, a shampoo, haircut and style or a single-process color? Or is it for a dollar amount is services, for example, $25 for $50 toward salon services?
2. Try a discounted salon like Supercuts or Hairzoo. You can get a decent haircut here for $20, but you'll need to be specific about what you want.
I just couldn't resist!
3. Visit the local beauty college for discounts on services. The students are supervised by instructors and many services are available.
4. A number of low-cost nail salons have been springing up in the past decade where you can often get a mani-pedi for less than $40. While the experience here is less pampered than it might be at a more traditional salon (so, no, no one's going to offer you a glass of wine), it is cost-effective.