Monday, December 31, 2007

Saving on Baby Shower Gifts

I've noticed this time of year that Target puts a lot of their baby items on clearance. So, it's time to stock up! No, I don't have any kids and am not planning to have them anytime real soon. I'm stocking up my gift closet because I do go to my share of baby showers and know lots of couples who have recently had babies or are expecting.

Gift-giving on a budget can be tough. I see so many things I'd love to buy people, but I could go broke that way pretty quickly! I used to go crazy in the baby department, spending tons of money on people...even people who I wasn't even all that close to. All of that little-bitty pink and blue stuff is so cute! How can you possibly decide what to get?!

A few years ago I was invited to a baby shower for someone I'm not really good friends with. I asked my sister-in-law (who had an infant at the time) what she suggested I get for this person because I had decided I was going to the shower. She said all of the toiletries and other small items are things that people often forget (or don't know they will need). So, I got several items and put them in a basket. It was a nice gift.

Later, when more people I knew were starting to get pregnant, I decided to also give them baskets, bags, or boxes filled with all sorts of necessary (and even some cute) little baby things. They are all things that they will need like rattles, teething rings, wipes, lotion, baby wash, toothbrushes, etc. The good thing is that you can usually find these things on sale and also find coupons for them. I've been able to give much nicer gifts on my budget.

I actually won a contest on for this tip last spring! I got $25 and a huge stack of coupons they clipped from the newspaper. You can read the full Baby Shower Gift Basket tip which is posted on their website.

Here is a listing of my savings by using this idea:

Value: $100.39...Price Paid: $46.41...Saved: 53.77%
Value: $84.86...Price Paid: $49.57...Saved: 41.59%
Value: $70.74...Price Paid: $29.34...Saved: 58.52%
Value: $19.58...Price Paid: $6.55...Saved: 66.55%
Value: $78.57...Price Paid: $40.78...Saved: 48.10%
Value: $31.67...Price Paid: $13.85...Saved: 56.26%

So, even if you aren't excepting a baby, start planning early and stock pile things to make into a nice gift basket when the little one arrives.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Before You Throw Away Your Christmas Cards

It's about time to start putting away all of the Christmas decorations. For me, that also includes recycling the Christmas cards that we've received. For the past several years, I've tried a tip that I've read several times in various places: turn this year's Christmas cards into next year's Christmas present tags.

I look at each card and see if it has a pretty picture that could be trimmed down into a gift tag. The only stipulation is that it can't have any of the personalized message on it/someone's handwriting. Obviously, you also don't want to use the picture of someone else's kids as a gift tag! However, still look at those photo cards. Some of them have nice graphics that you could cut out to use as a tag. If a card has a big design, it could still be used. Larger tags look nice on big packages.

Once you have them all cut out, save the tags in an envelope or paper bag. Store them with the rest of your Christmas gift wrap so that you'll be ready with tags next year.

When you pull them out next December, there are a few different ways you can use them. You could tape it down on the gift box and write the "to" and "from" message on the front. Another option is to punch a hole in the corner and tie it the gift with a ribbon. For this type, you could write a message on the front or back of the tag.

I've found that these gift tags look really nice on plain paper (no design). The tag is the focal point with a pretty picture. I've also been able to match a tag with the wrapping paper (i.e. snowflake tag with snowman paper), which is really cute.

At after-Christmas sales, you can get gift tags at a very, very low price. However, this is a good way to reuse part of your old Christmas cards and have unique, beautiful tags.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Inexpensive Visit with Friends

One night last week, a friend and I wanted to see and catch up with each other. Visiting with friends often involves food and that usually means going out to eat at a restaurant. However, Melissa and I have always had a better way of doing things. One of us will host the other (sometimes just us, other times with more friends). The hostess will provide the main dish of dinner. The other one(s) will bring a salad, sides, or dessert to share. Last week, I made a really easy and very yummy chicken and broccoli casserole, and she brought a great but simple salad. I also had plenty of cheesecake leftover from Michael's birthday, so we enjoyed some of that too.

A potluck dinner is a great way to share food and visit in the comfort of someone's home. It's also an inexpensive way to entertain. In my case, it was nothing fancy, just a home-cooked meal. I find it's a terrific means for visiting with friends, especially if you want to sit and chat for a while.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Celebrating at 3/4 of the Price

For Michael's birthday, I took him to eat at The Warehouse in Old Town Alexandria. Mmmm! This is the 3rd year that we've gone there for his birthday. They have great steaks, so since it's a celebration, we both got the fillet the blackened scallops for an appetizer to share. It's far more expensive than our usual dinners out; however, that's why I save on other things. I can then spend on special occasions without worry.

Yes, we do use coupons even for our birthday meals. One of my coworkers thinks this is so funny (and possibly, so cheap). However, we go to some of the nicest restaurants around for our birthdays -- if we can get a discount too, why not? Actually, I think it is an advantage to having winter birthdays. The fine restaurants in Old Town use coupons to lure patrons to an area that is outside in the cold without much nearby parking.

If you have reason to celebrate or just want an excellent meal at a reduced price, here's the link to the website where you can print the coupons to some of the Old Town restaurants. Unfortunately, they aren't as generous this year as they have been in the past. The last two years the coupons have been buy one entree, get one free. This year, it's buy one entree, get the second half off. But I'll take a 25% discount over none at all.

We save some additional money by eating dessert at home. Michael really likes cheesecake, so each year, I've made him a different variety for his birthday. (This is a perfect time of year to save on baking ingredients too!) This year, I chose a recipe from Southern Living for Warm Fudge-Filled Cheesecake, which has a pistachio crust. Mmmm!

Happy Birthday, Michael!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

It Was Worth A Try

Back in July, I got a new position at work that didn't require me to drive as often as I had been. It also meant I was no longer entitled to having half of my monthly parking fee reimbursed. I crunched the numbers, and it appeared I could save some money if I stopped driving and started taking public transportation. Luckily, I do live an area that has great bus and subway systems. I also live and work in relatively safe neighborhoods. So, I decided I would try it out for a few months and see how it went.

While there have been some trying times...bus was late, bus was too full to stop, bus was early, bus didn't show up, bus was really overcrowded, A/C went out on the Metro on one of the hottest days of the summer, Metro was delayed, Metro was temporarily shut down due to "suspicious package," Metro was packed, and the weather has ranged from blazing hot to freezing cold to extremely windy to pouring rain to slippery ice and snow...all-in-all, it has been a positive experience!

Sure, I gave up a few things when I stopped driving, like my freedom to come and go when I wanted or to load up on groceries at the store by my office before heading home. However, I've found the advantages to taking public transportation far out weigh all of that. Here the benefits:

1. It takes the same amount of time as driving but is generally less stressful.
2. I can read or do other things on the bus/train and while waiting at the stop/platform. I've found keeping a magazine stashed in my bag helps pass the time nicely.
3. I get a little exercise walking to and from my home and office and up and down the escalators in the Metro stations.
4. I get to "experience" the city -- complete with the daily hustle and bustle of the busy sidewalks. It reminds me fondly of the time I spent studying in London in college (where I didn't have a car).
5. I hear live music nearly every morning and some evenings. The street musicians make me smile because it sometimes seems like a movie soundtrack. For example, one gray morning as it was just beginning to rain, the guitarist outside the Farragut North station started playing Rain Drops Are Falling on My Head. Very cool!
6. I'm doing my part to help reduce congestion on the roads and emissions in the air.
7. Most mornings the bus drivers are really friendly and great me with a chipper "Good morning" as I board, and a warm "Have a nice day!" as I exit. It gives me flashbacks to nice bus drivers from elementary school.
8. The Express newspaper distributors are also very welcoming outside of the Metro stations. I don't know where they get their energy so early in the morning, but between them and the bus drivers, they help me get in a good mood.
9. I get to mentally prepare for the day at work and to wind down from the day on my commute, rather than worrying about driving in the crazy DC traffic.
10. I actually get to work and leave work on time because I have to -- I have a bus/train to catch. If I am late, it's usually not my fault.
11. I save the daily wear and tear on my car.
12. I don't have to worry about driving in bad weather.

I get all of these things, plus I've saved money. Between August 1 and December 31, I've estimated that I've saved $300 by changing from driving to work to taking the bus and Metro! In truth, it's probably more than that because the price of gas has gone up since I calculated my average driving cost.

Yes, the price of Metro fare (train and bus) is going up starting January 6. Based on the information on Metro's website, I will be paying 60 cents more per day or about $12 more per month. However, the bus fare will remain the same for people like me who use a SmarTrip card, which is fantastic. That's a 10 cent/day savings. I also don't see any information about the bus transfer fare changing, which is good. Metro has said that they are going to be improving service with the fare increase. Luckily for me, I will actually personally reap the benefits. They are adding 3 more buses to my route in the morning and two more in the evening. Yippee! Maybe that will smooth over some of the frustrations that I do experience on my commute.

So, in the end, my public transportation experiment was worth a try! I'll stick with it, even through the cold of winter.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Little Things Add Up

While I don't have an actual figure to share with you, I'm certain that lots of little things add up to big savings. Here are a few things that I've used or done today that are really easy, cost no additional money, and actually have saved me at least a little money. As a bonus, they all have also helped me be a little more environmentally friendly too.

1. I live in a place that was built in the early 1980s. I'm pretty sure that the toilets are the originals, meaning they aren't the water-saving models that you could get today. As I mentioned in my Frugal $ense winning tip article as well as my Water, Water Everywhere post, I try to reuse some of my excess water in various ways. However, I've also recently put a half-gallon milk jug in my toilet tank. It is filled with water so it will sink to the bottom of the tank. However, each time I flush, that half a gallon of water does not leave the tank or have to be refilled because it stays in the jug. I'm estimating that's about a 2,000 gallon and $18.40 savings per year. Not huge -- but I'll take it.

2. I pay some of bills through means other than mailing a check to the company I owe. However, I still get the statements in the mail which include a blank envelope every time. I save those for when I need to mail something where else (i.e. mail-in rebate). I just write the mailing address on a small slip of paper and tape it on the inside so that it can be seen through the window of the envelope. I haven't bought envelopes in ages, so I'm not sure how much they cost. However, I would imagine I'm saving at least $3-$5 per year.

3. I use grocery bags to line my small trash cans. They aren't exactly pretty, but it works. I just realized something new today. I can tie off or cut down my dry-cleaning bags (the clear plastic ones that cover the clean garments) to fit my small trash cans. Now, I have plain trash bags without the name of a store on them. It looks a little nicer. Again, I don't buy small trash bags, so I don't know how much they cost. However, I'm going to guess that I'm saving at least $5-$8 per year.

Like I said, each of these things doesn't save me large sums of money. However, if someone gave you $30 each year, would you turn it down? That's how I see these little savings tips. They don't take any more of my time or energy, and they save me money. So, I'll keep at it and see what other tricks I can learn to save little bits (which add up to a lot).

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Save Like There Is Tomorrow

A couple of years ago, I took a class through the Virginia Cooperative Extension called Money Talk: A Financial Course for Women. The class itself was free, but it did require a really useful textbook that cost $20. I'd highly recommend Money Talk to any woman -- young or old, lots of money or just a few pennies, zero financial knowledge or a ton. Your local extension office may offer this course too, so look it up.

Anyway, one thing that I learned in this class was to set financial goals. I finally tried it, and it worked really well. Previously, my thought had just been to save whatever I could, for whatever big might come along. However, the Money Talk instructor and textbook convinced me that I should be a little more concrete. After the class, I first tried it and set an actual goal. I figured out the dollar amount for a specific reason and set a date by which I wanted to have it saved. Guess what? It worked!

At the beginning of 2007, I thought I'd set a new financial goal to reach by the end of the year. This time I didn't have a specific reason. I had a few things in mind that might come along even though I wasn't sure if they would. I figured you've got to be prepared! Once again, it has worked because I could actually measure my progress.

Now that I'm engaged and really do have a wedding on the horizon, I'm so glad that I had set a goal for "something" in the future (even though I didn't exactly know it would be for a wedding). "Tomorrow" is nearly here, and fortunately, while things could always be better, I'm in okay financial shape. So, there's my recommendation to you: save like there is tomorrow -- even if you don't know exactly when it will come or what it will hold. Find ways to squeeze those nickels and dimes and turn them into dollars! Whether it is for something exciting like a wedding or just a rainy day, you'll be glad you did.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

My Frugal $ense Pick for December

The new tips are up on's Frugal $ense contest. This month Catherine Lowe of Grass Valley submitted my favorite. It's a slight twist on Stretching One Meal Into Two that I mentioned that I liked in a previous post. It's a good alternative if you don't have a buy-one-entree-get-one-free coupon.

This is a good idea at restaurants that serve large entrees that can easily feed two people. Usually if you order an entree, you can get a side salad for a reduced price (if it doesn't already come with one). Then add one more item (i.e. another side side, soup, or appetizer). It will be less than another entree but be plenty for two people.

Michael and I haven't tried this entree sharing tip yet. However, for a little savings, we have shared a side salad if it costs additional to get one with our meals.

If you like Catherine's tip too, vote "7" for her so it will increase her chances of winning. If she does win, we'll get to learn more similar tips from her when Bankrate does the interview article with her.

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Coupon Codes for Online Shopping

There's still time to do some online shopping before Christmas. A few years ago I discovered Coupon Cabin which is a website that lists a lot of online coupon codes. It took me a little while to remember to actually look before making a purchase, but now I always do. You might find that you can get a percentage off or free shipping for your purchase. Coupons can sweeten a deal that you were already going to buy at a certain place or help you decide where to make the purchase.

There are a lot of places where you can find coupon codes online. Coupon Mom offers them on her website. Sometimes you can find them on Upromise. Look around before you click "

A final tip about online shopping: be sure to check on shipping dates before you order. Obviously, even if you have a coupon code for a percentage off, if the rush shipping is going to cost a lot in order for you to receive it in time, it's not a deal. Think about braving the stores and don't pay for expensive last minute shipping.

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Water, Water Everywhere

My beverage of choice is almost always water. It stems back to my childhood when on a regular basis our only options to drink were orange juice (which I only liked for breakfast), milk (which I've never liked), or water (which I probably chose back then by default). Now, I just like water. Besides liking to drink it, it has several big benefits: it's easy to get (don't need to go to the store); it's healthy; and it's inexpensive (tap water is okay for me).

I've noticed that I never drink all of my water (either the actual water I put in the glass or from the ice that melts). So, over the past couple of months, I've been saving that water in a pitcher on the kitchen counter by the sink. By the end of the week, I have enough to water my 16 house plants. Sometimes I even have more than enough for the plants. When that happens, I put the surplus into the toilet tank when it is refilling after I've flushed it.

No, I'm probably not going to be able to retire early with this little savings plan. However, I do believe every little bit helps. It's not any extra effort, so why not? Plus, I'm helping the environment in a small way. No sense in being wasteful.

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Gifts with Gift Cards

Gift cards have become a really popular way to give in the past few years. There are things to consider like: Is there a fee? Is there an expiration date? Will the recipient remember to use it? I suppose if you are a really good bargain shopper, gift cards aren't necessarily the best way to go. You might be able to get a better gift for less if you hunt for a sale than if you just gave your loved one money or a gift card. However, if you are giving to a bargain shopper who might search out the best deal (especially after Christmas), a gift card might be stretched to get a bigger gift than if the non-bargain shopper just grabbed something at regular price.

But there's something else about gift cards that I've noticed a lot this year: a bonus gift when you buy a gift card. You might be able to get a deal on a gift card and keep the bonus gift for yourself or add it to the gift you are giving. For example, for every $50 gift card you buy at Bertucci's, you get a free $10 gift card. At Baja Fresh, you get a free $5 gift card when you buy a gift card of $25 or more. At Rock Bottom, they will wrap each $50 gift certificate that you buy in their signature pint glass and gift box (only available in person -- I got the info from their e-newsletter).

If you frequent a store or restaurant that is offering a bonus that you would like and you know you will be spending money at that establishment anyway, buy yourself the gift card. In the Baja Fresh example, if you got the $25 gift card, it would be like getting a 20% discount since you get a $5 card free. If you have a coupon for a purchase at this place or if there is a sale, using this gift card you will get an even better deal!

Whether you are buying a present for someone else or would like to take advantage of a deal for yourself, keep your eyes open for bonuses with gift card purchases. (As always, don't forget to read the fine print before you buy. Some of the bonuses can only be obtained if you make the purchase in person.)

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Saving with Surveys

Look a little closer at your receipts before you throw them out or file them. There may be an opportunity to complete a survey about your recent shopping/dining experience in which you are rewarded a coupon for a future purchase.

Just recently, I went to the eye doctor and saw information about an online survey regarding my visit on the bottom of the receipt. I took a few minutes to complete it and was granted a printable coupon for $20 off my next visit. I don't think I'll go again until next year. However, there is no expiration date and you can combine it with insurance benefits and promotional discounts. So, I'm going to save it in my planner under November 2008 and use it next year for my annual exam.

I also got one of these surveys at Baja Fresh. That survey was also short and easy. This one gave me a code to write in the designated blank on my order ticket. If I go back within 30 days and take the ticket with the code, I'll get $2 off my next purchase.

J.C. Penney offered a similar deal. I did the short survey online. They gave me a printable coupon for 15% off my next regular, sale, or clearance priced purchase from one of their stores, catalog, or website which is good for the next 30 days.

I love extra savings!

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Deal of the Weekend

Like I wrote in Holiday Lights & Displays - Part 1 last Friday, Michael and I had planned to go see the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights this past Saturday. It was our 3 year dating anniversary. He was going to also cook dinner afterwards. Oh, I thought...a boy after my heart -- cooking at home (and saving some money!). While cooking a special meal at home would have been a great idea for my "Deal of the Weekend," Michael had other -- secret -- plans for me!

I went to his apartment that evening expecting to do what we had planned. However, when I got there, he said he wanted to give me a gift before we left to see the boats. It was a photo book from Kodak Gallery -- a very cool, hard-bound book with a black leather cover. It was entitled "The Story of Michael & Betsy." Over our 3 years together, we've gone to a lot of places, done a lot of cool things, and taken a lot of pictures. So, he had compiled some of our favorites in this book along with some others that he took on his own of places like where we met and our first date location.

Now, I imagine you can tell where this is leading, but at the time I was clueless (which is actually unusual because I'm pretty hard to surprise). One of the reasons that I thought it was simply a very nice gift (and nothing else) is that over the years I've given him quite a few gifts made from our pictures. I love Kodak Gallery! One of the things I've given him from there is a Christmas snowflake ornament with the first picture taken of the two of us together. Then, last year for our 2 year dating anniversary I made him a cool accordion greeting card with several good shots from that year. So, I just thought that he was finally giving me a gift made with some of our pictures.

I read the book and enjoyed looking at the photos. Then, at the end, the captions read, "After three year of dating, they were as happy as can there was but one question for Michael to ask..." On the last page, there is a picture of Michael in a suit, down on one knee with a ring in an open jewelry box, and it reads, "Betsy, WILL YOU MARRY ME?!?!?"

I said YES! and then he gave me a very lovely ring that he had hidden in his pocket! What a nice story, huh?!

We made a bunch of phone calls to our immediate family, and then decided that we were too excited to actually cook dinner. So, we went to Old Town to walk around for a little while (but only saw a couple of boats...I found out later that whole thing was actually just a ploy). Then, we went to dinner to celebrate at an Italian restaurant on King Street where we had one of first few dates. It was a nice evening! And no coupons were even involved. :-) But that's okay because by having Michael propose to me (and in such a sweet way), I definitely got the deal of the weekend!

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holiday Lights & Displays - Part 3

In Holiday Lights & Displays - Part 1 and Part 2, I've told you about some of the great Christmas decorations in the DC area (and ideas on where to look for displays in your town). Today I will tell you about 2 more of my favorites -- both of which are on Capitol Hill and are free to visit!

Michael and I made a great holiday find at the U.S. Botanic Garden two years ago. Outside, they have an amazing model train garden. The website claims that it will be "bigger and more dazzling this year." I thought it was exceptional the past two years, so this really is going to be a "must-see." Inside, they have seasonal plants and displays. The best part of the indoor decorations is the miniature National Mall made from all things natural. It's so incredible that the landscape architects are able to make models out of twigs and leaves to look like the monuments and memorials. I favor Christmas displays at night, so I recommend you visit on one of the evenings that the U.S. Botanic Garden is open until 8 PM. I also recommend that you choose a night when they have live music. It makes it all the more festive. A bonus to this one for me is that it's nice and warm inside the conservatory!

While you are visiting the botanic garden which is right next to the U.S. Capitol, go take a look at the Capitol Christmas Tree. This year it will be lit on December 5. This tree, unlike the planted National Christmas Tree, is brought in from somewhere in the United States each year. This year, it comes from Vermont and is decorated with ornaments hand-crafted by the people of Vermont. I'm hoping that it has really bright lights like the one in 2005 did because it makes for a great picture when it is really glowing.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

Holiday Lights & Displays - Part 2

Today I'm continuing to talk about holiday lights and displays in the DC area -- and these are free and definitely worth your time! If you missed it, check out Holiday Lights & Displays - Part 1 for some ideas on how to find seasonal activities outside of the DC area.

Last year Michael and I went to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Museum Holiday Open House. You can find the event details for this year on their calendar. We took a tour of this nice museum to see the period rooms from 30 states and DC. For Christmas, the rooms are decorated according to the time and location that the room is exhibiting. They have carolers singing and offer hot beverages and great cookies. Santa was there talking to children. Admission is free! It's one night only (December 5th), so don't miss it.

One of my favorite Christmas activities is to go look at the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in front of the White House. Of course, it's free! This year it will be lit on December 6, and then it is open to the public from December 8 - January 1. While it is open 11 AM - 11 PM, I highly recommend that you go after dark so that you can enjoy the lights. It is probably more crowded then, but worth it. What I didn't realize until I went down there for the first time several years ago is that not only do they have the large National Christmas Tree, but they also have small trees for each state, territory, and DC. Those trees are decorated with ornaments made by people from the respective areas. They also have several model train displays at the foot of the National Tree. There is a blazing hot yule log, a nativity, and a giant menorah. Many evenings they also have organizations performing holiday music (schedule).

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Brrr...Saving Some Heat at the Socket

A few years ago, I noticed a strong draft coming through our electrical outlets. Cold air was pouring in through those little holes. I took off the covers of all of the outlets that are on a wall adjacent to the outside and added a socket sealer before returning the cover. That helped, but I could still feel air coming through the outlet. So, I put in those socket covers that you use to keep children from sticking something in the outlet. It worked! With those two simple and inexpensive measures, I'm helping keep Old Man Winter out. While I'm sure it is helping the heating bill, I'm not able to actually quantify the savings. However, I can definitely feel a difference by the outlets.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Free Holiday Music

Sing we now of Christmas, Sing we now Noel...

There's nothing like a good Christmas carol. Of course, it's even better when it is free. In most places, you can find a radio station that plays all holiday music through Christmas Day. However, live entertainment is best.

You can go to a free hour-long concert at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage every evening of the year at 6 PM. (Can't make it in person? They broadcast them online.) Here's a listing of the holiday concerts that are coming up in December:

December 9: Beltway Brass
December 11: The Peace Ringers & The Carol Ringers
December 14: Merry TubaChristmas
December 16: High Groove Steelers
December 18: Sweet Heaven Kings
December 21: The Junkyard Saints
December 23: Prelude
December 24: Monumental Brass
December 25: All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam
December 28 & 29: Alexandria Kleztet, Holiday Vaudeville, Sean Grissom, Mark Mitton
December 30: Last Train Home

Also, here is a listing of some other DC area holiday concerts (some of which are free) on Holiday Concert Guide.

For areas outside of DC, check, Google, or your local paper for concerts. If nowhere else, many churches and schools have concerts this time of year that are free or low cost. But you might be able to find some in cool venues like Atlanta's Fox Theatre. On December 18, they are having the second annual Larry, Carols, and Mo!, a free holiday concert and sing-a-long with their organist in residence. As a bonus, it's followed by a showing of Miracle on 34th Street. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advanced. (Ticketmaster charges a small service fee or you can just go to the box office.) At this event, they will have donation boxes for new, unwrapped toys and/or non-perishable food for the needy. Consider taking something if you are going. (Read my post entitled Triple the Fun! for some ideas on how to get some inexpensive or free food items. This time of year you can find good deals on toys at most stores too.)

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Holiday Lights & Displays - Part 1

Like I mentioned on Tuesday, Michael and I enjoy finding some great Christmas lights and displays every year. The Washington, DC area is full of some really fantastic ones that are free or low cost. I found a decent list of some of the popular light displays in this area on

December is always packed full, so we try out some new activities each year and also revisit some favorites. This Saturday we are planning to catch the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights on the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria. We saw some pretty creative decorations last year in this unique parade of lights. I'm sure the boaters will have some cool ones again this year. Of course, since it's on the river, you can watch from anywhere long the water for free.

A few years ago Michael and I went to see the Festival of Lights at the Mormon Temple in Kensington, MD. It was okay, but since we didn't live nearby, it wasn't really worth the drive. However, I did like their indoor display of nativity sets from around the world. Two bonuses were that the people there were super nice, and admission is free.

Winter Lights at Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg, MD is definitely worth a visit and the fee. If you go Sunday - Thursday, it's only $10 per car. However, you can also get a $2 coupon at Lake Forest Mall for a Monday - Thursday visit. Turn on some Christmas music and enjoy the slow 3.5 mile drive. It's quite beautiful!

One that I'd like to try out this year is the Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville. It looks like the best deal on this one would be to go Monday - Thursday ($15/car) and use the $3 coupon.

December is a great time to visit DC since there are so many affordable seasonal activities. The museums and other attractions are also less crowded. However, if you don't live in this area and aren't planning to visit this year, check out your local newspaper or Google "holiday light displays" or "Christmas" in your town. You could also check out to see if they list anything for your city. For example, here's an article they have about the best holiday light displays in Atlanta.

Enjoy the season!

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

More Christmas Entertainment Deals

In Discounted Holiday Fun, I wrote about some great deals on holiday productions that are available through Goldstar. (Incidentally, I've noticed that they've added some new tickets which are worth checking out.) There are other ones in the area that budget-friendly too.

The Little Alexandria Theatre is putting on a production of A Christmas Carol. Tickets are only $10 each (plus a $1.50/ticket service charge to buy them online). Michael and I went to see this last year and really enjoyed it. There are no bad seats (even the very last row) at this community theater because it is so small. It only runs through December 9, so get your tickets soon.

The National Theatre in DC offers free performances on Monday evenings and Saturday mornings. In December, they have 3 holiday productions that include:

December 3: Songs for the Season
December 10: Christmas with the Camerata
December 15: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

First Baptist Church of Alexandria does a production of the Living Christmas Tree. Michael and I went to this one year and enjoyed it. The music is really good and the tree is so cool -- but I have to admit the play was a bit cheesy. Nevertheless for $5 per ticket (plus $1 service fee), I recommend it. The only problem is that they sell out fast for the 7 shows. It looks like Thursday night and Sunday night are still open.

You can definitely find quality entertainment that fits into your budget, even during what can be an expensive time of year.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stretching One Meal Into Two

As I've mentioned previously, I like reading Bankrate's Frugal $ense contest tips. Another one of my favorites is from Nora Davis of St. Louis. You can read the full article about her tip here. Basically she's saying that if you go to a restaurant that serves big portions, save half of it for another meal.

Last night, Michael and I went to Southside 815 (with an $11 coupon from the Entertainment Book). I had the very yummy Gulf-Spiced Chicken Breast. It comes with a large serving of black beans and rice and two chicken breasts. I will enjoy the second piece of chicken and some of the black beans and rice tonight for dinner. By stretching two dinners into three and using the coupon, it lowered the average price of each meal (including tax and tip) from $17.50 to $8.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Discounted Holiday Fun

There are so many fun things to do in December. What's even better is that many of them are free or low cost. In the coming posts, I'll highlight some Christmas/winter activities and events in the DC area that are budget-friendly. I'll also point out some websites where you can find other things to do during December in this area as well as other cities across the country.

I just bought tickets for Michael and me to see A Christmas Carol at Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre on Sunday afternoon. The regular price for the Sunday afternoon show is $30, but through Goldstar, I was able to get 2 tickets for just $39. ($15/ticket plus $4.50/ticket service charge.)

This is probably the only holiday event we'll attend this December that costs more than $5 per ticket. (Of course, we will be doing lots more fun stuff that I'll write about in the coming days and weeks, but those things will all be less expensive.) However, there are lots of other good holiday options available through Goldstar:

The Second Shepherds' Play at Folger Theatre for $24

Seasonal Disorder at Source Theater (Washington Improv) for $6

Forgotten Holidays at Source Theater (Washington Improv) for $6

Yes, Season Six, There is a Santa Claus at Source Theater (Washington Improv) for $6

The Nutcracker at Warner Theatre (Washington Ballet) for $40

A Solstice Celebration: Turtle Island String Quartet with Leo Kottke at Strathmore for $18

Babes in Toyland at Atlas Performing Arts Center for $20

A Christmas Carol at Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre for $15-$17.50

SpaJama's Pampered Holiday Shopping Event at Kahler Hall for $17.50

Holiday Wine Tasting at P & C Art Gallery for $15

Christmas with the Camerata in 3 different locations for $12.50

Each event has a service charge which varies, but even with that fee, it's a lot cheaper than paying full price. Goldstar sells out many of their tickets. In fact, the ones for the Holiday Parade of Lights Wine Cruise on the Potomac and the Matzo Ball are already gone, so don't wait until the last minute to buy.

Also, I've just listed the holiday events in the DC area, but through Goldstar, you can also get half-priced tickets to holiday events in Los Angeles, San Franscisco, San Diego, Orange County, San Jose, Chicago, New York, Boston, and Las Vegas.

It's free to join Goldstar, but you have to be member to view all of the info about an event on their website and to get the discounted tickets.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Filling the Freezer

I was just reading this article about how a full freezer uses less energy than an empty one because it has less space to cool. That's a nice bonus for my sister/roommate Angie and me who always have a packed freezer. We have lots of frozen stuff for other "saving" reasons:

1. We both stock up on fresh meats when they go on sale. For example, right now, I have a $16 pork tenderloin that I got for $5 when it went on sale the other week for $1.99/lb. Angie has a London broil that she got when it was buy one, get one free. (We ate the other one the week she bought them.) When we want to eat these things, we won't have to pay full price or have to set our craving aside while waiting until they go on sale again. We already have them in stock!

2. We also take advantage of frozen food deals in the same way. We stash away our favorite ice cream, frozen vegetables, frozen waffles, and frozen dinners.

3. I mention frozen dinners, but they are mostly Angie's since I don't care much for them -- the manufactured kind that is. However, we both freeze leftovers of food we have made. A lot of meals we make (i.e. spaghetti sauce, soups, casseroles, and more) can be frozen and taste pretty good when reheated. It works out well because we don't have to keep eating the same leftovers day after day, and when we need a quick meal, we've got something good just minutes from being ready to eat. (That saves us from eating out when we are too tired or hungry to cook or are short on time.)

4. Sometimes we will even prepare something especially for the freezer to have on hand for a quick bite. Most recently, we have discovered that English muffin pizzas freeze really well. We buy English muffins when they are on sale and use pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and our favorite topping(s) to make little pizzas. These make great snacks or quick meals at home or lunch for work. I have access to a toaster oven at my office, so I just freeze mine uncooked. Angie only has a microwave at work, so she discovered that baking, freezing, and then microwaving them at work is pretty good. We package two pizzas (one muffin split in half) in aluminum foil and freeze them. Mine came out to $0.38 per pizza. (2 packages of English muffins (6 count): $3.05; 1 can of pizza sauce: $1.32; 1 package of mozzarella cheese: $3.47; 1 can of mushrooms: $1.23.) Not bad for a yummy lunch that my coworkers covet!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Deal of the Weekend

This past Saturday, Michael and I had a nice little date that was inexpensive. We got dinner from the prepared food section at Whole Foods. (I have to be careful in that place because I could go broke -- everything is so good!) I had a little sampling of about 10 different salads (and in that I got a little of everything spiced up in lots of great ways: veggies, cheeses, fruit, shrimp, chicken, beef, turkey, tofu, rice, and noodles). Michael chose some warm chili and corn bread for a cold night's dinner. That ran us $17 and some change. For the quality and variety of food, it's hard to beat that deal.

For entertainment and a nice evening at home, we decided to use a Blockbuster coupon he got from cashing in his Coke Rewards points. It included 2 movie rentals, 2 20-ounce bottles of Coke, and a tub of popcorn -- for free! (The total value at Blockbuster was $14.)

Coke Rewards doesn't make any sense for me since I don't drink that many Coca-Cola brand products. It's free, but I'd never collect enough points to earn any prizes. Michael does drink Coke on a regular basis (and other people, including me, give him the points they don't want), so it's a great way to get a little bonus for using something he normally does anyway.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When It's Not Even Worth "Free"

Some things aren't even worth "free" -- meaning, I don't want it even if you give it to me. Last night Michael and I had that experience. We went to see a screening of Margot at the Wedding with Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Jack Black. The tickets were free because I won them through Ytic, an online entertainment guide for DC. I only enter contests for movies that I think I might like. I was definitely wrong this time! That movie was so strange. I don't recommend it at all -- for fee or free -- don't waste your time or money.

A similar experience happened to us when I won tickets last year through the local NPR affiliate (WAMU) to see a modern dance performance at Lisner Auditorium. We got great seats on the second row of this sold out event. There was such a buzz of excitement before it started. I thought, "Wow! We must be in for something good." And the tickets were regular $50 each, so what a deal. Boy, I was wrong! It was one of the most painful two hours that Michael and I have spent in our lives. It was truly bizarre, but apparently, people who are into that kind of thing really enjoyed it. Walking back to the Metro that night as we discussed what we had just witnessed, I laughed so hard my stomach literally hurt. "People actually paid to see that!...and they liked it!" I was screaming laughing! After all, there we were in prime seats -- for free -- and we hated it. Michael threatened to never do anything for free with me again...I laughed even harder.

From then on, I have been more careful about what I get for free, especially tickets to events/shows. I can just leave it for someone who will actually like it. I'd been doing pretty good until last night. Luckily, Michael forgave me because I did buy him dinner (with a coupon of course!). ;-) And at least, we hadn't spent $19 (regular price for two tickets at that theater) to go see it.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's Not All About Me

I'm working towards all kinds of savings goals, and as I've mentioned, I'm hoping to still have some fun while I'm doing it. As I celebrate finding good bargains and ways to save, I am reminded each Sunday at church that it's not all about me, as we sing in the doxology: "Praise God, the source of all our gifts!"

Charitable giving (mostly to my church) is a respectable part of my spending plan. Part of the reason I do work on saving when I'm spending is so that I can afford to keep these gifts in my budget and even grow them over the years. As a Christian, I believe that I am a steward of the money and things I have, but they really belong to God. It is hard to always keep in check with stewardship, but making sure I do give to my church and other charities does help.

I once heard in a sermon that giving helps you feel more secure with what you have, regardless of the amount. I believe that's true. Knowing that I'm able to give away money and other gifts, yet still have plenty to live on, does make me feel more comfortable about my financial situation. I think it's why I can work for a nonprofit when many candidates for jobs with us praise our mission but say it's impossible for anyone to live on the wages we offer -- though admittedly, I'd love to have a higher salary!

Like I mentioned, the bulk of my charitable gifts does go to my church. However, I find a little bit of money to give to other good causes too. I also follow the Cut Out Hunger program and give food, personal care items, and over-the-counter medications to organizations that help people in need for very little money out of my own pocket. (Read my post from 11/7/07 about how I've recently been using Cut Out Hunger.) Some of my favorite charities that you might want to consider too are: Really Awesome Times (an organization that runs a camp for kids in the DC area who are affected and infected with AIDS/HIV -- my sister is the camp director), Girl Scouts, and Art for Humanity.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Preparing for Black Friday

Only in the past few years have I become a Black Friday shopper, hitting the stores to find the best deals on the day after Thanksgiving. There really is an art and a science to being successful at shopping and saving on this day. Read Donna Montaldo's Top 10 Tips to Getting the Best Bargains on "Black Friday" article on for some good ideas to get started.

Preparation is key to survive this shopping madness. Know what people to whom you will give gifts want. Black Friday (particularly during the Early Bird special time period...usually before 10 AM or 11 AM) is no time for window shopping! There are huge crowds of people, frantically trying to get the deals for which they came. It's a crazy scene, and you have to be mentally and physically prepared to navigate through it. You will also have to enlist the help of friends and family (willing and able adults and/or teens) if you are after several hot bargains, even if they are all in one store. More than likely, it won't be possible for one person to do it all. You (and your helpers) will also have to get to the store early (before it opens, which is well before the sun rises). The best deals can sell out within minutes or an hour of the store opening. It's probably going to be cold, waiting outside the store in the dark of the wee hours of the morning, so dress appropriately.

Last year I had my first real experience with serious Black Friday shopping. In the past I had gone to get some bargains, but I knew that if I missed them, it wasn't going to be a big deal. However, last year my brother (and sister-in-law), sister, and I decided that we were going to get Mom and Dad a new computer. Barry found a good one for a great price during Circuit City's Early Bird sale on Black Friday. Actually getting it required the greatest form of sibling team work! We wanted to give this gift without spending a ton.

Barry was at his in-laws in North Carolina. He wasn't too keen on the idea of crawling out of bed before dawn to go to Circuit City, but I convinced him that this was what we needed to do. (Later, he agreed that this was the best strategy. He didn't realize it would be so intense.) Meanwhile, in Northern Virginia, Angie and I split up, staking out two different Circuit City stores in the area. We were all connected by cell phone and reported in to each other once we were in line, as well as our progress once we were in our respective stores.

Unfortunately, poor Angie never even made it into the store. (That's how crazy it was.) She nearly froze too. Barry got into the store, but he was dealing with a new seasonal sales associate who ended up sending him in the wrong direction inside the store, throwing a big road block in between him and the computer we wanted. They sold out before he could get it. I got lucky and probably by chance got into the right line inside the store. When I was actually paying for the computer, I called Barry and Angie to say that I got it. Angie headed home to thaw. I had a bit of a panic moment when it appeared though I had paid for the CPU and monitor, they might not have the CPU in stock because of confusion between the sales associates and stockroom. I called Barry back, and even though he thought it was too late, being a great sport (and having in an interest in getting this deal), he attempted to get back in the computer line. In the end, I got the whole package. Barry also managed to pick up a few smaller items that were deeply discounted in between the time I said I got the computer and when I called back to say I wasn't so sure. (There would have been no way possible for me to manage doing both.)

Mom and Dad got a great new computer. Barry, Tammy, Angie, and I were done our Christmas shopping for them within an hour, getting what we wanted to give them. And we didn't blow our budget doing it -- we saved about $400! Time well spent.

One final tip: if you know you are going to be seeking a hot item, go to the stores this week where you think you might be getting it. Ask a manager or knowledgeable sales associate how the lines will be handled on Black Friday during the Early Bird special time period. If you know in advance where to go, you probably won't run into the situation of being sent in the wrong direction that Barry did at Circuit City last year. For example, if they have separate lines for big screen TVs and computers, you'll want and need to know that before Friday morning.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Making the Most of Your Coupons

For any of you who aren't already familiar with how the Coupon Mom system, which I've mentioned in previous posts, works, here's a segment from WTAE TV/DT in Pittsburgh in which Stephanie Nelson explains how to use it. I've done really well over the past few years using this method to make my grocery and drug store shopping list. It does take a bit of planning before going to the store, but then shopping is super easy and fast...and you save big! As you can see from his comment on my 11/7/07 post, Bryan has had success with Coupon Mom's system too. Both of us prove that you don't have to be a mom to benefit from Stephanie's system.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Treat Your Credit Card Like a Debit Card

I've found some really great tips through Bankrate's Frugal $ense contest. Click here to read my all-time favorite submitted by Patrick Hardy of Cumming, GA.

Like my financially-savvy mom taught me, I've always paid my credit card in full. I use rebate cards like Discover Card so that I can get a bonus for buying every day stuff (i.e. groceries) and bigger things too (i.e. plane tickets). Everything goes on my credit card, partly as a nice way to consolidate bills and partly as a way to maximize the card's rebate. I believe my money should work as hard as I am, and the credit card rebate is one way my money is producing income. However, Patrick's tip helped increase my earnings through the credit card.

I tweaked his tip a little bit to work better for me. I have a certain dollar amount transferred from my checking account to my high-yield savings account automatically semimonthly. Then, I pay my credit card bill from the savings account. (Of course, if you try this tip, be sure you aren't taking too many withdrawals each month from your savings account or your bank will penalize you with a fee.)

If it's a month when I have spent more than what I automatically transfer, I will manually send more money from my checking account to my savings account. If I've spent less, I just leave the money in the savings account for the future. I've been doing this since April. I have been able to keep my expenses low most months. So, now that extra money is my Christmas gift fund! Of course, it's been earning decent interest over the months too.

If you want to use this tip and need a high-yield savings account, email me. I'll send you an invitation to get $25 when you open a new ING Orange Savings Account. (Surly, you've seen ING's ads, commercials, and sponsorships everywhere. It's a legitimate online bank. It's the bank that is now the title sponsor of the New York Marathon and the Georgia Marathon & Half Marathon -- the latter of which Michael and I completed this past March.)

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Online Shopping & Shipping Tip

During the holiday shopping season, online merchants will often offer free shipping for either all purchases or for purchases over a certain dollar amount. When the latter is the case and I haven't reached the minimum amount to get free shipping with my intended purchase, I check to see how much the shipping charge is. If it is equal to or greater than the additional amount I would need to spend to be eligible for free shipping, I'll find something else to buy that will push my purchase to the minimum amount to get the deal.

For example, last December I wanted to give my boyfriend Michael new running shorts for Christmas. They cost $20. In order to be eligible for free shipping, I would have had to spend at least $25. Shipping for the shorts was going to cost $5. So, I found a package of socks that cost $5 and added them to my purchase. Then, I got the shorts and socks (including shipping) for the same price for which I could have gotten just the shorts with shipping. It was like getting the socks, which I added to his gift, for free!

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Monday, November 12, 2007

10 Ways to Spend Less in Stores (for the Holidays)

Stephanie Nelson (aka Coupon Mom) has an article in the December issue of Good Housekeeping. Check it out here and see if you recognize anyone mentioned (hint: in tip #6)! I'm online and in print now! The article is on page 121 of the magazine -- look me up this month when you are in line at the grocery store. ;-)

Like I said in my tip, you can get some really good deals for Christmas by using rebates. Last year, my sister had a flash drive on her wish list. I got one (1 GB) at Office Depot which had a regular price of about $60 for $12 because it was on sale and had $32 in rebates.

Each year, my sister and I get some gifts for the Salvation Army Angel Tree kids in Lynchburg. I got Twister and Connect Four for part of the gifts last year. I saw them for regular price at Toys R Us for $14 and $13, respectively. However, I got them the day after Thanksgiving at Target for $7 each, and I had a $2 rebate from the manufacturer for each game. That made them just $5 each!

As part of our gift to our brother last year, my sister and I got him an Ethernet adapter. The brand he wanted runs about $60-$70 regular price. I found it on for $44 (after a $20 rebate), and they were offering free shipping...and there's no sales tax charged for shipping to Virginia!

Actually, was a really great discovery. Last January, I got a $45 1-GB disk for my digital camera for free after rebate. They didn't charge shipping or tax. Okay, if you want to get technical, I may have had to actually mail in the rebate versus submitting it online (which some places offer), but then it was only the price of a first-class stamp.

I've added the link to's Deal of the Day to my blog (left column). You can find some really great deals (like my free camera disk) that way. You can find other great deals on everything from toys and baby products to sporting equipment and books to appliances and computers to cameras and electronics through too. Free shipping is available on many items. Tax is only charged for items being shipped to CA, MA, and TN.

Here's to having an enjoyable, but less expensive, holiday season!

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Deal for Veterans' Day

Happy Veterans' Day to all of the men and women who have served and are currently serving in the United States military! I appreciate your courage and bravery -- and for putting up with all of the "less glamorous stuff" that comes along with being in the military -- in order to keep this country strong and free.

On Tuesday, I will mail a Thanksgiving card to my friend Amy's husband who is currently serving in Western Iraq. I can only imagine that it would be nice to get a greeting card now and again from home if you are helping fight a war in a far off land. And it's fun to send mail too.

I agree with Kristi's comment (on the 11/8/07 posting) that e-cards are great. I really do enjoy getting email and e-cards from friends and family and sending them too. However, there is something nice about actually holding a card or letter in your hand...but mostly, finding a little treasure in the mail. Apparently, Craig agreed. He even wrote me back! What a nice surprise!

Especially with the holidays coming up, you might consider sending a card to a deployed service person even if you don't know one. The military will no longer accept mail addressed to "Any Solider," so ask around. You probably know someone, who knows someone, who is fighting the current war or is deployed elsewhere. Send them a greeting!

Postage to military addresses abroad (i.e. APO) is the same price as sending domestic mail. So, instead of the regular price of sending a card to Iraq (90 cents), it only costs 41 cents. What a deal!

Today, I went to the Dollar Tree to get some greeting cards. They sell decent ones for just 2 for $1! (Dollar General does too.) Even cheap cards at other places are usually a dollar, so 50 cents is a great deal. But I got them for even less! Discover Card sent me a coupon in a recent credit card statement for 10% off a $20 or more purchase at the Dollar Tree when I pay with my Discover Card. A coupon at the dollar store?! I really stocked up on cards. With the discount, they were only 45 cents each! (5% off each card since they are 2 for $1.) Most people read and then throw away cards anyway. Getting less expensive ones makes sense. Like I said, these cards are nice, so even if someone does keep it forever, it's good enough to be a keepsake. So, I'll be sending a little bit of happiness to Craig for less than one dollar! Now there's a deal!

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Deal of the Weekend

Last night, Michael and I went to an improv show called ComedySportz at the Comedy Spot in Arlington. It's a clean (kid-friendly and funny) show that is similar to Whose Line Is It Anyway. We got some good laughs out of it, and I'm always amazed at people who can think that quickly on their feet. For live entertainment, it was a good deal too. The regular cost for a ticket to the hour-and-half-long show is $14. Of course, we found a discount to make it an even better price!

This deal came through Goldstar, which is a service that sells discounted admission to all sorts of events and live entertainment in the DC area as well as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston, San Diego, and Las Vegas. (Sorry Atlanta!) There is a service fee that varies from event to event, but it's still an over all discount. For example, they advertised half-priced tickets to ComedySportz ($7). The service fee was $3, making the total price $10. So, that was 29% discount off the regular price. I'll take it!

Sign up for Goldstar, and they'll send you weekly emails about deals. It makes for an easy way to find a deal on entertainment.

By the way, if you don't do this already, sign up for a free email account (i.e. Google, Hotmail, Yahoo) that is different from your regular email account. I do that and use mine for things like Goldstar and other places that send emails on a regular basis. It doesn't clutter my regular inbox, and I can go in to look at all of the other stuff once a day in the other email account. It's a way of sorting my mail. Incidentally, I've been with Goldstar a year or more, and I only get regular email from them (no spam).

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Friday, November 9, 2007

No Retirement Fund for Britney

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty tired of hearing about Britney Spears and all of her problems lately. However, when I came across the Britney article on, I did actually read it. According to the article, she has yet another issue: the girl's got no savings or investments. With a net worth of about $100 million, I wonder if she needs it. However, if the reports are true that she has super big spending habits (and in my mind anyway, a questionable future for her career), she might want to consider it. Maybe toning down the lavish lifestyle would help her life in some other ways too.

Regardless of what I think of Britney, this article is a clever way to get people, especially younger ones, thinking about retirement savings. If you are into pop culture and need a little help thinking about your 401(k), here's a good place to start.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

My Frugal $ense Pick for November

I'm a big fan of Bankrate's Frugal $ense Tip contest. I look forward to reading the new ones each month because I've gotten some good ideas from their readers who have submitted tips. Of course, there are the ones that I think are absolutely ridiculous or that just wouldn't work for me. But normally, there's at least one new good idea...

This month, my favorite is "Inexpensive Wedding Invitations." I guess I'm just not really a big card person (though I do actually love sending and receiving mail). So, the idea of finding super cheap wedding invitations is a great idea. Guests are just going to throw away (or recycle) that piece of paper after using it to remember the necessary details of the event's schedule and location. In this couple's case, the postcards of their wedding location sounded perfect and really inexpensive. The invitations ended up having a nice picture, gave the necessary info, and were super cheap. Actually when someone sends me a postcard, I leave it stuck on my refrigerator door far longer than any other mail I receive because it's usually a great photo. I suppose one could argue that there would be no RSVP card, but I think listing a phone number and/or email address would work just as well. (Of course, I'm also pretty casual...and practical...when it comes to this type of thing too. And they may have been able to save enough money to buy a nice dinner on their honeymoon without worry.) If they wanted, the couple could still frame the invitation using one of those two-sided glass frames so that they could save and display the card. Good idea, Janet White!

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Triple the Fun!

Great news for those of us who have a Harris Teeter nearby -- it's triple coupon time! The deal is that they'll triple the value of coupons with a face value of up to 99 cents (limit 20 coupons per visit). This offer is running from Thursday, November 8th through Saturday, November 10th.

Harris Teeter had triple coupons in September, and I saved a bunch. I actually made trips to two different nearby HTs to find items in stock. The first time was one of those transactions that made the cashier say "Wow!" to the amount I saved. I bought $43.87 worth of food, OTC meds, and health & beauty products for $12.62 (a 71.2% savings). On the second trip, I spent $1.04 on $8.05 worth of stuff (an 87.1% savings). These purchases included 7 cans of Campbell's tomato soup, 8 cans of Campbell's chicken noodle soup, and 4 cans of Spaghetti-Os for $4.79 (regular $19.61). I'm giving all of those to charity. Saving like this with coupons and donating the items to charity is what Coupon Mom calls the Cut Out Hunger program. It's a great way to help the needy for just a little bit of money -- all right, and give me a deal fix! ;-)

An easy way to maximize with triple coupons is to use the Grocery Coupon Database on Coupon Mom's website. (You have to register to access it, but registration is free. You can also read the easy instructions on how to use the Coupon Mom system at the Grocery Coupon Database page of her website if you aren't already familiar with it.) Unfortunately, you can't sort by value of the coupons. However, I just scroll down the list looking for coupons less than 99 cents. If it's for a product that I could use or donate to charity (or that a friend would use), I clip the coupon. I then make a shopping list of the items for which I have a coupon (which is easier for me than flipping through a whole stack of coupons at the store). While I'm shopping, I'll look to see if it really is a good deal (comparing the triple coupon item with other brands, including generic). If it's a deal and I need it or could give it to someone who would need it, I get it. If not, I pass...yep, don't use the coupon if it's not a deal!

Coupons are great -- so far this year, I've saved $246.60 in coupons at grocery and drug stores. To me (and my budget on a non-profit salary), that's a decent chunk of change.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

36 More Years

Last week I was on vacation. I stayed in town but had a terrific time touring DC and getting some things done around the house. It was great! (Look at how beautiful the Capitol is -- I never get tired of visiting it.)

Today, after being back at work for just 4 hours, I was ready for another vacation! Yes, my rational brain did remind me that vacation probably wouldn't be nearly as fun without work to make that time off feel special. But today, I was ready for retirement...but I still have 36 more years to go! For me right now, that's more than a lifetime. Oh my!

It's actually good that I have a long time. For one, I really don't want to wish my life away. Secondly, I need time (lots of it) to save for retirement. I once calculated that I was going to need something like $1.2 million in savings in order to live in retirement for 20 years. What?! (It is in future dollars -- with inflation -- but still that's a lot of dough!) So, I'm going to have to either work my entire life or win the lottery?

No, neither of those scenarios will probably happen. Even though the lump sum seems humongous, in small bits (a little out of each paycheck) it's not that bad. (Really!) Check out the Ballpark E$timate on Choose to Save's website and see for yourself.

If you are still worried about how you are possibly going to find any (or more) money to save, wait until your next pay raise. Direct at least half (more, if you can) of the additional money to a retirement savings account (through your employer's plan or your own IRA). Do that as soon as you get the increase so you don't get used to having that extra money in your pocket. This method has really helped me save. Each time I get a pay increase, I go back to the Ballpark E$timate to help reevaluate how much I need to direct to my retirement fund.

In 36 years, I'm sure I'll look back and thank my young self for funding a 20 year vacation!

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Deal of the Weekend

Saturday night, Michael and I went to dinner at the Front Page restaurant in Arlington. They have really great food, and the atmosphere and service are nice too. Thanks to a contest I won on Coupon Mom's website, we had a $25 gift certificate from The total food bill was $35.89, but we got it for $10.89. Once we added in the tip (on the full amount), we only paid $17.50, which was 59% off! Mmmm...that made my grilled shrimp taste even better.

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Eating my paycheck

At the end of 2005, I was reviewing my expenses for the year and realized that I had spent 118% more eating out than in 2004. Whoa! (I also spent 13% more in groceries in 2005 over 2004. Incidentally, I have food expenses (from grocery stores & restaurants) that I incur while on vacation in a different line item.)

I'm not a very big person, and I'm not someone who gets lots of pleasure out of eating. I eat to live, not live to eat. So, how did this happen?

Michael and I started dating at the very end of 2004, so 2005 was really the beginning of our relationship. While I never kept track, I'm certain he paid more than half of the time when we went out to eat. However, I don't believe in anyone taking the full financial burden of a relationship, so I did pay quite a bit...and it showed at the end of the year!

What was I going to do in 2006 to stop "eating my paycheck?" I didn't want to stop dating Michael. I didn't want to cut out eating at restaurants altogether. Remember that I don't want to feel the pain of saving...I want to have fun! So, this was the year that I really started thinking about saving. Over 2005, I cut dining out expenses by 34% (and groceries by 18%)!

Besides reducing the number of times that I ate out, one big help was the Entertainment Book. After the cost of the book and shipping, in 2006, Michael and I saved $167. The book is loaded with buy-one-entree-get-one-free coupons to restaurants we like and others we wanted to try. We also used coupons from the book to do things we like, such as playing mini golf, bowling, and going to the DC Improv. We really were having the same amount of fun at a fraction of the cost.

If you live in one of the 150+ areas of the US or Canada that has an edition of the Entertainment Book, you should consider getting it. If you aren't buying it from an organization as a fundraiser, I recommend buying it through the link on Upromise's website so that you can earn additional savings. Entertainment Book seems to have different deals each day (i.e., free/reduced shipping, book discounts). Watch their website until you find something good. I just bought mine the other day for the full price of $30, but I got shipping for $1 and they threw in a $25 gift certificate to I also got $4.20 in my Upromise account.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

What's so fun about saving?!

Saving is fun!

The title of this blog is actually a play on words. Yes, saving is somewhat of a game to me (how much can I get for just a little bit of money?) -- and games are fun! You can also save your money and resources so that you can do fun things, go to fun places, and have fun with your friends and family. You are actually saving for fun (stuff). Get it?!

Being stressed out about bills, credit card debt, rent/mortgage payments, health-care expenses, etc. is also the exact opposite of fun. Living on a tiny Social Security check (if there is one by the time I get to that age!) or working every day until I'm 75 or 80 also doesn't sound like fun. So, I think saving for the future and saving to ensure I don't have to worry about the many expenses of day-to-day living is indeed FUN!

This summer I won's Frugal $ense contest. As a part of the prize, one of their staffers called me to do an interview that was posted on their website. In that article, I talked a little about this game called "Saving" and some of the fun stuff I can find to do with my money. The interviewer Sheyna Steiner seemed to like the idea of saving on every day things in order to have more spending money. Another person who thought that this was a good idea was Stephanie Nelson. In fact, it was Stephanie who suggested I start a blog and see if I could help other people save and have fun doing it.

So, let the saving and the fun begin!

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