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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