Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Making Your Own Passport Photo

I saw an interesting tip on's Frugal Sense tip contest this month entitled Create Passport Photo for Pennies. Since I will need to renew my passport that expires this summer, I checked out as listed in the tip. It seems like it would work and would save me some money.

I just looked on the U.S. Postal Service website in the section about applying for a passport. It looks like making your own photo is legitimate. I might have to give it a try!

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Yard Sales: Be Prepared

As I mentioned on Saturday, I'm a novice at "yard-saleing." I've started going to them over the past couple of weeks because I'm hunting for inexpensive picture frames to use at my wedding reception. This weekend my sister asked for me to also keep an eye out for any good tables to use in her new living room or dining room. I warned her that if they are any good, they may not be there by the time I call her and she gets over to the sale. And since I was looking for cheap frames, I was only carrying a few one dollar bills and some change, so I couldn't buy anything for her.

I thought I was being really smart: yard-sale sellers don't want to have to make change for even a $10 bill if I'm buying a 25-cent frame or one for a dollar. However, in lecturing my sister, I missed the foreshadowing of my own lesson -- and I'm still mourning my yard sale loss!

At one of the first few sales I visited, I saw a beautiful framed mirror. It was in perfect condition and was large enough to hang over a sofa or on a dining room wall. The frame looked like it was made from cherry wood -- or at least had a finish that looked like it. It was very classic-looking, and it caught my eye because Michael and I are going to need some nice things to hang on the walls of our new home after the wedding. I saw that it was priced at $15. I only had $11 in my pocket and probably not enough change to make up the difference. I considered offering the seller either $10 or $11, but that would have used up all of the one-dollar bills I needed for buying my picture frames.

I thought that I could go to an ATM that wasn't too far from this yard sale and come back. I suppose I could have told the guy my situation and asked him if he would hold the mirror. But I left, thinking that if it was meant to be, it would be there later in the day when I came back.

A few stops later, I decided that mirror was a really good deal that I had passed up, and I wanted it. I really wanted it! So, I rushed back across town to the ATM and then to the yard sale with the mirror. I jumped out of my car, looking to see if it was still there. It was!...but a lady had her hand on it. I rushed over, just in time to hear her ask the seller if he would give it to her for $10 instead of $15. And he did!

Yes, yes. I have since realized that I was so dumb to pass it up when I first saw it because I now know that a frame like that would sell in a store for at least $100. But in the last couple of days I've seen some similar ones at J.C. Penney that cost between $150 and $200. And I could have had it for $15 or even $10.

So, I've learned that I need to be prepared when going to yard sales (beyond just my route map), and here's how:

1. Know exactly what I need (i.e. small wooden picture frames) and the maximum amount I'm willing to pay (i.e. $1.00).

2. Have small bills and change on hand to make the transactions easier.

3. Know what other things I could use (i.e. furniture, wall hangings) even if I'm not specifically searching for them. Know a ballpark of their retail prices so that I'll know a steal (like that $15 framed mirror) as soon as I see it.

4. In addition to my small bills and change, have a larger bill or two on hand too. Stash it away for the next week if I don't spend it this week. (Don't spend it mid-week on groceries, etc.)

5. Stay focused and don't buy random stuff that I don't need -- but not so focused that I miss good deals again.

6. Negotiate with the seller to try to get a lower price. (I know - that's a major tenet of yard sales.)

7. If I don't have enough cash and can't get it within the range of what I have with me but still want it, ask the seller if he would hold the item if I come back with in X number of minutes with enough cash.

8. Don't hesitate. If I see a deal, don't walk away to think about it. It won't be there when I get back.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Yard Sales: On a Mission

For really the first time in my life, I've started going to yard sales on Saturday mornings. Looking just to look isn't really my thing. However, I'm hunting for very inexpensive wooden picture frames that I will paint and use on the tables at my wedding reception.

Last Saturday was my first time out. I scored 8 frames for a total of $4.25. (Not bad considering the cheapest ones I found at Target are $2.99, and the ones at Goodwill are $1.99.) I need about 50 of them, so the cheaper, the better! Today I searched again but wasn't as successful in terms of the number I found. However, the one frame I found was just 25 cents!

Here's how I make my plan of action: I look on Craigslist under "garage sales" in my area. Then, I pull out 9 of the ones that seem like they could be the most promising. Multiple family/house yard sales are the best because I can hit a bunch at once. Then, I start plugging in the addresses into MapQuest, starting with my own address. It will let you put up to 10 addresses in to make one continuous route. So, you can go from Point A to Point B to Point C...all the way up to Point J.

In order to save time and gas, I then look at the map and start to move the stops around so that it makes a circle. I don't want to be crisscrossing the county or backtracking. I also have to make sure that if any open later (i.e. 9 or 10 AM) that I put them late in the route. Also, if I see any yard sales along the way on my route that I didn't already know about, I'll stop at those too.

Last night when I made my driving route for today, I randomly plugged in all of the addresses. MapQuest said that it would take me 1 hour and 21 minutes to drive the 28.29 miles. Once I reordered it to make a circle instead of the crazy zigzag pattern, it reduced the time to 45 minutes and the distance to 14.07 miles. So, the new route saved me 36 minutes of driving and 14.22 miles.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

DC Summer Concert Series

As I've mentioned many times before, there are a lot free or low cost things to do in Washington, DC. With the price of gas being so high, this summer you may have to look towards taking local vacations or vacations to places that have a lot of free attractions and entertainment (because you use up most of your budget just getting there). Of course, DC is a natural choice.

If you live in the DC area or are making plans to be here between now and September, you should check out the Summer Concert Series webpage from the National Capital Region of the National Park Service. Most of the live entertainment that they list there are free, and most of them are great for people of all ages. (For example, I'm not sure how a two-year-old would feel about Hamlet.)

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kraft Food & Family - Free Magazine & Coupons

If you get Kraft Foods' Food & Family magazine, look on page 28 of the Summer 2008 edition for a coupon for one free bottle of Kraft salad dressing, plus several other coupons.

This quarterly magazine is full of recipes, and each print edition comes with several coupons. If you want to get it in the mail for free, just register at Kraft's website. If you don't want the print edition, you can find all of the recipes on their website without having to register.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Saving on Hotels - Priceline

Yesterday, I talked about how styles can determine what kind of lodging accommodations you may choose. For me, it boils down to the fact that I want a nice hotel room, but I don't want to pay the price (and neither does Michael, who is fine with a simple motel). We've figured out how to make us both happy: Priceline.

When we are planning a trip, Michael will find the nearest Motel 6 and tell me the rate. If he's afraid hotels in the area may fill quickly, he will reserve a room (just in case) that can be cancelled without a penalty. Then, I begin my work on Priceline.

When using Priceline for hotels, I always look at the options that are available in the different geographic areas they offer before bidding. Especially in major cities, almost all of the downtown properties charge $10+ per night for parking. So, if it works with our itinerary, I’ll pick a suburban or airport property and drive a few extra miles in order to get free hotel parking. Saving on parking helps our travel budget. Even with the very high price of gas now, a few extra miles of gas isn't going to make paying for city parking a better deal.

Also, I try to bid on 2.5 star hotels instead of 3 or 4 stars hotels. I like to stay in the nicest places possible for the lowest price possible. However, if you get a full-service/luxury hotel (3+ stars), you usually don’t get free breakfast like at the 2.5 star hotels, which we've still found to be very nice accommodations. The 2.5 star hotels are often extended-stay properties, which means they usually have bigger rooms and include a microwave, refrigerator, and sometimes even a range and/or oven.

Having free breakfast, a microwave, and a refrigerator helps cut down on dining-out costs. We can bring leftovers back to the hotel from restaurants that usually serve large portions to eat for lunch or dinner the next day.

Once I decide on the area and star level on which I want to bid, I will take the Motel 6 rate that Michael found and cut it in half. That's my first bid on Priceline. It's normally a ridiculously low price that isn't accepted for a 2.5 or 3 star hotel. If we don't get a room with that bid, I'll keep increasing the amount by $5/night until I reach the price of the Motel 6. If we think we'll get breakfast with the Priceline room, sometimes we'll bid up to $10/night more than Motel 6 (a 1 star motel). We've stayed at Marriott, Residence Inn, Crowne Plaza, and Holiday Inn for less than or about equal to a Motel 6. That makes us both happy!

Don't forget that when you bid on Priceline that if they accept a rate, you've bought that room -- no cancellations or changes. Be certain before you bid.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saving on Hotels - What's Your Style?

Saving on lodging when traveling is going to vary depending on your style and what you want and need in your accommodations.

I have a friend Whit who avoids hotels/motels whenever possible. She and her husband would much prefer camping for a whole variety of reasons, including the low nightly rates. I'm all about saving money, but regardless of the low cost, camping is definitely not my style! I need a bed, climate control, a shower, electricity, a flush toilet, a sink, four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. I really could go on and on about this subject, but let me just say that the one time I went camping (because I made a promise to Whit that I would try it), it rained and was hot. I kept thinking, I'm ready to go in now. But there was no "in" -- we were camping! So, I sat there praying, Dear Lord, I'm so grateful that I'm not homeless. Please bless those who are. I was being sincere.

Regardless of my need for some basics in lodging, Whit will argue that hotels are a waste of money. For her lifestyle, that is true -- but I need to blow dry my hair! (If you ever were to see my air-dried hair, you would understand that this is a need and not just a want.) Whit will also remind me of what I've told her from my days as a housekeeping manager at a lovely AAA Four Diamond hotel: don't walk on the carpet with your bare feet; don't drink out of the glasses in the bathroom; and whatever you do, don't let the bedspread or blanket touch your skin. I know, I know. But I can still avoid those things and feel the room rate is worth it.

Michael, on the other hand, is a Motel 6 guy. He shares the same philosophy with Whit that spending a lot on hotels is ridiculous. So, he has found that Motel 6 has a great low rate in cities of all sizes across the country. They provide the very basics (exactly what I listed above as my needs -- and nothing more) and are consistent in their quality ("it'll do").

When I started traveling with him (for him to run marathons in different states), I learned about Motel 6 being his lodging of choice. Knowing that I'm a pretty frugal person, Michael was surprised to learn that I wasn't very excited about the accommodations. But I worked at a AAA Four Diamond hotel for 4 years! -- I really enjoy a nice hotel (despite the aforementioned issues which I'm sure are industry-wide). Yes, a motel would meet my needs, but I want more: interior hallways, a pretty room with little amenities, a beautiful lobby. It makes coming back to the room after a long day of sightseeing or cheering on runners at a marathon a nice experience.

So, Michael and I discovered we had clashing ideas on lodging styles. I had a remedy for this problem (I didn't want to stay in a motel, and we didn't want to pay high prices for a hotel): Priceline! Tomorrow, I'll share with you some tips on using Priceline that we use to make us both happy.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Welcome Coupon Mom Readers!

If you are visiting Save 4 Fun from Coupon Mom's blog, a special welcome to you! I'm a huge fan of Stephanie Nelson's and have so appreciated her great website and blog. I hope you will find my blog to be useful, interesting, and inspiring too. If you do, while you are here, subscribe to get my blog posts via email or in a reader through Feed Burner.

If you are visiting Save 4 Fun from another source and aren't already familiar with Coupon Mom, go check out her site. You don't have to be a mother to find savings through her website. She has great, free resources and tips available including Grocery Deals by State which does the work of looking through grocery and drug store sales ads for you each week. She'll even tell you where to find coupons that are available for this week's sale items.

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Last Day for Triple Coupons at Harris Teeter

Today is the last day of Harris Teeter's triple coupon promotion for this week, so I had to swing by there for some deals. I'm glad to see that they are doing this more often. They used to do it only once or twice a year, but now triple coupons come around every month or two. I do wish more of their sale items corresponded with coupons eligible for tripling (99 cents or less). However, even without sale prices, coupons that are tripled make some items good deals anyway.

I didn't do as well today as when I wrote about triple coupons back in November. But I did save 58% today, which is pretty good. That includes a package of McCormick's Grill Mates marinade that I got for free (because it was actually on sale for 75 cents and I had a 25-cent coupon that they tripled).

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Collection: How to Save on Wedding Gifts

I've written several articles on various ways to save on wedding gifts, and I thought it might be useful to pull the links together in one post. If you find any of these tips useful, let me know. I'd love to hear about your wedding gift deals. Also, tell me if you know of other good ways to save when giving to a bride and groom.

Comparison Shopping Between the Store & the Website

Saving on Wedding Gifts at Bed, Bath, & Beyond

More Ways to Save on Wedding Gifts at Bed, Bath, & Beyond

Saving on Wedding Gifts at Target

Buy from a Wedding Gift Registry & Save for Charity

Saving on Wedding Gifts at Macy's

A Few More Ways to Save on Wedding Gifts

More Wedding Gift Savings: The Value of Shopping Early

More Wedding Gift Savings: Look Beyond the Registry

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Financial Teamwork

Michael and I went to our first pre-martial counseling session last night. Our pastor friend who is doing our counseling is having us read Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. I've found it to be pretty interesting, although it can go to the extreme getting some of the points across about pitfalls of which you should beware.

Of course, personal finance is a hot topic in marriages -- and divorces. And basically most things I've read about money and marriage in this book and a whole variety of other sources send a message of great caution about the subject (with good reason -- I understand). But I like happy, success stories, so it was good to read this guest post on Clever Dude's blog by Kevin of No Debt Plan entitled Spouses, Finances, and Teamwork, so I thought I'd share it with my readers. I'm glad to hear that things are going well for Kevine and his wife, and I'm certain they will for us too.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Ask and You Just Might Receive!

Wedding planning and other aspects of my life have kept me busy lately, so I haven't been able to post as often as usual. Thanks for bearing with me!

For the past several days, Michael and I were down in Atlanta visiting his family and doing some wedding planning. Michael's nephew is going to be our junior groomsman, and he's been looking for a nice gift for him. Michael was in his aunt and uncle's wedding when he was a kid, and he still has the gift (a glass sailboat) that they gave him. He has been looking for a similar keepsake that his nephew may like.

On Saturday, we went to a store that sells all sorts of gift items with college logos on them. The nephew likes Michael's alma mater (University of GA), so we were looking at all sorts of UGA things. He found a nice wooden box with pewter Georgia logo on it, but it was a little more than he wanted to pay. Michael's mom (who also loves a deal) jokingly asked the sales clerk if they offered discounts to UGA alumni, and she said they did: 25% off. We were skeptical, especially since Michael didn't have anything with him to prove it. (Although I assured the clerk that if she were to prick his finger, she'd find that he bleeds black and red!) She said she normally asks for some kind of proof, but since it was his mom doing the asking, she figured he must be a legitimate graduate.

Anyway, what a surprise! It wasn't advertised anywhere that they would give this kind of discount. I suppose it never hurts to ask!

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Learning at Low-Cost

Learning how to do things yourself can be a big money saver in the long run. This spring I took my second series of flower arranging classes through my county's public schools' adult education program. A local florist teaches the classes.

At $134 for the first series of 3 classes and $149 for the second series, at first glance they don't seem like a great bargain - not cheap anyway. However, for what you get, it really is a deal. Those prices included the florist demonstrating how to make the arrangements, hands-on help in class when I made my arrangements, tips on how to do things like properly change the water in a vase, and all of the supplies. Each week I had a fun activity on Tuesday nights, and I also got to take home my beautiful creations to enjoy.

While I'm by no means a pro at flower arranging now, I do have some basic skills. A couple of months ago I even made a lovely arrangement that I took to a friend who had just had a baby. A similar arrangement at the grocery store would have cost $20. However, I was able to make the arrangement for my friend with enough flowers leftover to make one for me to keep for a total of $12 (including the vase I gave her which I had gotten from someone who was going to throw it away).

Below you can see pictures of the arrangements I made in my latest classes (wedding flower arranging). I'm not going to do the flowers for my own wedding, but this was good information to learn - and it was fun!

Check out what classes your local school district or parks and rec department offer. You might learn a cool trade and have fun for a reasonable price.

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