As I have mentioned here before, my family and I will be moving into a new home next month. The new house is rent-free because it belongs to my father-in-law and he is letting us live there until he retires in four years. I had fully expected that I would be making one more rent payment for the month of January. However, my landlord pointed out to me that I paid the first and last month's rent when I moved into my current home. As a result, my last rent payment was indeed my last rent payment. I had an unexpected windfall of $750 already in my checking account!

Like most people, I was tempted to go out and buy something for the family. I do plan to take them out to the movies, which we haven't done in a long time. I have already put the rest of the money to good use. I started working on one of my New Year's Resolutions: to eliminate $10,000 of debt this year.

I took $600 and completely paid off one of my credit cards. It was a great feeling to write the check and see the balance I owed drop all the way down to $0. It was also a tremendous load off my mind. I've probably paid $32 in finance charges on that card in the past year. That's not a lot, but it could have been put to better use in my own bank account.

So, I now have $9,400 in debt left to eliminate in 2008. The New Year hasn't even started, and I'm already off to a great start with my resolutions!

This brings up a good question: when you receive an unexpected financial windfall, what is the best way to handle it? I use the following list as a guideline:

1. Do I have outstanding debt? If so, apply it toward the highest-interest debt first.
2. If there are no outstanding debts, put the money in my emergency fund.
3. If my emergency fund is already fully funded, put the money towards my retirement.

Of course, I always keep a small portion...10 percent or so...for family entertainment, meals out, or for something my kids really need, like new shoes or clothes. This time, we'll be going to the movies. Never just completely blow an unexpected financial windfall. If you have debt or lack savings or need to catch up with your retirement fund, that unexpected windfall can help you catch up.

The New Year is almost upon us and I've been giving some serious thought to my resolutions. Normally, I don't make resolutions for the New Year. I believe that if you really want to enact a change in your life you can do it any day of the year, not just January 1st. But, I do have some changes coming up in my life, such as moving to a new home and having more disposable income. Because of this, I have decided that I actually would make a few frugal resolutions this year.

1. Rebuild my emergency fund. This got wiped out when my wife became disabled and was unable to work. I am going to build a $1,000 emergency fund to start.

2. Eliminate debt. To be honest, I have lost track of my debt due to some medical bills being turned down by insurance, and others being created when my family did not have health insurance. First, I have to get a copy of my credit report, and then start knocking out my debt. I hope to eliminate at least $10,000 in debt this year.

3. Save for a new home. The new home I'm moving into is not my own. It is my father-in-law's retirement home. He won't retire for four more years, so in the meantime I can save for a down payment on my own home.

4. Contribute to my IRA. Again, because my family had no health insurance I had to spend a large amount of my income on prescription medications in 2007. Things will be much different in 2008. I hope to contribute at least 10 percent of my income to my IRA.

5. Continue to live below my means. This is a never-ending challenge. If you can live on less money than you earn, the rest of your financial life falls into balance.

I'll be updating my resolutions throughout 2008 to let you know how I'm doing. Feel free to make some frugal resolutions of your own and share them with us!

I started my journey to frugal living about five years ago, when my family's finances were about as bad as they could get. We narrowly escaped homelessness, and bill collectors were calling and harassing us during all hours of the day and night. I knew that if I was going to improve our situation, we needed to do two things: increase our income and drastically reduce our spending. One of the books that helped set us on the right path was The Tightwad Gazette.

The Tightwad Gazette is actually a collection of newsletter entries written by Amy Dacyczyn, who no longer writes the newsletter, nor has she written any other books beyond the three Tightwad Gazette editions. In fact, I Googled her name and couldn't find any updated information about her at all. She seems to have stepped out of the spotlight. However, the books contain sage advice that is still good today (plus some ideas that are so stingy I never bothered to try them). Here are a few ideas from the first edition of the book that I found especially helpful:

10 Painless Ways to Save $100 this Year:

1. Purchase 10 article of clothing from thrift shops instead of department stores
2. Hang 4 loads of laundry per week instead of using the dryer
3. Once a month make pizza from scratch instead of having it delivered
4. Write a good letter instead of making a monthly long distance phone call (obviously, this was written before email became common and cell phone providers started offering free nights and weekends)
5. Reduce your soda consumption by four cans per week
6. Bake two loaves of bread per week
7. Make your children's birthday cakes and decorations instead of buying
8. Reduce your smoking by three cigarettes per day (or quit altogether and save even more).
9. Reduce your milk consumption by using powdered milk for baking and cooking
10. Pack 4 inexpensive school lunches per week

Keep a Price Book of the items you commonly buy at the supermarket, and list the prices you find at different stores in your area. By keeping track of the prices of these items, you will know when a sale is truly a bargain, and which store has the best prices.

Three ways to save money:

1. Buy it cheaper
2. Make it last longer
3. Use it less

Store brands are almost always cheaper than name brands, even if you use coupons.

For your pets:

1. Stick with name-brand foods. It's usually healthier.
2. Do not overfeed your pet. Use the feeding guidelines on the package.
3. Dry food is just as healthy as canned food, and is cheaper.
4. Don't buy dry pet foods in bulk. The vitamins degrade over time.
5. Avoid switching your pet's food. They really don't need variety in their diet.
and I'll add this one of my own:
6. Always keep up on your pet's vaccinations. It's cheaper than your pet getting sick and running up vet bills.

Don't forget, we are still looking for YOUR frugal tips. The person with the best tip will win a copy of The Tightwad Gazette.

If you are looking for a way of stretching your food budget that doesn't involve clipping coupons, look into Angel Food Ministries. Angel Food Ministries distributes low-cost food once a month, regardless of your income. The way it works is this:

1. You order a package of food make a payment and put down a $4 deposit on a plastic container for the food. (some locations just ask you to bring a large box to pick up your order)

2. On "Angel Food day", you go to the distribution center (usually a church or community center) and pick up the plastic tub.

3. When you reach the next order day, return the plastic tub and place the next order.

Each order of food costs $25 - $30, but there are "add-ons" you can include, such as extra orders of meat items. Purchasing the same items at the grocery store would cost twice as much. I find it is a good supplement to my family's groceries and it does save us quite a bit of money on our food bill.

Here is a sample monthly menu from Angel Food Ministries:

(4)5 oz.
Rib-Eye Steaks

2 lb.
Family Lasagna Dinner

2 lb.
Split Chicken Breast (2 Pieces)

1 lb.
Honey Roasted Pork Sausage

1 lb.
Fully Cooked Chicken Breast Fajitas

1 lb.
Fully Cooked Meatballs

1 lb.
All Meat Jumbo Hot Dogs

3 lb.
Fresh Apples

8 oz.
Biscuit Mix

1 lb.
3-Way Veggie Mix

1 lb.
Cut Corn

1 lb.
Sliced Carrots

14 oz.
Chicken Broth

24 oz.
Home-style Hash Brown

6.5 oz.
Cheeseburger Dinner

10 ct.
Home-style Waffles


Dessert Item

ALL THIS FOR THE LOW COST OF JUST $25


** One or more specials available only with the purchase of a regular unit. **

DECEMBER SPECIAL #1
7 lb. Giant Meat Combo Box - $18.00
(2 lb. Thick Cut Pork Chops (6 ct.), 2 lb. Beef Ribs, 1 lb. Rib Eye Steaks (2 x 8 oz.), 1 lb. Lean Beef Patties (4 x 4 oz.), 1 lb. Italian Sausage)

DECEMBER SPECIAL #2
4 lb. Choice Sirloin Box - $18.00
((8) 8-oz. Choice Sirloin Strips)

DECEMBER SPECIAL #3
10 lb. Chicken Tenders Box - $16.00
(10 lb. Breaded Chicken Tenders)

HOLIDAY SPECIAL #4
Holiday Assorted Fruit Box - $24.00
(Each Assorted Box Contains: (5) Ruby Red Grapefruit, (6) Tangerines, (4) Golden Delicious Apples, (4) Blush Pears, (4) Red Delicious Apples, (4) Rome Apples, (6) Florida Oranges, (4) Navel Oranges, (6) Tangelos)

HOLIDAY SPECIAL #5
Holiday Gift (Meat & Cheese Box) - $16.00
(Each Gift Box Contains: (1) 9 oz. Beef Sausage, (1) 9 oz. Beef Salami, (1) 9 oz. Beef Summer Sausage, (3) 7 oz. Cheese (Cheddar, Smokey Cheddar, Pepper Jack))

HOLIDAY SPECIAL #6
Holiday Gourmet Coffee Gift Special - $14.00
(Each Box Contains: (1) 12 oz. House Blend, (1) 12 oz. Hazelnut Cream, (1) 12 oz. Guatemala Antiquate)

There are distribution sites in 35 states, so check to see if there is one near you.

It's the day after Christmas, and if you think the lines at the mall are long gone, think again. There will be plenty of people back at the malls today, returning or exchanging gifts that they don't want. Luckily, I love all of the gifts I got this year, but I remember a few years ago receiving a garish sweater that looked like a television test pattern. I promptly exchanged it for something else.

So, how can you get the most from a gift you received that you just don't want and can't use? There are a few alternatives:

Re-gift: Yes, re-gifting has gotten a bad name, especially after that episode of Seinfeld in which George Costanza was trying to unload a cashmere sweater on every woman he knew. There are practical ways of re-gifting however. First, ask around to your friends and family (preferably people who don't know the original "gifter") and find out if they want the item, or want to trade if for something that they received that they don't want. Never try to pass off the re-gifted item as something you purchased. Simply tell them, "I received this gift, it's not right for me, but perhaps you would like it?" or "I received this, but thought you might appreciate it more". Don't try to give it to somebody six months from now as a birthday present.

Exchange: For the most part, stores will exchange a gift or at least give you store credit for a returned item. They are making it more difficult to return a gift and just collect the cash. After all, you didn't buy it. Target is one of the stores which issues a "gift receipt". While you can't trade in your unwanted gift for cold hard cash, they will allow you to return it for store credit or exchange it for something else they sell. Of course, the person who gave you the gift needs to give you the gift receipt to make this happen. Other stores will do this without a receipt if it is obviously something that they sell exclusively, such as a store brand item. If you don't know where the gift was purchased, you may be stuck unless you...

Sell: You can always sell the unwanted item on eBay or Craig's List. You could possibly make more money than the value you would receive if you returned the item to the store, especially if it was a clearance item or if the item is very popular. Of course, if it is popular, you probably want to keep it, right?

Donate: If you really want to keep in the spirit of Christmas, you could donate the unwanted item to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. The good news is you could receive a tax credit for making a charitable contribution, which will come in handy next April. Just make sure you get a receipt when you make the donation. You will also be helping a great cause.

I did well this Christmas. I received clothes I needed, Drakar cologne and an IPod. I will be keeping everything. I hope Santa was good to you this year, too!

I used to work as a radio announcer. There were some great perks to the job: I got to meet and interview famous people, play music for a living, and amass a collection of radio station t-shirts which made up at least half of my wardrobe.

There were some definite drawbacks to working in the "radio biz": poor pay, long hours and NO job security whatsoever. If the radio station changed ownership, or format, or both...you were out of a job. As a result, my family and moved...a lot. In one three year period we lived in three different states, and I worked in four different states. At one job, I lived in one state and commuted each day to another state to go to work. As a result, I know a lot about moving...and doing it cheap.

It just so happens that my family and I are moving again next month, to take advantage of rent and mortgage-free housing. Here are some of the frugal moving tips I have picked up over the years, and that we will be using again:

Pack ahead of time - If you know you have a move coming up, don't leave the packing to the last minute. This will cause you to pay for unnecessary expenses like movers, boxes, hotels, etc. Start early and pack a different room in your house each day. When moving day comes, you'll have most of the work done!

Don't buy boxes - I have moved about 20 times over the past 20 years, and I have NEVER paid for a cardboard box to pack my belongings. I get boxes from supermarkets, Walmart, pharmacies, and the dumpsters of various retail stores. Some stores recycle and sell their boxes, so be sure to ask before you just take them, but most of the time they are just happy to get rid of the boxes.

Buy packing tape in bulk - Don't waste time or money buying single rolls of packing tape. Buy the multi-roll packages. One roll won't be enough and it usually costs more to buy them individually.

Don't use movers - I know, I'm going to make moving companies angry, but unless you are disabled and don't know anybody who can help you move, you will save a lot of money and aggravation bypassing the moving companies. I have used movers twice. The first time, my new employer paid for the move, and the movers did a great job, but I never could have afforded the fee they charged. They did still damage some of my furniture. The second time, I paid out-of-pocket. The movers didn't do the job they promised, charged me twice the estimate they gave me, and sent movers to my new home who didn't speak but three words of English (sorry, I don't speak Russian). It was a terrible experience. During my last move, my oldest son and his friend helped me move all the furniture, and I gave them $50 each for their help. Much cheaper, and they were happy to get it. They didn't expect anything. They just wanted to help.

Shop around for a moving truck - If you have a friend with a truck or a large van, offer them a few bucks and reimbursement for gas. It will be MUCH cheaper than renting a truck. I usually move the boxes with my own vehicle, and then rent a moving truck for one day. U-Haul usually has a special price if you don't keep the vehicle longer than a day or go over on the mileage you're alloted. The last time I rented a U-Haul I think I spent $50, not counting the refundable deposit.

Clean the house or apartment you're leaving yourself - Some people will hire cleaners or maids to clean the place they are leaving. You can buy the cleaning products you need and do it yourself and save a bundle. I do need to hire a carpet cleaning company when I leave my current house (it's required in my lease), but you can still shop around for bargains. The carpet cleaning coupons you sometimes get in the mail can come in handy, but keep in mind you probably won't get the same kind of cleaning you would normally get if you just paid the regular price.

The key to a successful move is to plan, plan, plan. Once you have a game plan, you can successfully move in just a day and save yourself hundreds of dollars over the cost of hiring movers and cleaning services.

Early Spring Cleaning

Posted by T | 11:34 AM | 0 comments »

I have to admit, I wasn't happy with the direction my blog was taking. It was starting to look cluttered, filled with ads and getting away from the purpose of what I think this blog is about: helping people do more with less, live frugally, avoid or get out of debt and invest wisely. I couldn't, in good conscience, continue to run ads selling Coach handbags or Nintendo Wii games. That is in direct conflict with the purpose of this blog.

To be perfectly honest with you, the ads weren't making all that much money in the first place. My purpose in including them was to help finance moving this blog to its own domain, which will cost about $20 per month. I don't think this blog has made $20 during the 5 or 6 months of its existence, so it's really a moot point.

That's not to say the blog doesn't get plenty of traffic. No, I'm not attracting 20,000 visitors a day, like John Chow or some of the more successful bloggers out there, but Savvy Frugality does have readers in the U.S., Australia, Canada, the U.K., Russia, India and even in Japan. We don't have readers in China or South America yet...but I'm hopeful that someday we will!

So, I have deleted the majority of the ads that appeared on this blog. I have cleaned up the look, and I hope that you, the reader, have a more enjoyable experience when you visit Savvy Frugality. I have kept a few inline and Google Adsense ads. I'm hoping the revenue generated through those ads and through Paypal tips you might be generous enough to donate will, at the very least, pay the annual fee for the SavvyFrugality.com domain name. If I happen to make any money in addition to that which I can add to my children's college funds, great.

I haven't really lost anything by making these changes, but hopefully, I will have gained something: increased readership, a better experience for our RSS subscribers and faithful readers and most of all, your respect.

If you pay any attention at all to what is going on in Washington D.C. (my wife hates watching the news and is blissfully unaware of anything that is going on), you know that President Bush recently signed a new Energy Bill. The energy bill mainly focuses on conserving energy and greater use of ethanol in the U.S. I think it's a good start, but I really wish the U.S. would get serious about developing alternative fuel sources, if only to break our reliance on oil from other countries.

But, I started thinking: why not enact our own personal "Energy Bill" at home? Each household can take measures to conserve energy and save money. I have enacted several myself:

Change Your Lightbulbs: I stopped buying regular incandescent light bulbs about three years ago. Now, all of my household lights have compact fluorescent bulbs. They use much less electricity, give off less heat (which will lower your cooling bill in the summer) and last much longer. This one move saved me about $20 on electricity costs each month.

Open Your Blinds: During the day, open your blinds and let the sunshine in. That extra heat from the sun will help warm your house and your furnace will run less often during the day.

Change your Filter: If you have a central air unit at home, make sure you change your air filter often. The filter package will tell you how often it should be changed. Make sure you mark it on the calendar. Clean filters will help your central air unit run more efficiently.

Buy Energy Star Efficient Appliances: Your appliances run all the time, especially your refrigerator. Check the Energy Star rating of new appliances before your buy, and get the most efficient appliance possible. It will save you plenty of money in the long run. Avoid buying older used appliances to save money. You'll just pay more in energy costs in the long run, wiping out any cost savings you might thought you had by buying a cheaper, used appliance.

Get an Energy Audit: Many utility companies will now come to your house and do an "energy audit"...identifying areas where you are wasting energy and costing yourself money. They will often do this for no or low cost.

Unplug: How many electric appliances and devices do you have plugged in to outlets that you don't use all that often? Take a look around your house and you might be surprised. I had a radio plugged in that I rarely listen to at home, yet it was always plugged in. These devices use "phantom power"...gobbling up electricity that you aren't even using. Unplug items that you don't use every day. You'll save energy and money.

Use Public Transportation: The town where I live has no public transportation to speak of, but when I'm traveling I will often take buses and trains, even if I have a rental car. It's often cheaper than buying gas for the rental, and in some areas I'd rather not deal with the traffic. Just think of how much gas you will save by not driving your car for just one day.

Bike it: When the weather warms up, I'm riding my mountain bike to work. I don't care if I don't look cool riding a bike while I'm wearing a suit. I'm not paying $3.00 a gallon for gas any more than I have to.

Only Run Full Loads: Fill your washer, dryer and dishwasher to capacity before using them. You'll use less energy, water and soap.

You can find more energy-saving tips at Power$mart.



The Bible for anyone interested in frugal living is The Tightwad Gazette. This book, and the two that followed, were what helped set me on my course of living a frugal lifestyle. There are a lot of great tips in The Tightwad Gazette that you can use around your own home every day, and they will all help you save money (or avoid spending it!)

Now, we want to see YOUR tips. Leave your best frugal living tip in the comments section of this post. I will select the best "most frugal" tip from the entries, and that person will win a free copy of The Tightwad Gazette!

I can't wait to read your tips!

The final Festival of Frugality of 2007 is upon us, and it's finishing up the year with a bang. There is some great reading for those who live the frugal life here. This week, the festival is hosted by FIRE Finance. My picks this week:

Kris from Cheap Healthy Good provides some great tips for saving on groceries in Frugal Grocery Shopping for City Folk.

Cash Money Life presents Where to Find Inexpensive Flu Shots.

Ryan Russell from My Money Thinks shows us creative ways to curb our consumption and save on utilities in YES, it is possible to save money on utility bills!

Ryan-Careonecredit from Care on Credit presents Should You Pay Off Debt or Invest in Savings?

and of course, Savvy Frugality presents Trade Your Way To (Almost) Free Games and Movies.

Medical bills and health-related expenses can really take a bite out of any family's budget. Medical bills are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the U.S. In fact, I was forced to file for bankruptcy at the age of 25 because my son needed surgery and my health insurer refused to pay for it. That, coupled with a six-month stint of unemployment, drained my finances and led to the bankruptcy filing. It was one of the most shameful moments of my life, but I had no other choice.

Had I known then what I know now, I may have been able to pay off my medical debts, or avoided some of them altogether. You can't avoid medical expenses. Everyone, at one point or another, needs to see a doctor, get a vaccination or buy prescription medications. However, there are ways of trimming your medical costs. Here are 10 lessons I learned the hard way:

1. The emergency room is the biggest rip-off at the hospital. By all means, if you have a true medical emergency, like a serious injury, go to the emergency room. Don't go to the ER for things like the flu, an ear ache, or anything else that probably could wait a day or so until you can go to your regular physician. Avoiding the ER like the plague will save you a ton of dough...unless you actually have the plague.

2. Shop around for prescription drugs. The pharmacy at the hospital must be a serious money-maker, because drugs there cost much more than drugs you will find at an outside pharmacy. Shop around a little before getting your prescription filled. You'll be surprised at how much the price varies. Don't forget, Walmart offers many generic drugs for only $4.

3. Always ask for generic drugs. There is little to no difference at all between name-brand drugs and the generics. This goes for the over-the-counter medications, too.

4. Find out if your health insurer offers a mail-order prescription plan. If you regularly use prescription drugs, you can usually get big cost savings by having your drugs sent right to your door step through the health insurer's mail order plan.

5. Check out the local public health clinic. For things like flu shots, check out your local city or county public health clinic. These vaccinations are usually much cheaper than getting it done at your doctor's office.

6. Keep an eye out for public health fairs. You can usually get routine exams for your eyes, cholesterol and blood pressure done at a health fair...for free. Don't replace your annual physical exam with a health fair, but the free or low-cost exams can give you an idea of where you stand, and could possibly alert you to something that needs further medical attention.

7. Build an emergency health fund. There are Health Savings Accounts available at many banks. These allow you to stash cash away for medical expenses not covered by your insurance. Of course, you could put your money in any kind of high-interest savings or money market account and earmark it for medical expenses. You will spend it one day, so you know that it's not money that's just going to languish around in an account doing nothing.

8. Don't buy "reading glasses" at an optometrist's office. I had an eye exam two years ago after I realized I had a problem reading small type in books and on the computer screen. I had been using a cheap $4 pair of reading glasses I bought at Dollar General. The optometrist told me I did need reading glasses, and asked if I would like to pick out a pair at his office. They all cost in the $120 range. I showed him my "over the counter" readers and said "well, I've been using these". He said "if you're happy with those, you're fine. They're basically the same thing. We just have fancier frames." I was floored, but at least he was honest. I stuck with the $4 glasses.

9. Ask your doctor for a discount. Your doctor is like every other business you deal with...they just want to get paid. Ask if they'll give you a discount if you pay in cash. If your insurance covers most of the cost, this won't save you much money. But, if you are underinsured or uninsured, this could save you some money...and many doctors are willing to do it. After all, getting some money is better than not getting any. Also, ask your doctor if they have samples of any prescriptions they write for you. They usually do.

10. Don't get sick in the first place. Let's face it, some of the stuff we go to the doctor for is preventable. If you smoke, stop. If you are overweight, eat less and move more. Avoid people who have the flu. Wash your hands, and do it often. Eat the right kinds of foods. Take your vitamins. It's cheaper to take care of yourself and keep from getting sick than to be treated once you do get sick.

Would you like to get brand new, brand name clothing for a fraction of the cost of what you normally pay at retail? How would you like to save 50, 60, event 70 percent on the cost of your wardrobe? Of course you would. How? Buy your clothing in the "off season".

Since we are right smack dab in the middle of winter, all of the warm clothes are selling for full retail, although you might find some good Christmas sales right now. You aren't event thinking of summer or fall clothing, but you should.

Summer and fall clothing can be found on the clearance racks of some of the best retail clothing and department stores right now...and they have slashed the prices to get rid of it to make room for cold weather clothing. I was shopping at Stein Mart and Target recently and found polo shirts for $3, shorts for $4, and short sleeve shirts for $5 and $6.

I know what you're saying..."but it's 20 degrees outside and an ice storm knocked out my electricity last week. I don't need polo shirts, I need a parka!". Well, that's true....today. What about six months from now? You'll need warm weather clothing then, won't you? Buy the clothes that are off-season today, and then pack them away for a few months. When the weather warms up and you're looking for a pair of shorts, you'll be glad you did...and your wallet will thank you.

I'm hoping that my kids don't take a peek at my blog before Christmas. That's because I'm about to reveal one of the gifts that I'm going to give them.

I have two sons, 18 and 12 years old. For the 18-year-old, I'm going to give him a check to help him open his own IRA, or Individual Retirement Account. I wish something like this had been around when I was his age. Even if he doesn't make the maximum annual contribution of $4,000 (in fact, I'm sure he won't), at least he will be saving something. I'm hoping this initial contribution will get him interested in saving for his future. Of course, the payoff won't come for a few decades, but by then he will have enough to live a very comfortable retirement. As always, the key is to start early. Now that he is working and making his own salary, this is as early as he can start and there is no time like the present.

My 12-year-old son does not earn his own income, so he's not ready for an IRA yet. I'm going to get him started with I-Series savings bonds. The interest rate isn't what we would get with stocks, but I want to get him something that he will have to hang on to for a few years in order to see a return. It will get him used to the idea of investing. I'll be getting him savings bonds for birthdays and Christmases for many years to come.

Video games, IPods and toys will come and go. By next Christmas, they won't event remember which gadgets or games they got this year, but they will still have their investments. Those are the gifts that will keep on giving, for many years to come. Years from now, these gifts will be worth something. Their video games, on the other hand, will eventually be traded for something else at the Game Exchange.

This week's Festival of Frugality is hosted by Plonkee Money, over in the U.K. I highly recommend checking out the frugal living posts in this week's festival, particularly:

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Meat posted at Lightening.

An Alternative To Gift Cards For The Co-Workers posted at How I Will Be Rich.

Making And Sending Christmas Cards For Less Money. posted at My Two Dollars.

Day 31 of 33 Days And 33 Ways To Save Money And Reduce Debt: Stay Away From The Mall posted at No Credit Needed.

Books, DVDs, CDs and video games make great Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers. During this time of year, there are usually some great sales on these items at retail stores. But, if your Christmas budget is a little low this year and you have plenty of these items on hand that you don't use much anymore, there are some free...or almost free...alternatives for Christmas gift giving.

I'm not talking about wrapping up your old stuff and giving it away as Christmas gifts, although I suppose you could do that if you wanted to. However, if you don't have the same taste in movies and games as the person you want to give a gift to, that could present a problem...unless you're willing to make a trade.

That's right...there are places where you can trade and exchange your used books, DVDs, CDs and video games and get your loved ones what they REALLY want. Here is an overview:

SwapVideoGames.com - Shop for the video games or movies you want through this site like you would if you were buying them and add them to your cart. Then, list the games and movies you have that you want to trade. You will then be told if there is a small charge or if the trade will be completely free, depending on what you have to trade. After you check out, SwapVideoGames.com ships you your games or videos. You then use the postage-paid mailer to send the games you are trading to SwapVideoGames.com. It's kind of like NetFlix, only there's no monthly charge and it's a lot cheaper!

SwapSimple - SwapSimple works a lot like SwapVideoGames.com, only they also deal with books. You list the bar code numbers of the items you have on their web site. You are instantly credited 20 percent of the item's value up front to use as you wish. You get the other 80 percent when you make a swap for another item on the web site. You don't need to add items to a que or make a list...just order what's no the site and it's on its way. Shipping is free!

SwapTree - SwapTree has books, CD's, movies and video games available for trade. Users list what they have available to trade, SwapTree determines what they can receive for their items, and the users are then free to go "shopping" on the site. Users pay shipping via Media Mail, but that's the only charge. You can even print shipping labels and postage from the site.

Peerflix - Peerflix deals in DVDs, and while the movies aren't free, they are pretty cheap. This site is a mix of eBay and Netflix. Users join for free, and then create two DVD lists: movies they have to sell and movies they want. You then mail and recieve DVDs from other users once you work out your deal. Keep or trade what you receive. The buyer pays a 99 cent transaction fee and you can print the mailer from your computer and follow the folding and taping instructions. Postal fees are also paid by the buyer. Only the discs are shipped, not the DVD case. Users do earn "cash" in the Peerflix system, which they use to buy and sell movies, and one can actually "cash out" and get real cash once their balance hits $100.

TitleTrader - This site lets you trade books, magazines, CDs, movies (DVD and VHS) and games. You list the items you have an either earn points or purchase points directly from the site. You can also earn points by referring new users to the site. Points can be swapped for other items on the site.

PaperBack Swap - Despite the name of this site, it's not just for paperback books. Selections also include hardback books, CDs and DVDs. Membership is currently free, although the site says it may one day charge a $10 to $20 fee per year to keep things going...still very inexpensive. You post all the books you are willing to swap, and get two book credits for the first 10 books you list. The 2 credits can be used to get 2 books. With this service, the sender pays postage. Each CD trade costs 49 cents plus a CD credit.

BookMooch - BookMooch is pretty basic. It's for books only. You type a list of books you want to give way, you receive requests for your books, you receive points when you mail your books and then use the points to get books you want. Membership is free.

Are You in my Top Spots?

Posted by T | 12:44 PM | 0 comments »

I'm not ashamed to admit that one of the things I have tried to do with this blog is make it pay for itself in terms of the amount of time I put into it. When it comes to my writing (I do it freelance) I always try to earn some kind of income from it, even if it is money I am ultimately going to give to charity. That is the case this month.

You will notice in the sidebar of Savvy Frugality is a widget called "Are You in My Top Spots?" Bascially, it is a fancy tip jar. For one dollar, you can list your blog or web site in the Top Spot widget on my site for one week. Not only will you get some advertising for your site out of the deal, but your dollar will be donated to the Salvation Army this month. If you would like to continue to be listed in the Top Spot after December, the price will remain at one dollar per week. If you sign up to be in my Top Spots after December the price will increase to five dollars for two weeks, so now is the time to jump on board! Either way, it's a good way to get your web site or blog address out there. Savvy Frugality has readers in the U.S., the U.K., India and Australia! Thanks for reading. I don't take my readers for granted, and I hope you have found some useful advice in this blog!

One of the areas in which I save money is in clothing. I only buy clothing when it is necessary, such as when a clothing item shrinks, becomes hopelessly stained or just plain doesn't fit anymore because I have gained some weight. As you know, I'm working on the weight issue. I buy solid-colored, classic-styled clothes that stay in fashion for long periods of time. I stay away from fad items which will look horribly dated the next year.

It has been a while since I purchased a suit, and after accidentally washing a pair of dry clean-only suit pants, I found myself needing a new suit for an upcoming company Christmas party. Luckily, there is a Stein Mart near my home.

Stein Mart is a lot like T.J. Maxx or Burlington Coat factory. It sells name brand clothing at closeout prices. Even in these stores, I stick to the clearance racks to save even more money. It was there that I found my new suit today: a dark gray, pinstriped men's Claiborne three-button two-piece suit. Normally, this suit retails for $400. The Stein Mart price was $239. However, I got it from the clearance rack, and today there was a 50 percent off sale. My price, after tax: $113. Total savings: $287 off retail.

Whenever possible, NEVER pay full retail for clothing. You CAN get nice, name brand clothing which will last you for years for a very low price, if you know where to look.

Bottom line: always check clearance racks.

It has been awhile since I have posted my weight loss update. You may have read previous posts in which I detailed my desire to drop back down to a healthy 165 pounds. It shouldn't be that difficult. After all, if people can drop hundreds of pounds on "The Biggest Loser", I should be able to lose 20 pounds, right?

I am operating under the mantra "eat less, move more". December is my busiest month at work, so I haven't lived up to the "move more" half of my plan, but I have been eating less. I suffered a setback over Thanksgiving, and actually gained weight.

This week, I am happy to report that I have dropped from 188 pounds to 182. It wasn't difficult to lose the six pounds over the course of two weeks. I just simply ate less. Actually, I ate less junk. I dropped a lot of carbs from my diet. No, I'm not on Atkins. I haven't cut out bread, potatoes or pasta altogether...I just eat less of it. Also, no junk food such as nachos or potato chips. I do allow myself popcorn on weekends. I am addicted to popcorn.

Tomorrow, I plan to go for a walk around the park near my home. Hopefully I'll have another weight loss update next week, as I aim for 165 pounds.

One of the reasons that Americans have runaway credit card debt is because of Christmas shopping. Each year, we as a country spend way beyond our means to get our loved ones that "perfect" gift. I remember the first year my sister was married she and her husband actually took out a loan in order to buy everyone in our family (and we have a large family) a Christmas gift. When the next Christmas rolled along, they were still paying for the Christmas presents they purchased the previous year. That's insane!

My wife and I figured there was certainly a better way to celebrate Christmas than going deep into debt. In fact, our very first Christmas together we limited ourselves to one gift each...and it couldn't cost any more than $20. Our reasoning was that we already purchased what we really needed during the rest of the year, so why should Christmas be a license to go crazy and spend a ton of money we didn't have? Besides, we were broke, so that's all we could afford. We certainly didn't spend beyond our means that year.

Since then, we set a budget for each Christmas. Once we hit that dollar amount, we're done Christmas shopping, no matter how many gifts are under the tree. These are a few ways we keep Christmas costs under control and celebrate a very frugal holiday:

1. Set a budget for Christmas shopping, and stick to it!

2. Shop around for your holiday meal, just like you would for presents. Ham is usually pretty cheap this time of year, but you can still get good deals on turkey. One year, I received a duck as my Christmas bonus at work, and that was our Christmas meal. Yes, you read that right. A duck was my Christmas bonus.

3. Only buy gifts for immediate family (those that live in your home). If you are visiting relatives for the holiday, consider a name swap, secret Santa or just buy a small gift for the kids.

4. If you really want to watch your spending, you could also set a spending limit PER GIFT, and limit the number of gifts.

5. Once you set your spending budget, pay for everything in cash. NO CREDIT CARDS, and certainly don't take out a loan to buy Christmas presents. I still can't believe my sister did that.

6. Send Christmas cards and family photos to your extended family. I suppose you could send the good ol' family newsletter, too...or you could just make a phone call on Christmas day, which I think is better (I get unlimited long distance).

7. Remember, nobody is going to love you less because you didn't buy a specific Christmas gift. I can't even remember what I got last Christmas. Really.

8. Focus on what Christmas is REALLY all about (it's not the presents).

9. If you're crafty, try making a few gifts yourself. Gifts don't have to be purchased at a store. My grandmother used to make her own Christmas ornaments, and she gave them each year as gifts. I still have a few on my tree this year, and some of them are more than 30 years old. Now, THAT'S the gift that keeps on giving!

The one thing that my family splurges on each year is our tradition of seeing a movie on Christmas day. We started this back when it was just my wife and I and we had nothing else to do that day, and we noticed the movie theater was open. We weren't the only ones there. Christmas is a HUGE day for movies. We have been going every Christmas since then, and we usually see a family movie. This year, it's going to be National Treasure II. It beats sitting around the house and watching It's a Wonderful Life for the 378th time.

Last week's Festival of Frugality was #102, but this week's is also #102. I don't know...maybe somebody miscounted. No matter. Lazy Man and Money hosts this week's Festival of Frugality #102, and there is some darn good frugal advice there. These are a few of my picks, but check out Lazy Man's site and read them all:

Cheap Health Good gives roughly a thousand ways to find quality kitchen equipment on the cheap.

Free Money Finance remixes his money saving tips to create the top 10 most hated money saving tips I actually do a few of these myself. I have thought of moving to a foreign country after I retire (Panama), and I really should do #8.

My Wealth Builder has some good frugal living philosophies

The Wastrel Show has come up with some ways to survive an economic slowdown I have posted about this one myself here at Savvy Frugality.

Millionaire Mommy has an article about investing as a beginner

Once my family and I had moved to Oklahoma, I went to the library and started reading everything I could about frugal living, saving money and getting out of debt. The Tightwad Gazette became a Bible to me, as I took over the family finances for the first time during a nearly 18-year marriage.

I opened a checking account under my own name, so I could be accountable for every penny and nickel both going into and coming out of the account. My wife protested that move, but I told her she would simply have to open her own account and be responsible for it. I needed to know EXACTLY how much money was in the account we used to pay household bill, and I couldn't do that if she was using the ATM card every other day and not giving me the receipts.

I drew up a strict budget. It covered all household expenses, with a little left over for savings and for minor expenses until the next pay day. I got a copy of my credit report and contacted all of my creditors, and made arrangements to either pay them off or enter a payment plan. For debt that was past the statute of limitations in Oklahoma, I wrote letters to zombie debt collectors demanding they stop calling my home and offer proof that I actually owed the debts. They all stopped bothering me. The one or two that did offer proof of my debt agreed to lower payoff amounts in exhange for agreeing to remove old debts from my credit report.

I opened a savings account, and I treated it like a bill. It was the first thing I "paid" after each paycheck, and in no time at all I had an emergency fund of about $600. I signed up for my new employer's 401k plan and contributed every pay period.

My wife and I made it a point of discussing every debt and household expense, and I adopted a new mantra when it came to shopping for clothing and household goods: never pay full retail. I purchased clothing from eBay and the clearance racks at stores. I purchased groceries from dollar stores and discount supermarkets. I fed a family of four plus a dog and a cat for $250 per month, and we ate well.

I adopted frugal living strategies developed by my grandmother, a woman who lived for nearly 30 years on nothing more than a Social Security check. Even so, she managed to buy new clothes, a new (used) car every few years and serve large family dinners during the holidays. She was doing something right.

My family has had a few financial speed bumps since that time, but I now make more money than at any other time of my life, I support a family of four (my wife can't work anymore) and we are able to pay all of our household expenses. The only debts I have are some medical bills (accumulated during a time we didn't have medical insurance) a car payment, a student loan and a tax bill.

If I had not adapted a lifestyle of Savvy Frugality, who knows where my family would be now? We could have been homeless, hungry and without hope. Now, things have turned around, we have a bright future ahead of us, and we can now save for our retirement and our own home. My goal is to accumulate enough wealth through frugal living and investments to be able to start my own business and then hopefully retire before the age of 60.

Impossible? Maybe. But then again, I was nearly homeless just five years ago, and now I'm dreaming of early retirement and business and home ownership.

After my wife was released from the hospital, I took her home and began nursing her back to health. Luckily, my job search was starting to pay off. I landed two job interviews, but they were both out-of-state. I would have to leave my family behind to go and try to land one of these jobs.

I flew to Phoenix, Arizona and interviewed for a job which was actually located in Oklahoma City. I had never been to Oklahoma, and really didn't know what to expect, but I knew I needed that job, or my family would be sleeping in a car in two weeks. I was offered the job on the spot.

I flew back to New York and started packing my clothes, a sleeping bag and a small TV. I also started packing my family's belongings. They would have to finish packing up the rest of the household without me while I went to Oklahoma City to start my new job. With no emergency fund, I had to withdraw all of my cash from my 401k account to pay for the move, my trip to Oklahoma City and for a security deposit on a new apartment once I got to Oklahoma. I had to do this with a total of about $3,000, after paying a huge penalty for early withdrawal from my 401k account.

It took me two days to drive to Oklahoma City, and I had to do everything on the cheap. Instead of renting a motel room on the way to Oklahoma, I slept in my car at a truck stop. It was January, so I had to keep the engine running with the window cracked open while I slept so I would have heat. I ate two meals a day, lunch and dinner, and I bought everything off the dollar menu at McDonalds' to conserve cash. My new employer arranged for me to stay in a hotel once I got to Oklahoma City, but I had only one day to locate a new apartment.

Once I got to Oklahoma City, I rented the first place I found. The security deposit was $300, but I convinced the apartment manger to let me pay $110 on the spot, and the rest after I got my first paycheck from my new job. After this, I had a grand total of $70 left to live on until I got paid, presumably in two weeks. I had no pots or pans to cook with, only my clothing, sleeping bag and television. Luckily, it was the middle of the month, so the utilities and cable TV service were still working. I ate frozen burritos I purchased at 7-11 for 79 cents, and buckets of chicken I found at a local restaurant, 10 pieces for $6.99. One bucket would last me 3 or 4 days, and it included biscuits and sides.

I reserved the rest of my money from my 401k for a moving truck and movers, and to bring the rest of my family to Oklahoma City. After working at my new job for about a week, my wife called. She was simply too ill to pack the rest of the apartment on her own to move. I would have to drive back to New York, finish packing our items for the movers, clean the apartment and drive my family back to Oklahoma City...all over the course of 3 days.

I did get that accomplished, and we left New York the day before we were to be officially evicted. We headed for Oklahoma, and a new life.

(Part 3 continues tomorrow)

It's hard to believe, but it was five years ago this month that my family and I were essentially homeless.

A series of events happened which led to us being without a home. First, a deposit at our bank didn't get credited, which led to several checks bouncing. Of course, the bank then charged my account overdraft fees, which compounded the problem. My wife began paying our rent (she paid all of the bills back then) with money orders, to avoid any further overdrafts. We did this for about six months.

Then, one day, we got a call from our apartment complex's management company. They told us they had not received a rent payment for six months. We told them yes we did pay our rent. We mailed our money orders on the first of each month like clockwork. The management company, located in another state, said they had no record of payments and that we should locate our money order receipts.

Unfortunately, while cleaning our apartment, somebody in my family (we don't know who) threw them all away, along with a bunch of other financial documents. We had no proof that we paid our rent. Our landlords filed papers to have us evicted, unless we could come up with several thousand dollars. Having no emergency fund to fall back on, we couldn't.

At about the same time my employer was bought out by a new company. The manager of the new company asked me to do several tasks and jobs for him before his company took over. At this point, I didn't even know if the new company was going to keep me on after they took over. So I asked. There was a pause. "Never mind, we'll find someone else to do it," he said. I began looking for a new job.

A couple of weeks later, my wife had severe pains in her abdomen. I rushed her to the hospital. After a few tests, she was scheduled for emergency surgery. She had a cyst on one of her ovaries that threatened to burst. If it did, she could bleed to death. She had to have a total hysterectomy. My sons and I sat in the waiting room for hours, until finally the surgeon came out and said the operation went well, but it was a very close call for my wife. The ovary burst as they removed it. She would need to be hospitalized for a few days.

Tired and depressed, I went back to my apartment, where I found an eviction notice waiting for me. I had 30 days to move out. I then checked the messages on my phone. There was a voice mail from my new boss notifying me I had been fired. He was bringing in his own people. I had no job, no home, my wife was in the hospital and soon my family would have no health insurance, either. This was easily the lowest moment of my life.

It was at that moment that I made a decision. I could either let these challenges defeat me, or I could take control of my life and control my own destiny. No longer would I go through life spending every dime in my paycheck. No longer would I let myself be in the dark about my family's finances. No longer would I let my family go through life with no safety net. It was time to make drastic changes and they had to be made immediately.

(Read Part 2 of "Why I Chose a Life of Savvy Frugality" tomorrow)

I like to think that there is plenty of great frugal living advice here at Savvy Frugality, but there are many, many other blogs out there on the subject, and I like to highlight them here through the Festival of Frugality, a blog carnival on frugal living. Of course, Savvy Frugality participates in the festival, too. Here are some blog posts from the latest festival which caught my eye:

Be Organized and Be Frugal

Slash Your Winter Heating Bills – 7 Free Ways to Save Money This Winter

How to Bid to Win on eBay and Save a Fortune

#5: Live Below Your Means

'Tis the Season for holiday shopping, lots of eating (which I'm guilty of) and giving to those who are not as fortunate as we are. This is the time of year when a lot of people start thinking of charitable giving, whether it's to a Salvation Army bell ringer with a red kettle, or by donating food to a local food bank. Some people do it because it make them feel good (which I'm also guilty of) and others do it because tax time is just a few months away and those donations are tax deductible. Whatever the reason, it is always a good thing to give something back to the community and help those who really need it.

Several years ago, my family and I were in dire straits. I had been unemployed for six months, and my wife's salary was barely putting food on the table. There were some days that we didn't know where we were going to get our next meal. Of course, back then we were not living a frugal lifestyle, so we lived beyond our means and made things even worse. A few weeks before Christmas, we not only didn't know how we were going to eat, but we also didn't know how we were going to get a few meager gifts for our son. Generous family members who were aware of our situation sent some large checks to us in the mail, and we were able to have a nice Christmas after all. But, something still bothered me. There were plenty of people in our town who were in a situation just like ours.

I went grocery shopping, and packed all of the bags and boxes into the back of the car. I then drove to the nearest food bank, which was run by a Catholic priest who had done some fantastic work for the down and out in our area. He happened to be there as I was dropping off the bags of food. "Why are you doing this?" he asked. "I almost didn't have a Christmas this year," I said, with tears welling up in my eyes. I couldn't believe I was crying over donating food. "I wanted to make sure somebody else was able to have a nice holiday, too." He thanked me for my donation and invited me to come and eat Christmas dinner at the food bank. I declined, but did volunteer to help deliver food to shut-ins on Christmas Day. Even if you can't donate money, you can still donate your time.

Since then, I have contributed to other causes I feel do some great work: Feed the Children, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Best Friends...which helped rescue pets in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. These were organizations that I either researched or visited personally. In the case of Feed the Children, I have been to their headquarters and met the president and founder of the organization, and watched the trucks of food rolling away from the loading dock.

Not everybody can research their charity of choice that thoroughly, of course. So how do you know your charity dollars are going to good use? It's sad to say, but there are some charities whose sole function is to raise money to pay their own salaries, and very little of it goes to the people they say they are trying to help. Other so-called charities are just blatant rip-offs, aimed at separating you from your cash. In the worst cases, people posing as charities try to get your credit card info and other personal information for purposes of identity theft.

Fortunately, there are web sites like Charity Navigator, which evaluate and grade charities to help people make an informed decision before they donate. Out of my preferred list of charities, Feed The Children and JDRF get four out of four stars. Best Friends gets three stars. Charity Navigator is great because it not only tells you how much money the charity has collected, but how much it actually uses for charitable purposes.

The Better Business Bureau runs another web site where you can check the finances of the charity you plan to donate to. It's called Give.org, and it's part of the Better Business Bureau's "Wise Giving Alliance". This database goes a step further, by noting the salaries of the people who run the charities, along with more detailed financial reports and a list of any complaints about the charities filed with the BBB over the past 36 months.

GuideStar is another service which provides background information on some 1.7 million IRS-recognized charitable organizations. It requires users to register before they use the service, but registration is free.

If background checks on charitable organizations doesn't seem very, well...Christmas-like to you, then there are other giving alternatives.

- Donate money, toys and clothing to the local branch of the Salvation Army, or donate your time by ringing a bell at one of their red kettles. The Salvation Army does great work, and raises the majority of its funds during this time of the year.

- Donate to your local food banks. Many of us take a regular hot meal for granted, but there are hungry people right in your own backyard.

- Tithe to your church. If you have a church, give to it on a regular basis. Many churches run their own faith-based charities and not only do great work in the community, but mission service to impoverished countries overseas as well.

There are some good charities out there doing great work and making the best use of your donations. With a little homework, you can ensure your donations are truly going to a good cause. It really is better to give than receive.

Each year, my wife buys a 14-18 pound turkey and cooks enough food to feed the army of a small nation. The trouble is, there are never more than five people at my house for Thanksgiving. But, we never find outselves eating leftover turkey and stuffing until Valentine's Day. How do we get rid of it all? The answer is: variety.

Some people are content to just reheat the green bean casserole and turkey until they just can't stand it anymore, but that's not what we do. We incorporate the turkey and other leftovers into other dishes so that they don't taste like, well...leftovers.

A few things we cook to unload all that extra turkey:

Turkey Noodle Soup
Turkey ala King
Turkey Salad Sandwiches
Turkey Casserole
Turkey Enchiladas

You get the idea. Use the turkey in place of chicken for many of the chicken dishes you would normally cook.

For leftover mashed potatoes, try:

Potato Pancakes
Potato rolls (fold the mashed potatoes into the dough you would normally make for rolls. This works with bread, too).
Open face Turkey and Potato sandwiches

You can also mix sour cream and chives into the mashed potatoes and serve it as a side dish with a roast.

For more hints on how to turn your Thanksgiving leftovers into something that doesn't take like what you had for Thanksgiving, check out sites like Leftover Chef, Alicia's Recipes, and Eat Turkey.com.

Do you have a recipe you use to get rid of the Thanksgiving leftovers? Tried one of the recipes from the sites listed above? Let us know about it!

Festival of Frugality #101

Posted by T | 10:31 PM | 0 comments »

Savvy Frugality is once again participating in the Festival of Frugality, which this week is hosted by rather-be-shopping.com. There is a lot of great frugal living reading here, but be sure to especially check out these posts:

Force Yourself To Save! 15 Painless Ways To Pay Yourself First

How To Sell on eBay

20 Ways To Save Money At The Library

To Gift or Not to Gift: Frugal Gift-Giving Strategies

Have Your Car Fixed For Free

Everybody knows that Thanksgiving is this week, but there is another holiday of sorts that follows the day after Thanksgiving: Black Friday. Black Friday is the day that most retailers use to officially launch the holiday shopping season, although some retailers have already kicked off their Christmas shopping season early. There are definitely good deals to be had on Black Friday, but how do you find them?

Fortunately, there is a way of scouting out the Black Friday sales ahead of time, and this can help you pre-plan your Black Friday shopping experience and get you in and out of the stores quickly and back home in time to enjoy those turkey leftovers for lunch. Here are a few places where you can get a sneak peak at Black Friday sales, without stepping foot outside of your home or smudging your hands with ink from the newspaper sales circulars:

bfads.net - Not only can you get the scoop on in-store sales, but this web site has details about Black Friday sales available on shopping web sites as well.

blackfriday.info - This site has links to the Black Friday sales circulars of several retail chains.

black-friday.net - More links to online Black Friday ads for the nation's biggest retail chains.

blackfridayads.com - Billed as "the web site retailers don't want you to see!", this site has links to online Black Friday circulars for major retailers.

blackfriday.gottadeal.com - Links to Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

Cyber Monday, the Monday following Black Friday, is supposedly one of the busiest online shopping days of the year, with deals to match. I haven't necessarily found this to be the case, and I really try to avoid the Black Friday sales as well, unless there is a gift item that has been so ridiculously slashed in price that it would save me a LOT of money. Otherwise, I do most of my shopping a couple of weeks before Christmas. I have found that the closer to Christmas it is, the lower the prices get. No retailer wants to be stuck with extra inventory after Christmas. And, if you want a great deal on Christmas decorations, gift wrap and cards, wait until AFTER Christmas, and stock up for next year. Those items are usually discounted 50 to 80 percent following the holidays.

It seems a few people have gotten wise to the fact that bottled water is a rip-off. You may remember when bottled water first hit the store shelves. It was promoted as a "clean" and healthy alternative to ordinary tap water. The problem is a lot of that bottled water does not come from some fresh mountain springs or a melting glacier in the Swiss Alps. Much of it is simply filtered tap water.

Despite the fact that bottled water sales are still big business, and there are now even "designer" bottled waters fetching as much as $1,000 a bottle (I'm not kidding), some people have gotten smart, and are switching to tap water.

This includes restaurants, by the way. Some restaurants in New York City now advertise the fact that they serve filtered tap water. It tastes every bit as good as the stuff that comes out of the bottle, it's certainly cheaper, and in some cases its just plain better for you. I used to live in New York, and I have to say it's probably the best tap water I've ever tasted.

I have to admit, I used to purchase bottled water. I bought the discount stuff at Big Lots, but it was still money that was going to waste. I couldn't drink tap water for a time because of a medical problem I had involving my bladder...the chlorine in the water really irritated it. It was at this time I discovered the Pur filter.

You've no doubt seen Pur or Britta filters at Walmart or the local hardware store. Pur even makes filters which flavor your water now. You may have wondered if buying those filters is worth the money. Let me answer that question: it is.

A standard Pur filter which mounts to your faucet will provide 100 gallons (on average) of filtered tap water. The tap water in my town happens to taste terrible, so the Pur filter is a must-have item in my house. The filter, with faucet mount, costs about $25-$30. If you were to purchase 100 gallons worth of 12 oz. bottles of water averaging 79 cents a bottle (the price I was paying at Big Lots), you would be paying more than $842. The Pur filter saves me $828 for every 100 gallons of drinking water that I use (the replacement filters are $14). I replace my Pur filter about 2 times per month, sometimes less. Over the course of a year, I am saving $19,872 per year by drinking filtered tap water, rather than bottled water. Of course, I never drank ONLY bottled water, but some people do, and now you can see what this is costing them. For those who drink higher-priced bottled water, such as Evian, the cost would be more than twice that much...for water.

Water is important. We all need it to live. A person can live a lot longer without food than they can without water. But all of us can definitely live without bottled water...and your bank account will be richer for it.

Festival of Frugality #100

Posted by T | 10:49 PM | 0 comments »

I'm getting back into the swing of things after my one week vacation, and that means diving back into the Festival of Frugality...a collection of blog posts from around the 'net with great frugal living advice. Here are some posts worth reading, and be sure to check out the rest of the Festival, too!

The Financial Blogger - 5 Tricks To Save Money On Christmas Gifts

Being Frugal - 50 Frugal Christmas Ideas

Christian Personal Finance Blog - 6 Tips for a Debt Free Christmas

The Dough Roller - 10 Online Budget Tools

Saving Advice - Ten Great Reasons to Have Frugal Friends

I never used to think that there were limits to my frugality. I was pretty much willing to do whatever it took to help save my family a few dollars here and there, mostly out of necessity. Oh sure, I always laughed when my grandmother would yell at us kids for ripping the gift wrap off of presents. She liked to reuse it. Ditto with the Zip-lock bags and aluminum foil, which she would wash and use again. Blech.

Well, I have found other limits to my frugality: toilet paper. That's right, as detailed in this article, there are people that try to get by on the cheap when it comes to their toilet paper. Let's face it, you only buy toilet paper for one thing, and you sure as heck aren't going to reuse it...or at least I hope nobody would.

Personally, I buy the double-roll, generic variety that I find at Dollar General stores. It's four double rolls for $2.50, and the package usually lasts my family of four about two weeks. I also buy a package of baby wipes once a month, because I find them to be more comfortable than dry, scratchy toilet tissue. There is even a variety that breaks up and disintegrates after you flush it.

Really, this is one area where you may not want to skimp. After all, your comfort is at stake, and how much can you REALLY save by economizing your toilet paper, anyway? Are there other areas where you think it doesn't pay to be frugal, and you refuse to skimp? Let us know about it!

A few days before Halloween, I went to Home Depot to buy a new garbage can. As I walked through the front door, I was greeted by two things: an employee who wanted me to sign up for a Home Depot Consumer Card (I already have one), and Christmas decorations.

"Wait a minute," I said to the orange-aproned employee. "It's still October, right?"

A sheepish look came over the Home Depot worker's face. "I know," she said. "We're already sick of Christmas music."

So, what's with the Christmas displays in stores before Thanksgiving? A quick glance at recent headlines sheds light on this questions. Oil is nearing $100 a barrel. Economic experts are predicting an economic slowdown (i.e. recession) and consumer prices have been creeping up for a few months now. These are all ominous signs I mentioned some time ago in my post Bad Economic Times on the Way?

Usually, when retailers trot out the Christmas displays earlier than usual, it means they are expecting a rough holiday shopping season. When times get tough, fewer people go shopping. To compensate for slower-than-usual holiday sales, retailers start the shopping season early, and offer bigger sales.

Traditionally, retailers launch the holiday shopping season on "Black Friday"...the day after Thanksgiving. This year, many retailers plan to start their Christmas sales at 12 a.m. Friday morning. Some even plan to start on Thanksgiving night. This could be good for consumers in terms of saving money on gifts this year, but it points to a bigger problem: things aren't as merry as usual this Christmas.

Personally, I prefer to skip the Black Friday sales and the crowds at the malls. I do most of my Christmas shopping online, and let retailers ship to my home. Some even offer free shipping during the holidays. I have also purchased gifts on eBay in past years. My sister, also trying to avoid the Black Friday crowds, started her Christmas shopping last weekend.

If you really want to find bargains at retail stores this holiday shopping season, patience will be your friend. As we get closer to Christmas Eve, stores may start to slash prices in an effort to do more volume during what could be a humbug of a holiday shopping season for retailers.

My Best Buy of the Week this week is rather unusual, because it's not actually a purchase that I made. Let me explain.

My father-in-law plans to retire in Oklahoma. He and his wife came for a visit this past week specifically to shop for their retirement home. They found one...a nice 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house just a few blocks from where I work. The only thing is they are not yet ready to retire, and they are both still working in New York. They will probably retire in 2 to 4 years.

In the meantime, they are going to allow me, my wife and our two kids to live in the home for the next few years...rent free! You know my motto: if it's for free, it's for me! It really is a very generous gesture on their part. They get long-term house sitters, and we get rent-free housing for the next few years.

This means that my family will immediately save $750 a month...what we are currently paying for rent. But, we aren't going to consider this "mad money". On the contrary, we have big plans for this suddenly-available cash.

First, we are going to take about $250 per month and use it to eliminate our debts. The other $500 per month will be parked in a high-yield Internet bank savings account, earning 4-5 percent per year. I would put it into something like mutual funds, but I want to keep the cash liquid, in case we need it for emergencies.

At the end of 2 years, we should have more than $12,000 stashed away, and if they decide not to retire for 4 more years, nearly $50,000. This will go a LONG way toward helping us purchase our own home when the time comes. If you have other ideas for saving this money while making it for us over the short term, leave a comment to this blog. I'd love to hear your ideas!

It will be awfully hard to beat this Best Buy of the Week, but by saving and continuing to live frugally, it will be one which will benefit my family for years to come!

Is the middle class worse off today than their parents in the 1970s? According to this article on MSN.com, the answer is "yes".

The article sites a study entitles "Middle Class In Turmoil", preparted by the Center for American Progress and the Service Employees International Union. According to this study, Americans now are less prepared for an economic emergency, have seen their wages remain stagnant, must borrow more money to pay monthly bills and pay more for big ticket items. According to the study, things haven't been this bleak since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

The key point to the story is that families should have some money socked away for medical emergencies...you know, the stuff that insurance won't cover, save three month's worth of expenses in an emergency fund and perhaps spend less on big ticket items, and purchase them less often. That's good advice not matter how the economy is doing, and I don't think it's as bad as this article makes it seem. I do believe we may be heading toward a recession. The price of oil continues to skyrocket and the dollar is taking a beating compared to other currencies. The latest advice I have read from financial analysts a lot smarter than me: invest in a company that earns its money in a currency other than dollars. That would mean investing in a foreign company, preferabely one that earns Euros or Yen.

As I promised in a previous post, I am posting updates on my weight loss progress. I didn't fare too well this week. I have relatives visiting from out of town, and after a Halloween party and a night eating out at a restaurant (their treat), I have actually gained weight. I am back up to 185 pounds. Yikes!

The important thing to remember when you get off track with your weight loss goals is to not thrown in the towel. I'm just going to recommit myself to eating right and getting more exercise, drinking more water and staying away from the junk food (Cheetos are my weakness).

My wife informed me that she is not buying junk food anymore. She does the majority of the grocery shopping. She is also on a mission to lose weight. She has already lost 70 pounds and wants to lose 70 more. Since she is diabetic and has high cholesterol and hight blood pressure, additional weight loss would probably save us money on the very expensive medications she needs to take.

Hopefully, I'll have a better report on my own weight loss next week.


Every once in awhile I pass along my "best buys of the week". Well, I have decided to start a new feature here at Savvy Frugality: my "biggest expense of the week". My thinking is that if I talk about the things that unnecessarily cost me a lot of money, I might help someone else avoid making the same mistake.

One of the reasons that it has been some time since my last post is I have had an illness in the family. When I came home from my vacation in San Diego, I realized that my Jack Russell Terrier, Lucy, was incredibly ill. She could not stop throwing up or having diarrhea. I though perhaps she had gotten into some garbage or eaten something bad. It turns out it was something worse...much worse.

After a couple of days, Lucy wasn't getting any better. In fact, she could barely move. My wife and I rushed her to the local veterinary hospital. The vet asked a few questions and then did a test. Lucy tested positive almost immediately for the Parvo virus.

Parvo is easily transmitted and can be carried to a home on someone's shoes, on car tires, by other dogs, and I have read that even birds can spread it to your lawn where it can be picked up by your dog. If your dog is properly vaccinated, it will easily avoid getting sick from Parvo. Unfortunately, I had only had Lucy for a few months, and I had not yet had her vaccinated. Parvo is a fatal disease for dogs. Their chances of survival, even with treatment, are about 50/50.

I signed off on the treatment for my dog, who had to be hospitalized for about a week. Luckly, she pulled through, and today she is back to being her happy and loveable self. I couldn't bear the thought of losing my dog. She was a replacement for my cat, who had died of cancer last year. Total veterinary hospital bill: $1,100. I tapped what was left of my emergency fund and then some. Between the vacation and the vet, October was a very expensive month.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS make sure your pet is current on all vaccinations. It will save you a lot of money in the long run. Also, consider buying pet insurance. Yes, there is health insurance for pets, and unlike human health insurance the cost is very reasonable compared to the cost of paying an emergency veterinary bill. A year's worth of premiums would still have been less expensive than what I paid for Lucy's treatment.

When I got back home from my vacation in San Diego, I noticed that my jeans were fitting a lot tighter than they did before the trip. I stepped on the bathroom scale, and my suspicions were confirmed: I had gained about five pounds in one week!

In fact, I have steadily been gaining weight over the past few months, ballooning from 165 pounds to 185. That doesn't sound like much, but when I gain weight it is all around my waist and nowhere else. I had gone from a 32 inch waist to 36 inches. Not good.

I have lost that extra five pounds over the past week, and I am going to share my diet secret. This is the diet secret that "they" don't want you to know about, the secret to weight loss that companies making literally millions of dollars don't want you to know. Are you ready? Here it is:

"Eat less. Move more."

That's it. That's the secret to weight loss. I know what you're thinking. This information is probably worth what you paid for it, right? Well, don't discount it so quickly.

Human bodies are hardwired with the DNA of our cave man ancestors. Back then, food was scarce. After all, there were no supermarkets back in the days of the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals. They had to eat when food was available, and when there was food, they binged because they didn't know when their next meal was coming. This caused them to pack on weight and fat they they used to survive until their next meal came along.

Unfortunately, what was good for the cavemen is bad for us. You probably would not have seen cavemen with six-pack abs. Our lifestyle is a bit more sedentary than those of our ancestors, so loading up on the all-you-can-eat buffet is not good for us.

Once I saw that all of those breakfasts at Denny's had caught up with me, I immediately cut back on the amount of food I was eating. I'm not saying you should starve yourself, just eat reasonable portions. We're all adults...we know what a reasonable portion is. A spoonful of mashed potatoes is OK. A steak that hangs over the edges of a dinner plate and a mountain of mashed potatoes that you could sculpt into Mount Rushmore is not.

Everybody's caloric needs are different based upon their amount of physical activity, so if you're a real couch potato, like me, you probably don't need to be eating 3,000 calories a day. 2,000 is plenty, and 1,800 is probably even better. Stay away from junk, or processed foods. In the words of Jack La Lane, "if man makes it, don't eat it." In other words, Cheetos are bad. Bananas are good.

If you're cutting back on your food and still maintaining your weight, or worse, still gaining, you need to get off your butt and on your feet, literally. You don't need a gym membership or the latest gizmo that promises you rock-hard abs. Go for a walk for 30 minutes each day. Shoot some hoops with your kids. Ride a bicycle. You know, the crap you used to do before you got fat. If you want to buy a used weight set off Craig's List, go for it. Personally, I walk and exercise with a pair of 20 pound dumbbells I bought at a place called Play It Again Sports, which sells used exercise equipment.

So, after just one week, I'm down to 180. I'll post weekly updates on my progress. I hope to get back down to 165 or even 160. With the holidays coming up, it will be hard, but it will be worth it. You can do it. Just remember the two secrets to weight loss:

"Eat less. Move more."

San Diego Recap

Posted by T | 10:33 PM | 0 comments »

I am back home after a week long vacation to San Diego. The wildfires in the area weren't really apparent to me, as a tourist, until Monday evening. That is when many of the evacuations started in earnest.

As I sat in the hotel lobby checking my email and doing some writing, I couldn't help but notice the steady stream of people. It turns out they were evacuees looking for a place to stay for the night after being forced from their homes by the approaching flames. The hotel clerk had to turn each of them away. The hotel was sold out, as were all of the other hotels in the area. He referred them down the highway to Qualcomm Stadium which had been turned into an evacuation center.

The next day, as my family and I were checking out of the hotel, I silently hoped my room would go to an evacuee, rather than another tourist. I bumped into a friend, who was staying in San Diego a few days longer, and I asked him what his plans were.

"My wife and I were going to go to Sea World, " he said, "but it's closed because of the fires, so I'm doing laundry instead." It turns out my family and I were leaving at just the right time.

I felt guilty having such a good time in a beautiful city like San Diego while so many people were losing their homes just a few miles from my hotel suite. I hope the emergency ends soon, and that the residents who lost their homes are able to rebuild. San Diego truly was a fantastic place to visit, and I highly recommend it to everyone. I know I will return there one day soon.

If you would like to assist those in San Diego who have been forced to leave their homes, you can make a donation to the San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross. Right now, monetary donations are best, and your donations are tax deductible.

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