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.

The family and I are vacationing in sunny San Diego this week, where we can smell the smoke from the wild fires elsewhere in the state. We have had a great trip so far, and we while we have had to spend some hard-earned money here (California is not a cheap state for travel), we have managed to save cash along the way. Here are a few tips if you are traveling to San Diego:

1. Check out Balboa Park. It's loaded with museums and it has the San Deigo Zoo. There is a charge to visit each of the museums and the zoo, but here is what you will want to do: go to the Balboa Park visitor's center and buy the deluxe Passport to Balboa Park. It will give you entry to all of the museums, plus you get a one-day pass to the San Diego Zoo. The passport will only give you one entry to each of the museums, so if you want to visit a museum more than once you will have to pay again. I paid $155 for three people, but on the first day alone we visited two museums, which would normally have cost us about $50. We intend to visit a few more museums over the next couple of days, so I figure these passports will save us anywhere from 30 to 50 percent. Zoo admission alone would normally cost us nearly $100, so as you can see there are big savings with the Passport to Balboa Park.

2. When I was looking for a rental car, I checked the regular travel sites like Hotwire, Expedia, Priceline, etc., but I got the best deal through the Balboa Park web site. There were links there for hotel, flights, rental cars and other package deals. I got a rental car for one week for $108. The next best price I found was on Expedia, for $135. Check local web sites for savings.

3. When eating out at restaurants, get away from the hotels. Even the restaurants just outside of the hotels but still in the same neighborhood tend to charge higher prices. Drive to a residential area and check out some of the restaurants you find there. The prices tend to be lower. Ditto for the restaurants in the "tourist" areas.

4. Ask the hotel concierge or desk clerk if the hotel offers discount tickets for area attractions. They often have arrangements worked out with the area attractions and you can get tickets and admission for a lower price by buying at the hotel.

5. If you are a AAA member, check to see if there are any local discounts. I am a Triple-A member, and I found several discounts on area attractions at the AAA web site. Many hotels and restaurants also offer Triple-A discounts.

6. San Diego is a military town. That means many of the attractions offer military discounts. Many post signs stating this, but if you are in the military and don't see a sign offering military discounts, ask the venue if they offer them. A lot of them do, and they want the business.

Festival of Frugality #96

Posted by T | 11:34 PM | 1 comments »

Once again, Savvy Frugality is being cited in the latest Festival of Frugality. This time, you can check out my post about places online where you can grab coupons without relying on the Sunday paper. There are some other great posts worthy of mention as well. My picks:

David from My Two Dollars provides simple and sound advice in Ten Ways Living Simply Can Save You Money.

Beth Dargis from My Simpler Life shares some timely tips in Simplifying Halloween.

Shannon Christman from Saving Advice Blog strikes a creative balance between frugality and social expenses in How to Handle Social Obligation Expenses.

Kyle James from Rather-Be-Shopping shares some Frugal Ways To Get In Shape. Hmm, we wonder why these secrets are not shared by the Gyms!

Raymond from Money Blue Book advises us to Ask Companies For Coupons and Save Money. This really works! We had written to Amy's requesting some coupons for buying their great organic dinners. They sent us dozens of coupons which saved us tens of dollars.

And, of course, Savvy Frugality cites some great sources of getting coupons for our supermarket outings in Skip the Sunday Paper, Get the Ads.

Like a lot of people, I do buy the local Sunday newspaper, but I don't buy it for the news. I get it for the ads and coupons inside. I already get all of my news online, for free I might add, and most of the news in the Sunday paper is usually news I have already read online or seen on TV or heard on the radio.

But, there are a lot of ads and coupons in the Sunday paper which help you save several dollars on your next trip to the supermarket, or inform you of sales coming up at your favorite stores. To me, this usually made the $1.50 cost of the paper worth it to me each Sunday, until now.

You can get many of the same ads and coupons from other sources, including online and in the store itself, eliminating the need to buy the Sunday paper for the coupons and ads alone. Here are the web sites I check out for regular savings:

SundaySaver.com - Contains links to the weekly sales circulars for several stores, including supermarkets, department and clothing stores and electronics stores.

FlamingoWorld.com - More links to weekly sales circulars and coupons.

Coupons.com - Put away your scissors. Now you can clip coupons online.

Ebates.com - Earn cash back for all of your online purchases. Right now you get $5.00 just for signing up, which consists of entering an email address and any password you want. It literally took me about ten seconds. You can add your address and other info later to receive your check. Checks are payable every three months when your account is greater than $5.01, so you're almost there right after you sign up! You can sign up here. Also, earn an additional $5.00 when you refer friends and they sign up.

Valpak.com - I usually get these coupons in the mail, but they are available online, too.

Do you have a favorite coupon or online shopping site that saves you money? Tell us about it!

Although I don't blog for a living, there are some people who do. I'm convinced that the number of bloggers who can actually make a living at it are in the minority. I don't write this blog for the money, because...well, it doesn't really make much. I do some freelance writing on the side, and that is a nice supplement to my income. My "day job" is in marketing communications.

I changed careers a couple of years ago, and although I had plenty of experience as a writer and a journalist I realized I would need some specialized training. I needed to get a marketing degree.

I'm in my 40's and work full-time, so enrolling in a local college even part-time was out, especially considering the demands on my time between work and family obligations. I then explored the world of distance learning.

The number of distance learning, or "online" programs has exploded over the past few years. Even brick-and-mortar local universities are getting in on the act. Some online programs can be very expensive, and of course you have to make sure the school has legitimate accreditation. Any accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education has legitimate accreditation. I spent a couple of years shopping around, and then picked my school: Penn Foster College.

Penn Foster College is a nationally accredited school which has been around in one form or another for several decades. Students can study through a combination of online and correspondence studies. It also offered the program I was looking for: an Associate of Science degree in Marketing.

The cost of the program can't be beat: $53.80 per credit hour for the 15 credit hours I will be taking this next semester. Penn Foster College doesn't participate in an federal student aid programs, but it really doesn't need to. I made a down payment of $100, and then interest-free monthly payments of $29 per month. I can't think of too many schools which will let you attend for $29 a month.

The course material has been challenging and I have learned things which have helped me on the job, which is the most important thing to me. The courses are also reviewed by the American Council on Education, which means they will transfer to most other colleges should I decide to get a BS in Business or Markting.

I hated high school, and I did attend a state university previously, but I have recently discovered that I truly enjoy learning new things. Of course, you can get an education at a public library, but I like having the challenge of accomplishing something and earning a degree at the end. It gives me something to shoot for. If you are interested in exploring distance learning programs, check out www.elearners.com.

It's been awhile since I have reported my best buys of the week, mainly because I am saving money for an upcoming family vacation. I'll be flying to San Diego, which will be cheaper than driving.

Once we get to San Diego, we'll need a rental car. I had checked all of the usual discount travel sites, like Priceline, Hotwire, Expedia, but the cheapest rental I could find was $135 for a weekly rental. That's not bad, but I'm really on a budget.

I found my rental car quite by accident. I was browsing a web site about San Diego's Balboa Park, an entertainment center featuring a park, the San Diego Zoo and several museums. The site offers a two-day pass which gives you unlimited admission to all attractions except the zoo, which is a one-time only admission, but it still saves money. Then I noticed that the site also featured car and hotel reservation bookings. Out of curiosity, I typed in the dates I needed a rental car and it returned several options, including the price for an economy car: $108 for a weekly rental.

I booked it, of course. It was the absolute cheapest price I could find for a weekly car rental. It also taught me a lesson: when traveling, don't just rely on the major travel web sites for things like hotel and car rental reservations. Check out some of "local" sites of the places where you are traveling.

Last weekend, I found myself needing a haircut. As I mentioned before, my wife cuts my hair for me. However, our clippers finally bit the dust, and I was facing going to a barber for the first time in more than a year. I made a trip to Walmart to buy some dog food, but I decided to check and see if they had a good price on hair clippers. It turns out they did: Remington clippers for a mere $12. That was less than the cost of one trip to the barbers shop, and they should last us about a year or so (clippers have a short life for some reason). I usually get my hair cut once a month. Total savings over the course of the year: $180.

Savvy Frugality is once again participating in the Carnival of Debt Reduction. I have found blogs (yes, blog other than this one) which have a wealth of information. Here are a few from this week's carnival which caught my eye:

Rather-Be-Shopping.com has 7 tips to Reduce Monthly Costs Right Now!

Meredith explains How My Big Mouth Saves Me Money at SavingAdvice.com.

A Penny Closer is now debt-free, but needed a plan to stay that way.

and of course, SavvyFrugality.com has some sage advice on Stock Picking for the Financially Illiterate.

Happy Reading!

I'm taking a day off from blogging today, but I'm pleased to announce Savvy Frugality's first-ever guest blogger: my wife! She explains how she makes gift card offers at one pharmacy chain work to her advantage:

As a self proclaimed coupon queen I’m always on the lookout for a bargain. Each week I search through the weekly ads for our local stores, and then match up the coupons that go with them. Sure it can be a pain in the butt, but you can’t beat that feeling of watching your grocery bill go from $100 down to $40 because of your coupon clipping.

Recently one of my favorite coupons came out… transfer any prescription to a CVS pharmacy from a competing pharmacy and get a free $30 gift card.

Being an unemployed domestic goddess, this is like free money to me. Every now and then I use these gift cards to buy my girlie things…you know, make up, body salts, etc… but this time around I had seven, yup seven prescriptions that I could transfer. However, there is a trick to this. You see CVS will only allow one coupon per person, per week, so I needed to be creative.

I contacted the closest store and had them transfer a prescription from my regular pharmacy, and then I asked them the price. To my shock and amazement the cost was more than five times as high as my regular pharmacy, so I asked them to match the price and they did.

Then I contacted another CVS and had them transfer my next prescription, and on and on and on, until all seven of my prescriptions had been transferred, and if my insurance didn’t cover the cost of the prescription, then I had them match the price of my regular pharmacy.

The best part was that once I got my initial $30 gift card, I could use it towards the cost of my next prescription. A few of the stores didn’t allow it. I think they weren’t sure whether or not it could be done, but several of them did allow it, and it saved me from having to spend the cash.

Since the coupons are good until October 27th, I plan on transferring them to a local grocery store out here that takes competitors’ coupons and getting some free groceries next month.

At the end of the day, I used about $10 worth of gas driving from CVS to CVS, but I got $210 worth of free gift cards. What did I do with it? Well, I didn’t think it would be cool for me to ask my husband for money to buy him a birthday gift, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY HONEY! You’re getting a gift from CVS!

During my own quest to be a millionaire I have so far managed to eliminate some debt...a few hundred dollars worth...get a raise at my job and also get some badly-needed health insurance. But, I am still far from being a millionaire. Then, as if from a gift from the gods, I noticed CNBC might have the solution: Their series called "The Millionaire Inside".

According to CNBC, this series features "some of the country's best money-makers who have made millions". Well, if anybody could tell me how to become a millionaire, then perhaps these mentors could.

Read more HERE.

Who needs TiVO? Not me!

Posted by T | 5:46 PM | 0 comments »

TIVO has sort of become a generic term for any digital video recorder which allows you to record all of your favorite shows and skip the commercials…sort of like Band-Aid, or Kleenex. The brand you buy may not actually be Band-Aid or Kleenex, but that’s what we call pretty much any bandage or facial tissue.

So I used to have a DVR provided to me by my cable company, which we called our TIVO, even though it really wasn’t a TIVO, but it did the same thing. It was great. I didn’t have to worry about missing the latest episode of “Prison Break” or “Survivor”, because the TIVO…er, DVR…would take care of recording it for me.

Then I started taking a closer look at my monthly cable bill. Between equipment rental and the fee I paid each month for the service, my fake TIVO was costing me about $20 a month. Now, $20 isn’t really a lot of money, but over the course of a year that works out to $240. That’s a lot of money to pay for watching TV shows which are normally free.

In an effort to trim my cable bill, which I eventually did…from $130 a month to about $85 per month…I lost the fake TIVO. At first, it took some adjustment. I had to figure out a better way of staying on top of my television viewing (yes, I’m something of a couch potato).

That’s when I discovered that most of the major broadcast networks made full episodes of their most popular shows available for viewing online…for free! Now, when I miss an episode of “Bionic Woman”, I can just go to the NBC web site and watch it anytime I want. You can find a page with all of the network links here: http://streamingtvepisodes.com/

If you are a sports fan, you can even watch some games online. The NCAA March Madness games are streamed live online for free, and you can catch live audio streams of major league baseball games online, too…as well as recorded video, although there is a $9.95 charge for that service, but it’s still cheaper than TIVO. As far as I can tell, the NFL is not using a feature like this on their web site yet, although you can watch video highlights there for free.

There are now some computer programs and hardware you can purchase (rather inexpensively) to turn your home computer into a DVR…with no monthly charges. You can find a description of two different programs here: http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,126104-page,1/article.html

For now, I’ll pick up the free video streams on the network web sites. After all, it doesn’t get much better than free!

I'm going to preface this post by saying I am not a financial expert. I am not a stock broker. I don't even know how to read the stock page in the business section of the newspaper. I do own a few meager investments...an IRA, mostly. I also plan to stash some cash into a high-yield savings account with an online bank, which pays a lot more interest than my local brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions.

So what do I know about picking the next hot stock? Well, to be honest...nothing. However, I do read...a LOT. Lately, I have read a lot of articles about people of modest means who leave hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to schools or charities after they pass away. I also chronicled the uncanny stock picking ability of Ed Crawley, a parking lot attendant who earns $20,000 and has amassed a small fortune worth half a million dollars.

What do they all have in common? They all picked good stocks, and held on to them for a long, long time. That's it.

I know, that doesn't sound very sexy, but really, that's all they did. And you know what? It worked, and it seems to work more often than not.

So how do you go about picking a "good" stock? Stock brokers and financial advisers like to make this seem like a very complicated process. They have charts and graphs and complicated formulas for figuring out when to buy and when to sell. Well, what if you don't have a stock broker, or know how to read those charts yourself?

Then I remembered a story I saw on TV a few years ago. I used to be a TV reporter, so I got to see a lot of other reporters' stories, but this one caught my eye. It was about a woman and her husband who based their stock picks on TV ads.

The TV ads were not for stocks or stock investing software, or for a brokerage. She simply watched TV, and when she noticed a particular company was running an especially large number of commercials, she and her husband would buy some of the company's stock.

They didn't buy fly-by-night, infomercial type stuff. They invested in solid companies like Pepsi, Kellogg's, Levi's, Nike...companies that have been around, know how to market and were likely to be around a long time. This couple were doing VERY well with their investments. As goofy as this idea sounded, I saw that it actually made sense.

So I started looking around my house and taking notice of the appliances, services and products that I purchase on a regular basis. I like these products, I buy them often, I will continue to buy them...so why not buy a piece of the company that makes them?

For me, this would mean purchasing stock in companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, Whirlpool, Google, and CVS. These companies have all done quite well for themselves, and I've helped them with their profit margin through my purchases, so why shouldn't I make some money in the process, too?

Sure, these stocks will go up and down. All stocks do. But, if you pick stocks from good solid companies whose products and services you purchase, you will pick far more winners than losers. Just remember that you have to be in it for the long haul. These are stocks you pick and stick away for retirement, not stocks that you use for day trading. If you want to diversify and not pick all your own stocks, make sure your mutual fund or IRA invests in the kind of brand-name, household products or services that you use all the time. Warren Buffet, acknowledged to be the best stock market investor of all time, picks these types of so-called "boring" stocks...because they make money, and they do so consistently.

Some may argue this type of stock advice is what you might hear from "rich old white guys" who already have money. But, that's my point. They are RICH old white guys...and they have money. They must be doing something right...so why not do what they do?

Don't just pick a stock. Pick a company you LIKE, whose products you BUY, and will CONTINUE to buy. Preferably, it will be stock from a company which pays dividends that you can then reinvest.

Why let all the "rich old white guys" have all the fun?

My wife and I are flying to San Diego this month with our youngest son for a week-long vacation. Each year, we travel cross country for my Navy ship's reunion. Last year, we drove to Philadelphia from Oklahoma City. What a nightmare.

Immediately, I realized between gasoline and tolls, I was going to be spending a lot more money than I bargained for. It took us twice as long to get to Philadelphia than we estimated, mainly due to highway construction, and we broke down twice. The first time, we got a flat tire on the New Jersey Turnpike during a side trip to visit my in-laws, and the second time the water pump in my car died. It was a VERY expensive trip.

This year, I vowed things will be different. I priced the cost of flying the three of us to San Diego, and I priced the cost of driving. Flying won...easily.

I will save at least $300 by flying to San Diego rather than driving. The cost of three round-trip flights, departing from Tulsa (it's actually cheaper to fly out of Tulsa rather than Oklahoma City. Check nearby airports when you plan a trip) and purchased through Expedia.com, totals $498.

The cost of driving (round trip), meanwhile, looks like this:

Gasoline - $400 (if gas prices don't rise or fall)
Hotel - $200 (I'm figuring a one-night hotel stay each way)
Food - $200

Total cost: $800
Total savings of flying versus driving: $302

These are estimates of course, but there is also the added benefit of spending 5 hours on a plan rather than 17 hours in a car each way. That's worth something to me, too. For long trips, weigh the cost of flying versus driving, and you may find it's cheaper to leave the car in the garage.

I'm really not a "I told you so" kind of guy, but ever since writing my post "Bad Economic Times on the Way?", I have been noticing an increase in articles about the U.S. slipping into a recession, how 2008 is going to be a bad economic year, "how to prepare your portfolio for recession", etc. I came across this article, "How to Recession-Proof Your Finances", although I'm not sure when it was written.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not actually WISHING for bad economic times to befall the United States, but I can easily see it happening. The current state of the economy reminds me quite a bit of my life in 1991...one of the worst years of my life. I had no job, no income, and I didn't know where my family's next meal was going to come from more than once. Taking that into consideration, I'd rather spare my readers that pain.

Thinking back to that time, I see now that had I done a few simple things, such as the things noted in the articles reference above, I could have saved my family from going through such a tough time. Saving cash and preparing now is not just good in case the economy goes sour, it's just good advice in case some other kind of emergency hits your family or household.

Festival of Frugality #94

Posted by T | 8:00 PM | 0 comments »

SavvyFrugality.com is participating in the latest Festival of Frugality! Check out this great collection of blog posts on frugal living, including:

Matthew Paulson presents How to Compensate for Rising Grocery Costs posted at FinanceIsPersonal.com.

Nikki presents How to Get The Best Deal On A New Car posted at Daily Idea.

Fly or Drive: Which is Cheaper? (A Definitive Answer, Once and For All) posted at Frugal Panda.

Free and Cheap Food posted at 2nd Grade Teacher.

and of course, my post

How to Send Your Kid to College with no College Fund posted at Savvy Frugality.


Once again, SavvyFrugality.com is fortunate enough to be tapped for a blog carnival. This time we are participating in the 107th Carnival of Debt Reduction. Aside from the usual savvy advice you find here, there is some other great advice on reducing your debt available from several other blogs. Here are a few that caught my eye:

So, check out these and the other great entries at the Carnival of Debt Reduction. There is some great advice to be had!

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