Tuesday, November 29, 2011

DIY Vanilla Extract, and Easy Fudge Recipe

Two of my favorite frugal (and easy!) holiday recipes:

Make your own vanilla extract: Vanilla extract is expensive! Make your own for way less money and use it for your holiday baking, or give it away as gifts! There is a great DIY vanilla tutorial on JoytheBaker.com.

Easy microwave fudge: I used this recipe after I tried to make fudge the not-easy way that involves candy thermometers and soft balls (?). I ended up with chocolate soup. This recipes from Cooks.com is much, much easier, and IS DELICIOUS.

Image from http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1360809

My Frugal Holiday Baking shopping list

Hi all! I've researched the best deals on baking supplies in Lawrence (prices good through 12/3 unless otherwise noted.) I have not gotten to Checkers to get their baking goods prices yet- please let me know if you go before I do and see some deals that beat these. Their ad did show a lot of good deals on fresh produce this week. Also, I did check Target, but they did not make the list on any item. Happy shopping!

My Holiday Baking List:

  • Butter Quarter- Aldi 16oz $1.99
  • Candy Canes - Walgreens 32 pk Mini $0.99 (with in-ad coupon)
  • Chocolate Chips-  HyVee 10oz. $1.38 // Aldi 12 oz. $1.69
  • Corn Bread Mix- Walgreens $0.34 (with in-ad coupon)
  • Eggs dzn - Aldi $1.59
  • Flour 5lbs- Hy-Vee $0.88 (12/1 &12/2 only, limit 2) // Aldi $0.94
  • Icing, Betty Crocker cookie squeeze icing, 7oz.- Aldi $1.99 // Walmart $2.98
  • Icing, Spreadable- Aldi 16 oz. $1.29
  • Oil, Cooking Spray 5 oz- Aldi. $1.29
  • Oil, Vegetable - Aldi 48oz $2.49
  • Oil, Olive - Aldi 16oz $3.49 // Walgreens 17oz $3.49 ($2.99 w/coupon)
  • Pie Crust (2pk) - Walmart $2.46 Pilsbury ($2.21 w/coupon) // Aldi $1.89
  • Pumpkin, canned- Aldi 15oz $0.99
  • Sandwich or Storage bags - Walgreens $1.19 (with in-ad coupon)
  • Sugar, Granulated- HyVee 4lb $1.49 (limit 1) // Aldi 5lbs $2.49
  • Sugar, Brown- WalMart (Dixie Crystals brand) 1lb/ $1.18 ($0.63 w/coupon) // Aldi 2lb/ $1.49
  • Sugar, Powdered- WalMart (Dixie Crystals brand) 1lb/ $1.18 ($0.63 w/coupon) // Aldi 2lb/ $1.49
  • Whipped Topping- Aldi (regular or lite) $0.89
  • Vanilla Extract- Didn't spot any deals, but you can make your own!

See this weeks ads here: Aldi Weekly Ad, Dillons Weekly Ad, HyVee Weekly Ad, Target Weekly Ad, Walgreens Weekly Ad, Walmart Weekly Ad. As always, Couponmom.com was a great help in my research!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ask and you shall receive. Really.

I have a theory that if you wait long enough and you tell enough people, you can get almost anything you need. I've been wanting two bulletin boards for diy Christmas gifts. I found a large one almost right away for $2 at an estate auction (would have been at least $20 new), but I've been struggling to find a second board.

A few weeks ago I posted a "Wanted" ad for a bulletin board on Lawrence Freecycle (if you don't know about this, check it out!). I hadn't heard anything, and started feeling desperate because I want to start on the project. Last night when I was at Wal-Mart I was thisclose to buying a bulletin board. I actually put it in my cart and took it back out again a few seconds later, because it had a plastic frame and I really wanted one with a wooden frame. Plus I really did not want to fork over $10 to Wal-Mart if I didn't have to.

Then just a few minutes ago, I got a reply to my Freecycle post, and someone is offering me two bulletin boards that they no longer need after moving. Thanks fellow Freecyclers! This, my friends, is a WIN, and not the first time this type of thing has happened to me. Do you have any tales of finding the exact thing you need for free or super cheap?

Image from http://groups.freecycle.org/lawrencefreecycle

$0.00: Talking myself out of buying a video game.

With all the focus of getting “great deals” on all kinds of things over the Black Friday weekend, I’ve been thinking about one of the most important tenets of frugality: No matter how great of a deal something was, you still spent money. You used to have that money, and now it is gone forever. The most frugal action is to not spend ANY money.

Here is my example: I really really really really want The Sims 3: Pets game. (I know, I’m a nerd.) I was thrilled to see that this game was 50% off today through EA’s Origin, making it $19.99 (regular $39.99). Wow, that is a great deal, I’m thinking. I'm going to buy it! Then I’m thinking some more... in my budget this month, I certainly did NOT include $20 for a new video game for myself. As a matter of fact, I’m more than $30 over my grocery budget for the month,  and besides that, Mr. Townie and I are taking our belated honeymoon trip in January and need to put any extra funds we’ve got towards that.

Sooo... even though finding the game that I have been wanting for months at half off is a great stroke of luck and it is a great deal, I made the most frugal choice and spent $0.00.  This is not to say that I will forever be a martyr and never ever get a video game again. I’m looking at this as delayed gratification- maybe I will get this game for Christmas.  Maybe I will get a giftcard for Christmas and buy the game. Maybe if I don’t get this game for Christmas, one of my friends will and I can borrow it.  Maybe if I still haven’t gotten my hands on this game after we get home from our trip in January, I can use money we have leftover to buy it.

Here’s the thing- I don’t have to buy that game today. That game will be available for years to come- why don’t I wait to buy it until I have extra money (and time to play it, for that matter?) I’ll just let Origin hold on to my game for me until I’m ready. Maybe it won’t be on sale then- but here’s another thought: video games and many other electronic toys continually go down in price the older they get. It could very well be that by the time I buy this game, it will have come down in price to the “sale price” of today. Or maybe by then I can find a used copy for much less than the price of a new copy.

If I would have bought this game today, you might think I would have "saved" $20 because that's how much it was marked down. But really, I would have saved $0.00 and spent $19.99 that I could have kept. So today, I saved $19.99 and spent $0.00

Photo from http://www.sxc.hu/

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Dollar Tree: goldmine!

I have recently been reminded of the glory of Dollar Tree (27th & Iowa) after a visit last weekend. I found a lot of great stuff there, including dried & fake flower bundles (lookit my centerpiece!), nice crackers, gourmet hot sauce, and great-looking metallic fabric placemats. All priced at $1! So I was able to get a dozen great placemats for Thanksgiving for $12 (cheaper than making them myself), plus 3 bundles of dried and fake flowers that I used for my centerpiece. (The vase is one I inherited from my Grandma Velma.)

Today I visited the Dollar Tree website and found that they have weekly ads! Here are some things I saw that are definitely worth checking out in the week to come, primarily holiday craft/decorating items.

15" and 18" wreaths
Wreath hangers
15' pine garland
6' extension cords
So many ornaments
Gift bags/boxes/wrapping
Indoor light strings

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday and local Lawrence holiday sales

My conclusion is that a lot of "deals" on Black Friday are really not good deals, and I prefer to avoid the whole mess. That said, if you really want to do Black Friday, at least read this article from Lifehacker first.
How to Quickly Tell if a Deal is Really a Deal on Black Friday.

If you want to do some fun holiday shopping, I would recommend trying these local Lawrence holiday sales: 

Fair Trade Holiday Market is 11/25 – 11/27 from 8am – 7pm, 11/28 – 12/1 from 11am – 6pm, 12/2 from 11 am-7pm, 12/3 from 8am – 7pm at Ecumenical Christian Ministries. 
The market will feature the same great selection of handcrafted art, crafts, home d├ęcor, jewelry, clothing, personal accessories, toys and games that has made it so popular in years past, but this year Lawrence Fair Trade is hosting several fun events and educational activities in conjunction with the market.

Wonder Fair Holiday Market is Fri. Nov. 25 from 6p to 10p at Wonder Fair. 
Beginning Final Friday, November 25th, Wonder Fair transforms into a magical marketplace for your holiday gift-buying needs. All year we specialize in cleverly-designed functional art and original prints, and carry a carefully curated selection of affordable handmade goods. This special month, however, the Wonder Fair will host an expanded group of artists, and a greater variety of their thoughtfully handmade prints, jewelry, home goods, stationery, and unique art objects.

Adornment is Sat Nov. 26 from 7p to 10p at Van Go, Inc.
Let’s set the scene: wildly decorated warehouse and gallery….tons of unique art pieces made by JAMS artists…..200(at least) guests……food and drink…….what is it? Adornment! Van Go’s ‘Adornment’ art show has become their biggest sale all year. With the ever rotating inventory, every year is a must see! Always held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, ‘Adornment’ celebrates Van Go’s young artists and invites the community to join! Free event, open to the public! Prices start at $3.

Bizarre Bazaar is on Sat. Nov. 26 from 9 to 5 at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Bizarre Bazaar is held annually on Thanksgiving weekend. It is located at the Lawrence Art Center at 940 New Hampshire. Come and enjoy all the Bizarre artwork!

Lawrence Art Guild's Holiday Art Fair is on Sat. Dec. 3 at the Lawrence Arts Center.
Join the Lawrence Art Guild  for the 17th annual Holiday Art Fair on December 3, 2011.  This annual art fair is held at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire and features over 50 artists.  Held on the same day as the downtown holiday parade this is a wonderful opportunity to purchase your Holiday gifts!

Lola Giant is Fri/Sat Dec. 10/11 10 to 4 and 12 to 4 at Van Go, Inc. 
Ladies of Lawrence Artwork (LOLA) hosts shows, featuring the handiwork of Lawrence, Kansas women. The participants provide an intimate boutique style shopping experience for the community to browse & interact with the creators themselves. 

Photo from http://www.sxc.hu/

Monday, November 21, 2011

Two Frugal Recipes (sweet potato pie and hot chocolate!)

Frugal Hot Chocolate from The Complete Tightwad Gazette (p 81) by Amy Dacyczyn

1/3c dry milk
1tsp cocoa
1c hot water
Marshmallows to taste.

How easy is that? And it only costs about 10 cents per serving. Mixed up in a pretty jar this would be a nice gift as well. 

This recipe is from my friend George. He brought this pie to our staff picnic and it knocked my socks off. I'm now completely obsessed and making it for Thanksgiving, plus a few extra to freeze. I asked if it is a secret family recipe, he says its from The California Cookbook from LA Times.
George's Sweet Potato Pie
1 ½ c mashed cooked sweet potatoes
½ c butter or margarine, softened
4 eggs
1 c granulated or brown sugar (I used brown)
1 ½ t nutmeg
1 ½ t vanilla
½ c milk
1 -9 inch unbaked pie shell

Mix all ingredients together until smooth.  Let stand in refrigerator overnight.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 ½ hours.

Photo courtesy http://www.sxc.hu/

Thanksgiving leftovers, bulk buys, and recipes

There are some amazing grocery deals this week, as I noted here.

For example, boy are those potatoes at Checkers and Aldi cheap! But I find that when I buy a big bag of potatoes, they almost always go bad before we can use them all. So, I've done a little research, and I'm going to freeze them! GoodCheapEats has the info here: How To Freeze Potatoes.

Good deals on sweet potatoes also abound. (I got a 3# bag at Aldi for $0.75!) A good way to save these is to bake sweet potato pies and then freeze them. Great recipe from my friend George here!

If I had more room in my freezer, I'd buy an extra turkey or two. But I'll just have to hope for some nice leftovers. What to do with turkey? Obviously, you can freeze it, but you can also make a stock for soups. Also from GoodCheapEats, a How to Cook at Turkey has good info about leftovers. Some ideas:

Easy Turkey Pot Pie
Turkey Enchiladas
Shredded BBQ Turkey Sandwiches

Grandma Betty's Thanksgiving Casserole:
Chop up leftover turkey, layer in a casserole dish with leftover stuffing, vegetables, gravy, whatever, top with mashed potatoes and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes to re-heat. You can sprinkle the top with shredded cheese before baking to make it extra-delicious.

Have I mentioned how much I love my Grandma Betty? She called me yesterday and had a whole list of "Tips & Tricks" she'd written down for my first Thanksgiving. This "recipe" was one of her tips. Sounds delicious!

Photo from http://www.sxc.hu/

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Frugal Thanksgiving table- DIY placemats.

It just occurred to me that besides getting the food together for my Thanksgiving meal, I'm going to want my table to look nice. I am fortunate to have nice dishes from wedding gifts, but beyond that my table is looking a little sparse.  To start, what will cover my table?

Tablecloth v. Placemats
For my Thanksgiving, I'm going to go with placemats, for a few reasons. 1. I do not have a tablecloth that is big enough for my table when it is extended. 2. I might have to use more than one table, and I certainly do not have 2 tablecloths. 3. My meal is going to be pretty casual and I think cute placemats will work better for my style.

That said, I only have 4 placemats, and I'm expecting 10-12 guests. I've always meant to get more placemats... it just somehow always fell to the bottom of my list. :)  So, with a few days left, what to do for more placemats? I could buy some, but that wouldn't be very frugal.  I could probably buy some super cheap ones for the same cost as I can make them, but I'd rather have placemats that are exactly what I want and can use for many years to come. After trolling the internet for an embarrassingly long time, here are the best (easiest & cheapest but still cute) placemats to make.

1. Double-sided fabric placemats. by Centsational Girl

2. Easy no-sew paper placemats. (I would highly recommend laminating them, and you could also use pieces of fabric instead of paper, which could also be laminated.), by Thoughtfully Simple

I think I'm going to opt for the double-sided fabric ones. I won't have to buy much fabric because I've got a lot of it already, and I like the idea of getting two different placemats in one. I think I'm going to do one side a solid neutral color- ivory or taupe perhaps, and the other side printed fabric. I'll post pictures and final costs once I make some!

What are you putting on your table? Anything DIY?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My frugal Thanksgiving shopping list

Here is a shopping list for Thanksgiving (plus a few staples). I've researched the lowest prices in town (most good until 11/24).

  • sweet potatoes, per lb   Hyvee $0.59, Walmart $0.28, Checkers $0.44
  • white potatoes               Dillons 10lbs/ $1.88, Aldi 10lbs/$1.79
  • frozen vegetables          Dillons Kroger brand $1.00
  • green beans (canned)   HyVee brand green beans $0.39, Aldi $0.59
  • stuffing                           Target Kraft Stove Top Stuffing $0.89
  • rolls                                Checkers $0.99/dozen, Aldi $0.99/dozen
  • cranberry jelly/sauce     Hyvee $0.95, Aldi $0.89
  • butter                             Checkers 1lb $1.98, Aldi 1lb/$1.99
  • sugar (granulated)         Dillons 4lb/$1.99, Checkers 4lb/$1.99
  • sugar (powdered)    Checkers 2lb/$1.25
  • flour                               Dillons 5lb/ $2.49 (but I suspect Aldi or Checkers will be cheaper)
  • cream soup                   HyVee $0.67, Checkers $0.60
  • french fried onions        Walgreens $1.50
  • pie crust                        Aldi $1.89
  • cream cheese              Aldi $0.89
  • snack crackers    Checkers 2/$3.00
  • egg nog    Checkers 1qt/$1.88
  • pineapple, whole    Aldi $0.99
  • Don't forget the turkey! My turkey entry.
To get my prices, I look at couponmom.com (you do have to create a free account), which is great except it does not include Checkers or ALDI. So I look at those weekly fliers separately: Checkers and ALDI. I also look at the price book I keep for non-advertised regular prices. (When the price book is a bit more complete you can bet I'll post it!)

My Totals:
I'm not buying everything on this list, because I already have some of it, and guests are bringing some things ( green bean casserole, stuffing, rolls, mac’n’cheese, a dessert, wine) but here are my totals:

Dinner for 10: Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, cheesy corn, cranberry jelly, plus guest contributions.

Appetizers/snacks: egg nog, crackers/cheese ball, pineapple.

My total cost = $27.53 (or $2.75 per person!)

Turkey deals round-up for Lawrence, KS

Readers, I confess that I bought a turkey yesterday without doing my research, but I was so convinced it was a great deal I just went for it. Now I'll do my due diligence and do the research, for you all! (I wonder if I can return the turkey I bought if I find a better deal... ?)

$0.74/lb for frozen turkey
$0.98/lb for frozen Honeysuckle White turkey

$1.08/lb for frozen Butterball

Dillons: (with card)
$0.79/lb for frozen Jennie-O
$0.99/lb for Jennie-O (fresh not frozen)
$0.99/lb for frozen Private Selection or Honeysuckle White

"Buy a Hormel Cure 81 Whole Boneless Ham at $2.99lb., Get a Honeysuckle or Jennie-O Frozen Turkey 10 to 12 lb. average weight free." See coupon in ad.

$0.68/lb frozen turkey (with $40 purchase, regular price $1.18)
$0.98/lb frozen Honeysuckle White
$1.28/lb frozen Butterball

The final score: 
Well, looks like if you're buying groceries anyway, Checkers has the best deal. I bought the $0.74/lb (12lb turkey) at WalMart, so I could have saved $0.72 total if I'd gotten it at Checkers. I'm not sure I'll try to return the one I got for that savings.... I'm not sure I can dig it back out of the freezer. :)

If only a Butterball turkey will do, looks like Aldi has the best price on that one. The Hy-Vee deal is worth looking into if you also want a ham, but definitely check it out, it may be cheaper to buy them separately.

Did I miss any good deals??

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Frugal Thanksgiving

I think I might be doing that thing where I decide to do a huge thing and then later when I'm actually doing the huge thing, I'm like, why did I decide to do this huge thing?

That being said, I've decided to host a "mini-Thanksgiving" at my house the day after Thanksgiving Day for my close relatives that I won't see on Thanksgiving Day (since I will be seeing other relatives). I would like to publicly thank my husband for agreeing to this most exciting and possibly disastrous undertaking. This will be our first Thanksgiving as married people, and what could be more grand than hosting our own (mini) Thanksgiving meal at our own house?

Here's what I'm thinking for a menu:

-Turkey (something like a 12-pounder?)
-Dressing (hoping someone else can be talked into bringing this)
-Mashed potatoes (I am a master potato masher)
-Turkey gravy
-Green bean casserole (hoping my Mom will make this)
-Cheesy corn (don't actually know what this is called, but Grandma Gish makes it and its delicious. I'll post a recipe later.)
-Sweet potato pie (never made this before but had some recently and it was SO TASTY.)
-Cheesecake (certain I can get my Dad to bring this)

I think I can do this meal really frugally (I'll tally it up and report!), especially since guests will bring things. With one expception- I don't know where to get a good deal on a turkey! This is where I ask for HELP! Am I missing anything really important? And where can I get a good deal on a turkey?

**NOTE: I later did the research on turkey and Thanksgiving foods! Check out this entry: 

Photo courtesy of http://www.everystockphoto.com/

What is worth a higher price tag?

Get Rich Slowly  made a post Spend on the Things You Do Every Day  yesterday on a topic I've been thinking a lot about. The topic being, what should you spend your money on? It is unrealistic (and maybe not even smart) to say that everyone should just spend as little as possible on everything. Some exceptions I make are healthy food, quality shoes, beds/mattresses, and tools of all sorts. Both of these articles did a great job of explaining this principle, and are definitely worth a read.

Lifehacker also recently did a post on this The Comfort Principle: Spend Money Where You Spend Your Time. I was particularly pleased with the mention of the desk chair (I know I spend 8+ hours a day in mine!)

What items do you think are worth spending more money on?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Meaningful (and frugal) gifts: photos!

My number one go-to most favorite best gift is a framed photograph. (How'd you like that sentence?) I find that close friends and family almost always love a framed photograph of you, them, you and them, or what have you. This year everyone in my family is getting framed wedding photos, and they're going to like it. (I hope!)

How do you do this frugally? Well, the main two things you need are photo prints and frames.

Step 1. For a great deal on photo prints, I almost always use snapfish.com.  I have gotten 4x6 prints here for as little as $0.01 each, or about $0.03 each with shipping. THAT IS SO CHEAP! We're talking 100 prints for as little as $3.00. Their regular price per 4x6 is $0.09 but I have found they are almost always offering some kind of special. I have signed up on their site, so they send me deals and coupons all the time. You can also get coupon codes from retailmenot.com . (Also if you do any other shopping online, you should really check there to see if there is a coupon available before you buy.)

Or, if you'd rather get your prints in-person somewhere, Walgreens does 4x6 photos for $0.19 each. (Not nearly so frugal... but still an inexpensive gift.)

Step 2. So now you've got your prints, and you need inexpensive frames. You could go to Michael's or Target or somewhere, and buy cheap $5.00 frames. However, these frames will look like cheap $5.00 frames.  My tactic is to buy used high quality frames for cheap at a local Lawrence thrift store. I don't believe I've ever paid more than $1.00 for a frame, and often much less. Also check for frames at rummage sales and the like- I frequently find brand-new frames at garage sales for $0.50. Sometimes used frames are perfect just the way they are, but sometimes they have chipped finish, or are generally banged-up.  So long as the glass is not damaged, and the frame is still structurally sound, it is easy to fix up an old frame. Just take out the glass and spray-paint it!  (That link goes to a really great tutorial, if you need guidance.)  I usually go with classic black or gold when I paint them, but you can  go wild and do any kind of crazy color you want.

Bonus Step. If you really want to get fancy, you could use a mat. Getting mats cut at a frame-shop or craft store is pretty expensive, so I would not recommend that. The best solutions I've found for mats (besides cutting my own mats... I'm not quite there yet) is to buy pre-cut mats in bulk online, or to do what I call a "modern mat" (best for smaller pictures/frames) and use a solid piece of matting or paper and tape the photo on top of it. The example I've included is a picture of my grandma and her dog, in a frame I bought at a thrift store and painted, and did a "modern mat" on light blue paper that I had in my paper scraps.

The mats have been the most tricky part for me. Anyone have a good source for inexpensive mats in Lawrence? Anyone else the "picture giver" in their family?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

2 Frugal recipes

Tried 2 new frugal recipes this weekend.

Split-pea soup in the crockpot: It was SO GOOD, and really easy. Served with corn muffins.

Purchased ingredients:
16 oz bag of dried split peas - $0.99 (regular price at Hy-Vee)
Smoked ham - $2.00/lb, used 2 lbs. (sale price at Hy-Vee)
The rest of the ingredients (onions, carrots, salt, etc. I already had on hand).

Betty Crocker corn bread mix - $0.33 (on sale 3/$1 at Walgreens)

Recipe here: http://www.food.com/recipe/slow-cooker-split-pea-soup-83008 (I omitted the celery, because I don't like celery. Ha.)

Easy fudge: also SO GOOD and SO EASY. I'm thinking this might be a good one to make and give to people for the holidays.

Purchased ingredients:
2 lbs powdered sugar (used 1 lb for the recipe)- $1.50 (on sale 2/$3 at Dillons)
The rest of the things I already had (cocoa powder, milk, butter, etc.)

Recipe here: http://www.cooks.com/rec/doc/0,1729,150161-231201,00.html (I used powdered milk, made following the directions on the package. I also did not use nuts.)

Weekend update: great deals!

Had a great weekend hunting down some awesome deals. Went to a rummage sale that was a fundraiser for the LHS marching band, and also to an estate auction. Got a lot of things for Christmas gifts, and a few other fun things too.

Rummage sale:
-Overhead projector - $1.00 - my friend Alena had been looking for one of these for a long time so I picked it up for her.
-Magna-doodle- $1.00 - looks brand new, going to give it to my little cousin.
-White ceramic picture frame - $0.75 - new with tags on it, going to put a wedding picture in it for a grandparent's Christmas gift.

Estate auction-
-Large bulletin board- $2.00 - going to paint & decorate it for a little cousin's Christmas gift.
-Box of 20 or so picture frames - $1.00 - going to use these for more wedding pictures for gifts.
-Old red wagon - $6.00 - thought this was too cute to pass up. Maybe I'll put plants in it.

-Wooden duck- $2.00. I don't know. I just love it.

-A thing that I think is an old-fashioned popcorn popper. $1.00. Can anyone verify this? I plan to give it to my Dad to use in his fireplace.

-Antique wall thermometer. $1.00 Already put it up in my kitchen.

- Two awesome granny-style crocheted blankets- $2.50 To use in my house.
- One other thing that I can't mention because its a gift for someone who reads this!

Did you hit up any garage sales or estate sales this weekend? What did you find?

What is your best ever treasure found at a garage sale or auction?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Save money on Christmas gifts by making your own-

This year I’m making most of the Christmas gifts I’m giving. I’m doing this for two reasons: to spend less money, and because I think homemade gifts can be better than store-bought (if done right).

For example, I think that Ugly Dolls are really cute, and I wanted to get one for my 2 year old cousin. Then I realized that even the “Little” dolls were $10 each. I did some searching and found this pattern for a DIY Monster Doll, and I am happy to report that the materials were less than $1, and I spent less than  4 hours on the project. (I am an abnormally slow sewer.)  For the body material I used part of a neon green sweatshirt from my fabric scrap box (free), and for the features I bought felt pieces at Michael’s for 5/$1, and I used only about ¼ of two of the sheets (about $0.05 worth). I also already had white thread, and the other sewing supplies I needed. For the stuffing I bought a (new with tags on it) ugly throw pillow at a Lawrence thrift store for $0.25 and cut it open and used maybe ¼ of the poly-fill. 

I am really pleased with how it came out, and I think it will be extra-special because I made it just for her (using colors she likes, etc.)

Obviously, a Monster Doll may not be the right gift for everyone on your list. I’m making some other gifts this year as well, but I’m hesitant to write about them here, lest I ruin the surprises! What I can offer is this list of my hand-picked favorite DIY gift ideas. 

A DIY Christmas: 34 Great Homemade Gifts You Can Make - from Get Rich Slowly (I like the Secret Hollow Book, Stationary Sets, and Teacup Candles. Also my family has done the Family Cookbook before and it was a lot of fun! These can all be made from things you already have, or cheap thrift-store treasures.)

16 Cheap Homemade Christmas Gift Giving [To-Make] from Tip Junkie (I like the Make Up Roll Up Bag, Hot/Cold Therapy Sacks, and the various Etched Glass items.)

DIY Christmas Gifts that Don't Suck from yes and yes (I like the Finger Puppets, Cat & Dog Treats, Silhouette Portraits, and Wool Mittens.)

And don't forget there are lots of books with DIY gift ideas at the Lawrence Public Library! For inexpensive materials, check out my list of Lawrence, KS thrift and bargain stores. And don't forget your frugal wrapping- ideas here. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Driving slower saves $$ - told you so!

Proof that you do save money by driving slower! Finally. Now my husband should stop teasing me and telling me I drive like a grandma. Because, while I do drive like a grandma, its for a good reason.

One of my favorite money blogs, The Simple Dollar, did the math for us. Thanks!

This is why I'm not a fan of the increased speed (75 MPH!) on I-70. I typically go 65 or 70, but feel like people are going to run over me. Anyone else driving under the speed limit on I-70, or elsewhere?

Frugal web tool (and games!)

I have some fantastic websites to tell you about.

The first is Mint.com.      I have been using this (free, of course) tool for a few months now. The purpose of this tool is to track your money- bank accounts, loans, credit cards, etc. What is cool about it is is that it breaks it down into categories (Groceries, Mortgage/Rent, Clothing, Hobbies, Travel, Coffeeshops, Restaurants, etc.) so you can see EXACTLY where your money goes. I really had no idea how much I was spending on clothes! This type of tracking is really key if you are trying to lower your spending. I was really focused on our grocery bill, which is good, but not that helpful if a bunch of money is being spent on clothes & other non-necessities. Mint is also helpful because you can set budgets & goals. I really like this because I like to see the charts and graphs fill up. It makes it more like a game for me (a self-proclaimed videgame nerd.) One note: if you don't feel comfortable using Mint.com, I know that many banks offer a similar tool- I know Meritrust Credit Union (where I bank) has one.

Speaking of games-
The other website is Saveup.com, (also free) which I just found out about today (on Lifehacker.com, a favorite of mine) and I'm already hooked. Saveup makes a game of saving money- literally. Lifehacker explains it better than I can but the general principle is that you get points for making good financial decisions. For each dollar that you put in your savings account, or that you use to pay off a debt, you get a point. (You link your existing bank/credit accounts so they can be tracked, I've checked into it and believe this is completely safe.) Then you use these points to try to win prizes on Saveup!

What is your favorite financial tool site (or software)? I know people use a lot of different things and I'd love to hear reviews.

Monday, November 7, 2011

You don't have to give up coffee, or bring it from home, to save money.

It seems like every financial advisor in the last 10 years has been promoting the idea that if you would just "stop buying expensive lattes" and invest the $50 a month you're spending on them, your financial woes will be over.

I'm here to tell you that no, it's not really a good idea to buy expensive lattes everyday. I can, however, tell you that you don't have to go without your good coffee.  One of my favorite blogs, The Simple Dollar, has finally done the math on just how much you can save by bringing your own GOURMET coffee from home. No Folgers for us, folks! The bottom line is that even with really nice coffee and expensive creamers, a 16 oz. coffee brought from home costs under $0.70.  So, keep that in mind.

But there is another option.

I brought my coffee from home for months. The coffee was delicious, but it created problems for me. Most notably:

  • having too many things to carry across campus (not enough hands!)
  • in the winter my coffee being cold by the time I got to my office
  • and last but not least- spilling the coffee on myself repeatedly during my trek to the office. 
I have found a good compromise- it's still cheaper than the $4 latte, and only $0.27 more than bringing coffee from home. The refill! I am lucky enough to have a snackbar/coffeeshop in my building. I found out a few months ago that they charge only $1.00 plus tax for a coffee "refill", which means that you bring your own cup and get coffee from the pump pot. Then I found out that there is a free Coffee Club Card offered by Pulse (the company that runs the coffeeshops on the KU campus) that gives you a 10% discount on all purchases. So I've got my card, and a cup that I keep at my desk, and I get my coffee every morning for $0.97.  Besides, using a re-usable cup is good for the environment, too. I've had my trusty blue cup for years!

Now while you may not have a Pulse where you work, check out the "refill" prices at your regular stop, you may be surprised how cheap they can be. I know, for example, that Aimee's Coffeehouse has a cheap refill. Any other local Lawrence shops with a good refill price?

I hope you enjoy the cell phone photo of my cubicle with my coffee. :) And no, I did not pay full price for the No Coffee No Workee sticker!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Remember the library!

The value of checking prices- Here is my real life example.

For some reason, I have had a very strong urge to watch Cool Runnings. Don't ask me why. John Candy? Reggae music? 
 It is not on Netflix On Demand, but I still want to see it, so I started checking around. This took me about 10 minutes.

To buy online:
Best price was Amazon: $8.17 with shipping, used.

To buy locally (my preference):
Walmart - not in stock locally (checked online)
Best Buy- $12.99 in stock (checked online)
Half Price Books - not in stock (called local store)
Game Nutt - not in stock (called local store)
Hastings- $10.40 in stock (checked online)

To borrow:
Asked friends on facebook, no one has it.
Miracle Video (rental) - don't have it (called local store)

(It feels pretty silly calling places and asking for Cool Runnings, by the way.) The point here is, when you have a whim to buy something, think about it a few minutes before you do. Think about how quickly you need it, can you borrow it, can you buy it used?

P.S. I also posted a "Want to Buy" ad on cragislist a few days ago, but no bites. I can't believe no one wants to sell their copy of Cool Runnings, which I would just bet they haven't watched recently. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Save with holiday crafts

A great way to save money around the holidays is to make your own decorations. Be careful and do some math, though, because homemade decor is not always cheaper than store-bought. The trick is to make decorations that you already have most of the materials for, or that you can get materials for very cheaply.

I've been really into wreaths this year, so I'm planning to make one or two next week with my girlfriends. I found a lot of cute ideas for wreaths, but the ones I'm planning to make need mostly materials that I already have. (see link below!)  I'm going to do a paper wreath, because I already have a lot of odds-and-ends colored papers left over from other projects, and I also have a circle-cutter that came with a button making machine I bought years ago. If you don't already have colored paper and a circle cutter, this project would not be very frugal for you. Perhaps you have a lot of fabric scraps- there is also a cute wreath shown that uses those. I also have a lot of old vintage tinsel that one of my grandmothers gave me a few years ago, that I hadn't figured out how to use. Then I came across a great wreath idea that uses a lot of tinsel on the Creature Comforts blog! So in that case, the only thing I will need to buy is a foam wreath base, which are really cheap, PLUS I will use a coupon at Michael's (see link- thanks to Alena L. for the tip!). The wreaths are usually about $5, but with a 50% off coupon, my total cost for the wreath will be about $2.50. Much cheaper than buying a ready-made wreath! See all the how-to links below the picture.


Paper wreath, fabric scrap wreath, other great wreaths: http://www.creaturecomfortsblog.com/home/2010/11/15/diy-holiday-wreath-roundup.html

Tinsel garland wreath:

Michael's coupons!:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lawrence, KS- Thrift & Bargain Stores

Thrift and Secondhand stores in Lawrence, KS:

(Updated 5/19/14)

Not-for-Profit Thrift Stores:

Social Service League : Donated, used goods, money helps people in need get prescription glasses. Love the people here. Have moved to a new, larger location (temporarily while the original location is remodeled) - so less cluttered and more organized. Very low (think yardsale) prices. My favorite thrift store in Lawrence!
Goodwill : Donated, used goods. I think the prices are a bit high sometimes, but worth checking out occasionally. Good ol' Goody's.
Salvation Army Store: Donated, used goods. Good ol' Sally's.
St. John's Rummage House: Used, donated goods. Money benefits St. Johns School & community programs. Somewhat limited hours, but a goldmine, very low prices. Another one of my favorite places.
Habitat Re-Store: Used, donated goods. Money benefits Habitat for Humanity. Mostly building materials, fixtures, paint, etc. but also some furniture.

Other Bargain and/or Used Goods stores:

Arizona Trading Co. : affectionately called "ATC". Buy/sell/trade used clothes. Primarily young/trendy styles for about 1/2 or 1/4 of what they cost new.
Ditto: Buy/sell  used clothes.  Similar to ATC but I think skews a little older- more young professional than high school/ college age. 
Doodlebugs: Buy/sell secondhand baby and children's items. Lots of clothes/shoes, plus baby gear (strollers, bouncers, etc.), cloth diapering stuff, and pregnancy related items including maternity clothes. I love this shop, because you can get like-new baby/kid stuff for a quarter of retail price. However, it is usually pretty cluttered and somewhat disorganized, so make sure you have time to dig! Good place to sell baby/kid stuff you don't use anymore, too. You won't get a lot of $ but more than you would selling in a garage sale, plus you can get more store credit than cash.
Lasting Impressions Consignment: Consignment store- if you don't know how that works- people bring in items they want to sell, and if it sells the shop gets part of the profit. Their stuff changes all the time, though tends to be mostly apparel. 
Lawrence Flea: Monthly flea market, location varies (check their facebook page for up to date info). Items available vary widely.
Lawrence Antique Mall: If you can see past the expensive antiques, there are lots of flea market-type finds to be had here too. Besides, its fun to look through all the stuff.
Plato's Closet: Buy/sell/trade used clothes. Primarily young/trendy styles for about 1/2 or 1/4 of what they cost new.
Wild Man Vintage: Buy/sell/trade vintage used clothes. Almost didn't put it on here because prices are sometimes high, but sometimes a good deal can be had on cool old clothes.

Tell me what goldmines I missed! I'm always on the lookout for new thrift/bargain stores!
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To be Frugal.

Being frugal and living within your means sometimes means asking yourself difficult questions about what you really need and what is important to you. But, being frugal can also be a fun challenge, and a way to use your creativity and smarts. It is also a way to buck the system, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Almost everyone I know feels like they don't have enough money. I am here to tell you that even with a very small income, you have enough money to cover your basic needs and live a full, fun life. Being frugal is a way to get the very most out of what little money you have, without feeling deprived.

One of my very favorite writers on the subject of frugality is Amy Dacyczyn, the author/editor of The Tightwad Gazette. I recently re-read the entirety to The Tightwad Gazette and my "frugal fervor" has been restored. The problem is that Amy retired in 1996, and while the ideas in the Gazette stand true, many of the tips and details have become outdated (and were originally somewhat localized to Maine).

My mission is to do what Amy Dacyczyn did for Maine in the 1990's, for Lawrence, Kansas, in the 2010's. A lofty goal to be sure, but it won't cost me any money to try!

-Jessica Gish Bergin