Archive | December, 2012

#952 Quit Smoking

31 Dec

The day you stub out your last cigarette, open a savings account. Photo via flickr by meddygarnet.

The day you stub out your last cigarette, open a savings account. Photo via flickr by meddygarnet.

Hawaii? Or emphysema? New house? Or cancer? Nice dinner? Or a cough? These are the choices between money saved from quitting smoking or continuing to smoke. With New Year’s Resolution’s just around the corner, quitting smoking is probably on a lot of smokers’ resolution lists. Not only will you be saving loads of cash on a daily or weekly expense if you quit smoking, you’ll save money in many other ways in the long term. First, your health will be saved from further expense (dental work, cancer, higher insurance premiums) and then tangential things like your dry cleaning bill.

Let’s start with the math on quitting smoking. A pack of cigarettes runs anywhere from $5 – $7. If you are a pack a day smoker, this is $1,825 – $2,555 a year. That’s a very nice vacation to almost anywhere in the world. Multiply that by the number of years you would have smoked, and by year 10, you would have saved $18,250 – $25,550 on cigarettes alone! That’s a down payment on a house, a college education at a state school or start up cash for a business.  A single year savings alone is more than switching insurance, clipping coupons or cutting out a daily coffee can save you! Let’s say you’re a less serious smoker – half a pack a day would be $912.50 – $1,277.50 a year. Still in the thousands of dollars…not hundreds…in terms of savings. If you smoked three cigarettes a day – one after every meal, as this seems to be a smoker favorite, you would save $260 – $364 a year by quitting – still a good amount of money if you’re looking for easy cash.

Find what works for you. Photo via flickr by Isabel Bloedwater.

Find what works for you. Photo via flickr by Isabel Bloedwater.

But quitting is not easy for a lot of people. There are lots of ways to quit. Switching to nicotine gum, the patch or other nicotine supplements, quitting cold turkey or slowly decreasing your smoking habit and switching to lighter cigarettes until you kick the addiction completely. If you’ve tried to quit before and been unsuccessful, don’t worry, it’s common for a lot of smokers to try to quit multiple times. The important part is to keep trying different approaches until you find one that works for you and it sticks.

It takes some planning to avoid triggers and people that might make you relapse, so track when, where and with whom you smoke and then eliminate as much of those scenarios as possible and replace them with other things. The first couple weeks will be the hardest and then you’re home free.

Not only will you be saving money on cigarettes, but a lot of insurance premiums are higher for smokers, the resale value of everything from your car to your clothes will be much higher and your dry cleaning bill will be a fraction of what it was as you won’t need to dry clean as often. Your healthcare saving will also be astronomical as you will be avoiding costs associated with increased risk of stroke, heart disease, respiratory problems and many more.

It is estimated that within 20 minutes of quitting smoking your heart rate drops, within 12 hours the level of carbon monoxide in your blood returns to normal, within 2 weeks to 3 months your lungs work better and your heart attack risk drops, within 1 to 9 months coughing and lung function improves dramatically, within 1 year your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker’s, within 5 to 15 years your risk of stroke is the same as anyone else’s, within 10 years your risk of lung cancer is almost the same as someone who never smoked and other cancer risks decrease dramatically and within 15 years your risk of heart disease is the same as someone who never smoked. The health savings alone could double, triple or quadruple your savings.

Put your new-found wad of cash to good use. Photo via flickr by 401(k) 2012.

Put your new-found wad of cash to good use. Photo via flickr by 401(k) 2012.

Now, if you quit smoking…don’t stop putting $5 – $7 a day aside for yourself. Just put it in a better place. Open a savings account, invest in retirement accounts, pay off debt or put aside emergency funds. Read up on what other smokers who quit did with their new-found cash to inspire yourself. How does a week in Hawaii sound? A lot better than emphysema that’s for sure.

#953 Do Your Own Facials and Peels

28 Dec

sugar and honey 2

Photos via flickr by (l-r) gringer and Siona Karen.

Look no further than your kitchen cupboard for your own home spa experience. Sugar, honey, oats, egg whites, olive oil, salt, coffee, yogurt, tea bags and cucumbers are all the basics for what spas charge you $1o0 or more to apply to your face or body in the name of rejuvenation and relaxation. Honestly, I have a better experience when I do it myself at home for free.

A spa day was a once-a-year luxury on my birthday or other special occasion, now I can do it weekly (if I had the time!) or monthly (more like it). I was always super annoyed when I’d get a facial at a spa, pay $100 and feel like all I got was a really good moisturizing job. I always kicked myself for not picking something I actually couldn’t do myself like a massage. Bottom line – my facials at a spa were never any better than what I did at home, so why pay for it? Everything from exfoliants to moisturizers are sitting in the kitchen, so mix yourself up a batch of sugar scrub and egg white mask and start experimenting. It’ll be fun, relaxing and free.

The best part about using your own products is you know they're all natural.

The best part about using your own products is you know they’re all natural.

First, you would book with a spa, so why not book with yourself? Give yourself an hour of spa time on the weekend when you’re “booked.” Get rid of the kids and spouse, or include them for family or couple bonding time. Get together with a friend to do it together. Light some candles, put on ambient music and relax. There are tons of quick and easy recipes for masks and scrubs online. The basic steps for a facial are: Cleanse (your favorite cleanser); exfoliate (a kitchen-made scrub); open pores (a bowl of steaming water and a towel); put on a face mask (a kitchen-made mask); do your eyes (cucumbers or tea bags); and moisturize (olive oil, grapeseed oil or mayo). Simple. And the results are amazing. You can even have seasonal fun with things like pumpkins and pomegranates. It’s always a good time for great skin.

Doing my own facials were great, but I also loved getting a little deeper therapy with peels, which helped to even skin tone and address bigger skin issues. Chemical peels definitely seemed like it should be left to the professionals. And I’m sure they advise you to. But I was sick of paying $100 for someone to try out a light, lactic peel on me the first time for a baseline and then go back for another $100 a pop for better results. So I decided to try it out myself. I bought a peel that I knew I liked, and followed the instructions exactly. Oh my goodness! Did I just get hundreds of dollars worth of peels for $35? Yes, yes I did. I loved it! It worked beautifully, and it saved me a lot of money.

You are dealing with some more serious stuff than a kitchen facial, so the most important part is to follow the directions and time limits strictly. Start low and work your way up. You don’t want to seriously damage your skin by leaving it on too long, over-using or jumping too quickly into a high concentration that your skin can’t handle. The link for the site I use (Makeup Artist’s Choice) has products just like doctor’s offices would use, so it’s not over-priced, watered down versions that you might find from big names like Neutrogena or Elizabeth Arden. For $40-$50 you literally get several hundred if not a thousand dollars worth of treatments.



#954 Get Your Hair Cut By An Apprentice

27 Dec

modelsmodels2I get my hair cut at a top salon in town for $10. Haircuts are usually $50 to $70 dollars at the salon. How do I do it? I call and ask for the “apprentice cut.”

The salon likes to train its own army of stylists after they’ve graduated from cosmetology school, so a select few apprentices work for the salon for a year or so, practicing cuts and colors under the strict supervision of senior stylists. The apprentices need models. That’s me. For $10, I can get my hair cut and they get to “practice.” They’ve had a lot of experience already, so I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad haircut from an apprentice. I’ve totally loved a few cuts, and been completely satisfied for the rest. In the meantime, I’m pampered in a swanky salon, instead of squinting under the bright, strip mall lights of the closest Hair Cuttery (where I’ve had many a bad and unsatisfactory cut).

If you’re not sure if any salons in town have an apprentice program, call them up and ask. It’s usually one of those best-kept secrets of thrifty living. They occasionally will advertise in the paper for models. The Vidal Sassoon Academies are famous for needing models for their programs as well as Paul Mitchell. You can look up requests for hair models in big cities, here. Even small towns have apprentices in their salons, so just grab your phone book or look online for the best salons and give them a call. Even though I pay a small fee for the cut and style at my salon, as a model for many salons, the cut will be free of charge. They also need to practice coloring and special occasion styling, so those are also available at a great discount or free.

Another option is to be a model for a cosmetology school near you, although this is sometimes a little more iffy, as they are still pretty green.

Photos courtesy of

#955 Get Your Teeth Cleaned Every Six Months

26 Dec

clean mouth

Get that awesome, just-been-to-the-dentist clean every six months. Photo via flickr by Orofacial.

Dentists and hygienists everywhere are cheering. Or not…if you regularly get your teeth cleaned, you are going to spend the least amount on your teeth in the long run.  As my dentist always tells me, “I’m not going to pay for my yacht with this mouth.” Dental insurance or no, regular teeth cleanings are the easiest way to avoid huge dental bills later on. Why? Because if you’re neglecting your teeth, by the time you make it to the dentist, you will most likely have a lot (and costly) problems with teeth and gums like cavities and periodontitis.

I know a lot of people without dental insurance tend not to have their regular checkups. But, without insurance, the cost of a regular checkup and cleaning is between $75-$90, and you may have a first time visit fee of anywhere from $75-$125. After your first visit, you will only pay for the cleaning. So say at $180 a year (for two cleanings of $90), you are avoiding bills like $300-$500 for cavity fillings, $1,000 for a root canal and $3,000 for a dental implant. If you have dental insurance, there is no excuse for not going. Most dental insurances will fully cover regular visits and up to $1,500-$2,500 of work per year. Dental insurance and plans are cheaper than you think, so get insured on your own or through your work by doing some quick research online.

It's a whole lot more scary not to go to the dentist. Photo via flickr by Orofacial.

It’s a whole lot more scary not to go to the dentist. Photo via flickr by Orofacial.

If the cost of getting your teeth cleaned is a concern, go to a low-cost dental clinic near you. They have sliding scale fees based on income and will be less costly than a commercial dentist’s office even if you pay full price. Another option is to check out dental hygiene schools or universities with a school of dentistry. Both are training grounds for hygienists and dentists so they offer very low cost cleanings and other services in exchange for your mouth as a guinea pig. They won’t let anyone loose on you without extensive learning beforehand, so don’t be worried. If you really want to be a guinea pig, you can sign up for a clinical trial, which may have very specific requirements for the patient’s age, health and gender.

Universities also need subjects for research, so dental schools will offer no or low cost procedures if you agree to be a part of their study. In college, a friend needed her wisdom teeth out, and instead of paying thousands without insurance, she signed up for a dental study on pain and wisdom teeth extraction and got them out for a total of $300. She just had to record her level of pain post-op while following their instructions on taking over-the-counter pain relief. Luckily for her, she didn’t really have any pain at all.

Photo via flickr by Orofacial.

Photo via flickr by Orofacial.

My husband neglected going to the dentist for about four years. By the time we signed him up for dental insurance through my employer, he had cavities aplenty and a serious wisdom tooth situation. Our insurance had a $2,500 cap per year, so we sorted out the first $2,500 worth of fillings and x-rays one year and scheduled the wisdom tooth extractions for just after the first of the year when the cap would be renewed. We paid about $300 for the overage on the work, and about $90 per year for the insurance. I’m sure the insurance company was not thrilled with our maxed out dental bills as soon as we got him insured, but we were ecstatic. The best way to have avoided most of the work would have been regular cleanings. For several years afterward he had a clean bill of health every six months from the dentist. Just recently a few cavities popped up that were no problem to take care of right away before they became an issue.

Who can complain about free toothbrushes after your visit? Photo via flickr by Orofacial.

Who can complain about free toothbrushes after your visit? Photo via flickr by Orofacial.

If you really can’t afford twice a year – go at least once a year. You can also refuse x-rays to keep cost down, although the dentist really will push to have them done. You can wait until you have more money to have x-rays done. They’re a good idea to do every three or four years just to make sure there are no hidden cavities or problems.

No one I know who’s neglected to go to the dentist has ended the story happily or cheaply. A professor friend of mine bemoaned his dental bills after he also skipped the dentist for four years while a poor grad student. For all his smarts, it would have been easier and cheaper to go to the dentist even without insurance.

Now the hard part…flossing every day in between visits.

Happy Holidays

24 Dec

It will be a busy family fest the next two days, so I’m taking my own advice and taking a blog vacation until after the 25th. See you on Wednesday. Enjoy your family and friends!

#956 Make the Holidays About Traditions and Family (not gifts)

21 Dec

Make holidays relaxed and fun - like focusing on decorating the tree or reading Christmas stories out loud rather than gifts.

Make holidays relaxed and fun – like focusing on decorating the tree or reading Christmas stories out loud rather than gifts. Photo via flickr by hodgers.

It’s much more fun to enjoy the holidays than spend your time dreading it and then slogging through the visits and dinners. It’s also much better not to dread your credit card bill or checking your bank balance. Start making it a tradition to focus on things that are really important and make you feel good for the long term…good food, good company, good laughs…than things that make your feel good momentarily or not good at all…gifts that you may or may not have wanted or may or may not have been able to afford.

To get thing straight, what you get your kid is not a measure of your parenting…and it’s not a substitute for your parenting. So that being said, you should relax about gift giving for the kids. And for the adults…well, we’re all adults here. We don’t really want or need much from other people in the form of gifts. A handmade or homemade gift is a nice touch. A thoughtful gift is nice. Neither has to be expensive. What we really want is to enjoy ourselves.

Here are tips to enjoy yourself during large family gatherings that have the reputation for being awful. They don’t have to be awful. They should be something everyone looks forward to. Your family. Enjoy it.

  • If you have beef with someone, get it out of the way beforehand. Family gatherings are not the time to air your problem(s) with someone. Passively or aggressively. Call them up or get together with them beforehand and tell them what’s bothering you. Talk it out calmly and reasonably. Hopefully everyone will feel better afterward and you won’t be carrying a grudge into the holidays. If you make no headway and the person is just as bad as before. Accept that you tried, not everyone is ready to say sorry, change their ways or work with you for a more enjoyable time. Let it go for now.
  • Catch up with people beforehand. I know, you’re supposed to catch up at the holidays. But with so many people to see and all the commotion, you’ll probably feel like you didn’t catch up with anyone by the end of it. If you want to really catch up with someone, call them up before and get some of the “what have you been up to” out of the way. It’s always nice to build relationships outside of the holidays and family gatherings anyway.
  • Don’t have one person be the chef, activity director or dishwasher. Rotate jobs and who does what. Help out in a supporting role if one person likes to take the lead on something. If your father-in-law refuses to do anything but sit on the couch while people bring him drinks, ask him for a hand on something you know he enjoys or have him take the grandkids outside. Or just tell the person it’s their turn for a certain duty. Asking directly never hurts.
  • Not everything has to be perfect. Don’t obsess over perfect cleanliness, decorations or table settings. No one will notice anything but how nice everything is.
  • Accept other people’s quirks and differences. Aunt Sarah likes to drink. Uncle Joe is crass. Cousin Bob is annoying. If you know something about someone going into it, accept it and move on. Don’t let it annoy you or make your cranky.
  • Get outside. Going stir crazy is no fun. A change of scenery can always change the mood and dynamics. Going on a walk or downtown to see the windows is always a good way to change things up and let people, especially kids, work out their energy and work up an appetite.
  • Disconnect from the outside world, connect with the people around you. This is true for any social setting. Turn off your phone, don’t look at email from work, don’t text people who aren’t there non-stop. Put down the technology and look around at the people who are with you. Enjoy their company, have a few laughs and a couple drinks.

#957 Comic Page Wrapping Paper

20 Dec

Who doesn’t love the comics? I can think of three uses for the Sunday comics page. 1. Read and enjoy 2. Wrap gifts 3. Read and enjoy again.

Giving someone a gift wrapped in the comics is a playful way to save money. Simply save your Sunday comics page or salvage someone else’s from the the recycle bin. I prefer Sunday because 1. They are in color. Everything is better in color, especially comics. 2. It’s a full spread of comics, giving you more wrapping space 3. The paper is better quality and thicker, which makes for crisper handling and folding.

Here we go with a full-fledged pictorial from a late-night wrapping session. You will need scissors, tape and the comics:

Start with full color:

comics combo


Firm gifts with defined edge like books are the easiest:

comics and book














Place the gift face down on the side of the paper you don’t want to show:

comics and book 2


Make firm folds and secure with tape:

folded comics 1
folded comics 2

















Volià! Ready for ribbon, label or write directly on the paper with a Sharpie or other bold pen:

comic wrapped present 1
















Soft objects like clothing are a little more difficult. Find a box or fold into as neat and compact a package as possible:

baby gift 1

comics and gift

comics and gift 2

comic wrapped present 3

comic wrapped present 4
















































And even have some to spare:

comics leftover 2

#958 Get Your Holiday Supplies After The Holidays

19 Dec

Photo via flickr by CCAC North Library.

Photo via flickr by CCAC North Library.

You will need storage space, forward thinking and patience for this one. You will be rewarded by paying half the price for everything on your list and being relaxed next holiday season. Alright, you might not be ready to dive back into holiday mode just after finishing the celebrations or want to plan a year in advance, but if you start making a tradition of getting all your holiday business done after the holidays to take advantage of sales and those 50% off tags, you’re going to save a lot of money. And you’ll be the happiest person in town throughout the buildup of the next holiday season because your checklist is DONE! Months ago. No stress, no running around last minute, no pulling out the credit card, no holiday debt or regret.

Photo via flickr by torbakhopper.

Don’t get the cheap stuff, get the nice stuff half off after the holidays. Photo via flickr by torbakhopper.

Wrapping paper, tags, decorations are all expenses that should never be paid at full price. Cheap wrapping paper is thin and tears easily, making wrapping gifts a nightmare of bad patch jobs. Why not get nicer stuff at half price after the holidays to avoid the frustration next year? If you love cute details and decorations that add up quickly, stock up after the holidays to get more for less.

Gifts for the immediate family, co-workers and assorted cousins, aunts and uncles can start to weigh down your budget. Why not get gifts on sale after the holidays? Make sure you don’t discover a pile of ungiven gifts years later because you forgot all about them. Keep an organized list of who you’ve bought for, what you got them and store them all in a place where you’ll remember them. Write yourself a note on next year’s calendar where the gifts are and make a date to wrap them (with your 1/2 off paper also in storage) right before the holidays. Even though you’ve done your shopping months ago, you can revisit your finds and get in the holiday spirit with a gift wrapping date right before the holidays.

Photo via flickr by DC Central Kitchen.

Holiday theme sprinkles, sugars and other baking favorites keep for a long time if stored properly. Photo via flickr by DC Central Kitchen.

Even candy, packaged food and cooking and baking supplies can last a long time. Check the expiration dates and if it’s good for another year and a half or more, then as long as it remains unopened and stored in a cool, dry place, it will be just as good if you have it tomorrow or a year from now.

After the holidays, the sales sections might be picked over and the deals go fast. Make sure you go right away and visit more than one store to find what you’re looking for. Don’t overbuy because it’s a good deal. Make a list of what you need and a budget of what you can spend and stick to it. Clean out a closet or storage space to hold your finds until next year. Kick up your feet with some hot chocolate in front of the fire and congratulate yourself on the money you’ve saved and the headaches you’ve avoided.

Now you just have to have the patience to wait to share your great finds…which is probably the hardest part.


#959 Don’t Be Afraid of Mold

18 Dec

Does this scare you?

moldy cheese










Don’t be afraid. 

The other day I went to the fridge to make a grilled cheese and ham sandwich for lunch. Damn! The Swiss cheese was moldy. Instead of scrapping the sandwich or going to the store, I just cut off the moldy outside part of the cheese (above) to reclaim my piece of cheese.

non moldy cheese










See…now it’s just regular, old, non-scary cheese.

With a little grating…
grated cheese










The cheese was ready for grilling. The sandwich was perfect. I’m none the worse for wear and up one grilled cheese sandwich over the person who would of thrown out the cheese.

Here are rules for assessing your mold and if it will harm you:

  •  Any hard or firm food with mold is safe to cut off the mold and use the rest. Hard cheese (Swiss, cheddar, Parmesan…) is O.K. Firm fruits and vegetables (carrots, peppers, onions…) are O.K. Dry-cured hams and hard salami regularly have mold and are O.K. to scrub the outside and use. It’s totally old-school to have a ham hanging in the attic or pantry for the winter. Just cut off the mold and use.
  • Conversely, all soft, liquid or porous foods are off limits as mold can easily have spread to the whole thing without being evident. Yogurt, soft cheeses, leftovers, jams, jellies, soft fruits and vegetables, bread and deli meats should all be thrown out if they are moldy.
  • You can check out more details from the USDA, although I think their job is to scare you about food safety.

It’s also a good idea not to involve squeamish family members…what they don’t know won’t kill them. And it really won’t.

#960 The Library

17 Dec

Libraries offer much more than books, including digital media. Photo via flicker by Muffet.

Free books, free DVDs, free books on tape or CD, free magazines and newspapers, free ebooks, free digital media, free internet access…the list of free could go on. As long as you return the borrowed items on time, you won’t end up paying anything for checking items out of the library. Even late fees are forgiven if you’re friendly to the librarian. Libraries are a great thrifty resource. You can explore new authors and rent movies without risking paying for something you end up hating. You can feed your head as many books as it can handle from your favorite author without cluttering your home once you’re done.You can test drive any number of new artists or music styles without committing to them. I got textbooks for free in college from the library.

Using the internet is very popular at the library. Photo via flicker by Muffet.

If you’re library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, then someone in the inter-library loan system will. And things like using the internet and scanning are free, while printing and copying have nominal fees to cover costs. Even libraries whose decor looks like something out of a ’70s movie set offer free Wi-Fi.

Libraries like to keep up with current trends and technology so don’t think they’re outdated. They offer access to laptops, online journals and iPads or other tablets. If you start visiting your local library, you may discover just how much they have to offer that you can cut from your budget or enjoy without investing in it yourself. Granted, some libraries are better than others. A lot of it often has to do with the librarian and how in tune he or she is with what patrons want and current trends. You can always visit more than one library to see which one you like the best.

What library is complete without a scholarly looking reading room that automatically makes you feel smarter? Photo via flicker by Muffet.

With the days of the Wikipedia and internet searches trumping most forms of thorough research, it’s important to check out the library as well for a greater source of information. Access to rare books or documents is possible at libraries, and most have digitized their rare collections to be able to access the information more easily and reach a wider audience without risking the actual documents. Librarians are usually super helpful and have a great depth of knowledge on subjects, or how to find the information on a certain subject.

The library is a great place for children to explore and learn to love. They can load up on as many books and movies as they want…and they can have them all! No screaming or crying when you tell them “JUST ONE!” or “No” like at the store.

In addition to all the free stuff you can borrow, libraries host a wide variety of author talks, children’s activities, classes and social opportunities – all free of charge. You can check the schedule of events on the library’s website. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of library events happening.

Even late fees are avoidable as long as you renew your materials. Most items can be renewed two or three times before being due, giving you several weeks or months of time to enjoy your local public library finds.

In my college town, some enterprising business person opened a bar called The Library. So you could say you were “at The Library” while downing pints. The beers were not free and, unlike the library, you didn’t get angry stares for yelling or dancing on tables.