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#882 Halloween Savings: Don’t Let That Pumpkin Go To Waste

21 Oct

jack o lanternAfter carving up your Halloween jack o’ lantern, do you:

A. Let it rot on your lawn or doorstep until it is a disgusting heap of orange and black moldy goo.

B. Throw it away.

C. Compost it.

D. Roast it for pumpkin puree.

I pick D.

So this money-saving idea may be bordering on cheap, but I like to think of it as Native American resourceful. As in nothing goes to waste. I thought my mom was seriously cheap and weird when she did this, but then I moved to Europe where they don’t have pumpkin puree in a can. But they do sell pumpkin slices in the grocery store. That’s when I started to roast my own pumpkin, and my mom’s crazy ways seemed a little less crazy.

Please note: Pumpkins go moldy very quickly so this has to be done within 24 hours of carving to be safe. This means, don’t carve the Halloween pumpkin until the day of or day before Halloween. Who really uses a jack o’ lantern for more than Halloween night anyways?

Step 1: Discard the top with the stem and cut the pumpkin in half.
halloween pumpkin and top

halloween pumpkin cut in half

Step 2: Cut the pumpkin into even-sized cubes and trim the dried-out layer. Don’t worry about trimming the rind off, leave it during roasting.

halloween pumpkin cubes
Step 3: Place the cubes on a cookie tray, rind side down, and brush or spray with canola oil. Roast at 350 degrees until a skewer inserts easily into the cubes, about 40 minutes.

halloween pumpkin roasted
Step 4: Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then trim off the rind with a butter knife and place soft cubes in a bowl. Mash to desired consistency. Or place in food processor for a smoother finish.

mashed halloween pumpkin
Alternatives: Steam on the stove top or cook in a pressure cooker (the rind should be removed for these methods). The end result will be more watery. I like the drier finish of roasting, plus it adds a nice flavor.

Step 5: Measure into 1 or 2 cup servings and freeze what is not used right away.

halloween pumkpin puree

How this Halloween money-saving tip actually saves you money: From one average-priced $6 pumpkin, you can get roasted pumpkin seeds (isn’t that the best part of carving a pumpkin), a Halloween decoration and pumpkin puree. A small pumpkin (that in my case was actually $4.50)  yielded exactly 7 cups of pumpkin puree. libby's pumpkin pureeOne can of premium brand puree is $1.98. Generic brands are $0.99 – $1.20 per can. One can of pumpkin puree is 2 cups. That means my 7 cups is equal to 3 1/2 cans of store-bought puree or $6.93 worth of premium brand or $3.37 – $4.20 worth of generic brand puree. The premium brand canned pumpkin puree cost is more than the original cost of the pumpkin. The generic brand cost is slightly less than the original cost of the pumpkin. And that’s not factoring in that this would be the third use of the single purchase of a pumpkin.

Additional benefits of turning your jack o’ lantern into pumpkin puree:

  • No concerns about BPA in canned goods
  • Pumpkins are packed with nutrients namely beta-carotene just like orange carrots. The fresher the pumpkin, the better the nutrients so making your own means it’s fresh and hasn’t been sitting around, exposed to extreme temps to kill bacteria during manufacture and other practices that kills food nutrients.

Your regular jack o’ lanterns might not be the best flavor choice, but there are a huge variety of pumpkins. If you get one from a farm stand or farmer’s market, the grower may be able to tell you more about the richer-flavored pumpkins to choose from.

What to do with all this roasted pumpkin?
If you’re Euro, you’ll go savory with pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli or pumpkin risotto.
If you’re American, you’ll go sweet with pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread or pumpkin muffins. I once made killer pumpkin cheese cake and pumpkin creme brulee.

The best part is that Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you’ll be able to wow the guests with tales of home-roasted pumpkin pie.

#897 Make Your Own Envelopes For Fun Invites And Appreciation Notes

7 May

With Mother’s Day around the corner, there’s nothing like a unique handmade card to say thanks. And why not catch your mom’s attention with a handmade envelope? You know those magazines you hate to get rid of because of the beautiful photos? Turn them into eye-catching envelopes that will spice up any thank you note or invite you send.

First you need a visually appealing photo. I usually use magazines, but you can use old books, maps or anything else headed for recycling land. I got these magazines from the library free give away pile. You can also dumpster dive the recycle bin.

magazine envelope

envelope 4
Next you’ll need a template. I printed one out from this site or you can use another envelope that has been deconstructed.

envelope template

Tape the template to the magazine page you’ve selected and cut the envelope out.

 envelope 10

Fold each side with your “nice” side out. Make crisp folds that come together neatly like a real envelope. Tape or glue stick the envelope sides. I like glue sticks as tape looks less professional.

magazine envelope

Then you’re done! You can cut a piece of card stock for your notes or use cards you already have. Get creative with what’s inside as well. You can use sticky address labels if you are mailing the envelopes or cut out and glue a neat rectangle of paper to address the envelopes. I love using gold or silver pens to write the address right on the envelope. Whoever receives it will be so excited to not only get a card, but to open this pretty package as well.

envelope 9

The time to cut out and assemble two envelopes took me less than 10  minutes. If you have a lot of notes, like wedding thank yous, you can pre-cut all your envelope templates before assembling. Depending on the occasion great magazines to use would be bridal magazines (to use up that stack you bought during planning), home and garden magazines, fashion and decor magazines or photography magazines. Don’t panic if you haven’t gotten Mom anything yet. Pull out a garden magazine and make her a unique envelope with a heartfelt note, and she’ll be touched.

#904 Thrifty Baby: Make Your Own Baby Food Or Skip It Altogether

10 Apr

baby food jars

Both organic and conventional baby food are more expensive than making your own.

“It’s so easy to make your own baby food,” a friend told me when I was expecting. Really? I hadn’t thought about doing that. Then another acquaintance who was selling me her baby stuff had a whole baby food making system out for me when I came by to check the crib. “Do you want this,” she asked. They were trying to get rid of as much stuff as possible for a big move. There it was staring me in the face, I should make my own baby food.

Thank goodness I had already decided to do this by the time the baby was six months old. We had a few jars of baby food in the cupboard. When I tried them on my daughter, she hated them. No wonder. I tried them, and they were tasteless.  And they were the “good” brand. Baby food is processed so there is no iota of potential food poisoning, which means the food is tasteless and mostly stripped of any of the good stuff in fruits and vegetables. After opening a jar, there is only so long that it can stay in the fridge before throwing it out. After throwing out two mostly-full jars of baby food, I knew there was no way I could buy the baby food jars just to throw them away. If my baby had been the opposite and churned through jars with a voracious appetite, food expenses would have been much higher. In the end, I don’t think adding another mouth into our household cost us very much at all.

organic carrots

A bag of organic carrots is cheaper and can be used either for Baby Led Weaning or making your own baby food.

Instead I bought a bag of organic carrots and called it good. A bag of organic carrots costs around $1.50 per pound. Organic baby food will cost twice that amount or more. Conventional baby food will cost about $1 more per pound, and it will not be organic. A disturbing amount of pesticide residue is found in non-organic baby food.

The baby food system I acquired included a hand mill, a plug-in blender, covered freezer trays, a portable lunch box with spoon and a cookbook. We mostly put unseasoned portions of what we were eating through the hand mill at meal times so we made the baby food right at the table. On the weekends I might have cooked up a bunch of carrots and processed them through the baby blender and then frozen them in the trays. A note to others – two pounds of carrots is A LOT of baby food ice cubes. The baby will probably be sick of carrots by the time he or she is only half way through the amount you made. Make smaller batches of baby food from varied foods to switch things up. We still had the hated pea puree left in the ice cube trays by the time pureed food time was over.

Both the special baby blender and freezer trays are not needed if you’re doing with what you have – a regular blender or food processor will work. Regular freezer trays are fine if you transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer zip lock bag for long-term storage once the food is frozen. I didn’t use the cookbook. The portable lunch box came in handy a few times but wasn’t necessary.

baby led weaning meal

My nephew’s first Baby Led Weaning meal at six months.

We were not much into the baby food making stage when we accidentally started practicing more of a Baby Led Weaning approach. Baby Led Weaning (BLW) means that you eliminate the pureed baby food stage altogether! You give the baby food just like you would eat on a plate. So instead of spending time milling or blending those organic carrots, you give it to the baby well-cooked on his or her plate. While some people may be concerned about choking, a baby’s gag reflex is much closer to the front of the mouth than an adult’s, so if the piece of food is too big for the esophagus, the baby would spit it out instead of choking. My sister who officially read about and followed Baby Led Weaning, versus our accidental uncovery, said her son rarely had a choke moment, and it made life much easier, especially traveling. There were no worries about bringing “baby” food on a trip or to restaurants. It’s true, we didn’t worry about traveling, going out or jars of food either. Between continuing to breastfeed and giving the baby food she could eat from what we had, no one went hungry or had to carry a metric ton of baby mush around.

baby led weaning mess

The “gravity exists” lesson of Baby Led Weaning.

Advocates of Baby Led Weaning say there is lots of learning to be done by baby while eating his or her own non-mush food, like how much pressure is required to pick up different foods and learning shapes and colors. Babies love learning by touch so playing with their food is a great way to learn before they get too old, and grandma yells “didn’t anyone tell you not to play with your food!”

Those itty-bitty pots of baby food are so cute! But expensive! And unnecessary.

If you’re not comfortable with Baby Led Weaning, make your own baby food. Like my friend told me, it’s so easy. Plus, you’ll probably end up in the Baby-Led-Weaning-is-so-much-easier camp and quit the pureed food quickly. Either way, you’ll save money and won’t have to make special purchases. I know organic carrots is already on my grocery list most weeks.

#909 Fix Your Broken iPhone Yourself

28 Mar

Through various circumstances, I ended up with an iPhone last year. I would have been happy to continue with my basic, unlocked Nokia, but after a week with the iPhone my husband and I were loathe to admit it was an awesome, sleek looking piece of technology. Most of the point of an iPhone is that it looks cool. So when a relatively innocuous fall resulted in this:
broken iphone screen

Well, the whole sleek and smooth look that is the hallmark of the iPhone was gone. Not to mention that the iPhone was shedding shattered glass at a fast rate. Interestingly enough, the glass didn’t seem too harmful in terms of sharpness and cutting, but it had to be fixed. The iPhone glass kept disintegrating. After a little research, what seemed like a huge and expensive fix at first, started to shape up into not that big of a deal.

First a look at the prices:

  • Apple charges $149 (!) for an iPhone screen repair for the 3GS, which is what I have (not including shipping and tax). Total cost depending on the shipping and replacement option I chose would put it close to $200. Just a note that Apple is always overpriced, IMO.
  • Third party service repair runs about $100 for an iPhone screen repair (not including shipping), although I found one on sale for $30-$40 depending on my shipping option. But you have to ship it off in most cases.
  • DIY kits run the gamut of anywhere from $2.50 to $70. The kits include various tools.

O.K., so as a consummate DIYer, I should have gotten a kit and be done with it, right? But I was doubtful. I didn’t have the time. I didn’t want to mess around with it. On sale, paying $30 for someone else to take care of it didn’t seem so bad. I would have said no to $100, but maybe… Then my husband declared, “If anyone can fix it, you can!” Well, nothing like an ego boost to kick my lazy butt into gear to fix my own iPhone.

But then there were all the choices for iPhone screen replacements (or digitizers as they’re called). What was the difference between the cheap ones and the more expensive ones? What about the tools? I didn’t want to order something that wasn’t right and didn’t work. I then remembered technology is the Wild West in terms of prices and offerings. So really, there is no difference between a $5 kit and a $65 kit…except $60. So I ordered a $7.99 kit (including shipping!) from Amazon to fix my broken iPhone and got to it.

Disclaimer: This is not a DIY tutorial. There are loads of those online. I included a link for a video at the bottom of the post. This is my experience and what I learned from it.

First, I realized the kit I got only came with a suction cup, two pry tools, adhesive and the new screen. There were no screwdrivers, so I had to get my own. Luckily, I do have a tiny screwdriver from a repair sunglasses kit and a magnetic one for tiny tech jobs from past attempts to mess with my laptop. If you don’t have either of these, make sure you get a kit that comes with a screwdriver. Those screws are TINY! A regular screwdriver will not fit.
replacement iphone screen

Now that I was fully equipped:iphone and tools 2

I realize I also needed a sharp pen knife (and I already had the needed hairdryer on hand):
swiss army knife
I began. Eeek!:
open iphone

There was no going back…

iphone in two pieces

I got the screen off…but I still had to take the broken glass off the frame as I was only replacing the glass, not the frame…This was where the pen knife came into play…
broken iphone screen
iphone glass removal

The frame was finally free of all broken glass and old adhesive!
iphone frame

Now I put it back together…with some new adhesive from the kit and the new, replacement iPhone screen (digitizer)…and reconnected and screwed everything back in. Would it work? (Nervous moments while it rebooted…)
iphone with apple logo

The inexpensive digitizer replacement screen worked great. And the iPhone is now back to its original state!
iphone turned on

Lessons learned:

  • DIY is always cheaper and provides a huge ego boost. I can fix my iPhone!
  • Anyone can do this. It’s not hard, just time consuming. It took me about an hour and a half because the glass was really shattered, and I was documenting. I imagine one hour is average for the repair.
  • Do NOT touch the LCD screen. Fingerprints are hard to clean.
  • If your iPhone LCD is broken, it’s just more expensive for that part as well as the screen, but DIY for both is totally feasible. How to tell? If your iPhone screen is shattered, but you see everything behind it fine than your LCD is fine. If the screen is not showing things right or at all, then your LCD is compromised.
  • The only special parts you REALLY need are the tiny screwdriver, replacement adhesive and replacement iPhone screen. The other tools can be improvised or replaced with something else or things like a fingernail. You don’t need a heat gun. My not-very-good hairdryer was fine. And a sharp pen knife can do a good job in the place of a specific tool.
  • Go cheap on the replacement iPhone digitizer. They’ll all get the the job done – but some will save you more money than others. Get the one that saves money.
  • All model iPhones are different. iPhone 3G is NOT the same as iPhone 3GS. Make sure you get the right one.

There are lots of DIY tutorials for iPhone screen replacements on YouTube and elsewhere. The most thorough and helpful that I found was this one:

They have lots more videos on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch repairs.

So if you think you have to pay a lot for fixing your shattered iPhone screen – I only paid $7.99 and with a little bit of time.

#915 Travel Savings: Eat Biblically, Eat In The Streets And Be Your Own Chef

14 Mar

Honey from this stand fed us for a long time.

Honey from this stand fed us for a long time.

I have proof that bakeries are from heaven.

My husband and I were driving down tiny back roads through central Crete, completely lost and passing one abandoned town after another. Breakfast was long gone. Our frustration with the signage and gnawing in our stomachs were increasing tension levels by the second. I get seriously cranky when I’m hungry.

Just when we thought we were lost in the empty hills, and our lovely Grecian vacation was looking darker than the sky above… the clouds parted. A light shone down. As we came to the top of the next hill, we saw that the light was shining on a bakery in a tiny town center. In a single burst of joy, we could only feel pure happiness. Not only did the bakery exist, but they were pulling spinach and feta rolls from the oven. And the baklava was oozing warm honey. We bought everything.

Then the miracle continued…There was an adjacent grocery store where we celebrated finding food and the right direction with purchases of large bottles of beer.

All I can say is that the baklava lives in our memories as the single most incredible delight we’ve ever tasted. Manna from heaven. We were drunk for the rest of the day, not on the beer, but from the honey-fueled ecstasy of warm baklava from a heaven-sent bakery in the Cretan wilderness. And it hardly cost anything.

Luckily we didn't have to end up eating these when we were lost in the middle of nowhere.

Luckily we didn’t have to end up eating these when we were lost in the middle of nowhere.

One of the great pleasures of travel is discovering new food and enjoying local cuisines. But this doesn’t have to mean eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants. It means finding local grocers, farmer’s markets, bakeries and food stalls. If you eat out for every meal when you travel, not only will you be spending far too much money on food, but you’ll also not have a balanced diet. One of the best ways to save money and eat well is to cook for yourself, and this is no different when traveling.

If you get a vacation rental, then make sure you book one that includes a kitchen, which is not difficult. Unlike hotel bookings, it’s easy to find a vacation rental that comes with a fridge, cook top and some pots and pans. That’s all you need to get started. In fact, you don’t need a kitchen, and could swing it in a hotel room, but something like refrigeration is a great help. And it’s much nicer to be able to spread out in a kitchen and have a table.

You also don’t have to spend all your time preparing food. You’re on vacation, you want to get out and see the city or country you’re in! That’s why it’s nice to mix up making your own food with finding great street food for a quick and delicious meal on the go that’s not going to eat up your sightseeing time. Street food is the cheapest and most fun way to eat out when traveling.

Here are some easy ways to cook for yourself and enjoy street food when traveling, which will be easy on your budget:

  • Find the local supermarket. A lot of times the supermarket is right around the corner. Just because you’re buying your own food doesn’t mean you have to miss out on local food. Try new things you’ve never seen or local brands. If you can’t read the labels, be adventurous and see what comes up. I’ve ended up with wasabi peanuts that I thought were some sort of chocolate product in the Netherlands. I’ve stumbled across the most amazing sour cherry juice at a corner grocer in Macedonia. I’ve discovered pillowy soft potato flat bread in Sardinia. I’ve enjoyed Cheerwine in North Carolina, and Moxie in Maine. All of these products were locally produced, and probably never appear on restaurant menus. Another bonus to stopping by the supermarket is that you can stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. One of the biggest drawbacks when traveling is that fresh produce is hard to come by when eating out. A salad at dinner doesn’t nearly cover my fresh produce needs. I used to fall upon an apple after 10 days of travel like it was the purest form of goodness. Really, I was just craving fresh fruit after serious deprivation. If you shop for yourself, stocking up on in-season fruits and vegetables is no problem, and a healthier solution to snacking and eating on the go.
  • Ask for the local street or farmer’s market. While a grocery store is usually very easy to find, you’ll probably have to ask a local about street and farmer’s markets. The location and date and times might vary, so it’s best to get the info from someone who knows. You can stock up on cheeses, breads, fruit and local specialties at these markets. They’re the best for picnic lunch shopping and turn into an adventure of discovery themselves.
  • Brake for roadside stands. If you see an old lady sitting on the side of the road selling fruit, STOP! You’ll get local produce and a fun story. You’ve never imagined cherries so sweet and juicy. I’ve also seen people selling local honey, fish and wine. It’s all part of the travel adventure and seeing what people around the world eat and drink.
  • Eat Biblically. When my husband and I find ourselves eating bread, honey and almonds on the road. Possibly for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We laugh. It seems so biblical. Where are the locusts? Sometimes we mix in a few dates and olives. But it’s cheap and good. The bread is fresh made, the honey is local as are the dates and olives. Who needs anything more?
  • That tiny stall sells the best crepes, sandwiches, kebabs…Street food is the cheapest way to eat out when traveling. As you are not sitting down, you can stroll with your food down new and exciting streets or sit in the park enjoying the sunshine. The key is not to be scared off by the look or size of the place. If the line of locals is long, then you’ve come to the right place.
  • Find that heavenly bakery. The local bakery will provide delights unending for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t be afraid to try everything.
  • Get the right portions. If you know how long you’ll be staying in one place, you can tailor how much you buy to your time. It’s easy to throw leftover cheese and containers that close well into a day pack to consume on the journey to the next destination, home or for when you arrive at your next location.

Here are some ideas for each meal when traveling as well:

  • Breakfast: The bakery is your friend. Or the baked goods section of the grocery store. That paired with some fruit and tea, and I’m ready to go. Tea is a lot easier when traveling. Hot water and a bag that you could bring yourself, as I do to make things easier. Making the switch from coffee is pretty easy, healthier and you still get some caffeine.
  • Lunch: Picnic time. Picnic in the park. Picnic on a hike. Picnic on a city bench. Picnic on the castle walls. The most fun is shopping the street markets or farmer’s market for lunch. Our standby is bread, cheese, dried meat and some fruit. And olives. I never liked olives until I met my husband. Those black olives in a can that taste like cardboard, those aren’t olives. The black, oily, squizzled kind are olives. The fat, briny, smooth black kind are olives. The giant green ones with pit are olives. The hot peppered, oiled ones are olives. They don’t come in a can. You can buy as many or a little as you want.
  • Dinner: Dinner can be a repeat of lunch. Or you can cook up something hot and easy in the kitchen. I love local sausages, another thing I didn’t grow up with. In fact, I lived in an anti-sausage, anti-pork household. But then I discovered fresh made sausages around the world. They’re so much better than any processed, mystery meat that only tastes overly salty from the grocery store. Finding a local butcher or the meat counter of the supermarket will yield tasty locally flavored sausages or other local specialties that are easy to prepare.
  • Dietary restrictions or food allergies: If you’re vegan or vegetarian, it’s so much easier and more diverse to shop and cook for yourself while on vacation. If you have food allergies, it’s also easy to manage without fear.

#927 Wedding Savers: Get Married When People Don’t Get Married

20 Feb

Here are three good reasons to get married on an off-day, off-season: lower rates, your invitees won’t have to skip your wedding for another and you’re sure to book your pick for the venue, photographer, ect. Typically wedding season is from early t0 mid May to Columbus Day weekend in October (second Monday of October). With variations based on geography.

You can also consider having a Thursday or Friday night function for a better rate and less competition from other eager couples. Or having a lunch, brunch or afternoon reception that eliminates the pricey full, sit-down dinner. When my husband and I were planning our wedding, the menu options for brunch were mouth-watering and the price tag was laughably small compared to dinner. When the priest could only do the wedding ceremony on Saturday morning, it was set. A morning wedding with a brunch following. Why wait around all day for dinner? And who doesn’t love brunch?

Waffles and roast turkey - brunch is awesome...and cheaper. Photo by Nadra Photography.

Waffles and roast turkey – brunch is awesome…and cheaper. Photo by Nadra Photography.

Vendors will have lower prices for less busy times. Lunch, a stand-up reception or brunch will always be less than dinner as well. You can still have dancing, drinking and fun. Guests can move onto an after party, and the couple won’t be too exhausted to spend some time doing what married couples do.

While the date of our wedding was determined by our work schedule, it happened to be the weekend after Columbus Day. In the end, I realized it was a lucky break for me. I was booking the photographer and organ player up to the week before the wedding. I never had anyone tell me they couldn’t do it. They were booked solid before that, but eager to cut me a deal for the first weekend after the madness died down. And there were several guests who’d attended weddings the weekend before, which made me grateful that they didn’t have to chose between weddings.

What about the weather? All the brides I knew who got married in June had rain in one of the rainiest Junes on record. In October, we had peak leaf color on a sunny day after a week of rain. You never can tell. Another girl I knew had a gorgeous, snowy January wedding. Some things you can’t predict.

Even with a lunch reception or December wedding, you can save even more money with these suggestions:

  • Does the word “wedding” cost more?
    I bought non-"wedding" shoes on sale that I knew I would wear again (I have). Photo by Nadra Photography.

    I bought non- “wedding” shoes on sale that I knew I would wear again (I have). Photo by Nadra Photography.

    With the insanity of the wedding industry, it seems the word “wedding” triggers a higher price. While you don’t have to pretend like you’re not an absurdly happy couple celebrating in a tux and white dress, you can call around for quotes from various services that you are considering. One phone call can refer to the event as a family reunion, prom or garden party and the other call can refer to the event as a wedding. If there is a difference in price, ask what the differences in service or items provided are for a wedding and negotiate away the wedding “extras.” Or bargain a lower price or the same price as another event if the differences are not justified.

  • DIY: You don’t need a wedding planner. Various tasks can be spread between the wedding party, parents and willing guests to make things run smoothly and so the maid of honor and best man aren’t overburdened. You may also consider that you don’t need a florist, cake maker or caterer if you or your friends and family members are talented (and willing!) in any of these areas.
  • Hire an amateur photographer. While you could dispense with the photographer all together and ask friends and family to take pictures or designate one person to take pictures, this could end in disaster. You don’t want to be madly disappointed that no one caught moments that you couldn’t remember or didn’t want to forget. Asking someone to be in charge of something like photos as a volunteer activity could lead to – no photos at all, blurry and badly lit photos or unsatisfactory photos. Unless you implicitly trust someone with this task, you are better off going to a local college to recruit an eager photojournalism student, making a connection with someone who wants to get into the photography business but needs to get his/her first clients or hiring an acquaintance whose photography you admire but who would not be a guest. I’m sure they would all be excited and flattered to be hired. That way you can vet their portfolio and discuss the shots you want beforehand, yet pay a fraction of the price of a professional. I’ve worked with many amateur and student photographers over the years on projects, and their photos always blow my mind.
  • Check what your paying for. For any vendor, make sure you understand completely what you are paying for. If there are things in the “package” that you don’t want, bargain them away. If you go with a professional photographer, they often bundle a wedding album at $1,500 or more into the package in addition to their services. You can eliminate the album and DIY later.
  • Get a free venue. Most religious venues are free – just make a donation as thanks. Hold the reception at someone’s gorgeous house or property. Many restaurants will book your party as a private party where you only pay for the food and service instead of a fee for the actual space. You start to run up massive costs when you have to pay for the venue space as well as all the food and drink.
  • The Rehearsal Dinner is not the wedding the day before. More and more, rehearsal dinners don’t look any different than the wedding. Strictly limit the rehearsal dinner invitees to the wedding party, immediate family members and wedding officials. Even with the largest families and wedding parties, this shouldn’t be more than 30 people. Hosting the rehearsal dinner at someone’s house saves money and should be casual fun.


#933 Learn A Skill

1 Feb

Be your own mechanic and save money. Photo via flickr by Seattle Municipal Archives.

Be your own mechanic and save money. Photo via flickr by Seattle Municipal Archives.

You spend money because you can’t do something, you don’t know how to do something, you don’t have the space to do something, you don’t have the resources to do something…you would be perfectly capable of doing it yourself if you knew how or had the space/time/resources.

Imagine if you grew your own food, maintained your own transportation, made your own clothes, built your own house from the lumber you milled…then you’d have no bills to pay…and be Amish. While the Amish have a strong community in which they are much more self-sustaining than many of us, we can take a cue from them and acquire practical, hands-on skills that can save a lot of money.

Sewing is a great skill to save money. Photo via flickr by tsuacctnt.

Sewing is a great skill to save money. Photo via flickr by tsuacctnt.

We take our car to the garage to be fixed. We rely on “experts” to help us with taxes and real estate. And tailors to hem our pants. And farmers to provide us with food. And GPS to tell us where to go. All of which we pay for. Eliminate the need to pay someone to do the work for you or a gadget to help you by learning a skill yourself. I personally love figuring out how to do things myself. And enjoy the thrill of knowing how easy it is to do and telling others how to do it.

One of the best skills if you have a car is to learn how to maintain it yourself. Changing out headlights and taillights is straightforward. Switching out your oil is a little dirty but easy. Once you familiarize yourself with the engine, you see how the system works together, not a scary mass of confusion. If you don’t have a car and ride a bike, learn how to car for the bike yourself instead of taking it to the shop.

Replace that ugly, old sink yourself, but have the help of someone who knows the first few times. Photo via flickr by Kevin Saff.

Replace that ugly, old sink yourself, but have the help of someone who knows the first few times. Photo via flickr by Kevin Saff.

How about learning how to woodwork and make your own furniture? Or knit and made your own sweaters? Or how to rehab old furniture? Or how plumbing works? Or a bit about electricity and hang your own light fixtures? Or how to sew? I’m getting excited about learning something new just writing this. Anything you want to know more about, you can start with an enthusiast who can show your the ropes. Or your dad, grandpa, grandma or mom.

Not only does learning a skill save you money, but it adds to your bag of tricks that can seal the deal in a job interview, dating scenario or business deal. You learn skills without even trying. You just start doing something and then years later you realize you’ve become an expert cook, baker, mechanic, seamstress/tailor or all of the above.

I love that I can save money if I already know how to do something myself. And that I’m not scared to learn if I don’t know.

Warning: The I-can-do-it skill set does save you a lot of money. However, it treads easily into the dreaded “cheap” category when someone refuses to pay anyone for anything and “does it themselves” without actually ever doing it correctly or with good materials. This leads to a lifetime of headaches, fixes and damages, which actually costs more in misery and new equipment than if it was done right the first time. So make sure you are accurately judging the quality of your work and the difficulty of the task and call in someone who really knows what they’re doing when needed.

#942 Aficionado or Enthusiast Forums

14 Jan

My car gets bargain price care thanks to my forum find.

My car gets bargain price care thanks to my forum find.

Nobody quite understands my love for my mechanic. But that man is a financial godsend. Not only does he save me a ton of money, but I really like him as well. He is opinionated, honest and, best of all, passionate about the kind of car I drive. He also knows absolutely everything about the car as well. He might be a bit crazed over Volkswagen diesels, but that’s why he’s part of an online enthusiast forum that exists solely to talk about and trade information about diesels. Namely, Volkswagen diesels. As he once told me, “that forum is the reason the internet was created.”

He meant the internet was created to allow free exchange of information for the mutual benefit of all participants. It’s a beautiful thing when it works well. Last week I covered a lot of the pitfalls of the internet. So today I’ll discuss one of the best resources on the internet that will save you a lot of money – online forums dedicated to aficionados or enthusiasts of any type of product, idea or group.

Forums don't look pretty and the format has remained unchanged for years, but they have a wealth of information that will save you money.

Forums don’t look pretty and the format has remained unchanged for years, but they have a wealth of information that will save you money.

Long before social media like Facebook, there were online forums where like-minded people could gather and discuss their favorite topic – Vespas, the end of the world, computers, gaming, frugalness, babies, Mom stuff…yes, Volkswagen diesels…and anything else you can think of. Forums are still alive and well with active communities of passionate members who are a bit crazed about their topic of choice. But it’s good thing. You can make connections with people who are way more knowledgeable than you are about a particular topic. You can get the “man on the street” view of something you know nothing about and get up to speed in very little time. The members of the forum are also there for altruistic purposes – to help others who are interested in the same topic, no matter how much of a “newbie” they might be.

I’ve gotten lots of hacks, fixes, free advice and information on forums that saved me seeking a paid professional to solve my problem. Most of the time, in situations like real estate, cars and the like, you’re paying someone for his or her knowledge. When knowledge is freely shared on forums, you eliminate the need to pay for the information.

Online forums is how I found my mechanic, who’s impeccably honest, has saved me thousands of dollars in car care and taught me how to care for my car myself. It all started when my check engine light came on years ago. Being a relatively new car owner, I was worried and wanted to get it looked at right away. A garage was going to charge me $80 just to plug my car into the computer to tell me what was wrong. Then they would charge me to fix what was actually wrong. Enraged that I would have to fork over $80 for a computer readout, I looked on a forum that I had used a couple times for quick fixes on my car. It had a long list by state of people who had the computer readout capability and were willing to help others. I contacted the only person close to me. He didn’t charge me anything for the readout…the rest is history.

Even when I moved away, I stayed in touch with my forum-enthusiast mechanic. He helped me fix problems long distance that my new, local mechanic couldn’t figure out. When you find someone that golden, you don’t let them go.

Here are some forums I’ve found extremely helpful, and they have all saved me money. Whatever you’re looking for help on, check out the forum that is sure to be dedicated to your topic.

  • Car and other motor vehicle forums. Even if you don’t find a mechanic as incredible as I did, you’ll be able to find easy ways to fix things yourself, replacement parts for a fraction of the market price and nice, helpful people.
  • Computer forums. Over the phone tech help is always useless. “Did you restart?” Come on, I’m calling you because I have a serious problem, not because I didn’t do something ridiculously simple. Online forums will pretty much tell you how to fix, retrieve, hack or otherwise wrangle your laptop or computer to do what you want.
  • Ex-pat forums. English-speaking people in foreign countries tend to seek each other out. Whether it’s to fix visa problems, find a renter or sell their stuff when they’re leaving the country, ex-pat forums have a wealth of information and second-hand stuff in countries that might not be fans of second-hand stuff. Even if you’ve lived in a country for 30+ years, ex-pat forums are a great resource to make connections. If you’re new to a country or making the transition, ex-pat forums are invaluable for the move and adjustment. I’m sure there are probably forums for things like Korean-speakers in Spanish countries – like I said, there’s everything on the Internet.
  • Thrifty forums. Forums where people share their idea, goals and encouragement for those trying to save money, get out of debt or live a simpler life. If you feel like you’re alone in your circle of friends or family in your money and savings goals or your thrifty ways, you won’t feel lonely here.

What forums have you used to get good information that has saved you money? If you’ve never tried out a forum, take a look and start being a part of a community for which “the internet was created.”

#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.



#963 Cut Your Own Christmas Tree

12 Dec

Spare yourself a $40 to $80 expense…wander the wild to find your own tree, cut it down and haul it back to your place. Pine trees are fast growing soft woods, so they are sustainable trees. You will need:

or more firepower:

woods and fields to wander…

an appropriate tree…
not too small…

not too big…

just right…

Your family will refer fondly to your “Peanuts” Christmas tree for years to come.