Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year's Eve!

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy new year!

See you Monday!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Get Yourself a Jimi Wallet. Now!


Item: Jimi Wallet

Price: $14.95

Where to Buy: thejimi.com

Review: I got a nice surprise when I wrote about the Jimi wallet in June: The Jimi wallet people offered to send me one. For free.

Um, yes please.

I love it.

It doesn't quite hold enough (five cards and three folded bills) to be my everyday wallet, but it's nice and compact for a small purse. And it's fun to use. And cute. I got a pink one.

It's too late to ask for one for the holidays, but do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a Jimi wallet in the New Year.

Image from: thejimi.com

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Here's hoping you get all you wish for this holiday season (without being too extravagant, of course!).

Merry Christmas! Thrifty Under Fifty returns on Monday.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cookies for the Traveler in All of Us


Item: Biscoff cookies

Price: $26.95 (200 cookies)

Where to Buy: Biscoff.com

Review: My favorite airline is Delta not because of low fares or on-time departures. Nope. It's because of those delectable in-flight snacks called Biscoff cookies.

Stronger that a graham cracker, yet sweeter than a ginger snap, the Biscoff cookie is the highlight of the flight. And unlike a lot of in-flight treats nowadays, they're still free (or at least they were the last time I flew Delta more than a year ago).

Luckily, I don't have to wait for a flight to get my Biscoff fix. Over supper one night, my sister-in-law, brother-in-law and I learned of our shared regard for the cookie-biscuit. Lo and behold, I received a whole tin of the treats from them for Christmas one year.

Biscoff cookies not only make a great mid-morning treat at work, but also inspire me to plan my next trip -- via Delta, of course.

Image from: Biscoff.com

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Priceline: Not Always the Best Deal

I've long been a fan of Priceline. I've lost count of the number of hotel rooms I've reserved for a fraction of the listed price both in the US and in Canada.

I've turned to Priceline several times now for rental cars, with mixed results. Last year I got a rental car in Columbus, Ohio, saved a few bucks, no problem. A more recent Priceline experience, however, proves that it's always wise to do some research before submitting your Priceline bid.

The goal: A 3-day rental to and from Detroit. Before I submitted my bid, Priceline's site showed that I could get a car from Alamo for $12 a day. So I submitted a bid of $8. No luck. $9. Nada.

What surprised me was that Priceline came back with a counteroffer -- of $13 a day. Huh?

Obviously I ignored the offer, made my way to Alamo's website and rented a car for the weekend for $49 and some change.

The lesson: Priceline has some great deals, but it doesn't have a monopoly on them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Special Effects for Funky Photos


Item: BeFunky Photo Effects

Price: Free

Where to Try: BeFunky.com

Review: Add professional-looking special effects to your favorite photos in seconds -- no artistic skills required.

With nine options (including the "Warholizer" and the "Cartoonizer") there's hours of photorific fun at BeFunky.com. For example, see what "Charcola" did to the image above.

The site is free -- you don't even have to register to try it out -- and after uploading your photo, your new funkified image is displayed in seconds. What you do with the image is up to you-- you can purchase the image on shirts, mugs, magnets, keychains, stickers and more right on the site.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Saving on Household Utilities

If I had to pick a favorite bill, my choice by far would be my ConEdison electricity bill.

I love flipping to the chart that shows how my electricity usage had compared to each of the last 12 months, including the same month of the previous year. When that bar gets shorter and shorter (as it often did during the mild summer months, when I rarely ran the air conditioner), it's nice to know I'm helping my wallet and the world.

But my water usage? I have no idea. That's why I found this article on reducing your "water footprint" especially interesting.

According to Good Magazine, UNICEF says every person needs about five gallons of water per day to survive.

Americans use 151 gallons. Per day.

That includes an average of 3.5 to 6 gallons per toilet flush and 2.5 to 4 gallons per minute of your shower. See the article for a more complete list ... and tips on how to cut back.

First up for me? Something my parents asked me to do 15 years ago (with little results): Cutting my time in the shower. Besides, I can get on board with any environmental cause that also results in a few extra minutes of shut-eye in the morning.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins


This winter, give your friends and family a taste of summer with these blueberry oatmeal muffins.

These muffins make tasty treats for teachers, postal workers and others you are looking to give token gifts to this holiday season. Or take them to the office potluck either for breakfast or for a healthy dessert.

Yes, blueberries are expensive this time of year, but give them a try with whatever fruit you have on hand. I've had excellent results substituting the blueberries for raspberries.

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

1 1/2 tablespoons + 1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons + 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, divided
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (or raspberries)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, to taste
1 cup yogurt (plain or fruit-flavored)
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a muffin pan.

Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons oats and 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine remaining oats, brown sugar, flour, baking powder and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, butter, egg, and vanilla extract. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until the batter is moistened but still lumpy. Gently fold in blueberries.

Fill muffin cups almost to top, and sprinkle reserved oats and brown sugar over muffins. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm. Makes 12.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Continuing this week's theme of cheap and easy homemade Christmas gifts that look neither cheap nor easy ... Homemade Chocolate Syrup.

The recipe, from Small Notebook (who, in turn, borrowed it from The Complete Tightwad Gazette) has only five ingredients. And since the result keeps for several months, you can make the sauce at your leisure, far before the last-minute crush of holiday shopping and get-togethers.

Yes, the results look tasty, but what really makes this a gem of a gift is the container you package it in. A flip-top glass bottle (like that used at Small Notebook) with a homemade label makes this easy homemade Christmas gift appear not only delicious, but also thoughtful.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla

Mix cocoa and water in saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve cocoa. Add sugar, and stir to dissolve. Boil 3 minutes over medium heat. Add salt and vanilla. Cool. Pour into a sterile glass jar, and store in refrigerator. Keeps for several months. Yields two cups.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Banana Bread


Just because you're pinching pennies doesn't mean you have to scrimp on Christmas gifts.

The key? Exchange money for time. This week I'm highlighting three Christmas gifts you can make in your kitchen in mere minutes, for mere pennies.

First up: banana bread.

Until I tried this recipe, I was never a huge fan of banana bread. I could take it or leave it. But this recipe is not only easy, it's maybe the best quick bread I've ever tasted. With some colored plastic wrap and ribbon, you've got a thoughtful, tasty gift.

And bonus: the leftover batter is all yours, and it's almost as good as the bread itself.

Banana Bread
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 bananas, mashed well
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one loaf pan.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk mashed bananas, melted butter, eggs, yogurt and vanilla. Gently fold banana mixture into flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined. Batter will be thick.

Scrape batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out nearly clean, 55 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking.

Let cool 1 hour before serving.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thrifty Under Fifty will return on Monday. Until then, be sure to use up all of your turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie -- or just send them my way ...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cheese Thimbles in Four Flavors


Item: Hannahbells cheese thimbles

Price: $7.50 for 13 cheeses (about 3 ounces)

Where to Buy: Shy Brothers Farm

Review: A thimble of cheese: it sounds like an ingredient from a fairy tale.

These thimbles, however, come from a Massachusetts dairy farm. Shy Brothers Farm call them Hannahbells; the French, they say, call them "boutons de coulottes," or "trouser buttons."

Whatever you call them, they look delicious. Hannahbells are available in four flavors: classic French, shallot, rosemary and lavender bud. In addition to the small order of 13 cheeses of the same flavor, they also can be purchased in a sampler pack of 40 cheeses for $20.

I'd skip the crackers with this cheese and pop these thimbles plain.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Have a DVR? Cancel Netflix.

I don't have Netflix.

But I do have at least a half dozen movies ready to watch at all times ... all at the press of a button.

Once every week or two I browse the movie channels that come with my cable plan-- AMC, TCM and IFC are usually the best, but even Comedy Central and the Disney Channel play some good flicks once in awhile. Then I DVR anything and everything that looks interesting.

Then when I'm in the mood for a movie, or my husband and I want to kick back on the weekends, we always have a large selection no matter what our mood.

The selection of movies is surprisingly large on these channels. Admittedly, you're not going to find many recently released selections like you would on HBO and Showtime, but you'll greatly increase your knowledge of classic movies. Jack Lemmon has become one of my favorite actors of all time because of my propensity to record his movies, and I'm slowly making my way through all of Woody Allen's works.

So cancel your Netflix subscription. Spend your extra cash on popcorn instead.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Get a Head Start on Christmas Baked Goods


Christmas is less than six weeks away, and it's only going to get busier from here.

Trimming the tree. Buying the presents. Baking the cookies.

But wait: You can get the cookies done now! Many recipes include instructions for freezing the dough and baking them weeks later. I've made chocolate chip cookies and popped them in the oven six weeks later, and they taste just as fresh as if I had just stirred the dough.

Planning to give homemade treats as gifts? Make them now, and bake them later!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Does Anyone Pick Up Pennies Anymore?

A penny doesn't buy much these days, and it shows.

It seems that most people (including me) won't even stoop to pick up a penny. If I had a penny for every penny I saw on the sidewalk or on the stairs, I'd be a ... well I'd be at least a centanaire.

Silver coins obviously are more popular. I rarely see nickels, dimes or quarters lying about.

And dollar bills? A rare bread, but not unheard of.

I'll slow down for anything with a green or silver glint, but I leave the copper for toddlers and their piggy banks. What about you?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Rubber Bands That Are Doggone Cute


Item: Animal Rubber Bands

Price: $4.95 (24 rubber bands)

Where to Buy: Brainchildproducts.com

Review: An office supply that's practical and cute at the same time?

These animal rubber bands are molded into the shape of dogs, cats, pigs, ducks, rabbits and turtles. Stretch them out and they look like a normal, albeit colorful, rubber band. Take them off your item and they revert to their natural animal shape.

How can you resist that?

Best yet, the purchase of these animal rubber bands is sure to help the environment at least a bit. Who's going to toss a rubber band in the shape of a kitty into the landfill?

Additional themed rubber band packs: basic shapes, zoo animals, and -- get this -- underwear.

Image from: Brainchildproducts.com

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Extra Long Shower Curtain Liner

I measured the windows, I measured the walls.

Before we moved to a new place 500 miles away, I measured nearly everything-- except the distance from the shower rod to the base of the tub.

A shower curtain liner certainly qualifies as one of those things you need on your first day in a new apartment. So I went to the store and took my chances. I bought a new shower curtain liner of the standard length.

Unfortunately, it was about three inches two short. Water from the shower blew the bottom of the liner up over the tub, soaking the bathroom floor.

My solution? A clear plastic tablecloth from the nearest dollar store.

The tablecloth was about a foot too long, but I simply folded over the top until the "liner" was of the desired length, and then I poked holes at the top for the hooks. Voila! An extra long shower curtain liner that's less than 2 bucks -- and is easily replaceable.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Book Review: "Cheap"

Item: "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture," by Ellen Ruppel Shell

Price: $14.01

Where to Buy: Amazon

Review: Someone's paying for it, even if you're not.

That's the main idea behind "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture," a new book by Ellen Ruppel Shell.

Shell admits right off the bat that she's a bargain hunter. The problem, she says, is what we consider bargains may actually be hurting the environment, our expectations and employees around the world.

By now, most people understand the difference between between cheap and being frugal. The former looks only at price. The latter also considers quality. Shell uses examples like Ikea and outlet stores to show how looking nearly exclusively at price tags can dilute brands and affect buying habits.

But whether you label yourself cheap, frugal or just plain thrifty, do what I did if you want to read this book. Get it at the library.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Frightfully Low Prices on Halloween Candy

Kids clean up on candy when they trick-or-treat, but it's the day after that's the best time for chocolate for everyone else.

That's usually when grocery stores and pharmacies cut the prices on their stash of Halloween candy by 25 percent, 50 percent or even more.

Stock up! Hershey Kisses in orange wrappers are still Hershey Kisses. And coffin-shaped, caramel-filled chocolates are much tastier than they look.

The stock goes quickly, so don't wait more than a day or two after trick-or-treating in your community to make your own candy run.

Monday, October 26, 2009

3 Cheap and Easy Halloween Costumes

It's less than a week until Halloween and you're still without a costume. And without money.

Now that's scary.

But no fear! Make these 3 easy Halloween costumes on the cheap with things you already have tucked away in your closet.

1. Michael Phelps: Skip the swimsuit and put on a pair of windbreaker pants and a jacket-- red, white and blue if you can pull it off. Slap some goggles on your head and dig out those old medals you won in elementary school (or make your own with aluminum foil and ribbon). Voila. You're an Olympic superstar.

2. Ghost. It's an oldie but goody. You're never going to use that old white sheet in the linen closet anyway, so you might as well poke a couple of eye-holes in it. Bonus: You can use it as a blanket if you're outside and it's freezing. It's like a Halloween Snuggie.

3. Well-Read. Yep, I'm a bookworm and a dork and this was my last-minute costume for a holiday party at a friend's house a few years back. I carried a pail (I was a well) and wore all of my scarlet clothing (I was all red). Very punny, I know, but also very easy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

At the Airport: Skip the Taxi, Take the Bus

I love to fly.

But I hate to make my way into the city -- any city -- from an airport that is generally several miles away.

Cabs are expensive. Independent bus services that promise hotel drop-off are convenient but still make a dent on the pocketbook.

The best option? Public transportation.

I've had good experiences taking public transit to and from airports in several U.S. cities as well as Berlin and Munich, Germany. The buses have been on-time and not as crowded as you might think. Best of all, they're cheap. For a couple of bucks you're downtown in nearly the same amount of time as if you had taken a taxi. And with the extra cash you saved, you can buy yourself a good meal.

When I first began opting for public transit at airports, I was nervous about finding the right bus. No need to worry. Just look for all of the other people with luggage, and that, most likely, is your bus stop.

Admittedly, public transportation isn't always the best option. At Port Columbus International Airport, in Ohio, I would hesitate taking the bus unless your hotel is very near to a stop. But in a mid-size city like this, you're probably going to rent a car anyway.

But for major cities with reliable bus or subway systems, you won't find anything much easier -- and certainly nothing cheaper -- than good ol' public transit.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Indian Music with Your Indian Food


Like Indian food?

What about Indian music?

Even if you answered yes to only one of those questions (or if you're curious about either!), I've got the deal for you.

Kitchens of India is packaging each of their heat-and-eat meals with one free Indian classical music CD. There's five CDs available, and my husband eats so much of this stuff that we must have the whole collection by now.

For about $2.50 apiece, our local grocery store carries selections like Pav Bhaji ("Mashed fresh vegetables simmered in butter, and lightly spiced.") and Pindi Chana ("Chick peas simmered in an aromatic tomato gravy.") Bon appetit.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wall Art That Starts Conversations


The last thing the world needs is another reprint of "Starry Night."

Instead, turn to your digital photos to decorate your walls.

For a fraction of the cost of the framed pictures you can get in any old store, I ordered 8 x 12 prints of a few of my favorite photos taken by either my husband or me, like the one above of the Brandenburg Gate at dusk. Then I bought simple glass frames at Ikea for just a couple of bucks apiece.

Now my hallway is lined with seven prints that not only are pretty, but also bring up good memories whenever I stroll to the living room. I visit Austria, France, Mexico and even Disney World in a few steps, if only for a few moments.

This is a great way to decorate your own home, or a thoughtful gift for a friend or family member with whom you've shared a vacation. They're also perfect conversation starters-- visitors always want to learn where the pictures were taken once they learn we snapped them ourselves.

Monday, October 12, 2009

PriceSpider: Website Review

Sites like Orbitz and Expedia make it easy to compare plane tickets from a variety of airlines.

Now you can do the same for your other purchases.

PriceSpider.com
shows users the real-time best prices from online retailers of everything from televisions to toys. What's more, you can get price alerts by email and even see a six-month price history so you can decide if that "deal" is really so great.

The selection of products on the site isn't that extensive, but the range of prices on many products makes PriceSpider an indispensable place to start looking. For example, PriceSpider reported available online prices between $255 and $600 on one digital camera when I explored the site.

With a laptop on its last legs, I now know where I'll begin my search for a replacement.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Leave Your Newspapers at the Airport, I Plea!

Bad airport surprise: Flight delayed two hours.

Good airport surprise: That day's New York Times stashed under your seat at the gate by some kind soul who passed through this purgatory before you.

I'm a big fan of the paying forward of newspapers, especially on various forms of transportation.

I'll leave random sections of the weekend paper on the subway. And, as that unknown person did for me at LaGuardia in June, I'll often stash my newspaper or magazine on a nearby seat at an airport gate for another lucky traveler. A man even asked for our leftover sections once as my husband and I waited for a plane in Detroit.

We were happy to oblige. Not only is a free newspaper much thriftier than buying an overpriced paperback, but you'll also feel smarter when you're done.

I get a little sad when I see airport employees throw out newspapers, but I know they're just doing their jobs to tidy the gate. In Columbus, I once saw someone confront an employee, saying she purposely left the newspaper for someone else to enjoy. It still went in the trash.

But to all of my fellow gate-litterers, I give you my sincere thanks. You have saved me from many hours of mind-numbing, gate-changing boredom.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Half-Price (or More!) Cupcakes at Eleni's


What's better than cupcakes?

Half-price cupcakes.

And what's better than half-price cupcakes?

Four cupcakes for the price of one.

Eleni's in Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave., has some of the brightest, tastiest cupcakes in New York City. But at $3, they're also expensive, even for Manhattan.

But get there in the last hour before they close at 7 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday) or 8 p.m. (weekdays), and everything behind the bakery case is half-price. That's why I found myself at Eleni's at 6:55 p.m. on one recent Saturday.

My husband and I each chose our favorites, and at the last moment the girl at the counter threw two more cupcakes in the case gratis.

Four gourmet cupcakes for $3? That's a deal my stomach can get behind.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

FREE Cookie from Mrs. Field's

It's National Cookie Month!

As if you needed a reason to eat cookies.

But just in case you do, here's another reason: they're free.

Stop by any participating Mrs. Fields store TODAY between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for your free chocolate chip cookie.

Not sure of the location of your closest Mrs. Fields? See the store locator.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thrifty Thoughts: Website Review

One cannot live on bread (even if it is homemade bagels) alone.

Or Thrifty Under Fifty.

On that note, this post marks the first in an occasional series reviewing other websites that aim to keep the thrifty on their toes, with money in their pockets.

First up: www.ThriftyThoughts.com

Mia's site is a mixture of posts about her personal successes at staying frugal (such as saving 56% on her Kroger purchases) with tips for helping readers do the same (such as recapping the week's best deals at CVS).

Of greater interest to many readers, however, will be her list of seven no-strings-attached sites where you can sign up to get products and samples for free (see the top right corner of her site).

That, the colorful design and the plain old readability of Thrifty Thoughts make this a site worth visiting, if only for a minute or two.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Final Day for FREE Chocolate

Remember: Tomorrow is the last day to sign up to get a free candy bar from Mars at the Real Chocolate website.

Be one of the first 250,000 people to register after 9 a.m. and get a coupon in the mail for your choice of Mars product, including M&M's, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Milky Way, Twix or Dove bars (I have two of the latter waiting for me as I type).

I've received just a handful of emails from Mars since I signed up for my first candy bar coupon in May-- a small price to pay for free chocolate.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Eye Candy for Your Neck: Original Pendants


Item: Glass Pendants

Price: $15

Where to Buy: Althea Loglia's Eye Candy

Review: The first booth I saw at the entrance to the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn earlier this year was for Althea Loglia's Eye Candy, and I immediately stopped in my tracks.

The pendants on display featured vibrant original artwork fastened to glass stones. Each pendant, about the size of a half-dollar, came with your choice of a chain or leather cord.

It took me about 30 seconds to decide that I would be taking one of these pendants home with me, but much longer to decide which one. The pendant I finally chose, primarily yellow and pink, adds a splash of color to dark t-shirts. I wear it at least once a week and haven't tired of it yet.

Luckily, you don't have to wait until next year's craft fair for your very own Eye Candy pendant. You can easily check out Althea Loglia's selection of original and custom-made pendants.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Brownies for Foodies on the Edge


Image from: Baker's Edge

Item: Edge Brownie Pan

Price: $34.95

Where to Buy: Baker's Edge

Review: The perfect brownie, in my opinion, is the one directly in the center of the pan. Forget the chewy crust. Give me the fudgy crumbs.

But maybe I'm in the minority. I'm sure the people at Baker's Edge hope I am.

Baker's Edge sells "the first and only pan for edge lovers." Every brownie has two or three edges because the pan actually has interior sides.

Now if only they could come up with a pan with no edges whatsoever. Hmm ...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Save Money, Save Energy When You Cook

Usually the ads on the subway are just white noise for the eyes. I might try and decipher a Spanish ad now and then, but my eyes glaze over when it comes to yet another sign for a doctor or lawyer.

But an ad directly above where I was standing on a New York City N-train caught the eyes of my husband, Paul. Con Edison, our local electric company, has a series of ads highlighting specific ways to save energy, money, or often both. Take the tip Paul noticed:

If you use glass or ceramic in the oven, you can lower the temperature by 25 degrees and still get the same results.

Who knew? Not me. But if it's good for the environment and my pocketbook, it's good by me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stop the Home Fires Burning


Item: Fire Extinguisher

Price: $19.99

Where to Buy: Amazon.com

Review: It's not the flashiest gift, but a fire extinguisher may be the best gift you'll ever give.

My husband and I got a small fire extinguisher as a housewarming gift from a friend, and I thought it was a great idea. It's one of those things you just never seem to get around to buying. We had lived in separate apartments for several years, and neither of us had a fire extinguisher.

This is one of the the few gifts you hope never to use. And luckily, we haven't. No, a fire extinguisher is not a romantic gift. But it's one that the newlyweds or new homeowners just might thank you for one day.

Image from: Amazon.com

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Appreciation of Rice: Three Haikus

Rice! Oh cheap side dish--
You complement any meal
And you're tasty, too.

A pantry staple
For the cook on a budget--
Purchase rice in bulk.

Jasmine, brown or white,
In 15 minutes or less
My side dish is done.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

Enjoy the holiday!

Thrifty Under Fifty returns on Wednesday.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Have a Ball Making Ice Cream


Item: Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker

Price: starting at about $22

Where to Buy: IceCreamRevolution.com (link to Amazon)

Review: Making your own ice cream sounds like a good idea, but I haven't had great luck. It tastes fine, but I've never gotten the thick and creamy consistency that I prefer. I'd rather go to Dairy Queen.

Maybe I'm just impatient. I'm not sure the Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker can change my core qualities, but at least it would give me something to do while I'm waiting for dessert.

Like eCreamery customized ice cream, I learned about the Play and Freeze on an episode of Unwrapped. Who knew the Food Network would become my go-to source for the latest in ice cream technology?

Add the cream, sugar and vanilla at one end of the ball, and ice and rock salt in the other. Then, as they say, have a ball. Shake it, roll it, whatever. Twenty minutes later: Ice cream.

The original Play and Freeze makes a pint of ice cream. Hungrier? Get the Mega ball for a quart.

Image from: IceCreamRevolution.com

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Feng Shui for Tough Economic Times

Earlier this year I received an email with an intriguing subject line:

"Feng Shui Tips to Attract Money For You & Yours!"

It was from one of the neighborhood shops, Hom. R.D. Chin, the author of "Feng Shui Revealed" would be speaking about a room's wealth areas and money power spots and explain how to make them work for you.

Interesting. But since the lecture came with a $40 price tag, I decided I would in fact be wealthier if I stayed home.

With a little of the ol' internet research, however, I did come up with these feng shui tips to help fatten your wallet:

  • Prosperity is associated with the back left corner of a room, facing in from the doorway. Clear clutter from this area and replace it with a symbol of prosperity, such as a bowl of coins.
  • Store your checkbook in the rear left corner of your desk.
  • Hang three Chinese coins tied together with red ribbon on the back of the handle of your front door, and be sure to cut the ribbon in increments of 9, such as 9 inches or 18 inches long.

No, I don't really believe any of this stuff really works. But in times like these, I guess anything's worth a shot.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Mr. Poncho: Untangle Your Headphones in Style

Image Courtesy of Mr. Poncho

Item: Mr. Poncho iPod and iPhone covers

Price: $18

Where to Buy: Mr. Poncho

Review: I love my new iPhone.

What I don't love is digging my headphones out of my purse and untangling them on a crowded subway or platform. What's more, my husband goes through several earbuds a year for his iPod, and I think it's partly because they always get smooshed and jostled in his pocket when he's not using them.

Enter Mr. Poncho.

"The birth of Mr. Poncho came after being so fed up with our tangled headphones," Sandy Hyun, half of the Mr. Poncho team, said by email. Hyun and her boyfriend, Roman Pietrs, make each poncho in their Manhattan apartment.

Just slip your iPhone, iPod, or even your Zune into the pouch, and wrap your headphones around the easy-to-use holder in the front.

I came across Mr. Poncho this year at the Renegade Craft Fair, where the poncho was introduced in 2007. After there was a run on the the stock that year, Hyun said they understood that there was an appreciation, particularly among do-it-yourselfers, for "handmade clever inexpensive goods."

Sounds good to me.

The Mr. Poncho website offers a variety of designs, from Day of the Dead skeletons to musical notes to '60s-inspired flower patterns. Or customize your own poncho for $35.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fast Food: From Cheap to Fancy

Quiche. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

Burger King Croissan'wich. Not so much.

But wait. According to Fancy Fast Food, you can make two mouth-watering mini-quiches purely by deconstructing a Croissan'wich meal and a few other items you can buy at BK.

At least the picture looks mouth-watering. I haven't been brave enough to try.

Fancy Fast Food does exactly what the name promises. The site has directions and images on how to recreate typical fast food meals into something special.

Domino's Pizza becomes chow mein.

Popeye's Chicken becomes sushi.

And unlike the "before" photos, the after shots look not only edible, but good.

Inspired? Submit your own fast food creations to the site!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Keeping Drinks Cold in Style


Item: Spherical Ice Tray Set

Price: $16

Where to Buy: MoMA Store Online

Review: Not much of a bartender? With spherical ice cubes, the star of the show isn't the liquor but instead what's keeping it cold.

No more humdrum square cubes or crushed ice that quickly waters down fine libations. But talk-of-the-town ice cubes come with a price-- namely, time. Since each tray molds only two spheres, you're either going to spend two weeks making enough cubes for your backyard barbecue, or you're having one small party.

Image from: MoMA

Monday, August 24, 2009

Money Opposites Really Do Attract

I proudly proclaim that I'm thrifty, but even I have to admit that sometimes I go too far.

I fret over even small purchases and, at times, needlessly sacrifice fun and good eats for a few pennies. My husband, on the other hand, doesn't hesitate heading to the ATM for a good meal.

We knew our views on money differed long before we got married.

One of our earliest tiffs concerned ordering soda in restaurants, which I consider a waste of money. We long ago agreed to disagree on that one-- he orders his Coke while I opt for water.

Our first major fight also revolved around money. He wanted a new car, but I thought we should only consider used. I won that one (and, seven years later, we still drive the Saturn).

But despite our occasional, um, conversations about money, I think we're good for each other. I rein him in, he loosens me up.

More couples are in our situation than you might think. Tightwads and spendthrifts tend to become man and wife, according to a study reported on in the New York Times.

While people are attracted to those who are similar to themselves in every other way, opposites attract when it comes to spending habits.

On a thriftiness scale of 1 to 10 (1 being reserved for Mr. Scrooge), I'm probably a 3. I would rate my husband as a 6. He's not using $100 bills to light bonfires or anything, but we're far enough apart to cause many a disagreement.

But I'm making progress. I've even been known to order a Thai iced tea for supper. Shhhhh.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Scream, You Scream for Customized Ice Cream

Item: Customized Ice Cream

Price: $49.99 (half gallon)

Where to Buy: eCreamery

Review: I began to appreciate gourmet ice cream only after a trip to the Ben & Jerry's factory in Vermont earlier this year. After I sampled the strawberry cheesecake ice cream at the end of the tour, generic five-gallon ice cream tubs were never the same again.

So it was with interest that I watched a rerun of the Food Network's "Unwrapped" focused on ice cream. One of the featured items: eCreamery's customized ice cream.

You not only choose from more than 60 flavors like avocado, saffron, cheesecake and all of the classics, but you also pick the percentage of cream (8, 12 or 14 percent) and and design of the packaging. You even get to name your own concoction.

Your sweet, personalized treat is delivered in 5 to 10 days.

The ice cream does come in under 50 bucks for a half gallon, but shipping is a pricey $30. Full gallons are $79.99, and mix-ins are $5 each, with a limit of two. Another option: Choosing two flavors intermixed for an extra $10. Blueberry Mocha anyone?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Too Good to Be True $10 HDTVs

It seems I'm always reading a story about the good deals other people get.

You know: the $10 bus tickets that are sold out when I try to book them, or the $9 airfares for routes that never happen to be mine.

That's why I would have been thrilled to snag an HDTV recently from Best Buy's website for the low, low price of $9.99.

But I also wouldn't have been too surprised when Best Buy backed out of the $1,690 errors and decided not to honor the purchases. Nothing in life is free-- and especially not an HDTV.

Some of the customers, however, aren't willing to walk away empty-handed. They're threatening a class-action lawsuit.

Get real. Frugality is one thing, but cheating others (even big box stores) is quite another.

Today's lesson:

Thriftiness: Good.

Expecting something for (nearly) nothing: Bad.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Good Gift with a Cord: Immersion Blender


Item: Immersion Blender

Price: $39.99

Where to Buy: Sears

Review: An immersion blender might be the best gift my husband has ever bought himself.

He loves to cook, so he considers it a toy. I love to eat, so I get to enjoy the butternut squash bisque, fruit smoothies and other concoctions he whips up.

Immersion blenders come in different styles and price ranges, so do a little research to find the best for you or the recipient. Our immersion blender is easy to store and easy to clean-- I love kitchen gadgets that are dishwasher-safe!

Image from: Sears

Friday, August 14, 2009

All-You-Can-Fly for One Kind-of-Low Price

JetBlue moved one step closer to becoming like a pizza buffet this week. And I'm not talking about the airline's in-flight snacks.

Instead of pepperoni pizza, gorge yourself on travel with JetBlue's all-you-can-fly pass for $599 for travel between Sept. 8 and Oct. 8 to and from any of 56 destinations.

Passes must be purchased by Aug. 21.

But before you sign up, remember to look at the fine print.
  • Flights to Puerto Rico and international destinations are NOT included.
  • Change or cancellation = $100 fee
  • No-show = $100 fee (and no more flights until the fee is paid)
But if you live near a JetBlue destination and feel like exploring the country, here's your chance for some cheap(ish) weekend trips.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eating Safely ... In Any Language


Item: Food Allergy Cards

Price: $8.50

Where to Buy: SelectWisely

Review: When you have food allergies, the scariest place in a foreign country can be its restaurants.

It's hard enough to get some servers in the US to understand that my husband is deathly allergic to nuts. Now imagine trying to express it in another language.

That's where these food allergy cards come in. Available for dozens of allergies, the cards describe the allergy in any of 15 languages. And they're laminated for easy conveyance in your wallet or purse.

Relying on pantomimes isn't a good idea when it comes to food allergies. A food allergy card can make the difference between a relaxing vacation and one spent in the hospital.

Image from: SelectWisely

Monday, August 10, 2009

How I Got My New Coffee Table

I'm no dumpster diver. I swear.

But when I saw a nice long coffee table on the sidewalk not even a block from our apartment, I did a double-take.

I wasn't the only one. Another woman stopped at nearly the same time, but luckily her eye was on another table that was sitting with the trash. She wheeled that one (yes, it had wheels) to her place while I called Paul.

In a few minutes he had the table in our living room while our old "coffee table" (really just a wooden trunk, filled mostly with our financial papers) was dismissed to the corner of the room.

It's not the best table in the world-- it certainly has a few scratches, and the top is certainly not real wood. But the price was right for something I expect will be left behind whenever we move out of this apartment.

So to recap: Yes, I will take a coffee table from the side of the road. No, I will not pick through garbage. For anything.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Old School with the Rubik's Cube


Item: Rubik's Cube

Price: $9.45

Where to Buy: Amazon.com

Review: I had all but forgotten about the Rubik's Cube. Then I got two reminders within just a few weeks of each other.

#1: I was on the subway and a man entered the train selling something out of bag. Usually it's some kind of booklet or piece of junk. This time it was small Rubik's Cubes for a dollar apiece. Demand was so high, he ran out of them and had to turn away at least one customer in our car.

#2: Jon Stewart razzed astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural History for completing the Rubik's Cube in the green room of The Daily Show. That guy's a genius.

So while I haven't picked up a Rubik's Cube in years (a decade? More?), I wouldn't mind trying. And I'm guessing you know a few people who would too.

Image from: Amazon

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

5 Favorite Fast Food Deals

I'm a brown-bagger at lunchtime and generally steer clear of fast food restaurants at nights and on weekends.

But sometimes I succumb to the siren call of the value menu. But that's not the only place to get fast food deals:

1. McDonald's: Two pies for $1. There's not pies like grandma used to make, but they're not too shabby, either. I don't care for the apple, but I like the cherry pies and especially the pumpkin pies in the fall.

2. Au Bon Pain: Half-price baked goods. I've never been at the right place at the right time for this, but I'm anxious to get a discounted creme de fleur. Look for a sign at your local Au Bon Pain. The discounts usually start an hour (or more) before closing.

3. Fazoli's: All-you-can-eat-breadsticks. A friend and former co-worker showed me during our lunch breaks at work that you can order from the kid's menu and get a soda instead of the toy. The ravioli is OK, but I'm really only there to eat those garlicky, buttery breadsticks.

4. Subway: $5 footlongs. Yeah, these are hardly secrets. But I like them even more since they sponsor one of my favorite TV shows, Chuck. When Chuck fans were scared the show wouldn't be renewed, they organized a campaign to buy $5 footlongs on the evening of the season finale and let the restaurant know what they were doing and why. In any case, Chuck was renewed. Ain't it grand when food mixes with entertainment?

5. Papa John's: $1 slices. It's possible that this is just at the pizzeria next to my workplace, but the $1 pieces of cheese pizza are popular at lunchtime. Worth a call to see if your Papa John's does this too.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Last Chances for Free Coffee, Chocolate & Ice Cream

Christian this the summer of free food. But unfortunately summer is winding down.

Luckily you still have a few more weeks to get your fix. Here's a rundown of the three best giveaways that Thrifty Under Fifty has highlighted, along with their expiration dates:

  • Free Mocha from McDonald's: Today, Aug. 3, is the last day to get your 7-ounce iced mocha or 8-ounce hot mochas. The drinks are available for the asking between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. at participating McDonald's.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: Betty Crocker Warm Delights Minis



Item: Warm Delights Minis: Molten Chocolate Cake

Price: about $2.50 for two 1.23 ounce bowls

Where to Buy: Any grocery store.

Review: I'm cheap, so instant desserts don't usually find their way into my shopping cart. But I found out that Betty Crocker was sending free samples of the Warm Delights Minis to anyone who signed up for the email newsletter (sorry- the promotion's over). I got mine in the mail just a week or two later.

I peeled open the box hoping that my sample would be of the Molten Chocolate Cake. Success! Like a Russian nesting doll, the box contained yet another box which contained nearly everything you need: the bowl, the cake mix and a fudge pouch.


The preparation was even easier than I expected: stir the cake mix with 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of water. Squeeze the fudge on top. Cook in the microwave for 30 seconds. Voila.

Before

After

Unfortunately, I think the name of the cake is a misnomer. I suppose you could call the lines of fudge on top of the cake "molten," but it certainly was no chocolate volcano. In addition, the cake had a light, airy flavor that reminded me of gingerbread.

Overall, I was hoping for a richer chocolate flavor, but at 150 calories I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I was.

For me, the price was right: free. But even if I didn't want to go to the trouble of making a homemade dessert, a boxed brownie mix would be just as cheap as the regular price of the Warm Delights and taste infinitely better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Charming Danforth Pewter Buttons


Item: Danforth Pewter Buttons and Charms

Price: $3

Where to Buy: Danforth Pewter

Review: The Danforth Pewter button display a saw at a small shop in Burlington, Vermont, almost made me what to rip out all of the buttons in my spring jacket and replace them with these bright and shiny alternatives.

And at $3 apiece, it would have been completely reasonable to do so.

Many of the buttons were a little too, well, cute for my tastes. However, I absolutely loved the simple, classic designs on the round buttons the company offers.

In Burlington I was content with buying a Danforth Pewter charm to turn into a necklace. But when I decide my coat needs a makeover, I know where to turn.

Image from: Danforth Pewter

Monday, July 27, 2009

A New Way to Save on Gas?

We've all heard of those crazy drivers who will tack on an extra 20 miles to their commute in order to save a penny per gallon of gas. Do you think they even realize that they're guzzling their savings away with the extra mileage?

But I recently came across a way to save a few pennies on gas the requires no extra driving. How? By putting away the plastic and pulling out the cold, hard cash.

My husband had already inserted our credit card and started pumping the gas at a Shell station on the outskirts of Detroit when I noticed an offer I'd never before seen. Pay by credit card and gas was $2.91 a gallon. Use cash and it was six cents cheaper.

It was too late for us that time, but I'll be keeping my eye out for this in the future. Has anyone else noticed this offer before?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Same Name = Saved Money

Have you heard of the Kelly Hildebrandt's? They're the couple with the exact same name who met on Facebook and are now engaged.

It must say something about me (although what, I'm not exactly sure) that one of my very first thoughts was how convenient it will be for female Kelly to keep her name without going through the hassles of either:
  • explaining why she chose to keep her maiden name or
  • going through the hassle of changing her driver's license, passport, credit cards, bank account, etc.
Six years ago I chose the latter, and I still don't have everything changed. My husband and I bought a house about two months before our wedding, and the mortgage is still under my maiden name.

I declined to pay the fee to change the mortgage statements, but I ponied up the cash for the driver's license. Did I really have a choice?

Yes, I suppose. I could've kept my maiden name. Luckily for Kelly Hildebrandt, that's one decision she doesn't have to make.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Outdoor Movies Under the Stars


A movie under the stars. What more could you ask for?

Stars, for one. And maybe a more comfortable seat. But other than that, free outdoor movie screenings are just about perfect.

I dragged my husband to my first New York City free movie screening last week. It was my birthday, and he couldn't say no. We got to Hudson River Park's Pier 54 at about 6:30 p.m., two hours before the scheduled start of "Vicky Christina Barcelona." We had no problem finding a spot up front for our blanket and picnic supper. It wasn't long, however, before the majority of the pier was packed with Woody Allen-loving bargain hunters.

New York offers many free outdoor movie spots. The most well-known is probably the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival on Monday nights, but About.com lists a slew of others.

I didn't look up into the sky after the movie started, but I suspect the only stars you'll see are on the big screen. Not quite the meaning of a movie under the stars, but it'll have to do.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Sundae Every Monday from Ben & Jerry's

I didn't understand the appeal of Ben & Jerry's until I visited the factory in Vermont in February. One taste there and I was hooked.

If you feel the same, now you can get your fix for half price. Find a friend, print this coupon and visit a Ben & Jerry's scoop shop any Monday through Aug. 31 for buy-one-get-one-free sundaes. Now that's a sweet Monday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Passport Photos from the Comfort of Your Home

Several weeks ago I wrote about shooting, cropping and submitting my own passport photos instead of opting for the overpriced pictures taken at drugstores.

The results? A-OK.

My husband and I each received our renewed passports in the mail last week, no questions asked. The best part: We actually like these passport photos.

Whether you're applying for your first passport or a renewal, I highly recommend using ePassportPhoto to help make sure the photos you take meet federal regulations. Free and easy to use-- it doesn't get much better than that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free Restaurant Giveaways for Your Birthday

Make a happy birthday happier with free food from your favorite restaurants.

My 28th birthday is today, but I've received coupons and birthday deals for more than two weeks. I won't be using them all-- a couple are from restaurants that aren't even located in New York City, where I now live. But don't be surprised if you find me in an ice cream shop or two with a coupon in my hand this month.

Getting free birthday food is easy. Just go to the website of your favorite restaurants and sign up for the e-newsletter. If the registration asks for your birthday, that's a good sign. Some of the websites even specifically state that you'll get a birthday surprise.

Here's the offers I've received so far. I'll be updating this list as I learn about and sign up for more. What free birthday food have you received? giveaway

Cold Stone Creamery: free Cold Stone Creation, coupon good for two weeks

Baskin-Robbins: free 2.5 ounce scoop, coupon good for 10 days

Panera Bread: free mini-bundt cake, coupon good for one month

BD's Mongolian Barbeque
: free stir fry meal, coupon good for two weeks

Monday, July 13, 2009

FREE Mocha Mondays at McDonald's

I don't like coffee. I visit Starbucks purely for the pastries.

But for those who can't get going without a morning (or an afternoon or an evening) jolt of caffeine, here's a deal for you.

Participating McDonald's restaurants are distributing FREE 7-ounce iced mochas and 8-ounce hot mochas from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Monday, beginning today, through Aug. 3.

McDonald's estimates it will give out 10 million samples, so go get your share.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Like Tea, Only Boozier


Item: Cocktail Infusions

Price: $12 for eight

Where to Buy: Tea Forte

Review: If you're more than a year or two out of college, you're probably tired of mixing vodka with 7-Up. But if you're clueless when it comes to mixed drinks, it may be difficult to find a grown-up beverage you can easily make at home.

With these cocktail infusors, all you need is a little liquor and one or two other common ingredients and you've got the makings of a sophisticated party. Well, at least it's more sophisticated than a 12-pack of PBR.

The infusers come in three flavors: Lavender Citrus, Lemongrass Mint and Silkroad Chai. Each purchase comes with a recipe book. Cheers!

Image from: Tea Forte

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Do You Splurge On?

Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies.

My cupboard is nearly always stocked, but to my credit, I'm a smart splurger. I have six packages (one opened) purchased weeks ago when they were on sale.

Even the thriftiest among us have a downfall. My big three are cookies, cupcakes and trips. I would (irrationally) rather spend $500 on plane tickets than $5 for a lunchtime value meal.

My husband is considered thrifty by all but me, so I can't complain ... too loudly. I think he splurges on Starbucks, but that's only because I can't stand the smell or taste of coffee. But still-- isn't it possible to get out the French press on weekdays once in awhile?

What's your splurge?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Renegade Craft Fair: Indie Art at Hard-to-Beat Prices


I heard about the Brooklyn stop of the Renegade Craft Fair completely by chance, through a small notice on the New York Times online. But it didn't take long to decide that I would attend.

It took a bit longer to convince my husband to accompany me. But he had almost as much fun perusing the witty t-shirts as I did combing through the jewelry, bags and clothing.

The Renegade Craft Fair brings together "indie crafters"-- more than 300 at the Brooklyn event -- for a one-stop-shop of all things homemade.

And happily, visitors on a budget have plenty to choose from. I picked up a necklace for $15 and could easily have spent 10x that and left McCarren Park with a full bag of loot. I hope to feature on this site some of the unique items I saw for sale, but until then you can read about my experience at the Brooklyn Renegade Craft Fair.

I'll certainly be at the 2010 fair, and I only wish I could attend the upcoming Renegade Craft Fairs yet this year:

Los Angeles
California Market Center
July 11-12

San Francisco
Fort Mason's Festival Pavilion
July 18-19

Chicago
Division Street between Damen & Hermitage
Sept. 12-13

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dish Towels That Make a "State"ment


Item: Each State Dish Towel

Price: $18

Where to Buy: C.S. Post & Co.

Review: Want your state to clean up its act? How about starting with your kitchen counter.

These old-fashioned dish towels feature the most popular attractions, people and cities of whatever state you choose. You can see the designs at the C.S. Post site before you buy. Ohio's dish towel is a pretty good representation: the presidents, Cedar Point, Ohio State and even Ohio University among a myriad of other drawings. The Columbus Blue Jackets even get their due.

New York's dish towel is focused mostly on the city, which isn't a huge surprise. But c'mon. You couldn't include Niagara Falls? Or for that matter, the Mets?

I'm not sure I'd spend upwards of a grand for a full set. In any case, some of the states aren't available (sorry, Alaska, Delaware, and a handful of others). But whether you're homesick or a new homeowner, these dish towels are one way you can literally get the dirt on your favorite state.

Image from: C.S. Post & Co.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Financial TV Personalities Annoy Me

I've watched an entire episode of the Suze Orman Show exactly zero times. I've seen bits and pieces here and there, but my closest contact has been the skits lampooning her on Saturday Night Live.

Yet I find her fascinating, and I can't help but agree with her main message-- don't spend more than you have. Who can argue with that?

But so many people seem to forget that Orman is a TV personality and provides just as much (more?) entertainment as actual service. In fact, a recent article about Orman in the New York Times Magazine basically says that Orman's books and anecdotes seem to be much more positive and uplifting than facts would suggest.

Jon Stewart was lauded for striking a blow against financial punditry when he confronted Mad's Money's Jim Cramer on The Daily Show earlier this year. I'll admit I cheered along. Yet I've watched Cramer's show and have even read a couple of his books, and he provides some good tips and advice.

But if you're fooled into thinking he's much more than a carnie hocking the next "can't-lose" game in the business, than maybe, just maybe, you're asking to be fooled.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Laundry on the Road


Item: Laundry Soap Sheets

Price: $4.95

Where to Buy: Irv's Luggage

Review: Long vacations are great except for one thing: laundry. I hate doing the laundry with a passion even when I'm home, so why would I want to waste precious seconds -- let alone hours -- doing it on vacation?

At least you don't have to carry a heavy bottle of detergent with you, or buy an expensive bottle that you will promptly leave behind.

These laundry soap sheets dissolve in water and come in packs of 50. The dryer sheets are up to you.

Buying a gift for a backpacker? Consider the sheets of shampoo, conditioner and body wash.

Image from: Irv's Luggage

Friday, June 26, 2009

Recession Changes Shopping Habits

Although I try to avoid Wal-Mart, I seem to have always been the type of shopper described in a recent New York Times article, The Recession, Wal-Mart Style. Retailers are now finding that shoppers:
  • stick to their grocery lists and cut back on browsing
  • opt for private label food
  • maintain their current vehicles rather than buying new
But the article doesn't describe me completely.

For example, I haven't traded in my vacation for an LCD television. And yes, I'll take ground beef before steak and chicken before beef, but that's just because I like them better. As my husband never fails to remind me, it's easy for me to be frugal when I have tastes like a peasant.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Homemade Bagels: Easier Than You Think

I like to cook.

Scratch that. I like to bake.

Homemade bagels straddle that line, and I've always been too scared to give them a try.

That is, until this easy bagel recipe was posted on The Thrifty Gourmet. (Shameless plug: I'm a contributing writer there.)

In my neighborhood, bagels go for almost a dollar apiece. For the same price I can make a half dozen at home-- maybe more.

And making bagels really was easy, and tasty, too. Yes, it takes time, but most of it is spent allowing the dough to rise. It doesn't get much easier than that!

Flour, yeast, sugar, salt, oil, water and two hand to knead: That's all you need for your very own homemade bagels.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Gift Full of Shiitake


Item: Shiitake Mushroom Log

Price: $43.95 (includes shipping & handling)

Where to Buy: ShiitakeMushroomLog.com

Review: I can guarantee with, oh, 99% accuracy that the person you are buying a gift for does not have a mushroom log. Go ahead-- be the person who changes that.

Surprisingly, the mushroom log doesn't have any special lighting or temperature requirements. You get your first mushrooms 6 to 10 days after soaking the log in cold water.

The kit also comes with an 8-recipe booklet. Bonus!

My husband got a mushroom log as a gift several years ago (not from this company, I believe), and admittedly it didn't work well. I'm not sure we ever got more than a handful of mushrooms. But I will also admit that we kinda forgot about it and I'm sure we never watered it as we should have.

Anyway, a mushroom log is the epitome of a gift that keeps on giving. The receiver gets shiitakes for four years besides an excellent topic of conversation at all future potlucks.

Image from: ShiitakeMushroomLog.com

Friday, June 19, 2009

Can't Quite Afford a Car for Dad?


Item: AutoWeek magazine

Price: $29.95 for 1 year (26 issues)

Where to Buy: AutoWeek

Review: Father's Day is less than 48 hours away. I'm sure Dad's present is wrapped and ready to go, right?

Or not.

But don't bother scurrying to the mall. If your pop's anything like mine, you can get a gift he'll love from the comfort of your couch ... and probably faster than my first car could get from 0 to 60.

AutoWeek magazine's a great gift for any dad who's a fan of racing, driving or just plain drooling.

You may not be able to get Dad a new car for Father's Day, but at least AutoWeek magazine will show that your heart is in the right place.

Image from: AutoWeek/Crain

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

When Being Frugal Doesn't Pay

There's a limit to saving money.

For me, that limit is home repairs, car repairs and pretty much anything else that requires a toolbox. I'll spend any amount of money to save time and, more than likely, avoid a debilitating injury.

But a recent New York Times article proves that others don't quite know their limit. Take the woman who installed her own toilet, only to find the ceiling below it collapse. Or the man who happily accepted party leftovers of uncooked meat and fish to end up with food poisoning.

What's your limit?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Having a (Literal) Ball


Item: Send-a-Ball bouncy balls

Price: $19.95

Where to Buy: SENDaBALL

Review: If you're never content with a Hallmark card, Send-a-Ball was created for you.

This Chicago-based company sends inflated "greeting balls" to the address of your choice, in a rainbow of colors for a variety of causes.

Birthdays: "Have a Ball on Your Birthday." Babies: "Have a Ball with Your New Baby." Sickness: "Bounce Back Soon." Can't find the message you're looking for? Create your own for no additional charge.

You might not be thrilled spending 20 bucks on a bouncy ball, but your recipient will surely have a ball receiving it.

Image from: SENDaBALL

Friday, June 12, 2009

100 Sites to Help You Save Money

I'm a fan of the MSN Money columns and articles online, and I especially liked this one: The 100 Most Useful Websites.

The list is broken down into several categories, including saving money, bargain hunting, comparison shopping and managing your credit.

Here's five of the most intriguing listings, with the descriptions by the article's author, Liz Pulliam Weston:

The Dollar Stretcher. If this site has had a major redesign since its launch in 1996, I missed it. But you don't need fancy graphics when you have a huge library of articles and tips about saving money. Even black-belt frugality experts will find new information here.

Shop Local. This handy guide lets you look at store ads in your area. Compare prices on products at comparable stores. One interesting feature is that as soon as you log back in to the site, you get a notice about the number of sales in your area (typically in the thousands) and the amount you could save if you hit all of those deals (typically in the hundreds of thousands).

Fix-It Club. Home repair experts Dan and Judy Ramsey offer free how-to guides on hundreds of repair jobs that you can do at home, including fixing a bike, a doorbell, a fishing pole and more.

Farecast. If you've ever watched an airfare tumble right after you booked, you'll want to visit Farecast. The site tracks price trends and predicts whether fares will rise or fall in the near future, offering advice about whether to buy now or wait.

Hey It's Free! This site is entertaining and full of information about freebies, from the running blog by "Goob" to the ads that top the site. Goob claims to spend his day looking for "100% legit, non-spammy freebies" and updates frequently, including noting which offers have expired.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brownies on a Stick for $4 a Pop


Item: Browniepops

Price: 6 for $24

Where to Buy: Browniepops.com

Review: These are exactly what you think they are. I mean, the subtitle of the Browniepop website says it all: Brownies on a stick.

Really, I should simply learn how to make these myself. Until then, I'll pine after the 11 Browniepop flavors, including caramel, raspberry and cream cheese swirl. I'll dream about the "rich, dark and moist brownie hand-dipped in chocolate."

At $4 a pop, they're not cheap. But as a gift for a chocolate lover, they're the makings of sweet dreams.

Image from: The Nibble

Monday, June 8, 2009

Wedding Odds & Ends: Bubbles, Candy & Glasses

I've been married nearly six years, so I don't know how Oriental Trading got my name and address or why they sent me their catalog filled with wedding supplies.

I don't plan on getting married again any time soon, but 'tis the season. In honor of brides everywhere, I browsed the catalog and website to see what deals I could unearth.

First of all, they have a great selection. For wedding bubbles alone, brides-to-be have at least a dozen options with a myriad of ways to customize and personalize each bottle. Bubbles start at $6.99 for 24 pieces.

I'd never seen some of the items for sale. For example, these candy stickers ($5.99 for 72) personalize the Hershey Kisses you give to guests. Although, be honest: Is anyone really going to read the sticker before they down the chocolate?

But some of the stuff was just plain silly. I hope never to meet the bride and groom who will drink out of tux and gown champagne glasses ($17.99 for the set) with a straight face.

Friday, June 5, 2009

FREE Candy Bar in 3 Weeks or Less!

Free chocolate, here I come!

A few weeks ago I wrote about how Mars is giving away up to 250,000 coupons a week for a free Snickers, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, Twix, M&M's or Dove bar. Just register at the Mars Real Chocolate Relief Act on Fridays through Sept. 25.

I first registered in mid-May and received an email stating that my coupon was to arrive in about six weeks.

But good news: I got my coupon a few days ago, less than three weeks after I filled out the form! I signed up for my second coupon at the end of May, so I expect to receive another soon.

Best of all, I haven't received a bit of spammy junk email, so kudos to Mars. And thanks for the chocolate!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Wallet for the Rest of Us: Jimi


Item: Jimi Wallet

Price: $14.95

Where to Buy: thejimi.com

Review: "The wallet for people who hate wallets."

The Jimi wallet's slogan describes me exactly. Wallets always seem to be needlessly large and awkward, a place to stuff sundry receipts and coins. I currently keep my cards and money in a small change purse to avoid just such an outcome.

But hopefully not for long. I do have a birthday coming up, and this is what I want: a Jimi wallet.

I first came across the Jimi wallet in the gift shop of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and immediately coveted it. The hard plastic wallet is translucent but brightly colored-- a cross between hipster chic and avant garde.

What's more, it's water resistant and can even clip to a keychain or lanyard.

The only problem with the Jimi wallet? Which color to request.

I'm leaning toward pink. Or sea glass green.

Image from: thejimi.com

Monday, June 1, 2009

Maybe Coupons Do Grow on Trees

Coupons on the sidewalk are like manna from heaven.

I'm not speaking of offers unwillingly stuffed in your hand by people on the street. I'm referring to coupons actually on the ground. About a half-block from my apartment, to be exact.

I was about to step over some leaflets carelessly strewn about the sidewalk when I saw the familiar Six Flags logo. The amusement park has a location not far away in New Jersey, and my husband and I have been considering a visit.

I picked up one of the papers for a closer look. Among the many deals was a buy one, get one free ticket offer for any regular operating day between Sept. 6 and Oct. 5.

That's a savings of $49.99! So guess where I'll be heading in September?

The lesson: Sometimes the best coupons are literally under your very feet.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cheap Passport Photos ... That Actually Look Good

I love to plan trips.

Reading the guide books, creating an itinerary, even packing-- they're almost as exciting as the trip itself.

Not really, but you get the point.

But I don't like just everything about vacation preparation. Case in point: renewing my passport.

Passport photos are a huge waste of money. They're only about $7, but that seems ridiculous when you can buy other photos for just pennies apiece.

And besides, if I have to live with a photo of myself for 10 years, I want it to look good. I don't trust a drug store, AAA or any other common source of passport photos to tell me if I look like an idiot as I'm waiting for the bulb to go off, and I doubt they're going to give me a free do-over.

So I was determined to find a better way. And I did: ePassportPhoto.

Have your photo taken with a digital camera against a white or off-white background, following a few simple rules (details are on the site). My husband and I spent about 15 minutes taking several photos of each other, instantly deleting the pictures that made us look like a doofus.

Upload the picture of your choice to ePassportPhoto, crop to specifications, and save. I had photos of myself and my husband printed at a local drugstore for a grand total of 58 cents.

I have yet to send in the photos to actually renew my passport, so I'm still crossing my fingers that they won't be rejected.

Want to see the photo? That's going to require an in-person visit to me. Even the best of passport photos doesn't make you, me or anyone actually look good ... only better.