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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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.