Hang in There! You’re Something Special Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

Try as I might, I’m a horrid picture hanger. I often finish my projects with pencil marks all over my walls, many nail holes and pictures hanging in a crooked fashion. Hanging multiple frames in a horizonal line? Forget about it. That is when I discovered frame clustering. It’s easy to do and can be used as an inexpensive design element to your home. You can hang similar frames with black and white photos, or incorporate a more eclectic feel with varying frames styles. Here are some ideas you can use to create a mixed cluster.


This can be relatively cheap and easy to do. Check out JoAnn’s or Beverley’s for clearance fabric; usually there are some really great patterns out there that would make a god-awful Mumu but an excellent piece of work. You can typically pick up fabric for as low as $3.99 a yard. Cut the fabric and staple to a piece of cardboard for a tight appearance (don’t glue it or it may bubble) and frame. Voila! A fine piece of art for under $10.


Empty Frames
I wouldn’t recommend an entire wall dedicated to this particular element, but hanging a few empty frames among a cluster can help simplify a design technique that can be overwhelming

to the eye. An ornate frame works best for this since it is, in and of itself, aesthetically pleasing to look at.

Personal Photos
I have a printer that has photo pronting capabilities. Usually I take the photos I have on my computer and, using a photo editing function, make black and white pictures. Once i’ve compeleted editing (takes all of 5 minutes) I print these photos out on bargain photo paper; I’ve picked up photo paper at the dollar store and have also spotted generic paper for as low as $5 for 100 sheets. The reason I choose black and white for most of my photos is so the graniness and poor resolution that can often result from using cheap paper, is far less noticable. I find it to average out less per photo than going to CVS or Walgreens, and it’s easier too!

When I’m 64: a very broad overview of retirement Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

I don’t think I need to tell you that for the generations that will follow the Baby Boomers into retirement, Social Security will be a distant, quaint memory. The truth is, I believe young people recognize how important it is to invest in a 401(k), however, how many of these younglings recognize the value in saving now rather than later? According to a new report, “401(k) Plans Are Still Coming Up Short,” from the Center For Retirement Research at Boston College, only 62% of people ages 20-29 participate in employee 401(k) plans.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “But I don’t make enough to contribute to my company’s 401(k)!” and my answer to you is this: you can’t afford not to. Most companies match fifty cents to your dollar for up to 6% of your contributions and that, dear friend, is what we call free money. When these contributions are deducted from your paycheck pre-tax, it’s hard to even miss what wasn’t there to begin with. Ya dig?

Money Crashes puts it in this respect:

if you started contributing to $100 a month to your retirement account at the
age of 25, and you were going to retire at the age of 60, then your account
would reach $379,000. If you started saving for retirement at the age of
35 with the same contribution, then you would have just $132,000.

And that scenario doesn’t even account for company contributions! Bottom line and common sense dictate: the sooner you begin to invest, the longer amount of time your money has to grow based upon your employer’s (or your own homegrown) portfolio mix. This has an impact on your bottom line when the gains from each year build upon the previous year’s balance (compounding interest at work).

When you begin to invest at an earlier age, it also enables you to take more risk. The volatility of the market will have less negative impact on your balance, in the long run, and can actually work in your favor. In order to save enough money to live work-free, you will need the monetary growth that stocks are capable of providing. According to CNN:

From 1926 through 2006, stocks – broadly speaking, using the S&P 500 index
as a measure – have posted an average annual return of 10.4 percent versus just
5.9 percent for bonds, according to Ibbotson Associates.

CNN.comHowever, before you rush out and put all your money on the company is providing timeshares for your dog (the next big thing, I swear). You should consider stock funds as opposed to individual allocation. Money Magazine provides an excellent allocation plan that diversifies and ensures stability (see left). Additionally, I recommend checking out this helpful tool Retirement Calculator, which can be incredibly eye-opening…and a little stress-inducing.

Different types of accounts:
Now that we’ve gone over the basics here are a few different accounts broken down to a very, very basic level.

401(k)- this is the plan offered to you through an employer
Traditional IRA- provides tax-deferred growth, which means you pay your taxes on the investment gains only when you make withdrawals. Furthermore, based upon your qualifications, your contributions may even be deductible.
Roth IRA- contributions are not tax-deductible but when you withdraw your gains, you don’t owe Uncle Sam any tax.
Roth 401(k)- provides no up-front tax deduction, so your contributions won’t reduce your current taxable income. But all the money you withdraw is tax-free as long as the funds have been in the account for at least five years and you are at least 59½ years old.

No matter what you decide to do, all I can reccommend is extensive research and utilizing the tools that are offered to you. Best of luck dear friends and let me know if you ever buy that shiny black Aston Martin!

Scoring in the Grocery Games Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

I’m not going to delude you into thinking that I am one of those coupon ninjas, swooping into the grocery store matching coupons with sale items with thrift-like precision and buying $200 for $3.39. But I will tell you that there are a few things out there I picked up on that do save me money. Let’s face it: five dollars saved? Well then that’s five more dollars I get to keep.

Keeping a Price Book

The Tightwad GazetteThis is a strategy I picked up from Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette, and it’s a relatively cheap and easy thing to do. All you need is a spiral notebook (or binder) and the weekly ads from your local grocers….oh yeah and maybe an hour or so of time. Each page in my notebook is labeled by item and then alphabetized (this is where a loose leaf binder may be more user-friendly). It is on these pages that i keep track of individual grocery stores sales. If you often shop at more than one store you can also record everyday prices here too which will track pricing trends (and inevitably save you more). Since I am all about convenience (along with frugal methods) I tend to only focus on sale items, keeping track of the normal prices at the one grocery store I frequent and comparing the sale items to other stores. I’ve found that for the most part, my grocery store tends to be cheaper with better sales with the odd exceptions here and there. You can print a free price log here: Grocery Price Log

Coupon Clipping
Let me tell you, this is probably the most fun but for me. I only clip the coupons for items that I actually buy. I use the following sites in addition to the weekly inserts in my Sunday paper:

I recently read about a coupon strategy that is setting the frugal world afire. It’s called the One Month Coupon Strategy and I read about it on The Simple Dollar. Rumor has it that if you save the coupons you have clipped for roughly 30 days, the items that were featured as coupons have now gone on sale. The Simple Dollar explains why this is,

Why does this work?
Coupons in the newspaper are usually the first wave of a product push from large companies. They’ll put out coupons to start bumping up the sales, then they’ll move onto sale prices later on in the promotion. The reason for doing these in waves is so that the overall product sales trend looks solidly positive and not just a big spike with a fall-off. Plus, coupon users who use the product, like it, return to the store, and notice the item on sale are often willing to buy the item again. I’ll admit to noticing this working for me in the past with products like V-8 Fusion.

List, List, List
OK, look I know this one is pretty basic but hear me out. Have you ever stopped by the grocery store when you were hungry for just a few quick items? Next thing you know you’re walking out with 4 boxes of Eggo Waffles, frozen pizzas and those really delightful fruit snacks with juice in the middle. Believe me, I’ve done this so many times that now I ensure I am satisfied before shopping, even if it mean having to go home from work to eat before setting out on my journey.

Well keeping a list is a lot like that. Sit down and make of list of the items you need or will need and have coupons for. It’s easy to sit down after clipping your coupons and compiling a list of items you need based upon weekly sales, coupons and legitimate needs (if you’re low on toilet paper, chances are you aren’t going to be waiting around for a sale or a coupon to save that extra $.55). When you go to the store, stick with this list! I don’t care if kumquats are on special $2 for 10lbs. If it isn’t on your list, don’t get it. This minimizes the affects of GADD (Grocery Attention Deficit Disorder) and your chances of walking out with unnecessary items that cost you money.

I know my tips hear aren’t Earth shattering, nor will they probably save you thousands of dollars (if they do, by all means you can send some my way), however, hopefully you’ve picked up some interesting strategies to try out. Make sure to keep me posted on your savings!

spa-aahhhhh Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

So I think by now it’s pretty safe to say I’m a spa addict. I can admit to that without (much) shame. I mean, really there is no better feeling than walking out of the spa, face nice and tight, body relaxed and toes painted, but all those warm and cozy feelings go away the minute I look at the impact all that indulging has on my bank account.

So for all you fellow self-indulgers out there, here are some at-home recipes you can try that won’t hurt the pocket books and will still give you that same spa feeling (ok, ok maybe not the exact same but we’re on a budget people!) Recipes courtesy of Spa Index

p.s these work wonders with a nice glass of red wine and your closest girlfriends handy.

Apple Cucumber Facial Mask
1/2 cucumber, peeled
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon apple mint leaves
1 drop lime essential oil

Combine all 5 ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the essential oil last and mix well. Refrigerate the mixture for 10 minutes.

Apply a layer to your clean face and neck area and leave it on for 20 minutes. Rinse well with warm water. Apple Cucumber Facial Mask is best when used immediately as the ingredients are perishable. The leftovers can be refrigerated in the coldest section of the refrigerator for up to 1-2 days but should be discarded after that

This mask combines avocados, which are rich in Vitamin E, with carrots, which are high in beta-carotene and antioxidants, and cream, which is high in calcium and protein. These ingredients will rebuild skin collagen, improve tone and texture, and fade age spots.

1 avocado, mashed
1 carrot, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons honey

Combine all ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Spread gently over your face and neck, and leave in place 10-15 minutes. Rinse with cool water and follow with your favorite toner.

Frozen Egg & Honey Facial Mask
Recommended for dry skin
1 egg
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted (but not hot)
1 tbs. honey
Step 1: Beat the egg in a small bowl until frothy and well-mixed. Slowly add the liquid coconut oil and honey, beating until your mask is the consistency of mayonnaise.
Step 2: Take an empty toilet tissue roll and set it on end in a clean bowl. Spoon mixture into the cardboard toilet paper roll (or consider using an empty deodorant container). Place tube, in the bowl, in the freezer overnight.
Step 3: To use, peel away just the top 1/4 inch of the cardboard roll and smooth the frozen stick over your face (think of it as a push up pop). Leave your mask on for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.

Return the cream stick covered with plastic wrap and frozen between uses.
Particularly soothing on a sunburn. Keeps indefinitely.

This easy mask, used once or twice monthly, will both deep clean and exfoliate your face. It’s particularly beneficial for oily skin, as it drying and pulling effect.

1 cup oatmeal
1 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon honey
5-6 almonds, whole

Puree all ingredients in a blender until finely blended. Spread mixture over your face, and allow to set and dry (10-15 minutes). Rinse with warm water, and splash your skin with cool water or toner. This mask be may stored in your refrigerator for up to one week, covered tightly.

1/4 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 cup oatmeal
2 tablespoons of honey

Finely grind or process the oatmeal in a blender or food processor. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together honey and yogurt, and then add ground oatmeal. Mix thoroughly until a smooth paste consistency has been reached. Smooth over your face and neck, leave on for fifteen minutes, and rinse off with warm water. Can be used daily.

Recommended for Dry Skin; Exfoliation

1/4 C. almonds
1/8 tsp. mayonnaise

Grind almonds in blender until they form fine almond meal. Whirl in mayonnaise. Gentle rub scrub onto your face, and leave in place 10 minutes. Rinse. Use a toner thereafter. Shelf Life: Refrigerate for 2-3 weeks.

so….is anyone else kind of hungry?

We Got a Single Over Here! Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

Remember when you’d be standing in line at Disneyland and the ride escorts (what is the formal name for those guys?) would shout that phrase for all the park to hear about the single spot they had open next to a kid? And that kid, oh that poor, poor kid would be trying his hardest to shrink in his seat so as to appear as innocuous as possible. Cooking for one can often be like that.

Sure making your money stretch when feeding a family of four can be daunting, but you’re also wasting little in ways of food. Cooking for one? Well I did manage to make a box of Macaroni and Cheese last for approximately 5 days but it is now a very rare occasion where you will find me eating it at all. So it begs the question: how does one save money on cooking (while keeping a healthy amount of variety in the meals) when the amount of cooking they need to do is for 1-2 people?

Prepare Meals a Week Out
Sounds easy enough right? Compile a select few recipes and build your week’s meal around these (Bonus Point: Choose recipes that feature ingredients coinciding with that week’s grocery sales). This ensures that you will only be making one shopping trip (possibly two to capitalize on any deals your local grocers have going) which saves on gas and time.

Cook Once, Eat Twice
I hate leftovers, no wait I despise them. However, if I make something one night, and realize it can be turned around for a whole new meal the next, well then you’ve got yourself a deal. The most versatile ingredient to do this with is chicken. Now although I, myself, am a vegetarian I’m sure many of you out there are not. So here is an example of two recipes using the same ingredient.

Chicken Risotto
boneless, chicken breasts
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups uncooked regular long grain rice
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. butter

Cut chicken breasts into 1-1/2″ pieces and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In heavy saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes until tender. Add chicken pieces, and cook and stir until chicken begins to brown, about 3 minutes.
Cook until liquid is reduced, stirring frequently. Continue to add chicken broth to keep rice covered, stirring frequently. Cook about 25 minutes until rice is tender. Add cheese and butter just before serving and stir to melt. 6-8 servings

Risotto Cakes with Tomato Sauce
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg white
2 cups leftover Risotto
3/4 cup dry purchased bread crumbs
1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
In large saucepan, saute onion in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until tender. Add tomatoes with their liquid, 1/2 tsp. thyme, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer over low heat while preparing risotto cakes. (You could also just warm up 2 cups of your favorite pasta sauce.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In large bowl, combine egg white and leftover risotto and blend until combined. In shallow pan, combine bread crumbs and 1/4 tsp. thyme leaves. Form 1/4 cup portions of the risotto mixture into 8 cakes and roll in bread crumb mixture to coat.
Heat butter and 2 Tbsp. olive oil in nonstick skillet. Fry risotto patties 2-3 minutes on each side, turning once, until golden brown. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees 5-10 minutes until heated through. Serve with tomato sauce. 4 servings

Easy Freeze
Incorporate meals that are easy to make, portion out and then freeze. One of my favorites?

Vegetarian Chili
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (4 ounce) cans chopped green chile peppers, drained
2 (12 ounce) packages vegetarian burger crumbles
3 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and season with bay leaves, cumin, oregano, and salt. Cook and stir until onion is tender, then mix in the celery, green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and green chile peppers. When vegetables are heated through, mix in the vegetarian burger crumbles. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 5 minutes.

Mix the tomatoes into the pot. Season chili with chili powder and pepper. Stir in the kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the corn, and continue cooking 5 minutes before serving.

One of the best websites I came across is All Recipes since it allows you to adjust your serving size, which in turn automatically adjusts the ingredients (goodbye dividing fractions, I never did like you much). Additionally, you can select recipes that catch your fancy and add them to a shopping list function thus make shopping even more convenient!

Have any yummy, frugal recipes? Do share.

Total Cost of Ownership Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

Wow, that phrase is a blast from my college business course past. With the housing market taking a turn for the worse I had an epiphany that perhaps, now would be an ideal time to buy. Especially since I am a young professional with nary a black spec on my credit report (well 0k there is the Cox Bill debacle of ’07 I still need to straighten out) nonetheless, I begin to ponder whether a mortgage of a slightly higher price is better than rent. After all, this money is going towards an investment, something that will only benefit me in the long run right? Wrong. Turns out, counterintuitive as it may be, that buying isn’t always the best option. First clue to this conclusion (excluding the lecture I received from my mother along the same lines) was a website I stumbled upon called TCalc a web based financial calculator that, among numerous other scenarios, can calculate how much money you save by renting or buying. You can see my results below:

According to the site I would save $11,360.31 over the next 5 years by renting.

So if you realize renting is your best option for the time being, how do you ensure you are paying a fair price for your area? Rest assured, my friends, I’ve got this one covered as well:check out RentoMeter. It’ll give you the surrounding rents for your area and provide your rent on a Barometer scale. Mine ended up falling right in the middle. Share your thoughts on renting vs buying. I’d love to hear.

a primordial living space Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

I recently downgraded from a one-bedroom apartment to a studio. Living in San Diego as a young, single female, this decision was the most logical in saving money, simplifying my life and also seeing if maybe Carrie Bradshaw was onto something. While the extra money I save in living in a smaller space will not go to expand my non-existent collection of Christian Louboutins (oh the humanity), it will go into an ING Direct savings account I opened that is currently earning 3.00% APY which is far more than my credit union. Thus, building that famous “emergency fund” we are always reading about from personal finance blogs (see, The Simple Dollar’s Emergency Funds: How and Why You Should Get Started Right Now)

Anyway, for your reading enjoyment a brief list, according to Suite101 on the sweeter side of studio living:

Keeping Studios Clean

Most studios don’t have room for dust-collectors like coffee tables, china cabinets, and entertainment centers. Instead, buy double-duty furniture (day beds and decorative chests), some functional items (computer desk, small dining table, television stand), and if space allows, a sofa or bookshelf. The flip side is that small spaces magnify anything that is less than white-glove clean. If you forget to make your bed or mop the floor when a visitor stops by, you can’t close the bedroom door or shoo guests out of the kitchen.

Decorating A Small Space

Keeping clutter to a minimum goes a long way. Keep the kitchen area neat and free of dirty dishes, and vacuum and dust frequently. A studio is not the place for knickknacks any more than it is for large furniture. These things take up valuable space. Make sure that furniture and decorations don’t impede movement around the space. It pays to measure the furniture and make a floor plan before moving in. Don’t rent sight unseen and plan to just fit everything in once you get there.

Organizing Small Apartments

Plan before going grocery shopping. Small spaces have limited storage room. Bargain shoppers beware – there may not be room for jumbo packs of paper towels. Clutter makes a small space seem even smaller. To achieve a cozy but airy atmosphere, store things in sneaky spaces – under the bed or sofa, in the cabinet over the fridge (just not in the stove – it’s dangerous). Try dividing the space into mini-rooms. Place a small telephone stand in one corner. Create an entertainment space: buy a shelf that attaches to the top of the television to hold a stereo.

Add Simple, Personal Touches

Life in a studio is simple living at its finest. Everything you need is there – a roof over your head, a place to sleep, a place to cook and eat. You also have room for those touches that make a space home. Walls to hang pictures, a window ledge to place a vase of flowers, a closet or corner for mementos and books. What you do not have room for, you truly don’t need right now.

e.l.f, more than just a mythical creature Tuesday, Jul 1 2008 

So I recently discovered e.l.f cosmetics, and though the path that led me to this discovery was paved in gossip and ruminations, I certainly don’t regret the destination. Some of you may have heard the rumblings of Bloomingdale’s purchase of a small internet-based cosmetics company. Well these rumors are untrue, however the price of the product is very, very real. Most items on the site can be purchased for $1; that’s right my fair, frugal friends, you can stock up on make-up brushes, and all your cosmetic needs for a buck each.

I received my package about a month after my order was placed (due to high volume of orders, shipping takes an obscene amount of time). While I wouldn’t necessarily choose their eye shadow as my first pick in a line up, I found their lip balm, make-up brushes and eye liner to all be suitable. C’mon folks, for a dollar it’s at least worth a lookie loo. Check them out at: e.l.f

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