The frugal state fair.

th7 The frugal state fair.The county or state fair is one of the biggest money pits in the world. These places exist to part you from your cash, whether it’s for food or rides (or both).

A partial solution: Be a judge at the chili cook-off. I promise you won’t want to eat another bite for the rest of the day, or possibly until the next afternoon.

It’s not that the chili and salsas were bad. Quite the opposite: All were good and most were excellent. But after you’ve had 70 or 80 spoons’ worth, with bites of tortillas and sips of water in between, you simply can’t face any other comestibles.

You might also be averse to any carnival rides that move faster than the average baby can crawl. At the end of the day I did manage one ride, the “1,000 Nights” – a large platform that rotates clockwise, very high and very fast. By the time the first full rotation had ended, I was second-guessing that decision out loud.


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s0660153 sc7 300x300 Want a $50 Staples card?I must have been one of the nerdiest kids in Cumberland County, NJ, because I looked forward to the first day of school.

The first hint was the mid-August appearance of school supplies at Woolworth’s, Mr. Big, Diskay and other stores in the small city closest to our rural township. While the other kids shrieked and grabbed their throats in despair, I secretly  loved the sight of all that notebook paper waiting to be filled with words.

Back when the Earth was still cooling, “school supplies” mostly meant a blue three-ring binder (but only if last year’s was completely kaput), yellow No. 2 pencils (no pens until at least fifth grade), wide-ruled paper and maybe, if you were lucky, a big pink eraser. We made bookcovers out of brown grocery bags. Only the teacher had crayons and Magic Markers.

If eight-year-old me had seen the box of school supplies Staples shipped last week, the sensory overload might have put me in the emergency room.

A composition book with a leaf-and-ladybug design in pale pink and orange. Refillable mechanical pencils made just for small children, i.e., with “break-resistant” lead. Two-pocket folders with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle motifs. A clipboard with an oh-so-cuuute of a beagle puppy. th5 150x150 Want a $50 Staples card?

Three-by-five-inch lined journals in bright florals and random, boldly colored patterns. Erasers that look like lipsticks, complete to the plastic top — and in patterns that match the journals. Pencils in patterns that match both the erasers and the journals, and a Spongebob Squarepants pencil sharpener to ready them for writing.

Want some of this for yourself? Or anything else Staples sells? Enter this week’s giveaway.


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Summer on the wane.

th6 150x150 Summer on the wane.The raspberries are winding down. I was picking from a pint to almost a quart every day for a while. Lately they’re ripening much more slowly and the ones that do ripen seem a bit collapsed and/or partly eaten.

Birds, I figured – until the day I saw wasps and honeybees landing on berries before I could get to them. They’d grab hold, lock on, and start sucking/chewing away.

This was so entertaining to watch that I had a hard time blaming them for bogarting the berries I really, really wanted for the freezer.

Can’t really blame them: I, too, want to extract every last bit of sweetness before the season ends.


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th 1 150x150 Thrift shops, free museums and a $100 Tweetchat. Today is Thrift Shop Day, and the Savers/Value Village folks say we’re all about saving the Benjamins. The company’s new survey revealed that 47 percent of U.S. residents shop at la segunda, and more than one-third of us say they shop secondhand more often now than they did three years ago.

Is it the economy? Or is it that more and more people are realizing how much fun it can be to prospect for marked-down items, some of which you won’t find anywhere else?

Well, 52 percent of those surveyed say “it feels like a treasure hunt” and 35 percent love finding “truly unique” items. If you’re a retro-fashionista, secondhand stores are the place to find vintage shoulder-pad suits, cargo pants or the perfect bridesmaid’s dress to wear to the prom or (with appropriate attitude) to a wedding.


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Things I no longer buy.

th4 150x150 Things I no longer buy.Last year I voluntarily downsized my salary, i.e., I decided not to rush to replace all the income lost when MSN Money kicked all its writers to the virtual curb.

Since then I’ve had to make some very conscious choices about what – and whether – to buy. Less money = fewer expenditures.

News flash, right? But what surprises me isn’t that I’m spending less. It’s that I don’t miss any of those things very much.


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card225 300x150 Giveaway: Two $25 gift cards, via Swagbucks.Any time I give away a gift card the response is tremendous. And why not? Although some people think that GCs make awful presents, the chance to get a head start on a want or a need is fine by me. (And, apparently, by you.)

This week’s giveaway, sponsored by the Swagbucks rewards program, gives two lucky readers $25 in scrip – or, maybe in cash.

That’s because the winners get to choose any $25 e-gift card that Swagbucks offers, and among those offers is a $25 PayPal card. Thus you could choose to cash in for greenbacks or stick with shopping, at sites like Amazon, Target, Starbucks, Lowe’s, Home Depot, CVS, iTunes, GameStop and many others.


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th3 Smartphones: As important as deodorant?Some people are a bit too e-connected: carrying their smartphones around like fifth limbs, endlessly checking their screens, ignoring their children in favor of cat photos or an updated Facebook status.

The recent Bank of America “Trends in Consumer Mobility Report” indicates just how wired some of us have become. Nine out of 10 respondents said their smartphones are just as important to their daily lives as deodorant and toothbrushes.

I see a distinct difference: If you forget to use the phone your coworkers won’t look trapped when you enter their cubicles.

Just 7 percent of respondents find it annoying when someone checks a phone during mealtime. Personally, I think that unless you’re waiting for the transplant center to call about that kidney, you should back away from the phone now and then. Meals eaten with other people are an excellent place to start.

If they had to give something up to be able to get access to a cellphone, the majority of respondents (45 percent) said “alcohol.” Which, of course, would solve the problem of drunk-dialing.


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th2 Guest posts, gift cards and loups garou.I did my first-ever guest post on my daughter’s site, I Pick Up Pennies. Always meant to, just never got around to it until this weekend.

“Want to save money? ‘Chop’ your kitchen” was generated by my fondness for a  Food Network program called “Chopped,” which requires chefs to create meals from mystery ingredients. Some of them are delicious and traditional (steak, poultry, seafood) and some are just cruel (durian, goat brains, duck testicles).

Not that I think you should save money by eating fowl balls, mind you. Instead the post suggests that you “chop” your pantry, fridge and freezer, i.e., find ways to use what’s on hand instead of calling out for pizza. The food waste in our country is astonishing. What could eating in more often do for your budgetary bottom line?

Think those leftovers look forlorn? Get creative!


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9781118518557 p0 v2 s260x420 199x300 Giveaway: Do More, Spend Less.Brad Wilson wasn’t content just to found BradsDeals.com, TravelHacks.com and annually renewing sites for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  To spread his “everything you know about being a consumer is wrong” message, he also wrote a book.

Do More, Spend Less: The New Secrets of Living the Good Life for Less” describes the behaviors and hacks that let Wilson earn more than 5 million frequent flyer miles, get half-off his iPhone and plan, arrange a 25% discount on new cars, spend three weeks at the Park Hyatt Paris for $20 and get a 0%, six-figure line of credit to build a business.

Until recently marketing has had a tight grip on our wallets, he notes, but thanks to the Internet “the playing field is tilting in our favor.”

Internet deal-hunting has made it possible for consumers to look beyond the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Sometimes far beyond.


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th1 See a penny? Pick it up!During my recent trip to Austin I continued my habit of picking up stray coins. A penny at the drugstore checkout. Two pennies and a nickel behind a bench at the bus stop. A dime on the airport floor.

No matter where I go, I’m an inveterate coin-grabber. Except maybe Phoenix, Arizona, where picking up a coin in high summer can burn like the dickens. I learned this important safety tip from my daughter, who lives in Phoenix and blogs at…

(wait for it)

….I Pick Up Pennies.

I carry an old prescription bottle in my suitcase just for found money, which amounted to 24 cents on this trip. When I got home the coins went into an old pink vase that my daughter once got from the “free” box at a yard sale. My change purse gets emptied into a pink piggy bank that was a Christmas gift from Will Chen at the Wise Bread blog; this money gets wrapped every so often and deposited into savings.

According to a November 2013 survey from Coinstar, the average respondent figured he had a little over $26 in spare change lying around the house. In fact, the average trade-in at a Coinstar kiosk is $56.


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th 150x150 The cheaper I sleep, the longer I can stay.I just had three really nice days in Austin, Texas. The total charge for lodging was about $84, breakfast included. That’s because I stayed at HI Austin, a 10-minute bus ride outside of the city’s bustling downtown.

Yes, I had up to four roommates at any given time and yes, the bed was extremely basic (a bottom bunk). But what did I care? Any time I was in the room I was asleep or headed in that direction.

I’ve stayed in hostels in the United States (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City) and the United Kingdom (London, Cardiff) and always had an agreeable — and frugal — experience. These places aren’t nearly as scary as those Eli Roth movies would have you believe.

Well, there was that one hostel roommate who’d just been arrested for importing machetes. And the time that some Eurotrash dude decided he could make me into a cougar. But both those examples actually wound up being funny, as well as good blog post material.


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woofiescover 193x300 A book about werefolk in Alaska.I’ve committed to helping a friend market a young adult adventure/fantasy novel set in Alaska. Specifically, about “an ordinary weregirl in Denali Park.”

Except that Albertina Alvarez isn’t a movie-type weregirl. Once every month or two, she morphs into an actual four-legged wolf, a curse she inherited from her mother’s side of the family. (Fact is, she’s not sure it’s a curse. More on that in a minute.)

After it happens the first time, she and her mom and brother flee Southern California for Denali National Park, where her grandfather runs a lodge that caters to other “woofies.”

Yep: “Woofies.” That’s how the younger generation of loups-garou self-identifies. (They never use the other W word.) And that’s the title of the book: “Woofies: Werefolk in Alaska.” I’m giving away two copies to help spread the word.

(This is not my usual Friday giveaway, but a separate campaign to promote this book.)


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