Grocery stores use all kinds of tricks to get you to come in and buy more, but you can still use their ads to your advantage.

The trick is to read the grocery flyer for the biggest discounts.

Stay away from buying multiples unless it's something you know your family will use up quickly. Instead focus on the biggest pictures in the flyer. Usually this will be their loss leaders--the items they mark down to get you in the door.

It's a big help if you already know what items cost so you can figure out how much of a savings you're getting.

Holiday flyers are also important sales. In the US, you can count on Easter, July 4th, and Thanksgiving to be the biggest sales of the year. Look for traditional meats like ham for Easter, burgers and hotdogs for Independence Day, and turkey for Thanksgiving.

• Use the weekly flyer to decide your menu for the week

• Eat seasonally. If strawberries are in season, that's when you make with the strawberry shortcake. 

• Stock up on loss leaders and skip the other lures.

• Make the trip if a new store opens nearby. They have the best deals of all.

Do you shop from a flyer or do you usually wing it?

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For frugal people, we eat out a lot. Our reasons are varied, but usually it's to save time. That and the fact that eating out for two is a lot cheaper than taking a whole family out to dine.

Here are some tips we use to make the most of it.

• Look for coupons. Do a quick Google search for some of your favorite restaurants to see who's running a special.

• Join the club. One of the restaurants we like is BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse. They've got a nice little membership thing going on where you earn points (free food) every time you dine there.

• Watch for specials. Many times a favorite restaurant will run commercials on tv and radio. 

• Share a meal. This one is hard because Greg and I like different food, but every once in a while we'll meet in the middle and pick something we can share. Easier on the wallet and the waistline. 

• Go buffet. No doubt about it, buffets are cost savers, but it's got a bad psychological side where you feel you have to eat your money's worth. I try not to pig out when I do buffet.

• Order the appetizer. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach. I've learned to just order the appetizer as my main meal. I'm full and it's way cheaper than an entree.

• Have lunch instead of dinner. The prices are better and the portions are more than adequate.

• Drink water. Have you priced tea and soft drinks? It's highway robbery. Besides, water is better for you.

Is there anything you do to save money when eating out? Do share.

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I'll never forget the day hubby brought home a package of pre-chopped lettuce in a bag. I stared at him like he had horns growing out of his head.

I buy whole romaine and spinach and chop up my own salad. But Greg, often fending for himself 300 miles away, buys the prepackaged stuff. 

As a matter of fact he buys prepackaged anything if it'll save him some time in the kitchen. I grimace at the thought of how much money he spends away from me.

Nowadays you can find the most obscene things pre-cut, prepackaged, and prepared. The most outrageous thing I ever saw was sandwich bread with the crust cut off. 

Are people so busy they can't cut off their own crusts? I really want to know.

I will admit to buying spinach in a bag on occasion but that's about the extent of my decadence. I look forward to a day when I bake my own bread regularly but so far I've not been that organized to think ahead.

Are you a convenience junkie or a whole foods shopper? Do you use those little K-cups for your Keurig coffee? I can't imagine how expensive they are to use, but whoever did the marketing must've been a genius. They seem to fly off the shelves.

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• Wash laundry in cold water. Trust me. Your clothes will turn out just as clean.

• Use less laundry detergent. Too much soap is bad for the environment and bad for your clothes.

• Don't wash clothes as often. Jeans should only be washed when they're truly dirty. If washed too often, they'll wear out faster.

• Wash only when you have a full load.

• Line dry when possible. Think of the energy savings by not using an electricity-guzzling dryer.

• Always clean out the lint trap in your dryer. According to this article, dryers cause 15,000 fires a year.

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What do you do with the print books you've already read? I reread very few books, so if I keep them that means they're extra special to me.

I'm ruthless what I cull. I always keep books friends have given me--especially if they've been autographed. I also keep a few of the classics like 'Brave New World' and 'Sarum'. My copy of Sarum is starting to look pretty bad though. It might be time to replace it.

My genre-loving friends might sneer at me, but I'm also a fan of modern literary work. Not all of it, but a few tomes.

Despite the size of my home and all the shelf space it affords me, I still run out of room to store any more books. Once a year, I donate the ones I know I won't read again.

Women's shelters are great destinations for read books, as are libraries if the book is in excellent condition and in demand.

Nothing gratifies me more than to know a book will be read again. I think that's why I prefer to donate rather than resell them at stores like Half Price Books.

If I happen to have more than one copy of a book, (this happens if I inherit them at writers' conferences) I like to leave them at doctors' or dentists' offices--especially books like anthologies where you only have enough time to read a short story.

I'll always be grateful to the person who left behind 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven' at the hospital while I was waiting for hubby to get out of surgery.

For me, as long as the book finds a good home, I'm content. I hope the books I donate bring as much enjoyment for the new owners as it did for me.

What do you do with all the books you've read? Are you a hoarder or a spreader?

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I want to introduce you to a new web site I discovered. If you've ever wondered what to make for dinner, lunch or breakfast, this nifty web site is your ticket. is a very simple site. All you do is type in what you have in your freezer or pantry and it lists dozens of possible recipes. 

As you type, it'll finish typing the word that it has in its library of ingredients. To the right, it also lists other ingredients you might have in storage.

Note: Don't try to list everything you have in your pantry/freezer. It would end up giving you thousands of recipes. 

What I do is type in whatever main ingredient I need to use up that week to see what kind of choices are available.

It also allows you to save recipes to a folder, but you'll have to register with them to do that. There are a few refinements I'd love to make to the web site, like listing my saved recipes into categories, but all in all it's an excellent tool for the kitchen.

I dread having to figure out what to make for meals. I always end up making the same things and that gets boring. This gives me a chance to use familiar ingredients in new ways.

I highly recommend

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Last Friday, I had three separate instances where I was overcharged. I'm no human computer, but I have a fair idea of how much my total bill should be after a transaction.

At Walmart, the clerk charged me twice for something. She caught her mistake but instead of taking off the correct amount, she deleted a less costly item off the bill. I asked her about it before she finished the transaction, but she insisted she had deleted the correct one.

Sure enough, it was wrong. I ended up having to go to Customer Service for them to correct it.

Then it was lunch. I had ordered a small meal to go, but the bill seemed larger than I anticipated. It was. The clerk misheard me and gave me a much larger meal. I was in a hurry, so rather than have him redo the order, I took it. The dogs and I ate well that night.

Finally, at the vet's office, they wanted to charge me for an extra injection for Nana. I insisted that it was not given because it wasn't necessary. But the little girl at the desk told me I was mistaken. I probably just didn't see it administered.

Now friends, if you know me at all, you know that NOTHING gets past me when it comes to my dogs' health. I told her she needed to check with the vet. She was visibly annoyed and groused at me, but finally acquiesed. 

You guessed it. The injection (an antihistamine) was not administered. 

These three little anecdotes are proof that you have to check your receipts, even if the person on the other side of the counter thinks you're a nut-job who doesn't know what she's talking about.

It must've been a bad day. I've never had three instances like this back to back. 

It makes me wonder how many people get taken everyday by such carelessness.

What's been your experience with overcharges? Have you ever had a day when it seemed everyone was out to pinch your wallet?

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The longest I've ever been stuck in traffic was three hours. But when I lived in Chicago, a particularly bad snowstorm had stopped ALL traffic. It was either spend the night in the office or walk home. 

I was 19 years old and invincible so I opted to walk home. A smarter person would've stayed put. At the office, I had warmth, electricity, water, and communication.

To make it home, I had to lock arms with total strangers so we could cross Michigan Avenue without blowing away in gale force winds. I didn't weigh much, so all I could do was hang on.

Recently, in normally warm Austin, Tx, an ice storm whipped through and highways turned into parking lots. Nobody was going anywhere. There was video of people abandoning their cars or finding the nearest bush to relieve themselves.

They left because there was nothing in their vehicles to sustain them for what would turn out to be an all-night affair.

I travel long distances from time to time and I always pack an emergency bag. Such amenities would've probably been welcome during that freak ice storm too.

Here's what I pack:

• bottled water (enough for me and whoever is traveling with me)
• a dog bowl (because I almost always travel with a dog)
• dog cookies (because...see above)
• flashlight
• bandages
• aspirin
• tarp
• blanket
• leather gloves
• scissors
• a pocket multi-tool. (The kind that has pliers, knife, screwdriver, etc.)
• duct tape (cuz duct tape fixes darn near everything)
• a paper map. (I know. Most people will use their smart phone maps, but paper doesn't require batteries.)
• pen and paper

I don't carry food but if I knew a major weather front was moving in, I might add crackers and something like vacuum-packed tuna salad.

Of course, always carry a fully charged phone with a car charger in case it runs down.

What's the longest you've ever been stranded?

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In other words, don't let the good sales slip away.

Last week, we had a Kroger grocery store open nearby. It was one of their super stores so they pulled out all the stops to draw people in. They marked prices down on things like salmon, pork roasts and rib eye to the lowest I've seen in years. Not to mention other items that were slashed ridiculously cheap. Even their gas prices outstripped Walmart's normally low prices.

I stocked up. Although the final bill was staggering, I saved over half of what I would've spent simply by buying now instead of when I needed it. To be fair I have two advantages over most people. I use a vacuum sealer to draw out all the air from the food I repackage to portion sizes, and I have two freezers to store it all.

But that doesn't mean the average Joe or Jane can't nab some of those savings on a smaller scale.

Knowing what the lowest price points are for frequently purchased items is the first step. If you know that your favorite facial tissue is normally $1.50 a box and you see it marked down to a 89 cents, you'd be a fool not to jump on it.

Storage is the most common complaint as to why people won't buy extra, but I've tucked paper or canned goods under beds and in the garage. I have no shame. If it means I don't have to buy aluminum foil for five years, by golly I'll stock up. That stuff is expensive, and with inflation going up 3-4% annually, it won't get any cheaper.

Every little bit helps. Better to spend a little extra on today's shopping trip than to pay a lot more on later shopping trips. It all adds up in the end.

I consider it an important investment.

If there is a disadvantage it comes from not rotating and eating the oldest food first. That's easily remedied by knowing what's in your pantry and freezer. But that's a post for another time. :o)

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Whenever I think life is getting too complicated it almost always helps when I make a clean sweep of things. Doing simple things like wiping my desk clean of minutia helps tremendously for putting me in the right frame of mind.

It's the clutter that makes us feel heavy and slow. Feel freer and lighter by doing any one of these tips below.

• Clean out your closet and donate anything you haven't worn in over a year. You'll be helping two people this way--yourself and whoever gets your things.

• File your books and dvds back on the shelves instead of tucked away in every nook and cranny.

• Clear your counter tops. It just makes you feel lighter immediately.

• Scroll through your emails for a week. Unsubscribe from any list or group that you don't read anymore. It's one less thing to delete when they show up in your mailbox.

• Clean out your medicine cabinet and toss out expired meds.

• Make an appointment with your doctor and get a full checkup. Make a list of anything that's been creaking, throbbing, or not working up to specs. Put your temple in order. 

• Give yourself a break from technology. Teach yourself to disconnect from the phone and internet and reconnect with actual human beings.

What do you like to do to give yourself a clean slate?

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Did you know stress is a major cause of illness? Combine it with a Type A personality and you'll end up with sleepless nights, irritability, headaches, and upset stomachs.

For years, my husband would chastise me with: "Relax." or "Don't let it get to you." But to someone like me, those are empty words. I don't have an on/off switch for stress.

This means I have to consciously block it, disguise it, or learn to work around it. So let me share what I do to chill out. Some of these tricks might work for you!

1. Identify the stressor. If it's a person, avoid him. If it's a deadline, break it down into manageable chunks. The key is to identify the trigger and pull out its teeth.

2. Breathe. You wouldn't think such a simple exercise would help, but it does. Learn to breathe in for a count of six and then breathe out to the same count. It really works! I learned this in yoga class.

3. Distract yourself. There's been many a time I've plugged in my favorite comedy or comfort-movie to help me unwind. For you, it could be a visit with friends,  the grandkids, or a hike in the woods. Everyone has a release valve unique to his personality.

4. Do something for someone else. There's something about doing for someone less fortunate that kind of puts things in perspective. I can't complain when I know someone else has it worse. Suddenly whatever is stressing me out is inconsequential when you have a friend facing a serious illness, divorce, or the death of a loved one.

5. Take a vacation. Even if it's nothing more than going to a museum or taking a Sunday drive to some place new, the change always does me good.

What do you do when things go wonky in your life?

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I read an article a couple of weeks ago titled, "Do you behave like a poor person". In it, it cited a published study that claims that people who grew up poor were more likely to spend heavily--and unwisely.

I'd really like to know exactly how they came up with this conclusion. 

For myself, and nearly every person I've ever known who grew up deprived or poor, we tend to be extremely careful with money. If anything, growing up poor reinforced the notion not to spend unless it was necessary. 

Even though I am 99.9% sure I'll never be poor again, there's a tiny voice reminding me to never say never. No one knows what's around the corner so why splurge on designer duds or fancy hair salons? It won't kill me to go without and saving that little bit more becomes a sort of hedge fund.

Anyone who knows me knows I am an excellent saver, recycler, and proud frugalista. It's hardwired into my DNA and I like it that way.

I have a friend who started his own company and became a millionaire, yet he places more faith in hard currency in his hand than banking institutions. He was born just after the Great Depression and his parents never let him forget what they suffered.

One of my sisters married into money--a nice job if you can get it--but her first priority was to make sure her children's college tuition was completely funded before she spent a dime on herself. All three are now either enrolled or prepping for Ivy League universities.

Another wealthy friend (who was once poor) still clips coupons, shops thrift stores for clothing, and buys her vehicles used.

I'm not saying there aren't people who spend recklessly once they fall into some cash, but I find it hard to believe I know so few who would even consider it. All it takes is one winter of going without warm clothes or enough food to cure you of any wild spending sprees when you're solvent again.

Maybe I'm being naive.

What do you think? Is the study accurate? Or have I just fallen in with a crowd devoid of the spendthrift gene?

Does being poor make you want to spend more when you have the money?

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Nothing guarantees a second invitation more than being a good guest. I don't tolerate moochers, grumblers, or impolite guests.

If you want a second invitation to my house--or any house--here are some must-dos.

• Be clean. That means leave a clean toilet, sink, and/or shower (for overnight guests).

• Keep the noise down. If you're naturally loud, be mindful of other guests, and keep it down to conversation level.

• ALWAYS ask if you can help clean up or help prep in the kitchen. Not everyone appreciates a helper, but if you see she's juggling a million things, take over one of those things, be it carrying plates, washing a dish, or answering the front door.

• Always offer to bring something to the party. Ask the hostess what she needs, not what you want to bring. Sometimes all she needs is an extra pair of hands.

• Always say thank you!

I always volunteer to do the most menial task on the hostess's list. Firstly, because no one else will want to do it, and secondly, because it rarely requires many brain cells. I'm good with that. :o)

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I have the weirdest luck with guests. Usually I like to fuss over them with a nicely made bed and little accessories they might need, like toiletries, tissues, and magazines. But no, almost 99% of the people who stay overnight come so prepared, they leave stuff with me!

But if your guests are different than mine, here are a few things to make their stays nicer.

• Bundle travel size containers of toothpaste, floss, toothbrush, and a shaver.
• Sock slippers (I used to buy these all the time for guests, but I finally stopped. Everyone seems to travel with them now.)
• Magazines or books (I picked this up from my mother.) She was always looking for something to read.
• Mints
• Snacks (I don't do this anymore because people are welcome to scrounge for themselves in my fridge and pantry--besides I don't want them eating in their rooms.)
• Teas (But don't be like me and pick the WRONG tea for your guests.) Apparently, that matters.
• Extra blanket and pillows 

How about you? Is there anything you'd like to see waiting for you when you visit friends and family?

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With everyone dashing to parties and family get togethers this is a good time for tips on the proper hostess/host gift.

Whenever you've been invited to someone's house, it's only good manners to bring a gift. It doesn't have to be extravagant, nor does it have to be wine--the most common gift of all--but it should be thoughtful.

Although gifts are primarily geared toward the hostess, it's perfectly acceptable to do a more non-gender gift, especially if there's no hostess involved.

The only wine I drink is plum wine, so most wine is wasted on me. But 'live' gifts like fruit, herbs, or small plants are big hits with me. When choosing a gift, consider the recipient. If there's a diabetic in the house you wouldn't bring them a box of Godiva chocolates, right?

If you don't know the host/hostess, stick to safe items like soaps, kitchen implements, or flowers.

Here are some of the things I've given to a host or hostess.

• Cheese board with a nice cheese
• Napkins and/or place mats
• Flowers
• Chocolates
• Homemade jams 
• Cookies or bread
• Potted herbs
• Candles
• Infused vinegars
• and of course, Wine. Good wine, please. None of the cheap stuff. That's not nice.

Have you ever received or given an exceptional or unusual gift? Do you have a favorite item you like to receive?

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With Christmas around the corner one of the things I stock up on now are pretty baskets, newspaper comics, and gift bags.

Baskets and gift bags I pick up at garage sales. The funnies, I save up during the year. I never buy gift bags retail anymore. You can find plenty at yard sales, still in pristine condition.

Baskets are my favorite way to give gifts though. They're pretty and practical. I always choose sturdy and beautifully crafted baskets. The other bonus of a basket is that since I like to do an assortment of little gifts, they're the perfect conveyance. 

Other ways to wrap your presents:

• Sheet music

• Maps

• Laundry basket (Yes, I did this for a housewarming present!)

• Brown mailing paper and twine for that non-commercial look.

• No wrapping at all (Once I used a big "Santa's bag" and put all the unwrapped gifts in it. Easiest Christmas clean-up, ever!)

Have you ever tried a different way of "wrapping" gifts? Do share.

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I had a curious experience last week when I was hunting garage sales. I came upon one sale with a small sign at the table calling it a charity garage sale. 

They had lots of stuff, including two very fine Oriental rugs at good prices. I snatched them up and paid the lady manning the table. She then cheerfully ordered her husband to help me load the rugs. 

The husband was quick on his toes and had the rugs rolled up and on his shoulder by the time I reached him. 

My car was parked several yards away because it was so crowded so I chatted with him along the way. I asked him who was benefiting from this charity garage sale.

He paused and grew silent and then he said: Well, actually, it's for me and my wife. We kind of fell on hard times and it was getting worse and worse until I confided in a friend. He convinced me to swallow my pride and do something about it. He helped us organize this garage sale and we're selling all we don't need with some other donations from friends.

It caught me off guard for a moment. Usually these benefits are for parents wanting to send their kid to camp. I'm not opposed to these events, but I don't have much empathy for them. In my day, if you couldn't afford to send your kid to camp, s/he didn't go.

But when I heard this guy's story, I was taken aback by his efforts to suck it up and make things right. I was so impressed that after he loaded me up, I went back to the sale to see if I could buy something else from them.

I know for a fact that if we were ever in danger of losing our home, I'd work at McDonald's, or clean houses--anything to keep from losing our home.

I've seen too many real life cases where people wait for the government or family to bail them out. There are other options. I'd rather dig ditches than ask for a handout. Oh, wait. I already dig ditches. On purpose! And I'm not even in dire straits. LOL. That's life on the farm.

If you were in danger of losing your home, what would you do to earn some extra cash?

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Do this now before the weather changes.

• Install weather stripping and line your door frames. It's incredibly cheap and easy to do. Take off the protective tape and glue the strip to the frame.

• Run your hand at the bottom of the door. If you feel air going through your fingers, go out and buy a door sweep. Not only does it save on energy, but in my case has cut down on scorpion sightings.

If you expect freezing temperatures soon:

• Wrap your water lines with foam insulation.

• Cover your outdoor water spigots with foam caps.

Have you ever had a pipe freeze and burst on you? Do tell.

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If you've ever tried to buy a frame for a painting or print you might find they're more expensive than the art.

Since I used to do a lot of my own paintings and illustrations, I was always on the lookout for nice ornate frames (for the paintings) and slick modern frames (for the prints and illustrations).

Aside from garage sales, check out the discount bins at decorating departments of your local big box store. The actual artwork could be hideous or damaged, but that doesn't matter. If the frame looks good, toss out the picture and use the frame for your artwork.

I've bought many a gorgeous frame for a pittance because the artwork was damaged beyond repair. If the frame is scuffed or dinged, use wood putty to repair the damage and repaint the frame.

Other Tips

• For photos, buy frames larger than the photo and add a nice mat board to showcase the photo. Or enlarge the photos to poster size.

• Arrange art by subject matter, frame type, and media.

• If you want to do a gallery wall of prints and paintings, lay out the frames on the floor, then take a picture of the layout so you can remember what went where.

• For a more accurate layout, lay the frames on butcher paper, or even newspaper (on the floor). Once the frames are set where you want them, take a black magic marker and trace the pattern. Then tape the paper on your wall and tack on your nails in the middle of each of the frame templates. When you're done, pull off the paper and hang your art.


What kind of artwork hangs on your walls?

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I use my freezer space so much I keep two big freezers. Aside from my usual supply of meat, ready-made meals, and vegetables, I also freeze lots of other things.

Here's an average list of items you'll find in my freezer.

• leftover vegetables from meals to use in future soups or stews.

• homemade chicken broth frozen into ice cubes. I just plop in however many cubes I need whenever I want to add some broth.

• limes and lemons freeze exceptionally well. Pop some in your freezer the next time they go on sale.

• orange rinds--for whenever I need a little orange zest.

• cheese freezes wonderfully. I always buy cheese in bulk and then repackage in a size I can use up right away.

• at any given time I have boxes/bags of flour, rice, or any dry goods susceptible to mealy bugs in the ice box. I pop them in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Wait a month, then pop them in again for another week before I store them in the pantry. This assures me that I've gotten every unhatched egg.

And if my freezer ever starts to get empty, I add plastic bottles of water to keep everything cold in the event of a power failure.

Do you use your freezer to the max?

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This is a recycled post from my personal blog, originally airing in 2009. I still think it's the most useful thing we've ever done to save money and I wanted to share it again.


I am going to tell you the secret to solvency, blissful marital relations, and a good night's sleep. And I guarantee you this works.

I call it The $50 Rule.

Many, MANY moons ago, we were like every other young couple. We had no money. We lived on next week's pay check and we were running up the one and only credit card we were approved for. A lot of people live this way. But we knew early on that this was a disaster waiting to happen.

I was in charge of paying bills in our household and I decided to put us on a budget so that we would always have enough for important things like food and house payments.

In 1975, $50 was a goodly amount of money. But we reasoned that was the least amount of money we needed for common expenses. That was the day The $50 Rule was born.

In The $50 Rule, neither I nor Greg are allowed to spend more than $50 without the approval of our significant other. There are agreed upon loopholes though.

The $50 Rule could be adjusted if:

• it were a direct replacement for something we already owned. This is usually something like a power tool, the air conditioner, or lawn equipment. Useful, but not necessarily crucial equipment.

• any emergency requiring immediate attention. This was usually for cars, major appliances, or people needing repair or replacement. (I've had Greg repaired a number of times, but I've never needed to replace him. He's on extended warranty.)

These are the only two allowances we make. And so far we haven't had to fudge on the system.

But you might wonder why such a modern liberated woman would demean herself by having to ask for permission to spend more than fifty bucks. --Yes, I've gotten that snarky remark from a couple of people, and I tell them this:

Asking the spouse for his support for said purchase does a couple of things.

• it provides a natural cooling off period. Many purchases are emotional decisions. Giving yourself time to think about it and ask the other person's opinion forces that emotional response to bear responsibility. By the time you get an answer, it may not be as necessary a purchase as you thought it was.

• it forces both people in the relationship to examine their buying habits.

• it makes for a very honest and sympathetic relationship. Over the years you get to learn what's important to your better half and you learn to respect each other's shared resources. Think about it. If you both spend money like crazy, you're only thinking about yourself. When you put your spouse's opinion into the equation, it is a shared asset that entitles you both to its responsibilities and rewards.

You might say that $50 is too low for you. (that's what most people tell us) The number is totally up to you and your particular finances. Greg has been trying to get me to raise that amount for YEARS! LOL! It's never happened. Why? Because we are no longer those kids trying to start a household. We have nearly everything we need. He only wants to raise it so he doesn't feel the pangs of guilt when he eyes a new toy in the store.

The $50 Rule has been perfect for us. It's conditioned us so well that we even ask each other's opinion if the item is below $50.

Talk it over with your spouse and set whatever amount feels right for you. I promise you it works.

I retired three years ago and Greg will be saying adios to his job in less than ten months. We didn't accomplish this through dumb luck. We did it by following one rule. The $50 Rule.

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Sometimes the biggest hurdles can be climbed with tiny steps.

Want to save $5000 next year for a special vacation, dental work, or home improvement? Save $13.70 a day.

When you look at saving a few dollars a day rather than a big chunk, it makes it feel so much more doable. 

How can you save $13.70 a day?

• Bring your lunch to work.
• Make your own coffee instead of Starbucks.
• How often do you go out for dinner? Skipping one meal out could net you a couple of days' worth of saving.
• Do you have a candy or cookie fetish? You can make homemade fudge that tastes better than any sweet you can buy at the store. And it's cheap too.

Want to save bigger chunks?

• Stick with your old winter coat one more year.
• Get in the habit of shutting off lights and unwatched tv sets.
• Drive less. Consolidate your shopping trips. (I save LOTS of money with this trick.)

So what would you do if you had an extra five grand this time next year?

Do you have any other tips for saving some quick cash?

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I don't like to return things if I can help it. I'd like to think I've given my purchases enough thought that returns aren't necessary. But something stuff happens. It's usually an error on my part. Wrong size. Wrong part. Wrong brain.

Wal-Mart seems to allow returns on almost anything. I was in line once (to exchange a set of camera batteries) and the woman in front of me was returning meat.  ...meat.

And they took it back.

Some stores surprise me with their return policies. Recently, I was at Half Price Books buying books (of course) and I mentioned to the store manager that I was really interested in a yoga dvd, but I was tired of being disappointed. 

I'd bought two dvds and neither one was a good fit for me. 

He asked if I still had the receipt. I didn't. I assumed Half Price Books wouldn't allow returns on dvds so I didn't bother keeping them. He told me to bring them back anyway and he'd work something out with me.

But here was my dilemma. Both dvds had the original plastic wrapper on them with HPB's price sticker. When I tore off the cellophane, I also lost the sticker.

It never occurred to me that they'd need that. And I was ready to walk away again disappointed. But the clerk offered me store credit. All she could do was guess how much those dvds sold for. It seemed about the right price--knowing the price range I normally pay for dvds, so I accepted.

I was so pleased with the customer service, Half Price Books earned themselves a faithful customer.

Have you ever had an interesting (or frustrating) return experience?

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Most of you are probably still in shorts and tee shirts, but now is the time to start thinking about Christmas.

Have you been to some of the department stores lately? They're slashing prices to clear out their inventory.

I don't shop regularly, but a friend of mine does and she noticed that many of her regular haunts were doing store wide clearances. I hoofed it over to a couple of the big box stores and sure enough, I walked away with expensive shoes and boots for Greg--each pair only five bucks!

At another store, I noticed the tee shirt I bought only two weeks ago was now 60% off.  (Glad I only bought one back then.) I stocked up on the discounted tees.

Target was marking down gardening tools and equipment to half off. I picked up a nice pair of pruning shears. (Believe it or not, I use them to trim goat hooves.)

Pay attention to what's being brought in too. Places like Kohl's and Steinmart hold some pretty good-sized sales before the holidays.

Start carrying a little notebook with you and jot down sizes and wish lists for all the people on your Christmas list.

And don't forget about yourself. I'm sure you've been a very good girl (or boy) this year too. Now's the time to shop.

Good hunting.

PS  In the US, November is the time to shop for food. Many staples will be at their lowest. (In Canada, it should be in October.)

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I'm a garage sale hound, but nothing beats free, so I am constantly on the lookout for things people throw away. 

You can do it methodically by tracking Craigslist, but I don't like to go to strangers' houses alone so I opt for the scavenger technique.

After every garage sale, you can count on people tossing out whatever didn't sell. I've come home with furniture, lawn equipment, and home decor. Good stuff too.

Wood furniture is my favorite find because I enjoy refinishing it to its old glory. Sometimes I keep the piece, but often I'll sell it at my garage sale for a substantial amount.

It's hard to say what my best find has been, but nothing beats the day Greg and I happened to be hauling an empty trailer. A few miles from home, someone had put lawn equipment, suitcases, power tools and good lumber out on the curb. --and here we were with an empty trailer!

We loaded up. 

Another time, someone had put out a huge dog crate. Well, we happen to have huge dogs and I needed one for a puppy we had just rescued (Iko). 

The best time to find leftovers is after a garage sale, but if you're lucky to live near a college town, many times the kids dump their dorm furnishings after their term is up rather than drag them home.

Do you have a found treasure story? What's the best bargain you've ever had?

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I'd heard for years that urine was good for plants, but I wasn't about to test it out with my urine. There are just some things I won't do. But it turns out urine is a fabulous nitrogen boost and I've been dying to try it.

Over the summer months, I've been keeping my two rabbits indoors. Their waste is collected in a nice big tray that thankfully fits through the doorway. Laziness prevented me from walking it all the way to my compost bins. 

Fortunately, I keep a big area full of potted plants just outside their habitat. All I have to do is carry the tray outside.

Rabbit poop is the only poop you can spread directly on soil without burning the plant. Most animal poop is too "hot" and can't be used without being composted for several months. The rabbit urine is mixed with a little water and I dribble it at the base of my citrus plants.

It works beautifully! My citrus trees were in a terrible state due to the grasshoppers eating all their leaves. A few days of diluted pee and now the trees are bursting with new growth. The poop I spread around my flowering plants. They too are coming back to life.

Human urine is good for plants too, but if you take any meds, I'd probably forget about peeing on your plants. You don't want to pass those chemicals to your edibles. Besides, what would your neighbors say?

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I'm always experimenting with any vegetable that has a root. To date, the onions have been the most successful. The ones shown here are the result from the little nubbins of green onion tops I was about to throw into the compost. 

Instead I buried them in some dirt and months later, I had all new green onions--just as mild as the original.

My romaine lettuce sprouts leaves too, but I haven't been pleased with the taste. I'll keep trying though. 

My celery always starts out with good intentions, but I think it's too hot here. I may try it again, but I'll grow it inside and taunt my rabbits with the leafy goodness.

I'd really like to try turmeric, but I don't have an Indian grocery store nearby so I've put one of my friends on the trail for fresh turmeric.

Sweet potatoes grow like weeds here. They love the hot weather and the dogs and husband love sweet potatoes. Win:Win. 

My latest experiment is with full-sized onions. Greg brought me some that had already sprouted at his house. We ate the bulb and I kept back the part that had sprouted. It was super sweet so it'll be kind of cool if I can reproduce the original flavor.

Will it sprout a whole new bulb onion? Only time will tell. It's still green and growing.

The nice thing about these roots is that you lose nothing for trying. Just keep them in the sunshine and water regularly.

It's frugal and pretty all at the same time.

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