Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Free Internet Cafes for Travelers

Don’t be a snob when traveling. Intenet cafes may have great coffee, but public libraries have a wide assortment of computer terminals, programs and Internet service—all free of charge. Indeed, I’ve spent hours at the public library in Kissimee, while vacationing with my family in Orlando.


At that library, my kids enjoyed a literary break from the overwhelming amusement park scene and I was able to log on to the Internet free of charge. It was a win-win for everyone and my boys enjoyed using the computer terminals in the extensive children’s section.

And by the way, the cafe shop in the Miami Beach branch of the library, also has great coffee: lattes, espressos & more. It's cheap and the Internet Service is free!

Plus the cafe has indoor and outdoor seating, including a garden with a fountain! The scenery even rivals some of the trendy South Beach Hotels. Check it out when you are traveling to Miami Beach!!!

Monday, January 30, 2006

New & Cheap Books!

Discount books -- new and gently used -- are stocked in unusual places.

Last week at my neighborhood library, I stumbled upon a book sale, where new and slightly worn books started at 50 cents, far less than my family usually pays for library late fees. In recent weeks, my husband and I have discovered great book sales at a tropical garden, a hospital and standard bookstores.


The publishing world is filled with overstocked books and complimentary review copies. These texts are donated to libraries or sold at steep discounts as fundraisers for community groups and charities. For consumers, overstocked book sales translate into big savings.

My visit to a neighborhood branch yielded quite a find. Under the title ''Friends of the Library,'' I found a rack of sale books with a diverse selection of popular fiction, romance, nonfiction bestsellers and classic texts in new or almost new condition. Hardbacks were $2 each; paperbacks, between 50 cents and $1.


For $3.50, my purchases included the bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran for $1 (list price: $13.95) and Summer Sisters by Judy Blume for 50 cents (list price: $7.50) and The Chin Kiss King by Miami Herald columnist Ana Veciana-Suarez for $1 (list price $12.95).

Inside of one of the books, I found a bookmark from Books & Books, a South Florida independent book chain owned by Mitchell Kaplan. Vivienne Evans, manager of the Books & Books store on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, says that she frequently receives inquiries from customers seeking homes for their books or overstocks. She encourages them to donate portions of their personal library to public libraries, which often sell donated books as a fundraiser.


For its part, Books & Books receives ''tons'' of complimentary review copies of books from major publishers and distributes those texts to staff members, school libraries and community groups. For example, the store donates books to a low-priced book sale rack run by a group of women at Mount Sinai Hospital, where books are sold for under $1.

''I'm always looking for outlets,'' Evans said. ``I try to do as much as possible, with Mitchell's blessings.''

Likewise, at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, my husband recently found a great book sale, where he purchased new hardback books for $2 a copy. And this summer at college campuses in Utah and New York, I found terrific book sales in the university book stores.


And don't overlook the discount racks at various stores. We recently shopped at a red-ticket sale at Barnes & Noble, where new books sold for $2 each. For example, the Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paul Huntley was originally priced at $21, marked down to $4.98, and finally priced at $1.99 in a post-holiday sale last week. Borders and Books & Books also have great deals on their sale rack.

''We have regular customers who walk straight to the sale rack,'' Evans said.


That sale rack is typically stocked with an oversupply of once-hot sellers or hard copies of books that will soon be coming out in paperback. In that sales aisle, I have purchased new books as low as $1 and hard copies that would sell for $24.95 may be marked down to $6.99.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ask for Store Discounts!

Don't be shy about asking for lower prices when shopping for every day items and gadgets. Consider this: when shopping for cars, most consumers have a back-and-forth with the dealer over price.

Now apply that same logic to shopping sprees in major chains and smaller stores.


For example, today my husband purchased a portable DVD for one of our sons. (My son used a $50 gift card and other cash gifts to finance the purchase.) Unfortunately, his cash pool was short of the $149 sticker for the battery-operated, 7-inch DVD player.

Not to worry. Via cell phone, I told my husband to ask the store manager about future promotions for DVD players. We would just wait for the lower price.

"Hey, if the only thing holding you back is price, I can go lower," the store manager said.

He offered $119 and my husband accepted!

By the way, the manager explained that peers at his store and many others have authority to cut deals with inquiring consumers!

It pays to ask.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lower Grocery Bills

With a little effort you can reduce your annual grocery bills by thousands of dollars. An organized system, a little research and repackaging can bring you more for your money, consumer experts say.

Strategies include knowing pricing trends at local supermarkets, careful use of coupons, bulk purchases and delayed gratification. You can even call food manufacturers for pricing insights. One pasta maker, for example, told a friend of mine which local retailers sold the company's pasta products at the lowest prices.


Even within the same supermarket chain, prices for individual products often vary greatly. My mother, who lives in Brevard County, has spotted a range of prices for the same item at different Publix locations. Friends and readers in North Miami Beach have also noted sharp price differences between two branches of the same chain.

That's because many chains zone prices according to zip codes based on the cost of real estate, labor and other operations at each store. You can find the lowest prices by either shopping around or checking the company's website, where weekly specials are available for different stores based on zip code or neighborhood.


But if you don't have time to shop for deals, there are other cost-cutting strategies. A family of four can save $2,000 to $3,000 a year by skipping individually packaged food items in favor of jumbo-sized boxes and by using reusable items, according to Earth 911, a nonprofit group based in Arizona. Earth 911 says paper towels and napkins cost more than $260 a year for a family of four. Other budget busters include disposable cups, razors and many one-time use products.

Raisins are a perfect example of potential savings, says Meryl Klein, the Gainesville based director of outreach for Earth 911 (www.earth911.org). Shoppers can save ''tremendously'' by purchasing large containers of raisins and then making individual servings. Many re-usable/re-sealable containers are perfect for lunchboxes or day-trips.


Individual servings of cereal, juice, bottled water and dried fruit are expensive. Prepackaged individual servings of snacks and lunchbox goodies cost up to 300 percent more per ounce than larger packages of the same item, according to the editors of Shameless Shortcuts: 1,027 Tips and Techniques that Help You Save Time, Save Money, and Save Work (Rodale, $16.95). Of course, prepackaged items do speed up lunch chores. But with planning, you can ''single serving yourself,'' and also save time and money, according to Shameless Shortcuts.

Here's the drill: As soon as you get home from the grocery store, divide large packages of raisins, chips and other snacks into individual-size portions in airtight containers. This organizational step provides the convenience and cost-savings of bulk purchases. A friend of mine has used this method with great success with her children in a snack assembly line.

But all bets are off during family vacations, admits Earth 911's Klein. When faced with the daunting combination of children, hotels and travel arrangements, Klein finds that nothing beats the convenience of individually packaged servings for her children.

''But for the majority of your life, [bulk purchases] work out really well,'' she said.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cheap Seats for Sports

My boys and I are avid sports fans, especially of the Miami Heat. We've found a frugal way to see sporting events. Our cheap seat strategies are also applicable to other cities.

A frugal way to see The Heat play is to buy a $10 ticket. That price buys a ''standing-only'' ticket at the top of the AmericanAirlines Arena. Dwyane Wade's dunks and Alonzo Mourning's awesome blocks look especially spectacular from the upper reaches. And the stadium offers large screens for close-up replays of hot scoring runs.

For our latest outing, which included a few school friends, we purchased a block of nine $10 tickets to a Dec. 27 game between The Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks several hours before tipoff. That advanced planning saved the day because by game time, all of the affordable seats were gone and the remaining seats started at $260 apiece.

Ticket Exchange

Miami Heat also operates a ''ticketExchange'' in which season ticket holders sell their individual season tickets -- cheaper than comparable nonseason ticket prices -- for no more than $1 over the face value of the season ticket. The resale program, run through Ticketmaster, is subject to Ticketmaster fees. For more information, go to www.heat.com.

Even Cheaper Seats

There are other affordable options. Sports bars, lounges and do-it-yourself game parties offer a frugal way to enjoy the game with the full benefit of public camaraderie. When the Heat played the Lakers, my oldest son and I watched that heated Shaq-versus-Kobe competition at a sports lounge/pool hall on Lincoln Road, which offered indoor and outdoor screens and lots of atmosphere. And there's always the radio, a valid option in my cable-free home.

Free Radio

Quite frankly, listening to The Miami Heat games on the radio is one of the greatest pleasures that I share with my children. It's free and the listening process enhances attention skills and sparks the imagination. What's more, if they want pictures, my boys can scan the headlines and the captions in the newspaper the next day, which provides a hidden exercise in reading.


But if you're really desperate for tickets, a local radio station -- broadcasting live from the front of the arena -- typically offers free tickets to fans who show up before the game in the craziest Miami Heat gear, accessories or team colors. On the night of the Heat versus Bucks game, a quartet of dancing girls in abbreviated Miami Heat outfits with pompons earned tickets for their imitation of Miami Heat cheerleaders.

The Florida lottery has its own contest for free tickets. Fans -- 18 and older -- who show up at the arena with five nonwinning Florida lottery tickets and crazy Miami Heat-themed outfits can win free tickets to a game subject to availability.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Checking into Hotel Furniture Sales

Hotel furniture and fixture sales are an affordable way to decorate a home or an office with sofas, tables and other items. From chunky '50s-style couches to funky lamps, hotel redecorating sales offer a range of unusual merchandise at a great price.

Due to frequent remodeling programs, new ownership or teardowns, many hotels offer special clearance sales. In my household we purchased dressers, lights and television sets for less than $25 each at a hotel on South Beach several years ago.


In December the Seville Beach Hotel at 2901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, sold the contents from its rooms. Items included double beds for $40 each, dressers for $15 and black-out drapes for $10. Lamps, pictures and armchairs were $5 each. Handled by International Content Liquidations Inc., the sale also included Art Deco ''lipstick chairs,'' color TVs, a piano, office furniture and assorted fixtures.

Shoppers at the recent sale included Karen Fryd, founder of the South Florida Youth Foundation. Fryd purchased furniture and fixtures for several nonprofit organizations.

''I thought the prices were phenomenal,'' Fryd wrote in a recent e-mail. ''We did great for a couple hundred bucks!''

With assistance from teachers and volunteers, she bought a stainless steel service table and a banquet table.

Hotel content sales are usually advertised in newspapers. I have also seen fliers and posters touting sales. Hotel liquidation companies often post schedules of upcoming sales on their websites.


With a mixture of functional and fashionable furniture, hotel sales have become trendy. The concept is even featured in magazines. In a recent article about affordable home design, the editors of Woman's World featured hotelsurplus.com, a California-based company that purchases and re-sells hotel furnishings.

''The tremendous competition in the hotel market generates a constant pressure on hotels to upgrade the furnishings in their properties to reflect the most current decorating trends,'' according to a company statement. ``Therefore, a large number of hotels often liquidate relatively recent furniture on a cyclical basis.''

The company's website and California warehouse is stocked with all kinds of ''no-longer-needed, gently used'' pieces from top-rated hotels, according to the magazine. Recent deals include Barnabey's Olde Style Armoires for $150 each, glass and pewter tables for $20 and large overstuffed chairs for $50.

The company's merchandise has been featured on several television shows including HGTV's Design On A Dime. You can find what's for sale at http://www.hotelsurplus.com.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Carnival: Taming the Debt Tiger

The Carnival of Debt Reduction continues with a submission from Free
Money Finance
about taming the debt tiger.

Summary: Strategies for getting your debt under control.
The article: Eight Ways to Consolidate

Quote of the Day: "Debt, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slavedriver."

--Ambrose Bierce
, An American Journalist (1842 - 1914)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Carnival Day 2: Love & Debt

Hi. Happy 2006. Welcome to the Carnival of Debt Reduction as hosted by the Frugal Duchess all this week!!! It's a great way to start the standard calendar/solar New Year!

Debt and Obsession are the centers of action in the Carnival today. In that playful spirit, the spotlight is on Amy Borkowsky, author of Statements: True Tales of Life, Love and Credit Card Bills. Based on her book, Amy Borkowsky wrote a cute piece about love & debt in a recent issue of For Me magazine. And even if you are not a woman with a turbulent love life, the lessons are universal.

But first a message from the Carnival Ticket Booth:

a) Thanks to the MightyBargainhunter.com, for providing this Carnival opportunity.

b) I will be adding entries through the end of the day, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006. So, if you have any ideas or rants about reducing debt, drop me a note (sharonhr@bellsouth.net) or file a comment on this blog. I will continue to update the Carnival until 11:59 (EST) Jan. 7.

c) Thanks to those who have submitted ideas, examples and technical advice! Thanks to everyone for stopping by the carnival. Thanks to everyone who has mentioned the Carnival on their blog or website this week.

d) Next week's Carnival of Debt will be hosted by Personal Finance Advice

e) Please visit day #1 of the Carnival, which started on Jan. 2.


The article: What My Credit Card Bills Taught Me about My Love Life featured in a fall issue of For Me magazine. (Katie Holmes--without Tom Cruise--is on the cover.)

The author: Amy Borkowsky: Statements: True Tales of Life, Love and Credit Card Bills

The Carnival Summary:

The bottom line is that by really studying her credit card bill and purchases, Amy Borkowsky recognized that something was really, really wrong with her love life.

Basically, she figures out that she's spending way too much money to impress the wrong guys.

In her pursuit of love, she spent a fortune running away from herself & reality.
It's an emotional money pit that I have fallen into myself...you know: the expensive rut of spending, denial and self-deception.

Here are the CHARGES that sparked Borkowsky's Aha! moment:

1) Expensive twice-weekly hair straightening sessions called "blowouts" with deep conditioners and other costly hair products because her beau "Rick, the real estate broker," loved her allegedly smooth and shiny hair. HOWEVER, Rick, the broker was "blissfully naive to fact that I had to pay good money to spin silk out of Brillo" OUCH! (personal aside: Curly hair rocks! )

2. $1,400 for dental work after a disastrous dinner date. Don't ask!

3. $4.28 spent a couple times a month at Starbucks to review date notes with a good friend.

4. $51.50 spent at a bar to review an especially awful date with a close friend.

5. $14.73 spent buying toys for the children of a married friend. The toys were a bribe to distract the kids, while the author reviewed her awful love life with a married-with-kids chum.

6. $17.50 for order-out omelets for a beau who wanted a home-cooked brunch. Borkowsky order the food to go, but hid the bills and passed it off as her own home cooking.

7. $42.97 at Amazon.com for self-help books about women and love.

"Thankfully," the author wrote. "My cost of loving has dropped noticeably since I started dating someone who, at least for now, accepts me the way I am."

As such Borkwosky no longer spends at least $70 a week (about $300 a month), before tax, tips and additional grooming products to blow out her curly hair. She stills orders omelets at restaurants but has let go of the home-cooked pretense.

Personally, I recommend a cookbook. There are great cookbooks FOR FREE on loan at the library!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Carnival of Debt Reduction: DAY ONE

Hi. Happy 2006. Welcome to the Carnival of Debt Reduction as hosted by the Frugal Duchess all this week!!! It's a great way to start the standard calendar/solar New Year!

With thanks to the MightyBargainhunter.com, I present the Carnival of Debt Reduction. Debt is an important subject and slicing down debt tops the 2006 agenda for many of us.

For the Carnival of Debt Reduction, I have some great submissions and I will be adding entries through the end of the day, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006. So, if you have any ideas about reducing debt, drop me a note (sharonhr@bellsouth.net) or file a comment on this blog. I will continue to update the Carnival until 11:59 (EST) Jan. 7.

Thanks to those who have submitted ideas, examples and technical advice! Thanks to everyone for stopping by the carnival.

By the way, next week's Carnival of Debt will be hosted by Personal Finance Advice

And speaking of Personal Finance Advice, the developer of that site offers the following insights about debt reduction.

Debt and Motivation

Here is a quick summary of the article:

"One of the essential ingredients of debt reduction is finding a
motivating factor to tackle your debt."

Full article

"I received an email that asked what it takes to get out of debt. I
don't think there is an easy cookie cutter answer to this. Yes, it
means spending less than you're making and making payments toward the
debt. That's the simple answer, but what I've found is that for the
majority of those who pull themselves out of debt, they have embraced
a compelling reason to get out of debt.

There is more to overcoming debt than merely wanting it to go away and
knowing how to accomplish this. Before any debt reduction plan can
work, you will have to be committed to get out of debt. That is, you
have to find a reason that is more powerful than not doing anything at
all. Not doing anything at all may seem like a silly response, but
it's what most people do. While not doing anything may seem to be the
worst choice, the real life problem is that people have the imagine
that tackling debt takes a lot of time, effort and pain to accomplish.
The pain associated with being in debt has to conquer the pain they
imagine it will take to get out of debt.

Many of the people that contact me seem to be looking for a quick and
easy fix. They keep searching for a quick fix and don't do anything
while searching for it. While I don't believe getting out of debt has
to be as painful as many imagine, it does take dedication and a change
in current lifestyle.

How difficult this change will be depends heavily on how committed the
person is to getting out of debt. If they have truly made a
commitment, they'll find that saving more of the money they make is
actually quite simple (although it may take come practice). On the
other hand, if a person isn't fully committed to erase all their debt,
or they're simply searching for an easy way out with no effort
expended, they'll likely find the necessary steps to get out of debt
much more difficult, if not impossible.

What I think it comes down to for the vast majority of people is that
in order to be committed to reduce their debt, they have to find that
compelling reason that allows them to face the imagined pain the debt
reduction will cause. There has to be something that has finally made
them realize that the current state of affairs can't continue. It can
be as simple as realizing that their current budget isn't working or
as urgent as having creditors knocking at their door or telephoning
them at all hours of the day and night. The ultimate reason isn't near
as important as that whatever that reason is will compel the person to
tackle the debt. Once a person has a reason, they can use it to
motivate and to do what it takes to reduce the debt in a systematic

The Blog: http://www.pfadvice.com
The Website: http://www.savingadvice.com


Title: Do you need to refinance to eliminate PMI?

Summary: The Early Riser give some advise on how to avoid and eliminate the useless expense of Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

Overview: Debt Reduction Blogs from the Mighty Bargain Hunter

Summary: "This is a brief discussion of four types of debt reduction blogs I've run across."

mbhunter from MightyBargainHunter.com )
Post title: About debt reduction blogs