Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chasing the Prince of Profits in Blogsphere: Ideas from Dumb Little Man

I'm not really blogging for dollars. It's fun; it's ego; it's informative.

Basically, blogging has become an addictive hobby. But I have a friend, who began knitting as a hobby and has found a way to make a few bucks from her part-time passion. (She knits killer suits that look like some Chanel couture creation that Linda Evangelista* could wear in Vogue magazine. My friend also teaches classes to other would-be knitters.)

*(FYI Linda E. is my favorite supermodel. Evangelista is another bottom-line girl. She was famously quoted as saying that she does not wake up in the morning for less than $15,000 a day.)

So here's my bottom-line assessment of my blogging obession: Do it for fun, but try to make it pay! I've thought about offering editing services in exchange for small fees or some kind of ad barter. Or maybe I could peddle print articles about my so-called life as a blogger to big-ticket, big budget magazines.

For other ideas, I turned to Dumb Little Man, who has recently offered some great lists about money-making ideas and other tips on writing:

1. 50 tools for improving writing. This is a link I've used before my Dumb Litte Man introduction. I teach a journalism class to high school students and this list has great tips for writing.

2. This is a great DLM list, featuring 40-plus ways to make money on the Internet. I have been systematically going through his various ideas.

3. Then Dumb Litte Man followed up with another list of money making tips.


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My Interview at Money Blogger Podcast

Scott at Money Blogger Podcast was kind enough to interview me for his latest broadcast. I've enjoyed listening to past interviews in the series and I feel fortunate to be included.

I had so much fun chatting with him about personal finance, the world of blogging and frugal living. I appreciated his questions about my dual life as a newspaper columnist and my other life as a blogger. The opening music on his podcasts is very cool; Scott asks great questions, including some from other bloggers like Queer Cents.

Thanks to Scott for providing the space and to Flexo (Consumerism Commentary) and Mapgirl for mentioning the interview on their blogs.

I also appreciate the mention from A Penny Saved (who supplied a great question) and anyone else who took note on their blog.


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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tips from Adam Sandler's Bulk Shopping Trip

This Us Weekly magazine photo of Adam Sandler's recent bulk shopping trip made me think hard about some of the benefits of bulk shopping. Purchasing large quantities of jumbo-sized products represents a mixed bag of savings.

Sandler's shopping back included:
"family-sized packages of Charmin, Brawny paper towels, Coke, Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper at Ralphs in L.A. Nov. 11."
--source: Us Weekly

Stocking up on jumbo packages of paper goods is a smart move because a) potential cost-savings and b) huge supplies of non-perishables have a long shelf life. My best frugal friend Melisa has converted a linen closet and a large pantry into a mini-family warehouse for non perishable sale items.

But based on my own shopping experiences and Adam Sandler's shopping cart, I've developed these rules for bulk shopping.

1) Skip the national brands: Sandler's purchases -- clearly visible in the photo -- consist of many name brand items. Unless there's a super cheap sale, I usually skip the name brands. Many so-called private label, store-brand or generic products are produced in the same factories as the big-ticket name-brand version. The only difference: you're not paying more for celebrity endorsements and national campaigns.

2. Buy large quanitites: I like Sandler's jumbo shopping binge. Save time, gas and money, by scooping up lots of products at one time.

3. Watch per-unit costs. Not every jumbo package represents the best deal. Sometimes a smaller package offers the biggest money-saving option. Do the math before stocking up on the jumbo bundles.



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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Holiday Stain Removal Kit

Our dog Scruffy danced on the rain on our balcony. He's a happy puppy and we're happy just watching him until we let him inside. His muddy paws leave prints on our grey carpet.

By trial and error, we've found an easy mud carpet removal tip: Wait, let it dry; then vacuum. When we immediately tried to wipe up the wet mud, our efforts were only counter-productive: The mud just seeps deeper into the carpet pile. After vacuuming, remove remaining dirt with a bit of clear packing tape.

This easy trick for mud removal is only one of a few holiday stain removal tips featured in a recent issue of Woman's World magazine.

Here are a few others:

1. Wine Stain on carpet: Pour a bit of cold water the stain. Apply a paste of three-parts baking soda/one part water to the stain. Let it dry and then vacuum up the dried paste and stain.

2. Lipstick marks on collars or shirts: Put a towel under the stain and then blot up the lipstick with a babywipe.

3. Cranberry stain on napkins: Get out a fresh lemon and a bit of salt. Squeeze fresh juice from the lemon onto the stain. Pour salt onto the stain. Rinse the napkin with cold water when the stain fades.

4. Gravy stains on tableloths and napkins: Lather up the fabric stain with shaving cream. Let the lather remain overnight. Next morning: Use a cold water rinse. Hint: the alcohol in shaving cream banishes the gravy stain.
Source: Woman's World



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Monday, November 27, 2006

Furniture Tips from the Shop Cop

I'm finally back after an extended bit of travel for a High School class reunion in New Jersey and a family Thanksgiving gathering in the Orlando area of Florida...In this post, I offer insights from an undercover shopper.

Educated in business school and groomed on the trading floor of a bank, Jennifer Litwin never planned to get into the furniture business. But after a few disastrous shopping trips for home furniture, Litwin took a furniture course at Sotheby's and changed her career. Known as the ''shop cop,'' Litwin, an author and a frequent national television guest, has great advice for shoppers during the holiday season. Litwin reviews furniture on behalf of Consumers Digest and has written a book called The Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever based on her undercover shopping research.

During a typical outing, Litwin has queried sales people about the difference between a $2,000 and $5,000 piece of furniture. She found that the sales staff at some of the top home-store chains provided answers that were either wrong or misleading. She was also troubled by deceptive product labels. In 2002, the U.S. government eased standards on how furniture could be labeled and manufactured. The United States also is importing more furniture from China and other foreign sources that operate with different production standards. As a result, Litwin has found products made from cheaper woods or particle board, but sporting labels of expensive woods such as cherry or oak.

Before you write the check or hand over your credit card, it's important to understand each store's written warranty and return policy. For example, Apple and Circuit City stores have a 14-day return policy for some merchandise. Pier One has set a Jan. 31 deadline for merchandise purchased after Oct. 29.

Crate and Barrel and Target have a 90-day cash back policy but will grant store credit after the initial period. There is no return deadline at Nordstrom and Costco.

Some stores charge re-stocking fees as high as 15 percent to 20 percent of the original purchase. Rooms to Go, for example, charges a 20 percent re-stocking fee, Litwin said. Re-stocking fees typically apply to furniture, bedding and electronic equipment. Stores have also become increasingly reluctant to accept bedding and jewelry as gift return items, Litwin said.



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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tip Tues: Alternative Uses For Cranberries

My Thanksgiving memories are stained with cranberry sauce. But beyond turkey platters and festive holiday meals, there are many alternative uses for cranberries. From home-made lip gloss to decorative touches, cranberries have multiple uses.

The Miami Skin Institute, for example, recommends cranberries for exfoliating the skin, according to the Nov. 20 issue of First magazine.

Here's a recipe for creating a lip gloss that will exfoliate dead skin from your lips:

1. Take 10 cranberries, 1 teaspoon of honey and 1 tablespoon of almond oil and put them in the microwave for two minutes.
2. Mash and stir up the mix
3. Cool down the mixture then use a fine sieve to strain the goop.
4. Pour the mixture into a small container.
5. Apply on lips as needed.

Here are other uses for cranberries:

1. Aromatherapy: Place cranberries around a burning candle in a bowl filled with water. This mixture is appealing to the eyes and the nose. Replace the berries after two weeks. Use common sense with the burning candle.

Source: First

2. Medicinal: Many alternative medical sources tout cranberry juice as an excellent treatment and/or prevention of urinary tract infections (UTI). Here's a link to a University of Pittsburgh report about cranberries and UTI.

3. Salad dressing. Whip up a 1/2 cup of cranberry sauce (jellied version) with 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of water.

4. Sandwich spread: Mix together two tablespoons of mayonnaise and three tablespons of cranberry sauce.

source: Woman's World 11/21/06

Here is a link to cranberry recipes from



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Monday, November 20, 2006

My Favorite Posts From Last Week

Here are a few of my favorite posts featured on other blogs last week.

Divorce to Financial Freedom has a cute piece about holiday shopping budgets, filled with excellent advice.

Wedding Excess (in honor of TomKat's nuptials) is on the agenda at Double Income No Kids.

All Financial Matters has an informative piece about organic food budgets, with throughtful replies from readers.



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Friday, November 17, 2006

My Stuffed Couch: A Thrift Store Find

After carrying a heavy, feather-stuffed couch to my apartment, the delivery men looked out our window and laughed when they spotted an ocean-front tower. The building was quite familiar. That’s because the furniture crew had recently picked up a couch from that ocean-front building and days later crew delivered the same couch to my home.

The previous owners — according to a second-hand account — bought the couch, were allergic to the feathers and promptly donated the item to the thrift store. Spotting the piece during a shopping trip, my husband Avi spent $200 for an almost-new couch that was perhaps worth thousands.

For my husband, an interior designer, thrift shopping is a passion and a profession. The walls of my home are decorated with second-hand paintings; our living space is lit by lamps from thrift stores and our chairs provide second-hand comfort.

Diverse Crowd of Shoppers

And we’re not alone. Driven by frugality, creativity or community spirit, the pool of thrift-store shoppers is as diverse as the furniture and knick-knacks stocked on store shelves.

Shoppers range “from interior designers to the indigent and everyone in between. They approach decorating with fun and generosity,” said Heather Klinker, founder of Grubstake, an organization and thrift store that supports underprivileged families, especially women and children.

The $18,000 Discount

Grubstake offers an unusual showroom of value. Past merchandise includes armoires, tables, sofas and chairs that sell for an average price of $150 to $200. On the higher end, recent sales included a black lacquered Roche-Bobois dining room table and chairs set, featuring inlaid wood base and a glass table top. Grubstake was selling the set for $2,000, which is far below the original $20,000 ticket price.

Deals for a Dollar

Prices drop still lower at the end of every month, when Klinker literally cleans house with a bargain sale. To make room for new donations, most items tables, lamps and other merchandise are priced at $1.

At many thrift stores, merchandise is often scooped up quickly by antique dealers and interior designers. Almost daily, professional shoppers begin their hunt early and are known to make purchases quickly after delivery trucks arrive with donated items, according to several thrift store managers in South Florida. (The merchandise is typically sold as antiques in a prettier setting and a higher price.)

“We have a lot of dealers who come here,” said Terry Mack, store manager of the Douglas Gardens Thrift Store in Miami. “Frequency is the key.”

Tips for Shoppers

To get the most mileage out of thrift stores, he recommends that consumers calculate any cost of reupholstering or refinishing second-hand furniture. It also helps to keep an open mind and to explore alternative uses and placements of furniture in the home.



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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Life Lesson from Joe Girardi, NL Manager of the Year

In money and life, vindication is sweet, but a long-term view is even better. That's the snapshot of Joe Girardi, National League Manager of the Year.

Girardi received that honor today from the Baseball Writers Association of America and it's a sweet tonic after he was rudely booted from his position by the cranky owners of the Florida Marlins. (Can you hear me booing management from Miami!!!)

The Florida Marlins did not believe Joe Girardi was the right person to continue as their manager after his performance in 2006. But the Baseball Writers Association of America felt that no one in the National League did a better job than Girardi and named him its manager of the year yesterday. Source: New York Times

In the face of a job loss, Girardi had a healthy outlook that applies to financial, professional and personal difficulties:

“We just move on, and there will be bigger and better things ahead of us,” Girardi said in a published report today.

Here's the link to the complete text of a New York Times sports article.



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Diva without Dollars: 10 Goofs from my 20s

An article about retirement and savings strategies for the 20-something crowd in the Wall Street Journal has made me think about mistakes I made when I was younger.

Here's my list of errors

1. Too many restaurant meals on credit

2. Waited too long to join my company's stock sharing plan. (The public shares had already spiked dramatically before I came on board.)

3. Too careless with credit cards and other debt.

4. Too many weekly hair and nail appointments.

5. Loans against my 401K account.

6. Not putting enough money in the 401k plan

7. Going to Paris & Florence when I was unemployed. (HA!)

8. Spending a book advance that never arrived. (I was a Dim Light in the Big City)

9. Too many hours in the Ann Taylor Loft.

10. Buying holiday presents for big bucks at the last minute.

This snippet of advice from the Wall Street Journal is excellent:


• Max out: Contribute enough to capture your employer's maximum matching contribution.
• Allocate: People in their 20s should generally have at least 70% of their account in stocks. You have a long time to save; don't fret about market volatility.
• Don't default: Avoid your plan's default option if it's a money-market or stable-value fund. The low returns won't serve you well over time. source: WSJ



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Web Pages That

Want to make more money on your site?

There's help: Web Pages That is the actual name of a website featured in a New York Times Article: How to make your web site sing.

Web Pages That Suck provides links to websites that are hard on the eye or the mind and the features include the "Daily Sucker." It is a very informative and entertaining site.
A site must have addictive content, said Vincent Flanders, a Web design consultant in the Seattle area who is the creator of, a site that analyzes why some pages do not work. “People must be willing to crawl through a sewer for it. --from the New York Times

Personally, when it comes to blogs, I am especially fond of the content and design of Millionaire Artist and Dumb Little Man. Those sites sing to me.

But I've also picked up a few pointers from the New York Times piece and the sucky website site.

1. The front page counts most.
The first screen view is important. In newspapers, it's called above the fold (that top half of the front page). Not everyone scrolls down to the lower half of the screen.
Studies by Mr. Nielsen’s company, the Nielsen Norman Group, an Internet design firm in Fremont, Calif., show that only 50 percent of Web visitors scroll down the screen to see what lies below the visible part on their PC monitor.--NYT

2. Grammar is important.

3. Get rid of unnecessary items: Too many bells and whistles can be a turnoff.

4. Avoid "Mystery Meat Navigation," which are links that don't tell the reader where they are going. Like this. (Hint: it's a link to an article about mystery meat links.)

5. Don't be long winded. And on that note. I'm signing off.

Here are other links to articles about blogging and money that I found helpful.

1.Blogging for customers from Forbes

2.40 ways to make money on the Internet from Dumb Little man

3.7 ways to make the most of your blog from Folksonomy, which was featured on



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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Imelda Marcos, Shoe Diva, Shops in Flea Markets and Gets a Job!!

Imelda Marcos has hit the flea market circuit and she's working for a living. The former diamond and shoe Diva Dictatoress has launched a new line of jewelry made from flea market finds and assorted cast-off materials, according to various news accounts.

She's also fashioned her accessory and jewelery line from her old clothes (vintage stuff!!) and newer items. Imelda -- the former first lady of the Phillippines -- uses "a glue gun, scissors or pliers," to create her pieces, according to her daughter.

"The Imelda Collection," will makes its debut on November 18. The initial designs do not feature shoes, but footwear may be in the future. And the prices range from $20 to $100. Hey maybe she'll make a line for Target, Kmart or Walmart.

Here are links to the ABC news feature about Imelda Marcus making jewelry from flea market finds and an AP story.



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Carnival of Real Estate Investing

The Landlord Blog has put together a helpful string of posts about the real estate market in the Carnival of Real Estate Investing.

The selection of articles includes tips for getting the greatest real estateinvestment bang from Craigs List, the value of investment mentors, and a post about insanity & the mortgage market.

I'm pleased to be included on that menu. Thank You Landlord Blog.




Congress Eyes More College Aid: WSJ

Led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, frontrunner for new House Speaker, the new Congressional leadership has made affordable college education as a top priority, according to a piece by Anne Marie Chaker in today's Wall Street Journal.

The agenda is likely to include: cuts in student loan rates, more aid for low-income families and a tuition tax credit for parents, including middle and upper-middle class wage earners.

Among the measures Democrats have proposed is halving the interest rate on some federal student loans, which could save students thousands of dollars over the term of their loans. Parents could benefit from a proposal to allow tax deductions for tuition paid by families earning up to $160,000 a year. And lower-income families could get added help from a possible expansion of the federal Pell Grant program. --WSJ

Here's the link to the complete article, which has some interesting points about how the program will be funded and what kind of bi-partisan support will exist.



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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Festival of Frugality with Cartoons!!!!

The latest Festival of Frugality is very festive. Experiments in Finance has put together a sharp-looking line-up, complete with cute cartoons, sub-divisions and editor's choice citations.

What a great read! I'm honored to be in the pack. Check out cheap dates, frugal hair cuts, New York City on a Budget and other great posts.

Congrats to Experiments in Finance for hosting such a great round.



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Can We Not Swap Gifts?

Is it possible to halt the holiday gift cycle with friends? and still be polite? and still keep your friends? Try these words: "The greatest gift we can give each other is the gift or our friendship. So let's just go out for coffee instead." That's a gift detour suggested by Mark Victor Hansen,(a Chicken Soup for the Soul co-author) in a recent issue of Woman's World.

Too often, we get caught in a cycle of giving-way-more than we can afford, Hansen said. It's tit-for-tat, presents-by-rote. Keep more of your money and keep your friends out of long merchandise-return lines. Consider thoughtful and frugal presents of time, an afternoon over hot lattes or other creative gifts.

My other favorite frugal gift ideas:

1) Make a scrapook for someone.
2) Fill a beautiful vase (from a thrift store) with pretty flowers.
3) Create a fun basket filled with favorite treats from dollar stores, clearance aisles of Marshall's/Ross/Target, gourmet stores or thrift stores (for unusual one-of-a-kind items.
4) Cook a special lunch.



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Tue. Tips: Empty Milk Carton Uses

In kindergarten, my class planted seeds in empty half-pint milk cartons. The plants -- I think they were lima beans -- have been composted back to the earth, but I remember the lesson even decades later: A lot can be done with empty milk cartons.

Here are a few ideas that I have collected from a variety of sources:

Woman's World (Nov. 21, 2006):

* Oil collector. Keep your kitchen drain free, by pouring grease, oil and other gunky food by-products into an empty milk cartons.

*Picnic ice-pack. Clean out an empty carton. Fill with clean water & freeze the cartons. Bring the frozen block along on your picnic or tailgating party. It's a good way to keep your food cool and when the water melts, you'll have instant cold drinking water.

Personal note: During Hurricane season, we stuff our freezer with containers filled with water. The same reasoning: The frozen blocks keep our freezer cool during power black-outs and the melting ice becomes a valuable source of drinking water.

* The pooper scooper: If you have a pet, you can imagine how a plastic milk jug can be used for this purpose. Hint: Remove the bottom and use the rest as a shovel.

Source: Woman's World

Frugal Japan has very creative uses for milk cartons, including a drawer organizer, disposable cutting board and a microwave baking container.

From Reader's Digest: instant bowling alley, portable ice packs.

Milk carton crafts for kids


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Monday, November 13, 2006

7 Foolish Financial Moves from WSJ

Life insurance for toddlers? Low insurance deductible for your car? Mindless investing of retirement funds? Those are a few of the "Seven Wonders of Financial Foolishness," by Jonathan Clements in Today's Wall Street Journal.

In the article Clements points out:

*Folly: Roughly 36 percent of workers take a pass on company retirement plans.

"To make matters worse, these employees are likely passing up free money. Many 401(k)s match employee contributions at a rate of, say, 50 cents on the $1. If you don't put in your $1, you don't get the free 50 cents from your employer." --WSJ

*Folly: Liquidating retirement accounts before age 60. My bad. Stupid move. Enuf said. Learn from my mistakes.

"Cashing out the account before age 59½. That not only takes a big chunk out of your nest egg, but also it triggers income taxes and usually a tax penalty as well." -- WSJ

*Folly: Low deductible on car or home insurance policy. That's one financial mistake that we have not made: Our old van has a very high deductible. Why pay for small-ticket dents that we can pay ourselves?

"There is no point in having low deductibles on your auto and homeowner's policies. If you put a $700 ding in your car, you can probably cover the cost fairly easily out of your own pocket, so there really isn't much point in paying an insurer to shoulder this risk." -- WSJ

Here's the link to the complete article.


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Nickel's Checks & My Cheap Check Bonus

Sometimes the checks really are in the mail. There are many frugal ways to order them. Even large discount retailers such as Costco, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club have check-printing services.

The variety of check-printing options came to my attention during a phone interview with ''Nickel,'' the author of Five Cent Nickel, ( a popular website. Nickel faced several obstacles when seeking new checks at a bargain.

That's how my latest column in the Miami Herald begins. I was inspired to write that column by this piece from FiveCentNickel. I had fun chatting with Nickel. (Nickel: Great interview!Thanks for taking the time.)

Here's my personal PS: I also lucked out in the check-ordering business. I initially read Nickel's post because I needed to order checks. I was down to the last few and was seeking out a frugal and safe way to order replacement checks. I was about to order from one of the big discount retailers mentioned by Five Cent Nickel.

But my order was pre-empted by my bank. They sent me a batch of free checks. Why? The bank was changing some in-house routing numbers to comply with a new system. The bonus for me: totally free checks, no shipping charges.



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Carnival of Personal Finance: Diverse Money Menu

Tap into the Hall of Fame of Financial mistakes, 101 Ways to Save Money, checkbooks and kids, Fools & Their Money and other stories. With a wrist-cracking load of 71 posts, A Geek's World hosts the 74th Edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance. Very impressive line-up!

The host has done an excellent job of sorting and commenting on a large field of entries, which includes a post from me. Kudos to A Geek's World & thanks for including my work!



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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Favorite Post-its: A Blog Roundup

News about the crashing condo market, songs about money, saving for medical emergencies and wasteful gift cards are a few of my favorite posts from other blogs this week.

The Housing Bubble has this terrific roundup about the crash in the condo/real estata market.

No Limits Ladies has a thoughtful item about money, a post-chemo party and the important things in life. Bottom Line: Save Money!

Single Ma has a great post about wasted gift cards. Very insightful information.

Every Second Paycheck has a fun item featuring Top 10 Songs about money10 songs about money including tracks from B.i.G, JLo, Kayne West's Gold Digger tune!


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Saturday, November 11, 2006

How to Recycle Gifts

Regifting! Many of us do it. Few of us own up to it. The problem is the word itself. To my ears, "regifting" sounds underhanded or dubious.

And there's nothing wrong with recycling gifts. If don't like knitting kits, but my neighbor Joannie is a big knitter, what's wrong with re-packaging the knitting kit from Aunt Ida and giving it to Joannie? Passing along the right gifts to the right owners is good karma and very frugal. Why should a perfectly good present turn to dust in my closet simply because it's found the wrong owner?

Recycled gifts are great for holidays, children's birthday parties and other events.

I have four rules for recycling gifts.

1. Be mindful. It's the thought that counts. Really. Mindless recycling is a waste of energy, time and materials. Take the time to really match the right gift to the right person.

2. Make sure the present is in good shape. If it's all dinged up and the package has become very un-gently worn, then I'll just give it to a thrift store.

3. Rewrap. Refreshen. Make the decorations your own before passing it on.

4. Keep Track! Don't give the gift back to the original giver.

Meanwhile, this MSN piece by MP Dunleavey features 12 great tips for "re-gifting" or whatever you want to call it.


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Friday, November 10, 2006

Saving Money with Muffins

Muffins have helped to thicken my waist and shrink my bank account. Hugh Chou, the calculator man, estimated that I have spent enough on muffins to buy a new desktop computer. Honestly, I want a new PC or laptop more than I want to eat gourmet muffins for $3 each.

So I've become a baker. (I want to have my cake and save it also!). This week, I baked 21 muffins for $4 using a Betty Crocker muffin mix. Two of my homemade muffins weigh about the same as the $3 muffins I typically buy from a wonderful cafe. I spent about 40 cents to make 2 muffins compared to buying one muffin for $3. (I've rounded up both sets of numbers for my busy brain). That equals a daily savings of roughly $2.60, $13 a week, $52 a month or $624 a year, before interest.

Plus there are other benefits of home-baked muffins:

1) fun activity with kids
2) nice smell in the house
3) fewer calories...because the muffins were smaller, I ate less.
4) warm, oven-baked chocolate chips

Here are links to my ongoing muffin saga:gourmet muffins and my frugal diet and the muffin update



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My Frugal Week Wrap-Up

Here is a short-round up of posts that have appeared on my blog this week

Funeral video highlights and other grief-inducing ripoffs

Vogue magazine's analysis of shoppers and savers: Getting inside the heads (and checkbooks) of hardcore shoppers.

Unusual uses for wax paper

Your time or your money: a Frugal Debate and Poll.

25-cent Deals for Halloween 2007!!!

Impulse purchase regrets from Dwyane Wade and others.



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WSJ: Condos Falter & Spark Lawsuits

In Southern Florida, it's been tempting to invest in condos. With low interest rates, the ocean breeze and a constant wave of visitors, condos seemed ripe for flipping. And for a long time, many investors and homeowners made tidy profits by trading in and out of homes. But recently, the condo market has been ailing in Southern Florida and other parts of the country.

I've heard that the latest trend in condo conversions is "reversions" in which condo buildings revert back into rental units, where there has been a real shortage of frugal or affordable units. (Many residents in Southern Florida have been turned out on the street, while their rentals were "converted" into upscale condos.)

Today's Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece about the condo market and the rash of lawsuits that have been filed in the real estate market.

With once-hot condominium markets across the country in sharp decline and many real-estate professionals predicting a further weakening, some developers are facing more than a glut of unsold inventory. Angry condo buyers from Boca Raton, Fla., to San Diego are taking them to court, alleging everything from breach of contract to fraud.

Some of the lawsuits claim that the amenities featured in glossy marketing brochures and model apartments never made it into the final product. Others involve much-hyped projects that went bust, leaving hundreds of buyers with contracts for condos that will never materialize. --WSJ



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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Big-Ticket Success with Small-Ticket Costs

Today's New York Times has a great feature about entrepreneurs who have taken a frugal path to creating big-ticket success on the Internet. The profile includes comments from the founder of Digg.

In the last couple of years, hundreds of other Internet start-up companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere have followed a similar trajectory. Unlike most companies formed during the first Internet boom, which were built on costly technology and marketing budgets, many of the current crop of Internet start-ups have gone from zero to 60 on a shoestring.--New York Times

Here's the link.



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Savers vs Shoppers: A Vogue Analysis

Why would someone spend $9,000-plus on a Carolina Herrera coat, but think twice about a $100 belt? Personally, I wouldn't spend $100 on a belt or $9,000 on a coat, but if you leave aside the numbers, Vogue magazine offers a thoughtful, and even frugal debate, about the emotional side of spending in the November issue.

"There's much more to shopping than pure, hard economics. We purchase things even when we know we shouldn't. We spend small fortunes on shoes but buy our dresses only after they've gone on sale," writes Jane Herman, author of the article: The Psychology of Spending.

There are a few basic spenders and savers, according to the Vogue profile.

"The Basics Junkies": These shoppers are addicted to basic items: For example, they'll stock up (and spend a fortune) on tee shirts with 10 or so in the same color or style, but the Basiss Junkies refuse to spend a lot for a special piece of clothing.
nickname: "Repeat Offenders"
Frugal Duchess Comment: Stocking up on wardrobe basics is a good thing. But how many black tee shirts do you really need?

"Cost-Per-Wear" shoppers: These shop-for-quality shoppers crunch the numbers to justify big-ticket purchases. For example: a $300 garment costs only $30 per wear if you wear it ten times.
"I prefer to buy things that I feel I'll wear forever," said one shopper.
nickname: Calculators
Frugal Duchess comment: I buy quality gaments but I think my cost-per-wear must be around $

The Multiple-Use Shopper: One shopper only buys items that have the "highest potential" for matching other garments from her wardrobe.
Nickname: Preview Shopper
Frugal Duchess comment: I use this strategy.

Other Shopping Profiles

Cash Only: One New York Fashion editor only buys impulse items if she has enough cash in her wallet to cover the purchase (no credit, no debit charges!)

Recycle: One bi-coastal decorator will only buy a new piece of clothing, if she "revives" an older piece from her wardrobe by wearing it several times.

Resale: Some shoppers buy new clothes only after selling older clothes through a consignment shop.

Vacation Splurgers: "I'm in Paris, and what's $2,000 for a souvenir, I'll actually treasure forever?"

Frugal Duchess comment: I'd use the $2,000 to bankroll another trip or to save the money in an emergency fund.


The Frugal Duchess Boutique

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Buried Under Cash: Funeral Video Highlights

This was your life? That's the new twist in funerals: DVD Highlights & The Final Clip! I smell a scam or at least another effort to take advantage of people at vulnerable moments.

The Scenario: A friend of mine recently went to a funeral and was surprised by the eulogy, which included a video clip of the deceased, who was actually cremated.

The highlight film: Admittedly, it was a very lovely tribute to the deceased person, with photos, videos, narration and music. It was sort of like the types of videos played at anniversaries, weddings and other big tribute events.

The Funeral Cost: $6,000, including the video ($1,000-plus)

My Friend's Assessment: "It was a nice video, but the family could have made it for themselves for a lot less." The family also faced pressure to buy an expensive urn and other perks that lifted the price of the funeral so high.

Some undertakers and funeral homes place a lot of pressure on bereaved families to spend heavily on caskets, urns and now videos to create beautiful tributes for the deceased. That's the observation, from a savvy friend of mine, who recently attended a funeral service.

The unspoken pitch: The amount of cash you spend equals the amount of love in your heart.

How great is the pressure:

At another funeral, my friend overheard this conversation in which a member of the bereaved family had voted against an inexpensive coffin because it "would pinch" the deceased.

Actually, the grief of the has been pinched.



The Frugal Duchess Boutique

Tues. Tips: Wax Paper Memories & Other Uses

I remember sandwiches filled with lunch meat or peanut butter & jelly, then wrapped into wax paper and tucked into a tin-note Barbie lunchbox. Wax paper --popular for lunches before sandwiches were ziplocked -- makes me feel nostalgic.

Wax paper has other uses: Instant book covers for school. (Use bright stickers to make the covers more festive.) Wax paper is also great for lining shelves in cupboards or refrigerators. Wax paper will quickly line bureau drawers when you travel. I must be weird, but I don't always like tucking my clothes into some hotel bureau drawers or shelves. But enough of my phobias:

Here are other uses I've collected for wax paper from Reader's Digest.

Perfect Cake Decorating: Create your iced lettering and designs on wax paper (cut into the same size as your cake). Freeze the wax paper for 30 minutes. Next pry and slide the hardened letters and decoration onto the cake.

Other uses for wax paper: instant funnel, quick kitchen clean-up tool, easy bottle uncorker, anti-rust tool and other uses. Here's a link to the complete wax paper list from Reader's Digest.

Meanwhile, the Nov. 14 2006 issue of Woman's World offers these Wax Paper Tips:

*Candle Storage: Tuck candles away in wax paper to prevent scuffs and wear during storage.

*Help for Wet Books: Insert pieces of wax paper between wet pages. This should keep the pages from sticking together while the book dries out.

*Easy Shower Glide: Rub a bit of wax paper on the rod that holds up the shower curtain. This trick will make the curtain glide open and close.
--Source Woman's World.

And of course, as a little girl, I pressed autumn leaves between wax paper sheets. I think I have a lot of memories wrapped in wax paper.


The Frugal Duchess Boutique

Monday, November 06, 2006

What Impulse Purchases Do You Regret?

We all make impulse purchases that we later regret. You know the drill: Buy now; whine later.

Two Miami Heat basketball players, for example, griped about their bad buys in a Miami Herald article that posed the question: "Have you made any impulse buys you regret?

For example, Miami Heat Forward Udonis Haslem has White Sofa Regrets:

"It's a real nice couch, real expensive couch, but it's white. It's like white leather, so if you wear blue jeans on it, sometimes the blue rubs off on the couch. It's very disappointing that I can't even really sit on it when I spent so much money on it." --Udonis Haslem, Miami Herald Nov. 5

Outcome: He's going to give the White Couch away to someone in his family.

Dwyane Wade --MVP of the 2005 NBA Finals --regrets buying a large gold charm featuring a design built around his Jersey number and his initials: DW3, according to the Miami Herald article.

"At the time I thought it was the hottest design.I wore it a couple of times.Then after a while, I didn't like the design anymore. I didn't even really understand what it was after a while.
I was like: "Man, I've got to get rid of this."

I regret: The Pink Isaac Mizrahi skirt from Target
Price: $9 (on sale)
Problem: So cute, but it was: Too big, Too pink for me. I looked a crazy ballerina in an oversized tutu.
Solution: I gave it away

I regret: The black skirt from Anthropologie
Price: $10 reduced from $100
Problem: I let a saleswoman tell me that the skirt was supposed to drop so low on my hips. I let myself be deceived because it was a such good deal. Not!
My husband says: Why did you buy a skirt that was too big. (I'm a size 2; the skirt was a size 6/8)
Solution: I returned the skirt.


The Frugal Duchess Boutique

Shop for Halloween Now: 25-Cent Deals

Last night we went to Target for food and strayed off into the clearance aisles, where Halloween candy, costumes, decorations. etc. are now 75 percent off.

Even if you don't celebrate Halloween, the costumes and trinkets are great for birthday parties and other family events. Or if you do celebrate Halloween, stock up now for Halloween 2007.

Here's what we found:

0range & Black mugs: original price: $1 clearance markdown: 25 cents

Angel Costumes: (Really fancy,with gold wings for my daughter to wear on Purim, a Jewish holiday celebrated with costumes) original price: $20 sale price: $5.00

Pet Costume: Yoda (for our dog...don't ask: the kids pleaded; we gave in. ) original price: $10 sale price: $2.50

There are also decorations (great for a haunted house birthday party theme for kids), paper goods (buy either orange or black & use the items for non-Halloween parties) and cheap, cheap candy for goodie bags.

I heard that the post-seasonal prices at Target usually go down to 90 percent off by Mid-November. But the Halloween stuff is already getting pretty picked over.

That's the deal at Target, I imagine that Kmart, Wal-Mart and the other big boxes are also having aggressive post-Halloween sales.


The Frugal Duchess Boutique

Your Money or Your Time: A Frugal Debate

About 10 days ago, I requested help for a newspaper story about saving money or saving time. Here's the article that appeared in the Miami Herald.

In the tug-of-war between time and money, sometimes convenience wins out. And more importantly, sometimes costly shortcuts save money in the long run.

For example, I'm more likely to make a money-saving homemade pizza when I have a stock of pre-shredded mozzarella cheese on hand. My justification: Shredded cheese is more expensive than a block of cheese, but ultimately, I save more money by making my own pie.

Time pressures prompt many families and singles to eat out. But in that scenario, spending $6 to $10 for frozen dinners for a family of four ($1.50 to $2.50 per person) is cheaper than spending $40 at a restaurant, according to Terri Gault, founder of The an online shopping and coupon service.

It's a case-by-case judgment call, according to a recent Internet-based survey I created through ''How do you balance cost versus convenience,'' I asked bloggers and readers. An overwhelming majority (82 percent) of participants in my unscientific poll ''strike a balance'' between saving time and saving money.

Nine percent are willing to walk an extra mile to save a few bucks. But an equal amount of the respondents pay little attention to price tags during a time crunch.

''It's a constant battle. There are certainly times when everything goes out the window and anything that offers convenience at any price is worth it,'' wrote a personal finance blogger named 2million. ``I find balance by going the extra mile to save money as a normal practice. I don't even consider the convenience factor unless I'm in crisis mode.''

It's important to know the real-world value of your time, ''Rich Slick'' said. For example, he refuses to mow his own lawn. He feels his time is better spent earning money or playing with his kids.

''It would take me about two hours [on Saturday] to mow my lawn, trim the edges, pick up the grass/leaves and toss them in a bag. Two hours of my time equals $150. I can pay a lawn service company to do the exact same job (even better than I could do it) for $25. If on the other hand, I made $10/hour, then I'd probably mow the lawn myself,'' Rich Slick wrote.

Blogger Simplicity in Kansas says last-minute shopping for presents and other events can create a financial crunch. He avoids costly deadline spending by careful planning.

''I have found a little planning and patience, (waiting for sales), usually ends up saving me money. Keeping an active list of items I am looking for allows me to shop over time and find the best deal,'' Simplicity in Kansas wrote. For one-time, small-ticket savings of less than $10, the author of the popular website 1st Million at 33 ( opts for convenience. ''The higher the dollar amount, the more time I will take to decide and comparison-shop,'' the author wrote.

There were other great posts in the comment section.

From my email box:


The rational choice is to simply figure out the additional cost of convenience, usually in terms of higher price, versus the benefit. This works well for me most of the time. But we have to deal with the powerful force of emotions as well. If something really bothers you or makes you happy you might not be able to easily measure the impact that it has on your life.

A case in point for me is soda. I like diet soda. It is ridiculously expensive at fast-food joints and I could save a dollar a soda easily by pouring one at home in less than 20 seconds. That works out to $120 dollars an hour which is by most measures a great return, but I buy the fast-food sodas anyway. Why? I like the fountain experience. I like the ease. It is worth it for me even though a rational analysis would say “don’t do it”.



Sunday, November 05, 2006

Favorite Post-its: Weekly Picks from Other Blogs

Here are a few of some of my favorite posts from other blogs:

The Simple Dollar has a great item about contacting companies about flawed products.

The Real Estate Bloggers has an interesting article about real estate prices and politics.

I enjoyed Blunt Money's piece about Free online courses from MIT, Yale and other schools.

Tired But Happy has a thoughtful post about Holiday shopping and budgeting plans. I like the tips!

Millionaire Artist has a thoughtful posts about budgeting, surprise money and planning. There are lots of thoughtful comments as well.

The Budget Fashionista has a fun piece about cute fashions at Wal-Mart for less than $20.

Dumb Little Man has a super post about blog featues that suggest no one is reading your blog. Great suggestions.


Friday, November 03, 2006

55 Ways to Zap Student Loan Debt

Debt Consolidation Lowdown has a great list featuring 55 ways to slice your student debt.

Tips include:
Contact your rich uncle. Don’t have one? Don’t worry. Just get onto the website MyRichUncle, which provides money from private investors to college students who need help with education expenses. In return, you have to agree to pay a fixed percentage of your gross future income for a fixed period

Other tips include:
Start looking early for extra credit. For instance, taking Advanced Placement classes in high school can earn you college credit and community colleges are a great place to get a head start on credits before going to a four-year university, where the cost per credit hour is much higher.

Check out the other 53 tips.



55 Ways to Zap Student Loan

Debt Consolidation Lowdown has a great list featuring 55 ways to slice your student debt.

Tips include:
Contact your rich uncle. Don’t have one? Don’t worry. Just get onto the website MyRichUncle, which provides money from private investors to college students who need help with education expenses. In return, you have to agree to pay a fixed percentage of your gross future income for a fixed period

Other tips include:
Start looking early for extra credit. For instance, taking Advanced Placement classes in high school can earn you college credit and community colleges are a great place to get a head start on credits before going to a four-year university, where the cost per credit hour is much higher.

Check out the other 53 tips.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

How I Get Cable Shows For Free

We are unplugged from traditional network and cable TV, but I've found a limited way to watch some of our favorite news and sports shows without paying more.

Background: In my home, the television sets are basically monitors for DVDs and videos that we get from the library or rentals.

Problem: Occasionally, my children miss standard and cable TV, which they view only at their friends' homes or when we're on vacation. I miss sports: I've become a major sports fan and I would love to watch the NBA Direct channel, NFL direct or ESPN.

Solution: My kids like the Disney channel and we've found a frugal way to watch some of their favorite shows. Through the Internet, lets you download and watch (almost) the complete lineup of shows, including That's So Raven, Kim Possible, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and other programs. A limited amount of episodes are available for each show, but the rotation is current and updated regularly.

For example, before Halloween, my kids watched Halloween episodes of That's So Raven and The Proud Family. Really cute & with limited commercials (roughly 22 minutes of viewing). Here's the link to Disney Channel on Demand:

Likewise, through, I watch highlights of all of my favorite NBA games, plus the pre-game and post-game interviews with coaches and stars. also had great clips of the 10 best plays of the week, etc. The menu also includes the NBA weekly wrap-up, which is a full length talkshow, analysis and highlight program.

At, there are several of full length shows that you can watch for free. The menu includes: CSI Miami, CSI New York, How I Met Your Mother and Survivor. There are other options, including the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

I like TV-on-Demand, especially when it's free and on my timetable. And don't even get me started on

401k Loans and 9 Other Costly Mistakes

Are you thinking about borrowing from your 401k plan to help you ride through a rough patch? I've done it and it was not a good idea.

Sure, you pay yourself back, plus interest, but the loan interest rarely matches the investment performance of the 401k plan. And there are other arguments: administrative loan fees and the double-dipping repayment schedule: OUCH!

Borrowing from a 401K plan is just one of the 10 mistakes listed by from this feature on MSN.

The list of don'ts includes: home equity loans, saving money in your kid's name and falling for store-branded credit card gimmicks, such as shopping discounts for opening new accounts.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sluggish Home Sales But Lots of Burgers to Go

The recent spate of financial news paints a dim view of the global economy. But despite the trouble spots, large orders of fast food are taking a bite out of family budgets and a lot of stuff is being purchased on credit.

The evidence: Corporate earnings were robust at Burger King and MasterCard. Here's a quick digest of major financial news, with short pull out quotes.

This market story from Reuters targets a drop in stock prices based on concerns about a possible slowdown in economic growth.

"Stocks are now worried about growth going too slow. They should be thinking that way," said Robert MacIntosh, chief economist at Eaton Vance Management in Boston. "Anecdotally I am reading about all these problems with auto companies and seeing unsold homes -- add it all up and things are quite bad.-- From Reuters"

But somebody is chewing on lots of Burgers. Profits were hot on the grill at Burger King, according to

Burger King Holdings (BKC) on Nov. 1 announced a whopping 82% surge in quarterly profit and 7% gain in revenue, boosted amid factors such as tax changes and growing reported on the 82 percent hike in profits from MasterCard.

MasterCard Inc. (MA: chart), owner of the nation''s second-largest credit card brand, reported 82% profit jump in Q3, due to an improved revenue and a higher number of purchases worldwide.

Frugal Sports Quote: Ben Wallace & The Bulls.

"I wanted to pass like Magic, jump like Mike, shoot like Bird and cover the ball like Zeke," says Ben Wallace. "But none of that worked out so I decided to play defense and rebound." --GQ November 2006 issue

As an avid Miami Heat fan, I'm bummed about the World Champions 42-point loss to the Chicago Bulls.

Led by D-Wade and Shaq, The Heat seem to play hard only for the post-season run, while coasting in the 82-game regular season. But I have to give props to the Baby Bulls. They showed up to play at AAA (American Airlines Arena) during the 2006 NBA season opener.

Meanwhile, Ben Wallace -- formerly a center from the Detroit Pistons -- wins my award for the most re-invented sports figure.

Once again, here's that Ben Wallace quote from the November issue of GQ magz.

"I wanted to pass like Magic, jump like Mike, shoot like Bird and cover the ball like Zeke," says Ben Wallace. "But none of that worked out so I decided to play defense and rebound." --CQ November 6 issue

My frugal/personal finance/business application: Be real about your limitations and strengths. Take an honest inventory of your assets and adjust your spending and strategy. Focus on the bottom line.

In Rule #1, the best-selling book about investments, the author makes the same point:
Invest your money based on what you know. Play to your strengths.

My Editorial Policy

I've always admired the disclaimer and editorial policies posted on Flexo's I used that as a model for this policy posted today on my blog. I've featured this policy in a box at the bottom of my blog and a short disclaimer: (I'm not a financial, health or beauty expert) in the sidebar.

Here's one of my disclaimers:

This website maintains an intellectual firewall between editorial copy (my posts) and the ads on this site, including the sponsored links. All posts and articles are independent of the advertisements.

In keeping with a policy of editorial independence:

1) There are no Posts-for-Pay articles on this site.

2) None of the written articles, including book reviews or media releases are paid placements.

3) As a freelancer for various magazines and newspapers, I have contracts with different organizations. Those contracts are also independent of my blogging activities and I'm not paid to mention any magazine, newspaper or media outlet.

Bargain Scouts: Ashlee Simpson, Rachel Bilson & Kristen Bell

Welcome to the Wednesday Frugal Celebrity Watch!

To help with research, my eagle-eye son spotted a shot of OC star Rachel Bilson in People magazine sporting a knit cap from Target. Very cute. I can't track down a link to the shot of her in the hat, but here's the link of Rachel Bilson shopping in Target from

What's interesting is that the other celebs in the People fashion spotlight were wearing knit hats that were much more expensive than the Target cap.

How good are the deals at Target? We have a new Target in my resort-style neighborhood, which is otherwise pretty devoid of real people shopping outlets. At Target, we purchased four bags of groceries for $24.11. One of the best deals: Vitamin Water for $1.39 at Target ($1) on sale, compared to $1.99 at a nearby Walgreens. (Vitamin Water is just an occasional splurge!)

But what's up with all the Celebs & Target? Are they paid to shop there? Here's a People Online snippet about bargain-hunting stars, including Kristin Bell in a $45 dress from Target and Ashlee Simpson in a dress from Urban Outfitter. (The price of the Simpson dress was $109; I would have waited for a sale!)

Here's a quote from the People article:

Stars Like Bargains, Too!

We love a bargain and obviously look forward to everything new at Target. And now we know that we have that in common with Veronica Mars star Kristen Bell (left). She attended a hotel opening in San Diego on Monday wearing a brand-new Behnaz Sarafpour for Target strapless dress that is only $45! She's not the only celeb shopping "off the rack!" We always covet Ashlee Simpson's style, but this time, we can afford it! After her last performance in Chicago she was spotted wearing an adorable Free People cord dress. It is $109 and looks cute with tights, leggings, or even over jeans (although maybe forgoing pants is the real moneysaver!). Bargain shopping is a trend we can always feel good about!

Welcome to 1st Million at 33 Readers

Thanks to Frugal at for providing me with a guest soap box at his blog. As a blogger, 1st Million at 33 provides a smart overview of the investment world with a few side trips into other areas.

Here are a few of my favorite posts from 1st million at 33.

This week he hosts the Carnival of Investing. Lots of informative pieces, especially the following posts: Social security is a Ponzi Scheme, Fine Art as an Investment Class, and Real Estate Investing 101. Check out the Carnival!

Other favorite 1st Million at 33 posts:

Effective Budgeting
Do you Carpool?
Two Must-Do Money Saving Tips

Frugal at 1st Million also appeared on my blog with a recent Friday Spotlight piece about Business Lessons from My Father.

And on the topic of Dads and Money, I also posted this piece about 10 lessons from a Millionaire Dad.

Meg's Rules: Buyout Tips from eBay CEO

Meg Whitman, chairman and CEO of eBay, ranked the most powerful woman in business in a Nov. 2005 ranking from Fortune magazine. "The Empress of eBay," operates with a three acquisiton rules for big-ticket corporate buyouts, such as the $2.6 billion move to purchase Skype and the purchae of several other $1 billion-plus companies.

Those rules, however, are applicable to my small-ticket purchases. Here's a rundown of "Meg's Rules," based on a profile from Fortune.

1. Look for Synergy:

In corporate deals: Target buyouts that fit with the rest of the operations.

In personal life: Buy clothes, furniture, trinkets & gadgets that are compatible with other items I own.

For second income: Make extra bucks in business opportunities or select freelance writing assignments that match or feed off my basic skills.

2. Does the acquistion target work as a "standalone business?"

In corporate deals: Every buyout should be a viable and attractive business on its own.

In personal life: Does the garment, computer, sofa or whatever work as a single piece? Do I have to buy more stuff to make a new purchase work? If I have to spend more to make a new purchase work: let it go.

For second income: Is this a hobby or a business? Is the reward worth the investment of my time or energy?

3. Examine the Corporate Fit

In corporate deals: Does the culture of the acquired company match the business philosophy of the parent company? Are both companies on the same page?

In personal life: Is this purchase, investment or business consistent with my core values? Am I mindlessly living and spending?

For second income: Is my heart in it? Does this part-time job really fit in with my life style and home life? Do I need to earn more money or should I just cut back on spending?

A little while ago, I posted a piece about selling your soul for money.

And on the subject of high-powered women, No Limits Ladies featured an interesting post about Oprah, wealth and plans.

I also enjoyed this piece about from Forbes magazine about Ebay. Here's a snippet of the article:

Just 11 years old, the online auctioneer makes piles of money--$339 million on $1.4 billion in sales in the third quarter--by charging sellers fees for posting merchandise online and by taking a cut of the final transaction. According to ACNielsen International Research, more than 724,000 Americans say eBay is their primary or secondary source of income. Millions more sell stuff there from time to time.