Monday, June 30, 2008

Saving 10 Cents at the Grocery Store

It wasn't a big deal and I'm not going to get rich by saving dimes or brown bags. But I save at least 10 cents with every trip to an area grocery store (Whole Foods Market) that provides instant rebates when you recycle grocery bags.

Here's the deal: When you bring in your own shopping bags, you'll receive a 10-cent rebate for each bag that is used to package your groceries.
This BYOB policy applies to any bag, including the store's own brown paper bags or reusable cloth sacks. For my shopping trips, I have a rotating supply of brown paper bags and on a typical shopping trip, I earn rebates of 10 to 30 cents.

Those small amounts have made a big difference on two occasions, when my grocery bill was pennies above the cash in my hand. In the long run, every little bit counts, especially when it comes to the environment and my pocketbook.


Here's how to buy my new book:


Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Favorite Posts: Weekly Roundup

From toilet paper to cheap gas, there was a lot to read in the world of personal finance. Here are a few posts that caught my eye during the past week:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Survey Says: $5 Gas by Labor Day

This news release about spiking gas prices --$5 by Labor Day-- caught my attention. Why? In January this organization correctly predicted that gas prices would spike to $4 a gas by the summer season:

"Most Americans now expect gasoline prices to hit $5 by Labor Day and favor bold energy- and climate-related fixes, according to a new national opinion survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) for the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (CSI) think tank and its Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) project (

In another finding, energy prices have jumped substantially since January 2008 as the top worry of Americans – ahead of fears of joblessness, recession/economic downturn, and the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

For the first time, the CSI survey finds that a majority of Americans are now more likely to buy a hybrid or other fuel-efficient vehicle than they were six months ago.

The new CSI/CLEAN survey looks ahead to expectations about Labor Day 2008, gauges the level of anger among Americans about today’s gasoline prices, and assesses how gas prices/energy policy will impact the thinking of voters this year.

In an earlier January 2008 ORC survey conducted for CSI/CLEAN, 71 percent of Americans correctly forecast that gasoline prices would hit $4 by this summer."


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Excuse me, May I Sit Next to You? 6 Tips for Traveling on a Crowded Bus or Train

For years I've traveled around Miami using public transportation. And until a few weeks ago, many people -- including a few friends -- thought I was odd to navigate without a car. That's because in car-crazy Miami, public transportation was reserved for the homeless, the disenfranchised and former New Yorkers like me.

And for the last 14 years, I've traveled comfortably on the buses and trains routed through South Florida. I've commuted in style, with very little company. During a typical commute, I could move to a different seat at each stop and never bump into anyone.

That's changed. With gas prices spiking beyond $4 a gallon, I now have a lot of company on local trains. Here's a local story about the huge growth in ridership on a commuter train in South Florida.

I'm grateful for the company, and I offer these tips for novice riders on public transportation:

  • 1. Bring reading material. Get extra mileage out of your commute by bringing a book, a magazine or some other text that can be easily folded. Think compact.

  • 2. Keep the laptop in its case. A bus stop or a train seat is not the best place to whip out high-tech, big-ticket gadgets. Don't make yourself a tempting target.

  • 3. Ask about discount plans. Some companies subsidize monthly passes for employees who travel on public transportation. Transit systems also offer a variety of discount programs. Ask!

  • 4. Go audio: Bring along recorded music, books on tapes, language lessons or recorded self-help classes. Learn as you go!

  • 5. Be patient: Buses break down; trains get derailed. Leave enough time for mishaps and then just let go and sit back. Getting uptight about delays will not make the train or bus move faster.

And finally: # 6. Know your timetables. Research routes and schedules. It's a real bummer to arrive at the bus stop or train station two minutes after the vehicle has pulled out. You'll save time and (personal) energy by doing your homework. Many public transit systems offer free trip-planning services -- via phone or online -- that will help you map out your commute. Inquire about printed schedules and maps.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Contest -- Wanted: Crazy Gas Stories for WLRN Radio Broadcast

Do you have a crazy gas story to share? How are you cutting back on gas consumption? The top three energy-saving stories will win a signed copy of my new book The Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save, which was just released from DPL Press.

I'll announce the winning entries on WLRN, an NPR station, where I have been invited me to appear on Topical Currents on Wednesday, June 25 from 1-2 p.m. (EST). Hosted by Joseph Cooper, with Richard Ives as the producer, the program includes live phone calls and email questions. We'll also take a behind-the-scenes tour of my new book, which is part memoir and part how-to.

To enter the contest, send me an e-mail by 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24. I'll announce the winning entries on Topical Currents. I'm looking for creative stories with humor and concrete savings.

Tune in anywhere: Hit the "listen now" button on WLRN's website ( If you're in the Miami area turn the station to 91.3 FM on the radio dial.

Leave a comment or send an email ( Time permitting, I'll mention as many tips as possible, with credit. Thanks & Tune in.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Free WiFi Comments on CBS4

With my roaming laptop, I've tapped into a number of free WiFi locations. My favorite temporary-office locations include the Dunkin Donuts shop in my neighborhood, a Whole Foods grocery store in Coral Gables, area malls and airports. The following website -- -- is great for tracking down free wireless connections in different states and cities.

My hunt for free wireless Internet connections was recently featured on CBS4 in Miami. This television report -- with a few warnings about Internet safety -- ran on June 21.

Here's a link to the report, which includes a print version and an online link to the news report. The news clip appears in the little video box next to the print version story. Click on the box, and the story will appear after a short 15-second commercial:

"Free Wi-Fi Just A Click Away CBS 4 - Miami,FL"

I'm grateful to consumer reporter Al Sunshine for including me in his news report. Special thanks to Donna Thomas, special projects producer, and John DuMontelle, news photographer. Thanks!

The Gas Pump Edition - Weekly Reading - My Favorite Links

The rise in gas prices and solutions to the pump-driven cash crunch are the themes of my latest weekly roundup. Here are a few posts on the subject of gas prices that caught my eye:

From Single Ma's Fabulous Financials: Rising Gas Prices Make Me Consider Crazy Things

From Boston Gal's Open Wallet: House hunting in the age of $4 gas

From Finabguide's Personal Finance Blog: Filled up for $9.

From Fund My Mutual Fund: The Slow Death of Suburbs?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Free Books & Entertainment: Meet Me on CBS4

I've been offline for a few days, but here's a link to a local CBS report about free entertainment & book options from the CBS4 team in Miami. The WFOR-TV report --featuring consumer reporter Al Sunshine -- includes me. A special welcome to CBS4 viewers who are visiting my blog.

Here's a snippet of the online print version:

"4 Your Money: Cheap Books & Movies

The Frugal Duchess Looks For Bargains MIAMI (CBS4) ― A good book or video can be a great summer pastime, but paying full price at the store can put a dent in your wallet. CBS4 consumer reporter Al Sunshine says there are some low cost, and even some free ways, to stay entertained. "

Here's a link to full story, which includes a link to the actual video ( in the box next to the text)

I'm grateful to Al Sunshine for including me. Special thanks to Donna Thomas, special projects producer, and John DuMontelle, news photographer. Thanks!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Selling the Car, Jewelry & Other Stuff to Raise Cash

When our family car broke down and was beyond repair, we found an unexpected source of cash. Instead of paying to have our car towed away, a towing company paid us $250 for the car to resell as auto parts.

Various companies buy undrivable cars; check the Yellow Pages under ''Towing Companies'' or check online for lists of those that buy junk cars.
Much of the unwanted stuff in our garages, closets and storerooms also can be converted into cash.

Old electronics: Cameras, cellphones and other gadgets may have value on eBay and other online markets. Even if gadgets are broken, some parts and mechanisms are useful to dealers who repair or refurbish equipment. Just clearly state the age and defects of the products you're selling.

Gift cards: You can swap or sell unused gift cards at, and

Exercise equipment: If stationary bicycles and other sports equipment are sitting unused, sell them.

Scrap metal and gold: There's a market for the metals in gold jewelry and even old appliances. Look online or in phone books for scrap metal or junkyard dealers in your area. Gold jewelry can be sold at pawn shops and jewelry stores or through classified ads and various online sites. Shop around for the best offers. Inquire about pickup services for scrap metal items.

Old books: Textbooks, novels and other texts can be sold online through, eBay and other vendors. Bookstores that sell secondhand books typically accept books in exchange for either credit or cash. If you have a really old book or first edition, check online to see how much sellers are asking for the specific books that you own.

Clothing and accessories: Sell garments at consignment stores, which will take a percentage when your merchandise is sold. Children's clothing and toys are especially popular at consignment stores and online.

This is from my latest column in the Miami Herald.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Weekly Reading: My Favorite Links

Happy Father's Day: The following items caught my eye this week:

From Frugal Freedom: Another Month Closer To Financial Freedom

From The Simple Dollar: How We Organize Our Coupons and Execute Our Coupon Strategy

From The Digerati Life: Increase the Value of Your Home With a Few Simple, Affordable Changes

From SingleGuyMoney: My New Financial Plan

From Mrs. Micah: Finance for a Freelance Life: How My Mother Gives to Charity


Friday, June 13, 2008

Saving Money & Energy Around The Home: Tips From Appliance Makers

This news release from The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers offers great money-saving tips:

"Looking for ways to save money? Look no further than your kitchen. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) offers these simple energy savings tips to consumers looking for ways to cut energy bills this summer.

Refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes washers combined account for a 43% decrease in energy consumption since 2000. Replacing an eight-year old refrigerator, dishwasher and clothes washer with new appliances of average efficiency will save consumers about $95 per year in energy bills.

Replacing an eight-year-old clothes washer will save more than $60 in electricity costs and nearly 5,000 gallons of water per year. Additional savings can be obtained by purchasing Energy Star appliances.

Energy savings can also be obtained by following these easy tips:

· If you are replacing your refrigerator, do not use the old refrigerator as a second refrigerator. This will not yield energy savings. Properly recycle the appliance. To find recycling options in your area, call 1-800-YES-1-CAN.

· Allow hot foods to cool before placing them in the refrigerator; and always cover foods that may release moisture in the refrigerator.

· Limit opening the refrigerator and freezer doors. Label foods or use clear food storage bags to easily identify foods.

· Scrape, but do not pre-rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Dishwashers do a great job of cleaning soiled dishes.

· Take advantage of your dishwasher’s “eco” option that reduces water use, or use a no-heat air dry feature.

· Use load size settings- if you are washing a small load of clothing, be sure to change the load setting. Use cold water settings whenever possible.

· Always clean the lint filter on the clothes dryer after each use. A clogged filter will reduce dryer performance.

More information on energy savings can be found on AHAM’s web site"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kiplinger’s: Increase Your Social Security Benefits by $12,000

"Is it really possible to boost your Social Security benefits by as much as $12,000 a year? You bet—but even your local Social Security office may not be familiar with it. The July issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance reveals legal little-known strategies to increase your retirement income:

1. A “Sweet Deal.” Take advantage of an obscure option allowing you to halt your current Social Security benefits, pay back all you have collected interest-free, and restart your benefits at a new, higher rate based on your current age. Your new monthly paycheck could be 75% larger than your previous benefit. First step? File Form 521 (available at Don't be surprised that you have never heard of it. Out of the 32 million retirees collecting Social Security, only 71 people who had reached their normal retirement age or older took advantage of the option this fiscal year.

2. Tactics for Couples.

• When One Spouse Has Higher Earning Power. Under the Senior Citizens Freedom to Work Act of 2000, the higher-earning spouse (usually the husband) can file for HIS benefits, allowing his wife to collect her share of SPOUSAL benefits, and then suspend his own benefits while continuing to work, building a bigger payment for the future.

• When Couples Have Similar Incomes. Once you reach your normal retirement age, you can apply just for spousal benefits based on your husband's or wife's earnings record and delay the start of your own, higher Social Security benefits until later.

3. Take Care of the Kids. Children (up to age 18) of parents collecting Social Security can receive monthly payments based on the parent's retirement benefits. So, why not have Uncle Sam help foot the bill for your child’s education? Contribute the funds to a state-sponsored 529 college-savings plan and use the earnings and distributions tax-free to pay for tuition, books, fees and other qualified expenses."

The full article is available through this link.



Friday, June 06, 2008

Latest Trend: 'Staycations' -- Ideas for Stay-at-Home Summer Trips

A Do-it-Yourself, Stay-at-Home theme park? That's one alternative to soaring pump prices. The spike in gas prices has re-fueled a frugal trend, namely the stay-at-home vacation. Basically, we become tourists in our own hometown. I've taken that trip. Here's a link to one of my past hometown vacations: $600 room for $149: Vacation Part 2.

Meanwhile, this item from CCCS has a long list of stay-at-home vacation ideas:

"School is almost out, camps are ready to start, and many families are planning a different kind of vacation this year.

"Family budgets are already being stretched by skyrocketing gas prices and higher costs on just about everything," said Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. To cope with these rising costs, many families are opting for a vacation close to home instead of one that includes airfare, lodging, rental cars, and dining out.

CCCS clients offered their ideas for vacations in your own backyard:

Create Your Own Theme Park: Create your very own water park in your yard! Set up a slip-n-slide, fill the inflatable pool and turn on the sprinkler. Include an art area on the driveway with chalk and watercolors, and a bubble machine nearby for extra fun. A concession stand with hot dogs, chips, popcorn, cookies, ice cream, and lemonade adds to the fun. All the fun of a theme park without spending a fortune.

Fine Dining: Plan an elegant picnic at a local beach, lake, park, or in your backyard. Get out your nice dishes and glasses, and pack a tablecloth and linen napkins. Dessert and fresh flowers are great touches. Bring some fun outdoor games, such as bocce ball or badminton and make a day of it.

Throw a Party: Plan a theme party, like a luau, beach night, or the 50's and invite friends, neighbors, and relatives. Plan the menu and ask everyone to bring an item. Visit local thrift stores and garage sales ahead of time for decorations and clothing. It not only saves you a ton of money, but we all love to rummage for a great deal! You can also have it at a local city, county or state park. After the theme party, pack up all the items you purchased and sell them as a lot on eBay so you can recoup some of your expense and pass the idea on to someone else!

Look Close to Home: Research programs available through parks and recreation departments in neighboring communities. Many have great pool facilities that are like mini water parks, complete with slides and loads of things for the kids to do. You may have a small additional fee if you are not a resident or member, but the cost pales in comparison to a day at a theme park. If the facility let's you bring in outside food and drinks, pack a cooler for even more savings.

Day Trips: Many families never enjoy the wonderful places to see right in their own communities. A "staycation" provides the perfect opportunity to plan some day trips to local theme parks, gardens, and more.

Here are ten great places to spend a day this summer. [Note many of these ideas mention Florida attractions, but the same concept can be adapted to other regions.]

1. A Museum - Spend the day enjoying arts and culture at one of the many local museums. The Boca Raton Museum of Art, the Norton Museum of Art and the Flagler Museum are all great choices. Entry fees are reasonable and most offer free admission for kids under 13.

2. A Garden Adventure - Whether you visit the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Butterfly World, or Mounts Botanical Gardens, you will appreciate the natural beauty of our area.

3. Lunch at the Lighthouse - Pack a picnic and head to Jupiter for a tour of this local landmark.

4.Learn something new - Take part in a workshop at the Armory Art Center, Old School Square in Delray Beach, or head to your local craft store or home improvement store to build something special.

5. Explore Science - Experience the Robot Zoo at the South Florida Science Museum. Be sure to visit the McGinty Aquarium and the Marvin Dekelboum Planetarium while you are there.

6. Explore Space - A day trip to the Kennedy Space Center will have the kids dreaming of becoming astronauts. Check the schedule for shuttle launches.

7. Visit the animals - Spend the day at the Palm Beach Zoo or enjoy a drive-thru adventure at Lion Country Safari and get up close and personal with giraffes, lions, rhinos and more.

8. Stay Cool in the Pool - A leisurely day at Calypso Bay or Coconut Cove can be just the ticket on a hot summer day. For the more adventurous, try out one of the 29 water slides at the Rapids.

9.Take a ride - There are many wonderful biking paths in our area, including 6 miles at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Martin County, 5 miles on the Island of Palm Beach, and a 2 mile trail in North Palm Beach.

10. Take a swamp buggy ride through the Everglades, pack the fishing poles and head to Lake Okeechobee, or enjoy some fun in the sun at one of the many beautiful beaches.

Whatever your "staycation" plans, there are many ways to save. Check out attraction websites for discount ticket prices, annual passes, and state resident specials. Pack snacks and lunches for extra savings."


Here a related link: 10 Luxe-for- Less Vacation Tips



Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Kiplinger's Picks Top 10 Cities to Live & Work

Economic prosperity and affordable living were front and center as Kiplinger’s Personal Finance selected its "top ten cities in which to live and work." Key factors included: "strong economies, abundant jobs, reasonable living costs—and fun things to do." The list appears in the July issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and online at

Here's a snippet:

"Kiplinger’s Best Cities of 2008

1. Houston, TX — Back with a roar after the oil bust of the 1980s, Houston has reclaimed its title as energy capital of the U.S. and added aerospace, technology and medical companies to the mix, generating more than 100,000 jobs in 2007.

2. Raleigh, NC — On the road to renaissance, Raleigh is bringing urban living to the city through the Raleigh’s Livable Streets project. Top-notch research schools in the area fuel a smart workforce, the main reason companies relocate to the area.

3. Omaha, NE — This city’s success is defined by its mid-western values. People believe in giving back to the community—and that includes the executives of the five Fortune 500 companies headquartered here.

4. Boise, ID — This Rocky Mountain town boasts high-tech businesses including Micron Technology and Hewlett-Packard, the Boise Valley’s two largest employers. With a median home price of $235,000, housing is affordable, and the average work commute is only 18 minutes.

5. Colorado Springs, CO — Natural beauty abounds at this 6,000-foot-high city. A strong military presence—with U.S. Army and Air Force operations, as well as the U.S. Air Force Academy—adds fuel to the economy, as do the aerospace and defense sectors attracted by the military.

6. Austin, TX — Home to the University of Texas and the state capital, Austin is known for great music and a lively culture, but it also offers a strong economy and affordable housing. It has expanded its economy to include digital media, green energy and biotech, creating 114,000 jobs in the area in the past five years.

7. Fayetteville, AR — The Green Valley city is attracting businesses and start-ups in the area with a sustainability spin in industries such as electronics, water purification, dairy products and packaging.

8. Sacramento, CA — A hub of technology, biotech and energy, many Fortune 500 companies have a strong presence in Sacramento. Newcomers are won over by the city’s subtle charms, including more than 210 tree-filled parks.

9. Des Moines, IA — Des Moines’s hometown atmosphere, top public schooling, and affordable cost of living make it an ideal place to raise a family. It also offers big-city amenities such as art galleries, a symphony and a ballet and opera house.

10. Provo, UT — The Provo area has grown into the country’s second-largest software center, featuring top employers Novell and Micron Technology. Workers are drawn to great job opportunities as well as the low cost of living and year-round outdoor lifestyle."



Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Private Fund Provides College Scholarship Money as Lenders Pull Back

Even as college loans dry up for many community and four-year college students, at least one private scholarship program in New York City is fighting the trend. The Teak Fellowship -- featured in the June issue of Town & Country magazine -- is actively providing financial and academic aid to low- and middle-income students.

So far the fund has provided roughly $28 million in tuition assistance to 200 college-bound students. I wish that there were more programs like this in other regions of the country, especially since some banks have opted to stop lending to students who plan to attend community colleges and smaller four-year programs. Students attending elite schools will not face the same credit crunch, according to published news reports.
Here are links to some of those stories about the lack of student loans for students attending community colleges: KCTCS off some loan lists and College Families Bushwhacked by New Loan Legislation.

"Our mission is to deliver on the American ideal of meritocracy," Justine Stamen Arrillaga, founder of the The Teak Fellowship, told Town & Country. "We want to reward kids who have talent, ability and drive."

Arrillaga launched the fund in response to two tragedies: 1) The 1988 murder of Teak Dyer, her high school classmate and best friend, and 2) the 1997 fatal shooting of a gifted, low-income student, who was enrolled in an academic program that was under Arrillaga's direction.

"Justine Stamen Arrillaga made it her life's work to give children a chance at successful futures after two of the people closest to her were robbed of theirs," according to the Town & Country feature written by Erik D. Price.

Contact information: 212-288-6678

Here's a link to a free search engine from College Board that helps families locate scholarships and grants for college education.