Aug 30, 2010

Stop paying too much to do your laundry

白色的洗衣粉和量匙Image via Wikipedia
One thing I hate buying at the store is laundry detergent. It's one of the few things I don't skimp on by buying the cheapest one out there. I've found that the bottom shelf detergents don't clean my clothes nearly as well as the name brands do. Unfortunately, name-brand detergent can be pretty expensive. For example, Tide's High Efficiency costs about $8.32 for 32 loads. For a thrifter, this poses a spending dilemma.

Luckily, I have a mom - and who really knows more about doing laundry than a mom? I didn't even notice that our Tide containers were really soapy and messy recently, all I knew is my laundry was clean when I picked it up (yes, I do my laundry at my parents' house). Then, my mom told me that she doesn't buy the expensive name brand Tide anymore, she makes her own! She just puts it in the old containers.

"I thought paying $12 for laundry detergent was way too expensive, "says my mom. "So I decided I'd make my own." Apparently, my parents happen to own a high efficiency (HE) front-loading washing machine that requires special HE detergent.

But even if you don't need special detergent, the recipe below can make quite a few loads of laundry for a very low price. And that's what this blog is about, finding ways to save money. So save some cash and get washing!

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Here's the make-it-yourself detergent cost & recipe breakdown
3 pints of water
1/3 bar Fels Naptha Soup, grated ~ cost: .99 for 1 bar
1/2 cup Washing Soda (NOT baking soda) ~ cost: $2.50 for a very large box
1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax ~ cost $4.99 for a very large box
2-gallon bucket for mixing
additional hot water

Directions (inserted from this Woman's Day article):
Mix Fels Naptha soap in a saucepan with 3 pints hot water and heat on low until dissolved. Stir in washing soda and borax. Stir until thickened, and remove from heat. Add 1 quart hot water to a two-gallon bucket. Add soap mixture, and mix well. Fill bucket to about 3 inches from the top with additional hot water, and mix well. Set aside for 24 hours, or until mixture thickens. Use 1/2 cup of mixture per load.
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Aug 26, 2010

Beware: Keurig single-cup coffee maker

I've spoken to so many friends and acquaintances in the past several months who have told they have bought a Keurig single-cup coffee maker. They say, "it makes so much sense. I only need to brew one cup for me". Genius, right? Marketing-wise, yes. Otherwise, for the price they're asking, it's not at all worth it.

This product starts at about $100. This one, pictured to the left is actually priced $109 at Walmart, but many of them are around $160 and up. You pair it with the infamous k-cups (pictured also) that act in place of the coffee grounds. The idea is you can pick any flavor, any brand, anything you want, including tea and hot chocolate. Simply place the k-cup in the maker and brew away for your perfect cup of coffee by the touch of a single button. While many people love this product, for me, there are at least 3 problems with the Keurig single coffee maker.

1. No one needs this product. You can take a regular 12-cup coffee maker and just make "2" cups, which really is equivalent a large mug of coffee. I know this because I do it almost every morning...there's really no problem with this system.

2. Keurig wants you to buy the little nifty k-cups for your new Keurig machine...but guess how much they run you? I checked out who is selling Green Mountain Coffee's k-cups, for example. You can get 108 cups for $59.99. That comes out to more than 50 cents each cup, even when you buy them in a rather large quantities. For that price, you might as well stop at the gas station every morning and buy a cup.

3. There are products that do this very same thing but for much less money. Here are some options: Black and Decker's Brew-N-Go runs about $20; Hamilton Beach has a personal coffee brewer for $24.99; Toastess has a single-cup brewer for only $14.99. These products are all over the web. They brew a single cup of coffee and let you use your own grounds, so your saving money from both ends.

In fact, tonight I was at Goodwill and look what I found for $2.97 (pictured to the right).

The Keurig has done a really good job of making us feel like we need it. Our lives will be better if we have one, and we will all be lacking something if don't. Products often evoke an emotion within us and can create an unhealthy desire that screams "I must have it!"That's great marketing. But, let's see marketing what is it and see the product for what it is. And the Keurig, sorry folks, you don't need it.

Upcoming post: Save major cash on laundry you may ask? Make your own.

Aug 23, 2010

How to save major cash on textbooks (not by just shopping online)

As if college doesn't cost enough, you still have to pay for books for class...many of which you will never even crack open. College textbooks are a complete ripoff because the publishers just come out with new versions ever year or so, so students must continue to buy new textbooks, paying sky high prices. It's highway robbery! But, as a thrifter I manage to spend next to nothing on textbooks in college. Here are the secrets.

DO NOT buy the textbook before class begins. I have been to so many classes that require a textbook that have no assigned reading in the text (this is a big hint). Sometimes the professors don't even reference the textbook at all...and you're sitting there like - why the heck did I just drop $100 on this thing!? I cannot stress enough, do not buy the textbook until it is clear you need to buy the textbook.

DO NOT buy books from the bookstore. I feel bad for college bookstores, but they're outdated and incredibly overpriced and I believe in 10 years, college bookstores won't even carry physical textbooks anymore. I work in higher education and I'm sorry to say they will become obsolete because they cannot compete with, and the many other textbook websites there are available (for more information on online book hunting, see #4).
DO NOT return books to the bookstore. I will never, ever forget my freshman year when I bought a textbook for more than $100 and returned it to the bookstore for $12. I felt defeated, the bookstore won that round...but I won all the rounds that followed. I sold all my books on amazon, it's so easy. You just write what the books isbn number is, the condition and BAM, you're done. Wait for someone to buy.

Now that I've told you what not to's some advice on how to kick some butt on textbook buying ina section I like to call:

Recommended Book Hunting Sequence of Events

1. Ask around for books. Meet people in your major or minor who are a year or a semester above you. They are great people to give you advice on classes and professors. They are also a great resource for getting textbooks. Ask them what they do with their books. If they want to get rid of them, offer them a fair price. If they want to keep them, see if they'll let you borrow them for a semester (best case scenario). When the class is over, if you decide the book is a good resource for the future, wait another few months to a year and buy it when the updated version comes out, then buy the version that was used for class: outdated versions are cheap as can be.

2. Check out your college posting boards. Colleges sometimes have areas for students to post their "classified ads" including textbooks they're trying to sell. This is a great resource for finding texts because you don't have to pay shipping and there's no middle man.

3. Compare prices online. I would highly recommend the following two websites: this is a website where you can rent textbooks. Save cash and save the Earth: win, win. this site searches hundreds of textbook sites for the lowest prices on the textbook you need for you to compare. With this website, you can skip amazon, half, ebay, all that jazz. This site searches them all.

Hints: Always search for textbooks online by using the books isbn number (the code above the bar code on the back of the book). This will insure that you are buying the exact book you need for your class. If necessary, go to the bookstore and copy it down so you are sure you have the right one. Also, consider buying the international version of the book. Oftentimes they are the same book but with just some added material so the pages numbers may be one or two off. This can save you loads of money.

My experience

When I was just a wee freshman in college, many moons ago, I bought all my textbooks at the bookstore the first week of classes. Then I heard that some of my new friends went online to buy books. I quickly went online and purchased all my books. As they came in the mail, I returned each one to the bookstore and saved about $200. One of the books I even decided not to buy, instead, I shared it with my roommates who had the same class but on a different day.

In the next few years, I met people above me in my major and minor and ended up buying very few textbooks because these friends allowed me to borrow those books. Overall, I spent very little on textbooks...many semesters I didn't even buy any. In fact, I have yet to buy any as a graduate student.

The moral of the story is, as it is with so many thrifting stories, if you try hard enough you can save money on the things you need and want. Thrift buying is not always the easiest or most convenient option (in fact it almost never is) but it can save you lots of cash. You just need to explore your options and try one!

Aug 19, 2010

"I Wanna Be a Billionaire"...really Travie?

Billionaire Lyrics:
I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad
Buy all of the things I never had
Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen

The song is a little laughable, I admit. I mean, Travie, you're probably a millionaire, but you're not satisfied yet? Although none of us feel directly like we can relate to poor Travie's situation, I know I'm tempted to feel similarly. When it comes to money, it's easy to feel like I never have enough.

When I graduated from college I was about 18k in debt and it was my goal to get out the first year. But, I decided to move out instead and 2 years later I'm only 5k in, but I was still stressin'. I used to dream about what it would be like to not owe anyone a penny: I would be financially free! Somewhere along the line I realized that once I paid off college, I would feel burdened by saving enough for a house. Then feel buried in debt when I finally bought one. Then there's always starting the family...I mean, this money thing isn't about to end. I'm only at the beginning.

Finally I realized that there will always be money or lack thereof to obsess about if I allow myself. Even though I pride myself on a having at thrifting lifestyle, I don't want to let money ever consume me. Sure, I want to pay less for things and I almost always do and always will but it's important for me to feel satisfied with what I have, whether I'm in debt, at zero or maybe even carrying some dollar dollar bills ya'll. Money won't satisfy, in fact it only seems to create a need for more.

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Upcoming Post: Back to School - How to Save Serious Cash on Textbooks

Aug 17, 2010

The lure of buying iced coffee

On my drive to work in the morning, I am tempted on several occasions to pull over and purchase a cool, refreshing iced coffee to start my day right. If I stop at Dunkin' Donuts, for less than $2, I can enjoy a iced coffee that frankly, tastes a lot like candy...and that's a good thing. I can also pull over and drive through McDonald's two lane expressway and grab a second tier iced coffee if I desire. But really, I am mostly tempted by Dunkin' Donuts.

Why do I have such a strong urge to by iced coffee on the run? Because it's difficult to perfect an iced coffee. Coffee shops have perfected it, they know how to do it right. Well, I've been doing some research on the topic, and I would like to share my success story on how I've mastered the home-brewed iced coffee and now enjoy one every single day on my way to work, saving myself a little less than $2 per day.

What you need:
Travel Mug or cup
Straw (isn't mine cool?)

Step 1: Brew your coffee extra strong. I have a friend who works at Barnes and Nobles and has experience as a barista in the cafe. She says they brew their coffee used to make iced coffee twice as strong to make up for the water dilution that occurs when the ice cubes begin to melt. So brew it strong.

Step 2: Open the lid of your coffee pot and rest it on a wooden surface or other safe cooling surface to allow heat to be released from the coffee. There is nothing worse than pouring burning hot coffee into a cup of ice cubes; this melts the ice cubes and leaves you with watered-down coffee that's not chilled and not tasty. Basically, bad news bears. So, give yourself some extra minutes after you brew for cooling time.

Step 3: Grab a travel mug or other non-glass cup and fill it with ice. Put in preferred amounts of sugar and cream. By the way, the reason Dunkin' coffee tastes so good is they use the most fattening cream known to man when they create your beverage. So don't be alarmed when yours doesn't taste identical, even if you buy their coffee. But rest assured, if you make the coffee at home, you are saving lots of cash over long periods of time, and after awhile you won't even notice. You can also just add more creamer to more taste and fat, this works great too!
Hint: If all you have is a glass cup to use for your iced coffee, put a straw in before you pour the coffee in. This lets the heat be released threw the straw. This way you won't crack your glass.

Step 4: Pour cooled coffee in travel mug/cup. Stir and enjoy, know you've saved money. Day = success.

Aug 14, 2010

Drew is thrifting... who's next?

Paired with celebrity-priced pumps on her feet, Drew Barrymore wore a $25 thrift store dress to the Nylon magazine/Express party in Los Angeles.

Where'd she get this dress?: A thrift store. This superhuman incident means a couple things for us normal people.

Image via Shine from Yahoo!
1. Somewhere, somehow Drew is probably giving her old clothes to a thrift store. I was at the thrift store on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles a few summers ago, but from I could tell, it wasn't that one.

2. Next, thrift shopping could start to be the popular thing since a celeb did it. Indie rock lovers hate to see their favorite band get big, similarly, the idea of thrift shopping getting big kind of scares me. I'm afraid more people will flood the thrift stores, limiting selection. I'm afraid it will be the cool thing to do.

For example, when someone compliments me on my jeans I normally say something like: "Gee thanks, I actually bought this pair of American Eagle jeans for $6 at Goodwill" and just when the complimenter is about to admit how amazing I am for finding such an incredible deal, someone might jump in and say, "yeah well I got these Banana Republic jeans at Salvation Army for $5". Then I will sink in my hole of shame and embarrassment. Life = Over.

Aug 12, 2010

Frugality meets art

This week, I got two extraordinary finds at the thrift store. One is a painting an 80-year old couple donated it to City Thrift on Penn Street. They had bought it on their honeymoon, who knows how long ago, and finally decided to part with it and it's identical counterpart, which had previously been sold. Last time I walked in to the store I had considered buying it, but this time I decided to just splurge. It's almost 3' by 2.5' and I stole it for $20.

Here she is:
Unfortunately, I currently do not have a camera other than the one on my phone, so I apologize for the poor quality. I will be getting a camera in the next couple months. Then when I make a habit of posting my thrift finds, it will be slightly more pleasant to view. My apologies.

It's hard to tell, but the painting is amazing! I LOVE it, even though I have no place for it in my apartment...yet. I will find somewhere.

The second find of the trip was a blue Nalgene water bottle. My roommate lost hers a week or so again, so I found this one in good condition and picked it up for a buck.

In the end, total trip cost: $21. Not bad.

Aug 10, 2010

Bills: are you getting the best bang for your buck?

Someone in my MBA night class announced a new website he'd been using called Bill Shrink. Of course I was intrigued by the title so I checked out the site. I LOVE it. The point of the website is to analyze what cell phone, credit card, cd & savings account is best for you based on what you use it for.

For instance, I am obsessed with credit card rewards. I have a system. I've done research. Until I saw this website I was pretty sure I was getting the best rewards for what I buy and how much of it I buy. But I figured I could test the website's knowledge. I clicked on the "credit cards" tab and answered less than 10 questions about my usage (it took me less than 30 seconds). Turns out it recommended 22 credit cards that it claims will give me more rewards than the one I have! That's crazy!

Check it out:

If you would, post your experience in the comments section. I'm curious to see what recommendations the site gave you and if you feel that the site could really help you shrink your bills.

On another unrelated note, as I'm sure you have noticed, I've given my site a much-needed face-lift. Please fill out the poll on the right hand side of the blog telling me what you think of the new look. While you're there, click "follow me" to keep track of my upcoming blog posts. Thanks everyone!

Aug 9, 2010

Be wary of gas/grocery deals

Last night I drove about a half mile past a Weis gas station before it dawned on me: I'm eligible for some cents off the gas!. So, I decided to turn around and use my discount since my tank was nearing E. I pulled up to the pump and to my surprise I was eligible for 20 cents off the gallon. This is great news! Then to my dismay, I realized the gas station cost 7 cents more than the surrounding stations, so my savings was really only 13 cents per gallon.

Let's be honest, gas prices have been up and down, but either way when you somehow are offered a gas discount, you feel like you've won the lottery. There's just something about paying less at the pump. "Gas prices down, happiness up" is such a true slogan. But, when you actually look at the deal you're getting, 10-20-30 cents off the gallon, it's merely pennies in the face of paying more at a chain grocery store.

Last night I saved about $1.69 at the pump in total (13 gallons, 13 cent savings per gallon). It sounds like a lot more savings when I initially thought, wow 20 cents off per gallon! Now I can buy a new laptop! (Ok, no). But in reality, I could have saved a lot more than that if I would have opted for a discount grocery store instead of going to Weis.

Grocery stores really want you to be loyal. They want you to go shop in their store and hit their gas station on the way out. They lure you in by telling you how much per gallon you can save at their gas pump but it's all trickery. You're not saving that much. In fact, let's consider some alternative options.

1. Grocery shopping can cost a lot of money but it doesn't have to. You can save crap loads of money at discount grocery stores such as Aldis, Save-A-Lot, Wegman's (so I've been told), Price Rite, basically anything with the words "discount", "save", "outlet" in their title means they probably are a discount grocery place.

Here are some tips on shopping at these places.

  • First off, bring your own bags. Often times these retailers save money by making you paying a few cents each for using their plastic bags, so bring your own.
  • Check product labels. Outlet stores can offer deep discounts because they buy products from places that couldn't sell it as a result sometimes these products are expired shortly after they hit the shelves at the discount retailers.
  • Next, it will take patience and time to fully utilize one of these stores. You have to scope out what's in your area and you have to get used to their selection. Discount grocery stores don't carry everything, in fact, they might not even have consistent things. You must be dedicated enough to go to Aldis and then hit up Giant for the stuff you missed. But often times the discount places' prices are so much cheaper than your local chain grocery store that they're very much so worth the trip.
Lots of people I know opt for the warehouse stores: Sam's, BJ's, Costco. These people swear by these stores. Honestly, I have my doubts. There's a great article that was written in the Wall Street Journal called Do Warehouse Stores Really Save You Money? Definitely, a must-read for warehouse store shoppers.
    2. Gas prices - like I need to tell you how ridiculous they are. Luckily, saving money is about knowing your resources and there are plenty out there. and tell you how much gas costs around you in your area. Obviously it doesn't make sense to sit down in front of your computer before you go out to fill up each time, but I'd suggest getting one of their phone apps. At least check one out a couple times and notice gas stations that are consistently cheaper, then make a habit of going there. Hint: Beware of gas stations whose prices go up when you swipe your credit card because their price is based on a cash price. This is illegal but it doesn't mean it no gas station does it.

    For some, it may make the most sense to try to fill up and grocery shop at the same place for convenience and time purposes, I get that. I don't have a family, I'm less busy than many people. At any rate, realize that those discounts you're getting from your grocery stores that you use at the pump aren't as much as you think. Plus, many times the discounted rate on the gallon lasts for a very short period of time and you'll often show up at the pump not getting any discount, but not remembering if you qualify yet. They've got you right where they want you. Think about how much you're really saving by being loyal and if it's not that much (which I suspect), scope out your other options. You could save a bundle.
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    Aug 7, 2010

    Music Freebie!

    Impress your friends with your refined taste in classical music when you add these tracks to you iPod. Right now at, they are offering The 99 Most Essential Classical Pieces in Movies as a FREE download. You just put in your email address, they send you a link which gives the free download. I can attest that it works and it's not a virus or anything like that. But, I would recommend using a secondary email address or just unsubscribe after you download. In general, it is a good idea to keep a second email that can be used to sign up for things on the web, so one email can get clogged and your real email stays nice and clean without spam!

    I found another site that gives the actual track listing for the download:

    You're welcome.

    Aug 5, 2010

    Customer Appreciation Day: Haute Chocolate

    Today at Haute Chocolate in West Reading, PA, it's customer appreciation day! That means all drinks are 50%. If you haven't been there, they serve hot chocolate, coffee drinks, milkshakes and lots and lots of chocolate bars, cakes, and chocolate desserts. They also have homemade ice cream, which is delicious.

    Part of living thrifty is taking advantage of special deals while they're up for grabs. I hope to keep you in tune to customer appreciation days that are happening in Reading and beyond. If you have a hint for what special discount or freebie days are coming up, shoot me a message, so I can include in my blog. Eventually I'd love to create a calendar of freebies that happen throughout the year. So stay tuned, more discounts and freebie alerts to come.

    Aug 3, 2010

    How to get free info with your cell phone (without an internet plan)

    Remember the days when 411 was free? Well you don't have to reminisce anymore. Now, with the right tools, you can get that info and more, for free with your cell phone.

    • Free 411. Call 1-800-free-411 and you've got free directory assistance. Just listen to a couple ads and you're on your way. Never pay for 411 again!
    • Google Text & Phone. Text Google, yeah I'm serious. Text 466-453 (google) for free text directory assistance (obviously standard text data rates apply), but no charge for the service. So just try "Friendly's near 19604" and it will list ALL the Friendly's in the area with their addresses and phone numbers. You can also call them at 1800-goog-411...they even connect you to the business if you want. On top of that, if you have a phone with web, they can send the map to your cell phone. Could google really cover more bases on this one?
    • ChaCha. Call them, text them with a question and they'll give you an answer! Here are a couple examples: "Who was the 23rd President of the United States?" or "Who played the Morpheus in the film The Matrix?" can ask ANY question and they will tell you an answer. Heck you can ask them where babies come from and they will tell you an answer (hmmm...). You can text them at 242-242 (cha-cha) or call them at 1800-2chacha. Again, the service is free!
    • For those of you who do have the web on your phone, you must take advantage of the Google Maps application, which is like a free gps, but without the voice commands. It's a great way to save $10 a month for a service or $140 for a gps.
    Ahhh...the many ways you can dodge paying for services:) There always seems to be someone out there doing it for free. It's just a matter of finding them!

    Aug 1, 2010

    Your guide to showers & grad parties on a dime

    This summer, I've been invited to 6 bridal showers, 2 baby showers (one of which I threw) and 2 graduation parties. For a thrifter like me this poses quite the monetary dilemma. I love my friends, but I make just about $800-1000 per month, live in my own apartment, buy my own food and cover my own expenses. With the gas money, the gifts, the weddings with gifts that follow and the wrapping and cards that are attached, these things really start to add up and I actually could not afford to give everyone the awesome gifts I would like to off their registries. I admittedly did not attend or provide gifts for all of these showers but I did attend the ones I could.

    One way to shave off some of the costs for me has been to bust out my creative side (creative side, are you there?). Ok, I'm not really super artsy, but in an effort to still have cool gifts for my friends whom I care deeply for, I've needed to dig deep and make some gifts that were pretty simple but still required some creativity. Here are some ideas of things you can make to escape the high costs of showers.

    First for the bridal showers I attended...this is what I made:

    This is a breakfast in bed kit complete with a tray, coffee mugs, coffee packet, pancake mix, chocolate chips, juice squeezer and labels. I believe I made 4-5 of these kits this summer.

    trays: about $3 each from goodwill
    mugs: .50 cents each from goodwill, I personally painted the couple's names on the mugs. The paint for 2 colors ran me about $2
    juicer: $1 at a family store
    coffee: about .75 each on sale at the grocery store (on the discount shelf)
    pancake mix: $3 for entire box, used for all my packetsmason jars: 25 cents each at a yard sale
    ribbon pack: $3 at Target

    I estimated that when all was said and done, the kits cost me about $7 each, which is about $15-20 less for each shower than what I would have spent had I went into the store and bought something off the registry.

    For the graduation parties I attended:

    I bought my sister some wall art I got at Goodwill for $7 (that was originally from Target) and a Van Gogh puzzle for $1 from another thrift store. Total cost: $8

    For my friend Stacey, whose party I didn't attend because it was out of state, I again pulled out my creative side. I texted her and asked her what candy she liked most because I had a certain mug I bought at a yard sale for $1 in mind. The final product is on the right. It's a beer mug that reads "Cheers for the Graduate" with Twix candy inside. Total cost = $2

    Lastly, for the baby shower I threw for a friend, besides asking family and friends to chip in on the homemade food (I stuck with appetizers and desserts for a cheaper party), I needed to create favors that didn't cost a fortune, but were still cute and practical. I had just attended a baby shower and decided to copy the favors, except I would make mine, not buy them to save on some cash. Here is the result:

    These are little baggies of coffee with labels that say "A baby has been brewed" with a choice of a bag of decaf or regular coffee. After buying the bags and stickers at Michael's and using labels I stole from my boyfriend printed at his house and the cost of the coffee, each bag cost me a little less than $1 each.

    So, even though I do realize friends probably would enjoy the gifts they registered for since they hand-picked them, I also know that creating gifts with your own time, energy and hands also means something as well (especially since your friends don't want you to go broke over buying them the gifts). My advice is, buy great gifts to provide for your friends when you can, but also realize that sometimes a handmade gift goes a long way and can save you some cash when your strapped for it. And of course, never underestimate the stuff you can find at thrift stores and goodwill - with enough trips, you can find almost anything! Just keep searching, your wallet will thank you.
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