Friday, August 23, 2013

Suiting Up for Autumn

Whether you’re headed back to school, the office, or you simply want to prepare for fall – September is the perfect time to refresh your wardrobe. However, purchasing a closet full of clothes is an expensive endeavour. It can get even pricier, if you’re shopping for the whole family. Hence, there are some key ways to look smart as the weather cools, without tapping out your bank account.

Dump the Bumph:
·         Cull your closet. Be ruthless. If it’s worn-out, ill-fitting, unflattering or dated – get rid of it. Zero in on what works for you, and ditch the junk.
·         Give gently used items to family or friends, or donate them to charity. It’s good karma and great for the environment!
·         Store out-of-season clothes elsewhere (in extra closets, or bins). It’ll simplify your wardrobe search and precious items will be less likely to get lost in the crush.
·         Hang and fold clothes in an orderly fashion. Sort by colour, garment type, etc., and selecting and coordinating outfits, will be a breeze!

Tune-up Your Togs:
·         Wash, iron, and dry-clean items that need a bit of spiffing up.
·         Replace missing buttons, mend tears and take-in or let-out any pieces that require minor adjustments. Not handy with a needle and thread? Dry-cleaners provide these services for a nominal fee.
·         Dye or bleach old favourites, to revitalize colour. For best results, dye clothes to similar or deeper shades. Some jewel tones can be transformed to pastels, through bleaching (note: exercise caution and follow clothing tag instructions).
·         Give shoes and boots a little extra TLC. Polish, repair and waterproof seasonal footwear, before temperatures start to fluctuate.

Mind the Gaps:
·         Perform a wardrobe inventory. Ensure core items are stocked sufficiently (neutral pants, shirts, sweaters, suits, etc.). Prioritize any obvious gaps on this year’s shopping list.
·         Focus on one or two basic colours initially (navy, brown or grey). Expand with time. Mixing and matching maximizes your wardrobe potential, at minimal cost.
·         Splashes of design create interest. Prints, stripes, checks, polka dots, etc. are terrific in small doses; Just don’t overdo it. Pattern, on pattern, can be rather dizzying.
·         Source fashion magazines for current trends. A few carefully selected, cutting-edge pieces can bring your wardrobe up-to-speed, in no time.
·         Knit the look together with complimentary accessories – shoes, belts, purses, jewellery, scarves, ties, etc. Once again, simplicity reigns supreme.

 Buy Brilliantly:
·         Explore discounted clothing stores, such as Winners and/or Marshalls. The quality is unsurpassed and prices are reasonable.
·         Regularly browse clothing aisles in grocery, or big box stores (Costco, Joe Fresh, Target, Wal-Mart, etc.). When you come across a good bargain – grab it!
·         Visit preferred outlet store/s seasonally. Jones New York and The Shoe Company are personal favourites.
·         Be flexible. If you only shop for specifics, you narrow the field. Keep an open mind and be an opportunist. You’ll build a more impressive wardrobe, for less.
·         Don’t by-pass an excellent bargain, when you see it (i.e. a party dress). If you delay purchasing until the perfect occasion arises, you’re more likely to pay top-dollar.
·         Purchase extreme bargains in bulk. I recently found leather pumps for $10 each and bought them in five different colours.
·         Buy off-season. Take advantage of deep-discounts at the end of the quarter. It’s not only thrifty, but it’ll be a delightful surprise in 12 months’ time!
·         Premium items can significantly elevate an outfit. Can’t resist those high-end stores? Wait for sales and buy sparingly.

Whipping your wardrobe into shape may take a bit of effort; But it’s time well spent. Follow these steps you’ll save a bundle – and still make the best-dressed list, this fall!

Do you have any clothes shopping secrets? What great wardrobe buys have you come across, this month? Please share your purchasing victories, with the rest of the group. And for more great ways to save, please follow


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Making the Most of Your Staycation

Trying to rein in spending this summer? This year, forgo the pricey vacation and opt for the cheap and cheerful staycation. Staycations can be a surprisingly fun alternative, if you put a little planning and effort into it. Dial down the day-to-day drudgery and schedule in loads of exciting activities – and your holiday will be a resounding success!

Drop the Routine:
·         Treat work the same as you would, when out of the country. Can’t avoid being ‘on call’? Keep it to emergencies. Otherwise it isn’t a proper vacation.
·         Take care of household chores beforehand, or afterwards. A relaxing holiday doesn’t include laundry, cleaning and grocery shopping.
·         Clear the family calendar. Take a break from regularly scheduled obligations, classes and sports. Replace with fun-filled, group activities.
·         Set appropriate expectations within your social circle i.e. you’ll be unreachable for the duration, or responding to urgent issues only.

Switch Off Electronics:
·         Utilize ‘out-of-office’ settings on computers and phones. Others will be less likely to panic when you don’t respond instantly.
·         Turn off the idiot box. PVR your favourite programs and catch up afterwards; Or better yet, prove that you can live without TV for a week or two.
·         Ditch the video games. Leave the virtual world behind and enjoy some real fun for a change.
·         Put the smart phone down! Make a pact to minimize calls (work and personal) and set up a fine system for family members that circumvent the rules. Spend the extra cash on holiday adventures. 
·         Avoid surfing the net. If you need to look something up, pop online quickly, then shut down. Email and the internet can be all consuming. Don’t get sucked into the vortex.
Focus on Fun:
·         What activities would you suggest to out-of-towners? Grab a local guidebook and re-discover your city’s top attractions.
·         Add a little drama to your life. Attend a summer blockbuster, a drive-in movie, a live theatre show, or devour a much anticipated book.
·         The sporty type? Take in a major league game, find a pool, water park or recreational area, or map out a personalized hiking or biking tour of the city.
·         Enjoy some cerebral relaxation at local museums, art galleries, historic properties, science centres and zoos. In Toronto, free tickets are available at your library.
·         If you’re near open water, consider a boating excursion. Rent kayaks, take sailing lessons, or book a ferry tour, for a great day on the waves.
·         Gather family and friends for a good old-fashioned picnic or BBQ, at a community park. Bring along refreshments, toys and games to keep everyone occupied and content.
·         Foodies will gobble up the chance to visit new/favourite restaurants and social butterflies are likely to appreciate concerts, pub crawls or clubbing.
·         Schedule a daytrip to explore beyond city limits. Find cheap thrills at the amusement park, savour a regional wine tour, bask at a nearby beach, or nibble your way through your local farmers market.

Staycations aren’t synonymous with deprivation. Break from your regular routine, channel your inner tourist and don’t waste a moment! You’ll return to work refreshed and recharged – and still have money in your pocket. It just might be the best vacation you’ve ever had.

What’s your favourite staycation activity? How you plan to enjoy your hometown, in the summer of 2013?

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Getting in Shape on a Lean Budget

The weather’s warming up and we’re finally able to strip off all of those bulky layers. The only downside is the nasty shock, when we see what’s lurking underneath. For countless reasons, many of us tend to put a greater focus on exercise, as the mercury rises. Of course, getting fit can be quite an expensive endeavor – but it doesn’t have to be. Just give it a bit of thought and consideration, before you pull out the plastic. It’ll help you trim the fat in more ways than one.

Look Sharp
·         Tripping over baggy clothes and standing out like a sore thumb is not motivating. You’re more likely to keep at it, if you invest in suitable attire i.e. good runners, a sturdy exercise bra and appropriate work-out clothes.
·         Pick up active wear at big box stores, not designer boutiques. You want to look and feel the part, but spend the absolute minimum.
·         Purchase sparingly at the outset. Buy a few basics to get you started. Rotate outfits and launder frequently.
·         Reward your commitment with incremental wardrobe purchases, as your exercise program develops i.e. at the 3 month and 6 month mark.  

Gear Up
·         Share equipment amongst reliable friends, family and/or colleagues. It’s a great way to try new activities without spending a dime.  
·         If your tendency is to start strong and tail off, pursue activities with low equipment demands i.e. running or yoga.
·         Invest only in the basics, at the outset. Add all the bells and whistles, as things develop. Start small and expand after the time, and dedication.
·         Rent or purchase second-hand exercise equipment during the honeymoon stage. Buy the good stuff only after you’ve demonstrated a long-term commitment.
·         Don’t expect a large financial investment to serve as motivation.
·         Utilize wellness programs with your company’s insurance carrier - they often contribute to equipment costs and/or pay towards gym memberships, annually.

Join In
·         Club memberships can be expensive and often aren’t utilized to their full extent. However if it works for you, shop around for a gym that’s super-convenient, reasonably-priced – and avoid hard-to-cancel contracts.
·         Consider cheaper options like community centers, municipal gymnasiums, local pools and school facilities. They tend to offer seasonal classes or one-offs, as opposed to demanding costly, long-term agreements.
·         The Village People aren’t the only ones to sing the praises of the YMCA. It’s open to all denominations and offers state of the art equipment, at cut-rate prices.
·         Exercise DVDs and video streaming are excellent alternatives to structured classes. They require minimal investment and these home-based sessions fit easily into your regular routine.

Stay Flexible
·         It’s good to schedule regular exercise, but fitness doesn’t have to be regimented to count. Keep it fun and exciting by incorporating social activities like hiking, bicycling and golf.
·         Participate in team sports offered through school or work, or organize a game of baseball or street hockey with friends and neighbours.
·         Sign up for your favourite charity run, bowl-a-thon or volleyball tournament. You’ll support a good cause and get fit even faster.
·         Don’t shy away from physical activity in general. Take the stairs. Walk to the dry-cleaners. Do some housework. Don’t let yourself off easy because you already worked out today.

My last piece of advice is to avoid a radically changing your exercise program, on a regular basis. Variety is good, but perseverance is better. Stick with your plan long enough to enjoy the benefits, and both your body and pocketbook will thank you.

For more easy-to-incorporate and insightful ways to save money, please follow me on

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Complaining Effectively to Avoid Unnecessary Spending

Many of us think of complaining as a bad thing. For the most part, that’s an accurate assessment. Other people don’t want to hear your problems and resent the unsolicited negativity. However, it is important to know when to speak up and how to do so effectively – especially when it comes to dealing with service providers. If you don’t ask for what you want, you can lose out and pay a lot more than is necessary.

Whether you’re shopping for clothes at a boutique, getting your car repaired at a local garage, or negotiating a cable package from a large conglomerate…knowing how to politely question, persist and even insist, can make a huge difference regarding how much money you can save each and every month.

Prepare to Engage:
·         Choose your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff. However if there’s a large sum of money at stake, or you feel a business is overcharging you repeatedly, speak up.
·         Have all bills, receipts and relevant information close at hand. This not only provides proof of purchase, but is also good for referral purposes, during your discussions.
·         Research, compare and know what competitors offer. Be ready to provide evidence to back your claims (i.e. copy of an advertisement, website address, etc.).
·         Decide what type of compensation you expect prior to any discussions. What’s a fair solution (i.e. future discount, partial rebate, or full credit)? Work toward that goal.

Take Action:
·         Keep cool, logical and don’t stress. Never swear, belittle or raise your voice.
·         Use friendliness and humour (sparingly) to bring others onside. People tend to help people that they like.
·         Questions are less confrontational and yield more information than statements or accusations. Honey attracts more bees than vinegar.
·         Leverage past loyalties to the brand, as well as your future commitment to the business.
·         If you sense that your kindness is being mistaken for stupidity, calmly and gradually move to a more firm stance. Escalate where necessary.
·         Persist and always ask what more they can do for you. Be relentless.

Avoid Future Issues:
·         Still no joy? Shop with your feet. If they don’t care about your business, go to a provider that does. It may seem like a hassle on occasion, but it’s well worth it in the end.
·         Regularly review prices, rates and offers, wherever you shop. Stay on top of what you’re being charged for services and don’t get complacent. Otherwise, it could cost you.
·         If you get stellar service, be sure to comment and provide referrals. Let good businesses know they are appreciated and reward them with your loyalty.

Most of us would rather avoid confrontation. We often find it easier just to let things slide – but that can get expensive. Getting your fair share needn’t be unpleasant. Simply incorporate the tips above and you’ll be amazed at how much money you save.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bouquets fit for a Queen, at Flower Girl Prices

Spring is in the air. Flowers, trees and plants are about to burst into bloom, and that means Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Hence, the gift of a little greenery seems the natural way to honour mom on her special day. That being said, botanicals can fluctuate wildly in price; So it pays to be smart about your purchase and shop around.

Where to Buy:
·         Floral boutiques can be quite tempting. Arrangements are ultra-luxurious and buying is a snap (particularly for out-of-town gifts). However, know that you will pay a hefty premium for the convenience.
·         Shopping online is an excellent alternative. There’s a plethora of less expensive options for moms near and far -- and you can surf the net in your PJ’s.
·         For large or multiple purchases, floral wholesalers are the perfect choice. Starting prices are very reasonable and you’ll be rewarded handsomely for volume buys.
·         Most grocery and convenience stores stock a fabulous array of plant life, at rock-bottom prices. Some even offer free delivery.
·         Do you have bushels of blossoms languishing in your own back garden? Why not put them to good use? No gift is more personal than flowers you grew yourself.
·         Wildflowers are the sentimental choice and a lovely option, especially when money is tight.

What to Buy:
·         If mom has a green thumb and prefers a gift that lasts, potted plants are a great choice. Additionally, many flowers, herbs and luscious greenery are versatile enough to be enjoyed both indoors, and out.
·         Floral arrangements are best for those less herbaceously inclined. They provide immediate gratification, require minimal work and are perfect pick-me-up for apartment or condo dwellers.
·         Dried, fabric or plastic flowers are out of fashion at the moment, and not great feng shui. Stick to live plants for the occasion. Remember, Mother’s Day gifts should never be ‘practical’ in nature.
·         No matter what you purchase, stay within budget. Buy bunches of simple flowers, or a few exquisite blooms – depending upon her preference. Be sure to choose favoured colours and bright, jaunty arrangements suitable for the occasion.

·         Offering flowers wrapped in paper is acceptable, but be aware that it’ll require more work on the recipient’s part (finding a suitable vase, trimming stems and arranging).
·         A more considerate and impactful way to present a bouquet is to pop them into a pretty vase or container:
o   You can find surprisingly impressive vases at the dollar store, for a mere pittance.
o   Pick up a stash of inexpensive vases for year-round use at discount outlets or warehouse sales.
o   Discover unique or unusual containers at flea markets, or garage sales. Such vessels allow for more innovative and customized arrangements.
o   Recycle your own superfluous vases, without shelling out a dime. Just be sure they’re clean and intact.
·         Whether you’re presenting flowers in a simple vase, or an extravagant jardinière, arrange them beautifully. Insert stems one at a time, trim on the outside. Carefully balance flower types and colours, and ensure your bouquet doesn’t appear sparse.
·         A pretty ribbon can go a long way in providing the final touch. Coloured tissue and cellophane help create an even more stunning display. All these can be purchased from your local dollar store.
·         Create floral gift cards from business card stationary. Office supply stores have appropriate designs for hand-written messages, or you can custom-print on blank business cards.

Pretty blooms provide a classic and greatly appreciated gift on Mother’s Day. It’s the ideal way to thank mom for all that she’s done for you, throughout the years; But it doesn’t need to be extortionate to be impressive. With a little thought and effort, you can dazzle and delight, without going in the red.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Look Like a Million Bucks without Spending a Fortune

Years ago when I began buying beauty products, I regularly reached for the cheapest option on the shelf. As a starving student, fancy makeup was an indulgence I could ill afford and this often meant opting for chalky powders and waxy creams – many of which just didn’t last. About a decade or so later, my eureka moment happened. I was travelling and my compact got smashed. Due to the dearth of selection near my hotel; I was forced to splurge on a high-end face powder. Instantly I realized I could never go back to the ‘kewpie doll’ look again.

The next challenge was to find my favourite products at a reasonable price. Then I discovered department store beauty give-aways. Every few months, major chains provide generous bonus ‘gifts’, when you purchase name brand cosmetics. For example buy $60 of Estee Lauder make-up and get $175 worth of product thrown in for free. These offers often include a mix of high-end, like brand cosmetics, toiletries, creams, attractive makeup bags, and/or purses. It may seem a lot to spend on a wand mascara and tube of lip gloss, but when you consider the entire offer, it is the smart way to shop. You can quickly accumulate a plethora of top-shelf toiletries, for the same price as comparable products from discount lines. You’ll also receive several impressive extras.

Assuming I’ve convinced you to give cosmetic bonuses a chance -- let me share a few tips to get the most out of these lucrative offers:

·         Request to be on department store ‘beauty offer’ mailing lists, for advance notice of cosmetic giveaway dates (via post, email or phone).

·         Choose bonus offers where you’ll use at least 50% of the gift. If most of the extras aren’t any good to you, it isn’t much of a bargain.

·         Ask friends about their favourite cosmetics and occasionally try competing brands. You might discover a new preference and it’ll provide you with multiple bonus opportunities, year-round.

·         Lux department stores may require the biggest initial outlay, but gifts tend to be far superior. Prioritize upscale store giveaways.

·         Avoid buying beauty items in-between special offers. If you plan well, you should have few purchasing emergencies.

·         Track inventory and replenish, but don’t stockpile toiletries for too long. Cosmetics don’t stay fresh forever.

·         Share lipstick colours and superfluous items that you’ll never use with friends and family (or put them in a bag for your next charity drop).

·         Don’t get married to any one brand. Sometimes the less costly option is just as good. No need to splurge, if it’s not necessary.

Sometimes we get stuck in false economies. Buying cheap generally offers minimal satisfaction and the product often comes up short on results. Practice these simple steps and you can indulge your preferences, look your absolute best and keep your cash in your wallet.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Stocking your Freezer with Delicious Home-Made Meals

As we bid farewell to February and usher in March, the long winter days can seem never-ending. So why not take advantage of this extra time to get organized and ahead of the game? Jump-start your year by preparing homemade frozen meals for school lunches, family dinners and entertaining -- you’ll eat healthier, spend less and it’ll reduce a great deal of your day-to-day stress.

Chill Out, Winter is the Perfect Time to Defrost the Freezer.
  • Gradually deplete long-standing frozen food stocks (especially commercially prepared products), a few weeks prior.Place delicate food items in your fridge-freezer, during the thaw.
  • Stack remaining food in coolers or plastic bins, and place inconspicuously outdoors. Secure lids well, so inquisitive critters can’t gain access.
  • Hair dryers, rubber mallets and blunt chisels are great tools to expedite your thawing efforts. Proceed carefully and gently, to avoid accidents or damage.
  • Defrost within twelve hours to minimize spoilage.
  • When finished, restock your freezer in an organized and logical manner…and don’t forget to plug it back in.
Starved for Inspiration?
  • Devote an entire day or weekend to cooking -- and little else.Plan the dishes you’d like to prepare, ahead of time. Include healthy options, personal favourites and a good variety, to stave off boredom.
  • For greater efficiency and cost effectiveness, prepare food in reasonably large batches.
  • Thaw out any meats and stock plenty of fresh vegetables, pulses and starches, the day before your cook off.
  • Have lots of spices, herbs and sauces at the ready, to maximize taste.
  • Sample mains: spaghetti bolognaise, sweet and sour chicken, vegetable curry, lemon trout, peanut pork, mushroom risotto, sweet pepper beef, etc.
  • Sample starches: wild rice, whole wheat pasta, naan bread, rice noodles, spaetzle, polenta, jasmine rice, etc.
  • If need be, refer to library cookbooks, your own stash of recipes, or the internet for further inspiration.
Savvy Storage.
  • Purchase inexpensive, transparent (plastic or glass), stackable, single-portion containers for freezing.
  • Preserve food texture and taste, by placing starches in small separate containers (away from meats/vegetables/sauces). This also allows for different food combinations i.e. curry and rice, curry and naan, etc.
  • Store similar items together to help identify and locate meals, with ease.
  • Colour code or label containers to eliminate potential confusion.
  • Reheat within the same vessel for delicious no fuss meals, in minutes.
Enjoy the Fruits of your Labour.
  • Access whatever you want to eat, whenever you want it, for weeks to come -- without spending a dime.
  • Improve your diet by preparing plenty of healthy, vegetable laden options to choose from.
  • Never get caught off-guard by unexpected company again. Rest easy knowing that you have a wide array of meals available, at a moment’s notice.
  • Avoid wastage by utilizing aging fridge ingredients to create more delicious frozen dishes.
  • Create a never-ending supply of choice meals, by cooking a few additional dishes, every couple of weeks.
By following these simple steps you’ll eat better and stay on budget, with much less fuss. For more great ideas on how to save money and live better, please follow “Leading a Champagne Life on a Beer Budget“.