Tag Archives: luxury on less tips

Why are you still paying for cable?

For the record: I am not being compensated in any way by Netflix, PlayStation, or anyone else to write this post. I am just sharing our setup, and I welcome your tips and recommendations in the comments for how you get around paying a cable bill.

Once upon a time, cable television was one of our only planned indulgences. We knew it was expensive, but we liked it. We thought it saved us money by keeping up entertained at home, and we liked having something to watch in the evening.

In September, we finally cut the cable, and we cut $60 out of our monthly entertainment budget. Around Christmas time, our future brother-in-law gifted us a Playstation 3 that he wasn’t using, which enabled us to stream Netflix to our television. Using a simple rabbit ear antenna, our television picks up all of the network stations in perfect digital HD. Now there is very little we could get from cable that we’re not getting from our current setup.

Current television shows

For our favorite TV shows that are currently on the air, we have two options. Sometimes if we’re home at the right time and we’re not busy, we just tune in live. We’re busy, though, and we’re reformed DVR addicts. So what do we do if we miss the network broadcast of 30 Rock or Lost? We stream it on Hulu or the network’s website whenever we want to watch it.


One of our favorite things about Netflix Instant Play is that we’ve been able to catch up on TV shows we never watched. For instance, after listening to the hype about “Lost” for years, we discovered that all six previous seasons were available on Netflix in December. Beginning around Christmas and continuing until February, we caught up on all six seasons in a few months. Bonus? No annoying cliff hangers.


For movies, we have also two options: Netflix Instant Play, which offers a huge list of movie and TV show options, or Netflix by mail, which is where we get newer releases. If we decide to watch a new release at the spur of the moment, there’s always Redbox.

If you’re considering kicking cable, I promise: you will not miss it. Thanks to all of the entertainment technology available today, you have plenty of options to keep yourself entertained.

Netflix Instant Play is also available on XBox and (soon) Wii. If you’re not a gamer, or you don’t want to drop a few hundred dollars on a video game console, you could also get a Roku player for $100. It will work the same as a video game console for streaming movies, but you won’t have the option to play games.

Finding a luxurious (but frugal) splurge

A couple weeks ago, I stumbled on an amazing deal for a luxury that I wouldn’t normally pay for. A representative for an upscale spa in my city came into my office and left pamphlets for a promotion. The spa was offering four complete services in separate visits — a facial, massage, manicure, and haircut and style — for just $50 total.

Before I signed up for the promotion, I called the spa to get the details and make sure it wasn’t a scam. Sure enough, the promotion was a way to sign on new clients, and the services were pretty much full services. The only real difference was that the massage was 30 minutes, but the normal full-price massage is 60 minutes.

Now, I probably don’t have to tell you, but this deal is pretty amazing. For half the normal price of any one of those services, I was receiving all four in separate appointments. With all the stress of the move coming up, Tony convinced me to go ahead and treat myself. It’s unlikely I’ll ever have an opportunity to treat myself to spa services like this again at this price, so why not? I usually pay $35 for a haircut alone (it’s one of my few splurges a few times a year), so I’m paying an extra $15 plus gratuities for three extra services.

On Friday, I had my first massage, and I have to say, I definitely recommend it. It was relaxing, and the masseuse taught me some stretching techniques tailored to my specific muscle problems to help me fend off the neck and shoulder pay I’d been feeling at the end of my workouts.

Spa services are usually anything but frugal. It’s not uncommon for an upscale spa to charge $50-$100 for any one of the services included in my promotion.

It’s possible you can find a similar deal at a spa near you. Call around and see what kind of promotions local spas are offering new clients. In this economic climate, luxury service providers are taking a hit like everyone else. That’s why they’re likely to offer great deals to encourage people to try their services and hopefully return.

If you’re lucky enough to find a great discount, just make sure you give your provider a generous tip. They’re offering discounts because they’re facing tough economic times, so make sure you can afford to compensate them accordingly if you decide to take advantage of their discounts.

Photo by wanhoff

Our $100 Christmas — or how to stretch your budget by buying used

Christmas is over, and now that I’m looking at the stack of books, movies, and records that Tony and I bought for each other, I’m amazed at just how far our Christmas budget went.

We set a budget of $50 each before we knew just how generous our friends and family would be to us. To be honest, if we had known we’d end up spending $200 on a new TV and getting a Playstation 3 and Beatles Rock Band, we probably wouldn’t have bought each other gifts at all. But we love shopping for each other and making the most of a $50 budget is a fun challenge for us. Here’s what we were able to get:

From Tony:

  • A French phrase book for our trip to Europe
  • Bill Bryson’s “Dictionary of Troublesome Words”
  • The Pixar movie “Up.”
  • Bob Dylan “Desire” on vinyl

From me:

  • Tony had a list of books that he plans to teach either next semester or in the future, so I just filled his wish list. He got four books.
  • The Beatles “Abbey Road” on vinyl.

We had a $25 Amazon gift card from cashing in our rewards points from the debit card for our old bank account, so we also got three non-fiction books by David Foster Wallace that we both wanted: “Consider the Lobster,”  “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” and “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.”

Looking at everything that we got, it’s hard to believe we only spent $100. But that’s the most fun part about gift giving for each other — we set a budget, and then do our best to get the most out of our money. We so rarely buy things like books and DVDs these days, so Christmas is a fun time to splurge and figure out what the other one wants.

We bought most of the books and vinyl used on Amazon. There are a ton of books available for $1-$2. You have to pay $3 in shipping, but that still keeps the cost of the book below $5. That’s a great deal considering most new books are at least $10, and all but one of the books we got are as good as new.

There was one gift that was not in our budget. Tony got me a Chi flat iron. I straighten my naturally curly hair almost every day, and I’ve been talking about wanting one of those things for five years. Tony surprised me by going a little over budget to finally get it for me. It’ll make my life easier, and since I’ve wanted it for so long he thought it was about time. I suppose I won’t hold it against him that he made the purchase without discussing it with me. :)

On Christmas Day we ate dinner at a hibachi restaurant and saw a movie using the cash we received from our grandparents. It was a lovely day, and it didn’t cost us a thing.

I hope Santa was good to all of you this Christmas. And I hope he was frugal, too!

Good things come to those who wait

For the past several months, there have been a handful of things that Tony and I wanted, but didn’t need. I’m sure you have your own list of fun things that you can’t justify spending the money on, but you want anyway.

For us it was a new TV, a Playstation 3, and the Beatles Rock Band game. There have been a few times when we’ve gotten our hands on some extra money and considered splurging for one of them. But I could never do it. All together, the three of them would have cost us almost $1,000. Something so frivolous just wasn’t worth that kind of money to us.

This week we learned the importance of waiting for things like this. Thanks to the incredible generosity of the people in our lives, we received all three of them for $200. Here’s what happened.

My future brother-in-law who is currently serving in Iraq found out that we wanted a Playstation 3. He’s a big video gamer, but ever since he got an XBox, he wasn’t using his Playstation. Because he’s incredibly generous, he sent us the Playstation 3 and told us to consider it a Christmas gift. I told him we’d pay him for it, but he refused. Thanks, Joey!

When I told my parents that we received the Playstation 3, they knew how much we wanted Beatles Rock Band. They also knew we’d never spend the money on it. So they sent it to us as a Christmas gift. We were thrilled.

Finally, a good friend of mine back home in Indiana  offered us his used 42-inch plasma TV for $200. We’ve been in the market for a new TV, but the lowest price we could find on a 32-inch was $400. We just couldn’t justify spending that as long as our old TV was still working. But I couldn’t pass up this deal, so I used some of my holiday bonus to buy it from him. (Thanks Chris!)

The moral of the story? Well, first of all, we have the most fantastic friends and family. But secondly, when there’s something you want but you don’t need, just wait. Eventually you’ll find the deal you’ve been waiting for.

And don’t worry: we’ll be sure to pay this incredible generosity forward. :)

Photo by grandeabobora

Instant car air freshener for pennies

car freshenerWe’re one of those crazy couples that brings the dog with us everywhere. Consequently, our backseat is covered in dog hair and our car permanently smells like, well, a dog. Every time I have a reason to look in my backseat, I’m horrified by the dog hair, and I vow to vacuum it out soon. Of course, I never actually get around to doing it.

This weekend we picked up some dryer sheets for the first time in months. We left them in the car while we finished our grocery shopping. When we came back, the dog smell was gone and replaced with the fabulous scent of fresh laundry. So I threw a single sheet under the driver’s seat and voila! It’s a car air freshener that costs pennies.

I know, I know. This is one of the oldest tricks in the books. People have been using dryer sheets to freshen musty closets and drawers for decades. It just never occurred to me to throw one in the car. It’s so much cheaper than one of those hideous pine-scented things that hang from the rearview mirror, and in my opinion it smells nicer, too! It works for me! :)

Photo by breehoffman

An unconventional engagement ring

Engagement ringThe diamond engagement ring is one of those traditions that many frugal people shun. After all, diamonds are expensive, mining practices are often unethical, and who says you even need one?

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I have a traditional diamond engagement ring. I love my engagement ring. It is the fanciest piece of jewelry I’ve ever owned (and probably will ever own), and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. But honestly, it’s important to me because he gave it to me. It could have been anything, and I would cherish it the same way.

My best friend and her soon-to-be official fiance are trying to plan a wedding and start their lives together in this awful economy. Like a lot of people, they’re making decisions to help them save instead of spending more. So when they decided to make their engagement official, they chose an unconventional route for the engagement ring.

My best friend’s fiance’s parents are divorced, but his mom kept her diamond engagement ring. She offered to give it to him so he could propose. They’re having the stone reset in a white gold band that my best friend picked out to make it her own. The cost for this beautiful half-carat diamond ring? Just $350 instead of the usual $1,000+ most people pay.

Because the ring came from his parents, it has sentimental value, and now it will be worn proudly instead of hidden away in a jewelry box. I absolutely love this idea.

Another option for frugal fiances is the non-diamond engagement ring. My sister’s husband gave her a beautiful sapphire ring that cost a fraction of the price of a diamond.

Whatever you choose to symbolize your commitment to your fiance, remember that the important thing is the commitment — not the jewelry.

Photo by wumpiewoo

For inexpensive organic meat, the freezer is your friend

meatEver since Tony and I vowed to stick with organic meat, we’ve had to be creative to keep expensive organics from driving up our grocery costs. Not only did we swear off cheap chicken, we recently nixed ground beef from our diets thanks to this terrifying New York Times story about flaws in the inspection process.

We get around using ground beef by substituting it for organic ground chicken when we can. Occasionally we still use beef in recipes, but we buy cuts of sirloin or chuck and ground them ourselves in the food processor. Using single cuts of beef reduces the risk of contamination by e. coli and other dangerous bacteria. But I digress.

Shopping for organic meats can get pretty expensive, but one of the ways we keep costs down is by watching out for expiration date specials. Even on sale, the organic chicken we prefer never goes below $3 a pound. We check the grocery store every week for packages with sell-by dates coming soon. Usually these packages are marked off by a dollar or two. When we get them home, we either cook them right away or put them in the freezer. Freezing the meat increases its shelf life by months, and buying on the sell-by date reduces the cost considerably.

For example, on Sunday we found four packages of organic ground chicken with a sell-by date that day. They were marked off $2 each. They were also on sale for buy one, get one free. All together, we bought four packages for $1 a pound. That’s much less than we typically paid for regular ground chicken.

By stock piling, we ensure that we can stay ahead of the curve and only buy when the price goes down low enough. This has allowed us to buy exclusively organic meat without increasing our grocery budget.

Photo by judybaxter

Guest post: 12 essential tools for your frugal kitchen – Part I

kitchen tools
Photo by photoartist3

(This is a guest post from my husband, Tony, an amateur chef who cooks professional-quality dishes. As the primary beneficiary of his culinary talents, I can absolutely attest to his abilities in the kitchen. Here are his recommendations for the only 12 tools you need to make pretty much anything without cramming your cupboards or breaking the bank.)

Stocking a frugal kitchen is a balancing act. Weighing the pros and cons of a particular tool and trying to figure out how much money you should put down for it is as delicate an art as cooking or baking. Depending on the situation, money either is or is not synonymous with quality, which is why the only rule you should ever have when buying a kitchen tool is this: is it a multi-tasker?

I don’t want to suggest a kitchen can survive with just 12 pieces. But these strategically purchased pieces can help cut down on the clutter coming in and the dollars going out.

12.) A 10- or 12-inch nonstick pan. I would never pay more for a non-stick pan than I would want to pay again in the next few years. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if you buy the cheapest non-stick pan or the most expensive non-stick pan: both are susceptible to that single nick that will cause them to lose their functionality. Although keeping a non-stick pan in pristine condition for multiple years is certainly not impossible, most of us don’t store it in a museum display case and will have an accident that will begin to ruin the pan. Look for a pan in the low-middle cost range; something that has a little heft to it (to hold heat and allow for even cooking, which the cheapest ones don’t) but won’t make your bank account cry if you chip it.

11.) A thick rubber-handled manual can opener. Cheaper than an electric variety, easier to clean, and if the handle is rubber, it can moonlight as a jar opener.

10.) A large pot, 8 to 12 quarts. Perfect for soups, stews, and stocks. (Every frugal kitchen should be making its own stocks!)

9.) In most cases, buy plastic instead of metal.
It’s cheaper and it lasts longer. Metal, particularly stainless steel, looks beautiful — but cheap metal measuring cups can bend at the handle, and cheap metal measuring spoons can rust. My mother still uses the same simple plastic measuring devices she received at her wedding. And if you’re looking into plastic utensils (particularly flexible-head spoon spatulas), it’s worth the extra dollar or two to buy something that is safe to high temperatures; melted plastic is never a tasty ingredient.

8.) Tongs. They’re like a third hand. If you can only buy one, get the ones with heat-resistant plastic on the ends so they won’t ruin your non-stick cookware.

Tony is my husband, an excellent cook, a grad student, and a movie reviewer. Check back tomorrow for the second installment of his guide to essential tools for the frugal kitchen!

No spend alternatives to our favorite summer activities

Photo by lonebluelady

We’re only in the second week of our no spend summer, and we’ve already hit some challenges and setbacks. Even though we know it’s worth it, limiting our spending has been really tough. It’s a challenge to keep ourselves from feeling deprived and losing motivation.

There are some things that I associate with summer that we’ve had to give up. Because we miss them, we’re thinking of no spend alternatives to the summer activities we love.

Movies and popcorn

What’s summer without blockbusters? Though we sometimes catch a matinee at the cheap theater for $5.50 a ticket, we still miss the fun of the big screen with a bucket of popcorn. Check your city’s events calendar and see if they’re offering free screenings of classic movies. Our city screens family movies in a park every Sunday night for free. If your city doesn’t offer anything like that, add a little extra fun to family movie night by popping homemade popcorn on the stovetop.

Going out for ice cream

Nothing says summer like a trip to the ice cream parlor. But gourmet ice cream parlors are way too pricey, and even Dairy Queen can add up. Instead, drive through any fast food restaurant with a $1 menu and pick up an ice cream cone or a sundae. I don’t usually recommend McDonald’s, but their hot fudge sundaes taste just like Dairy Queen, and they only cost $1.

Lunch on a restaurant patio

One of our favorite weekend activities when the weather is nice is dining outside on a restaurant patio. But part of our no spend summer plan is no restaurant meals, period. If you really want to sit outside and enjoy the weather, pack a lunch and a blanket and head to the park or the beach.

Summer concerts

Ever since I was a teenager, summer meant live concerts. But concert tickets can cost a lot of money. Again, check your city’s events calendar for free live music. Our city presents a band downtown every Friday night of the summer for free. The next best thing for us is listening to an album we haven’t heard in a long time all the way through, start to finish. With today’s iPod culture, a lot of people are missing out on the fun of listening to an entire album. We make it a point to put on music and really listen instead of putting it in the background. If there’s money in the entertainment budget, you can even download something you’ve never heard on iTunes for about $10.

Summer vacation

It really is true that you can get out of town, or at least out of the house, without spending a lot of money. Camping at a state park is a great, inexpensive way to get out of the house. If even camping is a stretch for your budget, look at your city through the eyes of a tourist with a stay-cation. Check out the art and history museums near you. See if there are any national historic sites within driving distance. Even if you have to take a day trip to the nearest metropolitan area, a tank of gas is well worth that vacation feeling without shelling out for hotels and restaurants.