Readers' Tips

Ways to Save on a Family Outing to the Movies

Check your town's website for summer activities. Our town shows several recent family-friendly movies free every summer. They're shown outdoors in a park. People bring picnic blankets and snacks. With some homemade popped corn and iced tea, it is a penny-pincher's ideal evening.

Also, see if your library offers movie afternoons and evenings. Our library does this, showing either classic or independent films. Of course, your library is sure to have movies available to borrow. I was surprised to see what a large selection is available at my local library. I enjoy being able to watch at my convenience.

editor's note: Visit here for more ways to save on a family outing to the movies.


I enjoy taking on various DIY projects at home. It feels great to fix something that I knew nothing about a few days ago! Sometimes, however, I get in over my head. I've found a way to solve that too. I call the union hall for the appropriate trade. Often they can refer an apprentice to help finish the job. Sometimes a regular union member will come along to supervise, but even if they do, the hourly rate is less than on a regular service call. I save money and the apprentice gets needed experience and some income.

Additional TDS Resource: Finding an affordable handyman

Easy Emergency Fund

Here's an easy way to find money for your emergency fund. Since I get paid every two weeks, I have my monthly budget planned around using both paychecks to cover my expenses. A couple of times per year, I get three checks in the same month. When that happens, I take the extra check and put the whole thing into my emergency account. My monthly expenses are covered and so are those unexpected bills that happen.

Additional TDS Resource: 8 reasons you don't have an emergency fund

Great Gift for Parents

Here's a great gift idea that I used for my mom on Mother's Day, and we'll use for my father-in-law on Father's Day. It consists of a blank notebook or journal and a glass jar willed with slips of paper. On those slips are questions about the person. For instance, we may ask, "What was your favorite TV show when you were 10?" They are to answer the questions in the journal. Most parents are happy to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren. If desired, do something similar except do a video recording instead of asking them to write their answers. There are questions that I've always wondered about. I'd hate to lose mom before I had a chance to ask her.

Ask the Butcher

Does your grocery store have a butcher on site? If so, you want to make friends with him/her. I frequently ask mine which meat cuts he recommends for value. Sometimes he'll tell me that they have some extra from yesterday's special or something that they have too much of that he can give me a discount on. Getting to know him has made a big difference in my family's diet. As a single mom, I have to watch my budget carefully. Buying our meats at a discount helps us to eat well when I don't have much to spend.

Additional TDS Resource: How to buy beef

Before You Leave On Vacation...

Before your vacation, use your phone to take pictures of your driver's license, passport, a list of your credit cards, and the inside of your suitcase if you're flying. If anything gets lost or stolen during your trip, you'll have proof of what was there. Two years ago, I lost my bag, including my driver's license. Fortunately, I had a picture of the list of phone numbers for my credit cards, so I could keep anyone from using them. I couldn't replace my driver's license until I got home but figured if I got pulled over I'd show them the picture of my license to prove I had one. It still wasn't something I'd wish on anyone, but it could have been much worse to be 1300 miles from home without anything.

Shopping the Edges

Most of us shop the grocery store aisle by aisle. That way, we don't forget anything on our list. I've learned that the healthiest and cheapest foods are on the outside aisles and in the back of the store. Therefore, I now avoid the aisle with the freezer that holds all the microwave dinners. I still hit a few in the center like the one that has bags of rice and pasta and the condiments. I find that cooking from scratch takes a little more time, but it keeps both my family and my budget healthy!

Additional TDS Resource: 13 ways to reduce your grocery budget

Nasty Range Hood Filters

Here's an easy way to clean your range hood filter. Remove it from the hood. Take it outside and spray it with oven cleaner. Let it sit outside overnight. In the morning, spray it with your hose. Let it dry and put it back into the hood. It's easy!

Additional TDS Resource: How to clean a range hood filter

No Longer Mixed Up

I save by making my own mixes for brownies, bread, pancakes, and cookies. Once a month, I look at what mixes I have on the shelf and make more of any that are getting low. That way, I always have some in my pantry when I want to make something. It is just the same as if I had bought the mix in the store.

Additional TDS Resource: More on homemade baking mixes

Last Minute Hotels

We take a car trip each summer. We had been booking our hotel for the next night a day early. For instance, before bed on Monday, we would reserve a room for Tuesday night. However, one night last year, we got in late, and I didn't have time to make a reservation. The next day, we were busy, so I didn't get a chance to find a hotel until after 6pm. I found that many hotels will drop rates in the late afternoon or early evening if they have empty rooms. Rather than let a room sit empty, they're happy to have it filled even if they don't get their full rate. Therefore, I now wait until about 6pm and use my phone to see what's available online. I've also learned that if I call a lesser chain and get a price, many of the more expensive chains will meet it if I ask. There is nothing like getting a Marriott discount that puts it in Motel 6 price range!

Giving Money Gifts In Retirement

Just a word of caution about giving away money during retirement years. Check with your local Department of Human Services office to see what your state policy is on Transfer of Assets. If your circumstances change and you need financial help with nursing home care or even home health care (in some situations), you could be penalized. All states are different, although the state I'm in looks back five years from date of application. I'm definitely not trying to discourage giving, but be careful not to cause harm to yourself in the process.

editor's note: Cathy's right. With costs being what they are, many retirees find themselves dependent on Medicaid to help with their living expenses, and certain gifts can make you ineligible for Medicaid. And the rules aren't obvious, so you'll want to check with an expert before you make any significant money gift. More than one retiree has helped their adult children with a home down payment only to find out a year later that they've disqualified themselves for Medicaid.

Cooking for One

Cooking for one or two people can be hard. Unless you pay up for special small packages, it seems that most things are meant for four or five people. I've found a way to overcome some of that. When I buy veggies, I prep and freeze them on cookie sheets. The next day, I place them in freezer bags in an amount that would work for my wife and me. I do this for carrots, berries, and any other veggies that will freeze.

Additional TDS Resource: More on frugal cooking for one

Concrete Patio Repair

Our concrete patio has developed a few cracks. It's nothing serious, but it's just enough to be noticeable. I thought about trying to patch it, but I didn't think that the patches would look much better than the cracks. Then I saw where someone had painted their patio to look like flag stones! I cleaned it really well and then laid down a base coat of gray. Onto that, I used an old rag to add some brown color. Finally, I added the lines that defined each stone. I did them in a real dark brown and made sure that they ran right where my cracks were. It's only been a few weeks, but I'm getting compliments from everyone that sees it!

When to Begin Social Security

My husband and I weren't sure when we should begin collecting Social Security. We knew that the longer we waited the more we would get each month. It turns out that it's about 8% more. We spoke with a financial planner who told us to think about whether we really needed the money right away and to think about how long we might live. He also reminded us that one of us could start collecting while the other delayed and that one could collect 50% of the other's benefit instead of their own benefit if that would pay more.

Additional TDS Resource: Here is a tool to determine the best time to begin Social Security benefits

Saving for Vacation

Every year about mid-March, I begin to collect gift cards for vacation. It gives me a chance to save, so we don't put the entire trip on our credit cards. I watch for special deals. Sometimes I can find $50 restaurant cards for $40 for a chain that we would eat at anyway on the road. I look for anything that we would be buying during our trip. This year, we're looking forward to seeing the Grand Canyon by car. Can't wait!

Wardrobe Building

My office is business casual. I've built up a nice wardrobe without spending a lot. I began by buying good quality slacks and skirts in either navy, black, or grey. I buy timeless styles and quality since bottoms take the most wear. For blouses, I buy more color and don't demand such good quality. I do the same thing with necklaces. Even though my skirts may be boring, I have a reputation for loving color. Since my tops are cheap (often I buy at consignment or thrift shops), I can afford to update often. I don't spend a lot, but I'm told that I always look good.

Additional TDS Resource: Building a business casual wardrobe

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