Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Bathrooms

So upon my recent move to Philly, I rented a cute little apartment with an atrociously pink bathroom floor.  (It should be mentioned here that the floor didn't even match the tiles/paint on the walls, as you can see in the pics below.)  Since it is a rental -- and I think it's terribly unethical to permanently alter someone else's property without permission -- I was looking for a cost-effective way to improve the look of my bathroom floor that could be reversed fairly easily.  This ruled out peel-and-stick tiles, paint, et cetera.  Fortunately, had reblogged a terrific tutorial on how to accomplish just what I wanted to do on a budget!  I had extensive experience when it came to the awesomeness of vinyl decals in the past, (more on that in a later post,) and this just fit perfectly.

Thanks to Diane from In My Own Style, I now knew to buy vinyl decal material in the colors I wanted (in this case, black and ivory to match the walls,) a bunch of spare X-acto knife blades, and some clear acrylic spray adhesive in order to get started.  I bought the decal material from (5 12x24 sheets of both glossy black and ivory,) and the rest of the supplies from A.C. Moore.  Additionally, I also had a jar of clear, water-based varnish on hand, as well as foam paintbrushes for extra waterproofing power, which will come into play later.

Please note that Diane's DIY vinyl floor transformation took her two hours to complete, and she was only changing the accent colors on her floor.  My own project took about 36 hours of effort in total, since I had to cover every single tile in my little bathroom.  In other words, make sure that you have some extra time if you plan on performing this project yourself!  There were three different sizes of tile to account for, and so I had to measure and cut the vinyl accordingly.  I placed the vinyl on the tiles according to Diane's instructions, and made sure to spray everything with the clear adhesive when I was done.  However, I wanted to make sure that all that effort was indeed going to last, so I added the clear varnish on top of the adhesive once the latter had dried.

Once I was done, the effect was lovely, and everything seems to be holding up particularly well!  If and when I move out of my apartment, a bit of turpentine will get rid of the vinyl decal/adhesive/varnish combo, and return the floor to its original Mamie pink if the landlord so desires.  (Can't imagine that they're that married to the color, but y'know, it's their call.)  Total cost?  Slightly under $30 -- including shipping -- for the vinyl, (Check CraftVinyl's Facebook page for coupon codes!) with an extra $12 spent on both the X-acto blades and spray adhesive.  I had the varnish and brushes on hand, but the varnish cost about $5 when I bought it, and the brushes are $1 for a large package at any Dollar Tree you can find.  So when all was said and done, I redid my whole bathroom floor in a rental-friendly way for less than $50.  Check out the results below!  (Apologies for the crappy camera phone quality.)



Thursday, December 22, 2011

Scoring All of Your Toiletries for Under $30!

Celebrating the holidays currently, and forgive me -- but I'm linking to an old article I wrote for All Over Albany back in '09 on how to stock your bathroom for under $30.  (Still rings just as true today; the Dollar Tree is one of my favorite stores ever, and you gotta love consistent price points!)  If you're looking for ways to recover from the Christmas bills, do yourself a favor and start buying as many things as possible at your local DT.  You'd be surprised how quickly and easily the savings on all of the little things that make a household run can add up!

Once the weekend's over, I'll be posting a second ode to my everlasting love affair with the Dollar Tree.  This time, it'll address how any business can save money on all of the office basics by buying in bulk from my favorite nationwide retailer.  Happy Hanukkah/Merry Christmas/etc!  :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Slashing Your Grocery/Food Bills Painlessly

Apologies for being away from the blog so long, guys!  Long story short, I moved to Philly, had the Murphy's Law moving experience from hell, and it took me a while to get caught up enough to start blogging for fun again!  Again, I'm sorry!

With that said, this post is on how to painlessly cut your grocery bills without clipping coupons, watching sales circulars like a hawk, or generally expending any more time and energy than you need to.  Eating at home is one of the best ways to cut out a lot of the unnecessary expenses related to overly frequent take-out meals and trips to local restaurants.  Generally, it's quite a bit healthier as well.  Of course you probably know this already, but the time and energy it takes to make a healthy meal at home after a busy day can really make this task seem like just another chore you'd rather not have to bother with.  Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to eat healthily, cheaply, and well when you're pressed for both time and cash!

I'm going to set this post up a little bit for easy scanning/reference.  First, I'll discuss how best to cut your grocery bill without poring over websites and fliers just to save a buck or two on a can of tomatoes.

In general, shopping for generics is a great idea, but I do remember more than a bit of irritation several years back when my cartload of generic groceries equaled what my mom had spent feeding a family of four back in the late '90s.  I understand that prices rise and all that, but that amount seemed like an absurd spike for a 10-15 year period.  The best and easiest way to get around the typical grocery store markups, even on generic items, is shopping at certain discount stores that cut out the unnecessary frills (e.g. carrying several different brands of the same product, larger spaces that require higher rents, hiring paid baggers) that lead to those inflated prices.  I'm partial to shopping at Aldi, myself.  Save-A-Lot is another nationwide chain based on a similar business model,  and Grocery Outlet is another such venue based largely on the West Coast.

I can get about 90% of my foodstuffs from these places, and the other 10% is usually easily found at a typical supermarket.  (It should be noted that I won't eat cheap food if it's lousy, so take my word for it -- you'd likely be hard-pressed to determine a difference in the food quality between the products from these discount stores and the traditional grocery store brands out there.)  These places are a great way to knock 35% or more, easily, off your typical grocery bill without a fuss!  For those on the tightest of budgets, here's the Hillbilly Housewife's guide to buying enough food to feed your family for $45 a week, and for vegans like myself, here's a link to the Vegan on $3.33 a Day blog.

Additionally, using a crock pot is a great way to put a really healthy meal on the table if you a.) don't have a lot of time on your hands, b.) aren't the greatest cook when it comes to traditional methods, and c.) would like to save a bit of cash by eating in more often.  I use a programmable crock pot in order to make sure that the setting automatically reverts to a very low/warm temperature if I get absentminded about things.  (Plus, I'm a bit paranoid about accidental fires.)  As far as recipes for the crock pot are concerned, I'm totally in love with the easy, doable, and family-reviewed ones that Stephanie O'Dea posts on her blog, and the lovely lady has penned two different books on the subject, should you prefer a more traditional interface.  Hopefully, this gives you a great and easy place to start from when it comes to painlessly eating in more often; this Oatmeal comic doesn't have to apply to you!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Testing A Cheap, Well-Reviewed A/C Unit

Ok, so it's getting hotter than the balls of Hades here in NY, and this is my first full summer as a freelancer.  (That is, working/being at home just about all the time.)  With that being the case, my ceiling fans and desk fan just ain't cutting it, and the weather's only going to get hotter and more humid as the summer goes on.  In the interest of a.) not having to take 3 showers a day just to feel normal, b.) not sweating through laundry like it's going out of style, and c.) being able to work, live, and sleep comfortably in general, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a little a/c unit.

Now, it should be noted that whenever I buy something that I plan to have for a while, I do about half an hour of research on the best available deals.  I wanted an actual air conditioner that would at least cool one room of my apartment effectively, rather than those glorified fans known as "evaporative air coolers." So, after checking out Google and Amazon for customer reviews, prices, et cetera, I just ordered this a/c unit for under $110 -- INCLUDING shipping!  Base price was $99, with shipping coming in at about $20 for a 3-5 day delivery time.  And a quick Google search for the phrase Conn's coupons turned up the code 10foru, which knocked another 10% off the base price.  COUPON NINJA SHOPPER ATTACK!!!!  (Sorry, got carried away.)

So in short, it looks like this a/c unit is a really good value, and I'll be sure to follow up on this post once I get everything installed in a week.  Keep your fingers crossed for me, and stay cool!

UPDATE:  The a/c unit arrived on time, and works terrifically!  It kept my entire apartment cool throughout the summer and the unseasonably warm autumn, so I highly recommend it!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cheaper Home Phones, International Calls, Business Phones, and Fax Lines

Picking up where the last post left off, we'll get into how to painlessly slash your home/international phone bills (if you still prefer to have a central home line instead of/in addition to a cell,) as well as saving money on small/home business telecommunications expenses.  The solutions for all of the above are pretty much the same, so grouping everything together into this one missive makes sense.

  • Home Phones/Business Phones:  For excellent call quality and dirt-cheap pricing, a Magic Jack is the best and easiest way to go that I've found yet.  I use a Magic Jack for my business line, and it's a great and inexpensive way to keep a dedicated line open for a mere $20/year.  If you run a small business and want each of your employees to have a dedicated phone line, you can just buy each employee a Magic Jack for their computer workstation and they'll each get their own line, voicemail, et cetera for very little money.  And of course, the fact that Magic Jacks are portable and compatible with just about any Windows or Mac computer makes them ideal when it comes to offering company phone lines to remote employees around the world.  Oh, and since my allergies to retail pricing compel me to mention this, hitting up eBay is a great way to save money on your initial Magic Jack purchase.  While the $20/year for domestic service is indeed what you will pay once you get the Magic Jack, the device itself generally will run an extra $20-$25 when you first purchase it.  I got my (brand-new) Magic Jack device and first year of service from eBay for about $33 shipped, and I've been thrilled with it.  As of this writing, that still seems to be a fair price on eBay for a single, new device plus one year of service if you just want to Buy It Now. It should also be noted that if you want to buy several of Magic Jacks at once for a business situation, you can probably pay even less per unit from certain wholesale eBayers.  And of course, Magic Jacks are great home phone solutions, as well.  You can plug a regular phone into the jack, or you can spend another $5 on eBay for headsets that plug into your computer.  The choice is yours. 
  • International Calls:  This is a little more complicated, since these rates can vary widely depending on the country/region you call.  If you decide to get a Magic Jack and only make international calls rarely or occasionally, their international rates aren't too bad.  (I'd link you directly to the Magic Jack official site for those rates, but that particular page hates my AdBlocker software.)  However, if you frequently need to call both near and faraway lands, you might want to look into the Ooma device.  The Ooma device retails for about $250 new, but again, you can easily get an Ooma for about $50-$100 off the retail price simply by shopping on eBay.  Ooma allows you to call within the US for free once you buy the device, and even typically expensive-to-call international locations (e.g. Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon,) are remarkably inexpensive compared to the competition.  However, while Ooma might be a good idea for a small office, be aware that there is technically a 5,000 min/monthly limit.  Just don't abuse the privilege, and Ooma can be a great cost-saving addition to your home or office.  The final option that you might want to consider for international calls is Skype.  While Skype's international rates to actual phones are pretty comparable to Magic Jack's, these calls are totally free if both parties use their own Skype accounts to contact each other.  If you only have a handful of people or clients located abroad (who have regular access to a computer with a high-speed internet connection,) that you call frequently, asking them to set up their own Skype accounts for mutual cost-savings is a great, easy way to save some cash.  Additionally, as commenter Jean5643 pointed out on my last post, it should be noted that Tracfone offers international calling on their cell phones to most places for the same price you'd pay domestically!  If you just make phone calls to a select few people overseas once in a while, you can just keep it simple with a single phone line in this case.  
  • Fax Lines:  The best deal here is going to depend on how often you need to use a fax line.  If you run a small or home business that only sends/receives a few faxes per month, the best deal is likely to be Fax87, with plans starting at around $60/year.  For a small business that needs a few more faxes per month than that, RingCentral Fax offers 500 free faxes per month for under $80/year, plus other plans that offer up to 2500 free faxes per month at $50/mo.  (Consider your fax volume on your busiest months before choosing a plan for best results.)  Additionally, if you just want to send or receive a single fax or two every once in a while, you can go to and pay a few bucks in order to save yourself the hassle of dealing with a trip to a place like Kinko's, the UPS Store, etc.  All of the above fax options are simply fax-by-email services, so make sure that you have a working scanner on hand before signing up.  Gotta love the future!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Slashing Your Cell Phone Bill

In the last ten years or so, cell phones have become remarkably more affordable and feature-rich than most of us ever dreamed.  However, they can also get incredibly expensive!  This post is going to start off with how someone like me saves money on her phone (Situation: Rarely have lengthy phone convos, prefer text messages, minimal mobile web usage,) and will progress to how to save money in a more typical situation that includes plenty of talk time, mobile web usage, and all that goes with it.

As someone who has gone through several different providers over the years, (Sprint, Verizon, Nextel, T-Mobile...) I have to say that in general, Tracfone products have given me the best call quality and range of any cell phone on the market today.  Yep, Tracfone.  I usually buy 800 minutes at a time, and since I signed up for the double minutes for life program, that doubles to 1600 minutes automatically with a full year of service.  (These refill cards are usually about $125 if you pay retail, meaning that the above scenario of 1600 minutes for the price of 800 has you paying about 8 cents/minute for talk time when all is said and done.  This translates into a little under 3 cents for each text message sent or received, and about 4 cents a minute for mobile web time.)

However, since I'm allergic to paying retail, I usually buy my minute refills via  Callingmart automatically knocks about 3% off all Tracfone refills, making the price for 1600 minutes $121.25.  You're not done saving money at this stage yet, though!  Once you are ready to buy your extra minutes, head over to for some extra savings.  Search RetailMeNot for coupons, which usually yields you another 3% off your refills, bringing your total for 1600 minutes down to $117.61.  I usually end up buying two of these refills a year, meaning my total annual cell phone costs are under $230, or less than $20/month.  As an additional tip, I should note that Tracfone now offers the LG 500G and LG 800G smartphones on their site, which offer almost all of the great features that other smartphones sport today without having to spend a bloody fortune for the privilege.  (Yes, they even have apps!)

Now, that's how the numbers work for someone like me, whose phone is more of a great little convenience than a constant part of my life.  (My computer is another story, however.  I'll get to that in a later post.)  However, if you burn up the airways with talk time and love your mobile web connection, there are other great money-saving options for you that don't necessarily need to involve expensive data plans and buying vast packages of cell phone minutes that you may or may not use.  For the rest of you in the 21st century, there are the Straight Talk plans, which also offer amazing national call quality and coverage on the Tracfone network.  For a flat $30/mo rate, you can get a phone that offers 1000 minutes of talk time, 1000 texts, and 30MB of web usage per month.  However, if you need even more than that on your phone, a totally unlimited plan for talk, text, and web is available via Straight Talk for only $45/mo.  As with the regular Tracfone site, Straight Talk phones are available in everything from the most basic models to full-featured smartphones, so you need not sacrifice convenience for price!

Oh, and these plans are contract free, with no hidden fees/surprises.  This means that your $45/mo plan won't morph into a $60 bill once various "additions" are stuck on your invoice at the end of the month. If you're spending a fortune on cell phone bills, sit down and decide how many minutes you usually use in a busy month and how much you pay for them.  Even if you need to pay $300 to break your cell phone contract, chances are that you can save that sum easily when you switch to one of the lower-priced options above.  Again, it's just another painless way to have the best for less!

What's The Big Deal About "Painlessly Frugal"?

*sigh*  Another personal finance blog?  What makes this one worth reading?  Well, in a nutshell, I've found that in my PF geekery, most of the blogs I've come across either tend to focus on large goals (funding your retirement, starting businesses,) or painfully small cost-cutting frugality measures that are usually more trouble than they are worth.  While these sites can be terrific, there seem to be something of a dearth of PF blogs that focus exclusively on concrete measures for cutting down your everyday bills painlessly and quickly.  

There are a number of ways to get the products and services that most of us use every day for far less than the average, and this blog is dedicated to slashing these everyday costs to the bone without poring over coupon books, churning your own butter, or using a secret password.  (Make no mistake, coupons WILL be a part of this blog, but not in such a way so that you end up painstakingly combing through ten different websites in order to creatively double your coupons so that you can buy a single tube of toothpaste for fifty cents.)  This blog is dedicated to finding huge everyday discounts for everyday people that can be implemented as soon as you finish reading the post.  

While planning for retirement, setting up businesses, et cetera is a great way to achieve financial security and independence in the long run, I really believe that making smaller-but-effective easy changes in the short to medium term is a great way to stay motivated.  I use these tips myself, and they've helped me to become a self-supporting freelancer who lives her life with minimal stress.  Here's hoping you find these tips to be as awesome as I do!