Monday, July 27, 2009

Frugal Festival a Great Success

Thanks to all of my readers that come to the Frugal Festival and helped to make it a great success. It was so much fun to meet you there.

We went through TEN tables of FREE stuff! I can't even begin to figure out how much money was saved at the swap. There were books, housewares, baby items, music, movies, and even a box of fresh picked amazing tomatoes.

Bargain Babe and her volunteers did a fabulous job putting together this unique festival. I was glad to help out by creating the swap.

Thanks so much to Hilary who came with lots to swap and tons of energy.

Thanks also to Madison and Jessie who painted faces for almost four hours straight. By the way, I happen to know that they can be booked for parties and events in the Los Angeles area. Just email me at and I'll track them down for you.

You can see more photos from the event here.

The swap was such a success that there are plans for another one. I'll let my readers know when and where the next swap will be.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Really Free Swap in the Park at the Frugal Fe$tival - July 26, 2009 - Van Nuys, CA

I'm going to run the Really Free Swap at the Frugal Festival in Woodley Park (just southeast of Victory and Woodley) in Van Nuys, CA this Sunday, July 26th, 2009 from 1-4pm.

What does that mean, Bobbi?

It means that after going to several swaps (check out my picture from the latest swap-o-rama-rama), totally enjoying myself, getting great stuff and telling the world how much fun they are... I opened my mouth and told the wonderful Bargain Babe that there should be a swap at the upcoming Frugal Festival.

Well, you know the rule. If you suggest that something should happen, you get to be in charge of it. So, I am.

It's going to be a REALLY FREE SWAP, which means you bring some stuff and others bring some stuff and then you take some of the other guys stuff. No money involved. And if you happened to forget to bring some stuff... well, you can take some stuff anyway. I'd call that a bargain!

Click here to get the specifics on the festival and the swap.

You can bring all kinds of COOL stuff to swap. Clothes, dvds, jewelry are awesome swap items. But don't bring things that won't do well in the heat... like candles. Your junk will be someone else's treasure. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean that someone else won't love it. Make sure the stuff is legal, kid appropriate and working.

You can also decide that you are going to just free swap your services - haircuts, massage, juggling.

I suggest you bring a chair, a table (or picnic blanket), a bag for holding your swap treasures and a sun umbrella.

If you want to help me with the swap, send me an email at I'd LOVE your help.

The Many Uses of Plastic Storage Bins

Many years ago, when my kids where little and had a zillion toys (all purchased at yard sales and consignment stores), I purchased (on sale) a half dozen good quality large (14-22 gallon) plastic storage bins with lids.

I taped pictures of the different kinds of toys (stuffed animals, trains, blocks, dolls, balls, etc) on the outside of the bins.

I sorted the different kinds of toys into these bins. The kids could now find and put away their toys. This kept the house, somewhat, cleaned up and made it easier to locate specific toys.

Because the bins had lids, we could stack the bins when not in use and save floor space. They were very handy.

I then purchased smaller clear containers of various sizes to store toys and games that had several pieces but had lost their boxes (or, more likely, had been purchased at yard sales without boxes.) These containers could then be stored inside the bigger container or stored on a shelf and easily stack. I put a picture of the toy/game on the top and side of the box so that it could be identified easily. This little trick made it possible to keep track of all the little pieces of various toys and games. I was very proud of myself for having all of these pieces when we later sold them at our own yard sales.

These containers were a life saver when my kids where little, but I had no idea how many other uses there were going to be for these containers.

I have had some of my storage bins for almost two decades and they look only slightly used. Amazing stuff, plastic.

Here are some of the additional ways I have used my bins:

1. Moving boxes. We have moved at least six times with these bins. They are sturdy and stack. A wonderful container for fragile items. Way more sturdy than cardboard. The money that I saved from not having to buy sturdy cardboard moving boxes recovered the original price I paid for the containers after the first two moves.

2. Out of season clothes storage. When I lived in an area of the country that actually had seasons, we had a ritual of going through the clothes each change of season - getting rid of items that didn't fit any more and putting away clothes we wouldn't need for six months. I put a sign on the outside and top of the bin stating whose clothes they were and the name of the season and year the clothes would be appropriate.

3. Storage for hand-me downs. Sometimes I had clothes that wouldn't fit for another year or two. I would put them into a bin labeled as in #2, but with a date a few years away. I would also note what sizes the clothes were.

4. Garden bins. Currently two of my bins are full of rose bushes that I got from a couple of freecyclers. They are acting as temporary planters until I get the holes dug. They could be permanent planters if I was willing to drill holes in the bottom of my wonderful bins... which I am not. The handles make it super easy to move these containers around, even when full of heavy items.

5. Road trip "baggage." When we take a road trip, we take a LOT of stuff with us. I can fill up one of the containers with books, CDs, drawing pads, extra clothing, etc. I put this in the back of our minivan (yes, I know, not too efficient on gas, but I LOVE my van) and we can easily get to these items but not have them rolling around the car.

6. Beach trip. If we are going to the beach for the day and taking tons of stuff, these are great containers. Not only are they easy for two people (or one strong person) to carry, but once you get to your place on the beach, you have a little seat. You can also drag the container across the sand by one handle. After the trip, just hose the container down and get rid of the sand. By the way, these are NOT the containers to use for food storage at the beach. They are not insulated and they will get hot inside pretty easily.

7. Pre-yard sale storage. I always have a couple of these containers being filled with items that are destined for a yard sale or charity donation. I put the container in a corner of a closet and/or in the garage. When I find some item that I want to get rid of, I can just toss it in my designated container. When the container is full, I can decide whether to go all out and put together a yard sale, or freecycle the items or drop them off at my local charity donation center.

8. Party Ice Chest for drinks. Although these containers are not insulated (as noted in #6 above) they will "make do" in a pinch for loading up with ice and sticking in cans of drinks for a party/picnic. Because they are water proof, the melting ice won't be a problem. But, because they aren't insulated, they will get condensation on the outside and drip water.... so either use them outside where it doesn't matter if the ground gets wet, or put an absorbent towel underneath so your floor doesn't get ruined.

9. Dress Up Box. I've had a giant bin with a hinged lid that has served as the "dress up box" for many years. It's the perfect size for storing light sabers and magic wands as well as tall princess hats, ball gowns, superman capes, fireman hats, wigs, toy instruments, batons, poodle skirts and other necessary garments and accessories needed for children of all ages with an active imagination.

10. Christmas/Hanukah/Birthday present secret storage. I buy presents all year long when I see them at deep discount. I store them away until the needed time in my "secret" storage bins. My kids are old enough now to just know not to look (or risk ruining their surprise), but when they were very little, I could store their presents in "plain sight" in my storage bins on a high shelf with a note that said "Presents."

I am sure that there are many more uses for these indestructible bins, but these are some of my favorites.

I purchased several kinds of bins over the years, but the ones that held up the best were the roughneck storage bins made by Rubbermaid.

When I originally purchased these containers, I had no idea what a bargain they would be. Now I know, so I am telling you.

Starbucks Savings

I'm going to fess up here. I buy expensive coffee.

I don't drink tons of coffee, but I do like to drink a good cup 'o joe in the morning. My current favorite is Starbucks Espresso bean ground for a flat bottom drip machine.

I've tried cheaper coffees and they just don't cut it.

Now, I am going to share my REAL secret coffee tip. Add just a bit of cinnamon on top of the grounds before you brew the coffee.

I was told this secret by a David's Cookies employee many years ago. I don't think he was supposed to tell me, but it kind of blurted out. I've used this trick ever since and people always rave about my coffee.

So, here I am with my expensive little coffee habit. How can I justify it; other than the fact that I make it at home most of the time and I only drink a cup a day?

I take advantage of the fact that Starbucks will give you a free cup of regular brew when you buy a pound of coffee. I get this cup of coffee, take it home, put it in the fridge and have a great cup of cold iced coffee the next morning.

I was proud of my little Starbucks savings until I read Myscha Theriault's article entitled: "Saving at Starbucks: Goumet Coffee Just Got More Affordable." She REALLY knows how to save at Starbucks. Her tips include: ordering a French Press for two, hanging around for a refill, getting a Starbucks card, snagging the free music and more.

If you are a Starbucks consumer and you aren't using every little perk you can get, then I suggest you read this article to see if there is something you are missing.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Restaurants Where Kids Eat for Free

One way to save money when you are traveling with children is to go to restaurants that feature "Kids Eat Free" days. Most of the major chain restaurants have this special day to attract customers. Unfortunately, most of the chains allow their local manager/owners to set which day of the week they will designate for this special.

Still, it is easy to do a bit of preplanning and take advantage of this savings. Just go to the website of the home company. (click on links below) Type in the location where you will be. Get the phone number for the restaurant closest to where you will be vacationing/traveling and give them a call. Ask what day of the week they have the "kids eat free" special. Make note of that day and then plan to eat there on that day during your trip. You might even be able to find a coupon for that same restaurant and perhaps get a double discount (many places don't let you "double dip," but it's worth a try.)

Most of these deals have some limits such as what ages they consider to still be a child, what the child meals include (some don't include drinks) and if you need one adult for each kid. You must ask - don't assume.

Here is a list of some of the major restaurant chains that offer "Kids Eat Free" days. I'm sure there are others. Feel free to write a comment with more restaurants that you know of that offer this special. I would especially like to hear if anyone knows of any restaurants that feature non-processed foods or organic foods. Hey, I can dream can't I?



Buffalo Wild Wings

Captin D's Seafood Kitchen

Cody's Original Roadhouse



Lone Star Steakhouse



Steak 'n Shake

Texas Roadhouse



Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I'm speaking at the California Homeschool Network Family Expo

California Homeschool Network's (CHN's) Family Expo takes place at the Ontario Marriott Hotel in Ontario, California (2200 E. Holt Boulevard) from July 30th through August 2nd, 2009.

This is a super cool homeschool conference that has sessions for adults and teens. There are tons of activities for everyone - from infants to grandparents.

I love going to this conference. Everyone is so real and open and fun! My kids never want to leave at the end of the conference.

The conference is a chance to hear many different people speak about the various aspects of homeschooling and the life of a homeschooler. If you are a new homeschooler or someone that is considering homeschooling, this is a great way to find out what it is really all about. If you are a seasoned homeschooler, then this is a wonderful opportunity to share your knowledge or make new friends.

If you are interested in knowing more about homeschooling but don't want to attend the conference, you are invited to attend a free Introduction to Homeschooling talk by seasoned homeschooler, Karen Taylor on Thursday evening (July 30th) at 7:00 pm. There is also a free home arts session available at that time. Registration for the conference is not required to attend on Thursday evening.

You can register at the door for the conference or just get a "vendor hall only" shopping pass. On Sunday from 10:00 am til 3:00 pm, you can shop the Used Curriculum and Kids' Entrepreneur Sale. (Get some great deals.) The sale on Sunday is open to anyone. You don't have to be a conference attendee.

This year, I am one of the speakers. I am talking about (you guessed it) Budgets and Bargains - How to Gain and Keep Control of your Finances. I'm speaking on Saturday morning at 9:30 am. It's worth getting up to hear me speak because I'm going to be telling some of my real deep bargain secrets.

If you print out this post and present it when you register for the conference, then you will get $10 off your registration fee.

You can find out more about the expo by clicking here or go to or call

If you don't live in California, but would like to know more about homeschooling in your area, a good place to start is this site on

If you can't make it to the expo (or even if you can) and you are interested in having me speak for your group or event, just email me at
. Those who know me will tell you that I just LOVE to talk and I love to talk most about bargains!

How to Sleep Coolly on a Hot Night

It's truly summer in Southern California. The myth that "oh, it cools down enough at night so that you can sleep comfortably" is just not true!

After my fourth bad night's sleep, I turned to the internet this morning to see if there were any tricks that I didn't already know.

The bad news is that I already know (and am doing) most of the tricks. The good news is that I found a few new ones.

Here are the ones that I already know about:

1. Sleep under a damp (not sopping wet) towel or sheet. This tip is the only way that I survived living in a fifth floor apartment in New York City under a tar roof in a building that couldn't handle the added electrical demand of my little window unit without blowing the fuses. This could leave stains on your mattress, so if this is a concern for you, make sure you have protection between you and your mattress.

2. Sleep with a fan directed toward you and a spray bottle of water handy. You just spritz yourself down and then the combination of the water and the moving air cool you down... for a few minutes.

3. Take a cool/cold shower before you go to bed.

4. Sleep naked or in very light and loose clothing.

5. Sleep in a hammock. The air circulates better in a hammock than a bed.

6. Splash water on your face, neck and arms.

Here are some new ideas that I hadn't thought of:

1. Put a bowl of ice in front of the fan that is blowing on you. The air will be cooler. Make sure that you protect whatever is under the bowl. It could condensate and ruin your wooden dresser.

2. Take an ice pack to bed with you. You know, the ones that you freeze and then put in your lunch box. I think that the soft ones that you freeze and put on boo-boos would be the most comfortable, but any will do. I'd wrap them in something thin and soft.... maybe a wash cloth that has been sewn into a little sack.

3. Put an ice pack in socks and then put the socks on your feet. Not sure how much I would like that, but I do think it would cool you off.

4. When splashing or spritzing water, start with your wrists and neck. This will cool you off the fastest.

5. If you don't have an air conditioner, then hang wet towels or sheets in front of open windows. The air coming through the windows will be cooled down by going through the wet barrier.

I'd love to hear about any of your cooling off tips. Post your comments and share your tips with other Bobbi's Bargain readers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Folded Paper Lantern Tutorial - worthy craft project

Here's an inside tidbit for my readers. Not only am I the Queen of Bargains, but I am also the Queen of Bargain Crafts. For many years, I was a craft teacher with an extremely limited budget and a high standard of what was worth making with the kids.

I learned to make many, many things out of paper. My students all became origami experts by the time they were five.

So, I am always on the lookout for craft projects that don't cost much, but look great in the end. These are not as easy to find as one might think.

I found such a project and have deemed it worthy not only of putting it in my personal idea file, but also sharing the link here with you.

The project is a folded paper lantern with a little electronic tea light inside.

The project only requires tissue paper, glue, popsicle sticks, clay and a tea light.

(Note: I have seen the tea lights for sale at the 99 cent store for super cheap and for way too expensive at the Hallmark store.)

The tutorial is beautifully created and photographed on Infused Goods.

I first read about this craft on the very talented and helpful Miss Maggy's blog:

Even though this is not an expensive project, it is not a fast project, nor is it for really little kids. It takes some patience and skill, but the result looks fabulous.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Credit Card Repayment Calculator

One of the top evil villains in our society is credit card debt. One of the worst parts of this little scheme is that it is almost impossible with simple arithmetic to work out how long it will take to pay off your credit card debt and how much you will actually end up paying.

I once spent an hour on the phone with customer service determining exactly what all the little abbreviations on my credit card bill meant and how to do the math. Perhaps that will be the subject of another posting. Right now, I will tell you... it is purposefully complicated.

However, the first step in handling any situation is to be able to face the truth about it. How can you ever get out of credit card debt if you don't even look at what it would take to do so.

Now, from an unexpected source (The Federal Reserve) comes a calculator to help you face the reality of your situation.

This is an easy calculator that gives you some startling facts.

Just put in the total of your debt and the highest APR on your cards and immediately you will see how long it will take to pay it off if you pay only the stated minimum payment. It also gives you the startling figure of the amount of interest you will pay.

The first figures I put in of $5,000 debt and 28% interest came back with a statement telling me that I would NEVER pay off the debt because if I only paid the minimum balance, I would never lower the principal!! Wow! I didn't think that was even legal any more.

You can then recalculate by stating a higher monthly payment or the amount of time you want to pay off the debt. Revealing.

OK.... I'm hoping you don't have credit card debt. But if you do, here is the "cold shower" wake up call to get you to cut those little pieces of plastic up and start working on a cash only system... or at least do whatever you need to do to pay off the balance and stop spending beyond your means.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Disney on a budget

A few years ago, we bought an annual pass to Disneyland. As Southern California residents, we got the passes at a great and deep discount. If we went to the park more than three times during the year, we saved money. It was an awesome experience.... but, it COULD have been EXTREMELY expensive if I hadn't laid down the Bargain Queen ground rules.

(Note: Currently there is a great 3 day pass for Southern California residents.)

Kids (and adults) tend to get cranky when they are hungry and/or tired. There is nothing worse than going to all the trouble and expense of going to Disney and then get cranky and fight. (And believe me, I have seen lots of cranky kids and parents on my trips to Disney.) Therefore, anything you can do to avoid being hungry and/or tired during your trip is well worth the effort. Following the rules below will help you have a happy and bargainish Disney adventure.

1. Make sure that EVERYONE (you included) gets a good night's sleep the night before the adventure. This means planning ahead so that you can get everything done early enough to go to sleep on time. Any Disney day has to begin early in order to make it worthwhile.

2. Make and pack nutritious food the night before. Food at the park is extremely expensive. The cheaper food is full of sugar and carbs. Because the junk food is cheaper than going to the restaurants and getting something truly nutritious, the family can end up in a cranky after-sugar mood.

3. Eat a good protein breakfast. You can make this the night before, as well, and then eat it in the car.

4. You are not supposed bring outside food into the Disney parks. You can get away with a water bottle and something small in your purse or backpack, but you can't bring in picnic baskets. However, each park has "hidden" picnic areas just outside of the entrance. They are not well advertised, but they are there. At Disneyland, they are just to the left of the ticket booths, behind some bushes. There are lockers and picnic tables. The lockers are big enough to put a good sized picnic cooler and/or extra clothes. You have to pay for these lockers (click here to see the current prices), but the cost is a drop in the bucket compared to what you would pay for the food that you can store there.

I found the best eating/food break schedule for the day was to eat a bit of something when we dropped off the cooler and clothes as we entered the park. We also made a bathroom stop at that time as they are right there next to the picnic area. Then we would go into the park. We'd coordinate to meet back at the picnic area between noon and 1:00 to have lunch. We could refill out water bottles and add or subtract clothes depending on the temperature. We would meet at the picnic area again at 6:00. Then back out to the park until after fireworks. Again we could grab a snack, go to the bathroom, and refill water bottles. We'd gather everything up and make out way back to the car.... tired but not on a sugar high and not upset that we had just blown the budget.

5. Bring your own water. OH MY GOODNESS!!! The mark-up on water is OUTRAGEOUS! I always bring my own water jug full of filtered water. I also make sure that each person has a water bottle that they carry into the park. I did purchase Disney water bottle lanyards (that go over your shoulder and then hold a water bottle) so that you don't have to carry the bottle in your hand.

Note on the laynard: Here the lanyard is $14.95. Here the lanyard is $1.

6. Avoid sugary snacks. Salt and protein will be your friend. Some good treats to pack are: Bobbi's trail mix*, cheese sticks, crackers, carrot & celery sticks, dry cereal, granola bars. These are good snacks to stick in small bags in your purse.

7. Bobbi's Trail Mix Recipe*. This is a family secret and now I am sharing it with you. I make a batch of this before any big trip. I divide it up into smaller bags for each person. A few nibbles on this snack will help you make it through the wait for the "new and now most popular" ride.

1 bag raisins - organic if you can
1 container salted, mixed nuts (don't buy the cheap stuff... get the good Planter's mix)
1 bag plain M&Ms

Dump all three items into a large bowl and mix with a large spoon or very clean hands.

Now divide the mixture into snack sized ziploc bags. Give one to each person in your group. These are small enough that you can get away with taking them into the park in your purse or backpack.

Stays good for ages. Gets kind of yucky if left in a hot car and then smashed... but it will still taste good.

8. Avoid mayonnaise sandwiches in the heat of summer. When mayonnaise goes bad by sitting too long in the sun, you can end up with food poisoning - not fun. I try to avoid sandwiches and salads that have mayo during the hot summer months. If one of my kids just insists that they want a turkey and mayo sandwich, then I make sure it is kept in a cooler and I get them to eat it early in the day.

9. Make at least two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches per person. At the end of the day, when you are hungry and tired, a smashed PB&J tastes like filet mignon.

10. Budget a defined amount of money for each person to buy a souvenir and a snack. You ARE at Disneyland for goodness sakes. Tell them that if they don't spend their allocated amount of money, it is theirs to keep and spend as they want at a later time and place. This way, you can enjoy going into the gift shop to look around.

Your child has a certain amount of money to spend. First of all, they will discover that the same stuffed animal they can get for $1 at a garage sale is $50 at a gift store in the park!!!! Also, this keeps you from having to say, no, no, no. They have their own money and it is up to them how they will spend it. My kids have gotten wise and save their souvenir money, but at the beginning they bought a pin or something small. It gave them something to remind them of the trip.

On the snacks.... well, most of them are sugar, sugar, sugar.... but oh so tempting, so let them buy one. They have the money. If you can pull it off (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't) make the rule that you only buy one snack at a time and then you share it. In my family, I love cotton candy. Someone else likes the frozen lemonade. Someone else likes the giant turkey legs. So, when we want a snack, we buy one of them and share. That way, it seems like we have snacks all through the day.

11. Of course, it goes without saying that you wear the most comfortable shoes that you own, wear a fanny pack or a purse that has been cleared out of all valuable and important papers except the ones that you MUST have, dress in layers so you can put on and take off depending on the weather changes, have a pen & paper for those important Disney autographs (pens and autograph books are big sellers with high price tags at the parks), have a camera (don't you DARE buy one of the overpriced official Disney visitor pictures) with a good wrist strap or shoulder strap, have a hat to shade your head and eyes that is secure enough that it won't fly off at the first breeze, sunscreen for your nose, extra tissues for wiping and blowing, and (most important) lots of patience. You WILL wait in lines. It's just the nature of the (beauty and the) beast. If don't want to be patient with yourself, your kids and those around you.... don't go to a theme park. Otherwise.... have a good time, take lots of pictures and enjoy yourself!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - compare local prices

Have you ever thrown away the sale circulars that you get in the mail and then realize that, indeed, you DO need to know what is on sale at the local JoAnn Fabric or Office Max?

This site has many of the big store circulars on line. You can also compare prices for specific items. You can also see the ads from your local newspapers.

This is a pretty big endeavor that has cost some big corporation a lot of money.... but is sure makes it easy on us.

Now, I'm not much one for buying at big name stores, but when I do, I hate to find out that the item I just bought at one store was on sale at another store. Yes.... they all say that they will give you the sale price of another store, but you have to KNOW it is on sale at another store. Now you can.

I wish there were more local non-chain stores on this site. Hopefully, the site will grow and there WILL be more small stores listed.

Meanwhile, if you must shop at JCPenny, Target, RiteAid, Walgreen, Ace Hardware, and the like, than at least you can check out all of their sales at once.

This site has portals for most of the major (and not so major - Altoona, PA) cities in the United States.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Capture Any Web Page -

This is just one of the coolest sites I have seen in a long time.

It is more geek oriented, than bargain oriented, but I love it!

You can go to any page on the internet. Put in front of the full URL address and presto, it takes you to their site where you can crop and design with that page just as if you had made it in photoshop.

OK, I don't feel like I am explaining this well, but I am putting it on my blog because it is AWESOME!

If you can explain it better.... please post a comment.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cost of Raising a Child Calculator

Now here is an interesting new form of birth control - a cost of raising a child calculator that helps you to find out how much it costs per year to raise a child. One of the more interesting facts about this calculator is that it is on the United States Department of Agriculture site - huh?

OK, here is the good news. This is a helpful tool. A great way to let your kids understand how much things cost. An even better way to keep friends who are hormonal and want to have another kid (you know who you are) understand the economics of giving in to those urges. It will assist someone who is looking at starting a family understand how they need to financially arrange their lives in order to raise children in the way they want.

Bad news. I really think that these figures are off for anyone that doesn't just want to go the straight public school, public services, HMO route.

If you are considering private school or violin lessons or tutors or nannies or summer camp or (egad!) perhaps a new-used car anytime during your child raising years.... you are going to have to add at least one zero after these figures.

On the other hand, this calculator does help you to see where you can use more bargain tips. If you see that you're spending way more (for example) on clothing, than the national average... then, perhaps you should utilize some of the many tips on saving money on clothing.

The calculations are pretty general, and I certainly wouldn't put kids names into the system (which is optional) but it's worth a look-see.