Saturday, February 28, 2009

Free Upright Piano

I know there are several readers that live close to me. I found this offer on

"OFFER: Upright piano -- Trophy Club
Posted by: "jaynee.beach"

"Tue Feb 24, 2009 7:19 pm (PST)

"Antique upright piano, in decent shape, but will need tuning and some cosmetic work. I have recently been given the opportunity to upgrade to a baby grand, so this one needs to go. Please respond via e-mail if you are interested."

Just thought I'd pass it along....

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle

What could be a better deal than free??!! Often, you can accessorize your house for free, just by recycling items you already have.

The glass bowl in the middle used to serve as home to our fish (may he rest in peace). The dried flowers in the vase (back, right) come from my wedding bouquet.

After deciding I needed a decorative container for my bathroom counter to hold brushes, etc., I found this large crystal jar (a gift from Christmas past) sitting in my closet.

In this case, I repurposed a neighbor's old (but in perfectly good condition) bookcase. All it needed was a coat of paint.

My children gave me a set of bath oils as a gift a few years ago. The oil is gone, but the bottles (two on the right) now house fern leaves. The one on the left is an oil decanter that had an irreperable spout.

These #10 cans make an eye-catching display above my kitchen cabinets, some as pots, others as food storage.


  • Before you run to the store, look at what you already have. Then you can call yourself GREEN since you'll have more green in your wallet and you'll be giving the landfills a break.

  • Set aside a "potential reuse" area. I have one shelf in my closet where I keep all the home accessories I'm not using at the moment. (Note: I am NOT giving license to be a pack rat!)

Penny Pinching Party: Fiesta

Challenge: Plan a party for 10-15 under $20.

Theme: Mexican

  • Guacamole with Tortilla Chips
  • Papaya
  • Mexican Cheese Dip with crackers
  • Water with lime
  • Churros with Chocolate

Guacamole and Tortilla Chips

Guacamole Recipe

2 medium very ripe avocados, seeded, peeled, and cut up (3 for $1.00 @ Sprouts)

1/2 of a small onion, cut up

1/2 of a 4-oz can diced green chiles or several dashes bottled hot pepper sauce

1 T snipped cilantro or parsley

1 T lemon or lime juice1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 t salt

1 medium tomato, peeled, seeled, and finely chopped (optional)

In a blender container or food processor bowl combine avocados, onion, chili peppers (or hot sauce), cilantro, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Cover and blend or process till mixture is smooth, scraping sides as necessary. Stir in tomato, if desired. Transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and chill up to 24 hours. Serve with chips. Makes about 2 cups (16 servings).

1/2 papaya with lime

Water with lime slices (Limes 5 for $1.00 @ Sprouts)

Mexican Cheese Ball (Dip)

Mexican Cheese Ball Recipe
2/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 (8 ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened ($1 ea @ grocery store)
4 green onions, chopped ($0.50 @ grocery store)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese ($2/lb @ sprouts)
1/4 cup taco seasoning (I have it in my pantry; a large container @ Costco costs $4)
1/4 cup picante sauce

  1. Toast the pecans at 275 degrees for 20-30 min - do not burn. Stir together nuts with butter and salt and set aside to cool.
  2. In a food processor, blend remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined. Shape into a ball and roll in the cooled pecans.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serve with the tortilla or corn chips.

(The picante sauce didn't want to pour out of the container into the blender, so I tried to tip it up a little higher to coax it out. I guess my coaxing persuaded the sauce so well, it decided to gush out. Therefore, my cheese ball ended up as dip instead. But it received high accolades from the tasters!)

Churros drizzled in chocolate

I N G R E D I E N T S (all of them in my pantry)
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
6 egg yolks
oil for deep frying
powdered sugar for dusting

  1. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set aside. Bring the measured water to a boil in a saucepan, add the salt and brown sugar, stirring constantly, until both have dissolved. Remove from heat, add all the flour and baking powder and beat the mixture continuously until smooth.
  2. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set the batter aside to cool. Have ready a churro maker or a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle, which will give the churros their traditional shape.
  3. Pour oil into a deep-fryer or-suitable saucepan to a depth of about 2 inches. Heat to 375"F, or until a cube of dried bread, added to the oil, floats and turns golden after I minute.
    Spoon the batter into a churros maker or a piping bag. Pipe five or six 4-inch lengths of the mixture into the hot oil, using a knife to slice off each length as it emerges from the nozzle.
    Fry for 3-4 minutes or until they are golden brown. Drain the churros on paper towels while cooking successive batches, then arrange on a plate with the lime wedges, dust them with sugar and serve warm.
Chocolate Churro Dipping Sauce ($3 for chocolate)
This is thickened chocolate sauce used to "dip" (or dunk) your churros.
4 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 tbsp sugar
Place the chocolate and half the milk in a pan and heat, stirring, until the chocolate has melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining milk and whisk into the chocolate with the sugar. Cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until the chocolate is thickened, about five minutes. Add extra cornstarch if it doesn't start to thicken after 5 minutes. Remove and whisk smooth. Pour into individual cups or bowls to allow each person a cup for "dipping". Do not pour the chocolate over churros because it will just make them soggy.
  • Choose a theme. Themes are fun, and they provide direction to the planning.
  • Prepare dishes from scratch. It takes a little more effort, but it's a money-saver, and it shows your guests that you like them enough to spend extra time on them.
  • Choose recipes that use items you already have. It's helpful to take a quick inventory of items in your kitchen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Broken Washing Machine

A few months ago, our washing machine quit working.

My first thought: "Yay! Let's go buy a new one!"

After discussing it with my practical husband: "Let's fix it."

Remember the step-down method illustrated with Pizza Friday? Here it is again with the washing machine:

If you would normally... buy a new washer (about $200 to $1000+),

try...calling a professional to fix it (about $150).

If you would a pro ($150),

try...buying the part and fixing it yourself ($45).

If you would the part and fix it yourself ($45),

try...buying a roll of duct tape and rigging it ($5).

If you would normally...rig it with duct tape ($5),

try...washing your clothes by hand ($0).

Just kidding about the duct tape and washing by hand, but the point is that there is almost always room to "step down."

Our local discount appliance store charged $45.99 for the part, so I looked on eBay and found it for $21, including shipping.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Dora Phone Toy

Today my youngest daughter turns 2!

Bedhead Birthday Girl

Here she is all dressed up.

She doesn't know it yet, but she's getting the Vtech Dora TV Explorer Phone for her birthday. It retails new on ebay for $34.99, but I found it at Costco on clearance after Christmas for $4.97--a savings of 85%.


  • "Keep your eyes peeled." That's what my mother used to tell us when looking for the perfect parking spot. I apply it to shopping as well.
  • Know Costco's pricing methods. If an item ends with a .97, it is on sale (sometimes a little reduced, other times drastically reduced). If it ends with a .00, they are trying to get rid of it (these are usually the best deals).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Your Bargain Huntress: Entry Table

A reader writes:

"I'm also looking for a bargain--and you seem to be the one for finding deals. I am looking for a decorative table to go beneath a huge mirror that I have in my entry-way. I really would prefer to buy a good used one for around $50 and refinish it---but I don't know where to look around here! If I can't find a used, I don't mind buying a new one...but I don't want to spend more than $100. I'm attaching a file of some ideas. I don't really care how ornate it is. It could even be really plain. Any ideas for me?"

Here are the "ideas":

Here are her options:

This solid wood table is from (in her local area) for $60 (she could offer around $40), and it doesn't look like it needs refinishing--of course you never know until you see it in person.

This set of tables is listed on craigslist (also local to her) for $25. She could offer $10 for one table or take both and use the coffee table or sell it. These look like they need some tlc, but have potential. A new coat of paint or the removal of paint and some stain could turn this entry table into a gem.

If she decides to go with a new table, this one comes from for $93.89 shipped.

Or this one from for $92 shipped.

WWBD: It's exciting to take a piece of furniture that's an "ugly duckling" and turn it into a beautiful swan. That's why furniture is my favorite thing to buy used and why I would offer $10 for the green table above and refinish it.

Pottery Barn Faux Stone Wall Hanging

Not all outlet stores live up to the "outlet" label. Pottery Barn does. Here is my favorite Pottery Barn Outlet find:

I bought 5 of them (originally priced at $40 a piece) for $1.97 a piece--a savings of 95%. Pottery Barn Outlet also sells items from Williams-Sonoma and West Elm, since they are owned by the same parent company. For a list of their locations, click here.


  • Take measurements before you go. It would be a shame to have to pass up a screamin' deal because you don't know if an item will fit. Likewise, it would be a waste of time and money if you bought an item, only to bring it home and realize it doesn't fit.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Broyhill China Cabinet: Restored

My sister-in-law, Diana, is in the process of furnishing her new house. She provides us with a good example of "looking beyond the surface."

She purchased this china cabinet used for $70, but it's a Broyhill, which means she's getting far more quality in this piece of furniture than $70 would normally buy.

Here's the finished product. All it took was some paint and new hardware. Voila!


  • Renew it right the first time. I know from experience that if you don't take the time to prepare the surface, the pretty finish will rapidly deteriorate (ie, paint peels, stain flakes off, etc.).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Elle Decor Reproduction, the Bargain Huntress Way

March 2009 issue of Elle Decor.
  • Dining table and chairs: $8500

  • Chandelier: $2000

  • Rug: $1300

Here's how the Bargain Huntress would reproduce this high fashion room:

Dining Table and Chairs: found on for $500

Fabric to reupholster dining chairs: $35 for 2 yards (You could probably find fabric at Walmart for $2 to $6 a yard, though.)

Chandelier: $150 from

Rug: $80 from Ikea

Floor Lamp: $73 from Walmart

Curtains: $20 for 2 panels from Ikea

Frame (16 x 20): set of six at $10.49 a piece from Target

White vase: $18 on (You could probably find one at a garage sale for less than $5.)

  • Check garage sales for inexpensive accessories. Frames, vases, pots, and dried flowers are next to nothing at a garage sale, but still provide the desired effect.
  • Find inspiration. I'm not good at creating a look for my home, but I know what I like when I see it. I collect magazine pages that appeal to me for reference when I'm ready to decorate a room.
  • Acquire pieces one at a time. Know what you are looking for and what your budget is, then keep your eyes open.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Urban Decay Lip Gloss

We hit the mall a few months back just for fun and stopped into Sephora. Love that store! We played in the makeup aisles for a long time and received a few dirty looks from a couple of employees. I wish I had pictures! My 10-year-old daughter did a makeover on my friend, Heather. Then Heather's 7-year-old daughter did one on me. I'm sure some passersby mistook us for Las Vegas showgirls.

During all this, I discovered my new favorite lip gloss: Urban Decay XXX Shine Lip Gloss.

It's shiny, sexy, feels minty fresh, and lasts a long time. Partly because I felt guilty for using Sephora as a playground, and partly because I have a problem with delayed gratification, I paid the $16 pricetag for the lip gloss. I NEVER spend that much on any makeup product!

Guess how much it costs on ebay? about $2. Lesson learned. From now on I will buy IT on ebay.


  • Check container/tube size and color. It's hard to tell by the picture if it's the same size or sample sized.

  • Repeats: ebay. Check shipping charges and seller rating. If you're not careful, you could end up paying more than retail price, or never get the item (if it's a bad seller).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More on the Canon Powershot A590 IS

I didn't rave enough about my new camera (Canon Powershot A590 IS). Yesterday I found a little free time (thanks, Susette!), so I played with the camera using tips from an article on My camera has so many more features that are easy to use than my last camera (may it rest in peace). My photography experience is nil. I just happened to see the above article and thought it would be fun to test out the new camera. Here are some of my favorites:

I'm calling this "Seashell by Blue Vase" (catchy, eh?)

"Shell We Dance?"

"Shell-f Life"


"Frilly Fake Flower"

"Good Morning, Daffodil"

"Carolina Jasmine--Home to our lizards"

"Candle on My Mantel"

"I Should Wash My Talavera"


Tell me which is your favorite! (I guess I got a little silly with the names--remember, I'm remedially creative. Please submit better names, too!)

Here's the bargain tie-in: You can use your own shots as art for your home.

  • Take lots of shots. Advice courtesy of But she's right. I took about 150 shots around my home and got these 9 that looked good.
  • Group by theme. Pick several shots that have the same color splash (e.g. I could take several different shots of the shell next to the blue vase) or the same type of object (e.g. I could take several shots of different shells) to make an artistic grouping for your wall. Make sure the frames match as well for the best result.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bamboo Flooring

Two and a half years ago I almost killed my father-in-law and probably got my husband disinherited for enlisting my father-in-law's help installing bamboo flooring....But look at my pretty floors!

We ripped up carpet and old oak flooring to replace it with bamboo, because of its durability and unique look, not to mention its earth-friendliness.

The estimate to have it installed by a pro totaled about $6000 for 500 square feet. We did it ourselves for $1500. Here's the breakdown:

  • Solid bamboo flooring from Costco: $1100

  • Table saw: $100

  • Wood glue: $200

  • Miscellaneous supplies: $100

The hard work lasted for a few days, but was well worth the savings. One big room would have been easier and quicker than our layout: one dining room, 3 walkways, 1 hallway, and a lot of tricky corners.

To my father-in-law: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!!


  • Do research. I spent several hours studying online resources explaining how to install wood flooring.

  • Don't rush. It's never as easy as the tutorials or tv shows make it look. Give yourself time to get through inevitable obstacles.

  • Assemble a team. Apply the time-tested economic principle of "division of labor" to get better and faster results.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Budget Decorating: Do It Yourself Floor Vase

A section of wall space, along a walkway in my house, remained blank for a long time, waiting for something that made a statement, but didn't obstruct traffic. After a period of time without finding the right accessory at the right price, I got a little creative. Sometimes when I get creative, it turns out downright embarrassing! (I would be sent to the remedial craft class.) However, every now and then, I get it right.

Here's how I did it:

  1. Buy a length of 3" pvc pipe (I got mine at Home Depot for $4).
  2. Have a Home Depot employee cut it into 18" sections.
  3. Buy 2 yds of fabric. (I bought mine at Walmart for $2/yd).
  4. Cut fabric into 11" lengths.
  5. Use a hot glue gun to glue the fabric onto the pvc pipe, tucking the ends inside.
  6. Get an 18" section of molding (I got mine in the scrap section at Home Depot for free).
  7. Use a hot glue gun to glue each section of fabric-covered pvc pipe onto the molding piece.
  8. Attach picture hanging hardware to the back of the molding and hang it on a nail in the wall so that the wall vase won't tip over.
  9. Buy dried greenery to display in the pipe sections (Mine was 90% off at Michael's--about $5).

Total cost: $13.


  • Release your inner Martha--Stewart, that is. If I can do it, ANYONE can.

Monday, February 9, 2009

File Your Taxes For Less

Call me crazy, but I LOVE doing my taxes! Up until 3 or 4 years ago, I did it the old fashioned way--on paper, by myself. Then came my discovery of Turbotax's online tax preparation software. It takes a little bit of the fun out of it for me, but it saves time (I'll take all the time I can find!) and my return arrives a lot faster.

In a nutshell, here are your options:
  • Do it yourself on paper.
  • Use online tax preparation software.
  • Purchase tax preparation software to install on your personal computer.
  • Hire a tax professional.

In my opinion, the most cost-effective way to file your taxes is to use an online tax service. And they make it so easy, it's almost fun (that is, if you don't already love it like me). So in this forum, I will only compare the online services available:

  • Basic ($14.95) would work well for anyone who would normally file form 1040EZ or 1040A (in other words, you plan to take the standard deduction rather than itemize).
  • Deluxe ($29.95) covers those that itemize, sold stocks during 2008, or own rental property.
  • Premier ($54.95), in addition to providing the same features as Deluxe, offers unlimited one-on-one tax advice.
  • Home & Business ($79.95)--useful if you have a business you own individually.
  • Business ($109.95) covers you if you are a partner in a business.
  • Standard (free) covers 1040EZ, 1040A, and 1040 if your tax situation is no more complicated than itemizing deductions.
  • Deluxe ($9.95) will work best if you sold stocks or own rental property, and it includes tax advice.
  • Ultimate ($16.95) includes everything Deluxe offers plus state tax filing as well.

  • Free: only covers form 1040EZ.
  • Basic ($14.95): comparable to Turbotax's Basic service.
  • Premium ($39.95): comparable to Turbotax's Deluxe service.

There are a couple of others out there, but they're not worth mentioning, because they didn't receive good reviews.

WWBD: This year I tried Taxact's free service, which worked great for us. If I had used Turbotax, they would have been able to transfer from last year a lot of information (ssn, names, birthdates, etc.), but I decided it was worth saving $30 to fill in that information anew. Why is free? What's the catch? A couple of things I noticed:
  1. Every few pages you get a pop-up asking if you would like to upgrade to the Deluxe version; a little annoying, but still worth saving $30;
  2. Taxact doesn't seem to offer as much individual and detailed attention to those who have complicated tax issues.

The bottom line: I would use again next year.


  • Start with the simplest version. If you decide you need more tax help, there will be plenty of opportunities to upgrade.
  • Start early. This tip has less to do with saving money (filing late adds penalties, though) and more with saving your sanity.