This article first appeared on ClarkHoward.com

Toiletries and cosmetics are notoriously difficult to shop for. Manufacturers make completely optimistic (and often fantastical) claims promising everything from the fountain of youth to teeth so white they’ll stop traffic. Cosmetics, toiletries, feminine hygiene products and skin care regimes can cost anywhere from a dollar to hundreds of dollars, yet it’s almost impossible to do an apples to apples comparison. Think that spending more equates a higher quality product? Think again!

Take Wen hair care products as an example. Wen has been in the news lately due to reports of irate customers who’ve claimed hair loss and scalp irritation after splurging on their bottles of $32 Cleansing Conditioner. This unfortunate situation only hammers home that when it comes to cosmetics and toiletries, you don’t get what you pay for! (Also, simpler is often better, as my $1 White Rain brand shampoo has yet to give me any problems.)

Here’s what you need to know when it comes to choosing the very best personal care products without emptying your credit union account.

Do your research

First of all, know how you want your products to perform and don’t let yourself be swayed by advertising or slick designer packaging. Paula Begoun, A.K.A. The Cosmetics Cop has made a career out of taking a scientific and critical eye to cosmetics products, and her book Don’t Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me is a trustworthy source for unbiased beauty facts. If the information you need is not in this 1,110 page tome, you’re unlikely to find it anywhere. Put this book on hold at your library and educate yourself on how to protect yourself against an often misleading industry.

Hair care products

You can choose to splurge on expensive infomercial or salon hair care products, or you can shop at your local supermarket or drugstore. The website Cheapism awarded their best everyday shampoo award to humble Garner Fructis, and I’ve always been perfectly happy with my White Rain shampoo. A buck per bottle, people. A buck per bottle.

Acne care

Your teen may be pleading for expensive and highly advertised $40 Proactive products, but the active ingredient can be bought for just a couple of bucks. Yes, I’m referring to Benzoyl Peroxide, which comes in a simple $5 tube and was a big success with my teenagers. The only thing to note with any peroxide product is that it’ll give a tie-dyed look to bedding, so maybe dedicate a few sets of scrappy sheets until their skin clears up. No Justin Bieber with the generic, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Cosmetics

Makeup is another category where a more expensive item does not guarantee a higher quality product. Yes, many high end cosmetics deliver on their promises of smooth application and a finished look, but so do a good number of the less expensive brands. Need an example? Paula Begoun rates the $1.99 Wet-n-Wild eyeshadow as high as the $59 Giorgio Armani alternative! No brand rates high across every category, so you’ll need to do your research. But that’s true with any purchase in life.

Avoid needlessly gendered products

Whether it’s deodorant, shampoo or razors, women’s products tend to cost more and often include less product. So unless it’s a scent issue, (I’m look at you, Axe!) you’d be smart to check out both sides of the aisle.

Feminine hygiene products

The average woman spends $1,773.33 on tampons over the course of her lifetime, which is an expense ignored by many personal finance experts. It’s a monthly expense for an average of 40 years, but can be alleviated by one simple purchase. The menstrual cup. Not highly advertised, these reusable silicone cups last for years before needing to be replaced. The main brands are Diva Cup and Moon Cup and come in two sizes, pre and post-childbirth. Once only available online, menstrual cups are now carried at mass merchandisers such as CVS and Walgreen’s. Safe and FDA approved, these $40 one-time purchases will change your life.

Skin care lotions

Although you can buy separate lotions for your face, eyes, feet and even your elbows, it’s not necessary. Skin is your largest organ and it’s the same from head to toe. Women have somehow been convinced that they require specialized eye creams, which can easily run $400 for 1.7 ounces. (Yes, you read that right!) One of Paula Begoun’s main soapbox stands is that “you don’t need a separate eye cream for the eye area.” It would be great if a miracle elixir could erase signs of aging, but that isn’t biologically possible. So keep your money in your wallet and choose a single allover body lotion.

Conclusion

Whether you’re male or female, young or old, there’s a personal product company that’s more than happy to take your money. So do your research and keep a critical eye on anyone claiming to transform you into an Adonis or Aphrodite. Keep it simple and you’ll have one more tool to stay on top of your finances.
Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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I was going to write up a Five Frugal Things post yesterday, but chose not to as my things were kind of boring. But then I realized that this is frugality in a nutshell, doing a lot of the same humdrum things on a daily basis which add up to big savings. Cooking from scratch, eating leftovers, sticking close to home, simplifying entertainment and other unimpressively dull endeavors. Mind you, my life is not boring, but my frugal hacks often are. So I now present to you, Five Frugal Things . . . the boring edition!

  1. I worked all day Saturday and brought leftover chicken and rice to eat, as well as some cut up carrot sticks. I drank the free hospital coffee and enjoyed a cup of the free mint tea. (Boring.) I was able to help two families welcome their beautiful babies into the world. (Not boring.)
  2. I checked in with my husband as I left work. He’d taught CPR all day then driven across town to play soccer. He mentioned picking up a Costco rotisserie on the way home, but I asked him not to, as we had a plethora of nice leftovers in the refrigerator that needed to get eaten up. (Boring.) We both arrived home around the same time and pulled leftovers out from the fridge which included chicken and rice, baked pesto tilapia and shrimp scampi over pasta. The three of us then sat down at the dining room table to enjoy our delicious meal and discuss our days. (Not boring.)
  3. I was treated to lunch by my father on Friday. We walked to our favorite nearby restaurant where we ordered the same thing we always order and drank the tap water. I was able to fill up a punch card. (Not boring, but extremely routine.) We then walked home where I served tea and pulled out a photo album, as my father is being honored for teaching 50 years at the same university and needed some pictures. I was able to locate a photo of him in the classroom from 1965 and scanned it for him. We eat at this restaurant every few weeks, so it’s hardly worth writing home about, but it’s very much part of my frugal routine. I love catching up on my father’s life, so this is definitely not boring.
  4. Yesterday was The Super Bowl, and I usually treat my family to a yummy snack buffet. However, I’d worked the previous day and had a Clark Howard article I needed to complete. I ended up spending the day writing and then watched the second half of the game. There were zero snacks, and some minimal grumbling. (Boring.) My husband then went to the grocery store for dinner ingredients and assembled a hearty meal of hamburgers and salad. The three of us sat around the table and joked about Coldplay and planned out the logistics of the coming week. (Not boring.)
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet. (Boring.)

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Frugal Pet Ideas

by Katy on February 7, 2016 · 19 comments

This article first appeared on ClarkHoward.com.

Welcoming an animal companion into your home can be a rich and rewarding experience, but if you’re not deliberate with the expenses, it can become a real money drainer. But just because having a pet can be expensive, doesn’t mean it’s an absolute. There are almost endless ways to keep pet costs in check. Look to these dozen money saving ideas to save a few bucks on dear Fido, Fluffy or Fang.

Do your research on health problem before choosing a purebred dog

You may have your heart set on a certain purebred dog, but it’s important to make an informed decision. The breeding that gave your dog that sweet and squashy face may come with certain health issues that can quickly drain your bank account, or worse put you in the heartbreaking situation where you’re choosing between euthanasia or expensive and painful surgery. Talk to your vet about breeds to avoid before you bring home your next four-legged family member.

Exchange pet sitting with a neighbor

Boarding a pet while on vacation is an expensive endeavor that’s easily remedied when you and a neighbor care for one another’s pets. This is certainly easier with cats, who don’t need to be walked, but can work with dogs as well. Out for walk with Fido? Bring the neighbor’s dog along! A friend of mine who lives in a Queens, NY apartment, reports that her entire building watches one another’s pets and says it’s a great community builder.

Stop buying pet toys

Whether it’s a simple milk ring for the cat to bat around or a tennis ball inside of an old sock, simple pet toys are often the best. Your animal doesn’t know the difference between a pet specific toy or a cheap-o alternative. You can tie your own rope pull-toy and you can certainly dangle a length of braided yarn for the cat. And don’t discount the most frugal dog toy ever invented . . . the stick!

And while we’re on the subject . . . pet costumes? Really?!

Click HERE for more homemade pet toy ideas.

Avoid Costly Grooming

Certain dog breeds can get matted fur without regular grooming, but there are choices beyond the pricey big box groomer. Just like we humans can save a few bucks by going to a beauty school for our styling needs, the same is true for Fido. And while you’re there, put your phone down and pay attention to the technique. Many people groom their own dogs, and a grooming kit can pay for itself within a few uses. First attempt not a roaring success? Keep trying, as you’ll only get better.

Want a pet but it doesn’t fit your lifestyle? Foster instead!

If you feel incomplete without a pet, but aren’t in a situation for a long term animal, fostering might just be the solution to your problem. Whether it’s caring for tiny kittens, a dog who’s just had surgery or a cage full of ferrets, rescue organizations are always looking for responsible people who are willing to open their homes for short term pet stays. And since expenses are usually covered, this can be a great way to spend time with a furry friend when your budget doesn’t allow for a new family member. Just make sure you’re not the type to adopt every pet who enters your home!

Look to your humane society for small animals

Sure, your humane society is home to dogs and cats just waiting for their forever homes, but they can also be a source for small and caged animals. Whether you’re looking for a guinea pig, a turtle or a cockatiel, make sure to go beyond the pet store for your small animal companion. And once you’ve chosen that small pet? Check out secondhand sources like Craigslist for used equipment.

Look beyond your veterinary clinic for medication and spay-neuter services

Many area shelters and animal rights groups offer low cost or free medical care and spay-neutering. It may take some research to find these services within your community, but a call to your humane society or even your own veterinarian’s office can glean a wealth of information. Don’t put off this important component of pet care due to a low bank balance.

Work as dog walker

If you’re a dog lover, but not at a point of life that allows for a four-legged companion, being a dog walker might be the perfect compromise. You’ll get to establish relationships with your neighbor’s dogs, enjoy healthy exercise and then go back to your dog-free home. No feeding, no vet bills, no soiling of your new carpet, and you’ll even put some extra money into your wallet!

Adopt an adult pet

Yes, kittens and puppies are sure to melt your heart, but adult animals need loving homes as well. They’ll come fully vaccinated and spay/neutered, plus they should be well past the piddling on the couch phase of life. See? You just saved the cost of a new couch!

Skip the designer pet food and head to Costco

Costco brand pet food is highly rated and recommended by many humane societies. You can have the knowledge that you’re feeding quality food to your dog or cat, without the financial pain. And while you’re at Costco, make sure to check out their low cost pet medications.

Choose hearty fish for your aquarium

Sure it’s fun to have an aquarium full of exotic fish, but the most frugal choice is always going to be the heartiest fish. Whether you choose guppies, which provide guppy babies or the lowly goldfish, it’s best to leave the tricky-to-keep-alive fish to the experts. Talk to the staff at your pet shop and do your research before bringing home another poor doomed animal.

Embrace the mutt

Not only are mixed-breed dogs less likely to have breed specific health issues, they’re also wonderful companions who will enrich your life. Think of them as one of a kind designer animals who were created specifically for you! You get the best of multiple breeds, and you’ll likely just pay a low adoption fee. And the best part? You won’t be supporting unsafe and unethical puppy mills. If you’ve got your heart set on a certain breed, find a rescue organization that specializes in that specific breed. Be patient and you’ll find one that’s a perfect fit for your family.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a dog person, a cat person or even a chameleon person, there are multiple ways to keep your expenses under control. Adopt responsibly, keep your purchases in check and research your health care choices. Pets enrich our families’ lives and they deserve our best.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on February 5, 2016 · 80 comments

Sexist crap

  1. I finally went to the consumer opinion panel that I’d written about a few weeks ago. I earned $125 for two hours of time that normally would’ve been spent puttering around the house. I was able to get a friend qualified for the same panel, so it felt like socializing. We gave our opinions, enjoyed some free snacks and felt like cast members of The Sopranos when they handed us our envelopes full of cash. We were given swag bags of branded merchandise, but I declined mine, as the last thing I need in my house is more clutter.
  2. I ran out to the grocery store last night and was able to score two gallons of $1.29 marked down milk. Yeah, baby!
  3. My son wanted to go thrifting, so I picked him up after school and we browsed our local Goodwill. Neither of us found anything that needed to come home with us, even the above targeted savings bank. I guess some unfortunate recipient made a choice to not keep this ridiculously sexist clutter in her home. (I think the product development of this bank went something like this: “Hey, what do women like? Umm . . . manicures? Yeah, women like manicures.”)
  4. I darned more socks, defrosted clearance price chicken, read library books at my son’s futsal (indoor soccer) game and dried lightweight clothes on our indoor clothing rack.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Costco

It’s time for another Link-O-Rama Mama, where I lazily link to other people’s well written and thoroughly researched articles.

More Than Half of Americans Have Less Than $1000 to Their Name

If you have almost zero savings and live paycheck-to-paycheck, you’re not alone. A recent study came out that shows that “56 percent of Americans said they have less than $1,000 in their checking and savings accounts combined.”

Click HERE to read the article.

Dream of Living Large After You Win The Lottery? 

Would your post-lottery plans include luxurious and indulgent purchases? Well, a Canadian woman won $1,777,256.76, yet didn’t change her lifestyle whatsoever as “What this tells me is that there is nothing in my life I want because I already have everything I need.”

Click HERE to read the article.

Yes, Americans Own Too Much Stuff!

If you feel that you’re shoveling during a snowstorm when it comes to keeping an orderly home, you’re not alone. It’s a never ending Sisyphean task. But it’s not just you as “in America, many people spend a good portion of their free time accumulating possessions, and the rest of that time attempting to clean up those same possessions. Those with children spend many frustrating hours trying to coax their children to do the same.”

Click HERE to read the article, which includes many satisfying statistics.

Want to Join Costco for Almost Free?

If you’ve held out on joining Costco as you were unsure whether it would pay for itself, today is your day! Living Social (like Groupon) is running a special for a Costco membership that includes a $20 Costco gift certificate, a family membership card, a free pizza, an 72-pack of batteries, a likely enormous bag of organic tortilla chips and $25-off a $250 Costco.com purchase. The cost? $55, which is the normal Costco membership price without all the free stuff.

Also, if you’re new to Living Social, you get $10 back with your first purchase!

Click HERE to be directed to Living Social. (This is a referral link, but it costs you nothing extra to use it.)

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on February 2, 2016 · 73 comments

  1. I’d defrosted a large container of turkey soup, and had already served it a couple times over the course of a few days. I went ahead and prepared a pie crust and simply ladled the solid parts of the leftover soup into the crust to transform it into a turkey pot pie. We gobbled it up! (Sorry.)
  2. I needed a book as research for an article and was able to check it out from the library. I also renewed all my books online, which saved me a trip since a book that had previously failed to renew finally did. Hooray for libraries!
  3. I was able to refer a friend to a consumer opinion panel that I’m doing and now we’re going to carpool. This doesn’t save me any money since I’ll be driving, but she’ll now pocket an extra $125 and I’m happy that I was able to share my weird money making hacks with a pal.
  4. I updated my Every Dollar budget, as I do every few days. I’d always thought that I didn’t need a written budget as I’m not an impulse buyer, but I was wrong. I absolutely love being able to look on a single document to see what we’ve spent and earned, which bills have been paid, etc. It’s played a huge role in putting maximum money aside for my sons’ college funds.
  5. We finally used up a 12-pack of horrific single-ply toilet paper left behind by one of my mother’s guest cottage tenants. (I swear it lasted for at least a decade!) I was happy to knock this item from our budget for awhile, but I’m even happier to welcome my beloved Trader Joe’s 100% recycled content double-ply paper back into our lives. We took one for the team people, we took one for the team.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Pride Without Prejudice

by Katy on February 1, 2016 · 14 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I’m just now finishing up reading my long awaited library copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It has all the subdued strong emotion of Jane Austen’s original classic, but with “ultraviolent zombie mayhem.”

A perfect combination.

The book got me started thinking about pride, and the role it plays in my life. Pride is utterly important as well as being a complete barrier to my non-consumer lifestyle.

For example, I take a lot of pride in my home. I am very deliberate in how it is presented, both decoratively and as a place of welcome. This is not to say that I am a Katy tidy-mouse, but I do want the house to impress. The satisfaction in being able to pull together a somewhat sophisticated decor on a dime is prideful. I am aware that being willing to live in a home with a hodge-podge of free furnishings and belongings would be much more practical and inexpensive.

But I have too much pride for that.

On the other hand, I do a lot of things that others would consider beneath them. My mother owns a couple of guest cottages here in Portland, and I frequently assume the role of cleaning lady between tenants. Usually I do this for free, but she paid me this last time as she knows I am saving for my son’s upcoming class trip to Japan.

I have no problem lending a hand with housekeeping duties, and my favorite part is gleaning all the leftover food that people leave behind. And I’m not just talking about sealed goods either. This last cleaning gig provided me with:

  • Most of a half-gallon of fat free milk
  • An avocado
  • A peach
  • Most of a jar of organic blackberry jam
  • Most of a package of frozen vegetarian chicken nuggets
  • Most of a package of organic tater-tots

Keep in mind that these foodstuffs are from people my mother knows, and that despite being a nurse I am about the least germ-a-phobic person I know.

I also sorted through the somewhat moist recycling bin for returnable bottles and cans. I was able to pull out five dollar’s worth to trade in at my local Safeway.

I am willing to do what others might consider beneath them. I will reach under the Coinstar machine if I see a dime, and I will paw through recyclables to make $5. And if a tenant shows up early to find me scrubbing out a toilet, I keep it to myself that I’m a labor and delivery nurse, not a Merry Maid.

Not so prideful.

Much of what is necessary to live a frugal life is near to impossible if one is unwilling to let go of prideful notions. Buying used, accepting hand-me-downs and being willing to say no to expensive family traditions can be a difficult step for many people.

To live a life without pride would be a difficult life indeed, but a life with excessive pride can lead to living beyond your means and an inability to make changes when an economic downturn occurs.

So take note Mr. Darcy, just make sure to keep an eye out for zombies, a.k.a., the manky dreadfuls.

Is pride keeping you or someone you love from living within your means? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 14 comments }

Five Frugal Things

by Katy on January 31, 2016 · 72 comments

Goodwill bowl

  1. My son and I drove up top Mt. Hood for the day, and pretty much just sat inside my father’s cabin and then did some extremely light hiking. It was perfect.
  2. We stopped at the Sandy, Oregon Goodwill along the way where neither of us bought anything, although I did photograph the above “Fartless Chili Bowl.” Such a classy item, how could anyone have let it go?!
  3. My husband received a significant promotion at work, which moves us towards facing the two-kids-in-college situation that we’re about to hit.
  4. My husband cleaned out his locker at work and brought home a full handful of random change, which he added to my Found Change Challenge jar.
  5. My son and I stopped at The Dollar Tree on our way back from the cabin for a fresh supply of glue sticks. (He’s an art machine.) I wandered through the store a bit and discovered that they sell 32-ounce bags of dry pinto beans for a dollar apiece. Super cheap, so I bought two bags. Excellent for crock pot refried beans!

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on January 29, 2016 · 85 comments

Cheapo burrito

  1. I served delicious yet frugal burritos that featured red peppers from the scratch-and-dent produce shelf at The Grocery Outlet. (I had to cut a small soft section from one of the peppers, but that’s it. 99¢ for two red peppers, plus a head of broccoli.) I cooked the black beans in the crock pot and shook out the last crumbly bits from a bag of Juanita’s tortilla chips for extra crunch. Yup, living frugally is a terrible sacrifice.
  2. I darned a sock for a co-worker while watching the last few episodes of Jessica Jones last night. This is my version of “Netflix and chill.”
  3. I received my third every-other-week paycheck of the month today, which is always an enjoyable payday. Frugal is great, frugal plus extra income is amazing!
  4. My husband will be spending a few days at the Oregon coast with his family to celebrate his father’s 80th birthday. I’ll be sending him with a cooler of food and pre-prepared meals to minimize the restaurant action. Eating out is special and to be savored, but not when it’s every meal.
  5. I brought my own food for every work shift this week, I enjoyed my library books while wearing my Dollar Tree reading glasses, I listened to Dave Ramsey podcasts while puttering around the house, I gave away some unworn socks through my buy-nothing group, I submitted another Clark Howard article, I cut my husband’s hair and I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Why I’m Not a Coupon Queen

by Katy on January 28, 2016 · 46 comments

The following is a reprint of a previous post. Enjoy!

I was given a copy of Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette when I was on maternity leave with my now ten-year-old son.

It changed my life.

This book saved my family countless thousands of dollars through the years.

One thing I disagreed with though, was the author’s stance on coupons. She wrote that:

“Most food coupons are for convenience foods. Often the foods are more processed. Even when these items can be purchased cheaply, it should be considered that your family is acquiring a taste for these more expensive and less healthful items.”

How could she say that?!

I loved using coupons! I snagged extra Sunday circulars at work, and hoarded the Safeway double coupons.

It was pretty normal for my grocery receipt to show a 40% savings most every trip.

But then our income went up, and I let the coupon use dwindle, until it became an occasional endeavor.

I’ve been reading that the current economic crisis had seen a sharp increase in coupon usage. And that sparked an old hobby. Perhaps I should ramp the coupon use back up again. After all, there were no internet coupons ten-years-ago. It might be a way to tighten our belt that much more.

So I pulled out the glossy coupon circulars from the Sunday paper this week and grabbed a nice, sharp pair of scissors. I turned page after page without finding a single coupon for an item I would normally buy.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Huh?!

But I figured it out. Ten years ago I bought a lot of prepackaged food. My goal for feeding my family was to spend as little money as possible. Always. These goals have changed. Yes, I want to spend as little as possible, but it’s more important to serve healthy, fresh, local food. 

And frankly, there are no coupons for this type of shopping.

So I put my scissors away, and tossed the coupons into the recycling.

And I no longer need to feel like I’m missing out on potential money savings.

And I now agree with Amy Dacycyzn.

Agree? Disagree? Please share your coupon philosophy in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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