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Frugal Living Tip – Use ‘utility fruit’ to save money

Supermarkets have conditioned us to believe that all fruits and vegetables should look perfect and pristine, shiny and round.

But in the real world (a.k.a. Nature), anyone who has a garden or a fruit tree know that fruits and veggies get bumped and bruised like the rest of us.

Often times, these slightly battered apples and tomatoes taste just as good as their prettier counterparts, but they can cost much less.

According to the savvy folks at All You, the key is to ask your grocer or local farm stand proprietor for any ‘utility fruit’ that may be hidden out of sight to keep up appearances.

Provided you’re not too fussy and are willing to take out the paring knife to trim away any truly inedible bits, you just might be able to bring home your weekly portion of fruits and veggies for far less than you’d otherwise pay.

The ‘utility fruit’ plan may not be the best idea if you’re putting together a fruit platter for a party or special occasion, but it could make especially good sense if you like to make fruit smoothies. After all, if you’re blending up cut fruit with yogurt, ice and other goodies, who would know if the original strawberry or banana wasn’t ready for its closeup?

How about some other ideas for using fruit that isn’t quite ready for its closeup? If life gives you bruised apples, you can always make applesauce! Here’s a recipe with appetizing visual instructions from Eating Cleveland.

And you don’t need cosmetically perfect fruit to make banana bread, pear butter or peach jam! As the author of the Food in Jars blog points out, with a good paring knife, you can quickly cut around the bruised parts (as long as the fruit isn’t too far gone) and make something delicious from ugly-duckling produce.

Of course, there are limits even in the pursuit of frugality. Work with a grocer you trust so that you can learn to tell the difference between harmless bruises and serious spoilage. Even frugal shoppers should put safety first. Remember that truly rotten fruit and veggies belong in the trash (or compost pile), not in your kitchen.

Have you ever tried the ‘utility fruit’ strategy? What other tactics do you use to keep the monthly food budget under control while still stocking up on nutritious and healthy choices? Share your ideas and experiences in the Comments section below!

October 30, 2009   1 Comment

Product of the Week – The DollarDays Top 100

DollarDays sells a lot of stuff and that’s not just bluster. We have over 45,000 items on our site, and we work to make sure that each and every one of them performs to the utmost. So if you’re wondering what we sell most of, you’re in luck. For one week only, we’re running a huge sale on our top 100 selling items. If you buy today, you can get 20% off great seasonal items like wholesale flip flops, holiday items like Christmas Reindeer Lapel Pins and health products like wholesale heartburn medication.
DollarDays-100-bestsellers
That’s right! This week’s product of the week isn’t just one product, it’s 100 of DollarDays best-selling products. So peruse the selection and see what you like. Because getting these products that are already being offered at closeout prices products at an even better rate only happens once in a blue moon.

So head on over to DollarDays to buy our top 100 best-sellers of 2009!

October 27, 2009   No Comments

Frugal Living Tip – Ditch the Disposables

Rumor has it that some rock stars only wear their clothes once before throwing them away.

Throwing out clothes after a single use sounds ridiculous. It isn’t just tough on the environment, it’s also a massive waste of money.

And yet this article at SavingAdvice.com makes the case that many of us practice the same economically foolish habits on a much smaller scale when we buy disposable paper towels, pack our lunch in paper bags or toss ordinary batteries into the trash.

Instead, we could use a washable cloth to clean up kitchen messes, carry our lunches in reusable tote bags and choose rechargeable batteries.

You may have to spend a little more up front, but choosing reusable over disposables (at least some of the time) can definitely save you money in the long term.

In fact, you can apply the same logic to other areas of your life and your business. Too often, we only look at the price tag when making a purchase decision. But sometimes the cheapest piece of furniture or equipment turns out to be much more expensive in the long run if it breaks easily or requires constant maintenance to keep running.

If you’re looking for hard dollar figures, check out this article at Green Research showing that a company using 200 cups a day could save more than $2500 per year by switching from disposable to reusable cups. The more cups the company uses, the greater the annual savings it can realize by moving away from disposables, according to the Green Research article.

Of course, reusable products also have some environmental advantages over their disposable counterparts. The sidebar at the Green Starbucks blog quotes an internal Starbucks document to make the point that if 50 customers in every Starbucks store bought coffee for their own refillable mugs, Starbucks would save paper equivalent to 300,000 trees per year (using 2007′s worldwide store count).

If you want to get really clever – and save money in the process – keep an eye out for ways to reuse products that were designed to be disposable. Rather that throwing out plastic bags after you’ve carried your purchases home from the store, try reusing those bags to line your trash cans. If you’re crafty, you can even turn a plastic water bottle into a miniature greenhouse for plant seedlings, as shown on the blog Pop Cloche.

Once you start rethinking the disposable mindset, you just might find opportunities to reuse almost everything – saving money and reducing waste at the same time!

What do you think? Have you found ways to save money with reusable products? Or do you prefer the convenience (and lower up-front costs) of disposable products?

October 23, 2009   No Comments

Small Business Advice – Avoiding Common Website Mistakes

Small Business MistakesThese days, pretty much every small business owner knows the importance of having a functional website.

But of course not all business websites are created equal. Some are better than others – and naturally you want your company’s site to be among the best in its category.

You can go a long way toward creating a useful, functional and attractive business website simply by avoiding four common site errors that Lisa Barone identifies on the Small Business Trends blog -

1. Bad design. Your site doesn’t have to look fancy, but it should look professional. Just as with the decor or signage for a brick-and-mortar store, you want to invest a little time and resources on your website to get good results.

2. Lengthy conversion funnel. The “conversion funnel” is marketing-speak for the process your site visitors go through when they want to buy anything through your website (presuming that you offer sales and not just information through your site). Barone is correct in saying that you want to make the purchase process as simple as possible. That’s why sites like Amazon.com pioneered 1-click ordering for repeat customers.

3. Strategy before design. Think before you build. What are the major goals that you want your site to accomplish? Just as you wouldn’t start building a house without having a blueprint and a plan, similarly you should have some detailed website objectives and strategy in mind before you start creating your business website.

4. Lack of dynamic content. Barone accurately points out that too many business websites have static content (address, phone number, basic information) that never changes. Your website gives you an opportunity to engage visitors and create some brand loyalty. Think of new material with which you can periodically update your site. If you run a restaurant, maybe you can post the weekly specials online or send out a recipe of the month to a list of email subscribers. If you have a pool supply company, you can create a blog with testimonials from satisfied customers, seasonal coupon codes or information about the latest and greatest pool supplies and chemicals. The exact content and techniques will vary according to your specific business, but the point is to publish new content at regular intervals that brings visitors back to your site for repeat visits.

How did you overcome these problems in building your own small business website? What content do you use to attract customers to your website for repeat visits? Tell your story and share a link to your site in the Comments section below.

October 19, 2009   2 Comments

Frugal Living Tip – Shop Less, Save More

sales tagSome money-saving ideas are complicated or require an obvious sacrifice.

Others have the advantage of making your life simpler by saving you time while they save you cash.

According to a recent story on CNNMoney.com, you can save nearly $200 per month (on average) simply by limiting the frequency of your grocery shopping trips to once per week.

The reasoning here is that up to 2/3 of grocery purchases are unplanned impulse buys – things you don’t really need but caught your eye. Cut down on grocery trips and you’ll cut down on the number of times you’re exposed to these unnecessary temptations.

Presumably you’ll also save even more money if you shop less frequently by using less gasoline on trips to the store and reducing wear-and-tear on your car – plus saving time, which lowers your opportunity costs.

Lifehacker.com endorses the idea of reducing impulse buys and saving money by shopping for groceries less often – suggesting that the ideal frequency may be twice per month, or even monthly grocery trips.

But this seems a little extreme. After all, you’ll probably need to make a grocery run at least once per week to replenish your supply of the most healthy kinds of foods (fruit, vegetables, milk) with brief shelf lives.

Besides, if you only go shopping occasionally, you may find yourself ready to make dinner and faced with a bare pantry or missing a few essential ingredients. In that case, you may decide it’s easier to just go out to dinner or order a delivery, which could end up costing much more in the long run than if you stocked up regularly on weekly trips to the store.

Whether you shop once per week or prefer to pick up some fresh groceries a few times per week, another way to limit impulse buys is to use the old-fashioned grocery list, checking off items as you make your way through the store. With a little discipline, you’ll make sure to bring home the things you need – saving cash and calories.

If you prefer a more high-tech approach, you won’t be surprised to learn that there are several grocery list apps available for the iPhone.

How often do you like to shop for groceries? Do you think you could save money by shopping less frequently? Do you have a strategy in the grocery store for avoiding frivolous impulse buys and bringing home the necessities? Share your strategies and experiences below in the Comments section!

October 16, 2009   No Comments

Creating a Happy, Fun and Functional Workplace

Drew Carey tells a joke about work that goes: “You hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called Everybody, and they meet at the bar.”

Of course, not everybody really hates their job. In fact, if you’re an entrepreneur or business owner, you might bound out of bed on a Monday morning thrilled to start another exciting work week.

But Clint Greenleaf, author of the By the Book blog at Inc.com, admonishes entrepreneurs to remember that their coworkers or employees may not share quite the same level of excitement and anticipation when the weekend comes to an end.

Greenleaf recommends Roxanne Emerich’s book Thank God It’s Monday!, which he says makes the argument that creating a fun workplace is closely linked with having a successful business.

In essence, Greenleaf and Emerich suggest that if you and your coworkers/employees enjoy being at work, you’ll do a better job and therefore make your customers more satisfied.

Intuitively this makes a lot of sense. And remember that keeping your employees and coworkers satisfied and engaged will probably have the added benefit of increasing their loyalty to the company, reducing turnover and making it easier to retain your most valuable team members.

Do you think creating a happy, fun workplace is important for business success? What are some strategies you’ve used to get people excited and energerized about coming to work on Mondays? We’d love to hear your ideas in the Comments section below.

October 12, 2009   No Comments

Frugal Living Tip – Can You Lose Money by Being Social?

There’s a lot of pressure these days to join popular social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Classmates.com.

Social networking sites promise the thrill of reconnecting with old friends and the excitement of possibly making new ones. You may get messages from contacts who have already joined one of these sites urging you to sign up and participate. Even if you’re not into chatting online, you might be tempted with the thought of forging valuable new business connections with a bit of virtual networking.

social media bandwagonBut could participating in social networks actually end up being a costly financial decision? In a recent article on SavingAdvice.com, Jennifer Derrick argues that participating in social networks can be an expensive proposition.

Derrick makes some interesting arguments, such that revealing detailed information about yourself in an online profile might leave you vulnerable to identity theft or provide opposing attorneys with plenty of ammunition if you ever get taken to court.

But her most persuasive point concerns the opportunity costs of social networking. The point here is not just that you probably won’t make any money by participating in social networking, but that you’ll most likely end up losing money as a consequence of wasting countless hours trying to track down the boy/girl who sat next to you in Social Studies class back in the 6th grade.

Your time is valuable. Use it wisely. Participating in a social network (or playing an online game, surfing news sites, watching YouTube videos, etc.) may be technically free, but there is a cost to all of these time-wasting activities.

Would Mozart have composed as many symphonies if he had gotten sidetracked downloading the latest tunes from Amazon.com? Would Einstein have figured out the Theory of Relativity if he had been checking out the profiles of other scientists on Wikipedia? Would Thomas Edison have invented the phonograph and commercialized the light bulb if he had been focused on building his Friendster profile?

The lesson – Consider the opportunity cost of your time. Don’t be so focused on saving money that you spend hours perusing coupon sites to save $10 if you could have made $100 by creating or selling products or services during that time. Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t participate in social networking as a source of amusement, fun and relaxation. You might even be able to glean some business benefits if you use the sites smartly for networking purposes.

But recognize that all the social networking sites can become time-wasters and stop at least a couple of times per month to ask yourself whether your opportunity costs of social networking justify whatever personal or professional benefit you derive from the sites.

October 9, 2009   2 Comments

Product of the Week – Three-Piece Winter Fleece Set

Want proof that this could be a rough winter?

How about the new record low set at Denver International Airport on October 2nd – just 26 degrees!

It’s not just the mountains that are chilly this fall. Even normally balmy Southern California recently set a bushel of record low temps around Los Angeles and San Diego.

productoftheweek_20091007_3piecefleeceFreezing temperatures mean hot sales of fleece outerwear. To help you stock up on fuzzy warm hats, scarves and gloves for your customers, DollarDays is running a scorching sale on 3-piece winter fleece sets.

Just purchase 30 of these hat-scarf-glove sets for the low price of $3.99 per set and DollarDays will give you an additional 30 sets for free when you enter coupon code WTRSET in your shopping cart. (Limit 1 order per customer.)

This deal melts away at 11:59 p.m. EST tonight, so hurry and stock up today!

October 7, 2009   No Comments

Small Business Advice – What Do Your Customers Want?

Ken Burgin and Elizabeth Walker have an interesting article on the Business in General blog arguing that too much businesses make the mistake of focusing on what they would like to offer rather than what customers would like to buy.

So how do you figure out what customers want?

Ask them!

small-business-adviceBurgin and Walker have some specific suggestions for matching your sales and marketing effort to customer needs. For instance, they suggest writing down the questions your customers ask so that you can be sure to answer those questions in your marketing materials.

Another good suggestion is to probe beyond a customer’s questions to find the motivation behind the questions. Burgin and Walker suggest you should find out what your customer thinks constitutes good customer service before you start talking about how great your customer service is.

Successful businesses excel at identifying and meeting customer needs and wants. If you can take some of the guesswork out of the equation and determine exactly what your customers are seeking, you could be light years ahead of the competition.

How do you find out what your customers want? Do you have an inspiring (or cautionary) story about meeting (or misreading) market demand? We’d love to hear your stories in our Comments section below.

October 5, 2009   5 Comments

Frugal Living Tip – AirfareWatchdog’s Baggage Fare Chart

If you’re going on a trip, it makes sense to research the lowest airfares. But nowadays, you can pick a low fare and still end up paying a bundle in extra charges, especially when it comes to the extra fees for checked luggage.

luggageThanks to this handy Airline baggage fees chart over at AirfareWatchdog.com, you can make sure that you don’t pay more for your baggage than your seat. (For instance, according to the chart, you could pay as much as $200 per bag if you’re checking more than four bags on Delta Airlines!)

Of course, lots of people are trying to avoid baggage fees altogether by packing lighter or choosing quick-drying garments that can be washed in a hotel sink.

And if you really need to move a lot of luggage from Point A to Point B, you might even consider using a shipping company like FedEx or UPS. Not only will you save the hassle of getting all your bags to and from the airports, but you might even save some dough.

Do you have stories about getting soaked with luggage fees or have you discovered some clever ways to travel light and skip baggage charges? Let us know in the Comments section below.

October 2, 2009   1 Comment