Posted on 10/28/2011 17:24 EST
This week we updated our furnaces and microwaves reviews, identifying the best of what's current on the market.
Microwaves. For quick relief of those hunger pangs, turn to a cheap microwave with a variety of one-touch cook buttons and the wattage to quickly heat, cook, and defrost food through-and-through. Our research identified four cheap microwaves costing less than $150 that range in size from 1.1 to 1.6 cubic feet. Consumers say they give good value for the money, but experience suggests new models don't have the staying power of the units they replace.
Furnaces. Just in time for the heating season, we've updated our buying guide to cheap furnaces. Of course, there's no way an item that will cost you at least a couple of thousand dollars can really be called cheap. But we've identified some of the most reliable manufacturers of furnaces under $3,000. The good news is that furnaces these days are much more efficient than the old models. If you have an older furnace, a new, high-efficiency model could cut your energy bills in half.
New Blog Posts
Frugal Wedding Tips. As happy as we are when our friends and family get married, all that traveling, gift giving, and clothes shopping can really add up. We looked into the best ways to save money as a wedding guest -- everything from sharing your hotel room to using store coupons for registry items. Read our guide on How to Be a Frugal Wedding Guest for more ideas.
Halloween Candy. Halloween can be an expensive holiday. With the amount of candy kids eat, you can end up paying not only for the sweets but also for the dentist or doctor. We've rounded up some great substitutes (that kids will actually like) in a blog post on cheap candy alternatives.
Posted on 10/28/2011 12:13 EST
Weddings are expensive -- and not just for the bride and groom (and their families). What we're getting at here is the cost of attending a wedding as a guest. As Engagement Experts points out, the average wedding guest spends roughly $565 to $686 to attend just one wedding. Imagine how the costs pile up if you attend multiple weddings over a short period of time.
Outlays for a wedding that isn't yours include your outfit, jewelry, hotel accommodations, travel expenses, child/pet care, food, drinks, pre-wedding parties (think showers, bachelor party, etc.), and the wedding gift. On average, if you're family of the bride or groom, you'll spend more on the gift than friends. But you can't put a price on happiness, and if you're invited to celebrate the big day, it's an honor you really can't turn down. So here are some ways to save the next time you attend a wedding.
Travel and Accommodations.
Getting there can easily send your budget into a tailspin. If you're planning to drive, consider traveling with another guest and share the gas costs. As for accommodations, scour your address book for someone you know in the city where the wedding will be held and ask if you might bunk there for a night or two. Lacking an alternative to getting a hotel room, arrange to share the room with another wedding guest. If you're good friends with the bride or groom, chances are you have some mutual friends. It doesn't hurt to ask around about room sharing.
Weddings are an opportunity to get glammed up, but you don't have to break the bank on a wedding outfit. If you're merely a guest (and not part of the wedding party), feel free to wear whatever is appropriate for the occasion. There's no need to run out and buy a new outfit -- wear something you already own. If you have multiple weddings coming up that call for different attire, try buying one good outfit or a separate and mix and match those pieces with items you already own. For example, a new skirt can be paired with a different assortment of shoes, jewelry, and tops for each wedding; likewise with a new dinner jacket, which just needs shoes, a tie, a shirt, and dress slacks to complete the look. You can also look for wedding wear on sale or at discount and vintage stores.
After spending on clothing, travel, accommodations, and miscellaneous expenses, you're still expected, as a wedding guest, to buy the couple a gift. This can be pricey. Forbes
reports that newlyweds expect a gift worth no less than $50-$70 from good friends and $129 from family. Don't forget that the wedding gift is often given in addition to a shower gift you bought earlier. Eek!
But take heart, there are several ways to avoid showing up empty-handed while staying solvent. First, join forces with mutual friends and buy a group gift for the bride and groom. This strategy lets you purchase a much more expensive item while spending far less than you would by going it alone. With enough people chipping in, you can buy a big-ticket item, like a grill, for less than the $50 minimum expected of you.
Another option is to make a gift yourself. For example, a handmade, personalized quilt is a unique wedding gift that will mean a lot to the new couple; so, too, a black-and-white photo of the wedding chapel that's mounted and framed. If you're not particularly artsy, consider getting a set of wine glasses or champagne flutes engraved with the wedding date or the couple's initials.
Remember the gift registry. The bride and groom register for a reason: they actually need and want the listed items. Many times you can find store coupons for registry items so you don't need to spend the full price. Just be sure to shop early so you aren't left to choose among higher-priced options.
And lastly ... a popular practice involves writing a check or giving cash to the newlyweds. This may be easy but it virtually shouts exactly how much you're pouring into the wedding gift. Truly a last resort if you're determined to be a frugal wedding guest.
Posted on 10/27/2011 16:06 EST
Nearly one quarter of annual candy sales -- the equivalent of $2 billion -- occur around Halloween. That's a lot of sugar. But if you think it's just Snickers and Butterfingers dominating the supermarket aisles, you're missing the many off-brand, cheap candy options for this fun fall holiday. The standard sweets often go on sale in the days leading up to Halloween, but bags of generic candies can be found for less than a dollar at some retail outlets.
Sounds enticing, for sure. But is cheap candy too much of a good thing? The average child collects at least 50 pieces of candy on Halloween, according to a poll on KidsHealth, and 25 percent eat it all within a week. Ingesting this many sweets at such a rapid clip may lead to health problems, such as stomach aches and cavities. Excessive candy consumption can also get kids all wound up and then crash hard when the energy is spent. There's no definitive link between candy consumption and obesity in children, although eating too many sweets can make kids too full to eat a proper meal, thus robbing children of the nutrients vital to their growth.
Then there's the matter of chemicals. Back in 2008, Cadbury recalled Chinese-made chocolates because they contained melamine, a chemical that has caused sickness and death. Some colorful candy also includes synthetic food dyes, such as Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest claims can cause cancer.
And let's not forget the teeth. In an article posted on MSN, Dr. Margaret Mitchell, a Chicago dentist, says tacky or gummy candy that sticks to the teeth should be avoided. Hard candy and lollipops are also out because they can lead to tooth decay and tooth breakage.
So parents, what are your options? Assuming you decide to let your kids eat cheap candy or the name-brand varieties, the best strategy is to choose products with low levels of sugar and some nutritional value. Candy with nuts -- if your child isn't allergic to them -- is a possibility because nuts pack protein. One serving (nine pieces) of Hershey's Milk Chocolate with Almonds Kisses, for example, delivers 4 grams of protein along with 200 calories, 13 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber, and small amounts of calcium and iron.
Sugar content seems unrelated to the price of candy or the name on the label. An individual packet of Sweetarts Skull and Bones, for example, has 12 grams of sugar and 50 calories and one Tootsie Roll Pop contains 10 grams of sugar and 60 calories. A serving (six pieces) of Bit-O'-Honey chews contains 19 grams of sugar and, with three grams of fat, climbs the calorie ladder to 160. That tally is bested by a five-piece serving of Hershey's miniature bars, which contain 22 grams of sugar, 13 grams of fat, and 210 calories.
But rather than fighting the sugar and empty calories packed into cheap Halloween candy treats, try offering healthier alternatives in food or toy form:
Dried fruit sort of looks like candy but contains at least some vitamins and minerals. Hand out a mini box of raisins or dried cranberries.
Nutless trail mix is a cinch to make, with equal parts raisins and antioxidant-friendly dark chocolate bits.
Mini bags of popcorn can be popped at home after the neighborhood crawl and enjoyed while watching a Halloween movie.
Pumpkin seeds boast a name that suits the holiday and provide fiber and iron, but beware the salt.
Pretzel sticks are another salty departure from all the sweetness; buy in bulk and package into small plastic bags in your kitchen.
Stickers scream out to younger kids, who love to decorate school binders and notebooks.
Colored pencils and erasers are take-aways that won't disappear overnight and can be put to good use for upcoming holiday art projects.
Posted on 10/19/2011 16:11 EST
This week at Cheapism, we're focused on getting you ready for the colder months. We revamped our cheap snow blowers buying guide, bringing you more information on what to look for, what to avoid, and of course, our favorite frugal finds. Check out our buying guide for the full cheap snow blowers review.
Groupon deals are back this week. Check them out below.
If you need some frugal inspiration for Halloween costumes on a budget, check out our blog on the best retailers for cheap Halloween costumes. We also noted some of the do's and don'ts for safe homemade Halloween costumes.
Already working on your holiday gift list? We found the cheapest tablet and the cheapest digital photo frames for your favorite gadget lover. We also included some digital photo frames you can pre-load (a good idea for a less tech-savvy recipient).
Here are this week's Groupon deals (available through Friday or until supplies run out):
$65 Skytex Primer Pocket 4.3-Inch Android 2.2 Media Player or Skypad Alpha 7-Inch Android 2.3 Tablet
$69 for a Sharper Image CG-S250 Garment Steamer
Countertop or Premium Under Counter Water Filter with Six-Month Filter Cartridge from Aquasana. Shipping Included. (Up to 62% Off)
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On the off chance that you're shopping for a digital photo frame and your budget is tight, you probably want to know: what's the cheapest digital photo frame? The answer, based on our research, depends on the size of the digital picture frame you're looking for. The cheapest digital picture frame of a size you might leave on your mantel is the Sungale 3.5" Digital Picture Frame. The list price is $29.99, but you can get it for $23. 90 at Staples. This price is actually less than our Cheapism price range of $30 to $70 for the best cheap digital frames, but the display on the Sungale is half the size of the products on our list of top picks. The Sungale digital picture frame stores up to 50 photos on a 3.5" LCD screen and offers a slideshow option. It takes JPG and BMP photo formats and connects via USB with your computer; it also works with SD, MMC, and MS cards.
Cheapest 7" digital photo frame.
If you want to know what's the cheapest digital picture frame in a size you can see from a few feet away, the answer is the Opteka 7-Inch MultiMedia Digital Picture Frame, which can be found on Amazon
for $24.95. It includes an alarm clock option and a slide show mode, and it supports video and MP3 formats in addition to JPEG. The quality of this product seems questionable, however, and some consumer reviews say "you get what you pay for."
Cheapest keychain digital photo frame.
Now, if you don't care about the size of the display and just want to know what's the absolute rock-bottom
price for a digital picture frame, we've got the product for you: a keychain digital picture frame that costs less than $10 and features a display just a tad larger than an inch. The cheapest keychain digital photo frame we found is the Gear Head 1.4" CSTN Digital Photo Keychain, which sells for $6.99 at Kmart
. This frame supports JPEG and BMP formats and can display up to 56 color photos. You can recharge it with a USB cable.
Why do you care what's the cheapest digital picture frame?
Getting a digital picture frame makes sense for frugal consumers because it means you don't need to buy a bunch of different frames -- you can showcase all your photos in one frame. Moreover, there's no need to lay out cash to print the photos.
Make sure to check our guide to Cheap Digital Photo Frames for more options.