Category Archives: Frugal Fun

What do you think about Netflix online movie watching?

photo by katiescrapbooklady

We love renting movies from Redbox. For only a dollar a night (often free with Redbox promo codes) we can rent recent releases.

For older titles, we rent from the library. Tony’s university library has a wide array of art films, mainstream titles, and TV series. They’re also pretty good about adding new titles quickly, but there’s often a long wait list for newer films that become available. We’ve rented a ton of great stuff from the library for free. It’s our favorite way to rent movies.

While Redbox and the library are perfect for new releases and mainstream titles, we often want to see art films and TV series that aren’t available through Redbox.

Lately, we’ve been considering other options for movie rentals. Online movie rental sites like Netflix and Blockbuster now offer online movie watching. Instead of waiting for a movie to be shipped to us, we can select what we want to see and watch it right on our computer. We like this idea, because it would allow us to watch a lot of movies even with the minimum one-DVD-at-a-time membership.

We’re considering joining Netflix with the minimum membership so that we can get art films and TV series either mailed to us or streamed to our computers. (We looked into Blockbuster, too, but their streaming service requires Internet Explorer on a PC, and we both have Macs.) For $8.99 a month, we could rent one DVD at a time and watch unlimited movies online.

We’re going to do a free trial first. Before we sign up, though, I just wanted to see if any of you have used this service. Are you happy with it? What is the selection of online movies like? I know they have a huge selection of movies by mail, but are all of the titles available to watch online? Do you still find yourself using Redbox or other rental services for convenience?

Feeding house guests on a budget

My in-laws Tony’s parents arrived yesterday, and they’re staying with us until Wednesday morning. (I hate the term “in-laws,” don’t you? It just sounds so cold.)

I don’t know about you, but whenever people come to visit I struggle to avoid falling back into my old spendthrift habits. For some reason, I still feel like the only way to be a good hostess is to spend a ton of money on food to keep my guests happy. Of course, I know that’s not the case (for the most part). But when you’re entertaining, you have extra people in the house to feed and care for. Inevitably, it’s going to cost a little extra money. The important thing is to avoid going overboard.

As always, I like to find a balance. We’re feeding twice as many people, so our grocery costs will automatically be a little higher for the week. We’re also making some special meals that we probably wouldn’t make if it was just us (like blueberry pancakes for breakfast). The trick is to balance it out.

Here are some tips I’m using to keep costs down while being good hosts:

Plan ahead.

Weeks ago we saw a great deal on steaks at the grocery store. Since we knew Tony’s parents were coming to visit this month, we picked them up and threw them into the freezer. This week we just had to pick up some potatoes and greens to go on the side. Now we have an extra special steak dinner for four, and it cost a fraction of the normal price. We would have paid twice as much for those steaks if we picked them up this week. Whenever we’re expecting company, I always keep an extra close watch on fancy foods to find a deal.

Cook in bulk.

We don’t like to make meals that serve more than four. We don’t usually enjoy leftovers more than once, and we don’t want to waste. When visitors come, we pull out our recipes that serve 6 or 8. We’re making a lasagna for Tony’s parents. It’s one of our favorite recipes, but we rarely make it because it’s just too much food for two people. Now that we’ll be cooking for four, it’ll be just right.

Don’t be afraid to cook frugal meals.

We planned special meals for three of the four nights they’re here. For lunch we just picked up some deli meat for sandwiches, and one of the nights we’re making a homemade pizza. We think they’ll enjoy trying our homemade pizza, and it’s the most economical thing we make. Why not share it with our guests?

Keep dessert simple.

Dessert can become a meal on its own — and double your meal costs if you let it. So keep it simple. We love to make fresh baked cookies and serve them with a scoop of ice cream. We’ve also made milkshakes or homemade ice cream with our KitchenAid stand mixer ice cream attachment. It’s tempting to make an elaborate cake or specialty dessert, but it only adds to your costs and stress to prepare it. Why make things harder when simple desserts are just as delicious?

Remember: it’s not about what you spend.

I don’t know why I still feel the urge to take our guests out for fancy restaurant meals. We rarely go out to dinner ourselves. For some reason, there’s a voice in the back of my head telling me that we need to treat them to extra luxury.

Since I started living frugally, I’ve been able to quiet the voice by reminding myself that we are treating our guests; we’re just doing it within our means. We’re making special meals, and putting in the extra effort to cook for them.

As long as you’re providing guests with plenty of good food to eat, being frugal doesn’t make you a bad hostess. After all, your guests are coming to see you. If you’re frugal every other day, you should continue to be yourself during their visit.

TGIF Round Up: Visitors Edition

This weekend, my husband’s parents are coming to visit. We’re excited to see them and spend some time with them, but I must admit I’m feeling a little unprepared for the visit. Because we were out of town last weekend, we didn’t get a chance to do a lot of the errands and chores we typically do on the weekend. So today we’re rushing around to make sure we have plenty of food and clean up the guest room. It’s a good kind of stress, though. We haven’t had company since my parents came almost a year ago, and we’re excited to welcome family into our home again.

Hopefully I’ll have time this weekend to get some posts scheduled for next week, but if I miss a day or two you’ll know why. :)

Now onto the best posts from my Reader this week:

  • MoneyNing wrote an insightful list of 19 ways that laziness costs you money. It’s amazing how much you can save just be being mindful of your finances.
  • Frugal Upstate shares some ideas for spring break on a budget. This is a timely post for us since this week is my husband’s spring break (he won’t be teaching or attending classes this week). But we’re spending it entertaining guests instead of leaving town. :)
  • Mrs. Micah offers her thoughts on how living a nonfiction life is most fulfilling. This is an interesting concept. Just because you can afford to live a certain lifestyle doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Being true to yourself mean living within your means and making decisions that are best for you.
  • Remodeling this Life suggests you spend time not money. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately myself. The best things in life really are free, after all.
  • Cash Money Life shares some helpful tips for avoiding identity theft. These are easy precautions we should all be taking to protect ourselves and our finances.
  • Pecuniarities asks who’s really to blame for your spending. It’s easy to blame mistakes on smooth talking salespeople, but in the end we’re all responsible for our own spending decisions.

I’m off to prepare for our houseguests. Hope you all have a wonderful Friday!

My favorite sites for free music online

online-musicphoto by abletoven

Are you always looking for new music? I listen to music for hours at a time when I’m working, so I get sick of my iTunes playlist very easily. Luckily, I don’t have to spend a ton of money at the iTunes store to find great new music. There are a ton of resources online for free music.

Here are my favorites:

NPR Music

NPR is my absolute favorite form of free entertainment, but their music channel is particularly nice when you’re looking for something mellow and unobtrusive. (As much as I would love to listen to This American Life while working, it would probably be a little distracting.)

It’s also my favorite way to stay on top of new music. You can stream stations live, listen to particular playlists in their archives, or sign up for weekly free podcasts with new music and playlists. If you’re into folky rock or new world music, you’ll love their playlists. (I also recommend signing up for the This American Life, Fresh Air, and any of NPR’s other podcasts if you’re interested in news, current events, human interest stories, and generally good reporting.)

Pandora Radio

Pandora Radio is an amazing free service that allows you to build personalized radio stations by selecting artists and songs that you already enjoy. I’ve discovered a lot of great music by plugging in my favorites and listening to what the station recommends. You have some degree of control as it allows you to build multiple stations and skip a certain number of songs every hour, but you can’t choose a specific song or artist and listen to it. Listening to Pandora reminds me of what it’s like to listen to a great mix tape that I made years ago — I don’t remember what’s on it, but every song is a pleasant surprise.

I’ve only recently started using, but it’s similar to Pandora in that it offers recommendations based on your music preferences. has some additional features that are really cool, though.

It offers a community aspect that Pandora lacks. You can find other users with tastes similar to your own, and discover new music through their playlists. also allows you to search for specific artists and listen to playlists with only their music, which Pandora doesn’t allow. So far I’ve found that is perfect when I’m in the mood to listen to a specific song or artist, or listen to a playlist of specific artists.

iTunes Music Store

Most of the songs on iTunes are available for purchase. Sometimes (rarely) I find an artist I really enjoy on a free site, and I pop over to iTunes to buy more music from them or maybe even download an album. iTunes also offers some free downloads, though. In addition to the free single of the week, they have a huge list of free downloads from lesser known artists. Just look in your iTunes store under “Free Music & Videos.” If you’re looking to permanently add to your music collection instead, then you’ll like iTunes.

What about you? What are you favorite places to find music?

TGIF Round Up: Love & taxes edition

Looks like I spoke too soon when I sung the praises of TurboTax last week. Ugh.

I’ve had some issues that I’ll share with you in a later post (probably this weekend). For now, I’m just happy it’s over and hoping there won’t be any additional snags.

I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend at home. I’m not one to make a big fuss over Valentine’s Day — I prefer to spend every day of the year showing my husband how much I love him. **sap alert**But it’s nice to have an extra excuse to give him a kiss and a hug and let him know that I still think I’m the luckiest girl in the world. :) **sap alert ended**

And now for some great writing from the blogosphere:

Happy Friday the 13th!

Love don’t cost a thing

photo by Grant MacDonald

I’m not a J.Lo fan, I promise. But with Valentine’s Day coming up this week, there’s never been a better time to remind ourselves of this simple concept: love and money have absolutely nothing to do with one another.

I have nothing against Valentine’s Day. It’s a wonderful idea. Unfortunately, like most holidays, it’s gotten all wrapped up with money and gifts and extravagance. It’s ironic that the holiday centered on love has become so extravagant when love is is the most frugal idea ever. Love costs nothing. It offers so many wonderful benefits, and they’re all absolutely free.

This Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to celebrate love without spending any money. I’m not talking about spending less money or a little money. Try celebrating the person you love most for free.

Spending money is easy, but we all know the best things in life cost nothing.

  • Take an extra moment out of the day to stop what you’re doing, embrace your significant other, and tell him or her exactly how you feel.
  • Write a letter letting him know what he means to you and how he changed your life.
  • Make a list of all of the things you love most about her.
  • Turn off the TV and spend the evening talking about where you’ve come from and where you want to go next.
  • Remind yourself of your first days as a couple, and try to remember the time when your partner was just too good to be true. Hopefully, you haven’t forgotten, but if you have, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to remind yourself.

If you’re planning a money-free Valentine’s Day, leave a comment and share your plans!

Having fun with a limited entertainment budget

Lately I’ve been struggling with my ho-hum routine. It’s not that I’m not busy. It’s just that I’m so busy, that the only way I can get everything done is to stick to a pretty strict routine. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for excitement.

On top of that, our recent (and exciting!) decision to start saving for a trip to Europe next year has given us a new reason to stay home and avoid spending money. I’m thrilled to be working toward that goal, but I’m already feeling some cabin fever.

Typically we budget $50 a month for entertainment, and that money goes to any and all extra entertainment expenses. Sometimes we catch a Sunday matinee or two. Other times we use it to go out to dinner at the end of the month. It really doesn’t go too far.

I’ve been looking for fun activities to break up my routine without breaking my budget.

My best friend and I decided to start a long distance book club. She lives 800 miles away, but we talk on the phone regularly. We’re choosing books we can borrow from the library, reading them, and discussing every week.

What about you? How do you break up your routine without spending money? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Frugal extras that bring me joy

Between the economy, the freezing temperatures throughout the country, and the post-holiday blues, everyone can use a pick-me-up right now. I know I can.

In the past, I often used money as a method of cheering myself up. If I was feeling down, I’d spend. But that only led to guilt and more depression when I realized I was broke.

It’s possible to treat yourself without breaking the budget. Here are the little extras I splurge on when I’m feeling down.

Gourmet coffee

It would be too expensive to drink gourmet coffee every morning, but sometimes we buy enough beans for one pot. For about $3, we create our own coffee house at home.


Most of the time we rent from RedBox (which is usually free with a code), but sometimes we see a movie at the cheap theater for $2 or splurge on a matinee for $5. Watching a good movie with my husband takes me back to the days when we first started dating.


Sometimes after dinner we go out to a local bakery for a cup of coffee, and we split a slice of pie. For about $6, we’re out of the house enjoying something sweet.

Cooking fancy meals

If we’re craving a restaurant meal, we buy the ingredients in the grocery store and try to make it ourselves. Cooking together is fun, and it’s so much more rewarding to enjoy a meal you made yourself (not to mention cheaper).

What frugal extras bring you joy?