Planning a shoestring grad party

My son is graduating from high school this month and it’s a big accomplishment we want to celebrate.  We’re planning a small gathering of close friends and family at the end of July.  In keeping with our belief in spending money smartly, my husband and I are planning the party and looking at where we can cut costs.

We already took a trip to the Dollar Tree (you’d be amazed what you can find there)  where I was able to stock up on graduation plates, napkins and decorations.  I plan on picking up a case or two of bottled water (something I usually don’t buy but will splurge on for the party) and we’ll probably get balloons there on the day of the event.  I picked up extra plates and cups at Aldi  and  l will stock up on snack foods closer to the party.  Aldi has an awesome selection of chips, crackers, salsa, dip, etc, which I’ll stock up on closer to the party.  We’ll take advantage of our BJ’s membership to get some prepared barbeque pork as well as a cake.   We’ll also serve hot dogs and hamburgers for those people who don’t like pork. Any offers by others to contribute food to the event will be gratefully accepted. I even made up the invites and printed them myself.


This party will be relatively low key compared to other grad parties I’ve heard about.  It’s about celebrating a big accomplishment, not how much money we can spend to show how proud we are of our son.  We want to send the right message to him as he enters the next phase of his life.



Become a bag lady(guy)

Has this ever happened to you?  You walk into a grocery store for a few items, grab a shopping cart and walk out with a cart full of items.  I realize this is an exercise in self-control.  I will readily admit that I find all sorts of stuff that I don’t need or didn’t intend to buy.  So I have a plan for dealing with this.

When I plan to buy just a few items I enter the store with one or two of my reusable shopping bags.  My rule is that I have to use the bags to carry my items.  I can carry things in my hands and the bags but if I can’t carry it, then I can’t buy it.  I love to troll the aisles for bargains which means I usually walk out with many more items and spend way more money than I intended.  It’s a lot harder to do that when you have to carry everything.

If I’m going to do a week’s worth of shopping I’ll grab a cart, but if I really only need to pick up a few things then I become a bag lady.  Try it, you might save some money.

Make things E-Zier for yourself

I received a letter in the mail from the NYS Thruway Authority reminding me to renew my Thruway Annual Permit.  Since I’m on the Thruway between Rochester and Buffalo commuting to work, the Annual Permit Plan lets me drive between the Pembroke (48A) and I-490 Leroy (47) exits for free.  Without an E-ZPass, one way on that section of Thruway would cost me $1.10 cash, round trip $2.20.  The E-ZPass gives me a small discount of 5 cents on a one way stint.  (NYS Thruway toll schedule, with and without E-ZPass). With the Annual plan I save the entire $2.20 cost since the annual fee covers the toll for the first 30 miles or less per trip.  The Annual plan costs $88 for the entire year (the cost is pro-rated if you sign up later in the year) or a monthly cost of $7.

E-ZPass is an electronic toll collection (ETC) system that allows you to prepay your tolls, eliminating the need to stop at the toll plaza.  When traveling during peak times, having the ability to bypass the lines of toll collectors can be quite satisfying.  When you register for an E-ZPass, you will need to sign up to have payments taken directly from a bank account or you can have your credit card charged.  You will receive a toll tag which you place inside your car.  The toll tag is read by equipment at the toll booths which debits the toll amount from your account.

E-ZPass works outside of NY state as well, It can be used on roads in a lot of the northeastern states (see pic below).  When we took our summer vacation to Washington DC and Philadelphia this year we were able to use the pass on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and some highways in Maryland.

You will pay a deposit when you receive the tag which is returned to you when you turn the tag in.  If you sign up for the pass using a credit card, the deposit fee is waived.  There’s really no reason not to get an E-ZPass.  It saves time and it saves money and doesn’t really cost anything. And if you travel the Thruway a lot, sign up for the NYS Annual Permit plan and cut your costs even further.

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4 Cheshire Lane

East Amherst, NY 14041-1826 Christmas 2010

Dear Friends,

We wish you the warmest of Christmas greetings and hope this message finds you blessed with the happiness of family and friends and of happy memories of Christmas’s past.  We also wish you a Happy New Year with wishes that find 2011 a year of financial hope for all that have been adversely affected.

So, what has happened to Jack and Joan during the past 12 months? We have a new grandchild, Luke Ryder Heine, born to John and Lisa in Michigan in October, our 10th grandchild.  Jack retired from Fredwal in January when they closed the doors forever- his second retirement.  And we went to Florida in March and froze our butts as the North wind blew virtually every day.  Even the sun didn’t help as people in the know said it was the coolest March they remembered.  It did warm up on the day we left, 31 March, but we already had the car packed for the trip home.  Our new car, a Chevy Traverse, was a gas hog as it gave us about 21mpg going down and going home.  But it was cheaper than flying and renting a car. And no TSA screening.

Jack didn’t go to Florida with his brother Chuck this year as we are savings our pennies for our 50th anniversary in August- we have planned a cruise from Los Angeles to Tampa Florida via the Panama Canal.  It will be only our second cruise and it’s an area that Jack has not been there before.

During the time we were in Florida we set in motion the plans to do some re-modeling in the house:

This was to put in a granite counter-top in the kitchen and to remove our bar that we replaced with a cabinet wet bar with a granite counter-top.  Now the bar stools are gone as well as a place to rest your elbows.  A new cabinet went into the powder room and granite countertops were added there and in our bath.  Wow- that stuff is not only heavy but also not cheap.

And to top it off, we put in a new floor in the family room, Brazilian Walnut that is different shades of brown.  It is also harder than Oak which we thought was the hardest. Jack and our son-in-law Brad did all the work and it is beautiful. Jack was the “go-fer” for Brad who also did the kitchen and bar back-splash tile work.  He is very talented in this house remodeling business.  We added some colorful area carpets to complete the room.

Our summer was one of the best as to sun and weather.  The grandkids enjoyed the weekends in our pool but Jack had a problem.  Andrea’s dog, Caleb, all 70+ pounds, likes to play with a bike tire or tube, which he plays “yank” with Jack.  As he relaxed the pull with Jack, Jack was caught unawares when Caleb suddenly jerked the tire.  Result was a torn

rotator cuff in Jack’s right shoulder. Two and a half months of physical therapy were                                    required to get some mobility back.  No more playing yank with Caleb.  In May, Joan                 started having a problem that has yet to be diagnosed. She started to have a                              bloated and full feeling in her abdomen.  Then she fell on her back in a                                         freak accident in a restaurant. So far no    positive results from a                                       number of procedures and some drugs. More work with our                                                                   doctor is forthcoming.

In the meantime, our grandkids are growing with three now in their teen years and two in high schools.  The oldest, Westin (15) (parents Michele and Brad) and Amanda (15) (parents Sue and Ron) are now good high school students. Amanda’s sister Jenny is 13 and was active in Gymnastics until she sprained a foot muscle that is slow to heal.  Ron has just switched jobs as his former company is on the trading block and the future looked dead-ended.  Westin’s sister, Kendra, at 12, is  also a very good student. Our youngest daughter, Joanne, and husband Daryl, are both CPA’s.  Joanne is also an assistant VP for First Niagara Bank and Daryl works for the town of Amherst. Joanne’s former horse, Louie, died earlier this year, so now she has a new beautiful Chestnut, “Cooper” by name, and she is teaching her girls, Delaney (11) and Ella (4) to ride, while son Elias (8) is also starting to ride as well as play baseball and football. He also likes to fish with his dad in the small lake in the back of their house.

Number three daughter, Andrea, still enjoys her Vet work with dogs and cats. If you call her and she isn’t home you will get an amusing message from her answering service recording.  She also enjoys biking, riding for miles.  In the summer it isn’t unusual for her to make a pit-stop at our house which is 10 miles from her home.

Our son John lives and works in Michigan with his wife Lisa.  He has survived the problems of the financial breakdown to General Motors (and other auto companies) as a production engineer while Lisa is a technical illustrator and WEB developer.  John has three boys, Devin, who is 10 and quite an athlete in Baseball and Football, Ryan, just turned 2 and little Luke, just born in October.

Almost a year has passed since jack retired from Fredwal. He monitors the Fredwal e-mail because of a warranty agreement for Korea.  Back in August somebody at the China Lake Naval Air Test Center needed Fredwal radar targets and Jack explained it was no longer in business but he would try to help.  They needed a bunch of radar targets and Jack said he could help.  He received his first purchase order in early November.  His new company is called Amherst International LLC. Delivery is mid-February just before we leave for Florida.

Joan is a “work widow” again as Jack earns some retirement savings for that 50th wedding anniversary cruise through the Panama Canal in October 2011.

May we wish you the Merriest of the Season


Jack and Joan

Common Sense Ways to Save at College

I liked this article written in the Buffalo News this week about ways to save money when going to college.  I thought the advice was practical, and mostly common sense, but still wanted to share it with people. I realize that most students have started back to college already, so some of this advice you won’t be able to take advantage of.

College costs can be cut – a little

Revealing my sources

I know some of you probably wonder how I hear about some of the deals I blog about.  I thought this might be a good time to turn you onto one of my best sourcesfor freebies and good deals: Moms Who Save.
I first heard about Moms Who Save on Momster, an online community for Moms.  I joined some discussion groups focusing on saving money and free offers.  There are many users who post good deals on the groups on Momster, but user MomWhoSave was consistently posting good deals, along with links to other good deals on her site.  A few times I’ve passed those same good deals along to others.  I’ve definitely become a fan.  I especially love the Moms Who Save Blog.  Moms Who Save is also on Facebook, which is where I tend to come across good deals most often.
So go ahead and  check it out, even if you’re not a Mom!

Be Fruitful

One of the great things about living in western NY is the abundance of farms and farm markets.  Some of these  farms even let you do the harvesting, offering discounts for picking your own.  You might have to go a bit out of your way but it’s a great way to get some healthy food at a cheap price.

My sister Andrea always seems to know the places to go picking in western NY and Niagara County.  I had stopped at a U-Pick farm in Clarence to try picking strawberries when they were first available.  It was not very good picking. It took me about 20 minutes to pick one quart.  They were charging $3.50 per quart for 1-3 quarts and $3/quart if you picked more.  The following week I went strawberry picking at a farm in Basom, NY.  If you picked 8 quarts, it was only $11!  Since this was a lot of strawberries to deal with I gave some to my Mom and another sister.  It only took an hour for me to pick seven quarts while it took just over an hour for Andrea to pick 11 (she gave me one of hers). I made a pie with some, froze some and sugared some up so they wouldn’t turn too quickly.  My mom made freezer jam from some of the strawberries Andrea and I gave her.

Last week Andrea picked 30 lbs of cherries in about an hour and it cost her $30 at Murphy Orchards in Burt, NY.  I bought a few pounds off of her.  She uses a dehydrator to dry large quantities of them and then freezes the dehydrated fruit to make it last even longer.  It’s a lot healthier and cheaper than buying the dried and sugared fruit in the store.  She also recently picked up a gadget that allows her to pit four cherries at a time, speeding the process.  She’ll freeze some whole as well.   She went again the following week and picked another 24 lbs.  She has a friend coming in from out of town Thursday and they’re going to go picking again.  At that price, even if some go bad, you are still paying less than you would in a store for 1/4 the amount.

Raspberries are just now coming in to season, and blueberries aren’t far behind. The last few years we’ve made it a habit to visit Whittier Fruit Farm in Ogden, which is only about 2 miles from where we live, to pick raspberries.  We’ve always gone there to pick apples ( my favorite is the Honey Crisp).  We were disappointed to learn from their website that they had to remove all their raspberry bushes due to a virus!  Luckily my sister Andrea has an abundance of raspberry bushes in her backyard.  We picked 4 quarts this afternoon.  I’m taking them home to eat and freeze.

Because of the nice spring the harvests are early this year.  I’ve seen lots of ads in the Sunday paper advertising you pick farms.  Green Acre Farms in Greece is another great place to go picking. They have strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, stone fruit like apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums.  In the fall they have apples and pumpkins.

Picking fruit is a rewarding experience, with your family or by yourself.  Your kids might appreciate better what goes into getting that quart of strawberries to your kitchen table.  I would suggest calling the farm ahead of time to confirm times and prices.  One of the benefits of picking your own is you can usually eat all you want for free.  Besides, at these prices, you can afford to gorge yourself when you get home.

Deals under a $1

I just had to share.  I came back 30 minutes ago from a trip to Michaels where I went specifically to buy one thing.   I found that one thing and headed to the cash register.  When I got there the normal $1 bin of “stuff” at the register was marked down to 25 cents!  My daughter and I are scrapbookers and I spotted a bunch of cool patterned papers in multiple patterns and other scrapping accessories, all for a quarter!  I spent 20 minutes sorting through the 6 bins scrounging for the good stuff.  Two of my nieces have birthdays coming up so I was happy to pick up a monogrammed luggage tag and bookmark for one and a paint by number set for the other.  Many of the items I picked up will be gifts for my daughter’s birthday this summer.  I may hit up another Michaels later this week to see what other bargains I might find.