Saturday, June 9, 2012

CFL Lights - What's the Big Deal?

Everyone talks about the CFL bulbs.  What's the benefiit?  The average household has 30 light fixtures.  Lighting makes up 20% of the average electric bill. 

CFL bulbs are more expensive--especially when buying one or two.  The multipacks are a much better deal.  They even make globe versions for bathroom lighting and flood light versions.  The technology has come a long way. There is still the matter of disposal, since they contain mercury.

In my case, I had roughly 28 to replace.  I did them gradually, with eight packs.  Typiocally, you can get 8 for $10 or so at most stores.  If you're lazy, you can order them on Amazon, with free shipping (orders over $25).

The bathroom lights were the biggest deal--those were roughly $3 a piece.

If you swap all 30 bulbs, assuming they're 60 watt, with 13 watt CFL's, your savings would be as follows:

You can save as much as $188 per year this way.


The Frugal Maestro

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Insulating Hot Water Pipes

Hot water flows from our hot water heaters to our faucets and shower heads.  Each inch of uninsulated pipe is a slight loss of heat.  Insulating your hot water pipes could raise your hot water temp as much as 4 degrees, allowing you to lower the temperature setting on your hot water heater.  In addition, this can reduce the amount of water that you let flow as you wait for it to heat up.

You can buy a number of types of insulation including tape strips, fiberglass insulation, or styrofoam.  Measure the amount of exposed pipe (pipe you can get at), and the diameter of each section.  Go to a place like Lowes or Home Depot, or buy online HERE.

Insulating your hot water pipes reduces heat loss and can raise water temperature 2ºF–4ºF hotter than uninsulated pipes can deliver, allowing for a lower water temperature setting. You also won't have to wait as long for hot water when you turn on a faucet or showerhead, which helps conserve water.

Insulate all accessible hot water pipes, especially within 3 feet of the water heater. It's also a good idea to insulate the cold water inlet pipes for the first 3 feet. Use quality pipe insulation wrap, or neatly tape strips of fiberglass insulation around the pipes. Pipe sleeves made with polyethylene or neoprene foam are the most common.  Match the pipe size to the inner diameter size of the foam.  Use tie straps to close the foam over the pipe.

On gas water heaters, keep insulation at least 6 inches from the flue. If pipes are within 8 inches of the flue, your safest choice is to use fiberglass pipe-wrap (at least 1-inch thick) without a facing. You can use either wire or aluminum foil tape to secure it to the pipe.

More info can be found at:

They say that every 10 degree water temperature drop saves up to 5 percent of your energy bill.  By this math, a 4 degree reduction could equate to a 2% reduction in energy cost.  This may not seem like much, but a household with the following heating bills
would save some money:

In this example, you save $48 per year.


The Frugal Maestro



Thursday, May 24, 2012

Use of Ceiling Fans in the Summer Months

During the summer months, using the air conditioner to keep your home cool can cost a fortune. 

Ceiling fans can help.  Cool air drops..  A ceiling fan (running counter-clockwise) draws the cool air upward and circulates it better.  This recirculation improves the efficiency of the air conditioning system, extending its life and likely, lowering your bill.

Most ceiling fans use no more electricity than a 100 watt lightbulb.  Studies have shown that this technique can reduce your AC bill by as much as 40%. 

Ceiling fans can be purchased at most hardware stores and big box stores, such as Lowes, Sears, or Home Depot for anywhere from $40 to $300.  They can also be purchased online at a site like Amazon.

Let's a family of four has three bedrooms, and a ceiling fan in each.  Assuming 100 watts per fan, $.09 per kwh, and around-the-clock use of the fans, as well as the following heating bills, we get :
In this example, we save almost $342 per year.


The Frugal Maestro


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Borrow Books from Library Instead of Buying Them

The Library is a great resource that is often overlooked.  Free books, newspapers, and internet.  In addition, a quiet and relaxing place to study, read, and write.

In addition, they have free books.  Why are you buying them? 

Let's say you like to read.  You buy and read a book every two weeks, and you spend an average of $10 on that book.  That's $250 a year.  What if you could borrow that book from the library and read it for free?

It's generally easy to get a library card.  A library card application (available at your local library or sometimes available on your local library’s Web site. Some libraries, such as the New York Public Library offer online library card registration.)

You usually need:

1) A current photo ID with a valid address or two pieces of current identification, including one with your address.  These could include a personal check, a utility bill, a piece of recent postmarked mail, or a voter's registration card.

2) An application, which you can fill out at the library.

Kids under 14 generally need a parent's signature, along with the application, and parent's identification.

In this example, by replacing your "buy and read a book" habit with a "borrow and read a book" you just saved $260 a year.


The Frugal Maestro


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another Awesome Website - Brad's Deals

Another cool website was brought to my attention.  It's called

This is a sight that highlights savings.  You provide your email address, and Brad sends you daily deals.

The site also has deals listed.  They are categorized in tabs, such as, "Best Deals," "Most Recent Deals," "Online Coupons," "Printable Coupons," "Categories," and "Stores."

Here are a few examples of the savings that I'm seeing on the site as I type this:

1) Home Classics Reversible Down Comforter, regularly $219.99 for the King size, now $56 including shipping.

2) Kate Spade Hand Bag, regularly $325, now $167.99.

3) One year of Whole Living Magazine for $3.50.
There are printable coupons for things like: 

1) 40% off of a purchase at Bath and Body Works.

2) 10% off a purchase at Lowes.

3) 10% off an item at Best Buy.

This site is definitely worthwhile, and could potentially save you plenty of money, if you use these discounts and coupons to buy things that you were going to buy anyway.


The Frugal Maestro


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bottled Water

Someone once told me Evian spelled backward is "Naive."  Bottled water is a ripoff.  I cringe whenever I find myself at the ballpark, or the zoo with a thirsty kid.  Society has made "tap water" taboo.  So then, I get to fork over $3 for a 16 ounce bottle of water that I could by as part of a 30 pack for $0.20, or fill up at home for less than a penny.

Bottled water bottles aren't great for the environment.  In some instances, they've come a long way with making the bottles with less plastic (better for environment, less expensive to produce, did you notice the price didn't go down?

Spend $13 to $30 HERE for one of those pitchers with the charcoal filter.  Spend $1 for a 32 ounce Gatorade.  Drink the Gatorade and meet your new water bottle.  If tap water bothers you, or if the water in your area tasted funny, fill the Gatorade bottle with the filtered water from the pitcher.  If you want a cool water bottle, go HERE and order one.  I'm not a fan of Bubba Keg

Why all the hassle?   Allow me to explain.  Let's say the typical family of four buys the $5 30 pack of 16 ounce bottles each month.  That's $60 per year for roughly $0.50 worth of water.

You just saved $60 per year.


The Frugal Maestro


Friday, April 27, 2012

AAA Discount

One of the great benefits of AAA membership is all of the discounts.  Wherever you go, as you pay, you should ask, "Do you have a AAA discount?"  Below is a partial list.  The full list, and details (they aren't paying me here) is available at AAA.

Among the discounts (check websites for details):

  •  UPS: 15% off services and 5% off shipping.
  • Prescriptions: With AAA Prescription Savings Card, up to 24% off prescriptions.
  • Local Restaurants: 10 to 20% off at many (see website)
  • Payless ShoeSource:  10% off
  • Dunham's: 10% off
  • Nebraska Steaks: 10% off.
  • 10% off order of $100 or more.
  • Jos. A Bank Online: 20% off
  • Kohls: 15% off

Friday, April 20, 2012

Another Awesome Website -

I've learned of another great website.  Whenever you buy items online, you should look for the "promotional code" box or "coupon code" box.  This is a box were you enter a special code.  Maybe the code was sent to you in an email, or a catalog, or in the mail.  You enter this code in the little box and you receive a discount.

What happens if you don't have the code?  Should you be punished for not having it?  I think not.

What if there were a website that has the codes?  What if this website received user feedback on whether the code worked for them?  Such a site exists.

1) Go to the SITE and enter the company name that you're looking for.

2) Click "Search"

3) Jot down the code.

4) Go to the site from which you're ordering, and try entering the code in the promotional code box.  Complete your purchase.

Did it work?  If so, go back to the SITE and give feedback.

I've used this on sites like Kohl's, Amazon, and  It always pays to at least check.  Sometimes it's $5 off your order, other times it's free shipping.  It depends on the company and the offer at the time.  Enjoy!


The Frugal Maestro

Friday, April 13, 2012

Stop Playing The Lottery

I'll confess, I splurge when the jackpot gets really high.  It isn't that "I couldn't live on a measley $2 million jackpot."  It's my way of limiting my lottery expenditures to $5 at a time, once or twice a year.

I know people who play the "Powerball," a  42 state lottery, every Wednesday and Saturday.  $10 a week. That's $520 a year.

They'll claim that "they're due."  Each drawing re-sets the odds at 1 in 195,249,054 to win the Grand Prize.  Each drawing resets the odds at one in 35 to win.  If you buy 5 tickets for each drawing, you raise your odds to 5 in 35 to win $3 back.

The odds of dying in a car wreck next year are 1 in 7500 people.  This is almost twice as likely as getting three matching numbers plus the Powerball and winning $100 from one ticket.

I read an article that suggests that the odds of either dying in a car wreck, or killing someone in a car wreck in a two mile round trip to buy a Powerball ticket are seven times greater than winning the jackpot.

People spend money on strategies like wheeling systems that really only improve your odds by increasing the number of tickets that you purchase. 

Other people join lottery clubs that increase the odds of winning by increasing the number of tickets purchased, but decrease the jackpot per person because you're dividing it equally and/or suing one another because "Person A collected the money and Person B bought the tickets and Person C made photo copies of the tickets," etc.

Someone very wise once said, "I win a dollar every day I don't buy a lottery ticket."  Another wise person said, "you can't win if you play."   If you feel lucky, why not choose a 50/50 raffle somewhere that benefits a good cause.  Your odds are much better.

Stop Powerballing!  You just saved $500 a year.


The Frugal Maestro


Friday, April 6, 2012

Buying Cell Phone Accessories From Your Carrier?

So you're buying a new phone, and none of the accessories from your old phone are not compatible with the phone you're buying (what were the odds?!).  If you're buying in a store, you may be dealing with a helpful associate who is working on commission.

Phones need accessories.  Phone stores sell accessories, and who better to target than someone who is buying a new phone?  Car charger, spare wall charger, case, bluetooth, screen covers, maybe some sort of stylus. 

The sales person may throw out the term "bundling."  By you buying a bunch of stuff for your phone all at one time, "you're saving money."  If you go to the movies and buy a "bundle" consisting of a $7 Coke, a $9 Popcorn, and a $4 box of M&M's, they may tell you that you're saving $2, but you've just spent $18 for $3 worth of junk food.  Same goes for phone accessories.

As an example, I pulled some typical phone accessories (chargers, protective cases, headphones, bluetooth, screen protectors) from the AT&T website, and compared the exact same items on Amazon.  You may even find cheaper prices somewhere else.  The results are below.

You spend twice as much at the AT&T Store.


The Frugal Maestro

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Quit Smoking

You want to save money but you smoke cigarettes.  One article shows some staggering life insurance premiums.  Depending on age and gender, smokers can pay as much as four times as much in Life Insurance premiums.

Let's say that through your company, a non-smoker pays $200 per month for health insurance.  Nonsmokers typically pay a 20% penalty.  That's $480 per year.

Let's say that you smoke a pack of cigarettes per day, and that cigarettes cost $7 per pack of 20.  You're spending $2555 per year.

If we disregard the life insurance element, the risk of cancer, emphysema, heart disease, longer recovery time from illness and life insurance cost and focus strictly on cigs and health insurance, by quitting smoking, you save over $3000 per year.  HERE is a cool calculator.  There are a number of good books and resources HERE.  Always read reviews before buying something.  If it seems gimmicky, it probably is.


The Frugal Maestro

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Cool Free Money-Saving Phone App Called Shop Savvy

There's this awesome Smartphone App called ShopSavvy.  It's available for Iphone, Windows, or Android.  And it's free!

Here's how it works.  1) Using your cell phone camera, you scan the barcode on something that you want to buy.  If you don't have the product to scan, you can type in. 

This app then tells you how much it costs both online, and at several nearby locations, based on the location of your phone.  Since prices fluctuate from store to store, you're able to locate the best deal.

You can do this two ways.  First, you can scan your items at home and make a list by lowest price for each store, or, if you're already at the store and contemplating a purchase, you can scan it to see if you're getting the best deal.  Then, you have an equation on your hands: I save X dollars if I drive Y miles, and it will take Z time.  Maybe for one product, it wouldn't make sense, but if you have half of a grocery list that's cheaper at the other store, then it might make sense.

This app also contains consumer reviews of the products you're scanning, so you can see if they're even worth the hassle.

I've used this app for everything from DVD's to car wax to coffee to frozen vegetables.  I believe that one could pay for the extra cost of having a Smartphone with this one app.

If you're interested in this app, but don't have a smart phone, THIS is a good place to compare prices.


Frugal Maestro


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Buy a Zoo Membership

Families with young kids who live near a zoo should look into getting a membership.  In my case, the closest zoo is the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio.  For a family of four (two adults and two kids), the price tag for a single day admission is (2 adults x $10 + 2 kids x $7) = $34, plus $6 parking.  That's $40. 

For a typical family that goes to the zoo say, four times a year, that's $160 per year.

Conversely, the family membership would cost $71 per year.  That's a savings of $89 per year, plus, certain zoos in other cities offer a 50 percent discount to their zoo if I show them my Toledo Zoo Membership.  With free parking.  In addition, the Zoo Membership is partly or fully tax deductible.

You just saved $89 by making a decision ahead of time.  If you use it twice, you more than pay for it.

The Frugal Maestro


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kids Eat Free!

I have a great website for folks with kids who dine out at restaurants.  Kids meals are a big expense--especially at some retaurants who don't seem to get it, and charge $7 for some chicken tenders and fries.

The website is called .  Let's say a family of four, due to their schedules, eats dinner at restaurants seven days a week.  Let's be fair and assume $10 per meal for two kids.

Monday: Quiznos - Kids eat free*
Tuesday: Chammps - Kids eat free*
Wednesday: Damon's - Kids eat free*
Thursday: Captain D's - Kids eat free*
Friday: Quizno's - Kids eat free*
Saturday: Perkin's - Kids eat free*
Sunday: Steak 'n Shake - Kids eat free*

*Subject to change - check with the restaurant ahead of time.

That's a savings of up to $70 a week or $3640 a year.


Frugal Maestro


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Put on a Sweater

When it's cold out, and you're relaxing at home, put on a sweater.  A thick sweater is worth 4 degrees.  To put this in perspective, most experts assume a 2.5% energy reduction per degree.  That's 10% off of your bill.

If a family of four lives in the midwest, and their heating bills from November to March range from $250 to $400, each of you put on the ugliest sweater you can find (make a game out of it).  Turn the thermostat down $4 and start saving money.

You could save as much as $175 a year and look like a dork in the process, but nobody cares because you're at home.


The Frugal Maestro


Saturday, February 25, 2012 has NCAA event tickets for the following Universities for the Buffalo BullsButler Bulldogs and the BYU Cougars college basketball football and all other events at those colleges.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stuff You Can Claim on Your Income Taxes

Every year, we find ourselves pulling together this fiscal summary of our past 12 months.  It seems like Uncle Sam is always finding new ways to get his hands in there.  It's important to make sure we're taking advantage of every possible deduction.  Below is a list of possible deductions.  Obviously, you should talk to your CPA about your specific ituation.

1) If you bought a boat or vehicle or airplane, you get to add the sales tax you paid to the amount shown in the IRS table for your state.  The same goes for home building materials.

2) Out of pocket charitable donations.  Things like canned goods for the food pantry, ingredients for cookies that you bake for nonprofit organizations, etc.  Keep your receipts.  If your donation exceeds $250, you need a letter from the charity.

3) Airline Baggage Fees

4) Jury Duty Pay - in the situation where your employer pays your full salary while you're on duty, and then requires you to turn over your jury pay.  Since the IRS requires you to report these as taxable income, you are able to deduct the amount that you turn over to your employer.

5) Points on Refinancing With interest rates remaining so low over the past few years, lots of homes have been refinanced, sometimes more than once. Any points you pay to refinance your home can be deducted on a monthly basis over the life of the new loan.

6) Any health insurance premiums you pay, including some long-term-care premiums based on your age and Medicare premiums you pay, are potentially deductible. But you have to add these to your medical expense pot. Medical expenses have to exceed 7.5%  (as of 2011) of your adjusted gross income before they give you any tax benefit.

7) If you're a teacher and each year you're buying kleenex and crayons and computer equipment with your own money, you can deduct up to $250 per year as of 2011.

8) Business related parking and tolls, and business related mileage ($0.51 per mile as of 2011).  You can't double dip if your employer is reimbursing your mileage though.

9) License Plate Tabs

10) Zoo Membership


The Frugal Maestro

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Use of Ceiling Fans In the Winter Months

During the winter months, those of us in colder climates spend a lot of money heating their homes.  Furnaces run constantly, raising the gas bill. 

Ceiling fans can help.  Hot air rises.  A ceiling fan (running clockwise) that pushes the hot air "back down" can help recirculate heated air that is otherwise, on it's way out of your home.

Most ceiling fans use no more electricity than a 100 watt lightbulb.  Studies have shown that this technique can improve your heating efficiency by as much as 10%. 

Ceiling fans can be purchased at most hardware stores and big box stores, such as Lowes, Sears, or Home Depot for anywhere from $40 to $300.  They can also be purchased online at a site like Amazon.

Let's a family of four has three bedrooms, and a ceiling fan in each.  Assuming 100 watts per fan, $.09 per kwh, and around-the-clock use of the fans, as well as the following heating bills, we get :
In this example, we save almost $53 per year.


The Frugal Maestro

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fireplace For Heating A Home

In the winter months, there's this temptation to have a fire in the old fireplace.  Here's the problem:: a typical wood burning fireplace is about 20% efficient.  They draw up to 400 cubic feet per minute.   In a 3,000 sq. ft. house, this massive flow would force the heating system to re-heat all the air in the house three times every hour. That’s why operating fireplaces may actually have a negative efficiency.

The situation isn’t much better when the fire dies down, because you must leave the damper open until the fire is totally dead. Dampers often stay open all the time. You might as well leave a window open. Even when closed, dampers could have as much “leakage area” as all the windows and doors combined. Energy analysis standards often ignore these losses. So your house really isn’t as energy efficient as you think.

If you feel the need to have a fireplace going:   Look into electric fireplaces that use Hollywood-quality illusion to create a convincing fire.  If you must have an operating fireplace look into one of the new models certified by the US Environmental Protection Agency for efficiency. These are specially designed “air-tight” woodstoves that fit in masonry or wood-framed walls. They look very similar to traditional fireplaces.

For more info, please refer to this page.

The Frugal Maestro

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Does Tire Pressure Improve Fuel Economy

Tire Pressure is always a moving target.  Sometimes they check it when you're getting your oil changed, sometimes they don't.  Half the time, the air filler gizmo at the gas station is broken, or takes quarters and I'm fresh out of change.  I'll fill them next time through.  Days turn into weeks.  Weeks into months.  You take a train track too hard here, a pot hole there.  Cold temps, hot temps.  Sometimes, your tire pressure is 10 pounds below.

According to, every one psi drop in all four tires is worth 0.3 percent.  So tires that are 10 psi low equates to a 3 percent fuel economy degradation.

Using our 1000 mile per month, 25 miles per gallon, $3 gallon of gas model, you could save as much as $43.20.  Plus, properly filled and rotated tires last longer.


The Frugal Maestro


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Does Oil Type Improve Fuel Economy?

Whenever I'm getting my oil change, I peel the sticker off of my windshield because I'm somewhere slightly north of 3000 miles, and even though they can figure it out with their computer, I refuse to hand myself over that easily.

With that sticker missing, they always ask me what type of oil.  5W20?  10W30?  Natural?  Synthetic?  Does it really matter?

According to, not following the recommended oil type (i.e. 10W30 in a vehicle that requires 5W30, can reduce your fuel economy by as much as 2 percent.

For someone who drives 1000 miles a month and gets 25 miles per gallon, with gas at $3 per gallon, you save $36 per year.  I drive triple that, so my savings is quite a bit more.


The Frugal Maestro


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Does Changing Your Air Filter Really Help Fuel Economy

I change my air filter at the intervals specified in my owners' manual.

Whenever I'm getting my oil changed, the mechanic always tries to upsell me on an airfilter.  First of all, he charges $25 for an air filter I can buy at Sears or Autozone for $7.  I can get it for as low as $4.50 on Amazon.   It takes two minutes to change.

Secondly, he claims that changing your air filter helps your fuel economy.  I've been hearing this for years from people of all walks of life--mechanics, automotive insiders, clergymen--you name it.

A recent study at suggests that for vehicles with engines built after ~1980, an unclogged air filter really does not help with fuel economy, but can help with acceleration time.  Tests suggest that replacing a clogged air filter on an older car with a carbureted engine may improve fuel economy 2 to 6 percent under normal replacement conditions or up to 14 percent if the filter is so clogged that it significantly affects drivability.

Typicacally, city drivers are supposed to replace their air filter every 15,000 miles (more frequently if you're frequently on dirt roads).  If you get your oil changed every 3000 miles, this means every fifth oil change--not every other oil change as the pushy mechanic suggests,

If you drive 1000 miles a month, that's once every 15 months, and again, replace it yourself according to the instuctions in the owners' manual.

If your mechanic is as pushy as mine, and you drive 1000 miles a month, you could save as much as $44 per year.


The Frugal Maestro


Tuesday, January 10, 2012


In colder climates, every year, we're faced with jaw dropping heating bills.  Everyone has a different situation: different living space, different climate, different night-time lows outside, and different home efficiency.

Let's take the case of a family of four, who lives in the Midwest, where it gets mighty cold  from mid November to Mid-March.  Let's say their bill for last January was $400, with the November, December, February and March bills slightly less.  Let's say they keep their house at a comfortable 68F in the winter months, 24 hours a day.

First step: buy a programmable thermostat.  They sell these at Lowes, Home Depot, Sears, etc.  You can also buy one at Amazon, for anywhere between $25 and $100.  The programmable thermostat allows you to lower the temp at night and when everyone is at work.

A common figure that energy experts use is 2.5 percent energy savings per degree.  So in the case of a family who is gone for eight hours during the day, and sleeps eight hours at night, the savings could be as follows:

1) Lower the temp from 70F to 68F when everyone is home.
2) Lower temp from 70F to 64F when everyone is asleep or at work/school.
You could save as much as $175/year by following this type of plan.


The Frugal Maestro


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Batteries - Where to Buy

Every year, we run into the problem of toys that need batteries.  Some toys need a lot of batteries.  It's been my experience that the smaller your kid, the bigger the batteries.  I remember with toddlers, everything took those enormous D batteries.  Once the kids get older, their Wii remotes, RC cars, etc. take AA batteries, and plenty of them.

I hate buying batteries because I always feel like I'm getting ripped off.  I find that the generic batteries, while much cheaper, don't last nearly as long. 

First tip: Buy the big (20 battery) pack instead of the small (4 battery) pack.  They tend to charge about $1/battery in the small pack.  $0.50/battery seems to be the going rate for a AA Duracell or Energizer in a 20 pack.

Second tip:  I find, places like Home Depot and Lowes generally have better deals on batteries than would a store like Toys R Us (unless there's some kind of sale).

There are a number of online sites that have Duracell and Energizer batteries in bulk for cheaper.  The problem is, unless you go together with your neighbors and cousins, that's a lot of batteries. has 48 batteries Duracell for $0.30/battery.

At times, Amazon has sales going, with free shipping if you buy $25 or more in qualifying merchandise.  You can get them for as little as $0.46 a battery, sometimes better. 

You just saved as much as $14.00.


The Frugal Maestro