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Cheap Thrills Part 4: Budget Chic Lifestyle (Website) - 12/5/2008 by Karin Price Mueller/The Star-Ledger
Bringing the concept of cheap into your life is more than buying sale items or clipping coupons. It's being creative about frugality.

"I reuse plastic grocery bags from Target as both garbage bags and makeshift shower caps, says Kathryn Finney, the CEO/Founder of "Instead of purchasing Tupperwear, I reuse Chinese checkout boxes."

Open your eyes, look around and give yourself a challenge. See how many new places can you find to cut back this week. Seek out alternatives to the big-ticket items in your budget. Once you get your Creative Cheap in gear, you'll find ways to cut back that you've never thought of before.

Here are 10 innovative ways to be Creative Cheap.

1. Quit the gym and clean house: Don't renew your gym membership when it expires. Instead, take advantage of outdoor exercise opportunities, from jogging in public parks to climbing stairs in your office building. When the weather is cold, you can burn calories inside. Fire your cleaning person if you have one, turn up the music and do your own "aerobic housecleaning" routine. You'll save the gym fee and the cleaning costs.

2. Pot luck wardrobe: Instead of an expensive Girl's Night Out, invite your friends to come to your home for dinner. Before coming, each friend should clean their closets and remove like-new but unwanted clothes. Everyone can bring a pot luck dish, and after you eat, you can all try on and select some clothing items to keep. You can update your wardrobe without spending a dime.

3. Barter: There was a time in history where people didn't pay for the things they needed with money. They paid with services or goods. See if you can trade your skills for the services you need. For example, if you're a teacher, perhaps your plumber's kid needs a math tutor and would be willing to trade services.

Maybe your local deli owner would trade some meals for advertising ideas: perfect for a public relations professional. Or perhaps a waitress would work a holiday party for a hairdresser: free service for a free haircut.

4. Host a puzzle contest: Buy a few 500-plus piece puzzles at the dollar store and invite your friends over for a puzzle contest. Pull names out of a hat to create teams and see which team can finish first. It'll get the competitive juices flowing and give friends an inexpensive night out.

5. Invest in a good coffee machine: Sure, daily Starbucks can break the bank, so let's talk about a less expensive cup of Joe. An average cup costs about $1.75 to $2.00, which adds up to $638.75 to $730 a year, says Ronald Garutti, a certified financial planner with Newroads Financial Group in Clinton.

If you still want chic coffee, Garutti recommends a Keurig single cup brewer, which he bought for $130 at BJs. A year of coffee from an online supplier ($11 for 25 servings) costs about $160. The brewer plus the coffee is about half the cost of what you were paying to take out. "Plus, think of the time and even gas savings of not having to stop in the morning for coffee," Garutti says.

6. Have a photo date: Rather than an expensive dinner and movie or show, have a photo date with your partner. Take your digital camera -- or borrow one if you don't have your own -- and go to an interesting place. Try a city or a rural area that you've never before visited, then get artsy. Download your photos and if they're worth printing, join online photo development sites and wait for e-mail coupons. Then, print away.

7. Start a babysitter co-op: Babysitter costs make a moderately priced night quite expensive. Instead of hiring the local teen, start a babysitting co-op. Get together with other parents and create a child care schedule in which everyone takes a turn watching another couple's kids.

8. Host a manicure party: Rather than pay $10 or more for a weekly manicure -- which adds up to $520 a year -- invite some friends over for regularly scheduled manicure parties. Simply invest in a few nail essentials and split the cost with your guests. Then, take turns giving the star treatment to each other.

9. Freecycle: Freecycling websites are set up so people can give away their unwanted items -- from motorcycles to televisions to clothes - for free. Your clutter might be someone else's treasure -- and vice versa. As a member, you can find free stuff that you need. Check out the Freecycle Network, Freecycleamerica, ReUseIt Network, and the Green Umbrella, a site that publicizes individual freecycle networks.

10. Cheap birthdays: Don't spend hundreds of dollars to rent an indoor play space for your child's next birthday party -- do it on the cheap. Julianne Maguire of West Caldwell held her son's 9th birthday party locally, with the guests facing off in a parents versus kids baseball game at the local elementary school, followed by a Nerf gun battle in her backyard. The menu was pizza and homemade ice cream cake.

11. Books on the cheap: Rather than spend a lot of money to buy the latest bestsellers (which often end up collecting dust when you're through with them) consider alternatives:

-Book rental: Like Netflix, which allows consumers to rent DVDs and return them through the mail (with free shipping), offers book rentals.

-Book swapping: At PaperBackSwap, you post the books you're willing to swap online. You get credits for the number of books you've offered, and you use those credits to receive books you want to read. Your only cost is the postage.

-Remember, your local library is also free.
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