My husband and I didn’t have time to buy a dining room table before hosting Thanksgiving this year. Fortunately, we found a creative solution for this conundrum: the patio table. Had we had the 11 people we originally expected, rather than the 6 we had, we would have used the patio table plus our kitchen table.

The Art of Doing with Less
Obviously, I didn’t want to eat outside in November, and I also didn’t want my guests to feel like we were at a patio table. To protect my floors, I put dollar store baby mittens on the feet of the table. I used kitchen chairs and two folding chairs rather than patio chairs. Then, I laid a nice tablecloth over the top. We dressed it up with my wedding candleholders and a few fresh flowers. I even brought out my nice white napkins I received for my wedding. It looked and felt fancy, even if we were eating at a patio table.

The key to getting by with less is to dress up what you do have so that it looks nice. If you only have a small tree, dress it up with the nicest of your ornaments. If you only have a few holiday candles, put out an assortment of candleholders in different sizes and shapes, but similar colors. A trio usually looks beautiful. If you have extra ornaments, fill a glass vase or bowl with colored balls. Hang large wooden ornaments from doorknobs.

Focus On Being Festive
Just because you don’t have a house full of ornaments or can’t afford a major gourmet feast, you can still entertain with less. Instead of buying expensive candles and favors, put your budget into the food. Plan your menu around sale items. Serve finger foods rather than a full meal. Make it a cocktail party rather than a dinner. Bake cookies, fix appetizers based on bacon, meatballs, and cheese, and serve eggnog, brandy, and wine. Then crank up the holiday tunes and get ready to have fun. Your guests won’t notice the lack of gourmet fare if you don’t point it out.

Raid Your Leftover Christmas Cards
This year I scored 75 cards for $6.99 via a timely Woot sale, but for the past several years I’ve simply raided my stash of leftover cards. If you regularly send out cards, you should have a few left from each season. You may also have received cards from various charities you’ve donated to in the past. Match all those up to envelopes and then all you need to buy are stamps. Trust me, no one will remember if they receive the same holiday card two years in a row.

Give Group Gifts
Your gift budget goes further when you give a group gift. For example, my husband and I are joining forces to give my sister and her husband something they really want, but that is more than the individual budgets we’ve set aside for them. My sister and I have merged our money to get a better gift for my mom or dad in the past. My sister, my mom, and I also go in together on group gifts for my cousins, who would otherwise receive three small gifts. Now they get one gift they really want. We all spend affordably, but no one feels like they got gypped.

Remember the Reason for the Season
Amidst the shopping frenzy of years’ past, the reason for the season seems to have gotten lost. The true meaning of the holiday season is slightly different for everyone, but in general it means gathering with family and friends in a joyful atmosphere. So next time you’re stressed for a gift, just remember what the Beatles said: All you need is love.

Tis the season of the potluck. Potlucks are great if you want to save money and still have a feast, but they can also spell trouble if you don’t organize them properly. To save you from a meal starring ten liters of soda and no dessert, here are nine quick tips for organizing a potluck.

Set a Start Time and an End Time
Potlucks don’t work well as “drop-in” events, because your salad could arrive three hours after the dessert. By specifying a start time and an end time, people are more likely to arrive on time. If you’re really worried, let them know what time dinner starts, just like galas do. Cocktails at 7, dinner at 7:30.

Ask for Volunteers for Courses
If you don’t ask people to volunteer for specific courses in advance, you’re very likely to wind up with too many desserts and not enough sides. Send out a group email or Evite and ask people to choose a dish category in their RSVP. Keep it simple – appetizer, salad, side dish, dessert, or beverage. If too many people volunteer in any one category, ask them to choose something else.

Provide the Entrée Yourself
Just to be safe, assign the entrée to yourself. Then you’ll be sure your guests will leave with something substantial in their bellies.

Stock Up on Fill-In Items
Also to be safe, buy a container of fancy nuts, a bottle of wine, a bag of lettuce, and some fancy cookies. Choose things you like that you’ll be able to eat the rest of the week, but at least you’ll be able to throw something together in a flash if a guest is a no-show or forgets to bring something.

Consider a Theme
If you don’t want to deal with a whole dinner, consider a theme. Last year casserole parties were very popular. You could also do a specific color theme, where all the food has to be that color. If you have a favorite show or movie, focus the food around things you’d associate with it. Check out my ideas for entertaining at home for more themes.

Just Do Drinks and Dessert
People love dessert parties, so make your next potluck a drinks and dessert party. Ask some people to bring liquor and others to bring their best desserts. For this one, just set a start time – no one will mind if a new dessert shows up hours into the party.

Supply Cups, Plates, and Utensils
If you don’t mind dealing with paper and plastic, buy sturdy paper or plastic plates and cups for your potluck. It’s best to use your regular silverware – the plastic stuff is flimsy. If you don’t like paper or plastic plates, hit the dollar store, Ikea, or the thrift store to stock on real plates that you won’t mind breaking. I recommend plain white if you can find them, but a mish mash of different styles is fun for the kitsch factor.

Keep It Low-Key
Potlucks are not formal events. Rather than one large table, consider arranging a few seating areas with seats and small tables so people can mingle. Set out a buffet and let people eat what they want when they want. If you do want everyone to sit at the same table, then make the meal family style – no formal plating or presentation.

Keep the Guest List Reasonable
If you’ll have more than 15 people or so, the amount of food can quickly get out of hand. If you must host a large potluck, ask people to bring dishes that serve 8 or fewer – then you won’t be left to deal with a ton of leftovers in throw-away containers.

I attend at least 8 potlucks a year and they are always a success because we’ve come to know who will bring what. It’s informal, fun, and always a feast.

What’s your favorite tip for organizing a successful potluck?

Memorial Day is the official start of barbecue season. If you can’t grill year-round, this is the time to pull out the Weber and fire it up. Of course, hosting a party can be expensive, but a barbecue can be done for much less money if you follow these tips.

Shop the Manager’s Specials for Memorial Day Barbecue Meats
The meat and other grillables are the most expensive part of the barbecue. Although I’m partial to grass-fed beef, feeding more than a family can get very expensive. If your hosting a gathering, then you need to cut costs. Head to the grocery store on Sunday and look for manager’s specials on various cuts of meat. You can probably score steaks, ground beef, and chicken breasts for half the usual price. Manager’s special’s are usually close to the expiration date, so make sure to buy them close to the date of the party or toss them in the freezer until Sunday.

Stock Up at Costco
If you belong to Costco, then it’s time to stock up. Their kosher hot dogs are fantastic and come in large packs for a very low price. They also have buns to match. You’ll also want to pick up hamburger buns if you’re making burgers. This is also the place to grab soda, beer, chips, and napkins. Rather than buy water bottles, fill a few pitchers of water and set out plastic glasses.

Use Your Regular Utensils
Save your pennies and the planet by putting out baskets or cups filled with your regular metal utensils. As a bonus, your guests won’t have to attempt to saw through a steak with a plastic knife.

Use Your Regular Dishes
Again, skip the paper, which isn’t sturdy enough for Memorial Day barbecue fare anyway. If you don’t want to use your everyday china, then hit the dollar store for some sturdy plastic plates. These will last for several barbecues, as opposed to the paper ones that go straight into the trash.

Ask Friends to Bring Drinks or Sides
You can save yourself some cash by asking friends to supply side dishes like potato salad or a green salad. You could also ask them to bring drinks, which will save you the expense of buying more than a 12-pack of beer to get the party started.

Skip the Theme
Some people feel that every party must have a theme. I’m generally opposed to themes – Memorial Day is the theme! So just skip it. Then you won’t have to worry that your plates don’t go with your concept.

Keep the Décor Simple
This is a barbecue. You don’t need fancy tablecloths. Just lay an old vinyl cloth over a table to protect it and you’re good to go. Skip the balloons, streamers, and what not.

Backyard Games Are In
If you’ve got a croquet set, volleyball net, or badminton set, bring it out. It’s a great way to kill time while you’re waiting for the meat to cook.

Keep the Guest List Reasonable
You don’t need to invite everyone you know to this party. Instead focus on a nice group of 10-20 people so you can actually hang out and have fun rather than handcuff yourself to the barbecue or spend the whole time greeting new arrivals.

Make It an Open House
The other option is to set a start time in the early afternoon and then make it an open house so people will come and go. Not all of them will expect to be fed, or be disappointed if they missed the fresh burgers. They’ll also bring a fresh supply of snacks and drinks, which prevent you from sending anyone to the store.

The first big grilling holiday of the season is almost upon us. I command you to go forth and barbecue this Memorial Day. And keep a cold one in the cooler for me.

Babies are expensive, so the baby shower was invented with one goal in mind: supply the parents-to-be with most of the stuff they’ll need to welcome their new arrival into the world. Yes, it’s also a day to celebrate the mom entering the new phase of her life, but really, it’s about the gifts. Use these baby shower ideas to keep the costs down and make it fun for everyone.

Choose a Free Location
Most of the baby showers I’ve attended have been held in private homes. I’ve heard of restaurant showers, but that will quickly get expensive. A friend or relative’s house is free, and allows you to cook the food yourself. If you don’t have access to a house, then consider a public park. Just arrive a few hours early to stake out a couple of tables. Make sure you’re near the bathrooms, though. Also keep in mind that many of the gifts are bulky, so choose a spot near the parking lot.

Recruit a Co-Host
In the past, there was a taboo about moms hosting wedding showers for their daughters. That seems to be waning, but some people are still picky about it. That doesn’t hold true of baby showers, though. The shower can also be hosted by a sister, friend, or other relative. If you’re hosting a baby shower, consider recruiting another friend or relative to help share the costs and divide the labor.

Keep the Guest List Short
A baby shower doesn’t need to be huge. Although I’ve been to 20 or 30 person showers, I’ve also been to 10 person showers (second baby.) It seems like more than 20 is overkill, unless it’s a co-ed baby shower. You certainly don’t need to get into the range of 50 like you do for some wedding showers.

Serve a Simple Buffet
When planning the baby shower menu, keep in mind the long, long list of foods that the mom-to-be probably isn’t allowed to eat. That includes most soft cheeses, uncooked fish, high-mercury fish, raw eggs, and raw egg products. If you stick with chicken, beef, charcuterie, or pasta you should be safe. There are many ways to cook those basics that can appear fancy, but are actually be simple to prepare. Cake seems to be the dessert of choice, but cupcakes are also fun and easy to make yourself.

It’s not necessary to serve a sit-down meal. Most showers seem to be buffet affairs where people can mingle. If you have a small group, you could all sit around the table together, but it becomes unmanageable with more than ten people or so.

Limit the Beverage Options
Some baby showers include alcohol, others don’t. It really depends on your crowd and the mom-to-be. Ask her whether she’ll be offended if other people drink. For a women-only shower, serve wine or champagne punch at the most. You may also need beer for a co-ed baby shower. This is not the time for mixed cocktails.

Skip the Theme
The baby is the theme. Simply hang a few streamers in appropriate pastel colors and you’re good to go. There’s no need to hang diapers and bibs all over the place or come up with a new color scheme for the baby shower.

Skip the Baby Shower Favors
If you must do favors, stick to simple items like votive candles or a bundle of candy wrapped in tulle. Most baby shower favors wind up in the trash, so don’t go overboard.

Use Affordable Invitations
An Evite might not be quite appropriate, but you can go to your nearest stationery shop to buy printable invitations you can complete on your computer. Or you could handwrite them. There’s no need to order engraved invitations.

Skip the Baby Shower Games
I said this in the bridal shower post and I’ll say it again: shower games are boring. No one wants to guess how much a toy costs or how many jelly beans fill a baby bottle. Definitely do not humiliate the mom by asking people to cut string to the estimated width of her belly. Please, just let people talk, eat, and watch the presents be opened. Everything else is just silly filler.

These baby shower ideas are simple, but they won’t make the shower seem cheap. Instead, you’ll have an elegant baby shower that everyone will enjoy and will pass quickly.

Tradition dictates that you must have a glass of bubbly in your hand when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. However, that bubbly doesn’t necessarily have to be true champagne. Instead, you can be a friend to your budget and find some affordable options that will still taste good. We’ll start with a brief primer on champagne, then I’ll review some of my favorite alternatives to the French brands.

What Is Champagne?
Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. By law, only sparkling wine from this region may be called Champagne. However, sparkling wines are produced using the “Champagne-method” in regions all over the world, and many can be just as delicate and satisfying as true Champagne.

Alternatives to consider are Prosecco (Italian, sweeter than most Champagnes), Asti (Italian, also sweet), Cava (Spanish), and sparkling white from the U.S. Some U.S. producer even hire French Champagne experts to blend U.S. sparkling wines to the same exacting specifications used in France.

Types of Champagne and Champagne Terms
When you’re standing in the Champagne aisle at the grocery store, you’ll be faced with a dizzying array of options. What does it all mean?

Blanc de Blancs is made from white Chardonnay grapes. It’s a lighter, sweeter wine.
Blanc de Noirs
is made from a blend of red grapes. It’s more golden in color and has a fuller taste.
is pink Champagne, and is typically very sweet.
means sweet, Brut means less sweet. Doux means very, very, very sweet. Brut Natural is the least sweet. Most people buy Brut.
means all of the grapes were harvested in the same year.
means the grapes could be from several harvests.

Affordable Champagne Options
When you’re shopping for a bottle to take to the New Year’s Eve party, you might be tempted to spring for the cheapest version. Don’t do it. Spend at least $6 to get a decent bottle. Avoid Cook’s and Tott’s, but you can find many choices for less than $10. If you want to splurge, you can spend up to $20. Anything beyond that and I think I’d save that bottle for a small celebration with my loved ones, not a midnight sip when no one will really notice the superb flavor of the pricey stuff.

I’ve tried all of these and enjoyed them:
Barefoot Bubbly Brut – $7-8 for a California sparkling wine
Domaine Ste. Michelle – $7-9 for award-winning sparkling wine from Washington state
Freixenet – $8-10 for Spanish Cava
Korbel – $9 and up for a California sparkling wine
Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs – $12-13 for a 4-pack of 187 ml cans
Mumm – $12 and up for sparkling wine from Napa
Chandon – $13 and up for sparkling wine from Napa
Roederer – $20 and up. This is a French house that also produces sparkling wines in California, Portugal, and other regions.

If money’s no object, spring for the Dom Perignon. For the rest of us, the above options are a good way to enjoy the flavor of Champagne style sparkling wine without the price of true Champagne. Save even more with these tips for a frugal New Year’s Eve. Happy New Year!

WinterIt’s been pretty darn cold for at least the last week, but winter didn’t officially kick-off until December 21. Now that the season is in full swing, here are 13 ways to celebrate it, one for each week.

Look at the Christmas Lights
Every year, my husband and I drive around the neighborhood looking at the Christmas lights on Christmas Eve. I love both the major displays with animated characters and thousands of lights, as well as the simpler strings of pretty colors. If it’s not too cold, you could also walk, but we have a lot to ground to cover, so we drive.

Drink Hot Chocolate or Spiced Cider
What better way to welcome winter than by sipping a warm drink by the fire? Hot chocolate is a traditional choice, but I prefer spiced cider. All you need is a bottle of apple cider, cinnamon sticks, and rum (optional). You can also get fancy by adding orange juice, cloves, or nutmeg. A quick Google search will reveal a treasure trove of spiced cider recipes.

Build a Fire and Read
When the weather is stormy, I love to start a fire and curl up with a good book. It’s so peaceful and quiet – something we often don’t have time for in our busy lives. This winter, take an hour for yourself.

Go Sledding
If you live anywhere near snow, sledding is a must. Stop by a sporting goods store for a flippy flyer, then drive to the nearest sledding hill. Even I can go sledding and I live in Los Angeles. If you live in Florida or South Texas, you might have to take a pass, but everyone else should make the effort. It’s worth it.

Go Ice Skating
This one’s doable no matter where you live – nearly every city has an indoor ice skating rink, and many cities set up outdoor rinks in the winter. Check your local community calendar or website for hours and locations. You don’t need to own skates – they’ll rent them to you at the rink.

Drive through the Mountains
If you live near the mountains, take this opportunity to drive through them. There may be snow scattered on the peaks in places where the snow doesn’t make it to the lower elevations. It will also give you a better appreciation for the year-round beauty of nature.

Make Fudge
Wait several weeks after the holidays, then make a fresh batch of rich, gooey fudge. It’s a sinful treat in the midst of a dark and gloomy season. You may already have a traditional recipe, or I recommended several in a previous holiday cookies post.

Bake Bread
If you haven’t baked bread before, you must try it. The smell of fresh bread baking in the oven is heavenly, as is ripping apart a still-warm loaf and slathering it in butter. No matter how fancy a loaf you buy at the store, it will never taste as good as one you’ve baked fresh in your own oven. Here’s a basic bread recipe from Alton Brown.

Make a Pork Pie
I recommended it for the fall, and now I’m recommending it again. It was a hit at a recent party I attended. Remember, it serves about 12 people, so plan for a large party that night. Invite everyone in to play games, eat pork pie with a nice salad, and enjoy a roaring fire.

Host Open that Bottle Night
The wine critics invented an occasion they call “Open that Bottle Night.”  Invite to bring a bottle of wine they’ve been saving but never found the right time to use it. Some of the wines will have gone bad, but some will be delightful. The company and stories are sure to be wonderful. This year the official date is February 28, so it’s also a great way to help winter wind to a close.

Grow a Hyacinth Bulb Indoors
The hyacinth is the first flower of spring, but it’s also the last flower of winter. The traditional growing time is early March. Buy a hyacinth bulb and grow it in a small vase inside your home to help spring hurry along.

Have a Soup or Casserole Party
Ask every couple (or pair of friends if you’re inviting single friends) to bring a pot of soup or a casserole. Ask them also to bring recipe cards to share with everyone else. If you don’t have enough dishes, either ask them to bring those or hit the dollar store to stock up. When it’s cold and stormy outside, there’s nothing like hot soup or a hearty casserole to warm your insides up. Turning it into a party makes it even better.

Try Other Traditional Dishes
You may have grown up with traditional dishes from your culture, but how many dishes from other cultures have you tried? Try as many as you can. Some hearty winter ideas: tamales, empanadas, Yorkshire pudding, perogies, latkes, and borscht.

Once you get through this last, spring will already be upon us. Do you have additional ideas for celebrating winter? Tell me in the comments.

Most people have several holiday parties to attend in the month before Christmas, which makes it difficult for anyone to attend one single party for several hours. However, that can work to your advantage. Let your guests off the hook by hosting a holiday open house. Not only is it fun and less work, but you can save loads of cash without looking cheap. When your guests are only on hand for an hour, they won’t notice the lack of variety.

Step 1: Choose a Time and Date
Aim for a Saturday night, preferably the first or second week in December rather than the weekend right before Christmas. That will make it possible for more people to attend your party, or stop by on their way to or from another party.

Step 2: Evites Are Your Friend
When it comes to hosting a frugal party, there’s nothing cheaper than eVite. They have several fun holiday themed invitations. You won’t have to fuss with telephone RSVPs, and it keeps track of the number of people promising to drop by.

Step 3: Choose Low-Budget Beverages
Since most of your guests will stop by for an hour or so, you don’t need a full bar. Opt for one type of white wine, one type of red wine, and one signature drink. Since it’s the holidays, eggnog or wassail are great options that you can make in advance with affordable ingredients. Be sure to have some non-alcoholic apple cider on hand for the kids. Set the drinks on the bar and let your guests serve themselves.

Step 4: Think Finger Foods
No one comes to an open house expecting a full meal. Instead, offer a few simple appetizers and desserts than can be eaten without forks and knives. Ideally, you should choose foods that can be served at room temperature. If you have a chaffing dish, then definitely use it to serve something warm, but don’t rent one just for the occasion. Avoid anything greasy like chips and dip, as well as anything containing crab or shrimp. Stick to small bites that can be finished in 1-3 bites and fit on small plates. Some ideas:
Cheese platter
Veggie platter
Cheese ball and crackers (Scroll down to the second recipe)
Holiday cookies
Holiday truffles
Rum balls

Step 5: Skip Favors
No one goes to an open house expecting favors. Not to mention that your guests will be receiving enough small gifts from other people. If you feel you must give something, keep it simple. A candy cane with a thank you tag or a cellophane bag containing a decorated cookie is sufficient.

Step 6: You Don’t Need a Theme
You have a theme – the holidays. You’ve also already got the decorations on hand. You may want to decorate the buffet with a small holiday bouquet, but large ornaments or figurines will also dress up the table without too much effort or expense. There’s no need to buy a whole new set of decorations for the party. Create a festive mood with stuff you have on hand and candles scattered around the room, preferably on high surfaces like mantels to avoid catching anyone’s sleeve in the flame.

Step 7: Keep the Music Low
Holiday open houses are about mingling. Although you should have some music in the background to enhance the mood, stick to classic non-denominational carols at a low volume. Do not, under any circumstances, force people to sing.

With everything for your holiday open house in place, you’ll be able to greet your guests and enjoy yourself without running back and forth to the kitchen. Do stop by the buffet or bar every half hour to replenish, but other than that, go forth and be merry.

Thanksgiving cornucopia

Don’t hate me for mentioning Thanksgiving before we’ve even passed Halloween, but you do need to start making your holiday plans, especially if they include that most miserable of experiences: Thanksgiving travel. Even if you’re staying home, you need to do a little prep work now. You don’t have to drag out the pie pans, but here are a few things you should do now to prepare for the festival of food.

Book Thanksgiving Flights in Early September
Recently I attended a party where someone said she was considering flying home for Thanksgiving, but wanted to see if airfares would come down. I advised her to book now. I flew home for several Thanksgivings and know the prices will only go up. To get the best price, you probably should have booked your ticket in August, but you can still get a good deal in September. Don’t wait until October or November. If you can even find a flight, it’s guaranteed to cost both arms and legs. Use these tips to save money on holiday travel and find travel deals.

Reserve a Hotel
If you can’t stay with friends or family, then book a hotel now. You’ll have a wider range of options in your budget and more flexibility in dates if you make a reservation in September.

Set Your Thanksgiving Budget
What? A budget for Thanksgiving? Yes, if you plan to travel, host a dinner, or go out to dinner, then you need to set a budget. That will help down the road when you’re tempted to order the Thanksgiving cornucopia and fall flower extravaganza as a centerpiece, but only have room in the budget for a large gourd because you decided to serve 15 side dishes and an organic kosher free range pre-prined turkey.

Consider Who You’ll Invite
If you’re hosting a dinner, figure out how many people you can invite within your budget. It’s fairly traditional to ask people to contribute dishes, so that may make it easier to invite more people. However, if more people requires renting tables, chairs, or serveware, then you need to factor that into the budget.

Consider the Menu
Again, you should consider your menu when creating your budget. Although you’ll save some money by having friends or relatives contribute, you’ll at least be on the hook for the turkey and some wine. Having a menu in mind will also make it easier to divvy up the remaining responsibilities.

Review Restaurant Options
If you like to eat out for Thanksgiving, you should start looking for a restaurant now. Compare prices and again review your budget. Will eating out at the five-star restaurant blow your Christmas budget? Although you don’t have to make your dinner reservations now, you should make them by early November at the latest unless you enjoy eating at 11 AM or 10 PM. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to supply a credit card to reserve your table.

Other than booking your travel arrangements now, you don’t have to go to major effort to plan for Thanksgiving. Thirty minutes of quality time with a pen and paper or restaurant review site should be all you need to set your budget and at least form a general plan for the biggest eating day of the year. Remember, also, that you don’t need to plan the feast of a lifetime. This is a day for family and friends, not for fancy recipes. As long as you have turkey, potatoes, and a can of jelly cranberry sauce (with ridges), your guests will be content. They probably won’t remember anything other than that anyway.

labor day Judging by the light traffic this week, a lot of people have gone on vacation already, but if you’re one of the people staying home this Labor Day, here are a seven frugal activities to keep your family entertained and your wallet full.

Attend a Friend’s Barbecue
The barbecue is one of the most popular and traditional Labor Day activities. You probably know at least one person hosting one. Although you should bring a bag of chips or something as a contribution, attending a barbecue hosted by someone else is a very frugal way to enjoy the day.

Host a Barbecue
If you like to be the host, then pick up some packs of chicken breasts, kosher hot dogs, and hot dog buns from the local warehouse store. Ask your friends to bring the drinks and sides. I’d avoid burgers, because they usually end up flat, dry, and charred unless you’re an experienced griller. Use my other party planning tips to prevent an end-of-the-summer budget buster.

Attend Community Events
Like July 4, Labor Day is a popular day for community events. Check your local online calendar or Sunday paper for free live music events or low-cost street fairs. Pack a picnic in order to avoid the over-priced food they often sell at these events.

Go on a Picnic
Labor Day is usually nice day; not too warm, but not too cold. It’s perfect picnic weather. Pack some healthy foods that can be eaten semi-chilled or slightly warm, then head to the beach or park for some fun in the late summer sun.

Go on a Hike
Summer is too brutal for some hikes, but Labor Day is a great day for a hike if it’s started to cool off in your region. Pack water, snacks, and sunscreen for an early start on the trail, then head home afterwards for sandwiches and chips. After all those calories you burned, you earned them!

Eat All the Berries You Can Stand
Berries are the quintessential summer fruit, which unfortunately means they’ll soon be disappearing from both bushes and markets. Stock up now if you want to have berries in mid-winter. Lay them out on freezer trays, then drop frozen berries into freezer bags. If you like to stick to in-season fruit, then buy enough to serve over shortcake or with cream this weekend. Yum.

Pick Your Own Fruit
Apples are coming back into season just as other fruits fade. This Labor Day, give the farmers a break and pick your own fruit. You’ll be amazed how good it tastes fresh off the tree. You can also bake it into a pie or cobbler. Nothing says Labor Day like fresh fruit pie. Visit to find a farm near you.

Learn How to Can
Canning is a lost art. When I was growing up, we had several fruit trees in the yard. Canning, making jam, and dehydrating were regular activities during the summer. If you’ve brought in your last harvest or went overboard at the You Pick farm, borrow a book about canning from the library. Once you’ve made your own fresh jam, you may never want to go back to the store-bought kind again. You’ll also love being able to eat peaches in the middle of winter without having to buy imported fruit.

These eight frugal activities ought to keep your holiday weekend pretty full. You won’t even want to go near the mall sales. Avoiding big spending is probably the best way to celebrate Labor Day.

My husband and I aren’t very big on anniversaries (or birthdays). We’re very open to time-shifting them, skipping gifts, or holding one combination celebration for all our anniversaries and birthdays together. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to recognize our marriage, though. So here are ten frugal yet romantic ways we’ve celebrated our anniversary.

Focus on You, Not on Gifts
The first few years we were together, we gave each other gifts for our dating anniversary. Then we both started grad school, so instead we exchanged cards. That’s not to say that I’d say no to an upgraded engagement ring for our tenth wedding anniversary. It’s just that I don’t need some little trinket every year to remind me of our love. Instead, we use the money we would have spent on gifts to do other things, like start our house savings. I’d rather have a house than receive a teddy bear.

Merge Several Celebrations into One Larger Occasion
If you celebrate both your dating anniversary and wedding anniversary, celebrate them together on the same day. We’ve only been married for three years, but we’ve been together for ten. Our dating anniversary also falls near our birthdays, so we plan one nice evening to celebrate all three of those occasions together.

Take an Affordable Trip
My husband stayed at a bed and breakfast for our first dating anniversary, but we haven’t traveled for our anniversary since. This year, in celebration of ten years together, we’re using airline miles and a Luxury Link package to take a luxury trip at an affordable price. That trip will also be our Christmas and birthday presents to each other.

Return to the Location of Your First Date
I can’t do this anymore, because the location of our first date has closed, but it’s a popular one with many couples. Even if it’s just the McDonald’s you ran into after a late movie, being there again on your anniversary will spark some romantic memories.

Do Something Silly
Instead of being uber-romantic, head out to do something silly. Go the mall and take pictures in a photo booth, go to a carnival, or play mini-golf. Laughter’s a powerful aphrodisiac and takes the pressure off being romantic.

Look at Photos from Your Years Together
Before our wedding, I compiled photos of us together into one small photo album. (We’re not really camera people, so there weren’t many.) If you don’t already have a photo album dedicated to you as a couple, pull your favorites and compile them into a book to share with your sweetie.

Make Lists of the Things You Love about Each Other
This one takes some advance planning, but list one thing you love about your partner for each year you’ve been together, then exchange the lists on your anniversary. By the time you get done reading the list your partner made about you, you should be in a very romantic mood indeed.

Cook a Fancy Dinner
We do enjoy nice dinners out, but eating out is complicated for me. So rather than taking our umpteenth trip to P.F. Chang’s, this year I’m making us a lovely steak dinner at home. We’ll light candles, enjoy a bottle of wine, and watch our wedding video. Someday, we’ll finish our wedding album so we can look at that, too.

Take a Bottle of Nice Champagne to a Restaurant
If you’re set on celebrating in a nice restaurant, consider bringing your own bottle of champagne. One year a friend gave us a very nice bottle for Christmas. We took it to the restaurant and the manager waived the corkage fee when we explained the reason we’d brought it. Even if they charge corkage, the $25 you spend to open the bottle is much cheaper than the $100 you’d have to spend to buy a nice bottle from the restaurant.

Enjoy a Picnic in an Unusual Setting
If your anniversary is in the summer, shift the celebration to the weekend so you can go on a nice picnic together. Pack fancier fare than sandwiches and trail mix, and bring a bottle of wine. Then get in the car and pick a direction. Drive until you find a neat place to stop. You could find yourself near a cornfield or on a cliff, the point is to do the unexpected. If you have kids, don’t bring them. If your anniversary is during the winter, send the kids to a friend’s house and picnic in the living room in front of the fire.

No matter what you decide to do, the key is to spend some time together remembering your years together and looking forward to the years you have left.

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