Cheapest of the Cheap contest winners dream big, spend smart

11:06 AM, May 6, 2012   |    comments
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The results are in: The 50 winners of the 2012 Cheapest of the Cheap contest have been chosen, and they are certified cheap!

These super cheapos from around Middle Tennessee shared wonderful, fresh and, yes, priceless ideas for stretching our hard-earned dollars. Without further ado, I give you the 2012 Thrifty Fifty!

First place, $999.99 prize

Kim Kolts of Brentwood wins first place for proving that you don't have to spend a fortune to take a luxury vacation.

The super resourceful Kim, who teaches cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma, managed to put together a first-class, six-day family trip to Phoenix for just more than $400 per person, including luxury accommodations, airfare and several adventure excursions.

That's right - $2,000 for herself, her husband, their two sons and one of the son's girlfriend.

Three months before the trip, Kim went online and got a $19.95 (with coupon) Entertainment book for Phoenix and scoured it for discounts for attractions and restaurants that her family wanted to visit. The book saved several hundred dollars as the family used a 20 percent off coupon for a McCormick & Schmick's restaurant, 15 percent off coupon for the rental car, buy-one-get-one-free deals on lunches and on admission to Desert Botanical Garden, plus a buy-one-get-one-free deal to Creek Outfitters for a desert trail ride.

Kim also subscribed (for free) three months out to Deal Chicken, Groupon and Living Social to find more deals and discounts, such as a 90-minute Segway Tour that regularly costs $100 each (or $500 total) that she got for $189 for all five using a Groupon, for a savings of $311. And a hot air balloon ride for five (regular price $925) that she got for $478 using Groupon, for a savings of $447.

By putting her sons' college tuition and everything else she purchases on her Marriott Rewards card, she had enough points to pay for deluxe accommodations at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge, which would have cost $3,500 for the five nights. Plus, she and her husband, Carl, attended a timeshare presentation to get an almost free Marriott condo across the street for their sons and friend to stay in.

Kim said the cheapest airfare on Southwest was $468 per person round trip, which for five would have totaled $2,340, but because three family members applied for Southwest credit cards that offered free tickets, the total cost was just $50 (a $10 per person securityfee), making the savings $2,290.

"On this trip alone, I saved $7,365.41 just using a little ingenuity," she said, emphasizing that anyone can earn credit card points, buy an Entertainment book and subscribe to Groupon/Living Social/Deal Chicken for their chosen destination.

"At the end of our stay, I find someone (in this case, the hotel bellman who had small children) and give them the Entertainment book so it can continue getting used! Love to pay it forward!"

 Second Place, $499.99 prize

Kent Colvett of Murfreesboro won second place for managing to get a free colonoscopy. Kent is over 50 and knew he should have the test, but he is self-employed in the cleaning business and didn't have medical insurance.

"I decided to search for clinical studies and found one (through an ad in The Tennessean), for a trial (at Franklin Gastroenterology) in Franklin. Not only did I get the colonoscopy free, but I got $700 for participating in the study," which required him to have a traditional colonoscopy along with a newer, less invasive method. The study has since concluded.

Kent also told us about the Encouragement Foundation that now pays for his injections of Enbrel for his psoriasis and incurable Psoriatic arthritis. "This otherwise would be an expense of about $25,000 a year. A lot of people could benefit from this if they knew about it,'' he said.

Third place, $249.99 prize

Rachel Sumner of Nashville said that years ago, right after she and her husband moved into their house, they were awakened by a 7 a.m. phone call from someone wanting an estimate on a fence. More annoying calls followed at all hours, and they soon learned that their new number once belonged to a fence company that had gone out of business.

"Every phone call I answered about fences left me feeling angrier," said Rachel, a local children's entertainer, who put on her best creative thinking hat to find a solution.

"I made a copy of the yellow page ad from the out-of-business fence company and mailed it to three local fence companies along with a letter." She offered them a deal: She promised to give callers the number of the company that would add a free chain link fence and gates to her back yard.

A week later, she received a phone call from the owner of one of the companies, who came out to look at the project, and they sealed a deal.

"It turned my attitude around because I LOOOOOOVE a good deal! Every time someone called, even at 7 a.m., I felt grateful and happy. I'm sure the fence company got business from our deal since it took a few years before the calls finally stopped."

10 honorable mentions, each receiving a $20 Dollar General gift card

• Perennial winner Clay Dyer of Murfreesboro says he loves to save money and find teachable moments to do it.

He also hates for anything to go to waste, so just before Christmas, he took inventory of all the City Saver and Entertainment book coupons that were expiring and took the Nashville and Franklin coupons out to share with coworkers who lived there.

He saved the Murfreesboro coupons and "over New Year's Eve weekend, my sons and I went into a total of eight different restaurants over two nights, and randomly picked a table to give a (corresponding) coupon to. We called ourselves "coupon angels."

"It was a great way to end the year, with random acts of kindness, and my kids got a kick out of it, too."

Frances O'Riordan of Lebanon said when her 4-year-old son Jack was diagnosed with autism last year, she immediately went back to work to get "top notch" insurance to cover his therapy and other needs. Once she saw the success he was having in his therapy with an iPad, she knew she needed to get one but didn't have the money.

"I started trolling the Internet for iPad contests," she said, putting her energy into local and statewide ones where she figured she had a better chance. "I finally found a local Mt. Juliet contest trying to get more fans for its Facebook page," with the deal being that whoever brought in the most fans won the iPad. "I worked tirelessly for two weeks, vote-swapping with people in contests all over the world," said Frances, who was declared the winner. "The iPad has been a true blessing to my son and my family." Benson Orthodontics in Mt. Juliet, she noted, was the source.

Sondra Lantzer of Nashville told us about how she and her sister, Laura Lantzer, just love the Staples Reward program, which gives $2 in store credit for any ink or toner cartridges, up to 10 cartridges per month per household.

"We really hit the jackpot in December at the Berry Road Goodwill outlet store where all kinds of items (including printers) are piled up in large bins and sold by the pound."

Sondra said her sister removed the ink or toner cartridges from every dilapidated printer in the place - an unbelievable 81 in all shapes and sizes. Household items are sold for $1.39 a pound at this location and Laura's collection of cartridges weighed 6.2 pounds for a total cost of $9.42 with tax.

"From January to March, we each turned in 10 cartridges per month at Staples," said Sondra. "When all is said and done, we will have earned $162 total Staples credit."

• Maximizing Kroger Plus fuel points fueled a lot of entries this year. But the one that took it to a new height came from self-proclaimed "Mega Cheapo" Tom Spencer of Brentwood.

Tom and his wife, Brenda, kicked off their four-level money-saving "raz ma taz" by taking full advantage of a "junk mail" credit card offer from Chase Sapphire Visa that offered a $500 cash back reward if they applied for a card and then spent at least $750 on it. They both applied and right off the bat, they made $1,000 by doing nothing but strategically charging $750 of Kroger gift cards on their new Visa.

Clever Tom knew that during the fourth quarter of the year, he could call a Kroger corporate number (1-800-331-5304, ext. 34957) and buy Kroger gift cards at a 6 percent discount, paying $752 for $800 worth of cards, and at the same time satisfying the $750 required charge from the Visa offer.

"But there's even more,'' Tom continued. "Occasionally Kroger offers four times the value of a non-Kroger gift card purchase towards Kroger fuel purchase. So we take 10 of our $100 Kroger gift cards and used them to pay for 20 $50 (third-party) gift cards. Now we are eligible for $1 off each gallon of gas in our next four fill-ups at Kroger pumps."

Tom knew that the maximum per fill-up was 35 gallons, so he took gas cans to be sure he could buy the max.

So, the way he figures it, he and Brenda are up to $1,096 in free money, plus another free $140 of the Kroger gas for a total of $1,236. Free.

• Ten-year-old Andrew Pelham of Brentwood is a winner for his Ninja-themed at-home birthday party idea, and he said it was cheaper and more fun than the usual golf or bounce party.

"I decided on a Lego Ninja theme,"' Andrew said. "I scavenged bamboo from a neighbor's brush pile and cut it to make scroll invitations, sign posts and Kendo fighting area. My games included a Ninja obstacle course, tossing Origami throwing stars, and playing with the Lego spinners everyone brought from home. I don't know what was more fun, thinking it up or watching my friends enjoy the party."

His mom, Meredith, who said the whole party cost less than $60, added, "The irony here is that I begged Andrew to let me rent a bounce house or hire a karate instructor to add some 'cool factor' to his homemade plans. He insisted that his Lego-loving friends would appreciate all his details, and he was right!"

Jenni Borski of Mt. Juliet gets the "Just Ask" award for her vacuum cleaner shopping strategy. Jenni's research determined that the best vacuum for her was a Dyson, which costs $400 in every store and online. "This was not in my stay-at-home mom budget, but neither was spending $150 every 18 months (to replace a crummy vac) either." She found a deal at Kohl's where using her 30 percent off coupon, she could get the vacuum she wanted for $300, plus $10 in Kohl's cash for every $50 spent.

Jenni and her husband were headed to HH Gregg, where they match and often beat prices, but stopped in Best Buy "to get one more look at the vacuum since theirs are often plugged in and easy to test," she said.

They told the manager that they were on a price-matching mission. "When we told him that we could get the vacuum for $300 at Kohl's plus $60 in Kohl's cash, my hubby said he would buy it right there if he would sell it to him for $250. Happy success, the manager said 'yes.'

"We were shocked. It was really easy and our honesty paid off. We bought the $399 vacuum for $250 by simply doing some research and asking."

Anita Jordan of Franklin said that after moving to Nashville for employment, she was on a tight budget largely because her house in Memphis wasn't selling even after three years because of the market.

"We needed to free up some cash. Creative Financing 101. A senior family member had money that was earning less than 1 percent interest. Our new mortgage is with our family member. We pay interest-only each month so that frees up the principal amount, which is the cash we need each month. Our family member is making more interest on the money. It is a win-win situation for both of us. And when the house sells, we will pay off the loan in entirety."

Kathy Treadwell of Nashville offered a great holiday recycling tip that she and her 16-year-old daughter, Rachel, came up with when money was tight one Christmas.

"We live very close to a park where there is a Christmas tree recycling/drop-off site," Kathy said. "This year, I start to eye that drop-off area with new interest. I'm thinking to myself, 'You know, there might be some good trees in there,' " she said. "We laughed, but as it got closer to Christmas and I'm watching my dimes, I really had to wonder, 'Why not?' " she said.

Well, apparently, Rachel was thinking the same thing and here she came, "hauling a big tree on top of her Jeep. Rachel was quite proud of herself! On her own, and armed with twine and determination, my daughter had rummaged through the discarded trees at the drop-off site and brought home a wonderful find. We cut off the bottom of the tree, put it up, adorned its branches with decorations, and created a wonderful new memory. And I saved money, which made it an even more special event! Next year, I'm watching for one with the lights still on it. ... It's mine!" "

An entry from Mary McEwen of Nashville is in the cheap-to-be-generous category. When Mary retired 15 years ago as food supervisor at West End United Methodist Church, her replacement was Bill Reynold's Dream Come True Catering company.

Mary called Bill and asked what happened to the food left over from his large affairs around town. He said that, sadly, food was often wasted because the people who could use it wanted him to pan it and deliver, which he could not do.

"I immediately told him I would come and pan up the food and wash the pans and use it for my church's feeding program," Mary said.

Bill no longer handles West End United Methodist's catering, but he is still working with Mary to provide leftovers for her Spruce Street Baptist Church's feeding programs.

"Over the years, we have tried to keep an average account of what was donated (by the catering company)," Mary said. "In 2011 alone, more than $3,000 worth of food was contributed to support our program. As a result of their generous contribution, we were able to give other feeding programs donations, too."

Cris Pollard of Mt. Juliet found a way to get super discounted tickets and a special experience at Disney World in January. She wanted to take the family since her husband had a conference there, but the price for five-day "parkhoppers" for herself and her two daughters was $937.21. Yikes!

"Since that was pretty much our budget for the whole trip, it looked like it was out of the question," Cris said. Ever hopeful, she kept researching and discovered Disney YES (Youth Education Series), which saved them almost $400 on tickets for the family.

"Disney offers classes in math, science, art and history for students ages 5-18 during various times of year. The best part is that if a student is enrolled in the program, their whole family qualifies for discount tickets. I was able to enroll my daughter in a two-hour class (at Magic Kingdom) called 'How Things Move.' She and I rode rides and learned how each ride worked. It was a fantastic class and one of the highlights of our trip."

The link to the individual enrollment at the YES program at Walt Disney World is www.disneyyouth.com/register. Disney officials said the savings associated with this program vary.
The rest of the Top 50

Anita Bell of Hermitage needed a new computer and decided Best Buy was her best bet. "Since Kroger was quadrupling fuel points, I went to Best Buy to find out the exact price with tax and then went to Kroger and bought a $1,000 Best Buy gift card, thus earning 4,000 fuel points. Then I purchased what I needed at Best Buy, letting them scan my Best Buy key card to get further points through Best Buy's customer program. The best part is I bought my Best Buy gift card by loading my Kroger gift card," she said, explaining that her daughter is in band and

4 percent of her Kroger gift card purchase (in this case $40) go to the band through Kroger's give-back program.

Janice Hutnick of Erin had a floral patterned couch that had started to fade. She considered taking it to the dump, but knowing that the frame, bed and fabric were all still in good condition, she got creative.

"No one I knew had ever painted a couch," said Janice, who sponge-painted the couch a mauve tone that "looked great. It was a wise decision because that old, faded couch looked beautiful again."

She eventually sold the couch to a friend who liked the idea that it was painted and ended up painting it again - a camouflage theme that fit with the room where he placed it.

Ilene Marshall of Mt. Juliet says the R.E.A.D.S. audio book program through the Tennessee public library system has helped make her work commute to Nashville more pleasant. "R.E.A.D.S., which stands for Regional eBook and Audio Download System, (has) literally thousands of titles on the website for download to iPods, iPads, Kindles and Nooks. All you need is a free library card." Go to http://reads.lib.overdrive.com.

• Burns resident Sharon Long, who teaches fourth-grade science at Oakmont Elementary School, finds the Goodwill Outlet to be a great alternative to buying from expensive science catalogs. "I discovered that the Goodwill Outlet had almost everything I needed for pennies a pound. Armed with my wish list, I'd dig through the bins and rarely left empty-handed," said Sharon, who "collected regular and foam baseballs to compare mass and volume, toy cars and a ramp to demonstrate forces and motion, jump ropes for a heart-rate experiment, and even net cages to raise butterflies through their life cycle.

"From string to mirrors, kites to containers, our curriculum was enriched by these recycled finds. With magnets, marbles and measuring cups, my students had the resources for hands-on experiments, all thanks to Goodwill," said Sharon, who also built a nice reference library with books that she bought at 59 cents a pound from the store.

Dawn Parker of Nashville orchestrated a "Princess Party" party for her daughter's fifth birthday for 35 children and adults for $46. She held the party on the slab at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center and made a castle cake with fresh strawberries and her own cake mold and then bought an extra cake for $25 to feed the crowd.

The children had sack races with reusable grocery bags, and then got to decorate a castle with the insides of liquor boxes and crayons. For goody bags, Dawn used scraps of fabric and put a "fairy tear" (glass beads that you would use in a vase to hold flowers) in each one. She made her own ice the day before and served water, other drinks, apples and bananas in addition to the cake.

• When Nancy Vesely's husband was out of work, the Franklin family of four learned a lot about cutting back. So now that he is, thankfully, back at work, "we have an 'out of work' month once a year, she said.

"We live just like we did when he had lost his job. If anyone in the family needs something that can wait until the next month, we put it off. Sometimes if you wait a month, that 'need' goes away. We eat what we have in the pantry, and of course we don't go out to eat. It's amazing how much you can save when you have this mindset,'' said Nancy, who estimated that they save $300-$400 easily.

• Smart mom Dee Kaney of Nashville combined her children's consignment sale preparations with a yard sale. "I had all of my stuff for the consignment sale tagged and displayed and I put it out at a yard sale right before the consignment sale. Because it was already tagged, I was able to tell the yard sale customers that I couldn't take a lower price because I was taking it to the consignment sale. I sold about 50 items of my consignment stuff and saved the 30 percent that I would have given the consignment sale."

• How about a trip to Six Flags for almost free? Home-school mom Amy McArthy of Columbia says her family had an "awesome end-of-summer getaway this past summer to Atlanta" by taking advantage of the Six Flags Read to Succeed program that earned them (three school-age children and her as the teacher) a free ticket to the park. Read to Succeed is a free educational program from Six Flags and Discovery Education that inspires K-6 students to read recreationally. Schools and teachers sign up for the program and students who complete six hours of nonschool-related reading are eligible to earn a free admission ticket to a participating Six Flags-branded theme park. http://readtosucceed.discoveryeducation.com/

Carl "Butch" Bell of Bellevue shares a creative way for Vandy and Predators fans to score free food. "Works like this: If Vandy's football team scores 14 or more points during a home football game, your ticket stub can be taken to a local Taco Bell for a free taco. For basketball, you get the taco with your ticket stub if the team scores 85 points. Predators have a similar promotion where if they score four goals or more during a home game, you get a 10-ounce Frosty at Wendy's."

Butch and his "Promo Club" friends collect extra ticket stubs after the games either by asking people or picking them up off the ground. "Each week someone different in our group gets the used ticket stubs (usually 25-30) to give away to whichever group they decide." He said the free tacos and Frostys had been enjoyed by a youth soccer team, a boys basketball team, a girls cheerleading squad, a Cub Scout troop and a ladies' Wednesday afternoon bridge club.

"The main thing is the fun to root for the home team. At Predators games, 17,000 people are yelling, 'We want a Frosty!' and at Vandy basketball, 14,000 people are yelling, 'We want a taco!' "

Ruth Bosio of Brentwood shared her holiday tip: "I decorated my Christmas tree with burnt-out lightbulbs that I painted with a Sharpie and Wite-Out on my lunch hour at work, while I was eating my sandwich I brought from home. Everyone loved the idea and thought it was a fun project for kids, too,'' she said, noting that she also used refrigerator and stove light bulbs for variety.

• Here's a quick tip from occupational therapist Wendy Thornton of Nashville: "If you or a family member needs a walker basket for safer mobility around the kitchen/house but don't want to spend the money, just go to the dollar store and buy a sturdy plastic type of basket usually located near the cosmetics/organization supplies."

She says you can use some garden ties or other holders to strap the basket onto the front of the walker, and "PRESTO! - you have the cheapest walker basket to hold drinks, food items, telephone in case of an emergency, glasses or even a reacher or TV remote control.''

Gina Ruff of Nashville came up with three ways to make it easier to free up money to give to charity: "We have pretend dinner and lunches. We 'pretend' to go out to eat and just eat at home. The price we would have paid, anywhere from $15 to $50, goes into a donations savings account. We give thrifty cards to each other, sometimes homemade, sometimes from the Dollar Store, and the price we would have paid, $3-$5, goes into savings."

Gina and her husband also have "no spend and no drive weekends" when they get all their errands done during the week and they stay home on Saturday and Sunday. "The money we would have spent on gas driving, or buying stuff at the store, we put into a savings account. This is once every other month."

Gina said these three actions free up an extra $300-$400 that they can use at Christmas to adopt an Angel Tree child, a child from Youth Villages or a family from St. Luke's; put money in the Salvation Army kettle; or donate to Humane Society, YMCA or other charities.

Gwen Dyer of Murfreesboro says that when her husband has to work weekends or is out of town, she gives her three sons a "$10 challenge."

"If they can come up with a restaurant where we can all four eat at for under $10, then we will go out to eat. My oldest is now a teenager and two of my boys are picky eaters, so it is sometimes difficult to please them. Now they will search the coupons, look up menu prices, check online for kids meal deals, and negotiate. Sometimes we all four get a meal, sometimes we all drink water, sometimes we share, or sometimes my older boys pack a meal from home for my three-year-old. So, in the past year we have dined at Fazoli's, Jason's Deli, Captain D's, Culver's, Pei Wei, Chick-fil-A, Toot's, Arby's, Moe's and Steak and Shake. They have learned a lot, and I get to go in a restaurant and know everyone will be happy and what it is going to cost up front."

Christy Fuller of Hermitage is a big supporter of the Boy Scouts and told us about the Co-Ed Venturing Crew program in which her 15-year-old son is involved.

"Venturing is co-ed for ages 14-20 and was the perfect fit. The Crew is totally run by the students; they plan and execute the high-adventure activities with little adult help, and Facebook is the means of communication. Backpacking is popular in this Crew and they go about once a month. Last summer the Crew went on a 2-week trip to Maine where they backpacked the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and camped on the coast. In the spirit of the trip, hotels were avoided and nights to and from Maine were spent at Boy Scout camps, a church and a state park to keep costs down."

The cost is minimal - $16 or lessn - plus the cost of the trips such as the Klondike Derby, which was $35 for her son to spend a weekend outdoors at Latimer Reservation doing shooting sports, a sled race, hatchet throw and cooking contest, all while learning teamwork and leadership. Troop 263 and Crew 263 are sponsored by Hermitage Presbyterian Church. For more info on Venturing in Middle Tennessee, go to www.mtcbsa.org.

Tony Hollingsworth of Nashville is reusing his K-cups. "After being used, I cut the sealed tops off the Keurig K-cups. I clean out the used coffee grounds (compost if you want to), carefully rinse out the K cups and allow them to dry. I then fill them with my own ground coffee and reseal with a two-inch square of aluminum foil. It is easy and works just like a fresh K-cup."

Sarah Cook of Columbia told us about how her family cut back on almost all of their expenses so that her husband could start his own business, and how he managed to minimize his business costs with services such as www.freeconferencecall.com and www.googlevoice.com.

One of the biggest savings is from making the Brentwood Library the absolute "go to" place not only for books and movies for entertainment but also for his new business. "We pay for a membership to the Brentwood library ($65 a year for people who don't live in Williamson County) where members can reserve (meeting) rooms in advance, at no cost. Several of the rooms even have audio-visual equipment. My husband conducts at least one meeting a week at the library and he hasn't yet had to invest in renting office space for his team."

Corine Sandifer of Brentwood said, "A great way to save money on kids' birthday parties is to turn a field trip into a birthday party," like she did with a fencing outing in March for her son Elias' 11th birthday.

"Cheney Fencing was offering a field trip for a history and introductory lesson to fencing for $5 per person. I asked them if I could bring in some cupcakes and pizza after the lesson. They said yes and, just like that, I had a great birthday party. All boys (11 of them) had a great time and the fencing instructor gave them all foam swords to take home."

Rob Riley of Nashville had a tight budget (as in zero) for finishing out the attic space in his house for an art studio, so he went scavenging and Dumpster diving for some materials. "The wood beam at the peak of the cathedral ceiling was made from three 2-by-10's I pulled out of a Dumpster on Whitland (Avenue). I made the door and window casing from 2-by-6's I pulled from a Dumpster on Central (Avenue). The window stops were made from remnants of the rafters from the Union Station train shed. The studio floor was made from 150-year-old oak barn siding that was scrap from one of my construction projects and would have been thrown into a Dumpster. The original attic floor was made of pine tongue-and-groove, which I took up very carefully at the beginning of the project and will reuse. In addition to being cheap, this old wood is really beautiful."

Michele Totty of Nashville said she loves to travel with her friends who use Verizon. "Verizon is not my cell service provider but offers a great roadside assistance plan to its customers for a mere $3 per month. The plan covers anywhere in the U.S. and Canada whether in a rental, their own car or even a friend's car," she said, noting that four limited services per year are allowed, including a battery boost, flat tires and limited fuel replacement, lockout service and towing.

Frank Barber of Cottontown and his wife occasionally receive coupons for free nights at nearby Tunica casino hotels. "We like to plan our free nights around Senior Day each Tuesday (free money and discounts) and Gals & Pals Day each Thursday (more free money and discounts). Since the free night offer is only valid Sunday through Thursday. I reserve Tuesday night and my wife reserves Wednesday night, for a total of two free nights. We always plan to arrive early on Tuesday and leave after lunch on Thursday.

"Even if you don't gamble, you can still use the free hotel room. After all, there is a lot to do and see around (nearby)Memphis."

Clayton Hicks of Franklin was yard-saling with his son when he saw a new-looking Keurig one-cup coffee maker for $10. "They cost $129 new," said Clayton, who was told that the heating element had gone out. They settled on a $5 price and Clayton took it home and called the company to get some advice on a fix. None of the suggestions worked, and Keurig determined that it was under warranty and asked that he mail the "little plastic pod holder" to the company and be sent a brand-new replacement unit. "The postage was $5.50. So I got a new $129 Keurig for $10.50. Now that is hard to beat,'' Clayton said.

Angela Fox of Franklin said she was 20-plus pounds over her desired weight this time last year and checked into liposuction as a way to "jumpstart" her weight loss. She changed her mind when she learned it would cost $4,000. "Ms. Cheap, I tell you the truth, that dollar sign was the motivation I needed to lose the weight without surgery."

So she consulted a physician to create a realistic, safe weight-loss plan and then sought motivation and accountability from a friend and from her sister, who went from double-digit dress sizes to a size zero after her fourth and final child was born!

Angela, a mother of two, used a free program on Dr. Oz's website to help track her progress. And for exercise, "no expensive gym memberships here! What worked for me was jogging on the track behind our neighborhood school when my husband would get home from work (to watch the kids)! I used a free program called "Couch to 5K" to get started. It alleged that ANYONE can run a 5K. I said, 'Yea, right' ... but before I knew it, I really was jogging 5K!

"I relied on hand-me-downs from my sister for my in-between clothing sizes and participated in a fashion swap - happily trading my larger sizes for smaller ones. When I reached my goal weight, I sold the rest of my too-big clothes" at consignment. Woohoo! Angela has lost 25 pounds and three dress sizes since this time last year.

Chris Borski of Mt. Juliet is an iPad super shopper. His work sometimes takes him to Delaware, where there is no state sales tax, so knowing that his wife wanted an iPad 2 for Christmas, he purchased it at a Target store with his Target credit card there for $540 instead of the $660 it would have been here.

He also knew the store would honor any future discounts. "Well, a week later, the Black Friday ad came out. I stopped by with (1) a $15 coupon I had just gotten in the mail, (2) a Target ad for an additional $40 Black Friday sale, and (3) my 'you should always ask' attitude. I asked the employee if I could have both adjustments and keep the tax-free part. They called the manager and re-rang it. They had some additional sale going on and gave me back a total of $115. My final iPad2 price was $425 total.

• When Cynthia Hollis was remodeling her kitchen in her Christiana home, she wanted to change out the hardware on the cabinets and drawers. But with 32 pulls at an average price of $5 each at some hardware stores, she decided to go another route. "I went to the Coca-Cola store in Tullahoma and bought 32 brand new, shiny red Coca-Cola bottle caps for

10 cents each. I then hot-glued them to the plain ceramic knobs, which added a fun and artsy touch to my 1950s diner-themed kitchen. I get lots of compliments on the unique look and spent less than $10, which included my gas to Tullahoma."

Lamar Holmes of Franklin says having a branded/named website and domain for your business is not just for the "big boys."

"Having your business name in your email address is like free advertising every time someone sees an email from you!" he said, noting that it is simple to set up and much more valuable than using gmail.com or hotmail.com. "To prove how cheap and easy it is, I obtained the domain name Mrcheap.info.com wasn't available. I guess Ms. Cheap is already married) for FREE!" His annual hosting subscription is $5.95 per month for a total of $71.40 for the year, so he created a website (www.mrcheap.info) and set up the email address - lholmes@mrcheap.info - in less than an hour.

"Yes, I know it's not the best website, but I was in a hurry. I did add some links for some other cheap ideas for free stuff like conference calls and anti-spyware protection and where you can get cheap business cards.

"A website is a necessity for any business of any size today. Think of it as an online brochure. It's an easy way to tell who you are, what you do, where you are located, and how to contact you. Just think, all this advertising for less than $100 a year!"

Shannon Donnelly of Franklin and her husband have four young children (ages 7, 5, 3 and 16 months). They don't eat out much because it can get expensive, but they want the children to learn manners and know how to behave at a restaurant.

"So we have created our own restaurant night once a week in our own dining room," she said, noting that she found an Emeril Lagasse kids' cookbook called Recipes That Take You Places for 50 cents at a yard sale. "Each week, the kids get a turn to pick a dinner for the family to make. The kids enjoy making it fancy with our special china, linen napkins and goblets. This saves money by us making the food, we teach manners and etiquette while eating, we do not use any gasoline and, most importantly, we save on our medical bills because we aren't stressed over the possibility of our 'darlings' disrupting someone's nice evening out. We get some great family time while giving our children the experience of eating at a nice restaurant at a fraction of the cost."

Donna Dean of Nashville is becoming a super gardener by going to Ellington Agricultural Center and getting the manure from behind the Metro Mounted Patrol equestrian center. "I take it home and mix with shredded leaves (that she gets from a neighbor) and let it sit at least two months" before mixing it into her gardens. She says using these free resources to install her gardens is a great savings compared to a $9,000 estimate from a landscaper. And yes, the manure is readily available since the police muck out the barns every morning.

Robert Harwood of Cookeville is a happy hour kind of guy and has found a clever way to take his wife out to eat for a pittance. It's all in knowing when and what to order. Their best deal is to go to O'Charley's during happy hour and order the half-price appetizer chicken tacos and a glass each of the happy hour-priced wine.

"This special makes it possible to have two glasses of wine and dinner for two for about $11, including tax and a 20 percent gratuity. The appetizer is huge - two tacos and chips and definitely big enough for us to split," he said, adding that you get that good O'Charley's bread, too. This deal is only good at certain O'Charley's restaurants because it is a test menu.

Greg Dibb of Nashville is a known cheapo, and he can be very convincing. Just ask his dad. When it was time for Greg to renew his mobile phone contract, he wanted to change plans to take advantage of the cheaper Sprint family plan that he liked the best for its coverage.

"But I needed to convince my Dad to switch from Verizon to Sprint so we could together save $40 a month. Being generally resistant to change, I knew he would be tough to convince ("No way!" was his first response) but also knowing I could appeal to his cheapness and his being a fact-based scientist, I took on the challenge. While visiting him one weekend, I took his Verizon phone, my Sprint phone and borrowed AT&T and T-mobile phones to conduct an experiment. Using each phone, I called his voicemail and left a two-minute-long message while walking around his entire house, then another on the drive to his office, then another while walking around his office. I then had him listen to all four and rate which had the best quality if there was any difference at all. After listening to all four messages, he actually rated the Sprint voicemail as the best. Sweet success! Having seen that some carriers have more brand strength than signal strength, he switched to Sprint and we split the cost, saving $40 a month!"

Michael Propper of Nashville is the yogurt king. "While we really enjoy the new Greek yogurts, I realized that making my own yogurt costs incredibly less than the $4 per quart charged at some stores." he says "For the price of the cheapest gallon of milk (in his case $2.49 at Sam's) and very little labor, you get a gallon, more or less, of delicious yogurt, and in addition, you get to control the process and know exactly what went into the yogurt.

"There are many recipes for yogurt, but I use the one in The Joy of Cooking, which is easy to follow and straightforward. I do everything in one large porcelain bowl, and heat the milk initially in the microwave. I've discovered that the inside of the microwave or oven is a perfect place to culture yogurt. (With the light on) this provides a perfect temperature for growth, and if you put the yogurt culture in, covered, in the evening, you'll have a full bowl of yogurt ready to eat in the morning."

Jerry Hill of Hermitage was getting weary of paying the high prices for college textbooks for his two college-age children and decided there had to be a better way. So he and his wife created a website, www.textbook-connection.com, and a new iPhone app, which simply help students connect with other students for book buying "to obtain a fair price instead of a ridiculous price from the bookstore." Here's how it works: Sellers post their books by scanning or typing the ISBN; then enter the condition and asking price; buyers search for books by scanning or typing the ISBN. When a connection is made, automatic email / SMS alerts are sent to buyer and seller. Then, choose a meeting place and complete the transaction. The site and the app are free, but there is a $1.99 charge once a connection is made.

Gloria Lane of Hermitage proves that anybody can entertain and not break the bank. In fact, she hosted a St. Patrick's Day "Spud Spread" for her workmates for an amazing 30 cents per person. Here's how: She noticed that there was a special at Aldi on Idaho potatoes for 99 cents for a five-pound bag, with each bag holding 10-12 good-size potatoes. "I partially baked them at home and wrapped them in a foil bundle so they would continue to bake on their own. I carried them to work," and shared them with about 30 coworkers. The 30-cent per person cost included the potatoes, sour cream, cheese and chopped tomatoes to put on them. "This was on March 16. They loved it," Gloria said.

Anders Friberg, a research fellow at Vanderbilt, is managing to stay within his very strict budget by preparing large portions of pasta and sauces for his lunches. He starts with a 5-pound chuck of minced beef, canned tomatoes and onions and creates three sauces, one a classic tomato and Italian spices, another "aromatic" one that he creates by adding mustard and beer, and a spicy chili sauce ready for rice or bread and beans and corn.

"For easy handling, I freeze each portion separately in Ziploc sandwich bags. I got 30 portions for a direct cost of $25 - a lunch price of approximately $1 a day (including the pasta or rice.)

"In general, my lunch in the cafeteria stops at $6.50. This means my cooking saved me $165 over a two-month period. Over a year, this saves me almost $1,000."

Kacie Wiersma Morris of Clarksville got married last September and found some good ways to save on her wedding, such as seeking out vendors who worked out of their homes or had just started their business.

"They often have low overhead and are more willing to work out special deals in exchange for recommendations and the freedom to use your wedding pictures in their advertising," Kacie said.

"Almost every vendor gave us a discount for getting married on a Friday. We also were able to get a discount from most vendors for being in the military. We went to bridal shows to scout ideas that we could re-create ourselves for less and to nab the coupons that some vendors offered. I was able to get a coupon that saved me $100 on my wedding dress. Instead of wedding favors, we made a donation to the Wounded Warrior project in honor of each of our guests. This ensured that we stayed in budget and ultimately meant more to our guests than any $3 trinket."

Helen Derryberry of Nashville says her favorite volunteer activity is helping out at the Whole Foods Salud Cooking School. "Since last June, I have collected enough credits to take at least eight classes of my choice."

Her best freebie so far was using her credits to have a free date night with her husband to "prepare a wonderful French steak plus side dishes and wine dinner - normally $129 a couple.

"Volunteers do not need to be great cooks," she said. So not only can you learn but you can also eat free since volunteers get the same meal as the students when they are working. Details: www.wholefoods.com/saludnashville.

Chris Lee of Brentwood is definitely cheap, cutting his own hair, opening bank and credit card accounts in order to get free money and miles, and taking both family cars to the Kroger pumps to take advantage of the discounted Kroger Plus gasoline.

But the tip that put him in the winners' circle was that he "wanted a very thin wallet to avoid wearing holes in the back pocket, which is in itself cheap. The best answer turned out to be a paper wallet which you can buy on the Internet for $10, but my cheapness went further. I found a YouTube instructional video and made the wallet myself out of a Tyvek envelope."

Debbie Robichaud of Pleasant View has found a great use for old jeans in all shades of blue and all textures. She cuts them up into long, inch-and-a-half wide strips and sews them together and braids them to make scatter rugs and chair pads. "They can be made in any size and used for door mats or whole rooms. To get jeans for the project, "just let your friends know what you are up to. The old jeans will come flying in the door. If that fails, go to the Goodwill on the first Saturday of the month for half off."

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