Conserve your life

Sure, we’re all trying to live a little leaner. But the point’s not to suck the fun out of life. Still want your nights out? Your wine with dinner? Your tasty treats? Here’s a few quick ways to make the most out of less.

Sell Your Gold
Do you have an old, broken necklace lying around? How about some earrings missing their mate? Maybe you just made a poor fashion statement in the ’80s with a big gold chain. If so, a gold-buying party might be the thing for you.

With the price of gold rising to more than $900 per ounce, these parties are proving to be a popular way to make some extra cash. “The average person has around $200 worth of unwanted gold just sitting there,” says David Hicks, the owner of Gold Guys, a local company that helps people throw gold-buying parties.

The concept is not unlike Tupperware or Silpada parties, except you’re selling instead of buying something. The party host gets a certain percentage of the sales, as well as cash for her own jewelry stash.

Debbie Mueller, of Chagrin Falls, recently hosted a party and was able to make around $1000 ($800 from selling her own old jewelry and another $200 from commissions). “I thought it was a lot of fun,” she says. “You feel somewhat obligated when you go to other parties to purchase something. [But] if you got your quote and you didn’t want to sell your jewelry, you didn’t have to.”

To get in touch with David Hicks about throwing a party, visit or give him a call at 1-800-573-1570. \

Swap Kids

Unless you’re blessed with parents who beg to watch your kids while you and your spouse enjoy weekly date nights, then you know the pain of capping an evening with a hefty check to the baby sitter.

Cut back on your leisure budget without sacrificing your social life by starting a baby-sitting swap with fellow parents, in which participants exchange hours watching each others’ kids.

“We hated to pay for baby-sitting and had a hard time finding sitters, but we didn’t want to share our sitters’ names with each other,” says Naomi Hattaway. So this Auburn mother of three formed a baby-sitting co-op with nearby moms, using it for free baby-sitting two to three times a month.

Wanna swap? Follow these tips:

- DO invite a trusted group of parents from your neighborhood, social circles or children’s schools. “You can’t just open it up and put fliers out,” advises Hattaway. Schedule regular meetings that allow members to see each others’ homes and parenting styles to continuously build trust among the group.

- DON’T rely on the honor system. “Being fair is an important part of [success],” says Carol Olszewski, who’s participated in a Solon-area baby-sitting co-op for three years. Baby-sitting credits are earned by watching others’ kids — a one-hour credit comes from watching one child for one hour in Olszewski’s group — and tracked by an administrator to make sure members give as much sitting time as they take.

- DO make use of technology. Hattaway’s group ditched their complex tracking system last year when they discovered Babysitter Exchange (, which manages credits and member communication automatically. Tips for getting started are also available at

- DON’T skimp on safety. Both Hattaway and Olszewski emphasize the importance of trading detailed emergency contact information with fellow co-op parents, along with special instructions on food allergies, medications and the like. -Jennifer Keirn

Drink Cheap (But Good) Wine

hen it comes to buying a good bottle of wine, is it always true that you get what you pay for? Not all the time, say the local and national wine vendors we talked to.

Bob Eppich, owner of Colonial Beverage in Chesterland, says differences do exist between a good $10 bottle of wine and a good $30 bottle — but only up to a point.

“Even a great $10 bottle will still have minor defects: acidity that’s too high or maybe tannin management that wasn’t quite right,” while a good $30 bottle will be “very smooth from the initial sip.”

So unless you’re a total wine snob, you should be able to enjoy sipping — and saving — with a bottle under $10. Eppich and a few others offer some smart choices. -Michael Bartlett

Eppich’s picks:
2003 Red Flyer, California ($7.99):Syrah/Grenache blend from California with ripe black cherry flavors and fine tannins
2006 Au Unwooded Chardonnay, Australia ($9.99): Green apple flavors and a light, dry finish

Kathi Hays, owner of Western Reserve Wines in Solon, shares some good buys from her store’s “Grape Deals” section:
2008 Shenin Blanc, Man Vintners, South Africa ($7.99): A bold, citrusy, food-friendly white
2007 Farnese Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Italy ($8.99): This fruity red makes a great everyday pizza and pasta wine.

Ed Thompkins, a buyer at Heinen’s, recommends these wines:
Pinot Grigio Sielo Blu, Italy ($9.99): Crisp and flavorful
Red Truck Pinot Noir, California ($9.99): “One of the great Pinot Noir values in California today.”

Julie Joy, senior wine-buyer with World Market, suggests:
2007 Notro Tinto de Montana, Argentina ($6.99): Versatile, medium-bodied Sangiovese/Bonarda blend with notes of ripe red berry
Urban Uco Torrontes, Argentina ($9.99):Crisp and refreshing, without being too heavy

Shop at Marc’s

Comparing Marc’s to other area grocery stores is like comparing apples and oranges, right? You can’t really do it.

First of all, there’s the obvious: membrane-thin bags, wobbly carts, no credit cards accepted, a higher than normal percentage of shoppers who appear to be contagious.

Everyone knows you only go to Marc’s once a month for the prepackaged staples — Campbell’s soup, Comet cleansing powder, Cheerios, Coke, beer, toilet paper. Stock up. And if you happen to see children’s lawn chairs priced at $1.99 each, buy six of them. Or maybe a new camera.

Or some luggage. If they have it in their famous closeouts section, it’s priced crazy low.

But what’s this at the back of the store? Organic produce? Firm, bright green asparagus? Trendy new Sonya apples? And are those Fuji apples at 69 cents a pound? They go for $1.79 at the wide-aisled store down the street.

Let’s do the math. At an apple a day, that’s $131 a year in savings. If your whole family of four eats one a day, that’s $524 a year.

You can’t beat them apples.

Go Generic

rand loyalty: A lot of us have it, passing over everything from cheaper nuts to chocolate in favor of better-known names. But is the brand worth the bucks? We do a blind taste test to find out.
the product | Chocolate-chip cookie mix
the competitors | Betty Crocker ($2.19) vs. Giant Eagle brand ($1.75), both 17.5 ounces
the comments | A split decision. One person called the Giant Eagle brand “way better.” Another said it had “more of a generic, junk-food taste.”
the verdict | Worth a try to save the 44 cents
the product | Cashews
the competitors | Planters halves and pieces ($5.29) vs. Valu Time pieces from Giant Eagle ($2.59), both 9 ounces
the comments | The taste of the two was indistinguishable to most, though some said the generic nuts were more flavorful. Planters did, however, have more whole cashews.
the verdict | Buy generic unless piece size matters to you.
the product | Fruit cereal bars
the competitors | Nutri-Grain ($4.19) vs. Millville Fruit & Grain bars from Aldi ($1.79), both 10.4 ounces
the comments | A slight majority preferred the name brand, describing it as fruitier and more flavorful.
the verdict | This is the one product we tested where the generic alternative had a significantly different nutritional profile. For twice the fiber and four grams less sugar per serving, you may want to pay more for Kellogg’s.
the product | Ruffled potato chips
the competitors | 10-ounce Ruffles ($3.99, or 39 cents an ounce) vs. 11.5-ounce Giant Eagle rippled-style ($2.79, or 24 cents an ounce)
the comments | Most people correctly identified the Ruffles, and a slight majority preferred them.
the verdict | Chips are subjective. The generic is worth a try.
the product | Cola
the competitors | Coke ($1.89) vs. Giant Eagle Cola ($.99), both 2-liter bottles
the comments | Though a couple “Coke junkies” confused the generic version for their beloved name brand, most tasters pegged Coke and said they preferred it.
the verdict | Coke is always on sale somewhere. Stock up when it is.
the product | Dark chocolate squares (60 percent cacao)
the competitors | 5.25-ounce Ghirardelli ($4.97, or 82 cents an ounce) vs. 24-ounce French Dark Chocolate by Kirkland Signature from Costco ($9.99, or 42 cents an ounce)
the comments | Feedback was all over the board. “Super the same,” said one person. Costco’s “tastes more expensive,” said another. Ghirardelli’s tastes “more traditional,” said a third.
the verdict | With such high prices for tiny packages of premium chocolate, Costco’s bag of 100-plus pieces is a great value with a taste that many testers preferred.
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