photo by henry bloomfield

Souvenirs can be expensive. I suggest bringing home pieces of the scenery, such as rocks, sand or shells, to display in mason jars or in your garden. Or press flowers and leaves. Of course, check that there aren't any rules against taking these items. You can take plenty of photos, and bring home maps, magazines, postcards and menus. Remember that gift sets can be broken up into individual gifts, too. The first tip is a great idea. You can look for flea markets, dollar stores or online auctions before or after your trip, too.

BARGAIN MEMENTO: When I go on vacation or visit a new city, I go to a thrift shop (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.) and find T-shirts of that city with the town's logo or sport teams on them. They usually are in great condition and cheap. I take it home as a souvenir. -- Karin, e-mail

TRACK SHOPPING: A good tip for staying out of the stores is to mark an X on the calendar for every day you spend no money. You'll be surprised at how motivating that calendar full of X marks can be. And it's easy to see odd patterns in your spending. I tend to get bored on Tuesdays, apparently. -- Vail, Washington

FOOD-STAMP INFO: I already knew that seeds for food could be purchased with food stamps, which in itself is great. But I discovered yesterday that you can also use them to purchase live "food" plants (at least at Wal-Mart). I was able to buy two tomato plants and a rosemary plant that will provide us with fresh produce and seasoning all summer long. So for anyone else looking to stretch their food-stamp benefits after waiting a little too long to start certain things from seed (or, like me, lack confidence in their ability to start certain things from seed), they're a wonderful help! -- Lisa, Tennessee

DOUBLE-DUTY VINEGAR: After I have cleaned out the coffee maker with vinegar (once a month), I use the yucky vinegar with baking soda to flush out the drains. It keeps them running smoothly, and I'm not wasting the vinegar. -- Jen, Florida

SENIOR DISCOUNTS: See whether your county has an Office for the Aging. I had to go into ours recently because we wanted to get my husband's uncle into meals on wheels through the nutrition program. They had a wall of brochures and paperwork on all sorts of things. One booklet listed local places that offer senior discounts. Some start at 55, others at 60. -- Patti, New York

COOL DIY: If you want to lower your utility bills and help keep your home cooler, check into solar screens. They block up to 90 percent of the sun's energy. It's a great investment for the return you get. I think, all told, we spent roughly $320 on all of the materials (screen, frames, spline, corner connectors) to make 13 large window screens and two smaller window screens. We also replaced the screen on both screen doors and purchased an extra roll of screening just in case it's ever needed for replacement and we can't find it anymore. We could have just switched out the new screen material with the old on the window frames, but most of our frames were either bent or damaged, so we started over with new frames and all, which is why it cost more. -- Crystal, Texas