Is it worth the trip? Figuring out the extra costs of shopping far away

We Israelis are experts in finding the best deals on just about everything. We've got our apps and newspaper flyers, and we are determined never to end up freiers (hey, I'm a poet and I didn't know it!).

But what if that great deal is located far away - for example, in a town other than the one in which we live? Is it really still such a great deal in that case? How will we know if the trip is worth it?

The frugal Mishloach Manot (Shalach Manot)

Purim is one of my favorite holidays. What's not to like? You read Megillat Esther with its fairytale ending, you eat really good food with family and/or friends at the Seudah, there are kids about colorful costumes, and most importantly, you get to see so many of your friends and neighbors via the mitzva of Mishloach Manot.

Halachically, you only need to provide 2 ready-to-eat portions of food to one person; but if you are lucky enough to have many friends and neighbors, you'll naturally want to spread the holiday cheer, and at the very least reciprocate the gifts of food you're given. This is where things could get rather pricey.

Also, if you're like many recipients of Mishlochei Manot, you end up with a ton of junk food that nobody could possibly eat in the short month before Pesach, and the surplus ends up in the garbage with the Chametz.

I don't think there's one good answer to this dilemma. Each family has to consider the number of people they'll likely be giving Mishloach Manot to, who these people are, their personal budget, and the approach prevalent in their community. So here are a few things to consider when preparing your offerings:

10 items to buy in stock stores

I really love shopping in stock stores - by which I mean low-cost stores such as Max StockHastock, or the Anglo-oriented Big Deal chain. They remind me of Dollar stores abroad, and carry much of the same merchandise your typical dollar store in the old country would. You may remember once upon a time (like 5-10 years ago), there were lots of "Hakol B'Dollar" stores around the country, in which everything really did cost $1 (+VAT; this was when the dollar was worth about NIS 5). The chain still exists (for example, this branch in Dizengoff Center), but the items no longer really cost $1 or whereabouts, though their prices are still quite cheap, and the chain falls into the category of stores I'm talking about.

This type of store will often carry either many items imported from China at a very low price, and/or overstocks bought from other retailers and sold close to cost (Big Deal stores tend to have US-made products of this sort as well). Thus, their merchandise is very variable, seasonal and you never really know what you'll find in advance. Which is pretty cool, in my book.

I typically walk into this type of store for things I need at the moment, but almost always stay longer than I intend to, ogling all the stuff I might need one day and maybe I really should buy it before it runs out, or would have bought years ago when my kids were smaller had the store been around then...and which I feel are really good value for your money in this type of store. So if you have yet to visit such a store, or before ordering similarly cheap items from China directly, here are 10 items I consider most worthwhile to buy in such stores.

If you have other items to suggest, feel free to do so in the comments!

5 ways to save on Purim costumes for children (even if you can't sew a stitch)

As I've mentioned already, one of the best ways to save on just about anything is to time your purchases so you're not captive to salespeople who can almost smell your desperation and capitalize on it. One such particular seasonal item, which by being prepared can save you lots of money, is the Purim costume. Or, if you have several kids, make that costumes.

When I was a kid, your average Purim costume meant you slapped on some of your mother's makeup, wore the long gown said mother bought you for some relative's wedding, and passed your getup off as Queen Esther. Unfortunately, nowadays, that won't work on any child old enough to go to gan. Some costumes, especially if your child has his or her heart set upon being a Disney or other merchandised character for Purim, can set you back over NIS 100 - which in my book, is kind of steep for an outfit to be worn for 2-3 days max (wedding attire excepted, of course).  If you have more than one child, and especially, the older the children get, the expenses increase accordingly.

But there are several ways to save on costumes for your kids, even if you're not one of those super-creative, handy-with-a sewing-machine types:

Important things to remember when ordering goods from abroad

Here's a bit of Hebrew slang you may not have heard before: Shitat Matzliach (literally, "Succeed Method"). It's based upon an old joke, whereby a diner in a restaurant receives a bill with Matzliach (succeed) as one of the items listed. The diner asks the waiter what this means, and the waiter answers, "Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don't. In your case, we didn't."

(Yes, I know I'm a serial killer of jokes. It sounds a lot funnier in Hebrew, trust me).

Unfortunately, here in Israel, Shitat Matzliach is rampant. One of the more annoying instances of this happening is when you find this really good deal online, pay the price and shipping costs, and then your package gets stuck in customs for God knows how long, and then you still have to pay the ransom taxes and fees the post office or shipping company decides to collect from you. You might as well not have bothered and just bought it locally...

While the rules are, indeed, the rules, and sometimes you can engage in your own bit of Shitat Matzliach and not get caught even when you need to pay fees (I do NOT recommend you try this), sometimes the fees seem totally made-up and exaggerated. But they do it because they can.

And that's something you, the customer, need to consider before you order anything from abroad - what extra charges might be tacked on, and how - and if - you can deal with these.

More beauty for fewer $$: Israeli discount cosmetic chains

Ladies - do you remember buying drugstore-brand makeup in the old country? Cosmetics of decent (and even better) quality that didn't cost a king's ransom, so you didn't feel too guilty buying a variety of products to supplement your makeup kit?

Well, the cosmetics in the local drugstores (even with coupons) are still on the expensive side. But in the past few years, some really good, local alternatives have sprung up to expensive brand-name makeup, cosmetic products and toiletries. And unlike discount products purchased online from abroad, you don't even have to wait a month for them to arrive in the mail, because they're available at storefronts all over Israel.

Eating out for less

Going out to eat is not normally considered an especially frugal activity. And you know what? It isn't.  The (usually American) hobby of going out to eat at McDonald's twice a week because nobody in the house could be bothered to cook, or frequent ordering of a latte and a sandwich on your lunch break at the café near your work, can be a huge and unnecessary financial drain (even if said café is Cofix. Those 5-Shekel coffees really add up over time!). And that's without even mentioning the negative health ramifications of eating fast food on a regular basis.

However, there is definitely a time and place for eating out even for frugal people, assuming you're not currently in serious financial dire straits. Meeting up with friends from out of town occasionally, celebrating a family member's birthday or your wedding anniversary - all those are great reasons to dine out in a nice restaurant, enjoying the food and the ambiance. Doing it at at a discount ? Even better.