Sunday, November 28, 2010

Creative Holiday Decorations

I stumbled across this holiday decorations slide show and wanted to share it because it so clearly demonstrates that you can be festive, fun and frugal for the holidays.  Use your creativity to showcase what you love (and already have on hand), be it a Christmas tree decorated with fishing lures, or an outdoor display of winter sports gear.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Home-Made Gifts

Making something to give to someone special is both a lovely way to showcase your creativity and to save money.  The Better Homes & Gardens web site has a nice selection of craft ideas, including a section of projects that cost less than $10 (assuming you have to buy the materials - you may find that you already have some items on hand).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gifts for Everyone on Your List for $20 or Less

I've scoured the web for great bargains and have come up with thrifty gift ideas that will impress the recipient far more than the price tag would suggest:

For Her
For Him
For Kids
For Teens

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Make the Most of Your Money When Holiday Shopping

I've always found it difficult to focus when I'm in the stores doing my holiday shopping.  Deals like "buy one, get one half off" call to me, even if I don't really need two of whatever is on special.  The cute sweater and adorable shoes call out to me, even though I"m supposed to be shopping for other people, not myself.  So how to I deal with these distractions and get what I need, on time and within my budget?  Over the years, I've developed a list of questions I ask myself before each purchase.  Here they are:

1. Can I afford it?
Sometimes I'll run across the perfect gift for someone on my list - but it costs twice as much as I was planning to spend on them.  If other gifts I've already purchased cost less than I expected, or if I know I can substitute a less expensive gift for someone else on my list (that they will love just as much), maybe I'll make the splurge.  But I try never to go above my overall budget for holiday purchases.  This is especially true for those who don't have money in the bank to pay for the item in full; charging it to a credit card if you carry a balance just isn't worth it.

2. Have I found the best deal?
I always want to make sure I'm receiving the lowest price.  This is easiest to do online, but if you know what you want, it doesn't take too long at the mall either. And whether you are shopping online or in a store, don't complete your purchase without checking to see if there is a coupon you can use.  Salespeople will usually tell you if you can get a coupon at the customer service desk.  And online, just search for the name of the web site plus "discount code" or "coupon" to see if you can get money off or free shipping.  Even if there is no discount now, ask if it's going on sale; some retailers will hold it for you for a day or two.  Online, you should sign up to receive email notices about sales and special promotions.  Planning to do lots of shopping on "Black Friday?"  Make sure you know in advance about what will be on sale by checking out all the Black Friday ads and using the "Black Friday Deal Filter" on

3. Will the recipient really love it?
If you're not completely confident that the item is 100% perfect when you're buying the item, you won't be happy when the bill arrives, either.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Holiday Entertaining

When you are planning your next holiday get-together, remember that the real purpose of the event is to spend quality time with family and friends.  So feel free to ditch anything that is too fancy or pricey.  For example, if you maintain a casual dress code, you and your guests won't feel the urge to go out and buy a special new outfit.  And if you make the meal potluck (providing, say, the main course and wine, while guests bring sides and desserts), the costs, work - and even the clean-up (since guests will take their dishes home) is shared.  Your party can still be plenty festive and fun.  Sometimes having a theme makes up for the lack of champagne and caviar -- perhaps host a viewing of your favorite holiday movie (we never get tired of Elf, for example) -- or bring out the funniest and most outrageous holiday sweater you own.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Save When You Ship Holiday Gifts

Shipping experts recommend that you allow at least three weeks during the holiday season for any gifts you are mailing to arrive.  But just as important as the timing of shipping your gift is packing carefully so that it will arrive intact.  Office supply stores and UPS stores are full of pricey peanuts and bubble wrap to help wrap your gifts safely.  But here are some less expensive options that work just as well:
  • old newspaper
  • (unbuttered) popcorn are good options
  • shredded paper (if you have a paper shredder -- and you probably should – they can be found inexpensively and the protection of shredding all sensitive documents, including financial statements can make them well worth the cost)
Of course, if you have Styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap on hand that you can recycle, that's a real bonus!

If your gifts are books, DVDs, or the like, consider shipping them via the "media mail" rate at the USPS. This is often cheaper than 3rd class mail.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Holiday Greetings

Buying and mailing holiday cards can be expensive, especially if the list of people you contact every year is extensive.  So if you are trying to cut back on costs a bit, consider emailing your seasonal greetings instead of mailing letters.  You can use e-card services like,, or  Or you can just dress up a regular email with graphics and attractive fonts and be done with it.  Bonus: by saving all that paper, you're helping the environment, too.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I'm often asked about the appropriateness of seeking bargains when you are buying holiday gifts.  Here's my take on the issue: if you buy bargains for yourself, it is certainly ok to do the same when you shop for others.   But if you buy your clothing at Bergdorfs, it IS cheap to do all your holiday shopping at the Dollar Store.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Trim Your Holiday Shopping List

If you haven't already had "the talk," now is a good time to approach extended family members and friends about ways to save on gift-giving this holiday season.  Emphasize that this isn't about becoming Scrooge; rather it is a way to focus on the joy of the season and spending time together, rather than racing around spending money on buying and wrapping gifts that might not hit the target.  Here are some ideas to try:
  • Buy only for the kids.
  • Buy one thing for each household/nuclear family (e.g. gift basket, museum membership)
  • pick names out of hat.
  • Limit the cost of each gift to $5 or $10 (you'll often find a gain in creativity with this approach).
  • Have every in the class/team pitch in for a combined gift for your child's teacher, coach, etc.
  • Reconsider gifts to mail carriers, newspaper deliverymen, etc.  Perhaps a nice note of thanks will suffice instead?

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    Holiday $urvival Guide

    The Ladies Home Journal recently published a list of ten tips to help you survive the holiday season with your financial health intact.  Here they are:
    1. Buy gifts that keep on giving, like guitar lessons or contributions to a 529 college account.
    2. Pay cash - studies show you are likely to buy 15% less.
    3. Make an extra mortgage payment the gift you give yourself.
    4. Review all of your financial documents.
    5. Check your property appraisal - it may be easier to lower your tax bill than you think.
    6. Ask for a lower rate if you are carrying a credit card balance.
    7. Refrain from accepting offers for store credit cards - not only are you likely to spend more (see #2), but it may affect your credit score.
    8. Find cash at home by selling items you don't use (including gold jewelry now that gold prices are at an all time high).
    9. Track all your spending to see where your money really goes.
    10. Make sure you have a plan for your financial future, especially for a long retirement.
    To see the full article, including ideas for achieving all of these tips, click here.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Frugal but Fancy Feet

    No need to hit the salon for petal-soft peds!  Here are a couple of tips for keeping the skin on your tootsies smooth and beautiful:
    • Get rid of calluses by applying wart remover (like Compound W, which is available at drugstores) overnight and then using a pumice in the shower the next morning.
    • Wrap up your feet in plastic wrap after you've lathered them with a thick lotion or with petroleum jelly: your skin will absorb the moisture more quickly and even very chapped feet will be soft in a half hour or so.  You can try this with hands and other body parts, too.

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    The Cost of your Commute

    If you can walk, bike or take public transportation to work instead of driving - even part of the time - you can realize significant savings in several different ways:
    • you'll save gas money
    • you'll save on your car maintenance
    • you can save on your auto insurance - call to let them know how many fewer miles you'll be driving on an annual basis and your fees make decrease by more than $100
    • you won't have to buy a gym membership
    • the additional exercise will make you healthier, reducing health care costs