Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Top Tightwad Gift Lists

Every year I try to post the best gift lists that I can fine -- lists that include desirable items that will make your friends and family swoon at reasonable prices that will keep you out of debt.  Here's this year's selection:

Real Beauty's Best Gifts Under $10
63 Gift Ideas for Under $10
Frugal Finds Under $20
Good Housekeeping's Gifts Under $20
Uncommon Goods Gifts Under $25
Yahoo Shopping's Top 10 Gifts Under $25 (with categories for everyone on your list)
Solutions Gifts Under $30
30 Presents Under $30
Crate & Barrel Gifts Under $50
Glamour's Gifts Under $50
Red Envelope Gifts Under $50
Soft Surroundings Gifts Under $50

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Linoleum Block Print Cards

There are quite a number of ways to send lovely but inexpensive holiday greetings.  You can stock up a year in advance when boxes of holiday cards are heavily discounted in the days after Christmas; you can send e-cards; or you can make your own cards.
If you choose to make your own, the possibilities are almost endless.  But if are producing lots of cards, I like the idea of homemade block print holiday cards, which can be as simple or as fancy as you like.  Linoleum blocks are easier to carve than some other mediums, so linocut cards are a good place for a beginner to start.
I was first introduced to linocut cards by my dad.  He ran a small commercial printing company, and he was totally enamoured by the craft of printing.  He loved discovering new fonts, he loved finding unusual paper stock, he loved the beauty of ornate endpapers.  And he was interested in many different forms of reproduction.  He showed my siblings and me how to print rudimentary stationery with rubber stamp letters when we were just learning to write our names.  A bit later we learned about silk screening.  And then when I was about 8 or 9 years old, he taught us how to make linoleum block prints for Christmas cards.  I was impressed with his precise cuts and his talent, which I was amazed to see went beyond that of a draughtsman (which I knew he was), veering toward the artistic.  Our family only made cards a couple of years -- I'm sure that with all the busyness that accompanies the holidays it was one thing that could be easily given up -- but I remember the experience fondly.  After my dad passed away, I thought about asking my mom for his linoleum block tool set, but she got rid of his things so quickly I never really had a chance.
Want some more DIY ideas for the holidays?  See our full list of thoughts for being frugal for the holidays.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Go Where the Money Is

Willie Sutton is said to have declared that he stole from banks because "that's where the money is."  By the same token, when you are trying to stop spending so much money, you want to look at the biggest items in your budget because that is where the biggest savings are likely to be.

For example, for most people, housing consumes the biggest chunk of their paycheck.  If you haven't refinanced within the last 12 months, it is probably worth it to check out the latest rates to see if you can drop your monthly mortgage payment even more.

Property taxes are another big ticket item.  If you've been reassessed recently, it might be worth it to challenge the higher rate, to see if you might squeeze out some savings here as well.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saving vs Spending

Today's Wall Street Journal reviewed two new books on the topic of consumerism: Shiny Objects by James A. Roberts and Against Thrift by James Livingston.  The gist of the former seems to be that buying new things generates an endless and soul-sucking cycle of keeping up with the Joneses; the gist of the latter seems to be that buying things not only provides personal pleasure but provides economic growth.  The author of the article rightly takes the books to task for recycling old ideas: many other books as various as The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko and The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn address these points of view.

I would argue that both ideas are valid -- up to a point.  There is real pleasure in acquiring special, longed for possessions and this pleasure should be as acceptable as any other human endeavor.  The problem lies with the excess of stuff, with obsessions in accumulating things, and with trying to buy more than you can afford -- which all tend to be related.  If you think about purchasing items as a series of choices -- spend now vs later; buy this and not that -- rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet, the lure of shiny objects becomes more reasonable -- and life is ultimately more pleasurable.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bartering - The Ultimate Bargain Shopping

What if you could set your own price for the things that you wanted?  With bartering, you can!  Whether you want to trade your skills (e.g. book-keeping), your time (e.g. housesitting), or physical objects (that Christmas gift you didn't really like), you can offer what you have for the things (both goods and services) that you desire.  Here are some sites that offer tips and tricks on how to get started:

How to Barter Anything from Real Simple magazine

How Bartering Works from HowStuffWorks.com

Google's list of Barter Sites

Craigslist has a good Barter section