Wednesday, December 19, 2012

365 Ways to Save - December

Whether you cradle it, dreidel it, deck-the-halls it, matzo-balls it, O-Holy-night it, 8-Days-of-Light it… celebrate the season...frugally!  Here are some tightwad tips to see you through the season:

250.  Before you do anything else, determine your holiday budget, remembering to include everything, such as the cost of decorations, travel, parties you are hosting (or attending), and, of course, gifts. Make a list of everyone to whom you will give a present, including teachers, mail carriers and so forth, and assign a dollar amount to each person.  Once you have a full picture of what you are spending in total, it is easier to make decisions about where you can cut some costs.

Holiday Gifts
Some folks contend that only Scrooge would skimp when shopping for holiday gifts. To that, I reply, "Bah humbug!" Honestly, if you buy bargains for yourself, it is certainly ok to do the same when you shop for others. Of course, on the other hand, if you buy your clothing at Bergdorfs, it IS cheap to buy all your gifts at the Dollar Store.

251. I think we all need to remind ourselves from time to time that the spirit of the season doesn't require that we all go deeply into debt or go hungry just so that we can lavish luxurious gifts on our loved ones. Gift-giving is just one way to express the joy of the holidays. So don't obsess about what you can't afford. Instead, work on finding thoughtful and imaginative gifts that reflect your affection towards the recipient. Remember that some of the most appreciated presents don't require a cash outlay at all: for example, you can volunteer to babysit for parents with young children; cook a meal for someone who hates to turn on the stove; or run errands for busy friends.

252. One of the best ways to save on gift-giving costs is to trim your gift list. Suggesting to your extended family members that this year, you hope to buy only for the kids or buy only one thing for each household/nuclear family (like a gift basket or museum membership) is not being a Scrooge. Instead, once you suggest that everyone cut back a little, you'll be surprised by how relieved everyone will be (because even those who aren't trying to spend less money shopping will be happy to spend less time shopping!). Other options for trimming your list include picking names out of hat so you're responsible for just one family member or officemate instead of many. Some groups agree to go even further and limit the cost of each present to, say, $5. Then part of the fun becomes seeing the variety of imaginative gifts available in that price range.

253. Regifting is another way to save. True, regifting has an ugly reputation. Seinfeld devoted an episode to mocking it. Nancy Reagan was criticized for doing it. Etiquette mavens generally frown upon it. And yet to frugal folks like me, it makes more economic sense to pass along a (new and unused) item rather than to let it waste away at the bottom of the closet. The key is to make sure, as you would when you purchase a new gift, that you are matching the regift with the needs and tastes of the recipient. Even if you aren't buying something, gifts should remain a token of affection and appreciation - not a way to get rid of something you dislike.
Once you know how much you want to spend on each gift recipient, you can use these gift lists to match your loved ones with the perfect token of your affection:

254. Gift Ideas Under $5
255. Best Gifts Under $10
256. 50 Cool Gifts Under $15
257. 20 Hostess Gifts Under $20
258. Real Beauty's Best Gifts for Gals Under $25
259. Lucky magazine's 25 Great Gifts Under $25
260. Redbook's 100 Gifts Under $50
261. Really Cool Gifts Under $50
262. 50 Glam Gifts Under $50

Homemade Holiday Gifts
One of the best ways to save money on your holiday shopping is not to do it at all. Instead, make homemade gifts that reflect your personality and the time and care you are willing to devote to family and friends. Here are some ideas:

263.  Fire-starters (dip pine cones in hot, colored wax) and package in a pretty basket.

264. A clove-studded lemon or orange pomander (which one of my children's Kindergarten teacher rated as his all-time favorite gift). Here's how to make one: 1. Place 2 wide rubber bands around a lemon or orange. The bands will leave spaces for a ribbon later. 2. Use a wooden skewer to pierce the exposed skin of the lemon/orange with holes about ¼ inch apart, then insert whole cloves into the holes. 3. On a plate, mix together 3 tablespoons each of cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ground ginger. Roll the lemon/orange in the mixture to coat it. 4. Keep the lemon/orange and plate inside a paper bag in a dry spot in the house. Roll the pomander in the spices once a day until the lemon is hard and dry; this can take 2 to 6 weeks depending on your climate. 5. Once the pomander is dry, remove the rubber bands and tie fancy ribbon around it. Use the pomander in a closet or on your tree.

265. Baked goods (how about making large gingerbread men, customized with the recipients name and perhaps personal characteristics like hair color, eye color, etc.).

266. Homemade candy (e.g. fudge).

267. Coupons good for services (staying up late, dinner of choice, etc. for kids; massage, breakfast in bed, and chores for spouse); housecleaning or homemade meals for elderly relative; closet organizing for friend who shops all the time but can’t seem to find anything to wear. Make them funny and fancy.

268. Cookbook of your favorite recipes (w/description of how you encountered it, serving tips, memories of dinner parties, etc.)

269. Photo album or scrapbook.

270. Map coasters.

271. Home-made tree ornaments (see below).

272. Tin can luminaries. Luminaries made from tin cans are great both as holiday decorations for your home and as inexpensive gifts you can make yourself. Here's what you do: 1. Fill an empty can with water and freeze it. 2. Trace the shape you want (festive forms like a snowflake, Christmas tree, or Star of David are all contenders) on a piece of paper. 3. Wrap the paper around the can and secure it with tape. 4. Punch holes with nail to create an outline of the shape you've chosen. The ice keeps the can from denting while you hammer the holes. We've found that keeping the holes about 1/3 inch apart works best. 5. Once you’re done and the ice has melted, you can paint the can or leave plain. 6. Use a store-bought or homemade candle (to make the candle, fill the can halfway with melted wax; as it starts to firm up, put in a wax-coated string for the wick.

Flavored coffee mixes make a unique and splendidly frugal gift. Package them in a glass jar and print up labels from your computer with instructions for using them. Here are our favorites:

273. CafĂ© Vienna: ½ cup instant coffee, 2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup nonfat dry milk solids, ½ tsp cinnamon, stir and process in blender until powdered. Instructions: use a ratio of 2 tsp mix to one cup hot water. 35 calories each.

274. Italian Mocha Cappuccino: 1 cup instant coffee, 1 cup sugar, 4 ½ cups nonfat dry milk solids, ½ cup cocoa, stir and process in blender until powdered. Instructions: use a ratio of 2 tbsp to one cup hot water. 60 calories.

275. Swiss Mocha Espresso: ½ cup instant coffee, ½ cup sugar, 1 cup nonfat dry milk solids, 2 Tbsp cocoa, stir and process in blender until powdered. Instructions: use a ratio of use 2 tbsp to ½ cup hot water. 40 calories.

Saving Money on Gift Baskets
Themed gift baskets have become big business in recent years. Groceries and gourmet shops tout their expertise in putting together sumptuous assemblages of tempting goodies. Companies have formed whose entire purpose is to create and market an assortment of gift baskets. Even florists have jumped on the gift basket bandwagon. While I love the concept of the gift basket, the prices that most retailers charge is troubling to a tightwad like me. Invariably, the total cost is significantly higher than the sum of the gift basket components -- in part to account for the work of putting the basket together, but also because that's the price the market will bear.

So it isn't hard to figure that you can save money by putting together your own gift baskets. Consider the following ideas, and then think about what special container and contents will work for you:

276. Fill a pretty basket with exquisite fruits, cheeses, jams and nuts.
277. Tuck a bottle of bubbly and two champagne flutes into a basket and tie it with a pretty bow.
278. Pack office supplies, like pens, pencils, in wastebasket.
279. Pile up some beach toys in a bucket.
280. Pack picnic supplies, including a pretty tablecloth, in a picnic basket.
281. Nestle travel goods, like guide books and maps, in a backpack or tote.
282.  Fill a diaper bag with baby essentials like diaper cream, cornstarch and wipes

Holiday Shopping Strategies
283. 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 sexy 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:
  • 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. 
  • 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 FatWallet.com.
  • 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.
284.  If you’ve racked up your fair share of credit card points, now could be a great time to redeem them. Most rewards programs offer discounted gift cards and merchandise ranging from fashion to food and wine.

285.  Each year, Americans receive millions of dollars in gift cards, which then go unused.  If an unwanted gift card is occupying space in your wallet, now is the time to use it to buy something for someone else.  Or if that isn't appropriate, trade it in for cash. Sites like plasticjungle.com and giftcardrescue.com will pay up to 92 percent of the face value for unused gift cards.

286.  Be sure to take advantage of price adjustments, typically within seven to 10 days of purchase. Many retailers will refund the difference if your item goes on sale.

287. Some retailers like Target and Wal-Mart will match the price listed in a competitor’s ad, so you can buy the item where you see it instead of wasting time and money to go to another store.

288. Take advantage of apps like RedLaser and Shopkick which alert shoppers to the best prices available. Scan a product’s barcode with Google Shopper, and you can compare prices among participating local stores or e-retailers.  You can also download the app Price Check by Amazon to compare in-store prices to Amazon’s. After comparing prices, check for online coupons or promo codes on sites like RetailMeNot or Savings.com to get the lowest possible price for an item.

289.  If you are buying online, always search for coupons and other discounts plus free shipping.

Holiday Gift Wrapping

290. Ask about complimentary gift wrapping when you’re paying at the register. If that’s not available, at least ask for a box (and a gift receipt). Some retailers will hand out seasonal boxes with holiday ribbon, which may be a pretty enough that the package won’t warrant wrapping paper.

291. For years, my family laughed at my mom who dutifully saved and reused wrapping paper each year. We joked that our gifts would get smaller and smaller, so she could use the same piece of gift wrap the next year without even having to take off the tags. The irony was that she didn't even have to pay for the wrapping paper -- as the owner of a small print shop, my dad received boxes of it each year from his paper suppliers.  But although my family eventually got into the habit of tearing and shredding paper in response to my mom's frugal ways, to this day, I still save nice ribbon, especially wired or fabric ribbon (but not the plastic-y stuff or curling ribbon which is hard to reuse).

292.  I also stock up on wrapping materials for the year at the after-Christmas sales: I look for neutral patterns and colors that can be used throughout the year. And since I buy sale paper and other materials in bulk, I create a signature look each year that I use for everyone, from teacher gifts to presents for the extended family.

Here are some other ideas for frugal gift wrap:

293.  Use newspaper (especially the comic pages), old maps, and other colorful paper you have on hand

294. Wrap gifts in plain Kraft paper (which can be bought inexpensively at office supply stores and craft stores ), then decorate it by stamping, stickering, drawing with markers or crayon.

295. You can stencil design on Kraft paper, too.

296. Or tie the package with twine and then add an embellishment made of pine cones and evergreens for a rustic look.

2957. Use wallpaper (from leftover projects or from sample books).

298 Wrap gifts in bits of leftover fabric – I once saw squares of Japanese silk on sale for this purpose in a museum gift shop -- and it adds an elegant touch that can't be beat.

299.  Reuse gift bags and shopping bags (spray paint the latter to cover up names and logos).

300.  Use cut felt, yarn, colored twine in place of store-bought ribbon.

301. Create a reusable fabric-covered box – just tie with ribbon and add a card.

302. Buy clear cellophane (you can get it from craft store or florist in sheets or bags) – wrap the gift in colored tissue underneath and then tie the whole thing with ribbon or twine. This is especially useful for odd-shaped gifts that are hard to wrap in other ways.

303.  Add a special touch to each package with glittery accessories. You can easily add glitter to pine cones, evergreen branches, acorns and other natural materials: thin Elmer's glue w/water until it’s the consistency of paint; brush this liquid on the item you want to sparkle; dip it in the glitter; let it dry on waxed paper for 10 minutes, then affix to the wrapping using a hot glue gun.  (See more ideas for using glitter below.)

304 Use interesting containers for homemade goodies (such as decorated cookie tins) and you won’t even need to wrap your gift. You can also shop for pretty bowls, teacups, mugs, platters, and plates at discount stores and yard sales. Just wrap the whole thing in cellophane, tie it with ribbon and you're good to go!

305. It is fun to wrap gifts in unconventionally-shaped boxes. This prevents the recipient from immediately guessing what's inside and reflects your sense of humor. So go ahead and place a gift of jewelry in huge carton; wine in a large shoebox, silk tie in cylinder, etc..

Fabulously Frugal Gift Tags
Gift giving is sharing love – so of course you want to present your gifts attractively. So in addition to wrapping gifts in a way that is both appealing and distinctive, without resorting to spending big bucks at the Hallmark store, you want to create personalized gift tags that also achieve both objectives. Here are some ideas:

306. Use old Christmas cards, cutting off the side with the picture (which typically does not have writing) and trimming it with pinking shears or another type of craft/scrapbooking scissor. Tie to package with ribbon or yarn.

307. Make your own address labels on your computer, using clip art from the Internet. For the best effects, use colored paper and/or a colored printer.

308. If you are making homemade treats as gifts, paste on labels announcing your "Outrageously Decadent Triple-Chocolate Brownies" or tuck in the amusing story of the origin of the Tollhouse cookie.

309. Buy plain oak tag labels at the stationery store and decorate them w/stamping, stenciling, stickers, etc.

310. Skip the gift card altogether and write right on package with marker – make it festive with a silver or gold sharpie and make sure to include your most flamboyant lettering. (We learned this trick at kids’ birthday parties where gifts often get separated from cards.)

Top Tightwad Tips for Stocking Stuffers
I’ve seen ipod shuffles ($99), cashmere and leather gloves ($150), classic Ray-Ban sunglasses ($139) and the like listed as stocking stuffers. To tightwads like me, anything that costs that much is a major gift, meant to be wrapped and placed under the tree so it can be opened with much hoopla and oohing and aahing.

Stocking stuffers are meant to be just a little something, like an hors d’oevre to whet the appetite for the main meal. When I was growing up, we received things like socks, toothbrushes, and oranges in our stockings. And while I don’t necessarily advocate going that far into thrift and practicality, it does seem that there is a middle ground of items that are fun, fanciful, and frugal at $5 or less. Here are some ideas:

311. for adults:
  • Flavored lip gloss or lip balm 
  • Hand and body lotion 
  • Cocktail napkins 
  • Seed packets 
  • Candles 
  • Pretty soap 
  • Cookie cutters
312. for kids:
  • Small toys: matchbox cars, little slinkies, mini-play dough containers
  • Crayons, colored pencils
  • Trading cards
313. for both:
  • Candy canes
  • Chocolate bars
  • Fun pens and pencils
  • Personalized gingerbread men 
  • Playing cards

Packaging and Mailing
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:

314. Old newspaper
315. (Unbuttered) popcorn
316. 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).
317.  Even better: shredded wrapping paper -- the best idea I've heard yet for recycling small pieces of used wrapping paper.
318.  Of course, if you have Styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap on hand that you can recycle, that's a real bonus!
319. 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.
320. Mailing a heavy gift? Get a flat rate box from the USPS or compare postage at shippingsidekick.com.

Greeting Cards
While I'm all in favor of reaching out to extended family and friends at this time of year, the costs of buying and mailing elegant holiday cards (and you do want them to be quality cards that reflect your aesthete) can be significant. Here are some money-saving ideas:

321. Trim your list. As with gift-giving, it doesn't make sense to always do things the same way year after year just because you've always done it that way. If you haven't heard recently from that nice family you met on vacation 10 years ago, now is the time to strike them from the list. Also, there is really no need to send cards to close family members if you'll be sharing the holidays anyway, or to office-mates who you see every day.

322. Make your own cards. My sister and her husband are extraordinarily creative and I look forward to their imaginatively crafted cards each year. Sometimes they send cards with witty pen-and-ink drawings; other years they employ clever cut-outs; and one year they photo-shopped their faces onto a couple of mall Santas. But you don't need to have graphic arts or computer skills like they have to compose a heartfelt greeting and add an illustration to make your annual card uniquely your own.

323. Send email greetings instead of mailing letters. It's faster, more planet-friendly, and costs literally nothing. Plus there is no space limit if you want to describe your family's accomplishments for the year and you can easily link to photos and videos that illustrate what's on your mind this year. You can use e-card services like ecards.com, americangreetings.com, hallmark.com or bluemountain.com. 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.

324. Shop the sales. If you plan ahead, you purchase your cards at 75% off (or maybe even more if you time it right) by shopping right after Christmas for the cards you'll use the following year.

325. 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.

Holiday Decorating
Looking for ways to make your home feel festive, but rather not spend much money doing so? Try out some of these ideas:

326. Use fruit as a centerpiece in a bowl or on a platter. Red and green apples are a natural, since they already emphasize the traditional Christmas colors, but consider citrus fruits too, especially since they are at their most delicious and inexpensive at this time of year.

327. Be big and bold - a few large ornaments always make more of a statement than a mass of small ones.

328. Place inexpensive votive candles among masses of evergreens to provide a festive feel.

329. Use inexpensive (or old and damaged) tree ornaments in bowls or apothecary jars or mixed in with the greens on your mantel or tabletop – the more the better.

330.  Raid your jewelry box – I decorated my first Christmas tree with earrings, bangle bracelets tied on with ribbon, and beaded necklaces and it looked great.

331. Gather masses of pinecones, nuts, etc. and paint them silver, gold or red and green. Or leave as is. Heap them on mantels and tabletops. Display in glass apothecary jars or in bowls. You can also affix fasteners with hot glue and hang them on the tree.

332. Find tall tree branches – they look wonderful painted gold, silver, or white and set into an umbrella stand or tall vase. You can even decorate them with lights.

333.  Consider keeping a tight color scheme of 2 or 3 colors to tie everything together. For example if your color scheme is white and gold, you can accent a white tablecloth with a gold runner, gold rimmed white china; adding a centerpiece of gilded tree branches, pinecones, and ornaments looks great.

334. Using what you already have on hand is one of the best ways to save money. So instead of heading to the mall to pick up some new holiday decorations, take a look at what you already have. A bowl of colorful (but burnt out) Christmas tree bulbs is pretty, as is a table featuring greens and fruit (citrus, apples, almost anything will do). Spell out "Merry Christmas" with your Scrabble set. Place paper snowflakes in a fancy frame. Click over to the Better Homes & Garden web site for photos that will inspire you. 

If you are looking for inexpensive holiday decorations, pine cones can provide lots of fun, festive looks for free (assuming you collect them yourself). Their association with evergreens - one of the classic symbols of Christmas - make them especially appropriate.

335. Fill baskets of pine cones in various sizes.
336. Make them into tree ornaments by gluing on ribbon.
337. Use them to surround candles in hurricane lamps or on plates or mirrors.
338. For extra pizazz, spray paint them gold or silver, and/or add a dusting of glitter.
339. Add them to floral arrangements.
340. Sprinkle tiny ones across the dinner table.
341. For more ideas, see How to Decorate with Pine Cones.

342. The BH&G article Pennywise Projects for Christmas has lots of good ideas for holiday decorating that use objects you may already have on head. From recycling old colored Christmas tree lightbulbs, to making a tree out of tinkertoys, there is something here for everyone.

343. Rather than buy new, hunt yard sales or Craigslist for bargains. Freecycle.org is an even better place to swap your ornaments, lights, wreaths, garlands, and other holiday decor. Simply post something that you will give away, and then you can use the site to claim other members’ unwanted decorations.

Tightwad Tree Ornaments

Department stores and specialty shops offer beautiful and unique Christmas tree ornaments. But you could spend thousands decorating your tree if you buy all your ornaments there. So why not create some unique ornaments of your own? Here are some thoughts:

344. Make gingerbread cookies - you can even personalize them to make them more special.

345.  Rather have ornaments that last from year to year? Use the gingerbread cookie idea, but make and decorate the shapes with home-made play dough instead.

346.  Create painted wooden ornaments, using jigsaw-cut shapes from your craft store or cutting your own.

347. Cover Styrofoam balls from the craft store with glossy thread and then decorate with bits of fabric, lace, beads, buttons and other pretty bits 'n' pieces.

348.  Make egg shell ornaments by pricking holes in each end of a raw egg with a pin, blowing out the insides, and then carefully cutting out an oval shaped hole in one side. Paint inside and out with nail polish or high-gloss paint and then decorate with bits of fabric, lace, beads, buttons and anything else you have on hand.

349. Cut out paper snowflakes.

350. Crochet snowflakes (use starch to keep them stiff).

351. Don't forget the classics: paper loop chain (use construction paper, old wrapping paper, unused rolls of wallpaper, or the colorful parts of old Christmas cards) and strings of cranberries and popcorn.

A Glitter-y Holiday
Glitter - widely available with stationary and craft supplies -- is a festive yet frugal way to add sparkle to your holiday decorations. Here are a few ideas:

352. Dress up plain tree ornaments with a dusting of glitter.
353. Stencil a design onto taper or votive candles and outline it with glitter.
354. Cut seasonal shapes (e.g. trees, stars, doves) out of felt and decorate with glitter.
355. Make home-made cards and gift-tags out of construction paper festooned with glitter.

While there are now many ways to apply glitter -- glitter pens, etc. -- the easiest way is to use the little tubes. Simply apply glue (white, Elmer's type) to the area you want to sparkle and sprinkle on the magic. Once the glue has dried, shake the item to release the excess -- it can be recycled for your next project. Be sure to cover your work area with newspaper before you get started.

Fun, Frugal Holiday Party Ideas
The usual cocktail party can be quite expensive, with pricey hors d'oevres and drinks. But you don't need to spend a lot of money to have fun with your friends. Here are some festive yet frugal ideas for some low-cost get-togethers:

356. Host a tree-trimming party.  Have your guests assemble ropes of popcorn and cranberries on a a string, or long strands of paper looped decorations (or see the other tree decoration ideas above).  Pump up the christmas music, serve a luscious punch and holiday cookes, and wait to turn on the tree lights until the decorating is done, for a grand finale.

357. Have your friends over for a wrapping party. Everyone brings a roll of wrapping material - it can be everything from Kraft paper to be decorated with stamps, old maps, extra wallpaper - the options are endless. You supply the tape and the treats. Everyone gets to socialize and finish a must-do task at the same time. For tips and tricks to spiff up the look of your gifts, check out these gift wrapping ideas.

Frugal Family Fun
Sometimes with the holiday hustle and bustle - rushing to the stores to buy gifts, decorations, and seasonal treats - it is hard to remember that there are plenty of ways to celebrate the season that don't cost a thing. So put your wallet away and enjoy one of these low cost holiday activities:

358.  Create an annual tradition of watching your favorite holiday movie together. Make it a special event with popcorn and hot cocoa -- and enjoy the fact that if someone gets cranky or someone else nods off to sleep in the middle, you haven't spent a fortune on your entertainment.  Not sure what film would work? Try one of the films recommended by Redbook magazine. Click over to their website and you can even see clips from each movie.

359. Sing a song. Whether you warble a bit in the privacy of your home or go out caroling with a group of friends, there is nothing quite as uplifting as traditional Christmas carols.

360. Share a smooch. You don't really need mistletoe to reach out and show your affection - just do it!

361. Scent the air. All you really need is a bit of cinnamon in a pot of water simmering gentle on the stove to make your home smell wonderful. Got some cloves, star anise and orange peel hanging around, too? Add those to the pot for a richer aroma.

362. Savor the snow. Catch a snowflake on your tongue, just like you did when you were a kid. Or, if there is no snow where you live, recreate another memory from childhood by cutting snowflakes out of scrap paper.

363. Wonder at the windows. Whether you choose a trip downtown to peek at the store window displays or a stroll through the best-decorated neighborhood in your community, the walk and the appreciate of others' efforts to celebrate the season will do you good.

364. Help those in need. Whether you clear your cupboards of extra pantry staples you know you'll never use (that can of sardines or the extra box of Cream of Wheat, perhaps?) for the local food bank, donate an old coat and other warm clothing to a charity for the homeless, or spend an hour at a soup kitchen, you'll feel better for having helped others less fortunate than yourself.

365. Remember what it's all about. Even if you are an atheist or agnostic, attend at least one religious service during December as a reminder of where all the holiday traditions began. Think of it as a cultural experience. And even if you are an active member of your church or temple, consider going to a service totally different from the one you usually attend for a new perspective.

Want to see more of our 365 ways to save? Check out the list of tightwad tips from January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October and November.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Meaningful Gift

The year that my sister got married, she and her husband put together a cookbook that they shared with relatives on both sides of the family during the holidays.  They included their favorite recipes, along with a little story about what each recipe meant to them.  For example, my brother-in-law wrote about the egg, bread and bacon concoction his family called “Christmas Bake” because they made it together each Christmas Eve and shared it together the next morning after opening all the presents under the tree; my sister included favorite casserole and skillet dishes from our childhood.  They also included recipes that they had discovered together, like a plethora of ways to use up zucchini from the summer that the squash over-ran the garden, and their special carrot and rice soup (“we invented this soup when there was no food in the house.  It’s fast, easy, and good if you’re sick).  The cookbook was a wonderful labor of love and, by sharing tastes and family history, served as a great way of integrating the two sides of the family.  Almost two decades later, I still use it regularly!

Friday, November 30, 2012

365 Ways to Save - November

Now that it's November, it's a great time to think about entertaining family and friends -- and ways to do so that are both festive and frugal.

Inexpensive Entertaining

231.  Remember that entertaining doesn't have to be expensive – the whole point is to be together with the ones you love. So if you are on a very limited budget, don't be shy about asking everyone to contribute to the meal (you can opt for potluck or assign specific dishes to each guest). You might also plan a progressive party if everyone lives close to one another, with each course served at a different house. If you make the event festive, who cares that you are serving chili or a pasta dish rather than an expensive roast? Trying to impress your guests? Consider splurging on just once fancy thing -- perhaps have a shrimp appetizer before a linguine carbonara entree, with simple fruit sorbet and cookies for dessert.
232.  When cooking for your guests, turn down your thermostat a few degrees to save on energy costs — with the oven going, everyone will still feel warm and cozy.
233. Great budget bubblies -- Freixenet from Spain has long been one of my favorite bubblies. I drank it in college and have served it at parties ever since. It is in expensive but delicious. Korbel from California is another favorite. Both my sister and I served it at our weddings -- and never regretted doing so.  Want more budget bubbly suggestions? Click here for five more.
234.  You don't need an assortment of fancy serving dishes to make your table look attractive when you entertain. Instead, you can use various fruits and vegetables as festive containers: use a bell pepper for the dip you serve with cruditĂ© (lots of colors to choose from); and use a large pumpkin to serve pumpkin or squash soup.

Free
Here is an alphabetical list of free samples which we've found available across the web:
235. Arm & Hammer will send a tube of their sensitive toothpaste
236. Aveda offers a free birthday gift just for signing up.
237. Epiderme Repair Cleansing Milk
238. Garnier Fructus Pure Clean Clear 2-in-1 Shampoo and Garnier Ultra-Lift Serum and Moisturizer.
239. Lacoste fragrance sample (for men or women)
240. Lipton Tea & Honey will mail a mango pineapple sample.
241. L'Occitane offers a free in-store facial via their Facebook page (after you "like" them you'll receive store info to call and book an appointment)
242. Nordic Naturals will send you a free vitamin pack (wellness, sport, or pet).
243. Pristine Skin Care products customizes offerings to fit your skin type
244. Propel Zero will send a powder stick if you like them on Facebook.
245. Target.com mails free samples - the selection changes often and they go fast
246. Uni-ball sends a Jetstream 101 pen sample.
247. Walmart also lists a changing menu of free samples on its web site.
248. Of course, free offers change all the time, so find the latest and greatest on these web sites:
249. If you want even more freebies, click here for a list of stores that are generous with their free samples. You might also be interested in checking out our list of travel freebies - extras that you'll find handy when you're on the road. 

Want to see more of our 365 ways to save? Check out the list of tightwad tips from January, February, March, April, May, June, JulyAugust, September and October.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

365 Ways to Save - September & October

Autumn brings lots of chances to score some savings.  Here are some good examples:

Back to School
Shopping for school supplies and clothing doesn't have to be an expensive process.   No matter where you shop, keep the basics in mind: watch for seasonal sales and money-saving coupons, follow our tips for online shopping, shop with a list and stick to it no matter how tempting store displays might be, and always ask for some sort of discount.  Here are some other ideas to keep back-to-school costs down:

225. As much as SmartBoards and other electronic devises have invaded the classroom, books are still a fact of life in most schools.  Here are some ways to save money on book buying:
  • Use the local library whenever possible. Even if your branch doesn't have the book you want in stock, they can probably use the inter-library loan system to obtain it for you.
  • Buy used books from online sellers at Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com (and then sell them back to someone else, when you're finished).
  • Check out web sites that allow you trade books you have for books you want, like PaperbackSwap.com and BookMooch.com.
  • Try Project Gutenberg, which offers more than 20,000 books, like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, as a free download; or Litfy.com, an online service that allows you to read all the novels you want, anywhere, anytime, on any e-reader device, for free.
  • Other places to find books at bargain rates include school-sponsored book swaps, thrift shops, library sales, and yard sales.  Frankly, it seems like everyone has books to sell!
226. As you stock up on back-to-school supplies, keep in mind that some retailers now do more than just encourage you to bring-your-own-bag; they actually pay you for every disposable bag you DON'T take.   For example, CVS will deposit $1 on a special CVS card for every four trips on which you BYOB.

Back to Work

227. One way to increase your savings is to make more money.  In this economy, it is certainly tough to find a new job that pays better, so instead, think about negotiating for a raise.  Start by finding out the average salary for someone in your position with similar skills and experience by asking people you know in the industry and searching on sites like bls.gov, GlassDoor.com, PayScale.com, Salary.com,  and ValuationResources.com.  Once you've collected data that supports a pay raise, schedule a meeting with your manager.  Make sure your timing is right: keep the company's fiscal calendar and bonus timing in mind.  And remember that some people consider Wednesday the best day for this kind of talk: Monday is too busy; by Friday everyone is scurrying to finish up for the weekend.  During the meeting, focus on your accomplishments, listing at least three ways that you've made a significant contribution in the past year.  Ask for you amount, and if it isn't possible now, work with your manager to develop a plan to get you there, including a good time to follow-up.

Home Office

228.  Your printer costs you money in terms of paper, ink, and electricity, so try to use it as little as possible.  Save money on paper, by using both sides of every sheet (and when that isn't possible, use draft copies as scrap paper you keep by the phone or save for your kids to color on).  Key the time and the address into your phone instead of printing an Evite invitation.  Use your car's or phone's GPS instead of printing MapQuest directions. 

228.  Set your computer to go into "sleep" mode when it hasn't been used for more than, say, 10 minutes. This setting uses almost no electricity, but allows you to get right back to work without waiting for a complete computer reboot.

Halloween

229. Sweet shops and bakeries are full of all kinds of beautiful Halloween treats at this time of year. But you don't have to pay big bucks or have the decorative skills of Martha Stewart to create fun seasonal treats.  Try making bone-shaped cookies, candy apples, or pumpkin fudge -- you'll find they are easy to make, festive and frugal.
230. While it is true that the mall, online stores, and catalogs are full of expensive Halloween costumes, the web is full of good ideas for making your own costumes, using items you probably already have on hand. Click here for some places where you'll find good ideas for saving money by making your own Halloween costume.
231.  You can throw a party for your kids and their friends before or after trick-or-treating that uses items you already have on hand with just a few additions from the store.  From creating a haunted house, to sending the kids on a scary scavenger hunt, to serving frightfully fun food and drink, you'll find lots of ideas for hosting a kids' Halloween party here.
230. If you are using pumpkins as part of your Halloween decorations this year, once their decorative need is over, you can also use them to make easy pumpkin puree for pies and other recipes. Note that pumpkins you have carved must be used within a day or so for puree because they spoil so quickly. And if you are painting the pumpkin or gluing on decorations, make sure all are non-toxic if you will also be cooking them.  Here is how to make pumpkin puree: cut the pumpkin into small, evenly-sized pieces and remove the strings and seeds. Put the pieces (skin side up) on a sheet pan, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and bake for an hour at 375 degrees. Let it cool slightly. Then separate the pulp from the skin (you can scoop it with a spoon) and process the pulp in a blender. You can use it right away in a pie or other dessert or freeze it for later.

Want to see more of our 365 ways to save? Check out the list of tightwad tips from January, February, March, April, May, June, July and August.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

365 Ways to Save - August

Saving money and saving the environment often go hand-in-hand.  Whether you are trying to save money by using less water, less electricity, or less gas, your cost-cutting efforts will benefit the planet as well as your wallet.

The Basics
Although these ideas are well-known to most tightwads, I mention them here because they are essential components of any money-saving regimen:

201. Save energy and reduce your electricity bill by turning off lights whenever you leave a room; setting your computer to "hibernate" after 10 minutes or so of non-use (and turn it off altogether at night); and by unplugging chargers and appliances that suck electricity even when they are "off" (including programmable coffee-makers, TVs, and more) - make it easy to unplug them every night and when you leave for vacation by plugging multiple items into a surge-protector strip.
202. Keep your home a few degrees warmer in summer and a few degrees colder in winter, and set your thermostat to use less air conditioning/heat at night and when you are away from home during the day.
203. Use compact florescent bulbs or LED light bulbs which are more like incandescent but use less energy and last up to 17 years.
204. Wash clothes in cold water.
205. Keep your freezer running most efficiently by keeping it full of food (or ice).
206. Similarly, keep your refrigerator running most efficiently by keeping it full of food (or containers of cold water).
207. Make sure your home is well insulated, especially around windows and in the attic.  To make sure your home is in good shape insulation-wise, consider have an energy audit (many utility companies will do it for free) to find leaks that may not otherwise be obvious.
208. Close curtains and drapes during the day in warmer weather to block the sun's heat; open them to take advantage of daily sunshine in cooler weather.
209. Run your dishwasher, washing machine and clothes dryer at night or at other off-peak hours.

Dealing with Drought
In areas where water prices are high, being careful about water use can save you lots of money.  And since the nation has been especially hard-hit with drought this summer, it is not a bad idea for everyone to consider how to conserve this precious resource.  Most people already know that they shouldn't run the tap while they brush their teeth and should take short showers (rather than baths) to conserve water.  Here are some other water-saving tips to consider:

210. Reuse your cooking water, either for another cooking use (for example, use the water you use to steam or boil vegetables for making pasta, rice or soup -- which has the bonus of adding flavor without cost or calories) or to water your plants.
211. Use as few pots and dishes as possible so you'll use less water to clean up. For example, one pot meals, like stews and stir fries, require less dish washing (and as a bonus, use less energy to cook).
212. Don't run the dishwasher until it is full and then run it on the shortest cycle that is still effective.  And unless you have an older, less efficient dishwasher, don't worry about rinsing off dishes in the sink first -- almost all dishwashers are now designed to allow you to skip this step.  Note that dishwashers generally use less water than hand-washing the same amount of dishes.
213. Catch any water you normally run down the drain when waiting for the water to warm up (or cool down) in a bowl or pan. Use this water for your house plants or in the garden.
214. Insulate hot water pipes to keep water warm longer (so you don’t have to run the tap for several minutes to get hot water); and insulate your hot water heater, too.

Keeping Cool Without Blasting the Air-Conditioner
Struggling to find ways to stay cool without resorting to turning up your own air conditioners, or enjoying someone else's air conditioning by escaping to a costly movie theatre, or a shopping mall where there is no end to the expensive temptations?  here are some ideas for beating the heat on a budget:

215. Hydrate. Drink plenty of cold water to keep your cool. And spray yourself with a spritz of refrigerated water for an extra cool boost.
216. Eat icies. Make ice pops from fruit juice and eat them often to keep your temperature down. (It's been proven that melting ice makes the mercury fall faster than just freezing something - that's why the old-fashioned ice cream makers required salt for the freezing process.) Freeze fruits like seedless grapes, watermelon, and bananas, too, for more frugally frigid treats.
217. Turn off the lights. Not only do light bulbs increase a room's temperature, but a darker room will just feel cooler.
218. Take a tepid (not cold) shower, since the shock of cold water will only make your body work to conserve heat. Follow up with lotions that you've cooled in the fridge for a bit..
219. A frequently overlooked resource, your local library is the perfect place to escape indoors – and the best part is that it won’t cost you a dime. Pick up a good read, find a quiet nook, and relax for an afternoon in air-conditioned comfort.
220. Employ cooking strategies that rely less on your oven, thus keeping your kitchen from over-heating.  If you must bake something, consider using your toaster oven's convection setting instead of the regular oven. It's so much smaller that it creates considerably less heat than a conventional oven, and you'll be surprised by how much you can fit into the toaster oven. Use your slow cooker instead of the stove burner for soups, stews and sauces. Because it is contained, it will not overheat your space. Cook as efficiently as possible, broiling instead of baking when you can (food cooks more quickly and you don't have to preheat the oven), and being sure to cover pots on the top of the stove so they cook faster.

No More Gas Guzzling
The gas saving tips we offered as part of our money-saving travel tips in June (and also in a previous post) are a good way to ensure you are getting the most mileage out of every gallon of gas you buy.  Here are some additional ideas:

221. 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; and the additional exercise will make you healthier, reducing health care costs.

More Ways to Save Money & the Environment

222. If you’re buying new energy-efficient appliances – either because you’re old appliances pooped out or because you’re upgrading as part of a plan to live a greener lifestyle, find out if your state or community provides a rebate for doing so. A list of incentives organized by state is at DSIREUsa.org. You might find that the rebate plus the on-going savings on your electricity bill adds up to a lot of green!

223. Buy in bulk rather than individual servings so that you aren't paying for excess packaging or sending it into a landfill.

224. Remember that the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) are not just eco-friendly; they are also wallet-friendly! Doing with less -- whether it is a smaller house (that is less expensive to buy, to heat, and to air condition) with a smaller lawn (that requires less water, fertilizer, and gas for the mower) or fewer possessions in general so that you don't have to invest in expensive storage solutions -- will always help you save money.  Similarly, reusing what you already have, even if it must be slightly re-purposed for another use (e.g. dying old shoes to match a new outfit) is a good way to pinch pennies. And what family isn't familiar with the classic money-saving recycling technique of handing down clothes from an older sibling to a younger one?

Want to see more of our 365 ways to save? Check out the list of tightwad tips from January, February, March, April, May, June and July.

Friday, July 27, 2012

365 Ways to Save - July

Being thrifty is more than just doing without, it is making the most of what you have. So if you have a significant collection of items that you no longer use -- books you'll never read again, toys and clothes your children have outgrown, household items that are just creating clutter, and well intentioned gifts that just weren't right for you -- it is time to hold a yard sale. And since summer is the prime yard sale season, here are some tips to make sure that yours is a great success and earns you cash for the things you really want:

160. Be strategic in planning your sale: if your community has a "homecoming weekend" or similar event that draws people from nearby towns, that is a good time to hold your sale.  Similarly, find out if your neighbors or friends are interested in joining you in your sale -- a larger sale attracts more business.  And if you live in an isolated area, see if you can hold your sale at a friend's place that attracts more traffic.
161. Make sure you place an ad in the classified section your local paper and on Craigslist and other sites like weekendtreasure.com, garagesalehunter.com, yardsalesearch.com -- you want to attract buyers far beyond the number of people who are casually passing by. Be sure to include the date and hours of the sale, your address (and directions if you are not on a main street), and a brief description of the kind of goods you will be selling. You also might want to list big ticket items separate from your "yard sale" ad to draw people who are looking to buy these specific items. 
162. Create one-page flyers with the same info as your online ads to post at your supermarket, your local coffee shop, and anywhere else in your community where there are bulletin boards for sharing this type of information,
163. Create good signage throughout your neighborhood (as with your other advertisements, your signs should include the date and hours of your sale, as well as the address, and the words "Yard Sale" in big, bold letters). We like to use cardboard or poster board in bright colors with black lettering to attract the most attention. If you are especially creative, you can create "Burma shave" type ads for the streets leading up to yours. Or if there is lots of foot traffic, create footprints on the sidewalk using chalk or water-based tempura that lead to your driveway. We also recommend a bouquet of balloons attached to the sign you place out in front of your sale – they will help grab people's attention. Remember to take down your signs after the sale.
164. Promote your yard sale to your local network via your personal blog, Facebook or Twitter account.
165.  To make sure you price your items appropriately (low enough so they will sell; high enough that you'll make some money), go to http://priceonomics.com/ and type in the name of the item you want to sell to get an idea what it is worth.
166. Write your prices on painters' tape. It is an easy and inexpensive way to price items and it won't leave any marks.
167. Alternatively, you can use brightly colored dot stickers that are color-coded to match the price (all blue stickers are $1, all green are $2 etc.). Make sure you have signs explaining your pricing throughout the display.
168. Before the sale, go to the bank and get plenty of change ($1, $5, $10, $20 plus some quarters) - you don't want to lose a sale because you can't change a $20 bill. We have found that at least at the beginning of the same, it is easiest to keep prices rounded to a dollar - anything less than that can be grouped with similar items and sold as a set.
169. Guard your money-box at all times.
170. Lock all the doors to your house (and be firm about not allowing anyone in -- even if they beg to use the bathroom or get a drink of water).
171. Decide on an “early bird” policy prior to the sale. On the one hand, antique dealers and others who show up before the official opening of your sale are likely to be buyers, not lookers. On the other hand, it can be hard to finish setting up your sale if you have to content with sales at the same time. And shoppers who wait until the official start may be annoyed if everything is already picked over.
172. Be careful about selling recalled items - there are consumer product laws that prevent you from doing so. Wonder if that old crib has been recalled? Just to be sure, check http://www.recall.gov/.
173. Make sure all of your items are clean and displayed attractively - a jumble of dusty old stuff is enticing to almost no one. Put like items together (e.g. all the children's toys in one place, all housewares in another). Arrange taller items behind shorter items. Hang clothing on hangers on a rack, or if that isn't possible, on a rope hung from two trees. Put big ticket items like furniture closer to the street to attract passersby. Think like a department store and put all "manly items" -- like grills, golf clubs and power tools -- towards the front of your sale. And don't underestimate the effect that making the extra effort -- like putting a tablecloth on the table with dishes and filling a pretty vase with fresh flowers -- will have on your sales.
174. If something is cracked or broken, note the damage on the price tag, clearly indicating that you are selling it "as is."
175. Create an ambiance that will encourage shoppers to linger with music, free ice water on a hot day (we've been to sales with kids selling lemonade and baked goods, which helped bring in shoppers), and plenty of room between tables for browsing.
176. Two to three hours into the sale, begin to mark down your prices and be more open to haggling: perhaps you've overestimated the value of some of your items.
177. If your objective is to get rid of all your stuff, develop a “buck a bag” policy towards the end of the sale.
178. Have stuff you really want to get rid of?  Have a box or table of freebies and encourage all of your customers to go through it and take what they want.  Keep these items toward the front of the sale -- and make sure they are well-marked as free -- to draw in curious passersby.
179. Give everyone working at the yard sale a specific job. Examples: cashier, negotiator (it's often good to have one person in charge of the haggling), worker to help to load stuff into cars, plus someone to answer questions, reload tables and box items that have been purchased.
180. Hold firm to the policy of cash only - even if you know the buyer won't bounce a check, cash makes the sale process easier.
181. Have plenty of boxes, bags and newspapers for packing purchased items.
182. Block off your driveway - better to have customers park on the street than all over your lawn. Plus this will assure space for the vehicles of buyers who have purchased a big item that can't be carried far.
183. Consolidate the items on your tables as the sale goes on, keeping all displays tidy and attractive….if it looks like your sale has not been picked over, people are more likely to stop and shop.
184. Toward the end of sale group small ticket items together. (i.e. everything on this table for $2)
185. Have a plan for the items that don't sell -- for example, choose a charity and arrange to have them pick everything up the day after the sale. Click here for a useful list of charities that take furniture, clothes and more.
186. When negotiating, try to throw in extra items instead of reducing price. For example, instead of reducing the price of the couch, let them have a free coffee table - that way you get rid of two items and the customer gets a deal.
187. Have plenty of extension cords, power strips, and batteries on hand to show that things work; plus you'll need sharpies, tape, sign making material, labels and tags on hand.

Of course yard sales aren't for everyone, so here are some other ways to sell stuff:

188. Trade your laptops, cell phones, cameras, MP3 players, Blu-Ray discs, games, and more for a Costco Cash Card: Costco's Trade-In Program will pay you for recycling these items.
189. SecureTradeIn.com and YouRenew will also pay you for your old cell phone.
190.  You can even make money when you recycle ink and toner cartridges: the Staples Rewards program will give you a $2 Staples certificate for each one you take to a Staples store.
191. Send your old books, electronics, dvds and video games to Amazon: just sign in to their trade-in section and indicate the ones you no longer want, they'll send you a postage-paid envelope, and once they receive the goods, you'll get an Amazon credit you can use to shop online. Amazon allows you directly sell books and dvds you no longer want, and although selling through their site is sometimes more lucrative, you must wait for a buyer and pay for shipping and a commission to Amazon out of the proceeds.
192. Receive a Best Buy gift card when you trade in old video games, musical instruments, select electronics, and CDs and movies. You can ship items to a trade-in center (print out a prepaid shipping label at bestbuy.com/recycling) or bring them to your local store.
193. GameStop is another good place to trade in used video games. You'll receive a Gamestop gift card good for purchasing anything at their stores or website.
194. Trade in used sports equipment at PlayItAgainSports and receive cash or new sports equipment from the store.
195. Half.com (an ebay.com company) offers an "instant sale" option for books, music and movies, that allows you to list your old goods via ISBN or UPC, sell them without the lengthy auction process, ship for free, and then get paid via paypal or Half.com coupons.
196. RadioShack is another retailer with a useful program for trading-in old electronics. The service is available in their stores and online. As with many other programs, you'll receive a Radio Shack gift card.
197. MyBoneyard is a website devoted to recycling used electronics. You can estimate the value of your items online, and then choose to receive a prepaid shipping label for mailing items in. Assuming your items have a cash value, you can elect to receive the money yourself or donate it to charity.
198. Raiding your jewelry box for single earrings, old brooches, and broken chain necklaces and sell them for the value of the gold. The Wall Street Journal had an article about how selling gold jewelry has become extraordinarily popular in these times of high gold prices and eroding incomes. If you're interested, check out these companies, all of which were mentioned in the WSJ article:
a. Gold Mine Party LLC
b. Party of Gold
c. My Gold Party
d. Cash4Gold

199. In addition to selling physical items that you already own, you might consider easy ways that you can generate cash from hobbies or interests in your spare time.  This isn't a second job by any means, but just a quick way to monetize things that you might find interesting or enjoyable.  See the post on Pin Money for a list of ideas.

Sometimes the easiest way to get some extra income is to find some money you didn't even know you had.

200. It is worth checking every year to see if you are owed any of the $32.8 billion in unclaimed funds being held by state governments. You might be owed money from a forgotten checking account or a mislaid security deposit. Go to IRS.gov (for tax refunds) and to MissingMoney.org and Unclaimed.org (for everything else), and type in your name and all the states where you have lived or worked. For best results, just type in your last name to see what variations come up -- I discovered funds listed in both my mother- and father-in-law's names - both of whom are long deceased.

Want to see more of our 365 ways to save? Check out the list of tightwad tips from January, February, March, AprilMay and June.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Free E-Cards for Dad

Thanking your dad on Father's Day does not have to be an expensive proposition.  You can customize a free e-card (egreetings has some good ones, too) and make sure your dad knows how much you appreciate him!  Or put together a coupon book using one of these handy templates.  Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

365 Ways to Save - June

With Memorial Day behind us and months of warm weather ahead, June brings thoughts of fun, sun and vacation.  A memorable getaway can certainly cost a lot -- but it doesn't have to!  Here are some ideas for minimizing the costs -- but not the benefits -- of a great trip:
Planning Your Trip
127. Consider your destination carefully: you can save lots of money -- and avoid the crowds -- if you look for summer alternatives to places like Disneyworld (and other theme-parks), the major capitals in Europe, etc. Think instead about visiting ski resorts for hiking and water sports this summer (many were hard-hit by the warm weather this past winter, and so will be eager for guests).
128.  Make airline and hotel  reservations via sites like lastminute.com and lastminutedeals.com which match you to airlines that have unsold seats and hotels that have unsold rooms.  You'll get deals at just a fraction of the usual price.
129. Check out these free travel ideas -- if you aren't frightened off by the idea of house sitting or otherwise working through your vacation, you might not have to spend any money at all on your vacation this year.
130. Although you usually really have to plan quite far in advance to use frequent flyer miles (earned from other travel or credit card use) to fly, these miles are good often also good for hotel charges, and there is often more flexibility there.
131. If you are not already a member of the frequent traveler programs associated with your airline, hotel, or rental car company, sign up right away, and then look into immediate perqs such as use of airport lounges or free upgrades.

If You'll be Driving
132.  Before you head out on the road, check the pressure of each of your tires against the guidelines listed in your car’s manual; add air if needed. Doing this can improve mileage (and thereby save you money at the pump) by about 3 percent.
133.  It takes more fuel to move a heavier car around, so you'll also want to lighten your load by removing snow shovels and the like from your trunk.  Remember that even the little things add up, so pack carefully -- don't use the excuse that you are driving to bring everything you own with you on vacation.
134.  Clean the air filter before your trip to keep your engine running efficiently -- and save on energy and costly repairs.
135.  Driving 10 mph above 60 is like adding nearly 50 cents to the price of a gallon of gas because your car must use more gas at higher speeds.  So slow down, enjoy the view, and save a few bucks.  Other money-saving benefits include avoiding speeding tickets, and saving stress, wear and tear on your car's tires, brakes, and transmission.
136.  Similarly, if you keep your speed steady and avoid making lots of quick starts and stops, you'll use less fuel.  To help you maintain a consistent speed, use cruise control if you have it.
137.  At speeds of less than 60 mph, you'll save gas by cooling off with a breeze from an open window; at 60 mph and above, it is better to use your car's air conditioning system to reduce drag.
138.  You'll also save money on gas if you don't drive extra miles by getting lost.  So use a GPS device to ensure that you're always on the right route.
139.  Similarly, check out web sites like traffic.com to avoid detours and traffic tie-ups that would otherwise cost you extra time and fuel.
140.  Throughout your trip, seek out the gas station with the lowest price at GasPriceWatch.com and GasBuddy.com.  You can also check out mobile apps like Where and Poynt (check out the New York Times round-up of these money-saving apps).

If You'll be Flying
141. Sometimes finding the cheapest airfare is a matter of timing. For the greatest choice of low-cost flights, go online early in the morning. Airlines often reset their discounts at night, and you'll find the widest selection before East Coast workers get to the office. Avoid flying Monday mornings and Thursday evenings when flights are crowded with business travelers; instead think about flying on Saturday morning.
142. You can avoid the now-standard $25 fee that most airlines for checked luggage when you fly JetBlue or Southwest Airlines, neither of which has yet adopted the fee. Or you can shave a few dollars off (usually $2 or $3) by checking in online. 

Save on Hotel Costs
143. If you'll be at one location for more than a few days, book a condo instead of a hotel room so that you can make your own meals and save on dining out.
144. If you are traveling with kids, look for places that welcome them with wonderful freebies. For example, Loews Hotels allow kids to stay free, eat free, and see a movie for free; Holiday Inns lets kids stay and eat free.
145. Many hotels offer freebies for adults, too. Look for free parking, free newspapers, free Internet, free gym and pools, and best of all, free meals, like the cooked-to-order breakfasts offered by Embassy Suite Hotels.
146.  Finding really inexpensive accommodations when you travel can be a real challenge. But with some creativity, it is possible to see the world on a very limited budget. You'll find some ideas for very low cost lodging by clicking here.
147. Don't let your hotel overcharge you! Read The Insider Travel Guider's tips for avoiding the extra fees that hotels may try to add to you bill.
148. Get more for your money by asking the hotel if they will upgrade your room for free.

If You Rent a Car
149. Take advantage of insurance programs offered by your credit card company or existing insurer for rental cars and other travel expenses before purchasing separate policies for your car rental.
150. Follow frequent renter's guidelines to avoid the extra charges that rental companies sometimes tack on.

Throughout Your Vacation
151. Use online coupons from sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, and Zozi to save big (often as much as 90%) on right-now deals at restaurants, spas, theaters, activities and events, and so forth.
152.  Find out if the attractions you want to see have times when the admission is free or discounted. For example, admission to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is free on Fridays between 4 pm and 8 pm. Since the cost is usually $25 for adults, these savings are quite significant.  To find out if the sights you want to see offer special savings, all you need to do is call them or poke around on their web site.
153. Make lunch your big meal of the day since most restaurants have a lower priced luncheon menu (but the food is often the same).
154. Consider using a restaurant discount card to save money when you eat out.
155. Whenever possible, bring your own refreshments into theme parks, museums, circuses, etc.
156. Skimp and splurge strategically at restaurant meals: for example, order tap water instead of soda or fancy bottled water, share an appetizer, but order the most fabulous dessert on the menu if desserts are your thing (you are on vacation, after all!).
157. Walk around whenever you can instead of taking taxis -- you'll get a better sense of your surroundings. Better yet, take public transportation like the locals.
158. Always ask about discounts you may get as a student; senior; or member of AAA, AARP, the military, or any other group.
159. If something goes wrong (as it invariably does when you travel a lot), take action quickly and politely and you may be compensated for your trouble (see online tips on lodging a complaint).

Want to see more of our 365 ways to save? Check out the list of tightwad tips from January, February, March, April and May.