Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saving on Christmas Shopping

Most people are starting to think about Christmas shopping now and that’s their first mistake. It is no wonder they pay too much, get caught in traffic lot chaos, and often don’t get what they want. I try to keep my eyes and ears open all year long. Sure, I do go out on Black Friday, but there is an art to that too.

Know who you are buying for their wants and dislikes, plus how much you are willing to spend. Put money into envelopes to keep you from spending more. Knowing you have only thirty dollars to spend on someone including tax will keep you from plunking down the credit card and charging 49.95. To keep that from happening, try lay-away. I know K-mart offers it, and I've heard Marshalls does too. Ask your favorite retailer. Lay-away allows you to pick out items and pay a little bit on them weekly. It allows you to stay in your budget and hides items up to a week before Christmas.

Adults are sometimes easier to shop for because they have likes that don’t change. My sister collects Gone with The Wind ornaments. The best time to buy these is AFTER Christmas when Hallmark stores halve their original price. It also depends on the store, some will go as lowest as 75% off. I always keep my eyes open at flea markets and yard sales where collectibles often come up for sale.

Christmas can be a time of restocking items like socks, mufflers, gloves, and underwear. Underwear and sock are usually on sale in August for the start of school. Many stores will highlight gloves and hats, but amazingly the best buys I’ve gotten on gloves and wool socks is Menards, especially on Black Friday.

Looking for candles, check out your local Krogers. Those big glass bottle candles that run as much as thirty dollars at department stores can retail as cheaply as $3.50 at Krogers. This is a seasonal deal so make sure to stock up. Another good place for candles is Kohls, which often has several scents discounted.

Did you get coupons in the mail? Check them out carefully. I usually get a Bath & Body coupon for $10 off $30 purchase THAT can be used on Black Friday. Often many retailers will you send you a coupon where you get $10 off something, but when you get in the store nothing you pick out is applicable. I go through plenty of J.C.Penney’s coupons that advertise get $10 off any $25 purchase. I get these off the Internet. They are always good for clothes. If you want a particular coupon or coupon code, google it.

Read the coupons carefully because you have to spend so much money and use it before it expires. Newsflash: DSW and Bed, Bath, and Beyond allow me to use expired coupons all the time. Bed, Bath and Beyond puts out some amazing coupons and I solicit them from my relatives. I may have five coupons that allow me to get $5 off any item if I spend $15. I have used two coupons at once. I think two is pushing it before the people behind me riot.

Don’t buy it if you were not planning on buying someone a present. Most people don’t like feeling obligated to give you a gift because you bought them a gift. People you might avoid gifting is co-workers, casual acquaintances, someone you went out with a few times. If you feel you must give them something. Make it small. You can bake them cookies too.

Assemble your own gift baskets. You don’t really want the prepackaged fruit baskets because often the bruises on fruit is hidden. I buy baskets at yard sales all year long. Places like the Dollar Tree and Goodwill is another source. Often you can make the basket portion out of a useful item like a mixing bowl, dog dish, or an oversized coffee mug depending on the theme. You can buy several nice gourmet teas, nuts, candies, even imported jams at Big Lots. By making your own basket, you can include what your recipient would really like.

Shopping with Ebay. Beware of falling into a bidding war. First price what you want off Ebay to get a feel for the actual price. Look for 100% rating, then free shipping. I often watch items and do not bid on them until the last minute only bidding exactly what I am willing to pay. Be careful to bid on only one copy of the item at a time.

Catalog shopping-every company that ships delicious edibles has sent me a catalog already. Most promise a free item, sometimes two, one even three, if I order anything. Because I’ve used the companies before I know their items. I will order the free known item for relatives knowing they’ll like it. I will often buy one item only and have it shipped to me. The purpose of this item can be as a gift for someone who gave me a surprise gift that I didn’t plan for or it is my contribution to a pitch-in that I didn’t plan for either.

Groupon-this year I’ve been using Groupon for Christmas shopping. So far, I’ve purchased headphones, tea, items from the Body Shop, and photo shoot for less than 50% of original prices. You have to signup for daily reminders at

A last great gift, especially for grandparents, is photos. I have made a number of photo gifts using my local Walgreens. I wait until they have a 40% off sale. I have made some items FREE because I am on the mailing list which alerts you to free items. I also use Shutterfly, an online service because it seems to be the easiest to use with the best results. They are always having some type of sale, never pay full price. You can always scrapbook an album of a special event too.

As for Black Friday, that’s another blog.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Paint the Town Red for Half Price

Who doesn’t like a weekend on the town, on even a night? Only problem is that it can cost plenty. One new way that can take the bite out of painting the town red is social entertainment sites including Groupon, LivingSocial and Bloomspot. These sites offer 50% off better deals on local dining, events, even travel destination resorts. There is also that deals only with restaurants. How do these sites work and are they as good as they sound?

First of all, you need to go online and sign up for email alerts. It is as simple as going to: The site sends daily postings of what promos are going on in your area. The company, which offers the promotion has to sell so many coupons/certificates before the offer is valid. It is usually a small number like 20 or 40. The seller also caps the number of certificates sold to not lose money too. That’s why a daily email is helpful because a deal you might want can be gone by the time you even decide to see what offers are out there.

There are all sorts of things advertised such as golf outings, dinner, merchandise, even pole dancing. You won’t like everything. I’ve been using it for about a year now and it has saved me hundreds of dollars. It has also opened my eyes to different things to do in the area I never knew about from ghost walks to mystery dinner theatre. Things I wouldn’t have tried unless they were deeply discounted.

The certificates are relatively simple to use. Depending on if you purchase an online item you type in the promo code and your item is sent to you. If you are going to attend something then you print out your certificate. If your event requires reservations, it if up to you to still make them. works about the same way, except it is only for restaurants. You usually buy gift certificates for $25 or $50 depending on how expensive the restaurant is. These certificates can be as low as $2 or $10 depending on the special they are running. I’ve used these several times without trouble, but make sure you read the small print. Some restaurants will not let you use them on holidays or weekends. The usual amount you are expected to spend to use the coupon is $38 and you should still tip the server based on actual bill. Your $40 bill might end up costing you $17, not including the tip.

It all sounds good. What do you need to watch out for? I would always call first before driving to a restaurant with a certificate. I have found that restaurants who were trying to drive business to their place by using promos close suddenly. I have also had restaurant owners tell me they quit honoring certificates because it cost them too much. This has only happened twice out of dozens of uses.

As for, I had a concert I bought tickets for cancel at the last minute. I received a full refund from groupon. I did have one restaurant go out of business that I never was able to use my certificate for and receive a full refund on that (much better results than I had one company Picaboo photos that advertised for a calendar and photo books at a reduced price, but failed to honor it. Groupon refunded money as soon as I contacted them. has saved me tons of money on going out. I’ve also used them to buy Christmas gifts greatly reduced. As for the other sites like Living Social and Bloomspot, I haven’t tried them yet since they’ve never have anything I am interested in, but they might have something you like. Give them a look.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Ever want to visit a museum or take in a play, but the tickets were just too high. There are several ways to cut costs for the truly motivated.

When it comes to actually buying tickets, you can goes as a group for the group rate, or go on a matinee day, or take advantage of a senior citizen discount.

If the prices are still too high, there are several ways to get around that too. Many live theatres, operas, and ballets offer rush or standing room only tickets. After everyone has bought tickets and is seated you’re allowed to go in and sit in the empty seats. If the original ticket holder shows up at intermission you have to find another seat. I’ve actually sat in $120 season ticket holder seat for only $8. You might find two seats together since people usually buy them in pairs.

An even cheaper option is to volunteer at the Arts Center of your choice. Did you think they paid the ushers? It also gives you a chance to see new performers you might never have seen. I’ve volunteered for years and at the most, only miss the first five minutes of the show.

Don’t feel like volunteering, but don’t want to shell out cash either, try preview nights. These nights were designed for teachers planning field trips before the actual opening performance. Many teachers arrived with their whole families and a few neighbors too. Some theatres allow you to attend dress rehearsals free of charge.

Muesems often have one day a week or month that is free. You need to call to ask when it is because this will vary.

If none of these ideas appeal to you, then you can try winning tickets. I actually got very good at this by putting the local radio station on speed dial. I also kept the radio on while I was at work. Unfortunately, they always mentioned my name on the radio, so I had to back off calling—which means more chances for the rest of you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Holidays on the Cheap

The holidays are almost here and with them are expectations of lavish dinners and expensive open houses. Instead of working yourself into a dither and running up the charge card, here are a few suggestions:


1. Renovated Potluck- assign each family or couple a dish to bring.
2. Coffee and sweets only—instead of a full course meal invite folks over for dessert only. That’s all they really wanted, besides socializing.
3. Progressive dinner- you have each course at a different person's house and split the expenses.
4. Cookie Swap- each person brings two dozen cookies and you exchange cookies and recipes. This gives you a wide variety of goodies to eat—without all the baking.
5. Picnic in the living room—spread a tablecloth in front of the fireplace and dine on fried chicken and potato salad. All the fun of a summer meal without the flies. It also makes people think you’re eccentric and fun!
6. Restaurant dining-many restaurants will give large groups a discount if you agree to only one entrĂ©e. That’s all you would have if you cooked.


1. Mothers, and some dads, might enjoy a gift-wrapping party. Throw on some festive music for atmosphere. Make sure to have plenty of tape and scissors.

2. Families with children can make simple crafts such as photo frames, t-shirts, hand print molds. It also saves on gift giving expenses.

3. Christmas baking parties—baking is easier when you’re not on your own. Share the expense of ingredients.

4. Movie night- dig up some holiday favorites and put out the popcorn.

5. Digital Scavenger Hunt-teenagers or adults hunt for items on their scavenger list, but they only need a photo of it. You can delete the photos after the hunt.

6. Board games—everybody has them. Ask your friends to bring theirs too. A few cheap eats and you have a party.


1. Exchange names within the extended family.

2. Have a budget. Let the kids know they can have one specific item in a particular price range.

3. Create gifts by baking, scrap booking, writing down favorite holiday memories, framing photographs. Try to remember this all year around—so you don’t overwork yourself in December.

4. Shop clearance, yard sales, swap meets, library sales all year long. The extra reduced price tags help defer costs, but buying all year around helps stretch the money too.

5. Get creative-a dog lover will enjoy a basket filled with dog treats for her pooch more than an expensive sweater.

6. Give services—a day of chauffeuring for a homebound relative is priceless.

7. Give a gift that reflects your hobby, family, or town—as a gardener I have several extra bulbs that I force for colorful Christmas gifts.

Remember it’s not the cost; it’s the sentiment behind a gift, meal, or a party. This holiday eat, drink, and be merry, but save money too.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Children's Parties Done Cheap

Ever notice the trend running toward more expensive, elaborate parties for children—everything from renting a water park to a small carnival. It seems like each parent is trying to outdo the next because they are. Teenagers often have dances with rented DJs and catered refreshments. Who can afford it?

Courtesy of my own children, I’ve attended a few of these blow-outs. Ironically, children are wandering around bored because the entertainment is provided for them instead of letting the kids play. Some of you remember parties with games. Here’s how not to spend a bundle and have fun too.

Cut your food expenses
Do not feed the children a whole meal. They won’t eat it and you’ll end up mad and broke. Cupcakes, ice cream sandwiches, even cookies are better than a bakery bought cake. Who can afford delivery pizzas?

Forget the expensive tableware that ends up in the trash. Go to the dollar store. Teens, especially girls, tend to like the cartoon-themed tableware available for a buck. Balloons are your best decoration and all you really need is hot air.

Depending on the age of the children, girls and some boys enjoy creating simple crafts that can be purchased cheaply at the Dollar Tree or Oriental Trading. Once completed, they serve as party favors.

Pre-teens girls enjoy a spa party. Back to the dollar store for some nail polish and face masks.

Boys and some girls enjoy games that involve running, busting balloons, and squirt guns—sometimes all in the same game. A favorite in warm weather is Capture the Flag. Even old favorites like Hide & Seek, Red Rover and Catchers still work. Don’t count out items you already own like your Slip-n-Slide. If snow is on the ground, gather up sleds for a sledding party.

Then, there is the scavenger hunt that can be played the traditional way or with old Polaroid cameras. The children take photos of the item. Your only expense is film. Polaroid photos can also be used as favors too.

Teen girls might enjoy a scrap booking party. Head back to the dollar store. The finished pages can contribute to a party book for the birthday girl.

Theme parties are a possibility if you plan ahead. Have a Christmas in July party by stocking up on items at the after-Christmas sales. Wal-mart and Dollar General lower their prices 90% after the holiday passes. Tableware and favors will be super cheap. One refreshment idea is to freeze ice cream balls rolled in coconut. They can be stacked to resemble snowmen. Kids can decorate Frosty before gobbling. Pop in a Christmas CD for music or even a DVD for entertainment.

You can do this with all the holidays, even Mardi Gras, because kids aren’t sticklers about dates. You can have luaus in the winter. Roast hotdogs in the fireplace for a bonfire.

The party is in full swing and you still have one whiny, bored child—at least you didn’t spend a bundle!