Monday, November 26, 2012

Inexpensive Christmas Gifts

It’s that time of year again. Where you spend too much money, run up the charge cards, and regret it in January. The average person spends about $800 on gifts including family, friends, and co-workers. How can you trim these expenses?

1.       The Extended Family Exchange-draw names, and set a gift limit, such as $15. You can still get grandma a gift, but it is better if it is homemade (less chance of it being re-gifted.)

2.       Secret Santa- this should cover the work gift giving.

3.       Friends-invite them over for a cookie exchange party.

4.       Photos make great gifts for family or romantic partners-Comb through your favorite photos. Pick out a few they are good for calendars, mugs, cards, even t-shirts at Walgreens and Vistaprint. Check your newspaper or online because both run coupons. Regular photos in a frame work too.

5.       Holiday bread- is always a favorite. You can make batches of banana , cranberry orange, or pumpkin bread for less than fifty cents a loaf. Disposable pans are available at the Dollar Tree or Deals. It is cheaper to make it from scratch too. J

6.       Soup, cookie, or cake mix jars-you can use canning jars for these since you want to keep expenses down.

7.       Bath and body products –airtight jars with a screw on lid are necessary. This is the basic recipe link, but site includes other variation. It will run you about a dollar a jar for product if you buy in bulk. Best place to buy your Epsom salts is discount store and Deals.

8.       Cheap Gift Basket-thrifts stores have a variety of baskets, but the Dollar Tree has them for a dollar. Decide on a theme. Use a towel, (dish, or car wash towel) to fill the bottom of the basket. You can make a car wash basket for your guy. (Get these items on sale.) The coffee lover’s basket is the cheapest if you include two cups. Mugs are only a dollar at the dollar tree. Flavored coffee samples are a dollar at most groceries. Throw in some tea, and hot cocoa. Top it off with a bow and note.

9.       Have a talent-paint a picture, write a poem, even compose a piece of music and record it.

10.   Rice Buddy Pack-these are simple to make with material remnants and rice.

11.   Family Recipe Collection- Buy a recipe card book from your local Deals, Dollar Tree or Big Lot store to record all the family favorite recipes. This is an excellent gift for newly married or recently moved out adult child.

12.   Candles- decorative jars or even wine glasses make excellent holders. You can find these at Dollar Tree and Goodwill.

13.   Unique Serving dishes-Hit the thrift shops for pretty glass plates, and crystal candlestick holders. The plate will rest on top of the candlestick holder. Adhere it with epoxy glue. Use plenty of it, and let it dry for a day.

14.   Dollar Bill Butterflies- the cleverly folded butterflies can land on a small basket of flower seeds purchased at the Dollar Tree. The seeds are viable since I use them every year.

15.   Flavored Vinegars or oils- head out to the thrift store again to pick up some lovely decanters that people received as gifts, and were clueless what to do with them. Wine bottles work too, although you will need a cork or stopper.

16.   Homemade Dog Biscuits- The recipe is in the middle of the page. You can also include the recipe too for the dog lover. They don’t have to be bone shaped either.

17.   Hot chocolate mix in a jar- this is great for chocolate lovers and families.

18.   Personalized gift-want something with your favorite saying, or an inside joke that only the two of you share. Try Zazzle, a new website that personalizes almost anything at fair prices.

19.    A coupon book- probably made them as kids for your parents. You can make them for friends and family including everything from a back rubs to a car wash.

20.   Christmas Cookie Ornaments- this is a great one for kids to make, and fun too. Remember: the ornaments aren’t edible.


Making Christmas gifts sounds overwhelming, but it isn’t. Pick a day, assemble your supplies, and elicit help if needed. Think of the parking lots you won’t be circling and the money you will be saving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Truth Behind Sales


The old dry goods store kept everything out year round you might need from sleds to swimming suits, but they discovered through smart marketing they could sell the exact same items with the scarcity concept. They manage this by rotating merchandise off the floor. People rushed in to get an item they earlier had no interest in earlier because it was likely to be gone soon and it was on sale.

This same merchandising trick is in use today. I bought a pair of summer sandals the year before marked down, but the same sandals came out of storage and went back to its original high price. This proves they weren’t sold out and that sales price do not stay down.

In the old days of paper tags, a person had to mark down an item. The price could only go down farther, which is the conclusion most people still have about an item. With computers, the tags aren’t even touched. A few signs denote an item is on sale. Timed sales such as door busters go back to the original price as soon as it reaches the specified time. Even if you were in line at 11:45, but didn’t reach the cash register until 12:01, you pay full price.

Since prices often to go back up, should you get it when it is on sale? It all depends on the actual price. Many items that are on sale in a high-end store I can buy at a discount store for regular price. Beware of the tempting buy one get one free offer, that has recently gone to buy one get one-half off. Pies are a good example of this. I wanted two pies for Thanksgiving. One store advertised a BOGO special, but jacked the price of the pie to nine dollars. (Those particular pies were never nine dollars they usually averaged six dollars.) I bought single pies that were on sale for three dollars each at a different store.

Often what looks like a good deal isn’t. Sometimes slapping a sale  tag on something is enough to get people to buy, or at least to come into the store. Many people are lured by a low price only to find the item on sale is of inferior quality, but it is sitting by two other models, one a little more expensive, and the other a lot more expensive. The majority of people picked the middle item, which they normally wouldn’t have bought if displayed by itself because of the price.

Then there is the merchandise that doesn’t exist. You come for the laptop that is under a hundred dollars only to find out they’re out. It isn’t too surprising because they only had eight. The premise is you will buy other things when you didn’t get what you came for. Most people do.

The lost leader sale is where one item such as a turkey is low if you buy a quantity of other groceries. Prices differ, but some stores make it a hundred dollars. The grocery store chain knows which items people think are must haves for Thanksgiving and raise the prices accordingly.

A red sale sign is on an item that was actually cheaper last week at regular price. Sales signs are often red because the mind and eyes respond to it first due to it represents both danger and food in nature. Women scurry over to the red sign to pick up the item. A few put it back. Anyone in sales knows an item touched is usually bought. There is a psychology behind getting you to touch an item. Once you touch it, try it on, or drive it, you have a sense of owning it. You seldom abandon something you own.

Clearance is where it is at, right? Some stores lowered the price ten cents and refer to it as clearance. Occasionally, when the store has less than a dozen items, the price goes way down.  Often out of season items will get a major cut to move them, while other stores hold on to the item knowing they can sell it next year.

Still other stores will sell their unsold stock to places such as Big Lots and Odd Lots. The reason behind this is they can rid of a great deal of merchandise for one price to bring in full price stock. Popular discount stores such as Target have found they can donate seasonal items to thrift stores and take full retail loss.

Are there good sales out there? You’ll need to comb the sales ads, clip coupons, use loyalty cards and discounts, and walk the entire sales floor. Many clearance items hide in the back of the store or on end caps facing the walls. Especially with clothes, the prices can be mysteries because the items are in the wrong place. This is why the price scanners are scattered throughout the store. Remember if you have to ask a cashier how much something is you are not obligated to buy it.

If the price seems too good to be true, pick it up. I’ve bought fresh salmon for dollar a pound. It was supposed to be ten. Most stores will give you the price because it was their mistake, but they will change the price immediately after you leave. I also bought my husband a Jerry Garcia tie at 40% off because the sale sign was over the Garcia ties. It was supposed to be over another tie display, but someone goofed.

Lured by a sale on artificial Christmas tree, I debated buying a tree. It seemed like a great price compared to other store ads. My husband asked me to contact the manufacturer online to get a feel for the actual price. I received the tree for half the sales price and they shipped it to me free. Some great buys are out there, but they aren’t always sales.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Man's Holiday Shopping Guide for his Sweetie

Men can’t win when it comes to Christmas shopping. Let me explain why from the retail side. The man you adore, and shopped endlessly for to find the perfect gift, can’t shop worth a darn. He tries. Even now, he knows the holiday season is fast approaching, and he should do something. Some men break up. Yep, that’s right.

The man is cheap you might complain. Truth is he’s more terrified. The mall is filled with angry women after the holidays exchanging presents. Ample ladies are returning teddies in small sizes. Other women are returning vacuums and power tools. Shoes that don’t fit along with the ugliest jewelry known to mankind find its way back to the store. The females toting these labors of love back to the store are usually upset because the gift wasn’t what she wanted.

There are also secret messages attached to the gifts. Ones the men didn’t even know about. Any household cleaning device such as a vacuum tells her she is a lousy housekeeper.  Kitchenware infers she needs help in the kitchen UNLESS she asked for it. Clothes whisper a multitude of stories from being too heavy, too thin, too frumpy, too boring, the list is endless.

Even when you think you are getting her what she wanted, there is the issue the gift will be perceived wrong. My own mother wanted an exercise bike, a pricey model too. When my stepfather managed to wrestle the sucker home for Christmas eve, she wanted to know if he thought she was fat.

Some men make the mistake of getting nothing because they figure their wife would take it back anyhow. Even worse than that is shopping at the drugstore on Christmas Eve. She’ll figure out the scented soap and inflatable foot bath were last ditch efforts. Consider online shopping, some even deliver on Christmas Day. I wouldn’t bet on this though.

A man can be a hero on Christmas day by trying one of these things. Limited budget-ask your wife for three gift ideas.  Let her know your plan to get one of the items for Christmas. If you can afford two, then go for it, but don’t tell her since that will be part of the surprise.

Second method is gift cards, money, or spa services. Then take your sweetie shopping. You can’t complain, and she can take as long as she wants. Have dinner out, and make a day of it.

Third way to surprise your significant other is to whisk her away for a vacation. Make sure it is somewhere she wants to go. There will be no joy in your holidays if you take her where you want to go. Sometimes concert tickets can serve this same purpose delivered in a romantic card.

You want to impress your darling, then, make her a stocking. Yep, a stocking filled with her favorite things from books, candy, toiletries, music, even candles. Anything you know she likes can go in it. The more unique the better because it shows your effort and love.

One book on being romantic talked about hiding your sweetie’s presents and making her look for them. I give the idea two thumbs down. The holidays are stressful enough without throwing in a cryptic message treasure hunt.

All a woman really wants to know is that you care. You have an infinite number of ways to show her this. In conclusion, be very careful if you try to buy her clothes or shoes it can be minefield of wrong messages.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Travel Insurance

Is it for you? I discover it existed almost sixteen years ago when reading the comment log of our Oceanside rental. People who booked the rental a few months before us encountered a hurricane. They lost all electric. It rained so hard they had to put towels by the doors and windows to keep the rain out. Their children were scared. It turned out to be a horrible vacation playing board games by candle light. His parting comment was he wished he had bought travel insurance.

After reading that, I began to buy travel insurance for every vacation. It wasn’t hard I was always reminded when I booked airline tickets online. It wasn’t too expensive usually twenty-five dollars tacked onto the tickets. The year before last, we traveled extensively, so we probably paid at least $200 in travel insurance. Even that isn’t too bad of a deal if it actually works. What is it supposed to protect you from?

Travel insurance is supposed to cover the cost of your trip or delay from unseen calamities such as major illness, death, if your hotel is underwater, or cancelled flights. It does not protect you from arriving at your hotel/condo and being in the middle of a hurricane. The travel insurance people would have pointed out that the family did arrive, and stayed at their appointed rental, and did have a vacation. If they were forced to seek alternative housing elsewhere, they might cover it. Of course, this family couldn’t leave because there was a hurricane going on, and to do so might result in death and injury.

I had a legitimate flight cancellation when I was going to see my sister for spring break. I did not receive any news of my cancelled flight. In fact, I received an odd voice mail telling me my baggage had already arrived at the Atlanta airport before I even boarded a plane. At the airport, I was informed not only was my flight cancelled that the airline had no flights that day. My only hope was to bump someone off a four am flight the next day. I spent plenty of time trying to get my travel insurance to work for me as far as getting another flight. NADA.

After one entire year, a written letter, and copies of all my receipts resulting from the delay, my claim was refused. I didn’t take this lightly. Wasn’t this the point of travel insurance? I was informed when I called because I purchased my ticket ahead of time that I was not entitled to a refund. With Homeland Security, who can actually purchase their ticket the day of flight? If I did go to the airport and buy my ticket then I would have known there was no flight, and would have not needed travel insurance. I would have also paid about $700 more for my ticket too.

Nothing seems to fit into their emergency policy of travel insurance companies. A friend was flying his minor children to Hawaii to spend time with their grandparents. His cousin would meet the children in California, keep them overnight, and then put them on the connecting plane the next day. Due to a business concern, his cousin called him while he was in the airport getting ready to go through security. He had to pull the kids from the flight, but received no refund. It wasn’t enough of an emergency to have his two minor children stuck in a strange airport overnight according to insurance.

Other non-emergencies according to travel insurance companies include late flights that allow the cruise ship to leave without you. If meeting a cruise ship it is better to fly in the day before. A friend was planning the trip of the lifetime for her family. Two days before her departure, her father died unexpectedly. After spending thousands of dollars on her dream vacation, she found out that the death clause apparently only applied to the person on the trip. Which in itself seems rather oxymoronic, how could you file a claim if you were dead? If you did die in route, your life insurance already covers that.

Now I look on travel insurance the same way I regard the ticket insurance that Ticketmaster tries to get you to buy after already hitting you with fees that are almost equal to the price of your ticket. I bought tickets to an outdoor concert that happened on the night of a vicious storm. The concert was rescheduled for an alternative night.  The night of the new concert, my husband was violently ill not allowing us to attend. I wrote to the venue explaining my situation and they allowed me to trade in my unused tickets for a future concert. It mattered to the local venue that I thought well of them, and would continue to use them for future events.

Travel insurance is always betting on that you will never use them. This is just another add-on in a world of travel add-ons. Most people are even unaware they purchased travel insurance. Those who do have it are often unsure how to file a claim. The industry is unusually slow working on a claim in hoping you’ll forget. Seriously, what is there to do? They look at your receipts and cut you a check as simple as that.

If you buy travel insurance, you have to buy it for each member of your family. It may not cover what you think it covers. I have yet to meet anyone who has ever had travel insurance paid.

Airlines have given me better seats and flight connections, hotels free rooms, and restaurants the occasional discounted meal on a trip.  Relatives have received free upgrades on cruises and trips because of problems, but no one in my circle has ever received anything back from travel insurance. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  Have you ever received anything back from travel insurance, I would love to hear your story.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Holiday Shopping Incentives

A recent news program detailed that a sluggish economy has changed the way people shop. Often people won’t frequent stores unless they have a really good sale, or a special offer. Gone are the days of people casually window shopping, and buying something on a whim. This is why stores have to offer you an incentive.

Next week, will be the day I step out with ten different incentive cards to do my Christmas shopping. Incentive cards can come through the mail or email and their purpose is to get you back in the store offering you very good deals. Kohls, Penneys, and even Carsons have found good luck with offering a flat ten-dollar gift card. I find most of these cards have so many things you can’t use it on that I always go with clothes.

I also willing fill out their surveys to gain additional cards or 20% off my total purchase. I get several offers from Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Ulta for percentages off.  I also have relatives who give me their coupons. I will shop with family and use multiple coupons for one store. The only stipulation is you have to check out separately.  I also get multiple cards and offers because I use all my email addresses.

Other deals will include buying $30 of product and getting $10 off. I recently bought a beautiful winter coat that retailed for 215.00 for $85.00. It was on sale, then I used the fifty dollar coupon I was emailed. Some stores will allow you to use multiple discounts. Trust me, I ask.

Then there is buying your charitable discount. Many stores in an effort to be community minded will allow certain charities to sell a $10 coupon for $5. You are still saving $5, but the store will actually feature tempting deals to get you in to use your coupon. I have my $10 coupon, plus my $20 card for doing the survey. I am ready to save.

What if you don’t have any sort of coupon, incentive card, or discount to give you a reason to hit the store? Two things, I’ll ask for a discount. I usually go with the fact I am a good customer. This works for me nine out of ten times, but to be fair I frequent the same stores so they do know me.

The second one is I Google the store I want to shop.Surprisingly, I do find coupons. This works for online stores too.  Often Groupon has good deals this time of year. I did a great deal of my shopping via Groupon last year.

Before you go, read your coupon closely. I highlight everything it isn’t good on. Sometimes I make notes what I would like to get at that store. This allows me to buzz through the store, pick up the desired item, get my discount, and be gone. There is no strolling through the store stacking my cart full of items as the retailer might wish.

 As the season goes on, you might get better incentives. Bath and Body always puts a new incentive card in your sack dated for the next week to get you back.  
Now, you can shop all year around using incentives, but you seem to get more of them this time of year. You’ll also get catalogs that promise you free truffles or cheese with your first order. Online stores will
promise you free shipping or discounts. I really don’t like to use anyone who won’t give me free shipping.

As with anything, use your head. It isn’t a good deal if no one can use it and it is woefully overpriced. Don’t overlook clearance either, unless your card specifies you can’t use it for clearance.