Monday, December 8, 2014

Where Are the Holiday Discounts?

Black Friday Let Down

Did you go out on Black Friday or did you stay home, tucked in bed, with your laptop? Statistics show that it wasn’t the blow-out Black Fridays of the past.  My daughter reported that she went into Target, got what she came for and was out in ten minutes. A friend went to Walmart for the advertised television and found out they were out and he was the fifth person in line. That’s part of the issue with Black Friday is very limited stock. Sometimes, you wonder how limited the stock is. They count on people buying the desired item when the price goes up the next day and they have, surprise, stock. The frustrated shopper also might buy a similar item, which isn’t deeply discounted.

Stores are trying to maximize their profit margin while shoppers try to stretch their shopping dollars. 

Where are the discounts?
1.       The Waiting Game. Hats off to Menards who readily announces in their ads how much of a discount they’ll take off on trees & d├ęcor depending on the week. If you’re willing to decorate the week of Christmas. You could save 50%. If you plan ahead, buy after the holidays for next year and save even more.

2.       Year round savings- This happens when you pick up items on clearance year around that would be good gifts. This doesn’t work for kids since their interests change. Items like wine, toiletries, collectibles, even candles work well. (Seal the candles in plastic bags to keep the scent.)

3.       Corporate Buying Sites- sometimes your company gets a better price than you would as an individual. I used my daughter’s corporate member buyer’s card to save 10% on her gift. Yes, this is legal.

4.       Coupons and discounts- We are now in the 2nd week of December and stores lure people in the store with discounts and coupons. Google where you’re going first, there may be an online promo you can print. Yankee Candles has a buy two; get two free offer right now.  My coupon came in the paper, but you can still get a discount online.

5.       Friends and Family Day- this is decent discount usually 20-25%  on certain days. Comes up more often the closer you get to the 25th. Know your prices because sometimes the prices are jacked up to cover the discount.

6.       Flash Sales- these happen online while you’re browsing a site and usually last a few hours in duration. Amazon will give you alerts on particular items you want to buy.

7.       Unusual items in unusual places. I grabbed a great deal on lawn chairs at Walgreens during the summer because they don’t normally carry them, which means they won’t go back into stock. I also had to insist on my holiday discount on Christmas decorations that I received an email about. Not all employees are aware of the emails that go out to Walgreens shoppers.

8.       Read the sales ads. Your Dollar stores often have the same product cheaper than your bigger box stores.

9.       Check out your TJ Maxx, Marshalls & Home Goods clearance. Often you can make a gift basket for the price you’d have paid for one item at one of the box stores.

10.   Shopping after Christmas. Attending a party after Christmas, seeing friends or family after the day, feel free to shop on the 26th and rack up the discounts. Inventory might be slim though.

11.   The Snow Guarantee- several jewelers offer to refund your money if it snows on Christmas. Check out the specifics on this. They aren’t just talking flurries. Remember jewelry has a 1000% markup. Less than 40% of the people who bought jewelry will cash in on the snow guarantee. (I followed last year’s snow promises in the news and noticed not everyone made good on them.) Don’t use this as an excuse to spend wildly.

 It might be a year you want to cut back on gifts. If you do, announce this now, before friends, or co-workers started handing you shiny gift sacks. They can give that bottle of wine or box of fruit to someone else.

Bonus: Big Lots has Hickory Farms gift sets in stock.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tis the Season to Return

Are you one of those people who never returns anything no matter what? You reason it’s too much trouble. My husband is one of those too. Me, not so much. There is an art to returning.

·         Make sure you know what store it came from

·         Have the receipt with you if possible

·         Return on weekday mornings, possible Tuesday or Wednesday if possible.

·         Know the return policies. Some prohibit returns after 30 days, others as little as seven.

·         If it was a gift. Say so. Gifts are usually only exchanged for store credit.

·         Have an excuse. Didn’t fit. Allergic to wool. Unflattering color.

·         Some items break after initial use or shortly after. The product may have a guarantee that allows you to return it. I returned a gardening tool three times that had a lifetime warranty.

·         Items with warranties should have the warranty and receipt stapled together and kept in an accordion file. Warranty does you no good when you do not have proof of purchase.

·         If there is a possibility of someone returning your gift item, shop at a store with a good return policy such as Kohls.

·         Be realistic. Most stores will not accept anything worn or missing tags. There’s no way to resale it or identify it as theirs.

·         If you cut off the tags, you can bring them.

 Some items you can't return because it is past time. Anything bought with rewards, coupons, or other discount method can't be used for a cash refund, only store credit.

·         Regifting is always an option. Make sure to bestow it upon someone not related or wait a year before Regifting. This way your regifting is less obvious. My grandmother used to put notes on her various gifts who they came from to avoid regifting them back to the same social circle.

·      Donate them. Why allow the unused gift to take up space in your closet? You can also write it off a tax deduction.

·         Recycle it. A velvet smoking jacket isn’t something you always want, but it can make a nice throw pillow or tiny jacket for your dog.

In the end, it’s the thought that counts. Most people forget what they gave you a month later. Instead of storing the item, only to bring it out whenever the friend or relative visits, do something useful with it. In the end, a gift should make the person happy even if they have to exchange it for something they do want.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Stretching Your Meat Dollar

Did you read about the woman who ate dog food for a week? If not, here’s the link. Her objective was to save money because of the expense of maintaining her Paleo Diet, which is protein heavy. As an Atkins Life Style Change person, I’ve watched meat spike in price. How can a person deal with the rising cost of meat without consuming dog food?
·         Rethink your shopping and cooking habits.

·         Invest in a freezer. I picked mine up at a yard sale.

·      Watch for bargains at your local stores. This is where the freezer comes in handy. Turkeys after Thanksgiving showed up at Deals for $5 each. They take up a lot of room in the grocery stores and if they aren’t moving, they’re gone.

·         Seasonal meats often go on sale just like candy. Corned beef will be on sale during and after St. Patrick’s Day. Hams are usually a good bet during and after Christmas.

·         Sales. When chicken breasts are .99 a lb., stock up.

·    Coupons. Occasionally, buying a brand specific meat is beneficial when you have a coupon and it is on sale.

·     Kosher. Normally, kosher meat costs more, but it gets clearance too. Surprisingly, it is better quality.

·      Sales have a limit of what you can buy. You can put your purchases in the car and buy more.

·       Buy a ¼ of a cow, pig, or even lamb. Prices vary from region, but you could be at $3 a pound for both steak and hamburger. It also gives you control over the amount of fat in your hamburger too. Ask a friend or relative to go in with you.

·    Consider non-traditional meats such as bison, lamb, veal, ostrich, duck, even rabbit. Normally, these meats are higher, but when they don’t sell, they’re clearance. Krogers does the better clearance marking everything 50% off as opposed to Meijer’s’ 20% off.

·         Remember eggs, nuts, tuna, and even peanut butter are good inexpensive protein sources. Peanut Pan Peanut Butter has only 4 carbs per serving less than expensive natural PB.

·         Examine your portions. Often people eat more than a serving. Thinking somehow if one hamburger was good than three would be better. Overeating is still overeating. Your metabolism can only use so much food a day. Not losing weight, portions may be a factor.

·         Store your meat properly in freezer containers or freezer bags. Freezer burn wastes meat.

·         The cheaper, tougher cuts are great for the slow cooker. You can help tenderize by using a meat mallet first, then adding a cup of wine, which breaks down the tissue as it cooks.

·      Those who like to hunt and fish can add to their diet this way. Although hunting on the whole is not a bargain sport. Sometimes, it just helps to be friendly with a hunter.

·         Change the way you use meat too. Consider stews, soups, stir-fry, and salads. Instead of loading up on starches, use vegetables keeping the carb count down.

·      After the holidays, all those leftover meat sticks tend to go on sale too. There will be plenty of sales on cured meat during the holidays too. Know your prices. A one-pound summer sausage will between 2.50-3.99 at the grocery (Aldi’s, Kroger’s, and Meijer’s.) If it is on sale for 6.99, it isn’t on sale.

·         Jerky  and cheese are mobile proteins.  Jerky can be bought in bulk on Amazon for lower prices per pound.There is usually some type of sale on cheese and it can be frozen. The exception is cream cheese, which is edible after freezing, but crumbly.

The good news is you won’t have to resort to you and your dog eating the same thing. The woman who sampled dog food found most of it bland. The best dog food came refrigerated in a roll, but it cost more than buying hamburger when it wasn’t on sale. In the end, she returned a human diet with required less vigorous chewing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

DIY Gift Baskets

Courtesy of Cherry Blossom Floral

It’s that time of year, when you are considering your Christmas shopping budget. You could be considering your lack of one too. Instead of a run to the mall or hovering over your laptop, you could make or assemble your gifts. I’m a big assembler.

DIY Baskets

       I save any decorative box, basket or tin for this purpose. I also pick up baskets at yard sales and thrift shops.

Coffee or Tea basket- Include a pound of coffee or tea boxes, cups, a box of cookies, and possibly a chocolate bar.

Cook’s Basket- Works as a wedding and house warming gift too. Group hard to find and essential tools together. Suggestions: garlic press, cheese slicer, cheese grater, bottle opener, corkscrew, pan scraper, vegetable brush, cheese cloth, dish cloth, dish towel, hot pad, egg timer, kitchen timer, meat thermometer, egg separator, whisk, wooden spoon, slotted spoon, measuring cups, butter brush, and measuring spoons. (Most of these items are available at the Dollar Tree.)
Couch Potato Basket- Think of the recipient’s favorite junk food. A universal remote, TV Guide, and a DVD is a nice touch too.

Emergency Kit- This isn't for your survivalist friend, but something kept in the car for personal emergencies as opposed to the end of the world kind. Contents can vary depending on the sex of the person. It is also great for the traveler. A small zippered pouch or even a pencil bag works great.
Contents: granola bar, water enhancer mix, gun, mints, individual packet of aspirin, antacid, bandages (2), wet wipes (2), small package of tissues, small deodorant, perfume or cologne samples, tiny sewing kit, comb, emery board, dental floss, Wisps tiny toothbrush, lip gloss or Chapstick, and a small bottle of hand cream.

Hot Chocolate Basket- This is the same as the coffee basket with hot chocolate tin or mixes, candy canes, marshmallows and a small stuffed animal. (This one could go to a younger relative or friend.)

Italian Dinner Basket- Spaghetti sauce, pesto, salami, breadsticks, Italian cookbook and pasta.

Movie Lovers Basket- This is similar to the couch potato basket, but it is heavy on DVDs. It should include popcorn and movie candy. (Walmart, Big Lots, even Amazon are great places for cheap DVDs.) You don’t have to get the latest movies, but stick to a theme depending on the person. A big fluffy throw can line the basket too.

Scrapbook Basket- Fill it up with multi-colored Sharpies, wooden stamps, stickers, craft scissors, and a gift card to the local craft store. A small scrapbook works too. (Scrapbooking is expensive, which means this might be on ongoing shopping project. Buy out of season stickers once the season passed. Dollar Tree has several of these items too. Michaels features a 40% off coupon in their weekly ad. )  

Teacher Basket- Teachers spend major dollars supplying their own classroom. They don’t need any more teacher-themed accessories for their desks. They could use a heavy-duty stapler, good scissors, Sharpies, large paper clips, pushpins, Post-it notes, yearly planner, colored pencils, dry erase markers, box of generic notecards for personal notes, and a calendar for the classroom. Depending on the age of the students, you might include aspirin, stickers, and wooden stamp and an inkpad.

Romantic Picnic Basket- A picnic basket with a tablecloth & napkins, plates, wine glasses and a bottle of wine. (I’ve picked up picnic baskets at yard sales and thrift shops. Check out the clearance section in home and discount stores for tablecloth and napkins.  A patterned tablecloth hides stains too.  Single wineglasses are available at the Dollar Tree or Goodwill.)

You can create all sorts of baskets. One of my standbys is the generic basket. It’s for when someone gives you a present you didn’t expect. It also works for people you don’t know well.
The Generic Basket- small to medium basket, which can include, but not necessarily all, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cups (2), cookies, chocolate, nuts, and an ornament.

Romantic Gift Basket 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Winning Contests, Raffles, and Sweepstakes

Jumping for Joy

Let me start this out by admitting, I’ve never won the lottery jackpot.  I’ve won several other things including:
·         Grocery Shopping spree
·         Calvin Klein Wardrobe
·         Flowers
·         Tickets to movies, events, and concerts
·         Food
·         Chocolate
·         Books
·         DVDs
·         Gym membership
·         Trips
·         Amazon Gift Cards
·         Starbuck Gift Cards

What all of these things have in common is that I entered to win. I never got a mysterious email stating I won a contest I never entered. This is a phishing scam that will either solicit your credit card number or ask you to pay shipping.  A variation of this is they’ll ship the items, and then tell you you’re obligated to pay for them or you’ll be turned over to collections. If you didn’t order it, postal guidelines are you don’t have to pay for it.  If you want to avoid the barrage of threats, send it back.

Second secret to winning is enter when there is a small pool of applicants. That’s usually a local contest for a short time period. Publisher’s Clearing House or Powerball aren’t a good bet. People often spend chunks of money chasing after a winning number combination. There are commercials about how someone won forty million dollars. The flipside is people have gone bankrupt or to jail for writing bad checks in an attempt to buy thousands of dollars in lottery tickets. A couple dollars isn’t too bad, but when you’re skimping on other things to justify it, you’ve crossed the line.

Some effort is involved. On the grocery contest, I raced my grocery cart around competing against other shoppers trying to grab $200 worth of food and check out. The winner snagged groceries for a year. As a runner up, I got a $100 gift certificate. Not too bad, when you consider I didn’t win.

Enter contests that require some skill from writing a jingle to a cute photo of your pet. Often people will bypass a contest that expects something. Read the rules carefully. Occasionally, there’s a prompt to answer.   Disqualification happens because people fail to follow the rules. If you’re writing about using a product, mention the product by its full name.

Location is another item to consider. Particularly your location, this weekend I was at an author faire with a listed giveaway time. People entered and drifted away.  When no winner came forward, a new ticket was drawn.

Enter often. My daughter remarks that I win every time, but I don’t. I enter hundreds of contests, and every now and then, I win something. One of the easy wins for me is radio contests. I always have the radio on; it makes sense to enter a contest that involves listening to the radio.

Go small. It’s easier to win a quilt or a hanging basket at the local church picnic than it is the lottery. It’s still a good feeling.

Be careful of contests that are only building mailing lists. These are usually at big events including state fairs and concerts.  If you don’t mind getting a call about replacement windows or timeshares, then go ahead and enter.

Beware of spending too much time, entering contests. What’s too much time? My guideline is more than 10 minutes a day. Don’t enter a contest if you don’t want any of the finalist prizes.

Some contests don’t deliver. You may have won, but you never get the prize. Happened to me once. Wrote to the company, even copied my winning announcement letter. Nothing. As a result, I never entered any contest sponsored by that company again.

Your local lottery or casino plasters posters of winners holding up an oversized check to prove they actually give away the money. Go with contests you know have proven winners too. In the end, it is about luck, but believing you’re a winner helps too. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hotel Discount Website Secret

I recently discovered a secret when it comes to the travel discount websites. They’re no discount, really. Let me explain why. A hotel might go for $89 on Orbitz, Travelocity or numerous other sites. Good deal when the price is normally $115 a night.

As some of you’ve discovered when you click on the button and try to reserve the room for a desired night, the price might change. You’ve made the mistake of wanting a room on a weekend, or worse yet, a holiday weekend. The $89 jumps to, surprise, $115. The discount sites do not add taxes and associated fees that can be sizable in resort areas. So even now, that discount room is back to regular price, and then some.

My daughter works in the hotel industry for a major corporation; she gave me insights about website discounters. People assume their reservation happens immediately as they type in their credit card number. Not so, a third party at the website has to contact the hotel to make the actual reservation. This doesn’t always happen in an expedient manner resulting in no reservation. The disappointed traveler usually takes their anger on the desk clerk. The wrong number of nights, rooms, even hotels, especially when there is more than one Marriott or Holiday Inn in a city happen when a third party makes the reservation.

Your best bet is to contact the hotel yourself. Mention the $89 room special, most hotels will match the price or even offer a better deal. In the end, the hotel gets $89. If you go through a discount site, they may only earn $50. Direct booking benefits them.

If something goes wrong. Your reservation never occurred, you need to cancel it, or you want your money back, you have to go through the web discounter. Good luck with that! My cancelled flight I booked with a web discount site is a case in point. Drove to the airport, expecting to fly out on my vacation, but had to stay overnight nearby to avoid the long drive home.  The airlines told me if I booked with them directly they’d put me on the next direct flight. Since I booked with a website discounter that I’d have to work it out with them.

This involved a series of phone calls. Most of the time I listened to a recorded message before disconnection. Finally, I reached someone in a call center who insisted I fill out a travel insurance, which I did.

As for flying, my only instructions were to arrive early the next day and try to fly stand by. Ironically, the website service kept calling me and telling me my luggage was ready for pickup in Atlanta. Pretty weird, since I hadn’t even boarded a plane.

More than a year later, I received my reply from the travel insurance company. Despite all my documentation, they refused my claim deciding that losing a vacation day, flying standby, driving back and forth to the airport repeatedly, and staying at a nearby hostelry was not a hardship.

I book all flights direct now. As for hotels, I book direct too. Most hotels have loyalty programs; you can’t use points earned with discount websites. I recently redeemed a free night at the Marriott. It was totally free, no hidden charges. As a loyalty member, by going to the members reward site I receive a bigger discount than the public on room rates.

As for the discount travel websites, I do use them to read reviews, check out area attractions, and flight prices. After doing that, I often use the name of the place I want to go and Google it. I found several discounts that way on our recent trip to San Diego. Once there, I ask locals about good places to go or discounts. They’re able to tell me, which restaurants offer two for one specials, or the best beach to visit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Local Vs. Corporate

When we moved into our current residence, we had the furnace serviced. The man, who did it, not only charged us $600 for the service, but also talked us into a service plan. The service plan results in a technician coming to our house every couple of months and insisting a $200-$300 repair must be done or our house will self-combust.

This is odd considering we had a very thorough home inspection done and nothing appeared to be wrong with the heating and air system. They would need to be replaced eventually, but not just yet.  We’d signed with one of those national corporations with a catchy commercial. I noticed that none of the techs were never the same or even had the same diagnosis. When I would repeat what the last one said, the current tech would roar with laughter as if I were conducting a comedy routine.

This was all a bit unsettling.  A clogged dryer vent due to a bird nest would cost almost $500 to remove. I may know nothing about heating and air, but I knew that was too much. I decided to ask for a second opinion of a local contractor. He was his own company and charged only one-fifth of one my corporate tech charged.

When our air conditioning wouldn’t work, we decided to go with the local man as opposed to endless techs that worked for the major corporation. He came late on a Friday evening to examine our air conditioning and would only take a standard service charge for his visit that left our air conditioning humming.

The independent contractor gave us an estimate of $3600 to replace our furnace and air conditioning. Big difference from the $11,000 the corporation rep quoted us. Keep in mind; we have a small slab house that barely measures a thousand feet.

In the end, I’d rather go with the local guy than the large corporation and the endless army of techs.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Ever envy celebrities in their customized clothes? They don’t battle with gaping pants waistlines or dresses that don’t fit across the shoulders because of linebacker shoulders. Wouldn’t it be great to get something made just for you? Wouldn’t it be better if it fit?

That was the premise that interested in me in Eshakti. An ad kept popping up in my Facebook sidebar about custom dresses for a fraction of the cost. Yeah, probably like the article in a popular woman’s magazine that thought $200 was not too much to pay for jeans that fit. I clicked on the button and Eshakti had a sale going. They usually have some type of sale going.

I decided to investigate. All customizing fees were waived for the first order. I could change the neckline, hem or sleeves.  To customize an outfit to fit me I had to take exact measurements with a tape measure. This is a very important step and I’ll explain later why.

For my initial order, I picked out a sleeveless lightweight dress and a three quarter sleeve dress of heavier winter weight. This cost me about $35 a dress and postage, which is less than an off the rack dress. It took about three weeks for the dresses to arrive.

The sleeveless dress fit fine. It really looks good on me. Amazing what the right fit can do. The winter weight dress was tight across the shoulders. Turns out, I could not accurately measure my own shoulders and the material had no give. Each outfit has a description of what type of material is used. Keep this in mind when measuring your bust, waist and hips. If you’re a 38” in the bust, you don’t want something that is 38” because it will be skintight.  You can choose regular sizes too, still vary the hem length, and sleeve style. Most dresses come with discreet pockets and bra strap holders, which is great with the wider necklines or sleeveless dresses.

I had to send back my winter weight dress. Eshakti refunded me $44, which included postage. For filling out a survey about the process, they sent me a $25 credit.  I used the credit to buy a darling clearance dress for a mere $10. Clearance dresses are probably returns and only come in standard sizes. I usually buy dresses in 10 or 12. I decided to go with a twelve since the previous material had little give to it. Good decision on my part because the dress fits wonderfully.

If you’re a fan of dresses, this is your go to spot. Factor in ironing too. Not all the dresses need pressing, but the majority do. 


We need five more people on our phone plan. Kids, got any suggestions?
Who hasn’t seen Sprint’s kitschy commercials about adding on family members and near friends to get a small phone rate of $25? Sounds great, doesn’t it? I thought so too.  Commercials are misleading. At the end are disclaimers this is for only new service. You already have Sprint, and then you aren’t eligible. You could add someone new onto your phone and he could benefit, but there’s no real value until you hit seven people.

Why would Sprint do this? Each person receives a separate bill as stated in the commercial, several times. Great, you won’t be responsible for Cousin Edna’s bill. Around $25 is added onto each bill for taxes and other vague charges. At the cheapest rate, each person is paying $50, which is actually more expensive than the former family plan.  Each person pays a $35 activation fee. If you managed to coerce or bully ten people into joining that's $350 for Sprint. 

What if your daughter's boyfriend breaks up with her? Of course, you drop him from the plan or he just stops paying. Your rate automatically goes higher. You can't guarantee any of the people you put on your Framily plan will keep up their side of the bargain. They had no real investment; it's your plan.

I’ve been a Sprint customer for over a decade. Every two years, I get a new phone when I re-up for another two years, except this year. True, I only got the most basic phone, but it was free. This year I had to pay from $60 to $199 for my choice of a phone. This was with my upgrade too. You’re starting to see how Sprint is changing the game. They are not losing money. Even if you think you’re saving money, you’re not.

It is a highly sophisticated shell game. This is one of the reasons I split company with Sprint, but there is another reason, a huge reason, a $700 reason. My husband’s company would pay $150 phone bill reimbursement if it were in my husband’s name, instead, of mine. Sounds like a no-brainer, right. We spent four and half months trying to get the bill changed. Initially, we were told it couldn’t be done, but eventually customer service warned us of dire consequences before sending us long legal documents to fill out, scan and send back with our photo identification. We also conducted two conference calls with both of us on the line swearing we really wanted to do this. This took so long because the automated system would throw us out of the process forcing us to start again.

We spoke with people in the United States, who could understand what we were saying, but still the account was never changed as specified. I spent hours on the phone and online on this one simple matter. We lost over $700 in possible phone reimbursement. My frustrated husband started an account with a competitor in his name only.

I tried to make a go with Sprint with the two remaining family members. I wanted to downgrade our plan to call and text only with the most basic phones. The only phones they’d show me where Droid phones, despite my insistence I didn’t want one. Their basic phone package was still $140 dollars, which was what we were paying for three people.

Sprint was more like a disagreeable relative that I tried to get along with, but finally had to distance myself from for peace of mind. Yes, I did get the talk and text plan for $30 a line. I also snagged two phones for the grand total of $1.07. I went with Verizon who was willing to give me what I wanted and didn’t try to sell me up.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Are You A Target?

Stick Figures Tell Total Strangers with Criminal Intent Too Much
Find out Why. Read More

Ever wonder how robbers pick homes to rob? It usually isn’t impulse. The important thing is to avoid being a target.  What are the ways we make ourselves a target?

*Checking in at various locations via your smart phone. Anyone with social media knows where you’re at and it’s not at home.

*Broadcasting your vacation plans before or while you are on vacation via social media. Plenty of time to post after you get back.

*Big events announcements such as a wedding, funeral, even graduation can lure a burglar to your house. A house sitter or a neighbor would be helpful on these occasions.

*Bought a new television or computer? Cut up the box as opposed to leaving it whole beside the trash can. You might be excited about your new toy, but no reason to advertise to would be burglars.

*Do you have sliding glass doors? If so, use the pole stick in the door to keep uninvited guests out. This is the number two method of burglars entering a home.

* The favorite entry is through unlocked doors. Many people, especially those with children, leave doors unlocked when they leave. Not on purpose, the children who have been running in and out of the house left them unlocked.

* Lock second stories windows do not assume they’re unreachable.

*Change your garage code if it is 000, 1234, 2345, 9999, etc. An enterprising robber can go through a quick series of common numbers.

*Know your neighbors. Bold burglars showed up with a moving van systematically robbed a swanky neighborhood. They would occasionally change out the moving van for a white panel van. The neighbors never expected anything even though they watched the robbers load all the goodies into the van. Staying current with the neighbors would have alerted them of any moving plans or not.

*Got vanity license plates on your car? Con artists are very fond of these because it demonstrates a strong need for attention and the belief that the owner is special. These are key elements for a face to face con.

*Stick people on cars, especially if they include sports figures. Your son’s football helmet with his name identifies that he’ll be at practice or games. It isn’t hard to look up school games and knowing when the family will be gone.

*Pedophiles can use the stick people to shop for potential targets, especially if emblazoned with the child’s name. (Of course, a mini-van is hint enough you have children.)

*Being nice & talking to strangers. Remember your mom always warned you about strangers. Con artists approach people who are nice to them. Those who rebuff them are saved the trouble of trying to get out of a too good to be true deal.

*Don’t Expect a Free Lunch. Ever found yourself in a resort city and been approached by timeshare rep offering you free or reduced tickets for a few minutes of your time. First, it will a daylong ordeal, leaving you little time to use the hard-earned tickets. Using your AAA discount is a better solution.

*Secure Your Valuables- This no brainer is true for any time.  Traveling-hide your valuables, lock your car, and use the hotel safe. Often robbers aren’t always strangers. With this in mind, keep your valuables locked up. Often prescription medicine can be the item targeted as opposed to grandmother’s pearls. Be aware of who is in your house from maid service, handy men, etc. Once something is missing, it’s gone. A high deductible would cancel out any benefit of even registering a claim. Often insurance companies refuse to pay, especially if the house was unlocked or you have no proof of purchase of the stolen item.

Your best bet is try not to be a target.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Freebies for Bored Children

Summer Freebies & Almost Free Activities for Bored Little Ones
It’s summer and the children are bored! If you are a work at home mom, dad, or even grandparents. It’s hard to know what to do with children during the summer. Here’s some ideas that work well with the under 12 set.

Library Book Club-Not only can the children improve their imagination by reading, but the library offers incentives and often in-house programs.

Free Movies- Many local theaters will offer morning children’s movies one day a week during the summer. This is a time the theater wouldn’t normally be open. Look in your paper or online for details. Many parks also have outdoor movie night.

Museums-Most museums have one free day. You’ll have to research the ones around you. (Indianapolis Museum of Art is free, except on Monday when it is closed.)

Parks- There are usually trails and playground equipment.

Picnic-Eat lunch outside

DVDS- You can borrow them free at the library. Get Christmas movies and have a Christmas in July marathon.

The Sprinkler- Introduce the children to the old fashion fun of running through the sprinkler. At the most, it will only be on for 20 minutes. You can also put it close to anything that needs watering.

Sidewalk Chalk- This is a dollar at the Dollar Tree. If you have a budding artist, this will entertain for a long time.

Time Capsule- All you need is an old popcorn tin or even a good size coffee can with a lid. The children find items they think represents right now. It can be items they’ve cut out of the newspaper. Have the children write letters to their future self.  Make predictions. Seal the can with tape and bury it.

Bubbles- If you don’t have any, these are also a dollar at the Dollar Tree. Make nighttime bubbles by cutting open glow sticks and pouring the liquid into the bubbles. Glow sticks are also available at the Dollar Tree

Board Games- You may have to supervise a few before the kids get the hang of it.

Outside Games- This can be anything from catchers to bike riding. Teach the kids a few of the games you loved when you were a kid.

4-H- This club is more popular in rural areas, but it kept my children busy for a couple weeks preparing their project they should have been working on all year for the 4-H fair.

Cooking- Let the children to help you cook or allow them to think up a meal. I will admit the peanut butter sandwich & pudding banquet was decent.

Create Books- Small ones can draw a book with crayons or cut images out of magazines or newspaper. This does wonders for the imagination. Older children can write or type their stories.

Science Experiments- Here a site that uses items you probably already have at home.

Gardening- A packet of seeds is all you need to start.

Exercise-it is important to set goals. Your child might want to try to walk a mile.  Start with increments to build up endurance and a sense of accomplishment.

Have a Yard/Garage/Tag Sale- This is a sneaky way to get things cleaned out and earn a little spending money for all the things that aren’t free.

Puppet Theater- Socks without partners and a permanent marker equal sock puppet. Remember you do have to watch the show.

Summer Camp- Many scouts and church organizations have camp scholarship for those who can’t afford to pay. You do need to apply early.

Vacation Bible School- If you’re okay with the idea of church this is a great summer activity. Some are better than others are. The emphasis should be on fun as opposed to forcible conversion.

Once you start thinking outside the television box, you’ll be surprised what you’ll discover. J

 Read your local paper or website. My kids entered a free riding lawnmower contest with the prize being a trip to Disneyworld. They didn’t win, but a neighbor kid did. They still had fun.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Zulily Review

If you spent any time on social media, then you’ve seen Zulily ads. What is it? I thought at first, it was only a larger woman clothes site. It isn’t. Sure, they do have a large variety of women’s clothes, along with children’s, shoes and household items.

The items that interested me the most are the clearance or LAST DAY items. These items go fast. I ordered a pair of pants, a maxi skirt, a tank top, and a sundress all for $68. Shipping was free.

When the items arrived, I noticed they ran a bit small. I currently wear a 10/12. I ordered size large, which they specified would fit a 12-14.  The lightweight sundress and pants would require constant ironing. Thankfully, the skirt and tank would not.

The quality was cheap not anything I would expect to last more than a season. It was similar quality to the current summer fashions available in Macy’s, Dillards and Kohls at less than half the price.

The pants didn't fit. A shame since they were cute. I called to find out how I could exchange them. No exchanges are available on last day/clearance items because there aren’t any more left. The helpful customer service rep advised me to give them to someone they would fit and credited my account.
I went back to last day clearance and ordered another sundress since I knew how they ran. I’d give Zulily two thumbs up. You can also earn $20 in merchandise credit by telling your friends. Haven't tried it yet, so I can't report on the procedure 

The only drawback to the company is shipping is not fast. Expect it to take at least two weeks.

Want to check it out on your own? Here's the link.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Do You Really Get What You Pay For?

Ever heard the expression you get what you pay for? It’s a common expression to warn people to beware of cheap, shoddy goods. A recent article I read about shopping at dollar stores advised people what was good to get at the store or not so great. Truth is you only spent a dollar do you expect it to last the rest of your life?

When does it not pay to lay down the big bucks? Usually on big ticket items or services. Let me explain, often companies have figured out splashy ads or boasting they’re the favorite of customers will get people to buy assuming costlier is better. Remember they have to pay for their ads and do not have to offer any proof of being customer’s favorites.

Twenty years ago, I wanted the house painted. Several people came and gave us estimates. Two brothers who had painted several houses in the neighborhood gave us a modest estimate. My ex-husband reasoned we should go with the expensive one because it had to be the best. After all, the company had a brand new shiny van with their company name across it, and the guy who gave us the estimate arrived in a suit and tie. It ended up being a horror story. For three thousand dollars, we had our house trashed for an entire week while two inept painters listened to loud music and took lengthy smoke and lunch breaks. In the end, they painted the living room and hall the wrong color.

The smart thing would have been to go with the brothers who did work I could actually see and had the ability to talk to previous customers. Word of mouth is usually your most reliable reference. Keep in mind, some companies require their employees to write up good references.

Another item that cost more than it is worth is special order items. It is more of the cachet of having something made especially for you. Keep in mind, you will never get a special order on sale and probably won’t get what you want anyhow. If you walk into a store, you can handle the merchandise even try it out, to see if it is what you want. When you special order something, you wait forever for a needed and desired item and receive something that is similar to what you ordered, but never exactly, what you did order.

The company will often insist it is what you ordered or offer to replace it while keeping your money while you wait a couple more months. The best example of this is customized computers. This has happened to me more than once. You might has well go into an electronics store and pick out one that has the most features you want. It will be easier and cheaper than waiting for one that isn’t quite what you wanted.

Many companies will not refund your money because it was a specialty item and they can’t sell it to anyone else. This is untrue, but is the usual excuse.

Any special order item is an inconvenience to the seller. It is also a green light to jack up the price. People special order cars, bridal and formal wear, even furniture. If price doesn’t matter go ahead and special order it. I used to work in a furniture warehouse, when a special order came in the employees would walk through acres of furniture to find the most similar item. Often it would look exactly like the desired item, but without the requested cushioning or finish. In the end, the customer never knew because they assumed it was what they ordered. Consider that the next time you want something made specifically for you.

You’ll have to pay up front. Often there will be a no return policy too. Once you have your not exactly right expensive item, you’ll stuck with it.This is a case of not getting what you paid for.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Frugal Dieter

Maybe your health or the thought of swimsuit season demands you make a change in your eating habits. The number one issue is people don’t like change or expending too much effort. The second issue is money. Diets or weight loss is expensive.
They can be. My sister lost a great of weight using a commercial method they delivered a week’s supply of food every week. The dehydrated food wasn’t exactly tasty and ran about thirty dollars a day. Since that was over twenty years ago, the price has probably gone up.
How can you lose weight while maintaining your budget? It is do-able. First, think of it as a lifestyle change as opposed to dieting. There will be many side benefits including more energy, ease of movement, improved skin tone and hair texture and self-confidence.
1.                   Decide on the approach you’ll take either counting carbs or calories. Don’t switch back and forth.

2.                    An average woman must walk for at least thirty minutes a day to MAINTAIN her current weight.

3.                   Dump anything with high fructose corn syrup in it. Check your jelly, soda, ketchup and salad dressings. Not only is it bad for you, but it plumps up your fat cells preventing weight loss.

4.                   Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Water helps moves the fat out of your body. It also helps you eat less because your stomach feels fuller.

5.                   Avoid alcohol because it slows down your metabolism up to 80% especially when consumed while eating. There is a reason they call it a beer belly. Although, some mixed drinks can pack as much as 800 calories a cocktail. Unfortunately, many people usually do not stop at one cocktail, either.

If you feel you can’t avoid it, then limit yourself to one beer or a glass of wine on the weekends. Think you can’t do this, then, face it you don’t really want to get in shape.

6.                   No fast food. Healthy & fast food don’t go together.  There are sit-down restaurants that offer healthy options including TGIF, Denny’s and Applebee’s. The simple strategy is to avoid fried and breaded food, sugary sodas, and pasta and potatoes. A nice steak, chicken breast, even a burger without the bun, works. Throw in a salad or vegetables and you have a meal.

7.                   Portion control. I remember episode of The Biggest Loser television show where Bob the trainer made a visit to a mother and daughter who were eating healthy, even using Biggest Losers approved recipes, but were not losing weight. They were eating about five servings of everything per meal. Know what a portion is. Measure it. You’ll be surprised that the plate spaghetti is more like four servings.

8.                   Prepare your snacks ahead of time. It is easy to make small packages of nuts, berries, carrots, or dried fruit to grab when you’re in a hurry. A lite string cheese stick works well too.

9.                   Diet food can be convenient too since it is pre-measured, but often it is expensive. I stock up on diet deals when I see them at Big Lots, Deals, or even The Dollar Tree.

10.               Raise you own veggies. The prices of spaghetti squash made it a luxury. I decided to grow this simple veggie in my backyard.

11.               Your freezer can be your best diet friend. Stock up whenever there is a sale on diet entrees to lean meat. It is also useful to make healthy meals in bulk and freeze part of it.

12.               Look for  no calorie alternative treats. Instead of a trip to the all you can eat buffet, how about a pedicure instead.

13.               Step up your activity level by taking the stairs, not parking near the store, dancing while you do simple home chores, even lifting weights while watching television.

14.               It also helps to have a friend or family member making a life style change with you. Often the ones we love seem the most determined to throw obstacles in our way.

15.       Write down your starting weight and measurements. It won't melt off overnight, but it is great to see positive change.

You will be saving money without eating out as much, by consuming less alcohol and convenience food. The money you save might go toward a new wardrobe, just saying.