Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Gift Giving on a Budget

The Holiday Season is upon us.

For many people, the holiday season means gift giving and the good feeling one gets when giving someone special, something special. Unfortunately, this can also mean the trashing of already stretched budgets.

I love gift giving. The question is how to get through the season with as much good gift giving feeling as possible and yet have your budget still be intact.

The Answer: Planning.

Ideally, you began that planning on the day after last holiday season by going shopping for deep discounts. Wrapping paper, ornaments, decorations, artificial trees, and seasonal clothing, go on deep, deep discounts at the end of December when the stores are trying to make room for the next season’s stock. Snatch up what you need and store it away in a holiday papered box.

Shop all year long at clearance racks, yard sales, swaps and other deep discount sites for the gifts you will need. Bring your goodies home and stash them in a box awaiting rediscovery in November when you assess what you still need to buy.

If your planning was really good, by Thanksgiving you will be finished with your holiday shopping. All you have to do is set aside some time for baking, wrapping and delivering.

Of course, it is too late to follow the above strategy for this season, but think ahead to next year. Set a bit of money aside in this year’s budget to grab up those good sales. The Holidays WILL come again next year.

Even at this late stage of the game, you can still gain quite a bit from planning.

First of all, make a list of anyone and everyone that you need/want to give gifts to. Make the list long. Don’t think in terms of money. Think in terms of people that you want to thank for their help, friendship, inspiration, and just being-there-ness.

Break those names into categories. People you need/want to give something really special to and people you want to just give a bit of holiday thumbs up.

You’ll find that most of those names are in the thumbs up list.

Now, take a look at your skills. Do you draw, bake, sing, fix things, garden, babysit, dog walk, sew, make jewelry, brew the best cup of coffee in the world, etc.? Make a nice LONG list. Take a look at that list and see what you can make/do in quantity for a minimal amount of money.

For instance, we make chocolate covered pretzels. We make the very best chocolate covered pretzels. They are just delicious. We make these by the hundreds (see above picture), package them up with a custom made hang tag and then give them out to people who touch our lives.

Each family member has packaged pretzels with them as they go about their lives during the holidays and hand them out with a big “Thanks for being there.” Co-workers and acquaintances ask about these pretzels all year long and let us know they are looking forward to their next gift.

As a family, we enjoy the making and giving of these gifts. When I clear the table, bring out the pretzels and chocolate and start dipping, everyone knows that “The Season” has officially begun.

So, take a look at your talent list. Maybe you are a musician. Record some of your songs, burn some disks, create a label, package them up and hand them out. Not only is this a great promotion, it is a fabulous gift.

Many people take their abilities for granted. Maybe you don’t think that your ability to doodle is anything great, but someone else might treasure a piece of doodle art from you in a cute little frame.

My sister once told me that her friend gave her the gift of helping decorate her living room. It was a present that my sister got to appreciate for many years. Your take-it-for-granted-talent might be someone else’s This-is-the-best-present-ever.

Locate those talents and give them as gifts.

If it is too hard to get the gifts done by the holidays, give an IOU. An offer to babysit, to weed the garden, wash the car, sew a hat or teach the kids to yodel are sure to bring a smile and a big thank you.

If you feel like you need something less personal, I suggest that you buy some gift certificates from This site gives deep discount coupons on restaurants and gifts. Normally you can buy $25 worth toward your restaurant bill for $10. Until December 25, 2009, using the coupon code "SANTA" at check out will get you 80% off your total! If you are reading this after December 25, 2009, email me and I'll tell you the best coupon code I can find. Click here for

If you are going to shop for items online, make sure you check for coupon codes before you place that order. Just search for “name of store”+“coupon codes”. You will end up with a list of sites that have possible codes that you can input during online checkout to get a discount and/or free shipping. One of the best sites for this is Finding a free shipping code or a percent discount code for a large item can mean a big savings – especially on high price-tag items.

If you are going to go to actual stores, make sure that you check out the current store flyer before you venture forth. You can find most chain store flyers for the current week at There are links to JoAnn Fabric, Frys, Big Lots, Boston Market, Staples, CVS, Home Depot, Whole Foods, Target, Petco… the list goes on and on. The idea is to check out the current flyer and clip the coupons before you go to the store. You can also comparison shop. Taking in a flyer from a competing store will usually get you the same price on an item at a store that doesn’t have the item on sale. Make sure you read the fine print though. Sometimes the item on sale isn’t the EXACT item. This site also has advance links to Black Friday ads.

If you are looking to purchase a big item for someone special but don’t have all the money for it now, consider using a lay away plan. This staple from my childhood is making a comeback in the stores. You find the item you want. Put in a down payment and then pay some every week until you have it paid in full. Paying this way keeps you from paying interest. Watch out though, because this IS a contract and you WILL need to pay it as promised.

An interesting win-win gift could be to pay a reliable teenager (it could be your teenager) a set amount to do chores for someone. Inform the gift recipient that they now have a certain amount of prepaid hours of work coming to them. Give them a list of all the kinds of things the teen can do – yard work, sweeping, digging, errand running, etc. Not only will this put money into the pocket of the teen, but it might give that teen a job that will continue past the few prepaid hours.

Whatever you decide to do for your gift giving this year, remember that your best deals come when you aren’t in a hurry.

We are all so busy these days that the spirit of gift giving can get lost. One needs to remember that it IS the spirit in which the gift is given… not the gift itself which is important.

Sometimes just being there to celebrate the holidays with someone special and holding their hand and telling them that you appreciate that they are in your life is the very, very best present you can give. A smile, a laugh, a hug. These are the riches of this planet. Give generously.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to test cell phone reception at your house before signing contract

Trying to figure out which cell phone company to sign up with is a pretty complicated process. Not only are you looking for the best cell phone plan, but you also have to figure out if the reception will be any good in the places you will be using the phone the most.

I know many people who have cell phones that do not get adequate reception in their homes or office. We've all seen people pacing around their driveways or front yards talking on the cell phone because the reception isn't any good inside their house.

Most cell phone companies now offer reception maps on their web sites. (T-mobile, Verizon, AT&T coverage maps) Supposedly, these maps show where the reception is good.

I even know of a site that is trying to get more specific by having individuals log in their personal experience. I think this is a great idea, but unless they are specifically in your house, the information is still variable.

I get great reception with my carrier at my house, but as I go three houses down the street, I always lose the reception.

I have come up with a reliable and fun way to figure out which carrier to choose for your cell phone.

Have a Cell Phone Reception Party!

Invite your friends to come over to your house and see how their various cell phones and companies receive at your house. Make a game out of it with little forms. People fill out a form that says what their phone manufacturer is (THAT is also a factor by the way) and what their phone service is. They then rate their service on a scale of 0-10 in various places in your house: front lawn, garage, kitchen, etc.

Have a theme party.

Do a showing of "Bells are Ringing"

Play a game of "telephone" (where you tell a message to the person next to you and they tell it to the person next to them and then you see what comes out the other end after going through a dozen people).

Make origami cell phones for decorations.

Believe me, I tried to figure out which carrier to use with supposed reception maps and it doesn't work. Per my carrier's map I should not get any reception at my house at all.

Save yourself time and aggravation AND make new friends. Have a Cell Phone Reception Party!

Be sure to let me know if you do this.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Free Inkjet Printer Ink

Over the years, the cost of printers has gotten lower and lower. Sometimes you can get a new printer for practically nothing (with rebates.) But, the cost to buy the ink is absurdly high.

I used to shell out almost $100 dollars to get a set of replacement ink cartridges for my color inkjet printer.

Then, I discovered I could buy ink cartridges for a fraction of the cost of buying them at Staples or even Frys.

Instead of paying $15 for a cartridge, I now pay less than $2 a cartridge AND I can return the empties to Staples and get a $3 Staples credit.

Oh... wait, this is better than Free. I'm actually making a dollar to use these cartridges!

So where do I get this great ink? The Abacus 24-7 Private Store.

Now, I do know that some companies will tell you that if you use any ink other than their brand that your warranty will be voided. The fact is that you will save more money buying this off brand ink to replace your full set of cartridges twice, than it will cost to buy a new printer. You do the math.

By the way, you can also buy toner to refill your laser cartridges. I just purchased toner to refill my laser cartridge. The toner cost $8.95. To buy a new cartridge would have cost $86.99.

I purchased this toner from Laser Tek Services, Inc.

Yes, I did have to get out a screw driver and read some instructions, but I saved almost $80!

Now you have no excuse not to print out a lovely letter to send to your mother to tell her you love her.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Oprah's O Magazine for $5

If you or someone you know likes Oprah's O Magazine, then this is the best deal you'll ever find. is running a one-week sale for a year's subscription for only $5.

This is a 89% savings. THAT is my definition of a sale.

Heck, even if you don't like O Magazine, it is a great deal. Magazine subscriptions make a great gift that keeps giving all year long.

Click here for O, The Oprah Magazine (1-year) for $5.

This offer is only good until Saturday, December 19th, 2009 at 11:59pm.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Free Swap in Los Angeles - Sunday, December 20, 2009

What is a Free Swap?
A Free Swap is like a garage sale, but everything is free.

You bring some of your stuff (make it good stuff, NOT broken, torn, dirty stuff) and then you take some of the stuff that other people bring.

What kind of stuff to bring?
Clothes, housewares, music/film/books, crafts, homemade goodies, tools, toys, garden fresh vegetables, games, art, electronics that work, stuff you got but never used, etc. You get the idea.

Is it Free?

There is going to be a Free Swap
Sunday, December 20th from 9am to noon
at Valley Village Park, 5000 Westpark Drive, Valley Village, CA.

This park is just on the WEST side of the 170 Hollywood Freeway,
between Riverside Drive and Magnolia. It's also very close to the
134/101 Ventura Freeway. Please Google Map it, since it's not on a
main street. It's the half-circle-shaped park.

Google Map tiny URL:

The Swap will be in the picnic area next to the children's playground. It's
got picnic tables and a paved area. It is outside, so dress for the weather.
There is street parking.

Everyone is welcome.

People are encouraged to bring at least something, to swap. But you
can bring more than you take, or vice versa.

Please don't bring unrepairable junk.

If you're bringing stuff, please arrive by 11am so others have a
chance to review your goodies.

We will try to find a charity to pick up the unclaimed stuff, but we
don't know if that's possible on a Sunday. Please plan to take back
your stuff that is left over. (In other words, don't drop off and leave.)

Swaps are more than just bringing your stuff, grabbing and running. Swaps are also a social event. A time to get to know some pretty cool people. So bring your smile and holiday spirit with you. You never know who or what you will find at a swap.

See you all there!