Five Frugal Things

by Katy on January 2, 2017 · 106 comments

  1. My son independently went though his room and decided to get rid of a large number of clothing and books. (Seriously, so much stuff!) Together we donated at Goodwill and then wandered the store without buying a single thing.
  2. Wednesday is my birthday, so I’ve been planning my own Birthday Day of Adventures which will be fun for the family without breaking the bank. My husband already knows not to buy any gifts for me, which is exactly what I want. Experiences over stuff, people. Experiences over stuff.
  3. I listed a compost aerator on my local Buy Nothing Group yesterday, which is now living at the home of someone who will actually use it. (We dump our compost into the yard debris can, which gets a curbside pickup.) I love this group, it’s so great to put my unused stuff into the hands of people who will use it. Conversely, it’s been wonderful for sourcing the occasional odds and ends that I need.
  4. We stopped by the Eastside Voodoo Donuts location to pick up our monthly free dozen donuts for December. (It was a gift to my father which he then handed over.) The plan had been to share with neighbors, but that didn’t exactly happen with both guys home from college.
  5. I’ve been giving my crock pot a workout, and have made three recent meals from dried beans to keep our grocery budget under control. Split pea soup, baked beans and black bean chili have graced our table. It’s amazing how many meals can be made from a single leftover ham!

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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If you’re like 93% of Americans, you’ve either given or received a gift card this holiday season. It’s no wonder that gift cards have become the go-to gift for those we hold near and dear, as well as others we hardly know. Buying a gift card allows the recipient to choose something they actually want, yet it shows that the giver put at least a little bit of thought into the gift. It’s no wonder that gift cards have become so popular.

However, it can be overwhelming to suddenly have a wallet full of seemingly random gift cards. Before you start to spend your bounty, you should first investigate how to get the absolute most from every single one of your cards.

Like, follow, subscribe and then download the app

National stores will almost always have a social media presence that you can work to your advantage. This means that you can discover discounts, especially if you’re a new customer. So “like” them on Facebook, “follow” them on Twitter and then subscribe to their e-mails to get the most bang for your buck. Don’t forget to download their app to your smartphone and allow push notifications for maximum buying power.

Search for promo codes

Always do an internet search for the name of the store plus “promo code” before you shop either online or in person. This simple trick will lead you to sites such as RetailMeNot, which boasts that it has “500,00 coupons for 50,000 stores.” Always updating, these discount websites will usually lead you to codes for both discounts and/or free shipping.

Shop through a cash back website

Websites such as eBates and TopCashBack function to unlock sales, as well as give you a percentage of your purchase back in the form of cash. Although many stores offer just a small 2-6% percentage back, other stores can be as high as 40%. It’s worth it to spend a minute or two to check and see if your gift card can earn you at least a couple of dollars.

Investigate if other stores accept your gift card

Many national companies are part of a corporate network, which means that their gift cards can be used at multiple other stores.

Here are just a few examples:

  • A Gap gift card can also be spent at Old Navy, Banana Republic or Athleta.
  • An Olive Garden gift card can be used at Longhorn, Bahama Breeze or any other Darden restaurant.
  • A Safeway gift card can be used at Tom Thumb, Von’s, Randall’s, Carrs and Pavilions.
  • A Kroger gift card can be used at Fred Meyer, Ralph’s, Food4Less or Smith’s.
  • A Land’s End gift card can be used at Sears.
  • A Cinemark gift card can be used at Cinéarts, Tinseltown or Rave Cinemas.

The list of gift cards that allow for purchases from multiple retail outlets is seemingly endless, so make sure to both read the small print on the back of your card as well as click on your store’s website to investigate before choosing where to redeem your card.

Time your restaurant visits thoughtfully

If you’re lucky enough to possess a restaurant gift card you might want to consider sitting in the bar instead of the main restaurant. Happy hour menus are usually much more budget friendly than standard entrees, and can allow you to stretch that gift card until it begs for mercy. Either check the restaurant’s website or call your specific location to clarify happy hour times and any restrictions.

Sell or swap your card

If you’ve received a gift card that’s simply not to your liking, you still have some great options. Websites such as Gift Card Granny, Plastic JungleCardpool and eBay allow you to sell your gift cards to recoup most of the original cost. No, you won’t get the full amount of your gift card, but at some point it’s better to get something rather than nothing. Want to trade for another gift card rather than sell it? That’s an option as well.

Know your balance

That gift card from great aunt Ethel might be for a mysterious amount, but it’s easy to figure out the actual value. The small print on the back of your gift card will almost always have the website and/or phone number to clarify the gift card balance. If you’re already in the store and unsure of your card’s balance, any checker can easily swipe the card to provide this information.

Base your purchase on the value of the card

This may sound like an obvious tip, but it’s not exactly the most financially responsible practice to justify a $300 purchase based on a $50 gift card. Sure, it’s normal to up spend a gift card by a couple of dollars, (and retailers count on you doing this) but unless that large purchase was already within your planned budget, it’s best to keep this spending rationalization in check.

Save your gift cards for a vacation treat

Gift cards can be a great way to keep vacation costs down, especially when your wallet holds cards for movie theater chains, restaurants or coffee shops. Investigate ahead of time how close you’ll be to your gift card’s retail location, as well as whether it might work with a corporate partner.

Do your own gifting

Whether you’re shopping for others or straight up regifting, gift cards are a great way to decrease your spending. Sure, it might not be the intention to have bought for others, but being able to save money is always a welcome gift.

Be aware of any limitations 

Although the 2009 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act did away with the most fraudulent gift card practices, there’s still some small print to be aware of. Some states allow for a gift cards to decrease in value if left dormant for a full year, and certain purchases such as lottery tickets, cigarettes or alcohol may be prohibited. Some retailers may not allow for gift card usage in their outlets, so call ahead to pin down the rules and regulations.

Conclusion

Whether you received one or multiple gift cards over the holiday gift giving season, be sure to make the most of them. If you’re deliberate about how they’re spent, you can easily increase their value using the above tips and tricks. Whatever you choose to do with your gift cards, just make sure to remember where you put them and then spend with intention.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Is 2017 Your Year to Stop Buying New?

by Katy on December 31, 2016 · 55 comments

December is almost over, which means the end of holiday shopping, holiday decorating and holiday cooking. It also means that it’s time to work on your New Year’s resolutions. Because if you wait until December 31st to figure out your 2017 goals, it might end up being nothing less than a depressingly self-serving to-do list:

  • Lose weight
  • Learn French
  • Exercise more
  • Stop watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

But I have a new year’s resolution for you to ponder:

Buy nothing new for a year. It’s called The Compact, and it’s a world-wide movement where people make a one year commitment to stop buying new stuff. There are no official rules, and everyone puts their own twists and exceptions in their Compact. (For example, I allow purchases of new underwear, socks and harmonicas .) Because I’ve been participating in The Compact since 2007, my rules have relaxed and I do buy a few new things every now and then, but for the most part it’s a rarity.

Everyone brings their own personal motivation to the project, and for some the choice to avoid new stuff is purely environmental, while for others it’s a financial decision. Doesn’t matter, as it’s your decision, and the result is the same. Over manufacture of unnecessary and overly packaged stuff is a huge global issue, and The Compact is a great way to take a personal stand.

So, what do you say . . . can I talk you into trying The Compact?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on December 30, 2016 · 88 comments

  1. I made my younger son’s payment for his winter term tuition/room/board. This $8000+ amount would not normally fall under any sane person’s category of “frugal,” but it’s only because of frugality and myriad side gigs that it’s possible to save $5,000 per month towards having two kids in college at the same time. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Next payment? April 1st, then we’ll have a leisurely six months to save up for the fall tuition payments.
  2. I called Comcast and spoke to a “retention specialist” who was able to drop $14 from our monthly internet bill, as well as extend the free HBO that they’ve been giving us since last summer. Because of “bundling,” it’s cheaper to have internet plus basic cable than it is to simply have internet. And my internet service? It’s a blogging expense that I deduct from my taxes.
  3. My husband and I watched a library DVD of Singing in The Rain last night. I’ve always loved this movie, especially since my grandmother was friends with Gene Kelly. (He taught dance classes at my family’s Pittsburgh synagogue before he was famous.) I actually put the movie on hold before Debbie Reynold’s death, which made it especially meaningful. My young father actually took dance classes from Gene Kelly, which is sadly undocumented. I would pay big bucks to see a photograph of my dad and Gene Kelly tap dancing together!
  4. My younger son and I cleaned one of my mother’s rental cottages between tenants, the same son picked up two shifts at the art supply store where he’s worked since age 14, I got another Clark Howard article assignment, I sold books to my nearby Powell’s bookstore, we ate heated leftovers for last night’s dinner and I have two “free burrito” coupons from Chipotle that expire tomorrow that I’ll be hacking for optimal tonnage.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or a gold plated apartment in the sky.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on December 27, 2016 · 70 comments

  1. My husband brought home some nice roasted turkey that was leftover from a work event. We already had potatoes, so I whipped up a quick batch of mashed potatoes and gravy. Add in a 99¢ packet of frozen peas and the cranberry sauce still leftover from Thanksgiving and we now have a feast for tonight’s dinner without much expense or effort.
  2. I’ve been better about goofing around on Swagbucks whenever I’m watching TV. My goal is to earn three $25 Paypal gift cards per month, and although I don’t always meet this goal, it’s still free money. And since I can simply transfer the money into my credit union account, my Swagbuck points can be used for anything . . . including college tuition! (Yes, I know. I’m single minded and boring. Let me be your cautionary tale to start saving early!)
  3. I renewed my Craiglist listings, as well as started a new one for a girl’s bike that I bought and then somehow shoved into the basement and forgot about. I’m asking $75 for a $350 Specialized brand bike, so hopefully it’ll sell quickly. Although my eBay listings are generating almost zero interest, my sister’s are, so I’m living vicariously through her.
  4. I was able to put together a meal for eight for $3 last night. This was because I had free leftover ham, (from my “turkey or ham” Christmas bonus every year) which anchored a large pot of white bean rosemary soup. I then baked a large loaf of bread, which probably set me back around 50¢. Delicious doesn’t have to be expensive.
  5. I’ve been saving packing supplies to use for eBay sales, I turned in another Clark Howard article, I walked to the grocery store and only bought what was on my list (milk and flour) and I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on December 26, 2016 · 81 comments

  1. I was able to do almost all of my holiday shopping using a $75 Goodwill gift card, plus a $75 Amazon gift card from my husband’s employer. I did spend $200 on gift cards/cash, but that was in the budget.
  2. We paid my older son’s $7,300 college bill for the winter term and will pay my younger son’s $7,800 bill at the end of the week after I get my last paycheck of the year. These payments require a lot of scrimping and saving, especially since we just went through this on October 1st. However, it’s important to me that we do everything we can to avoid the boys graduating under a mountain of student loan debt. Next payment . . . April 1st.
  3. I avoided wasteful holiday gift wrap by placing all holiday gifts into reusable gift bags that I pull out each and every year. For larger gifts, I wrap them in plain colored flat sheets that I then tie with a bow. We’ll put out no more garbage this week than any random week.
  4. My older son will be renewing his lifeguarding certification this week so that he can work over the summer. He’s really good about saving his money so that’s it’s available during the school year. Both sons are responsible for paying for their own books and general expenses while away at college.
  5. I met my goal of working over 800 hours this year, as there was a bonus available for resource nurses who put in the hours. I’ll get an extra $1.25 per hour worked during the 2016 calendar year included in my first 2017 paycheck. And since I worked a few hours shy of 1000 hours, this’ll help to jump start the college fund for the spring term payments.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Happy Chanukah & a Merry Christmas!

by Katy on December 24, 2016 · 13 comments

May your home be filled with peace and love this holiday season!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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I’m just a girl, standing in front of some Goodwill crap, asking it to love me. #NottingHill

Or . . . I’m a nurse, who had an English minor, who gets annoyed with incorrect apostrophe usage.

Or . . . I’m a non consumer trying to do all of her holiday shopping without buying anything new.

Whatever it is, that targeted savings bank is THE WORST!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on December 19, 2016 · 74 comments

  1. My younger son and I spent yesterday going from Goodwill to Goodwill (to Goodwill) in the name of holiday shopping. Until then, I’d only bought a single holiday gift so far this year so I was starting to get a little panicky. I found a couple of small $1.99 items for my mother, as well as a brand new $9.99 Martha Stewart flannel duvet cover for my son. My plan for this son’s main gift was some proper winter bedding, so this was a score. The colors are navy blue and forest green, so it should be easy to find matching sheets. My son was with me, but I referred to the folded up duvet cover as “fabric,” which caught 0.0% of his interest.
  2. One of the Goodwills that we visited had a bin of brand new Target swim trunks priced at 4/99¢! My younger son’s needed a new suit, so we pawed through the pile until we found a suitable pair in his size. The cashier was mystified that we were only buying a single suit and kept telling us that “they’re four for a dollar, you need to get three more.” I joked that we only needed a single pair and that “you can only wear one pair at a time.”  24¢ swim trunks? Yes, please!
  3. I worked a couple days in a row at the hospital last week on days that my husband was also working. I was really worried that weather conditions would make it so that I’d have to sleep overnight at work. I went ahead and prepped a number of meals ahead of time, so that the fridge would be full of grab-and-go food. Luckily, the worst of the weather had passed, but I really enjoyed five evenings of not having to cook, and my family really enjoyed the lasagna, beef stew, lentil soup and seafood pasta.
  4. My son bought himself a $4.99 pair of grubby Pure Boost Adidas that needed nothing more than a quick scrub to get them looking good as new. Considering that these shoes sold for $130 new, it’s not a bad investment.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or a gold plated apartment in the sky.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Most & Least Returned Holiday Gifts

by Katy on December 15, 2016 · 60 comments

Face it, gift giving is hard. Sure, there might be a few people on your list who are easy to shop for, but for the most part you’re rolling the dice when deciding what to buy. Add in the time and effort it takes to shop, wrap and deliver your gifts, and it’s no wonder that many people find themselves stressed during the month of December. Unfortunately, chances are that your carefully chosen gifts are going right back to the store. Shoppers return nearly $70 billion of purchases during the holiday season. Yes, you read that right. Seventy billion-with-a-b dollars! However, with a bit of planning, you can avoid some of the most commonly returned gifts from your shopping list.

Clothing

According to a study conducted by Kohl’s, clothing/shoes are by far the most returned gift category, and makes up a full “62% of all returns.”  This makes sense as fit differs from brand to brand, plus it’s near to impossible to truly know another person’s clothing style. Steer clear of this category if you you’re hoping that your gift will be received joyfully.

Decor

Most of us enjoy creating home spaces that reflect our individual aesthetic. But when well meaning friends and family decide that our home needs multiple sparkly pillows or moose theme artwork, it comes a problem. Avoid decor gifts, especially quirky ones that Newsweek points out are “most likely to go awry.”

Candles

Candles are such a quintessentially uninspired gift, that Saturday Night Live recently produced a hilarious video titled The Christmas Candle, featuring fur clad actresses who sing about how “It’s the gift of having a gift to give away.” When you take into consideration that candle burning has been linked to multiple health issues, it’s best to keep a hundred yard distance from this clichéd gift.

So what gifts are least likely to be returned? That’s a hard one as The Daily Mail has reported that as much as “42% of women return their husband’s holiday gifts.” However, these ideas should please most recipients!

Consumables

Whether you’re giving home baked goods or a restaurant gift certificate, everybody loves food. National chains sell gift cards which work well for far flung family, and it can be nice to support local establishments for your in-town friends. Wine, gourmet goodies and other fancy treats fit in with most everyone’s style. Just make sure to be aware of any dietary restrictions.

Experiential gifts

We’re all fighting against the monster called clutter, which make experiential gifts perfect for friends with limited space or those who already own everything they could ever possibly want or need. Great examples include:

  • Movie or theater tickets.
  • Museum or zoo memberships.
  • Tickets to a concert, lecture or sporting event.
  • A gift certificate for pampering.
  • Tunes gift card.

Gift Cards

Gifts cards get a bad rap as a lazy or thoughtless gift, but with a bit of extra effort they can be a truly welcome gift that’s sure to be redeemed. Instead of a general gift card such as Target or Amazon, choose a place that shows you’ve given thought to your recipient’s interests. Examples include:

  • Independent bookstore.
  • Favorite restaurant.
  • Video gaming store.
  • A local toy store.
  • Coffee shop.

Cash

You might feel like a character from The Sopranos when choosing cash as a gift, but at least you know that it’s 100% unlikely to be returned. (Luckily, there are ways to give money than behind The Bada-Bing.) One fun way to elevate gifted cash is to fold it into fun shapes, like these stars. I folded $100 into stars for my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah a few years ago, which was much more of a hit than any check would have been. YouTube is full of tutorials on how to fold money, which can be a very fun activity. Just make sure to stop by the bank for crisp new bills.

Conclusion

You’d think that the cycle of gift giving would be complete on December 26th, but that’s far from the truth as studies have shown that “17 percent of recipients planned to donate an unwanted present, 13 percent planned to regift one and 10 percent would simply throw the bad gift away.” However, with a bit of forethought you can avoid burdening your loved ones with the most commonly returned gifts.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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