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I feel like every personal finance/frugal living is talking about Black Friday, so I wanted to jump on the band wagon. It’s just four days away, so you probably already have your plans set. But I wanted to share mine.

It’s all about online, folks.

First though, let’s back up a bit. I wanted to come on here railing Black Friday and all its assorted evils. Did you hear Target is opening their doors at 8pm Thanksgiving Day? Target is second in line at 9 pm. Which makes me wonder – what happened to Thanksgiving? You know, that holiday where you’re supposed to gather with friends and family over a wonderful meal and take the time to be thankful? Nah, forget that. We need to stand in line, out in the freezing cold, fight the crowds – all for the latest gadget (that they might not even have by the time you actually get inside the doors). People have actually died on Black Friday. Died! And now we have extended this national craziness to Thanksgiving day itself.

If you haven’t guessed, I don’t like Black Friday. It’s kind of like my theory on coupons – you’re only going to be saving on things you don’t need. Then, I started looking at some of the sales. And really? They’re not that bad. You can honestly save some serious dough on things you might end up buying anyway – toys for the kids, gadgets for the hubby, cozy slippers for your mom. I couldn’t consciously come on here and recommend staying the heck away from Black Friday when there actually are great sales out there. So, I came up with a compromise – online shopping.

Online retailers like Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy and Kohl’s are offering great sales on Black Friday in addition to Cyber Monday. A lot of these stores are offering free shipping. That means you’ll not only get a great deal, but your purchase will be delivered to your doorstep for free. So just take some time to look ahead for online deals instead of fighting the crowds Thanksgiving night.

It’s the best of both worlds. By shopping online, you’ll see some really great savings (provided you only buy things you would have anyway) and you’ll miss out on the crowds. Plus, you can spend Thanksgiving exactly where you should be – with your family (or friends).

What do you think of Black Friday? Do you brace the crowds or stay at home?

Earlier this week, I talked about creating a budget. Today, I wanted to talk about how to stretch that budget. Short of getting a part time job, or saving a little throughout the year (it’s a little too late for that), here are some ideas of how to make the most of what you’ve got this holiday season:

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Give the gift of food. Bake your family and friends their gifts at home! Instead of purchasing gifts that your loved ones may never use, why not bake cookies, fudge or loaves of banana nut bread as a present?

Make homemade cards. Get your little ones involved in this one and craft your own holiday cards. They’re way more personalized than those generic photo cards. Purchase some inexpensive card stock, glitter and paint and let your kiddos go wild.

Spread the joy of cookies. Have a knock-out cookie recipe? Then spread the joy. Layer dry ingredients in a mason jar. Attach the recipe with a ribbon and there you go – practical and cute.

Offer to host this year. Instead of spending all your money on travel costs, offer to host the holidays at your house. You’ll save tons of money by foregoing expensive flights. You’ll also be able to create your own special traditions and spend the holiday exactly as you want.

Get the most out of price matching. During this tough economy, stores are making the extra effort to have you shop there. That’s why stores like Target, Walmart, and even Best Buy, are offering price matching. Make the most of it when purchasing big ticket items for your loved ones.

Have any more ideas on how to stretch your holiday budget?

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**This giveaway is now closed. A big thank you goes out to all of you who entered. I wish I could give you all a free eBook, but I have to choose just one. That person is… Jen who said, “In trying to slow down, I need look no further than my young children. They are happy with the simplest things…a tree with the ornaments they have made, as opposed to stressing over the perfectly decorated tree; not trying to impress people and really remembering the reason for the season.” (Jen, check your email.) If you weren’t the winner you can still get a copy of the eBook for only $0.99 today.**

 

One of my favorite blogs (and daily reads) is Money Saving Mom. Crystal Paine, the brainchild of MSM, always shares great tips and advice about how to save money and living better on less. When I found out about the opportunity to review her latest eBook, I was super excited.

Crystal’s advice always comes across in a practical, straightforward and motivating way that makes you think why didn’t I think of that? Plus, her common-sense strategies are really easy to implement in daily life. Crystal has done it again with this new eBook, Celebrating & Savoring a Simple Christmas, which shares detailed ways to prepare for and enjoy every minute of this holiday season.

Covering topics like setting a budget, decorating, gift giving, this eBook is filled to the brim with ideas for slowing down and enjoying the holidays. She shows you easy ways to stay organized and de-stressed in what is easily one of the most nerve-wracking seasons of the year. Don’t you want to just slow down and enjoy the holidays? Then this book is for you!

Right now, you can buy the book at the super low price of $0.99. At just under a dollar, it will definitely be money well spent.

But, wait, there’s more! Crystal has generously offered one Doggone Thrifty reader a FREE copy of the eBook.

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment telling us how you chose to slow down and celebrate the holidays. Note: This giveaway is a quick one and will end at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, November 14, 2012.

Good luck!

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This week, I wanted to talk all about holidays. Thanksgiving is next Thursday and… well, we all know how quickly the holidays are upon us after that. So, today, let’s talk all about holiday budgets and how to create them.

First, make a list of categories for your family’s holiday spending. Usual categories are things like gifts, gift wraps, holiday cards and postage, holiday family photo, holiday meals, baking, decorating, and travel expenses. Determine every area that you normally spend and try not to leave anything out.

Next, determine a bottom line. How much do you feel comfortable spending overall? Once you have that number figured out, you can go ahead and split it up between your categories. Obviously some categories will get more than others (like gifts as opposed to postage stamps). But, you need to keep your bottom line in mind and try not to go over that amount. If you come up short, look for low-cost or no-cost ways to make up the difference without breaking the bank. Short on money for gifts? Why not hand make a few items for friends and family to get the most bang out of your buck. We’ll talk about stretching your holiday budget tomorrow!

Lastly, stick to it! This is most likely the hardest part of creating a holiday budget. It’s so easy to tell yourself It’s the holidays, I have to get it or This gift is so perfect for so-and-so, it doesn’t matter that it blows my budget and end up spending far more than you’ve allotted. Remind yourself why you made this budget and why it’s important to stick to it. Track everything you spend in each of the categories. Use a cash envelope system if you feel comfortable that way. Or, keep track of your expenditures on Mint.com or in your own personal system.

And have fun – that’s what the holidays are all about!

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(Please ignore the peanut butter on my son’s jacket. Hurricanes make him hungry!)

As Hurricane Sandy (a.k.a. “Frankenstorm”) moves steadily towards the Jersey Shore, we’ve all been preparing for the worst. The store shelves are bare,there are lines around the block for gas, and people are hoarding batteries like gold. Generators, at $500 a pop, are selling out like hot cakes. But the frugalist in me swears you don’t have to cost you upwards of a grand to prepare for the storm. Mostly everything you need is right in your home already and the few supplies you need to ensure you make it through the storm comfortably won’t cost you that much. Here are a few tips:

Don’t buy bottled water! I’ve been meaning to write a post on bottled water for a while now about how I HATE bottled water. It’s such a waste of money and it’s bad for the environment (all that plastic agh!!). Just buy a Brita (or any other brand) filter and use the water you already pay for in your house. Anyway, while everyone in our area was flooding the stores to buy bottles of water, we were filling jugs of tap water. I’ve heard recommendations of putting gallons of water in the freezer and the fridge, so we did both. We just used jugs that we just had lying around and saved a lot of money that would have been wasted.

Fill up sand bags at the beach. If you’re preparing for a hurricane, chances you’re probably close enough to the beach to take a drive there (when it’s still very, very safe!) to fill up bags with sand. Don’t buy sand or pre-made sandbags unless there’s no way you can get to the beach. Sand bags are a good investment though – they’ll help keep your house dry and minimize the damage water can cause.

Stock up on essentials. It’s imperative to stock up on medication. When a storm is coming, there’s no telling how long you’ll be stuck inside. Therefore, you need to stock up on your medications. You also need to stock up on food. Think about things that don’t need much preparation (if you’re like me who has everything in their house running on electric, if the power goes out you have no way to cook). We stocked up on peanut butter and jelly. And, of course, bread. Also, be sure you have a first aid kit. If you have a baby, buy enough diapers to get you through a good long time.

Do laundry now. The best time to do laundry is before the power goes out (obviously). You don’t want to be stuck without clean underwear when the electricity kicks the bucket. Do your laundry before the storm hits to ensure your family has enough clean clothes.

Tape your windows. Masking tape is inexpensive. A shattered window is costly. Take the time to tape an “X” across your window to keep it from shattering. It may save you a bundle in the long run.

Charge your cell phone. You won’t be able to use your home phone if the power goes out, so charge up your mobile device. Charge it now so you’ll be able to check on family members and friends throughout the storm.

And stay safe!

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Whether you’re working towards reducing your debt, stockpiling your savings for retirement or just trying to make ends meet, when you embark on the journey of frugality, you’re embarking on a new lifestyle that often goes against the grain of what everyone else does.

Instead of thinking about all that you’re missing out on, take the time to enjoy the journey. Have a look at these benefits of frugality:

  • By embracing frugality, you’re also embracing a simpler life. When you’re not keeping up with the Jones, you have less gadgets to buy, less designer-name clothing to keep up with, less never-before-heard-of ingredients to track down.
  • On a similar note, living the frugal life lends itself to an attitude of contentment. Living a frugal lifestyle means you’ll make the most of what you have and you’ll appreciate it more. This makes for a far more content life, rather than a life obsessing about acquiring more and more things.
  • You’ll also learn what’s “good enough”. Is good enough the latest new thing? Probably not. Good enough is probably sitting on a shelf in your home right now. When we stop focusing on getting the best of everything, we realize that good enough is perfectly fine.
  • Frugality also teaches you a lot about yourself and the world. Frugal people often do a lot for themselves like growing vegetables in a garden or sewing a pair of pants. These skills were once considered necessary to survive, but have now been phased out in recent years. By learning these skills, you’ll be more equipped to survive on your own. Nothing spells accomplishment like learning new skills that are essential to survival.
  • By being frugal now, you will be in a much better place in the future. Like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else later.”
  • Being frugal often equates to being healthier. Since becoming more frugal myself, I’ve eaten healthier and exercised more. I’ve stopped eating out and started making more from scratch recipes. In addition, you’ll do more for yourself (like cutting the grass or paint a room) leading to more exercise.
  • Frugality often calls for you to slow down, where you can get down to the roots of life and what really matters – friends, family and happiness.

So take a moment to enjoy the journey and be thankful that you’ve chosen the frugal path.

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Being overweight and in debt are remarkably similar. Both situations are easier to get into rather than out of. And neither is healthy. Luckily, the same mechanisms work to extricate yourself out of debt as to lose weight – all you need to do is to count your dollars like you would calories.

Take in less than you burn. The first thing fitness buffs will tell you when you ask them how to lose weight is to take in less calories than you burn. There’s even a formula to figure out how many calories the average person extends during the course of the day (BMR) and through common forms of exercise. The same goes for budgeting, but it’s much simpler – spend less than you earn. You already know how much you earn (no fancy formulas needed), so you know your budgeting limit.

Don’t starve yourself. The second thing fitness buffs will tell you is to not eat less than a certain number of calories per day – or else your body will go into starvation mode. If you starve yourself, you’re more likely to overeat later, counteracting the weight loss. It’s just the same for spending. Cut back, but don’t cut back too far, or else you’re likely to overspend at some point, undoing your savings goals.

Keep track of your calories. Sites like Sparkpeople.com and Myfitnesspal.com are very popular with dieters for a reason. They help you keep track of how many calories you’re taking in and help you stay accountable. I mean how else do you know you’re staying below your limit? Not surprisingly, sites that help you track your spending keep you on track in just the same way. Check out Mint.com or BudgetTracker.com.

Calorie counting isn’t the only way to go. You know how successful dieters do other things besides counting calories – like exercising, eating the right kinds of food and changing their lifestyle instead of just dieting for the short term? Yep, you guessed it, the same goes for budgeting. Cutting back on spending isn’t the only way to financial success. How about earning extra income (like exercising)? Or buying good, long-lasting products over cheap, inefficient ones (like eating the right kinds of foods)? Changing your lifestyle is also essential to long-term financial success. You need to develop a frugal mindset to make any long lasting changes.

Do you see any other similarities between dieting and budgeting? Isn’t it funny how similar they are?

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What is the difference between frugal and cheap?  Being “frugal” has become quite trendy these days, while being “cheap” still has negative connotations.  Does anyone watch Mad Men?  (I love that show!) There was a line in the season finale where Mitchel Ginsberg pitches the tagline “always less expensive, never cheap” to Topaz pantyhose. Just the mere presence of the word “cheap” irritates the company execs – even if it’s to say the product is NOT cheap (as Ginsberg angry points out).  The point is, there is obviously a big difference between frugal and cheap, but what is it exactly?

Here is my definition of frugal vs. cheap:

Frugal

Making wise, thoughtful decisions with the resources you have

Understanding the value of a dollar and the best way use it

Having a well thought out financial plan (complete with a spending budget and savings goals)

Conscious of long-term value, will choose the more expensive option if it is worth it in the end

Cheap

Always choosing the cheapest alternative, long-term value not considered

Being miserly and stingy

Saving money at someone else’s expense (i.e. your family or friends)

 

What are your thoughts?  What is your own definition of cheap and frugal?  Have any examples?

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I wish I had started college with a little more knowledge about personal finance.  If I had, I would be in a much better fInancial place than I am now.  These are the tips I would have given myself:


Don’t get a credit card.  Getting a credit card may seem like a good idea, but it usually isn’t.  If you do get a credit card, make sure you pay it off each month.  Right now is not the time to start racking up credit card debt. Take the time to save up for something so you can pay in cash and avoid credit cards all together.

Pay your bills on time.  College is busy – you’re always running from class to an activity to another class.  Pay your bills as they arrive so you don’t have to worry about forgetting them or losing them.

Track your spending.  Mint.com offers a great resource, but you can just as easily use a notebook or an Excel spreadsheet.  Just make sure to keep accurate records.  That way you can track your spending habits and see where you can cut back.  You’ll also prevent overdraft fees from your bank as you’ll always know how much you have in your account.

Buy used textbooks. You’re not going to keep them anyway, so why not just buy used?  That being said, make sure you sell them back to the bookstore at the end of the term (or else you’ll still be stuck with them ten years later).

Go without a car.  Cars are expensive.  You’ll need to keep up with gas, maintenance, insurance, registration, and parking fees.  Most colleges don’t allow freshmen to have cars anyway.  Don’t think you need one when you become an upperclassman.

Make a budget.  A budget is the first step in saving.  Determine where your money should be going at the beginning of each month.  Make sure you devote at least some of your income to savings, which leads to…

Spend less than you earn.  Set aside as much of your income as you can in a savings account.  It’s never too early to start investing in your future.  Come out of college ahead of the game rather than buried in debt.

Can you think of any others?

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After my son was born, I busied myself (Ha! As if I wasn’t busy enough!) with decorating his nursery.  It was never complete – always a work in progress.  Back then, just about two years ago, I created these pieces for his wall.

Now I’m in the process of rearranging his room, slowly transforming it into a “big boy” room. These guys used to reside above the crib, and today, down they came.  I’ll find another home for them shortly, but decided to snap a couple pictures for you and show you how I made them since it was really easy and inexpensive.

Art Done Cheaply

First, I purchased three canvases.  I was lucky enough to find these at a yard sale, but they can be purchased at a craft store as well pretty inexpensively.

To create the images, I used black oil pastel.  I traced store bought letters for the large canvas and free-handed the elephant and giraffe based on images I found online.  Next, I took blue, green and yellow oil pastels and filled in the entire canvas.  I smudged the black oil pastel into the bright color to create the shading I wanted.

Lastly, I sprayed a fixident like dArtigny Oil Pastel Fixatif to keep it all in place.  This fixative is a little pricy, but I’ve heard that hairspray works just as well.

I hung them with string and there they stayed for two years.  Not bad, right?

 

How about you?  Do you have an easy and cheap DIY project that you’d like to share?  Let me know!

 

P.S. I’ve been featured in the Fiscal Times!  Go check it out!

 

HookingupwithHoH

Whipperberry


Rooted In Thyme

Also linked up with The ArtsyGirl Connection and Life As Mom

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