Pay with Discounted Gift Cards to Save Even More

This is a Guest Post by Donna Freedman, freelance writer and blogger who really knows how to stretch a buck—and willingly tells all. Donna writes for Money Talks News and blogs about money and midlife at DonnaFreedman.com.

Black Friday ads are already starting to leak. Here’s a way to make this season’s hot deals even hotter: Pay with a discounted gift card.

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Cheap cards are available through resellers such as Cardpool, ABC Gift Cards, Card Cash, Raise and Gift Card Zen. You’ll see discounts of 3 to 30 percent (sometimes more) for cards from your favorite retailers.

The former owners either got gift cards that didn’t fit (think “steakhouse scrip for a vegetarian”) or need the money more than the credit.

Buying a gift card does limit you to a specific retailer. But if you know you’ll be treating your BFF to hair-care goodies from Sephora or buying an Old Navy hoodie for your kid brother, why not make those buying dollars go further?

(Or just give the discounted card outright and let your recipients do their own shopping.)

The simplest way to shop is to go through an aggregator site called Gift Card Granny, which lists the discounts resellers are offering. Note, too, that these sites will buy your own unwanted cards for up to 95% of face value. (Great-Aunt Rose meant well, but you’re really not a Lands End kind of gal.)

Know Your Cleaning Products

Two women, different locations, same accident. Both women using an ordinary commercial toilet bowl cleaner, were not satisfied with the way it was removing stains. Each added household chlorine bleach and stirred with a brush.

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One died quickly, the other spent a long time in the hospital.

Here’s the problem: Whenever chlorine bleach comes into contact with acid or an acid-producing substance like toilet bowl cleaner or vinegar, there is a sudden release of chlorine gas. This is not a good thing. A similar result occurs when chlorine bleach is mixed with ammonia, lye or other alkaline substances. Chlorine gas is lethal.

Now that I have your attention let me assure you: If you stay clear of chlorine bleach, you have nothing to fear by making your own cleaning products. Why should you even consider doing that? The cost, for starters. You know that blue window cleaner sitting on your counter? You paid about 30 cents an ounce for it and it’s 95 percent water. Your own products will cost only pennies to make and will not contain toxic chemicals that could be harmful to your family and the environment.

Family Countdown to Christmas

If you’re a little put off by the mention of Christmas this early in the year, hear me out. I’ve got a great idea for how you can really enjoy season, bless your children and start a new family tradition all at the same time. I guarantee that the kids in your life are going to love you for it, too. But it requires some amount of preparation. That’s the reason it may appear that I’m rushing things a bit.

Photo credit: 2littlehooligans.com

Photo credit: 2littlehooligans.com

Step 1. Between now and Dec. 1, collect 24 different books that are in keeping with your family’s holiday values and beliefs. You can find books at thrift stores, library sales, book stores and online. 

Step 2. Wrap each book as a beautiful gift. Place all 24 gifts, marked only with a number between 1 and 24, in a large basket or festively-decorated box. Keep all of the wrapped gifts hidden until Dec. 1.

Step 3. Each night before bed allow the children to select and open one of these “gifts” that corresponds with the date on the calendar, then read it together. Repeat each night through Christmas Eve.

Step 4. Put the books away in a secret place and you’ll be ready to go again next year—and every year—starting with Step 2.

Gratitude: The Antidote for Greed

Gratitude is more than pausing once a year to offer up thanks. It’s more than a snappy word that rhymes with “attitude.” I am told that of all the human emotions, gratitude is the most powerful.

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So powerful is gratitude, it can obliterate fear, hopelessness and doubt. Gratitude can heal a broken heart, slow the aging process and restore broken relationships. Gratitude creates hope and hope brings joy. It is in joy, not fear, that we can find strength.

Greed is the enemy. Never in this history of our country has so much meant so little to so many. The easy availability of credit has allowed us to live beyond our means. It has encouraged greed to creep into every area of our lives. Some call this affliction Affluenza—an unhappy condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.

The more we have, the more we want. The more we want, the more it takes to feel satisfied. The more credit we accept the farther we slide into debt.

Best Homemade Gifts Under $10

If you have more time than money this Holiday Season—or just prefer to give and receive homemade gifts—here are my best ideas that cost less than ten bucks.

Spa Set. Give all the stressed-out folks on your gift list the gift of relaxation. Make your own bath products and then assemble them in a nice basket.

photo credit: mycrazyblessedlife.com

photo credit: mycrazyblessedlife.com

Bath Salts. 1 cup Epsom salts, 1 cup sea or rock salt, 20 drops fragrance oil, food coloring. Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until fully combined and color is even.

Bath oil. 1/2 cup almond oil, 1/2 cup castor oil or aloe vera, the oil from 6-8 Vitamin E capsules, 25-30 drops fragrance oil. Mix all ingredients in a bowl with wooden spoon until combined.

Bubble bath. Mix 3 cups clear, mild dishwashing detergent; the oil from 6-8 Vitamin E capsules, 1/4 cup glycerin, 25-30 drops fragrance oil, food coloring.

Salt scrub. Mix together Epsom salts and enough almond oil (better) or baby oil (cheaper) to resemble very wet snow. Add essential or aromatherapy oil for fragrance and soap colorant if you desire.

Place your spa products in individual bottles or small jars and decorate with ribbons, labels and or embellishments. Add other items you can pick up at the drug store such as a wash cloth, pumice stone or loofah.

Family Cookbook. Gather up your family’s best-loved recipes and create a family cookbook,  then make copies of it for family members on your list.To add illustrations to your family cookbook, scan old family photos of the person who is known for making the recipe to include on a particular page. Add a section for birthdays and addresses, too.

Smaller, Thinner, Faster, Cheaper!

The first computer was unveiled in 1946. Weighing in at 27 tons, it took up 1,800 square feet of floor space. And the cost? Nearly $500,000! That ENIAC was revolutionary but its functionality was, at best, limited.

Our first fax machine was unveiled at the Hunt Properties Real Estate office in 1989. It was so heavy it took three men to carry it in. It took up 9 square feet of floor space and cost $2,400. That Panasonic wonder revolutionized our real estate business. We could move documents from coast to coast in a matter of minutes rather than waiting days or weeks for the mail to show up.

We’ve come a long way since the days of monster computers the size of a house and gigantic fax machines. Cameras, computers, smartphones and tablets—oh my!

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I love technology. And just when I think things can’t get any faster, cooler or cheaper, here comes something new that just takes my breath away.

Trick Yourself into Saving Money

Buying things when they’re on sale is a great way to avoid overspending. But unless you are diligent to take the difference between the regular price and the sale price and actually deposit that into a savings account, are you really saving money? Nope. You’re just spending less. And you can “spend less” right through your entire paycheck. 

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While being careful to keep spending under control is admirable, it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that you’re a money-saving genius, when in truth you’re just spending all that you earn, wishing you made enough money to save some of it.

Getting started with actual savings—and by that I mean money that is put away into a safe place—can be difficult if you have a spending habit, a small budget or some of each. The way to remove the pain is to trick yourself into thinking you’re not really saving that much. Check out these tricks and get started today.

Call it a bill. This may sound silly, but just go with me here. Create a new monthly bill that you are obligated to pay and call it “Paying Myself First.” Make it look like an invoice of $5, billed to you. I don’t care how little money you earn or how poor you believe that you are. Anyone who really wants to start saving has $5 they can devote to the effort. Put this tiny bill at the top—ahead of the rent, food or phone bill. Your smallest bill will soon become your favorite.

You Need an Insurance Check-up

From regular oil changes to changing furnace filters and annual trips to the dentist, smart consumers know that preventive maintenance can avoid costly repairs down the road. Insurance is another item that needs to go on your routine maintenance list.

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No one wants to think about insurance unless forced to. But at least once a year, it’s important that you do a quick review to make sure you have the right amount of coverage at the best price.

Some of us have to learn these things the hard way. I really don’t know how many years we paid for a special rider to cover my husband’s photography equipment on our homeowner’s policy. Sure, it was a good idea when he was actually a photographer. But that rider rode on for many years after he’d sold the equipment.

And then there’s my friend Lucy who got tired of me nagging her and agreed to shop her car insurance. Within 15 minutes after calling an insurance broker, she had a quote for identical coverage at $500 less per year. Her problem was the loyalty she felt for the agent she’d been with for 13 years. But $500 is a lot of money so she called him to break the news that she would be moving on to cheaper pastures. “Wait,” the agent pleaded. “Give me one day to try to beat that quote.” He did, and rewrote her policy for $600 less per year with no changes in coverage.

As your policies come up for renewal, take a little time to shop around.