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.

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.

When It Comes to Food Products, What’s In a Date?

Perhaps you have noticed that some food products come with dates printed on them—”sell by Aug 01 14″ for example. Does that mean it has to be used by that date or just sold by that date? Or what about canned or packaged goods that show only a date like “2.01.14.” Does that mean you could end up in the E.R. if you consume it after that date?  

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Other food products don’t seem to have any date at all. Confusing, isn’t it. That’s why I thought today would be a good time to bone-up on food dating.

While most food processors date and code their products, the Food and Drug Administration mandates dating only on infant formula and baby food. Everything else is voluntary. Still, the food industry generally follows certain guidelines suggested by the FDA.

Phrases like “Best Before,” “Better if Used Before,” or “Best if Used By” tell you how long the product will retain its best flavor and highest quality. You will find these phrases on products like baked goods, cereals, snacks and some canned foods. The food is still safe to eat after this date, but may have changed somewhat in taste or texture.

Reader Mail Both Unpredictable and Enjoyable

For anyone wishing to study human nature, my mailbag would make an interesting research center. I get tons of mail. But rather than arriving in a steady flow it comes in waves. I’ve given up trying to predict which subjects will prompt responses from my readers.

photo credit: Matt McGee

photo credit: matt mcgee

Take the recent column on the inherent dangers associated with debit cards because of a relatively weak law that regulates them, as opposed to the much stronger law that protects users of credit cards. It was, in my humble opinion, empowering information worthy of some measure of positive response. Or at least a few angry challenges from loyal debit-card users. Surprisingly, responses to that column were nearly non-existent.

Reduce your Taxes to Keep More of Your Hard-Earned Money

More than 15 years ago, I met William Lewis, CPA. I’d come across a book he’d written and it piqued my interest.  I gave him a call.

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Bill told me that for years he’d found himself frustrated that his clients who itemize and for whom he prepares their tax returns, were paying more in income taxes than required because they were not keeping track of what they donated to recognized charities like Goodwill and The Salvation Army.

Many clients would donate loads of stuff throughout the year, but then fail to deduct the fair market value of those times, as allowed by the IRS because they were uncertain of what their stuff was worth or how to determine those items’ market value. 

I Know a Magic Trick and I’m Telling All

Is it just me, or do you too love to discover something inexpensive that does the exact same thing as its pricey name-brand cousin? It’s not just the money-saving difference that pushes my buttons, it’s the “knowing” part. I’m not saying it makes me feel smarter, or even smug. On second thought, maybe that’s exactly what I’m saying. Ha.

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Magic erasers. Have you ever wondered what’s the “magic” in Mr. Clean Magic Erasers? They are quite amazing, but expensive. Generally, the Mr. Clean brand erasers run $.87 to $3.50 each depending on where you find them and if you go for the original or magic erasers with fragrance. Generic versions of magic erasers are made of the identical same material for a fraction of the price. I have seen them as low as $.10 each when purchased in a pack of 200.

Here’s the secret behind that “magic.” These erasers are small cuts of melamine foam, which comes in big sheets and is used for insulating and soundproofing. Seriously true. Mr. Clean must have a big saw in his basement where he cuts it up into sponge-size pieces. So does that generic company that sells the identical same product for just pennies. Interested readers who want a 4- x 8-foot sheet of melamine insulating foam should Google “melamine foam.” Me? I’m thrilled with the erasers that cost a dime each. A box of 200 lasts a long time, although I have to admit to using them quite freely and for just about every household cleaning opportunity I can think of. Magic makes cleaning fun.

Time to Get Ready for Christmas

It’s October. And you’re reading an article about Christmas.

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When it comes to Christmas prep, there are just two categories of people: Natural-born organizational types who have Christmas all shopped, wrapped and ready-to-go come Independence Day and the rest of us.

I’m not saying that The Rest of Us are just a pathetic lot of procrastinators. Okay, well maybe I am. But I prefer to think of it as patience—waiting until I have time. Or when I get in the holiday mood.

Those of us who tend to wait until the last possible moment to get things done do have our reasons. The biggest of course is that we don’t want to get started until we’re sure we can do it perfectly. Procrastination, I’ve been told, is only a hairsbreadth from perfectionism. And in that tiny gap lurks our worst enemy: paralysis.

It’s time to get unstuck. Time to, at the very least, start thinking and making a few plans for how we’ll handle the mother of all irregular expenses—Christmas.  So, let’s get started, shall we?

Set a budget. You have to get a dollar figure in mind—the amount of money you will need to accomplish your intentions. Believe me, it’s a lot easier to do this now while it is a non-emotional issue. Determining what you’ll need to cover costs is more like a business decision that is easier to do while Christmas is still many months away. With no snow falling or malls calling, you are not feeling bombarded by guilt, fear or panic. And while you’re at it, remember the holidays also create non-gift expenses—parties, postage and pageants; travel costs, extra food for entertaining and all kinds of other expenses galore.