No Money, No Christmas? No Way!

What would you do this holiday season if you had absolutely no money to spend and no available credit, either?


That’s the question I ask this time of year, and the responses have been all over the map from all-out panic to excitement at the thought of taking on such a challenge.

I’m not suggesting this should be the case for anyone. I’m simply posing the question in the same way I might ask what you would do if you noticed your kitchen on fire or your child choking on a chicken bone. Knowing to call 911 is good, but so is having a fully-charged fire extinguisher handy and a working knowledge of the Heimlich Maneuver.

So, let me ask you, could you do it? Could you find ways to celebrate Christmas that would fill your heart with joy and create warm and lasting memories, even if you had no money and no credit?

You know, when you come right down to it, isn’t that what we really want for Christmas? Isn’t that why we work so hard and often spend so much, to find joy and make memories that will last for a lifetime? 

Would You Clean Out Your Closets for $400?

Are your storage areas overflowing? Do your children outgrow their clothes at the speed of light? Have you “outgrown” (or just grown tired of) some of your clothes and household items? Wouldn’t it be nice to receive some cash for those unwanted but perfectly usable items that overwhelm your storage space?


It’s a typical scene. You’ve cleaned out a closet or your garage and have a box full of items you no longer want. Maybe they’re left over from a garage sale. You’d rather give it to charity than send it to a landfill or maybe you just don’t want to have a garage sale.

You know you can deduct the value of the items on your tax return. (By the way your return for 2015 is due April 18, 2016 with thanks to Wash., D.C. for the gift of a 3-day extension. Washington will celebrate Emancipation Day on April 15 and the IRS will be closed. The next business day is Monday, April 18, 2016.) But the question is how are you we supposed to know the values of items in good condition that we donate to qualified charities?

The problem: If we overstate the values we risk an IRS audit, penalties and interest. If we underestimate, we could end up paying more taxes than required.

For many years the hubs and I have relied on William Lewis, CPA, who compiles one of the most valuable resources I know of for ordinary folks like us. “Money for Your Used Clothing” is an amazing resource that lists  more than 1,300 values for commonly donated household and clothing items based on current prices of these items on the secondary market. 

“Tremendous” Advice for Holiday Gift-Giving

It is the late humorist and master of salesmanship, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, who said one of my favorite quotes of all time: You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read. 


While he didn’t specify, I’m nearly certain Mr. Jones was talking about cookbooks. Reading cookbooks has changed me. No only have they made me a better cook, learning how to do it and falling in love with the activity has impacted our household finances, tremendously.

Little by little, as I have become a better cook, we naturally eat at home ore. The more I read, the more I cook; the more I cook the better cook I become and the more often we eat at home. It’s a beautiful thing!

The hubs and I have reached the point that eating out has become more of a “Do we have to?!” than a “We get to.” We’ve reached the point that we eat at home, gladly, at least 99 percent of the time.

Today, I want to tell you about my current four favorite cookbooks (the lineup does change from time to time) and suggest a way that you could use any one of these fabulous cookbooks as the central item in a gift basket that you create for an aspiring home cook on your holiday gift list.


I guarantee that one of these cookbooks plus several items that match the theme of that particular book will delight any home cook—novice to advanced. What makes me so sure? Because I know how happy I’d be to receive any one of these gift baskets:

BYOB Club Member in Good Standing

For years, I’d endured a love-hate relationship with baking bread. It’s a domestic skill I could never master, and that bothered me.


When I tried, four out of five loaves flopped. Then, in an act of mercy from the yeast gods, I’d turn out a specimen fit for judging at the Iowa State Fair. Eventually, the outrageous price of store-bought bread led me to a method and book with the same title: The NEW Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (now updated to include gluten-free recipes).

Sure. Like anyone in her right mind would believe that. Five minutes a day? If this book were touting some prepackaged mix or pricey piece of equipment, I wouldn’t be interested.

But in no time at all, the verdict was in. It’s true. Authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois have taken the home baking world by storm, having created a method that takes away all of the variables of baking yeast breads: the time, the hassle, the waiting and the worrying. 

Drowning in Scraps of Fabric

Long-time readers of this column may remember the reader who wanted to know where she could donate her fabric scraps. I offered details on a small organization in Texas that turns new fabric scraps into quilts for shelters, churches and other charities.


Apparently reader G.W. was not the only reader with fabric scraps too good to throw away. Everyday Cheapskate readers sent so many donations, this group is set for years. Now they’re waving a white flag begging us to stop! Still the requests pour into my mail box from readers with an apparent case of Fabric Scrap Overload Syndrome. So far, I am unable to come up with any alternative groups or individuals in need of fabric scraps.

But not to worry. You may rethink your plans to give away your fabric stash when you discover all the ways to turn your scraps into fabric assets.

CUT QUILT SQUARES. Cut your like-content fabrics into 5- or 6-inch squares, put them in color coordinated sets and sell them on eBay. You’ll need to do a little research to see what other sellers are offering and what people are buying, but this is an excellent way to turn scraps to cash. 

The Gentle Art of Gift-Giving

As the holiday gift-giving season nears, it’s important to remember that not every relationship requires a gift. Sometimes a card or letter in which you write a thoughtful sentiment, is an excellent way to go. Caring enough to pick out the right card and then taking the time and effort to write in it can say “I care!” even better than a gift could.


Being a responsible gift-giver will help you to be an excellent recipient as well. Knowing that it’s the thought that went into the gift that counts—not the price tag—will help you to be genuinely grateful. You cannot be too grateful. But you can fail to express your gratitude, and that’s always a bad thing.

If you don’t know what to give someone, ask this simple question: What really matters to him or her?

Let’s say your grandmother really loves animals. In fact, she volunteers at the shelter two days a week. She is passionate about animal rights. Donating any amount of money (or a few hours of your time) in her name to the animal shelter would probably make her break down and cry. She would be touched that you cared enough to figure out what really matters to her.

GIVE SOMETHING YOU MADE. Whether it’s something from your kitchen, craft room, woodworking shop, or computer, there’s nothing like a homemade gift. A tree ornament, plate of cookies, box of fudge, note cards—these are just some of the homemade gifts that have universal appeal.

7 Ways to Cut Your Smartphone Data Usage

Unlimited data plans for smartphones are nearly a thing of the past. Even if you’ve managed to hang on to your unlimited data plan, it’s likely not truly unlimited. Your carrier probably throttles your data speeds if you exceed a certain amount of downloaded data in a given billing period.


Data usage per smartphone is growing like crazy which is prompting the typical smartphone user to buy bigger data allowances as they sign up for shared data plans and add other devices, especially tablets. Ka-ching!

There are things that you, as a socially connected, tech-savvy person with a smartphone and a limited data plan can do to stay below your limited data plan cap. Follow these tips to cut back on your data habit, track and monitor your usage, and stretech your data plan—so you never have to pay overage charges again.

How to Cut the Cost of Owning a Pet

No one was more surprised than I when my first granddog, Sir Boddington, nuzzled a place in my heart. I knew I was smitten the day I loaded up on toys, milk bones and other doggie delights. I blame it on “Boddie” that I so willingly became a member of the U.S. population that spent $58 billion in 2014 on food, supplies, services such as grooming and boarding, and medical care for their 358 million pets.


So how can you afford to care for your furry friend—in sickness and in health? Make prevention maintenance your top priority as a pet owner and you’ll save later on.

RESTRAIN. A fence or some other reasonable restraint is the best way to avoid big vet bills, says David T. Roen, D.V.M., board-certified veterinarian and owner of the Clarkston Veterinary Clinic in Clarkston, Washington. “I see more dogs in my office because of injuries sustained while unrestrained than for any other reason. Dogs should always be leashed, fenced or supervised.”

CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOOD. Dr. Roen advises pet owners to skip all the fancy premium foods sold by vets. Use name-brand pet food from the supermarket labeled “complete and balanced.” Or look for the seal of approval of AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials). Stick with the same brand. Switching abruptly can cause health issues for some animals. And less is better, as slightly underweight pets have fewer health problems.