The sweater didn’t fit right, the color was all wrong. You already have a singing bass on a plaque and the “Puppies in a Basket” throw pillow—gifts received and much appreciated—are not quite right in your mid-century modern pad.

For whatever reason, if you need to return a gift, follow these simple tips to make sure all your returns are happy. 

Gift-return-line-in-Retail-Store

Try to get the receipt

Things will go more smoothly if you can get the gift receipt from the giver. 

Act immediately

Sure the singing bass cost $98 before Christmas, but if it’s marked down to $8.13, assume that’s the amount you’ll get in return. 

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No one knows your hair better than you do. But is it possible that in your efforts to keep it healthy and looking good, you are washing money down the drain needlessly? Consider these costly mistakes many people make.

Some rights reserved by Bellafaye Garden

Some rights reserved by Bellafaye Garden

Mistake: Expensive shampoo

Come on … ‘fess up. You feel guilty using $.99 shampoo because it’s really bad for your hair. And anybody knows the $24 salon variety is so much better especially for chemically treated hair, right? Wrong! Price has nothing to do with it.

The secret to shampoo intelligence is to know your detergents. Look at the list of ingredients on the shampoo bottle. Water (or some fancy name for it) will always be the first ingredient. Next comes the detergent. It’s tricky, so keep this list handy.

  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate – very harsh
  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate – harsh
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – still harsh
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) – mild, great choice
  • TEA Lauryl Sulfate – gentle, good choice
  • TEA Laureth Sulfate – gentle, also a good choice

When purchasing shampoo, consider just two things: price and the type of detergent (the list above). If you clip shampoo coupons and match them with shampoo sales, you may never pay more than $1 for shampoo again.

Hint: Many in the Herbal Essences and Suave lineup of shampoos—found in most supermarkets and drug stores—contain the mild option Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). But don’t assume—read the label.

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Today I am especially impressed if not excited by the cool and very useful money- and time-saving tips my EC readers send to me.

Not that long ago I stopped into a discount clothing store (Marshall’s to be exact) to get my husband a new belt. I enjoy the classy look of a high-quality leather belt and I know this store usually has a fairly decent selection. And they did. The problem was that not one of them was smaller than a size 52. What!? I walked out empty-handed. Then I heard from Reader Bob. Why didn’t I think of that?

mens-leather-belts

Bargain Belts

The discount clothing stores seem to frequently have a pretty good selection of high-quality men’s leather belts. The only problem for me is that the name-brand belts they carry are usually in sizes too big for me. I buy them anyway and take them to a shoe repairman near my home who removes the buckles, cuts off the extra inches and re-attaches the buckles. He charges me $3-$5 a belt. I spend on average $15 to $20 on a belt that retails in high-end department stores for $50 – $80 or more. Bob

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Quite possibly, the thing I enjoy most about this job of mine is that I get to read, ponder—sometimes shriek WHAAT?!—all of the great tips and ideas my readers send it for me to share with you.

Here’s another batch for your consideration and hopefully, enjoyment!

 waffle iron in the kitchen. preparing homemade waffles, pouring a dough

Will it waffle?

I use my waffle iron to bake cornbread. It’s fast and doesn’t heat up the kitchen. Delora

Turn down the heat

If you end up cooking something that is too spicy, just add a teaspoon of sugar and you will counteract the spiciness of the dish. Nancy

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As tempting as a pricey, artificial, pre-lit Christmas tree may be, few things about the holidays are as satisfying as a fresh, real Christmas tree. 

Christmas tree farm couple

1. Why real?

If the nostalgia of a fresh, fragrant tree is not reason enough to go natural, consider these facts:

  • Artificial trees will last for six years in your home (got storage space?), but for centuries in a landfill.
  • One to three seedlings are planted in the U.S. for every harvested Christmas tree—a total of 41 million were planted in winter/spring 2013, alone.
  • Ninety-three percent of real Christmas trees harvested are recycled in community programs providing mulch for landscape and replenishing the earth’s soil. 

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As we face the crush the Holiday prep, could you possibly use some help? Try these tips and ideas on for size.

Double up

When you cook this month, double your favorite meals and freeze the leftovers. Then, when you’re in a frenzy the few days before Christmas, you won’t have to fret about making dinner, too.

family-room-tips-to-decorate-for-Christmas

Electronic cards

You can save a lot of time and money when you send electronic Christmas cards, or eCards. There are lots of free sites—DaySpring.com and BlueMountain.com offer the best selections.

Shop from home

Shopping online can save a lot of time, frustration and gasoline. Finding free or reduced shipping makes online shopping even better. Dec. 14, 2018 is Free Shipping Day. Check FreeShipping.com for retailers who will be participating.

MORE: 9 Ways to Avoid Christmas Debt Even If You’re Short on Cash

Get cash back

If you’ll be shopping anyway, you might as well get some of your cash back. Ebates is by far the easiest and most efficient way to do that. An Ebates account is completely free, easy to set up. Then every time you shop online, make sure you have your Ebates account activated (it’s so easy—you’ll see once you have an account). And you can use your Ebates account in-store, too!

If you’re curious why I’m such an Ebates fan, yesterday I got another Ebates check in the mail—cash back for things I would have purchased anyway, including the rental car Harold and I used on our recent New England getaway. I didn’t expect it, but I’ll take it!

The hardest part about using Ebates? Remembering to use it! Ha. However, they do make it pretty easy. I believe I’ll stop forgetting, now that it is putting money back in my pocket.

RELATED: 3 Ways to Find Extra Cash for Christmas Read more

An unintended consequence of embracing a frugal lifestyle is that gnawing tendency to never throw anything away. Fight the feeling, folks. Turning into a hoarder will only create a new problem in your life. 

relaxing-at-the-fireplace-on-winter evening

Now, about all those useless candle stubs you’re hanging onto—its time to get them out and keep them by your fireplace or wood burning stove.

Cheap Fire Starter

Save your candle stubs in a container by the fireplace. The next time you need to start a fire, light a couple of the stubs and throw them in along with paper or kindling. The wax will burn for a long time and give the larger pieces of wood more time to catch fire. Mary Anne

Ultimate Sales Insert

If you often spend Sunday afternoon paging through the week’s sales inserts for your favorite stores, check out SundaySaver.com. This site has handy links to all weekly sales and specials for hundreds of stores like Kohls, Wal-Mart, Old Navy, Walgreens, Home Depot and Amazon. Kim 

At this writing, I just checked and clicked on Kohl’s at SundaySaver.com, and can see the Black Friday ads, which must have been leaked because they do not yet appear at kohls.com. Great tip. –mh

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When Swiffer WetJet hit the market years ago, consumers went wild for it. I loved my Swiffer, but did not like the price of the cleaning pads. And my readers didn’t like it either.

Readers still send me their tips on what they use instead for disposable, pricey cleaning Swiffer cleaning pads. Some are clever, some too complicated, and some I just can’t repeat. I like Brenda’s idea, as it saves money and recycles, too.

SECOND LIFE FOR FLANNEL

My tip involves giving my husband’s old flannel lounge pants and flannel shirts a second life as cleaning pads for my Swiffer. I cut pieces 8″ x 20″ (or to fit your mop head of choice), attach to the mop head and then dampen with water before use. When I’m done mopping, I toss these in the laundry. Brenda

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