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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I was late to the party but somehow managed to catch up quickly. While Hobby Lobby has now expanded to California, I’d never stepped foot into one of the more than 800 stores until moving to Colorado.

How I lived for the greater part of my life without Hobby Lobby remains a mystery. Remarkably, somehow I survived.

Hobby Lobby Store Thornton CO

Hobby Lobby is basically an arts-and-crafts heaven but also includes hobbies, picture frames and framing; jewelry making, fabrics, floral and wedding supplies, cards and party ware, baskets, wearable art, home accents and holiday merchandise. And let me tell you, this company runs a tight ship.

Generally, the prices at Hobby Lobby are good. But if you know the secrets—these hacks, tips, and tricks—you’ll never pay the full price on anything at Hobby Lobby again. And you’ll routinely be saving 50% (sometimes up to 90%).

Know the Hobby Lobby Sale Schedule

Just about everything in the store goes on sale for 50% off at some time or another. Knowing how to anticipate those sales is the secret for saving big.

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Is money a little tight? Hoping a raise will come through soon? I hate to burst your bubble, but even if it is exceptional, a raise probably won’t do much good. 

By the time a raise is adjusted for taxes, you’ll be lucky to see half of it in your bank account. And if that’s not bad enough, nearly everyone who earns more automatically spends more. Reckless spending can consume a lot of cash, fast. 

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The degree of reckless spending seems to rise in direct proportion to income. It won’t be long until you are back in your old financial rut just barely getting by. Sadly, until you get serious about your spending, more money will never be enough.

The secret to getting cash inflow to exceed outflow is to reduce the outflow. That is a solution available to almost everyone.

Cutting expenses is not at all difficult once you understand it is like giving yourself a tax-free raise. Every dollar you do not spend it another dollar in your wallet. Or bank account.

The challenge is to find realistic yet painless ways to trim spending without creating drudgery or removing the fun from your life.

Even if you do not have a job, you can give yourself a raise. Read more

I have to admit to being a bit of a gadget freak. I’m drawn to tools and devices that do cool things. And when I discover “cool” includes being a money saver, for me that turns a purchase into an investment with a guaranteed rate of return.

 hand with a calculator. money saving concept.

Here’s a list of eleven gadgets, tools and items I’ve found that can save a lot of money and generally recoup the cost in less than a year. That time frame will vary depending on your specific situation. Your mileage may vary.

You can count on this: Once you’ve recouped the purchase price, these items will continue to save you money—for free!

 

PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT

If you have a central heat and air conditioning system, you need  a programmable thermostat. There are less expensive options available, but a high quality programmable thermostat like the Nest Programmable Thermostat will result in very precise temperature control. You can program it (easy) to automatically lower your air conditioning and/or heat use while you’re not home. Just set it and then forget about it; Nest will automatically adjust things for you so that you aren’t wasting expensive electricity—without any noticeable changes for you and your family.

With just a few manual adjustments, the Nest Thermostat can learn your habits and immediately start saving you money by automatically adjusting the temperature. Nest works with Alexa, which means you have voice control capability as well as the ability to control Nest from your smartphone. Used well, Nest can easily return its cost to you in the first year—making the annual savings free from then on.  About $215.
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Over the years, I have learned an important lesson about getting the best deals on just about everything. Extreme bargain hunters have something in common: timing. No matter what they’re trying to save on, they’ve got it down to a science, knowing specific days (and even the exact time of day) when a bargain is at its best.

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I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some of the tops experts in their fields (love my job), and oh, what I learned. I’ve tested these secrets and they’re for real.

Want to save like an expert? Learn these deal-hunting secrets. 

Hotel Rooms 

Best time to book a room? 4 p.m. local time on a Sunday, says CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg. Calling then can save you significantly, but the process can be tricky. Forget everything you think you know and follow these steps: 

1. Call the hotel’s local direct line, not the 800 number. The 800 number will connect you to a clearinghouse that books rooms for hundreds of locations. “The people who answer those phones don’t have the power to give you a better deal,” says Greenberg. Look up the local phone number for that hotel location.

2. Don’t ask to speak with Reservations—that will only get you routed back through to the 800-number clearinghouse. Instead, ask to speak to the manager on duty at the specific location. He has the authority to negotiate rates. 

3. Be courteous. Tell the manager that you’re shopping for a great room rate during a specific week, followed by, “What can you do for me?” If you feel hesitant, think of yourself as a valuable commodity. After all, you want to take an unsold room out of inventory. 

4. Say thank you and bask in your good fortune. 

Air Travel

There’s nothing more confusing and frustrating than buying plane tickets. One day you check ticket prices and think, Maybe I can get them cheaper if I wait. A few days later you check again—and the same seats have jumped $100 each. Arrgh! So how do you know when to buy?

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Do you wonder why you never have enough money to save some? Why there’s always so much month left at the end of the money? Maybe it’s time to consider that you’ve been handing over your savings to local restaurants, drive-thrus, diners, and coffee shops. Think about it.

man-holding-empty-wallet

What if you didn’t eat out so often? What if you were strategic in buying basic ingredients and then cooking great meals at home? What if you had more of your money tucked away in savings rather than in the coffers of local eating joints?

No matter your lifestyle, I am confident that with the right strategies, you really can reduce the amount of money you spend on food in order to have more money to save—and still eat healthy, satisfying meals.

MORE TIME THAN MONEY

If yours is a single-income household struggling to survive in a two-income world, keeping food on the table and the bills paid can be quite a challenge. The good news is that time is on your side. The one not working outside the home has the time—it takes time to carry out the best strategies—to keep the cost at rock bottom without sacrificing quality.

MULTIPLE STORES. All grocery stores and supermarkets have tremendous weekly sales—even Whole Foods and Sprouts. And they announce these details in their weekly flyers—in print and online.

MORE: 25 Ways to Chop Your Food Bill

EAT THE SALES. Buy only loss leaders and items that are on sale. You won’t starve and you’ll have a huge variety of food items to choose from and in every department. All food stores, even Whole Foods and Sprouts, have weekly sales. When your budget is really, really tight don’t give in to the temptation to buy more just because it’s on sale.

COUPON LIKE CRAZY. Matching coupons to sales is the best weapon you have against rising food costs. There are free websites like CouponMom.com that will hook you up with the best coupons out there—and teach you how to use them to your best advantage.

BECOME AN EXPERT. Invest five weeks and $39 in Erin Chase’s Grocery Budget Makeover! (she’s the $5 Dinner Mom). You’ll gain expert status in no time—and recoup the cost the first five minutes you put this valuable information to work. Registration for the class closes soon, so if you’re interested, do not delay.

LITTLE TIME, TIGHT BUDGET

For dual-income families with kids, time becomes an especially valuable commodity. It’s scarce. Both of you work full-time jobs. Kids are in school plus all of their extra-curricular activities.

Then there’s church and weekends filled with sports and just playing catchup to get ready for the next week. You don’t have time to visit every store; to take advantage of a variety of sales. But money is still really tight, which makes the challenge even greater.

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It’s been a few years since I’ve endured back-to-school shopping, all-school fundraisers, and parent-teacher conferences. Still, for me, the end of summer brings a sweet sense of excitement over September’s promise of a clean slate.

I can only assume that having spent so many years in school myself and then doing it all over again with my kids—and now my grandsons—my inner clock is stuck on the school, not the calendar, year.

Gone are the days when back-to-school meant a new pair of shoes. Nowadays, that simple three-word phrase is tantamount to the first domino that starts a chain of reactions into clothes, backpacks, supplies, fundraisers, after-school care, sports, clubs, school parties, nutritious breakfasts, loads of laundry, carpools, mobile phones, parking passes, lunch bags, teacher gifts and on and on it goes.

The challenge for all of us is to find practical ways to save time and money every day in all areas that relate to our kids, school and family life.

MORE: Back-to-School Clothes Shopping

Today, I want to share a story with you to demonstrate a way that you can get your kids’ clothes (yours, too!) and or school uniforms at huge savings—not from the thrift store and not the clothes your kids don’t want but they’re going to get, just because they’re on sale! I’m talking about the stores and style you and the kids love.

Here’s what happened: I asked my daughter-in-law if Eli (the cutest newly-minted fourth grader on earth) needed any school clothes. The answer was “Yes, please!” which gave me a wonderful reason to go shopping. Online. At home from my computer. Eli’s school requires uniforms—for the boys, it’s basic polo shirts and slacks.

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I used to love a good shopping mall. But those days are long gone and I don’t miss them one bit since I’ve discovered the joys and convenience of online shopping. In fact, I’ll do just about anything to avoid having to go inside a mall. Or even a grocery store.

Today, I’m going to walk you through the basic steps of an incredibly easy way to save money shopping online, using a recent purchase I made as an example.

Female hands typing on white computer keyboard

From time to time, I will stop by Chicos.com to check out “New Arrivals.” I’ve been looking for a jacket that would be appropriate for speaking engagements and I must be very picky because for weeks I haven’t seen even one that might be a good candidate.

On this particular day, something catches my eye—a jacket that just might be perfect, except for the $99 price. It’s available in my size and color preference so I put it into my shopping cart. And I leave the site.

(I’ve learned that unless I need an item immediately, putting a few days between the time I put something in the shopping cart, and when I actually check out may turn up any number of incentives to encourage me across the finish line.)

About a week later I return. Bingo! The jacket is still in my shopping cart but with a new reduced price of $41.99. But I don’t buy it. Not yet. Read more