A Lavish Gift Exchange

When our boys were only toddlers, we and our best friends, who have three children just about the same ages as our boys, decided that we would have a Family Christmas Party early in December. We called it that even though the two families were not technically related. We invited two sets of grandparents and one other older couple as well.

large family handing gifts to each other during a christmas dinner

Our common bond? Five adorable kids and all the grown-ups who love them. Everyone dressed up and the children performed their current talent. We had such a great time that we decided to make this Family Christmas Party an annual event.

That first year there were a few gifts—mostly small things for the children. But somehow over the years, the gifts grew in both quantity and quality. By the time this event passed the thirty-five-year mark, four of the five babies were married with babies of their own. Lots of kids! Two grandparents had died causing the family dynamic to change tremendously. But still the Family Christmas Party went on. And every year the problem would arise: What to do about gifts?

I give you this background so you can fully appreciate what happened that one year.

Read more

Best Inexpensive™ Heated Mattress Pad

Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t know something called a heated mattress pad even existed. Makes sense since I’d lived in Southern California for most of my life where it is mostly warm all year round.

Relocating to Colorado where the seasons are more pronounced, I had a lot to learn about heating a house without going broke. That first winter our heating bills shot to the moon because we were heating the entire house to a comfortable temperature day and night. It was shocking.

Scocked women look at a bill

We saw a semi-dramatic reduction in the heating bill when we decided to lower the thermostat to 60 F. at night and use a Bionaire micathermic space heater in our bedroom, but that wasn’t altogether successful. My husband and I have different internal thermostats. He would be cold while I’d be turning the space heater down a notch or two.

That’s when I set out to find a way we could both enjoy a warm and cozy sleeping environment without paying a fortune to achieve it. We tried going the electric blanket route. We got this Biddeford model with dual controls. That sounded like a great idea until we used it for a few nights. While the cords and wires are advertised to be flexible, we could still feel them and they felt stiff and bulky. Another problem is the dual controls require separate outlets. But worse—even at the lowest setting, it felt to me that I was trapped under a layer of heat and it didn’t feel good.

Read more

How I Spent Forty Bucks to Avoid Surgery

It was a total self-inflicted injury. I did a really stupid thing. Early on a Saturday morning, I heard the doorbell chime, which reminded me I’d set up an early appointment with a landscape company.

Not wanting a second ring to wake my husband, I flew like a flash from one end of the house to the other—and down the hardwood staircase. Wearing socks.

When I hit that top step, my legs shot out from under me like a rocket and down I bounced. On my bum. Hitting the landing halfway down didn’t stop anything. Instead, it propelled me for a second shot all the way to the bottom where I landed hard and in full view of one bewildered gardener.

Read more

Put Yourself on an Allowance

It used to be that when I felt broke, I chased away the horrible feeling by turning to my bevy of credit cards. As long as I could spend money, it felt like I had money. And the more I used my credit cards to prove to myself that I wasn’t really broke, the more debt I created until finally I couldn’t fake it any longer.

It took me thirteen years to get out of the financial mess I got my family into. It was bad. But I did it and in the process I learned a very important lesson: No matter the situation, all of us need some money we can call our own.

At some point during that long journey back to financial health, my husband and I agreed to put me on an allowance. It changed everything for me. As long as I had my own money and it wasn’t money I was sneaking out of the account in hopes that he would not find out, I didn’t feel broke. And when I didn’t feel broke, I was much more willing to be frugal with the rest of our income. My change of attitude made all the difference.

Read more

A Vanilla Bean Hedge Fund

Back in 2013, I bought half a pound of Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans for $34.95, to make a pure vanilla extract for Christmas gifts,

091616image_vanilla_lightamber

In 2016, because I didn’t want to run short as by then my homemade vanilla extract had become so popular with friends and family, I made a second purchase of the same quantity of vanilla beans from the same company. The price had suddenly become $66.95. It was shocking, but considering how many gifts I knew I could make from a half pound—plus never having to worry about running out for my own baking needs—I took a deep breath and carried on.

091616image_bottles

One year later, I’m grateful I made that purchase. Today, the price of one-half-pound of Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans from the same company has skyrocketed to $276 (that’s $552 per lb.). The reason? A tragic vanilla bean shortage with global outreach. That story is HERE.

Read more

When It Says FREE! Look for the Hidden Price Tag

I couldn’t pass it up, and I mean that literally. Someone had dumped it right in the middle of my shortcut through the back of a neighborhood shopping center. I had two choices: Hit it head-on or stop to investigate.

Closer examination revealed a unique piece of furniture. It was a child-sized, solid wood, combination five-drawer-dresser-wardrobe. I dragged it to the side of the road and found it to be fairly intact. It would need a little work, but it had definite possibilities. Even in its needy condition, it was FREE!

Had this item appeared in the classified ads or at a garage sale with a price tag, would I have been so eager? Not likely. It wasn’t on my list of needs, or even my wants. But FREE? That’s different. I’ll take it!

Haven’t we always believed that FREE means we get something for nothing? That, if it’s free, it’s good? That there’s no obligation, no strings attached? Well, we shouldn’t believe that.

Rarely does anything really come for FREE. Before you accept anything that seems to be FREE, you should look for the hidden price tag.

Price Tag: A Purchase. FREE with purchase only represents something free to you if you would have made the purchase anyway. If the freebie is what closed the sale, you didn’t get anything for free at all. You only paid less than you would have otherwise.

Read more

The Frugal Lifestyle

I’ll admit I used to think frugality was a distasteful lifestyle forced upon the poor. I believed “frugal” was synonymous with never buying new clothes and dumpster diving under the cover of night.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn. And learn I did—and continue to learn—that is the path to building wealth on any income.

I’d say the most fun I’ve had learning the fine art of frugality has been in reading The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.

Webster’s defines “frugal” as behavior characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources. The opposite is “wasteful,” a lifestyle marked by lavish spending and hyperconsumption. Wealth has nothing to do with how much you earn, but what you do with it and how much you keep. Read more

Look What I Got For Christmas!

I love gadgets and apparently I’ve not kept that a secret from my friends and family. I’m still excited about these five new gadgets I got for Christmas—each one amazing and fun to use.

THE KNIT KIT. What a cool little gadget. It contains the nine essential knitting tools every knitter needs to have handy at all times—all of them excellent quality and cleverly tucked into this handy gadget. No more having to dig and search for a stitch counter, tape measure, crochet hook, yarn/thread cutter, stitch markers, point protectors, darning needle, needle gauge and collapsible scissors. All nine essentials are in there and part of The Knit Kit. What a brilliant and clever gadget. I love it so much I just can’t stop knitting. About $30.

Read more