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A Mishmash of Christmas Ideas and Holiday Tips

As we face the crush of holiday prep, could you possibly use some help? Try these tips and ideas on for size—clever ways to do more while spending less.

Double up

When you cook, 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.

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Electronic cards

You can save a lot of time and money when you send electronic Christmas 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, 2019 is Free Shipping Day. Check FreeShipping.com for retailers who will be participating—and to grab hundreds of coupon codes, too.

READ: How to Shop with CASH at Amazon

Get cash back

If you’ll be shopping anyway, you might as well get some of your cash back. Rakuten is by far the easiest and most efficient way to do that. A Rakuten 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 Rakuten account in-store, too!

If you’re curious why I’m such a Rakuten fan, a few weeks ago I got another Rakuten 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 Rakuten? Remembering to use it! Ha. However, they do make it pretty easy to add a Rakuten button on your computer’s toolbar or the Rakuten app for your mobile device. I believe I’ll stop forgetting, now that Rakuten is putting money back in my pocket.

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

11 Practical Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget

If soaring food prices are getting you down, help is on the way! Here are some basic saving strategies, practical solutions, and novel ideas to stretch your food budget—and make your life easier.

Grate savings

You pay a lot to have someone else grate your cheese for you—at least twice the price of buying cheese by the block. Currently, at my supermarket, cheese in blocks runs from about $2 to $2.50 a pound for the store brand to about $5.00 a pound and more for name brands. The very same cheeses, pre-grated, run almost exactly double across the board, $4 to $10 a pound. Here’s the tip: Grate it yourself. It will stay fresher and you’ll save money, too.

Pro tip: Commercially grated or shredded cheese comes with an added ingredient like potato starch or modified cornstarch to prevent “caking” or “clumping.” Well, guess what? Those anti-caking ingredients inhibit melting, too. Now you know why pre-grated or shredded cheese doesn’t seem to always melt as readily, often leaving an odd thickened texture.

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Coffee Hacks, Tips, Tricks, and Copycat Pumpkin Spice Latte

Whenever I write about my love of coffee that admittedly has turned me into a coffee snob, reader feedback is as enthusiastic as it is voluminous. I’m happy to know I’m not alone in my snobbery.

 

coffee cup and saucer on a wooden table. dark background.

 

Many of you bring up interesting points—questions, too. Like what to do with brewed coffee that is no longer ideally fresh but too good to throw down the drain. Others want to know how to make your own cappuccino, lattes, and even the “steamer,” made popular by Starbucks—surprisingly containing no coffee at all.

Short of purchasing an espresso machine that uses high-pressure steam to make espresso and has a gizmo that steams the milk as well, there are ways we can improvise to create reasonable facsimiles of our favorite coffee drinks.

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17 Really Fun Tricks and Tips Every Traveler Needs to Know

I love to travel, which is my favorite unintended consequence of becoming an author, speaker, and blogger.

I’ve learned that travel always involves challenges. That’s why I have adopted an attitude that no matter how well I’ve planned if something can go wrong it probably will. And if it doesn’t? That’s my travel bonus.

Woman carrying a red suitcase

Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of really great travel tips—some fun, some crazy but all of them very useful if only to avoid a headache or two. Here are favorites:

Backup critical info

Before you leave, scan the front and back of every item in your wallet including your passport. Email the images to yourself. Now you’ll always have a digital copy handy in case you lose something. This will not substitute for your passport, ID or credit card, but you’ll have all of the pertinent information you need to keep going.


MORE: Identity Theft is Hilarious but It’s No Laughing Matter


Make a list

Sounds so elementary. Mental lists are great, but a written list is there to keep things together when stress sets in the way it does right before its time to leave. I make a list of items I don’t want to forget—which I know from experience that I WILL forget if I don’t write them down. When I think of something, I need to write it down.

Pre-plan outfits

Take the time to plan what you’ll wear then pack in outfits—specifically. Write it down! You’ll be so glad you have this wardrobe plan in writing once you get to your destination or move from one accommodation to the next. You won’t be happy when you discover you brought 4 pairs of black pants but only two tops. What were you thinking?

Roll it

Instead of folding your clothes, roll them tightly. They’ll take up less space in your luggage and that can save having to pay extra baggage fees. Read more

9 Ideas for a Frugal (Not Cheap!) Wedding

I get a lot of mail on the subject of weddings. I get stories of joy and tales of woe; great ideas and even a blooper from time to time.

In 27 years, I cannot recall a single time I’ve heard from a bride or groom saying who wished they’d spent more money on their wedding.

The best wedding mail comes from frugal brides and grooms who are anxious to share their fabulous frugal ideas with future couples!

 

holding hands bride and groom at a wedding

Lean guest list

Our first guest list included everyone we knew. As the list (and grew), we realized that would be a really bad idea. Without intending to do so, we got very close to inviting people who would then feel obligated to attend a wedding for people they didn’t really know that well. We decided to whittle that list, seeing our wedding as a more intimate event rather than a big everyone-we-know blowout.

From where we started, we got the list down to 25%. Best decision ever. Our wedding was manageable, affordable, and exactly what we wanted—an intimate celebration of joy. Debbie

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10 Easy Ways to Cut Your Gasoline Cost

Only a few months ago I paid $1.75 a gallon for gas in Thornton, Colo. That’s nearly a dollar cheaper than I paid this past week at the same location—$2.72 per gallon! What’s going on?

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AAA  blames the increase partially on a drop in fuel supply from oil refineries. As a reulst, experts say prices are likely to keep climbing this summer, so drivers will have to be strategic to manage their fuel costs.

To save a gallon of gas, you need to cut about 22 miles of driving from your week. Here are 10 easy ways to do that:

1. Hop on the bus, Gus

Even if you think this is not an option for you, consider public transportation. You may be surprised by all the options that you have never considered. Or carpool. Leaving the car at home and sharing your commute occasionally can help you reach your gallon-goal quickly. Sharing the ride—and expense—with another person regularly can cut your gas costs in half. Check out your carpooling opportunities at the eRide Share app, eRideShare.com.

2. Take it easy

The faster you drive, the more gas you use. If your average commute includes 20 miles of highway time and you drive it at 60 mph instead of 70 mph, it will take you only three minutes longer to get there, and you’ll save approximately 1.3 gallons of gas in a five-day workweek.

3. Trip-chain

Need to pick up a prescription, mail a package and go to the bank? Instead of spreading these tasks out over a few trips, chain them together by doing all of them at one time. Park in a central spot and walk from place to place. Read more

9 Cooking Mistakes We All Make and How to Fix Them

Just the other night I suffered a kitchen disaster. I hate when that happens. I ruined an entire pot of pasta because I got busy and was not paying attention. By the time I realized, the pasta had cooked way beyond al dente, all the way to total mush.

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It killed me to dump the whole thing down the disposal, but there was no way to undo that disaster.

Thankfully, that’s not true for every cooking mistake. This is a list you’re going to want to keep handy just in case.

Too much salt

It’s a common cooking mistake. If you’ve added far too much salt to a sauce or soup and you have enough ingredients, double the recipe or make more by half, then mix it in with the salty batch a bit at a time until you’ve reached your desired flavor.

Another trick is to add a bit more unsalted water to the mix, provided this will not also dilute the flavor.

Burnt toast

Don’t toss it until you’ve tried this neat trick: Use your cheese grater to quickly scrape off the burned layer. Works like magic!

Undercooked cake

The first sign of a cake that’s not done is that sinkhole in the middle. Once cooled you cannot re-bake it. But don’t worry. This is not a hopeless kitchen disaster.

Break the cake into pieces (even those parts that are undercooked) and combine them with whipped cream and fresh fruit to make dessert parfaits or one large trifle

ENJOY: 25 Items Under $25 to Help Organize Your Life

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These Brilliant Tips Make Cooking More Fun and Rewarding

I remember my grandmother saying, “If we didn’t need food, we’d all be rich!” This may be true. But then, a life without food would be a little less pleasurable.

Still, there are so many ways to make great food cheap, make perishable food last, and the grocery budget stretch like nobody’s business.

Enjoy today’s tips, filled with practiced wisdom for practical solutions to make cooking and brewing coffee fun and rewarding for you and your family. Bon appétit!

One lovely cuppa

If you love coffee as much as I do and have never tried a gadget called AeroPress you are in for a delicious surprise.

Aerobie is manual and the cheapest, easiest, fastest way to make a really great cup of coffee. And yes, I do mean just one cup of perfectly brewed coffee at a time—or up to three cups.

Aerobie is small enough to store in your desk drawer at the office and another at home. Can’t break the $4-a-day Starbucks habit? This could do it.

Heat the mug

Tired of that first morning cup of steaming hot coffee cooling off too quickly? Do this:

As your coffee is brewing, fill your coffee mug with water and heat it to boiling in the microwave. Pour out the water into a dirty dish or pan that needs to be soaked, and replace with hot coffee. You’ll be amazed by how much longer the coffee stays hot.  Read more