2011 Memorial Day Sales & Deals

May 25th, 2011

Memorial Day is this weekend, which means 2 things – summer is officially on the way, and so are the sales!  I’ve compiled my2011 Memorial Day dealsfavorite Memorial Day sales and deals for 2011, so I hope you’re able to enjoy not only the day off work, but also the great shopping.  Do you know of something I’ve missed?  Leave a comment below to share the deal with others.

  • Abercrombie – Get 25% off your whole purchase with code 10062.
  • American Eagle – Save 30% off your order with code 82934281 until May 30, 2011.
  • Children’s Place$5 tanks, leggings, tees and more with free shipping on all orders until May 30, 2011.
  • Lane BryantB1G1 free on select items including bras, leggings and tops.  Offer valid until May 30, 2011.
  • Macy’s25% off clearance items (who can turn down double savings?!).  This deal excludes furniture and mattresses.  Use coupon code KICKOFF to get 15% off non-clearance items.
  • Office DepotFree 4GB USB drive with $50 HP ink purchase.
  • PaylessUse coupon code 47010 to save 20% until May 30, 2011.
  • Sears15-30% off all appliances until May 31, 2011.  Some deals will be available until June 9, 2011.
  • TravelZoo – Haven’t planned your Memorial Day weekend getaway yet?  TravelZoo has some very attractive options.
  • WalMart – Many stores are offering $100 off an iPhone 3GS 16B.  This deal starts on May 27th.  Rumor has it that grills, patio sets and bikes will also be offered at amazing prices.

10 Great Father’s Day Gifts (for Cheap)

May 19th, 2011

Father's Day GiftsIs it just me or does it feel like Mother’s Day was ages ago?  And yet, considering that Father’s Day has not yet arrived, I’m sure it couldn’t have been that long ago.  The good news is that after Father’s Day, there are no gift-giving holidays until Christmas (or maybe Thanksgiving if you’re not hosting).  The (somewhat) bad news is that it’s time to focus on the difficult task of finding an appropriate, inexpensive Father’s Day gift.  Fortunately for you, I’ve got 10.  Just consider this my Father’s Day present to all the men out there who need to buy gifts for their own fathers.

  • New photos for his office. If the man in your life still decorates his office with pictures of his kids from before Obama was inaugurated, Father’s Day is the perfect time to update his collection.  Surprise your husband or father by taking the kids to get portraits taken.  You can even get a free one at Picture People until the end of June.  New wallet-sized photos wouldn’t hurt either.
  • A good steak.  There’s a certain machismo associated with a good piece of beef, which is probably why your man always orders the steak over the chicken.  If you can’t afford a luxurious dinner out, spring for an expensive cut of meat that you wouldn’t normally buy, and allow him to grill it.  He’ll feel doubly manly and you’ll both be well-fed.
  • A tree.  It might sound silly, but a tree is actually an excellent present.  It’s not expensive, it’s great for the environment, and the recipient will remember you every time he looks at it.  If the father in your life doesn’t have his own garden, consider a bonsai tree.  If it was good enough for Mr. Miyagi, it should make a great choice for your man as well.
  • A rice pot.  Have you ever caught your man eating frozen pizza or ice cream (straight out of the container) for dinner because he was too lazy or (gasp!) uncomfortable in the kitchen to make healthier food?  If so, he might appreciate a rice pot, which can empower him to make rice easily with little or no measuring required.  If you get an extremely inexpensive rice pot as a Father’s Day gift, throw in a bottle of Iron Chef General Tzo’s Sauce, and you’ll give him the tools to make his own food for a month.
  • Movie tickets.  A great Father’s Day gift for under $25, a pair of movie tickets can allow Dad to feel guilt-free about seeing the latest action movie on the big screen.
  • Beer from a micro-brewery.  Whether your father likes to relax with a beer at the end of the day or to share with his friends during a big game, he’ll appreciate this thoughtful Father’s Day gift.
  • Expensive wine. Even on a $25 budget you can get a bottle of wine that is fancier than you’d likely buy otherwise.  Uncork it for your Father’s Day dinner or save it for another special occasion, when he’ll be able to remember your thoughtful Father’s Day gift and enjoy it fully.
  • Photo mug.  Choose a funny picture and order the mug to say Happy Father’s Day 2011 on one side, so that the recipient will smile with every sip.
  • His favorite TV show on DVD.  With the invention of TiVo, it almost seems like there’s no need for DVDs anymore.  But if your father or husband is a die-hard fan of a specific show, he may want to watch it on-demand, even if it’s off the air.  For a budget under $25, you’ll likely be able to afford only one season of your man’s favorite show – but this will provide hours of entertainment.  This Father’s Day gift will be especially handy when your man is sick, when he wants to exercise and there’s nothing else on TV, or when you need him to be entertained as he folds the laundry.
  • Wallet digital photo viewer.  You may think I’m partial to photo gifts, but actually, these make extremely appropriate Father’s Day presents, since the goal of the day is to celebrate fatherhood and family.  Wallet-sized digital photo viewers have been out long enough to be reasonably priced, but they’re still not very common, which makes them a cool gift for any dad.

Can’t Save More? Learn How to Earn More!

May 12th, 2011

In today’s tough economy, even those lucky to be employed are finding it hard to survive financially.  And while there are infiniteEarn more money nowtheoretical ways to save money, many people are finding that there are few remaining places to cut back.  And while I may just be one of the most frugal people on earth, even I know that sometimes a good path to financial stability is a combination of both saving more and earning more.  The tips below can be useful for those who are currently working full time and those who aren’t – I hope you can use them wisely on your path to financial freedom.

One of the best ways to earn more money is by making sure your money is properly invested.  I’m not an expert financial advisor by any means, but even I know that leaving your money in a standard savings account is nearly akin to leaving it under your mattress and expecting it to multiply naturally.  If you have any extra income, even a small amount per month, make sure that it’s set aside and invested somewhere that it can earn more money.  With this type of passive income, you aren’t likely to see the money directly in your checking account, but you’ll know that it’s there in case of emergency.

Filing your taxes is another way to discover some extra cash, because you may just be entitled to a refund.  If you’re not earning a lot and you have children or a dependent spouse, you may be surprised at your annual tax statements.  Just make sure that you’re getting all of the tax deductions that you can before you sign on the dotted line.  It may not seem like a lot, but each deduction counts.

If you have some time on your hands or a special skill that you can share, giving lessons can be an excellent source of supplemental income.  I have friends who teach everything from art to English.  A creative high school student in my neighborhood even offers soccer lessons to the neighborhood’s boys.  Parents can pay $3 for their child to learn how to play soccer (and can enjoy a bit of afternoon reprieve), and the instructor earns $30-$50 per hour depending on how many children show up.  Private lessons, of course, can be even more lucrative.

If you have skills that don’t translate well into lessons, why not look for work on Elance?  The great part about Elance is that you can find hundreds of projects to bid on.  The downside is that you may have to settle for working at a rate lower than you’d otherwise take.  Still, if you have time or a serious desire for extra cash, Elance can likely meet your needs.

Finally, if you’re really strapped for cash, consider renting out a room in your home for some quick extra income.  SmartMoney magazine recently had an article about mansion owners who took in tenants so that they can avoid foreclosure.  In reality, however, this is not a unique idea.  When I was growing up, taking in ‘boarders’ was a rather common thing to do, not only to earn extra money, but to help children in need find a place to live.  These days, however, taking in a tenant is not only helpful to the tenant, but also a great way to supplement your income.

Live Royally for Less

May 6th, 2011
Kate Middleton - Royal Money Management

Photo Credits: Harper's Bazaar

If you were one of the millions of people who tuned in to watch the royal wedding live last week, you’ll know that they spared no expense in creating a fairytale event.  But don’t be fooled – just because the royal wedding was exceptionally lavish, doesn’t mean there aren’t financial lessons to be learned from the event – and from the newlyweds’ lifestyle. We already know that Prince William saved big by giving Kate his mother’s engagement ring.  Here are some more lessons I’ve taken from Kate Middleton.  What have you learned?

  • When it comes to guests, less is more. Sure, the royal wedding ceremony included over 1,000 invited guests, including dignitaries from across the globe.  But when it came to the reception dinner, only 300 people attended.  Limited budget?  Unlikely.  Desire to share the event with only their closest friends and relatives?  Probably.  If you’re planning a wedding and need to cut back on your guest list, just tell your friends that you’ve learned about wedding planning from Kate Middleton – and make sure to invite everyone possible to the ceremony.
  • It’s ok to borrow.  Contrary to some rumors, the Queen did not bequeath Kate the tiara that she wore to the wedding.  Instead, she lent it to the bride.  Next time you need jewelry for an elegant event, why not ask around?  Perhaps a friend or relative has exactly what you need.
  • Off the rack rocks. It’s no secret that First Lady Michelle Obama has been sporting clothing off the rack everywhere from state dinners to her appearance on Oprah.  And now Kate Middleton is among the celebrities wearing off the rack clothing, most notably in her first post-nuptial appearance, when she was photographed wearing an H&M dress.  Why spend more on designer clothing, when you can look great, feel more comfortable and save big by wearing commercially-designed clothing?
  • Don’t pay for delivery. Only a few days after the wedding, Kate was spotted grocery shopping in her North Wales neighborhood.  Although she can afford delivery, and may even be busy acclimating to her new life, she skipped this expensive convenience.
  • There’s nothing wrong with renting. I don’t know him personally, but I’d venture a guess that Prince William can surely afford to purchase a home for his new bride.  Or, at the very least, that he’d be eligible for a nice mortgage.  And yet, the couple chooses to live in a rented farmhouse.  Is this because they aren’t sure where they’ll want to settle down?  Is it because they aren’t ready to be homeowners?  You and I may never know, but I can say with certainty that if renting is good enough for royals, it is surely good enough for us common folk, and there should be no embarrassment or pressure to purchase a home beyond your means.

Great Gifts for Mom for $25 or Less

April 29th, 2011

Mother's Day PresentsYour mother has invested time, money and energy into turning you into the person you are today.  But showing your appreciation doesn’t mean that you need to pay her back for all she’s done.  Instead, try one of these creative and meaningful Mother’s Day presents, and show Mom you care for under $25 bucks.

  • Personalized gel cell phone cover.  Sure, your mom can keep a picture of you (or your children) as her phone’s wallpaper – but that’s easy to change.  Your picture as a protective cover for her cell phone, however, is not as easy (or cheap) to change, and will remind her regularly how much you love her.  GelaSkins allows you to create a cell phone cover for over 80 models of cell phones, and prices start at only $14.95.
  • Personalized apparel.  If a personalized cell phone cover isn’t one of your favorite gifts for mom, why not try a personalized item of clothing?  There are many places to have t-shirts screened with a funny message or image, and to have clothing embroidered with a sentimental message (for example, Billy loves me!).  Put some thought into it, and your mom will truly appreciate this Mother’s Day gift.  (Helpful hint – buy your own clothing item on sale and bring it to a personalization company instead of buying their clothing to save money).
  • Bamboo plant.  Even women who aren’t good with plants will be able to maintain a bamboo plant, which has long been considered a token of good luck and an important element for those who appreciate the concept of feng shui.  A bamboo plant will last for years when watered once weekly, and may even live up to the standards ascribed to it.
  • Mommy cards.  If you’re looking for a Mother’s Day gift for a new mom, mommy cards may be just what you’re looking for.  Your friend, sister or daughter who is a new mom can use mommy cards to organize play dates, some of which may be even more valuable than any gift money can buy.  Try using a standard business card printing company such as VistaPrint, as designated mommy card companies charge more for the same product.
  • Computer game or Apple app.  If there’s a computer game that you love, why not get a copy for your mom so that you can play together online?  I know mothers and children who live in different states or continents who play games against each other regularly.  This can be a great way to stay connected and to keep the fun in the relationship alive.
  • Interesting bathroom book.  Many harried mothers can’t find much time for reading (unless you count reading children’s books).  In fact, a private moment in the bathroom may be the only time some mothers have to themselves.  A new bathroom book may be just what mom needs to decompress in her spare time, and it’ll definitely be one of the cleverest Mother’s Day presents she gets!
  • Prepared dinner for the family.  Most mothers I know dread making dinner for their brood because it requires not only forethought, but time and energy for both preparation and cleanup.  If you know a mother with children at home, making dinner for the family can be the best Mother’s Day gift ever.  (Warning – she may expect the same gift every year from now on).

Earth Day Freebies and Deals in 2011

April 22nd, 2011

Go green - save moneyIn the midst of the Easter/Passover holiday season, it’s easy to forget about Earth Day, which falls this year on Friday, April 22.  But the exciting Earth Day freebies and deals offered make this a holiday to be remembered not only by environmentally responsible people, but fiscally responsible people as well.  I hope that by enjoying these eco-friendly Earth Day freebies you’ll be able to impact the environment and your wallet.

  • The Disney Store is giving out one free reusable bag for every person who brings in 5 plastic shopping bags on Earth Day.
  • Origins is once again providing free full-sized facial cleansers to anyone who brings in an empty skincare bottle from any other brand on April 22.  You can choose between Checks and Balances Frothy Face Wash or A Perfect World Antioxidant Cleanser with White Tea.  Alternatively, if you don’t have an empty bottle, get a free full-sized cleanser with a $30 purchase.  And, while you’re there, make sure to ask for the free mini facial.
  • As mentioned on my Facebook page, Starbucks is offering free coffee or tea to anyone who brings in a reusable mug on April 22.
  • Get a free tree from Lowe’s on Saturday, April 23, when the chain is partnering with American Forests to distribute 1 million tree saplings.  In addition to the one million tree giveaway, Lowe’s will host a special Earth Day Build and Grow clinic at 10 am. on April 23. Every Lowe’s store nationwide will offer the Build and Grow clinic, which guides children through building a wooden birdhouse to take home.
  • Anyone who purchases ‘green ‘ products at Drugstore.com until April 22 can enjoy up to 60% savings.
  • Kmart is having sales on energy-efficient appliances (and some other appliances as well) on April 22.

All of the nation’s 394 national parks have free admission through April 24.

Happy holidays!

5 Expenses That are Robbing You Silently

April 15th, 2011

Bills might be a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean that high bills need to be a fact of life.  But sadly, most people are being robbed quietly each month by utility companies, insurance companies and other expenses that seem reasonable but aren’t.  Don’tSave money on monthly expensesallow yourself to be a passive bill payer – consider the five ways below in which you can save money each month, and take action to save big.  After all, a penny saved is a penny earned.

  • Mortgage payments – Interest rates are at the lowest point they’ve been in ages, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of this opportunity to save money.  It may be a bit of a hassle to refinance your current mortgage, but you can end up saving thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.  Consider whether you’d want to reduce the term of the loan or to keep the same length of the loan but reduce the monthly payments, and speak with a financial advisor who can guide you on the best way to proceed.  If you’re a homeowner, a bit of legwork can really pay off big.
  • Car insurance – If you’re like most people, you’ve chosen a car insurance company, signed the deal, and have been paying the same amount of money for months on end.  But if you’ve never filed a claim and you’ve had the car for more than two years, you should be entitled to a significant reduction.  For starters, your car has devalued somewhat in the past few years, and it’s now worth less, so you can insure it for less.  Secondly, you should receive a reward for safe behavior, and while your insurance company won’t be quick to offer this to you, they shouldn’t hesitate if you ask for it directly.
  • Cell phone bills – Today’s cell phone companies offer a range of feature-filled plans that sound reasonably priced for the services that they’re offering.  But if you aren’t taking full advantages of the features being offered, you may be overpaying for your cell phone service.  If you pay for an SMS package, for example, but you don’t text more than a weekly vote for your American Idol favorite, you shouldn’t be paying for this service.  Likewise, if you have a high minute allotment but you aren’t using up all of your minuets, you should consider downgrading your plan to reduce your monthly cell phone bill.
  • Health insurance – If you receive decent health insurance from your employer, consider yourself lucky, because more and more employers are offering meager packages – if they offer health insurance at all.  If you’re looking to save money, consider these tips:  If you’ve been recently laid off, COBRA may not necessarily be the best option for you.  Research your options online, and you may be surprised to find even cheaper options.  If you’re currently paying for your own health insurance, consider how your needs may have changed since you signed up for your policy.  As your children age, they tend to go to the doctor less frequently, so you may be able to save money by trading your current plan for health insurance with a higher deductible and a lower monthly fee.  Don’t hesitate to research new companies or to question your loyalty to your current company – most doctors offer multiple types of health insurance, and you should be able to find qualified physicians with any health insurance plan.
  • Car expenses – Many consumers think that purchasing a cheap used car can save them from financing a newer car.  But the pitfalls of buying an older car are numerous, from higher maintenance fees to lower gas mileage per gallon.  Before you commit to purchasing an older car, consider the additional expenses that you’ll have to pay over time, and determine whether it might be better to choose a newer model which will cost more upfront but significantly less over time.

2011 Tax Day Freebies

April 8th, 2011

tax-savingsTax Day this year is on April 18th, which is only 10 days away.  The ‘bad’ news, of course, is that taxes are due.  The good news is that there are lots of retailers who are ready to diminish the difficulty of the day by offering Tax Day freebies.  Below is a list of the Tax Day freebies for 2011 that have already been announced.  There may be more to come, so follow me on Facebook to get the latest updates about Tax Day Freebies for 2011.

It’s worth noting that many of the freebies offered last year will not be offered again – but that shouldn’t deter you from taking advantage of all of this year’s deals.  In fact, I’ve ordered them for you so that you’ll be able to plan out your day.

  1. H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and Turbo Tax – All of these reputable companies are offering free online tax filings until April 18th.
  2. Office Depot – If you’re filing your taxes the old-fashioned way, get free copies (up to 25 pages) of your tax returns at participating Office Depot branches until April 15th.
  3. MaggieMoo’s Ice Cream and Treatery – Get a free “Crumb Cake Fundae” mini sundae from 3pm-6pm.  With Cinamoo ice cream, caramel sauce, nuts, whipped cream and more, this sounds too delicious to pass up.   If you’re still hungry, head on over to…
  4. Cinnabon – From 6pm-8pm get this chain bakery is giving away two free Classic Cinnabon Bites per person.
  5. Bally’s Total Fitness – Once you’ve filled up on free treats, work off the weight at Bally’s, which is offering free workouts all day on April 18th.   Current Bally’s members can also sign up from April 15-21 for a free 30 minute personal training session.  If you like the gym during your free visit on Tax Day, sign up for a reduced price on April 18th only.
  6. HydroMassage – This Tax Day freebie will be especially useful for anyone who isn’t quite used to going to the gym.  Participating HydroMassage locations are offering free massages between April 14-18, 2011.  The length of the massage isn’t stated, but you can call your local branch to find out and to schedule an appointment in advance.

If you’d rather avoid the crowds, it should be noted that some online retailers have also announced Tax Day sales, and I expect other sales will be announced in the coming days.   Plan your purchases in advance by checking out Shoebuy, Bagsbuy and FloraFlora, all of which will be offering 10% off site-wide on Tax Day.  AutoZone has also announced plans for Tax Day discounts, though the details have not yet been announced.

How Spring Cleaning can Help You Save Big

March 31st, 2011

Whether you’re cleaning for Passover or just gearing up for some spring cleaning, this is the season where you can find a significant percent of Americans compulsively cleaning their homes.  But if you’re not quite excited about cleaningSpring Cleaning your home, you’re not alone – and you’re not wrong in thinking that there are many more exciting activities to pursue.  Still, there are plenty of reasons to start spring cleaning now, including these 6 financial incentives.

  1. Find lost money.  Aside from the spare change that you’re bound to find when you flip your couch cushions, there’s always a chance that you’ll find real dollars stuffed into some pockets, at the bottom of your closet or…in the cookie jar.
  2. Get a tax deduction.  During the course of your spring cleaning, you’ll inevitably find things that you don’t want or need anymore.  Drop them off at your local clothing donation point, and you can get a tax deduction that will translate into real savings when next year’s tax season comes.
  3. Save money on cleaning help.  Once you’re in the cleaning spirit, it’ll be easy for you to wipe down the bathroom counter, sweep the floor and fold the laundry.  Why not put in a little extra effort, and give your cleaning help the week or day off?  Think of how much money you can save!
  4. Rediscover older clothing.  Imagine how you’ll feel when you can skip the shopping this spring because you’ve found hidden treasures in your own closet?  And if you can’t skip it entirely, you can surely reduce the amount of new clothing you purchase because you’ll realize that you probably have enough already.
  5. Hold (or attend) a swap meet.  In my community, swap meets are held annually in April so that friends, neighbors and strangers can make the most of their gently used items.  If you can’t (or don’t want to) donate your extraneous items, why not attend a swap meet to see if you can trade them in for things that you can use?
  6. Sell old items.  Believe it or not, I have a neighbor who made a few hundred dollars this week just by selling her children’s old toys and books.  It’s almost as if she was paid to clean out her playroom!  If you have children’s toys, books, games, home décor items or other things that you’re not using anymore, you may be surprised at how much other people are willing to pay for them.

So…why do you do spring cleaning?

Buying a Used Car – An Intro

March 25th, 2011

If you’re in the market for a used car, you’re probably feeling a mix of excitement and anxiety.  After all, it’s always nice to have a new car (even if it’s used), but the fear that you’ll get a ‘lemon’ is omnipresent, and you won’t really know if it was a successful purchase until a few months later.  Many people claim that if you buy a used car you’re buying someone else’s problems.  But this doesn’t have to be the case.  There are plenty of ways to ensure that you get the bestTips for Buying a Used Car deal on the best car.  Consider the tips for buying a used car below, and you’ll be enjoying your new wheels in no time.

Best Places to Look for a Used Car:

If you’re concerned about the possibility that parts may malfunction, you’ll probably want to consider buying a used car from a dealer that offers certified pre-owned models that come with a warranty.  If you’re looking for a car that is in top quality and lightly used, look for cars that have just come off lease, many of which have low mileage and are in excellent condition.  And, of course, if price is your top priority, you can look for a used car in the newspaper or online, as purchasing directly from the owner will reduce transaction fees.  However, if you’re buying a used car from a stranger who is not  affiliated with a recognized company or dealership, you will definitely want to get it checked out by your own mechanic before making a commitment.

When to Buy a Used Car:

Think of the used car market like the clothing market – there are always times (such as the holidays) where you knowyou can expect a sale.  When it comes to used cars, prices usually drop around the New Year, as that’s when most dealers are looking to move their inventory to make room for new merchandise.  But if you don’t manage to make it to the dealership during the busy holiday season, you can likely find additional deals throughout the winter, when fewer people are buying.  Making the effort to shop around in the cold can really pay off!

Another good time to purchase a used car is at the end of the month when salesmen are often desperate to make their quota, and are more willing to offer serious discounts.  If you’re an especially savvy shopper you can shop around at the beginning of the month but save the negotiating for the end.  It also helps if you get at least two price quotes for the make and model of your choice, so that you can play one price against the other during the negotiation process.

5 Smart Shopping Tips:

  • Most cars come with a 3 year/36,000 manufacturer’s warranty, so if you want to rest assured that your car will be covered, look for newer models.
  • If you’re getting rid of your old car, find a dealer that is willing to do a trade-in.  This will reduce the cost of your new purchase and will reduce the headaches associated with selling the car on your own.
  • When you’ve settled on a specific car, make sure to get it checked out by a mechanic that you trust.  Rolling this cost into the overall purchase price can save you thousands of dollars if it protects you from buying a damaged car.
  • Run a CARFAX report on any car that you’re interested in to see if it has been in an accident.  While this may not be a sign of trouble, it’s something important to know in advance.
  • Make sure that the car comes with the proper title and stay away from car salesmen who don’t have the car’s title available.