Below you will find a collection of articles written over the last 10 years on a variety of frugal living and couponing topics.
How To Cut Your Grocery Bills in Half
Want to buy much more for less? Imagine filling your cart with your favorite groceries, but only paying a fraction of the total cost. By mastering these
eight essential techniques, every shopper who buys groceries can get the most out of their hard-earned money.
Learn the art of couponing. Smart shoppers know, without question, that using coupons wisely is the greatest money-saving technique when it
comes to buying groceries. They know how, when and where to use those little pieces of "paper gold" and they know just where to find the best
coupons for the products they prefer to buy. Their coupons are well-organized and accessible so they don’t ever miss an unadvertised sale. Smart
shoppers pay for a good portion of their groceries using coupons and save more than 50% off their weekly budgets each and every week.
Compare apples to apples. How do you know whether something is really a bargain just because it is on sale? By developing a Price Book, you
are able to compare the price per unit of one size package to another. This allows you to compare the 200-ounce box of warehouse club bran
cereal to the 20-ounce bag of the same type of cereal from the grocery store. Smart spenders know the surprising news that often the smaller
container is less expensive per unit than the bulk container when used in conjunction with coupons and sales. You can see my entire price book for groceries in the Raleigh, NC area on my WRAL-TV blog at http://www.wral.com/price-book-best-prices-for-2016/15212040/.
Gain leverage from sales flyers. By reviewing the sales flyers that stores issue every week, you can plan your weekly menu, decide where to
shop, determine what to include on your grocery list, and choose the best money-saving coupons to use at the store. Smart spenders realize that
the key to the greatest savings is purchasing the best sale items listed in the weekly flyers and then using coupons for those items.
Be a proud card-carrying member. Sign up for the frequent shopper rewards cards at the stores you shop. Without them, you won’t be offered
the sale prices or special incentives and you may lose out on thousands of dollars in savings a year. Many stores will even mail great money-
saving coupons to members throughout the year. Smart shoppers take advantage of the sale prices by using their rewards cards every time they
Refuse to be overcharged. Many grocery stores carry 30,000 or more items. It is not hard to imagine that there may be a price mistake or two at
the register. Before you leave the store, thoroughly review your receipt to make sure you weren’t overcharged. If you discover an overcharge, head straight to customer service and explain the error. Many stores have a price scan guarantee, which means that you will receive the entire cost you paid for the item and get to keep the product. Yes, this means you will take home the product for free! Smart spenders never leave the store without reviewing the receipt and requesting the price scan guarantee, when applicable.
Enjoy delayed gratification. Yes, it’s just what you were thinking. Rebates and cash back sites. You buy an item that offers a rebate or cash back refund, fill out the form exactly as required or scan the receipts and after a short delay, you get your money back. If you are thinking that it doesn’t sound so difficult, you are right! Surprisingly, many people don’t take advantage of the amazing rebates available for everything from beef to toothpaste to pasta. Smart spenders recognize that the savings opportunities are huge with the cash back sites. See a list of sites at http://www.wral.com/new-january-printable-digital-coupons/16388958/.
Stick to your strategy and avoid the tactics. Do you smell the fresh cookies baking in the deli? Did you taste those free samples of cereal when you walked into the store? Welcome to the world of store tactics. Their job is to make money marketing the products they sell. Your job is to steer clear of the tactics and stick to your grocery list. Don’t be enticed by the sale signs when you know something isn’t a good deal. Don’t go to the store hungry and don’t impulse-shop (unless it’s a good unadvertised buy, of course!). Smart spenders come prepared to shop for the items that will save them the most money and they avoid the clever methods designed to persuade you to part with more of your paycheck than you should.
These aren’t the only money-saving techniques used by the shopping experts, but they are the basis for the very best buys.
As I always say: It's your money - spend it wisely!
Copyright: Faye Prosser, first published January 2006
To Coupon or Not to Coupon
Grocery coupons have been around since 1894 when Asa Candler handed out handwritten tickets for a free Coca-Cola drink. Over 100 years later, in 2014, shoppers saved $4.4 billion by redeeming 3.8 billion coupons, according to the Promotion Marketing Association. People of every age and income use coupons and couponing can make a real difference for a family’s bottom line.
The question is: Can it make a difference for you?
This article will touch on the advantages and disadvantages of couponing. From here, you can make a decision that is right for your family regarding the benefits of using coupons. For most of you, some level of couponing will make good sense. With that said, couponing is not for everyone and it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before investing your valuable time in the fine art of coupon shopping.
Not to Coupon: There are many reasons people turn away from couponing or decide not to try it at all. Here is a list of perceived disadvantages that keep some shoppers from wielding their scissors and cashing in on potential coupon savings.
*Couponing takes too much time.
*It is embarrassing to use coupons.
*Organizing coupons is too much trouble.
*There are no coupons for the products we use.
*Coupons are only issued for junky processed foods.
*There are no real savings with couponing.
When I first started couponing in 1999, I had many of the same concerns and was skeptical about the benefits of couponing. Thankfully, I took the
leap and soon realized that couponing, when done wisely, can save a tremendous amount of money. Let’s look at some of the reasons why the
perceived disadvantages are not always accurate.
To Coupon: Successful couponing certainly takes some time, but most of the work is done at home, not at the store with cranky kids while you
struggle to decide what to buy (sound familiar?).
Smart spenders look through the sales ads, make a weekly meal plan, create a grocery list and match the coupons to sales all from the comfort of their home. By the time they get to the store, most of the work is done. All they need to do is put the items in the cart, check them off on the grocery list and put the coupons to the side, ready to present to the cashier at checkout.
I do most of my shopping preparation after the kids go to sleep, while I am watching a TV show or two each week. I also make time for couponing while they are in music class or other extra curricular activities. I can still chat with the other parents while cutting or filing coupons. Often I am not the only one
clipping away! If you cut and file coupons while doing other activities, like watching TV or waiting for the kids in carpool, it won’t seem like you have
had to find extra time to coupon.
Although it can be embarrassing to hold up the line behind you while the cashier scans a handful of coupons, it can also be motivating to many
folks when they see the savings from all those coupons. I always let people in line behind me know that I have a number of coupons and if they are
in a hurry, they may want to try another line. Most stay put, ask questions and want to know how I coupon. What it comes down to is that I know I
am being the best steward of our income. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to know that I am helping my family live within my means. To me, it would be
much more troublesome if I could not pay my bills because I was too uncomfortable to cut coupons.
Coupon organization is always a frustration for new and struggling couponers. If your coupons are not organized, you cannot take advantage of
the great buys. Most couponers have used the standard small accordion filing system with the 10 or so tabbed sections. Unfortunately, you can
never find your coupons and they are usually expired when you do finally come upon them…..2 hours after you have left the store (again, sound
familiar?). I started using the binder method in late 1999 and have loved it ever since. I use a 3 ring zipper binder (started with a 1.5” binder and
now use a 3” binder), tabbed dividers labeled by product type and coupon insert pages to file the coupons. I am able to see all my coupons and
expiration dates and I can always find the coupon I am looking for. If you are ready for some serious organization and think you might like to make
your own, see more details in the article below.
One of the most popular reasons that people choose not to coupon is because they believe there are no coupons for the products they use. That
may be true if they use only specialty products from manufacturer’s that never offer coupons. Some folks have allergies and other special dietary
requirements that don’t allow them to use many name brand items found in the typical grocery store. I believe that most families use at least some
products that offer coupons. Remember, coupons are not only issued for food, they are issued for the full array of grocery and drug store products. Do you use shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap, razors, hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, pasta, rice, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, hummus, veggie soy burgers, shredded cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, taco shells, peanut butter, jelly, pickles, ketchup, salad dressing, olive oil, or cooking spray? Those are just a fraction of the products whose name brand manufacturers offer coupons. I regularly save 60% tp 100% on those items using coupons coupled with sales.
Another misconception is that all coupons are only for junky, processed food. Certainly there are many coupons for unhealthy, high fat or high
sugar foods. The good news is that there are also a number of coupons for healthier foods and non-food items that most of us use.
A good example of finding coupons (and good deals) for healthier foods was the sale at my local Harris Teeter grocery store last week. They have
a deal where you buy one box of Green Giant vegetables and you get 2 (yes, two!) boxes FREE. Each box is regularly priced at $1.99 so with the
sale, each box is only 66 cents. Then, Green Giant is offering a deal that if I buy 5 boxes in one transaction, the register prints out a coupon (called
a Catalina coupon) for $3 off my next transaction. Plus, my store doubles coupons with a face value of .99 or less. Here is how I worked the deal to
buy healthy, delicious frozen Green Giant veggies for next to nothing:
9 boxes x .66 each = $5.94 before coupons
I used 3 manufacturer’s coupons from the Sunday paper and online coupon portals (such as coupons.com and bettycrocker.com) for 50 cents off
two boxes (policy is one coupon per buy-one-get-two-free deal) = $3.00 off total
Then I used a Catalina coupon for $3 off my order from the previous veggies transaction = $3.00 off total
My total with tax was 2 cents for 9 boxes of vegetables!
Obviously, I took advantage of the promotion several times before I left the store and the $3 coupon printed out for each transaction. I just used it
for the next order each time and paid 2 cents for every transaction of 9 boxes. Needless to say, we are well stocked on frozen veggies. There were
plenty on the shelf at the store, so I didn’t even come close to clearing them out (which I try never to do). Although that deal is a little more
complicated than many, it is a great example of this week’s best buy.
I often buy name brand whole wheat pasta, veggie burgers, hummus, and other healthy foods at 75% off or better using sales and coupons. I
rarely ever pay for shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant anymore. With coupons and sales, we usually are able to buy
those items for nothing at all. It’s simply a matter of choosing not to use the coupons for the unhealthy food and making sure you have multiples of
coupons for the healthier choices and non-food items so you can stock up.
The last perceived disadvantage is that some people think that there are no real savings by using coupons. The truth is that there are excellent
savings on some items, but that you won’t be able to use a coupon for every item on your grocery list. The key is to stock up on the best deals for
the items you use then use the savings to pay for meats, fresh produce and other items that don’t offer high savings. All those 50 cent coupons
add up to big savings. Knowing how much we save, I expect that I will coupon for the rest of my life.
So, the question remains - is couponing a good choice for you? It is if you can say yes to the following:
*You use (or want to use) name brand food and non-food products from traditional grocery stores and pay less for them than the store brand costs.
*You are willing to look at sales ads for good buys.
*You are willing to clip and organize your coupons.
*You are willing to make a meal plan to maximize sales and your overstock.
*You want to stretch your income much farther, spend less and have more groceries to show for your efforts.
I have been a couponer since 1999 and our family saves over $5000 per year by clipping those little pieces of paper. I have a stocked pantry, fridge and freezer and most of it is because of coupons. I also have a life outside of couponing, so I have found a healthy balance between stretching our hard earned income and everything else.
I look at couponing as another household responsibility. Just as I need to do laundry, pay bills, wash dishes, clean house and cook meals, I also need to
My recommendation is that you try couponing for 4 weeks. If you are not saving enough money to justify the expense, couponing may not be for
you. Jump right in by cutting the coupons from your Sunday paper (ask for the extra coupons from your neighbors, coworkers and extended family as well) and see if you can save some real money this week on your groceries.
Remember – it’s your money, spend it wisely!
Copyright Faye Prosser, Smart Spending Resources, February 2008
Where Can I Find The Best Grocery Deals?
I am often asked, “What store has the best deals?”
The answer is that no one store has ALL the best prices. Some stores have consistently low regular prices on their generic products and some stores have even lower sale prices on name brand items. When you factor in coupons,
especially those that may be doubled, your savings potential is even greater.
Whether you are a couponer or not, you can still take advantage of
good sales and loss leaders, and save more of your grocery money by shopping at more than one store each week.
Loss leaders are the items that stores mark down considerably to entice you into their store. They are usually 75% - 100% off the regular retail price. They may actually lose money on these items, but they expect you to buy enough additional items to make up for the loss leaders. Your goal as a smart spender is to go in, buy the loss leaders (and only the loss leaders) and get out.
Most communities offer a number of different locations where you can purchase food and non-food staples. Although specific store chains vary
from state to state, the concept of store types remains the same. Knowing what types of stores are available will help you increase your buying
Locations for purchasing food and non-food staples fall into eight basic categories:
Grocery Stores – Grocery stores are the traditional place to buy most groceries. If you target sales (especially Buy One Get One Free sales) and
use coupons with those items on sale, you will find fabulous deals. Those deals are even better if your grocery store doubles coupons. I buy the
majority of my food from grocery stores, shopping the sales from week to week. My willingness to shop Grocery Store A this week (because they
offer the best sales on the items I need) and Grocery Store B next week saves me significant amounts of money. Since I drive by both stores each
week on the way to other activities, I am not wasting gas making extra trips to lots of different stores.
Drug Stores – Drug stores, including CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreens, are excellent places to stock up on deeply discounted bath and beauty items.
Take advantage of the many rebate and reward programs drug stores offer and you will find that you never pay full price for toothpaste,
deodorant, razors, shampoo, aspirin and cough medicine. Often, these items will be free after rebate.
Warehouse Clubs – Warehouse clubs can offer good buys on some items. The key is to exercise extreme willpower and diligence when you are
shopping. Just because the store sells a 400 ounce bottle of laundry detergent or a 10 pack of peanut butter, it doesn’t mean that they are selling
it at a low price. I generally stay away from warehouse clubs because I have a number of grocery stores in my area that offer great sales and
doubled coupons every day of the week. Good sales (like a BOGO sale) coupled with doubled coupons results in greater savings than I could get at warehouse
When shopping at a warehouse club, keep in mind that it is very tempting to buy all the convenient, frozen prepared items and giant sized
boxes of everything. These purchases do not save you money if you can make the dishes yourself for less or if you use coupons combined with
sales for better-priced packages at the grocery store. Remember to take into account the annual fee for shopping at warehouse clubs when you
are determining whether to shop at these stores.
When in doubt, figure out the cost per unit of the products you buy to determine if the warehouse club has a better deal. To figure cost per unit,
take the price of the item divided by the size of the item = cost per unit. A $3.99 box of 14 ounce cereal is 28 cents per ounce ($3.99 divided by 14
= .28). If the grocery store has that same box of cereal on sale Buy One Get One Free for $1.99 per box, you will only pay 14 cents per ounce. If
you have a 50-cent coupon that is doubled, your cost is lowered to 7 cents per ounce, a 75% savings over the warehouse club price.
Mass Merchandisers – Many mass merchandisers like Wal-mart and Target offer good, low cost generic and name brand options. They accept
manufacturer’s coupons at face value which helps lower the prices of name brand products. If you don’t have any grocery stores that double
coupons in your area, you will find some good buys at the big box stores (especially when you combine sales and coupons). Because of the all the great deals I find at drug stores and grocery stores that double coupons, I don’t often shop the mass merchandisers for groceries. When I do shop these stores, it is mainly for loss leaders and non-food items.
Health Food Stores – Stores including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are popular for those wanting healthy food choices. Many health food stores offer organic produce and other eco-friendly products at a premium price. Not all health food stores are created equal, though. Some, like Trader Joe’s, offers great tasting organic produce and store brand products at a much lower price than many of the other health food stores. Keep in mind that many traditional grocery stores are now carrying organic produce at excellent prices as well. Not only is it important to be good stewards of our planet, it is also important to be good stewards of our own money by not overspending at high priced health food stores.
Dollar-Type Stores – Some dollar stores offer very good buys on name brand items you know. You aren’t going to find fresh produce at most but dollar
stores do offer some bargains on packaged foods, cleaning and bath and beauty products. Many dollar stores don’t accept manufacturer’s coupons but some actually do accept them, including Dollar General and Dollat Tree.
Convenience Stores – Convenience stores are generally not a good place to buy food. They are usually overpriced and it is best to avoid buying your groceries at the local gas station. There are times when gas stations use milk or 12-packs of canned soft drinks as a loss leaders to get you to buy gas and other items. If they are truly offering a great buy, enjoy your good deal and don’t be tempted to buy other overpriced items while there.
Farmer’s Markets/Roadside Stands – I love our local roadside produce stands. Here in North Carolina, the summers are rich with beautiful produce and the local farmers offer delicious, fresh-picked choices. There is nothing like a fresh tomato and cucumber sandwich made with produce picked that day. For those items I don’t grow in my own garden (of course I grow my own cukes and tomatoes!), I depend on my local produce stands. Here in NC, we have Certified Roadside Stands with produce grown by the operator and other local farmers. For more information and a list of NC
certified stands, see http://www.ncfarmfresh.com/CertifiedStands.asp.
Your state may have a similar program so check out your state’s
Department of Agriculture website. These roadside stands not only offer delicious food, they are often at a better price than you will find at the
grocery store. While the grocery store may be selling tomatoes for $1.99 per pound during the summer, my local produce stand has them for .99
You may be thinking that with the price of gas these days, it isn’t cost effective to drive farther to shop at another store. Although this may be true
if you are picking up only one or two items, it is not the case if a store is offering great sale prices on many items or if a store is doubling or tripling
coupons. Keep in mind that you may be able to save $40.00 or more during a good sale, which is certainly worth the $2.00 you may spend in gas
to get there and back. Bring a friend and share the fuel expense as you take advantage of the excellent buys and loss leaders. Try to incorporate
many errands into one trip to reduce multiple trips and save gas.
I usually shop at one or two grocery stores and one drug store each week. Many weeks I will also make another trip to a different grocery or drug store to pick up their loss leaders (like free toothpaste or pasta). Those trips are quick and easy and are made while on the way to other activities, so I am not making a special trip.
Shopping the sales at more than one store may seem like a lot of work, but with a little planning, you can be in and out of most stores in very little time. If you can shave $50.00 or more off your grocery bill EVERY WEEK, you may find that an extra stop here and there is more than worth your while. As I always say: It’s your money – spend it wisely!
Copyright Faye Prosser, Smart Spending Resources, April 2008
Organized Coupons = Big Grocery Savings!
Picture this: Carrie Couponer is standing in the check out line at the grocery store when she realizes she can’t find the coupons she had planned
to use. She knows she cut them out of the paper. She thought they were somewhere in her purse hiding among the hand sanitizer, loose change,
50 pens and lip gloss (which was free at CVS last week with the sale and manufacturer coupons!). Where are those coupons? By the time she
finds them, she has long since left the store with the higher priced items. Sound even remotely familiar?
The moral of the story is that being organized when it comes to your coupons will save you a lot more money than being unorganized. You have to
be able to find your coupons when you need them. Many new couponers simply give up couponing because they get frustrated with organization.
The good news is that there are some very effective and manageable ways to organize your coupons that will increase your grocery savings
tremendously. There is no one method that works for everyone, but there are some methods that work much better than others.
Common coupon organization methods include:
Envelope in the purse
A lunchbox or shoebox with dividers
A plastic box made for index or recipe cards
The binder method
Accordion Style Organizers, Envelopes and Boxes
The organization methods that involve filing coupons one in front of the other have their benefits. The files, envelopes or small boxes are often
small enough to put into your purse and they are usually lightweight. If you don’t use many coupons, these types of methods may work very well
for you. The downside to these methods is that they make it very difficult to see what coupons you actually have. When you are in the store
searching for a coupon, you will spend a lot of time flipping through each envelope or section and looking through each stack. It is very easy to let
coupons expire with these types of methods because you can’t see the coupons easily.
The Binder Method
The binder method involves filing coupons in baseball card holders, dividing them by product type and storing them in a three-ring binder. This
method takes couponing to a new level of organization and allows you to find what you need, when you need it. When I first started couponing 9
years ago, I used a traditional accordion-style organizer. It worked for about a month and I new I needed another method. I was frustrated because
I couldn’t find the coupons I needed when I was making my grocery list and when I was shopping in the store.
I discovered the binder method and have used it ever since. I will say that the binder is bulky and certainly doesn’t fit in my purse. I pretend that
lugging it around is like weight lifting and I am just burning a few extra calories while saving a lot more than a few extra bucks. Although the binder
method is not for everyone, it is my favorite method and has worked beautifully for me.
Benefits of using the binder method:
A binder organizer can hold far more coupons than most accordion files, envelopes or recipe box organizers.
Each coupon and its value are visible, cutting down on the time it takes to find a coupon when you are looking over the sales ads or shopping at
Expiration dates are easier to see and you are less likely to let a valuable coupon expire.
You can quickly flip to the pages for the section of the store you are in and see all the coupons you have available. This is especially important if
you run into an unexpected or unadvertised deal (which happens to me almost every time I shop).
The binders fit easily on the child seat section of the cart so flipping through the pages as you walk through the aisles is simple.
Binder organizers are easily expandable. As your coupon inventory increases, add more coupon pages to your binder.
Many binders have pockets with room for your sales ads, calculator, pens and store reward cards.
Create Your Own Binder Coupon Organizer
You can easily make your own binder organizer with any three ring binder (either zippered or not), baseball card pages (found in the trading card
section of most big box stores) and tabbed dividers (found in the same big box stores or office stores). I recommend labeling the tabbed dividers
by product type so you can see all the coupons for a specific product in the same section. Here are the tabbed divider labels I use on my
Medicine & Health
Paper & Plastic
Pasta & Rice
You will need at least 24 baseball card pages, one for each tabbed divider section. Soon after you start using the binder method, you will probably
want to add at least another 24 pages.
File your new coupons every week so you don’t end up with a backlog of coupons. Bring your organizer with you to your child’s extra curricular
activities and file while they are in ballet, soccer, music lessons, etc. If you watch a favorite television show each week, that’s a perfect time to be
cutting and filing coupons.
Remove your expired coupons once a month and then send them to our military stationed overseas. They can use
manufacturer coupons that expired up to 6 months ago at the commissaries on base. See http://coupsfortroops.org/ for locations that can accept your expired coupons.
If you want to see a picture of my organizer or (warning – blatant sales pitch coming your way) you would rather purchase the binder organizer
inserts than put them together yourself, see my website at: http://smartspendingresources.com/coupon_organizer
Each time you go through the cycle of filing coupons and shopping with your organizer, you will become more efficient and save more and more
money. Don’t be surprised if other shoppers stop you in the store to marvel at your organization and fantastic savings!
Good luck organizing and remember……..it’s your money – spend it wisely!
Copyright Faye Prosser Smart Spending Resources, September 2008
Are you Being Overcharged at the Register?
Have you ever been overcharged at the checkout line? Maybe your pasta scanned at $1.50 a box, even though the ad clearly showed that it was
on sale for $1 per box. Do you catch price scan errors each time they occur?
You may find it hard to believe, but during a May 2008 Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspection in Raleigh, NC, one national
big box chain store overcharged customers on 10% of transactions! Can you imagine being overcharged on 10% of the items in a full cart?
What’s a shopper to do? Watch the scanner like a hawk and review your receipt before you leave the store. While items are being scanned, watch
the price on the register screen. Although this can be hard to do when the kids are shopping with you, at least check your receipt before you leave
the store. If you are overcharged, make sure you get a refund on the amount you overpaid.
Many stores offer a fabulous incentive to scrutinize your receipt - the Price Scan Guarantee (also known as a Scan Right Guarantee). If you are
overcharged for an item, you will receive a refund for the entire amount you paid for the item plus you get to keep the product. So, the product
ends up being free. Most stores require that you have already paid for the item and that you go to the customer service desk for a refund. If you
purchased multiples of an item (4 boxes of the $1 pasta, for instance), most stores with a price scan guarantee will give you one for free and you
will be refunded the difference of the wrong price and the correct price for the other multiples.
Wondering who has this wonderful price scan guarantee? Many stores, actually. In my area of North Carolina, Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Kroger
and Lowe’s Foods (the grocer, not the home improvement store) all offer the guarantee. I have read that Publix has a price scan guarantee as
well. Wal-Mart used to offer a $3 refund on your order when an item scanned incorrectly, but they stopped offering that guarantee in April of 2008.
They will adjust the price to the correct price if it scans incorrectly, of course.
The next time you are in your favorite grocery store, ask the customer service person if they offer a price scan guarantee when an item scans
incorrectly. Then make sure you watch the scanner and check your receipt before you leave the store so you don’t pay any more for your pasta
than you should. Remember, it’s your money – spend it wisely!
Copyright Faye Prosser Smart Spending Resources October 2008
Frugal Gift Ideas
It’s amazing how many people we give gifts to during the holidays. If only we had unlimited funds and we could give generously to everyone on our
list. But, unfortunately, that is not the case for most of us. In these harsh financial times, I know very few people who can comfortably give as much
as they would like this year.
The fabulous news is that you can still give meaningful and appreciated gifts to all the people on your list and do it on a reasonable budget. Frugal
giving is the way to go this year and so is staying out of debt. We all know that you aren’t doing your family any favors if you have to struggle to
pay bills for months because you bought gifts you could not afford in December. Even if you have a good job today, being frugal now will help you
later if that good job goes away as so many others have in the last few months.
Take a look at the following frugal gift ideas and start thinking about the people on your gift list. I’ll bet you can find some great matches.
Homemade goodies from the kitchen: Some of the most popular (and loved) frugal gifts during the holidays are edible treats. Choose from cookies,
fudge and brownies baked from scratch, hot chocolate mixes in a mug, soup mixes in a bowl, fudge, pies, homemade bread, fudge, a bottle of wine,
quick bread mixes in a loaf pan and little gingerbread men. Did I mention fudge?! See http://southernfood.about.com/od/foodgifts/tp/Gifts-From-
the-Kitchen.htm?once=true& for a number of recipes including brownies in a jar and fudge, of course!
Hobby related gifts: Many folks have hobbies they love. Some people collect coins, stamps or glass horses. Some are train enthusiasts or enjoy
taking pictures. If someone on your gift list has a hobby, find a gift that will contribute to that hobby, without breaking the bank. Buy a magazine
subscription for the train enthusiast, rolls of film or photo paper for the photographer, specialty scissors, paper or stickers for the scrapbooker,
exotic spices for someone who loves to cook.
Picture perfect: Some great ways to share your family with loved ones is through framed photos, scrapbooks, photo albums and digital photo
frames (split the cost with siblings for a gift for the parents or grandparents). Many photo centers in malls (like JCPenney) offer high quality, low-
cost portrait packages for around $20. These often include multiple sheets of the same picture with larger and smaller photos, excellent for gift
giving in an inexpensive frame from a craft store like Michaels.
Arts and crafts: Nothing says love like a piece of artwork from a child or a handmade scarf (which would take me 800 years to produce!). Drawings
from the grandkids in inexpensive frames, handprint concrete stepping stones (these can be found in kits for under $10 at most craft stores),
knitted scarves, and crocheted blankets all make for impressive and lasting gifts.
Corny coupons: It may sound corny to give a coupon you made on the computer to someone but it’s not corny to the new mom who could really
use two hours of free babysitting so she can go to the store all by herself. Or consider a coupon for a homemade dinner for that same new mom
who has no time or energy to cook. Sometimes just helping with the everyday responsibilities is the best gift of all. Coupons are also great for kids.
Consider a coupon book with coupons for an afternoon at the park, dessert at the local ice cream shop, a trip to the museum, their choice of movie
rental, etc. None of these outings needs to be expensive and they are great ways to spend time with the kids or grandkids.
Gift Certificates: Gift certificates are an excellent choice when you aren’t sure what someone would want or you want them to be able to choose
something they can really use. For the college students on your list, those big box stores have just about anything they could ever need. For the
kids, certificates to book stores make great gifts. For the person on a fixed income, a grocery store certificate would be very appreciated. You don’t
need to spend much. Even a $10 certificate can go a long way.
Donations to charity: Some folks would rather not receive a gift themselves but would love for the money to be spent on a donation to a favorite
charity. You don’t have to donate $10,000 for the gift to be meaningful. Any donation is deeply appreciated when it is to a charity the person cares
about. For instance, we give to the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Duke Medical Center in North Carolina each year in honor of my mom, who
has ovarian cancer and is being treated at Duke.
Gift Baskets: People love receiving gift baskets. It is just so much fun to see all the goodies packed into a cute container and then get to take out
each item and “ohhhh” and “ahhhhh”. Look for bargains all through the year and make themed gift baskets geared towards the people on your
list. For the person who loves to watch movies (or any teens on your list), put together a Movie Theme Basket with movie rental certificates,
microwave popcorn, candy bars and soda. Other themes include a Baker’s Basket, Chocolate Lover’s Basket, Coffee or Tea Basket, Sewing or
Knitting Gift Basket, Gardening Gift Basket, Bath and Beauty Gift Basket (great for college students) and Kids Craft Basket.
Holiday cards: The high cost of holiday cards is shocking to me. I love to send cards to all our friends and family and I would go broke sending
cards purchased at full price. For the last 10 years, I have bought my cards in January when the boxed sets are marked down to 75% - 90% off.
The selection is still surprisingly good at many stores (including Target, CVS and Walgreens) and the cost is excellent. For those who still need to
purchase cards for this year, consider letting the kids make cards out of high quality construction paper, some stencils, stampers and holiday
stickers. Have everyone sign the cards and you will be giving a handmade gift your family will love.
Most of my shopping is now finished for this year and I am already thinking about next year. I’ll hit the clearance sales in January and stash away
cards, decorations and many gifts to use next December.
For a list of 63 inexpensive gift ideas under $10, see http://www.betterbudgeting.org/2015/06/63-gift-ideas-for-under-10-any-occasion.html
Just think of all the happiness you can bring to your friends and family with thoughtful and frugal gifts. Don’t forget the joy you will feel because
you stayed within your budget and avoided those high credit card bills after the holiday.
Copyright Faye Prosser, Smart Spending Resources, December 2008