Tag Archives: Free

Seven Things to Do Now to Save for the Holidays Next Year

According to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend approximately $700 on Christmas gifts and goodies this year. For some people, maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot of money. But these days, I don’t have that kind of extra money to spend in one month. And I prefer not adding to my debt just to add to someone else’s material possessions.

My parents had to buy for six children plus each other. But I don’t remember so many “other people” expecting something simply because they happen to be in your life. I remember my mom putting something in a card for the mailman, and my dad would always get a bottle of whiskey or some other liquor for the guys who picked up trash. But even with all that, I can’t imagine they spent anywhere near $700! Of course those were different times. It seems now, we’re expected to give something to our kids’ teachers, coaches, babysitters, and our own co-workers, neighbors, hair stylist or barber; not to mention friends, and family members.

I’m single. I don’t have to buy for kids, and all but one of my 19 nieces and nephews are young adults; some starting families of their own. We live in six different states so I don’t feel the pressure to try to buy something for everyone. But when you add buying food for the parties, gas for traveling; gifts, wrappings, and decorations, the spending can still creep up on you, especially if you have a growing list of friends, business associates, coworkers, and church community groups.

So how do you make and keep a budget and still find ways to have fun and enjoy being with friends and family over the holidays? Planning!

 “Failing to plan is planning to fail!” 

So here are seven things you can do to save for the holidays now, and plan for the holidays next year!

1.  Join a Rewards Program. Better Yet, Join Several of Them!

I know some people don’t like reward programs. I’ve never really understood why. Maybe they think the business is tracking them. Newsflash. If you’re online. If you have an email, or are on social media. If you have a cell phone. You are being tracked. Joining reward programs now gives you coupons later. Not only do many businesses give free treats, discounts, savings on gas, or money to spend for things like your anniversary date and birthdays, but many have special higher discounts and giveaways during Christmastime. silver ornament

I got this ornament from World Market this year, just for being a rewards member. No purchase necessary! 

2.  Buy Hostess, Teacher, and Coaches Gifts Throughout the Year.

Nothing says you have to wait until Black Friday to start shopping for Christmas. When you see sales or drastic discounts on items that would make a good gift, go ahead and buy it — in March; in July; in whatever month you discover it. The person receiving the first isn’t going to ask if you got it at the Labor Day sale! Spend time during the year also looking for store closing sales. With the right timing, you can find items for as much as 75-90 percent off!

3.  Host an Ornament and Decorations Exchange Party.

This one can be fun. You know how every few years you decide your tree looks boring or you want to change up the way you’ve been decorating the house over the years? Well, have some friends over with the directive for them to go through their Christmas boxes and collect the ornaments, wreaths, decorations — anything they no longer use year-to-year. Everyone brings the items they’re interested in getting rid of, and spreads them out across the table. Then everyone goes around and picks through things that the other person no longer wants. At the end of the night, not only have you managed to squeeze in another girls’ night, but all of you go home with new ornaments, different decorations, and fresh ideas to deck your halls!

bright-christmas-balls-christmas-decoration

4.  Have a Pot-Luck Dinner Party.

Instead of taking on the burden of planning and paying for a dinner party yourself, make it a potluck. Pick a theme, have everyone bring a dish that works with the theme, and you provide the Christmas atmosphere of music, lights, and smells. Don’t worry about buying a candle; just boil some cinnamon and cloves on the stove! By sharing the parts of the meal, no one person is footing the entire bill. And that also means less time in the kitchen cooking and baking.

5.  Save Christmas Gift Bags to Use Again.

Okay, I know most of you are probably already doing this, but if you’re not, you need to start! There’s no shame to reusing gift bags. Just remember to remove the name card from it. I actually save colorful tissue papers as well. Again, when you’re packaging it up for someone, they aren’t going to know or even care when or if you bought the bag that their gift is in. I think I’ve even returned the same bag to someone the following year. It was perfect for their gift. So why not? 

6.  Buy Christmas Cards, Wrappings, and Ribbons at the End of the Season.

The best deals on holiday items is right before the holidays (when they’re trying to get rid of last year’s inventory), and right after the holidays, (when they don’t want to store any remains of this year’s inventory). Make room in your attic, closet, or garage, and pick up items that are drastically marked down. That will be one less thing to worry about the following year, and you would have saved yourself a lot of money.

Christmas snow flake packages

7.  Make a List. Check it Twice!

Create a list and put people’s names in the order of priority. Stick with your list of who you’re buying a gift for, and in what price range you’re spending. That way you don’t end up leaving anyone out, but also, controlled discipline of not adding more people to your gift list later. Budget even what you’re willing to spend on food items for those parties, and which events (movies, theater, light shows) you’re spending money on. Then try to find things to do with your friends and family that are free.

Cutting back and spending less, doesn’t have to mean not having a great time over the holidays. I think it forces creativity and thoughtfulness. But remember that the first step to not over spending is planning. The next step is sticking to your plan. Look for other ways to save money and still have a wonderful Christmastime!

 

Advertisements

Every Day’s a Good Day to Save Money

I love freebies! I know, I know. How can you tell? But seriously, I’m all about saving money, finding discounts, using coupons, and getting FREE stuff! Whether that’s birthday freebies, like I took advantage of last month. Or earned rewards freebie from several places I normally shop. I get a big rush when I see the register ring up items, and I don’t have to hand over any money. Sometimes, with taxes, I may have to reach for some pennies and nickels, but not dollars. That’s always my goal.

I actually wish I was more organized and more disciplined to really keep up with which store was running a sale at the exact same time that I’ve collected coupons.  I know I could be saving so much more money. When I do get lucky enough to do that, I love watching the register go in the negative direction. Just the other day I picked up a large container of laundry detergent, regular price of $6.99, but it was on sale for $4.99. On top of that I had a $1.00 off coupon for that brand, so I paid only $3.99! That’s a three dollar savings because of timing and coupons. With today’s increasing gas prices, $3.00 represents another gallon of gas to me!

One of the reasons I love shopping at Kroger so much is the earned points on gas, the in-store savings each week, and the coupons they send in the mail. Part of their rewards program that I’ve been enjoying taking advantage of is the Friday Downloads!  

For a while I thought it would be one power bar after the next, after a couple of weeks of candy bars (which I don’t eat, but shared with my students). I’d almost given up, until recently they’ve had more things that I’ve enjoyed and actually use, like Tic Tac gum and one of the flavored waters. Last month, the downloads included a full loaf of bread, and a regular size of the Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice.

Getting something for free each week is nice, but this week, I was able to get several items for (almost) free at a retail outlet.

At World Market, I had my eye on some wooden baskets that had been marked down several weeks ago. I used one a few weeks ago to put together a birthday basket for a friend. The marked down price was already nice. But using my own birthday rewards money to get the items was even nicer.

IMG_6690So when I returned there, I planned to grab a few more of them while they were on sale. I liked that they were wooden and a great alternative to the gift bag world we have turned in to . “Buy a gift. Stuff it into a bag. Maybe add some tissue paper. Call it a day!”  

I like that the wooden basket offers a second chance use other than just holding the goodies.

So much to my surprise, not only did they still have several baskets left, but they had been moved to a special SALES table — 50% OFF of the red tag sale price! Jackpot!

Suddenly my large $7.99 basket that had already been marked down to $3.98 earlier, was only $1.99! And the smaller ones that had been $4.99 before being marked down to $2.49 were only $1.24. But also, for some reason, the pink colored one was no longer an “in” color, according to what the sales clerk told me! So they had marked those down even lower! But wait! There’s more. Two days earlier I received a 15% off the total sales coupon! What a pleasant surprise.

Two large and two small decorative wooden baskets later, along with three speciality bars of soap, and I went back for a small glass lantern I’d seen on the table too. 

IMG_7106

I knew if my calculations were correct, it should come to about ten dollars. But my goal wasn’t just to go shopping to spend $10.00.My goal was to spend the exact amount of my rewards coupon — which was ten dollars. It was FREE money to be spent, and I wasn’t about to let it expire.

And exactly how did I end up with ten dollars in rewards in a non-birthday month?

Well after winning the search for the World Market golden Llama back in June, and winning money with that, I received an additional rewards coupon for being an Explorer member! I mean, basically they rewarded me twice for finding the golden ticket. Now that’s what I call a pretty good rewards program; one that gives you money just for being a member, as opposed to racking up mounds of shopping debt before earning anything!

When the register rang up, my total, with taxes? Forty-six cents! Yes, just 46 cents for stuff I’ll actually use. The pear soap has already found its way into the guest bathroom, and one of the small baskets is being used in the guest bedroom for guests to have a place for their keys, cell phones, and stuff. The large basket has found its place on the desk in my bedroom, holding books, journals, and notecards. 

You can live on a budget, and still shop for fun stuff, and find great gifts without running up your credit card, if you stop and take the time to join reward programs, search online (or for old school — in the newspaper) for coupons, and keep an eye out for when your favorite stores run sales.

One birthday month regret I do have is not getting to use my ten dollar Chico’s coupon. I went to use it one day but couldn’t find anything in that price range. I did find a pair of earrings that were on sale, but they wouldn’t apply the store percentage on the remaining amount after the coupon, so it left me owing $5.00. She tried to explain why it rang up the way it did, but all I thought about was the fact that I didn’t go in there to spend five dollars. I was there just to spend the money from the coupon, and couldn’t justify spending extra money just to be able to use the coupon. So I left with nothing.

If you’re shopping just to shop, and end up spending money you wouldn’t have normally spent just to use a coupon, then you lose. It’s not a saving if you spent money to get something you’re only buying because you have a coupon. Resist the temptation to fall into that trap.

Maybe coupons aren’t for everyone. And I’ve had a friend tell me she doesn’t sign up for rewards programs because she doesn’t want to get all the emails. I don’t mind emails from places I shop (and I don’t sign up for programs at places where I don’t), if it means saving money on things I need. But whatever you decide, if you want to get serious about saving money, then you need to get serious about making a plan for how you’re going to do it.  Saving is one thing. Spending wisely is another. You can do both. Just be strategic. It’s worth it. And you can still have fun while doing it!

Another Happy Birthday!

As the final minutes ticked away at my birthday on Friday, June 8, I was thankful for another happy one. I love it when it falls on a weekend, giving me more reason to celebrate my birthday over multiple days. 

I decided that this year, I was going to make today all about me. I made it a point of making it happy and enjoyable. After all, isn’t that a lot of what it’s suppose to be about — a celebration of the day we were birthed onto this earth? So this year, I had a plan; not for a party, but for how I was going to take advantage of all of the great freebies and birthday rewards programs I was a part of; with reminders that were stacking up in my email inbox!

So I started my morning in the Starbucks drive-thru picking up my FREE coffee drink! From there I cruised around to my favorite outdoor shopping mall, stopping at the World Market. I had a $10.00 birthday reward that I wanted to make sure to take advantage of, but when I got there, they were still in the middle of the golden seahorse game. I’d been trying to find one of those discount certificates for over a week; first while I was still on vacation in my hometown. And then as recently as yesterday, neither times with any success. I have to admit I was very disappointed; almost mad, when I’d spent over an hour in the Columbia store, unable to find one (mad, because the ladies seem to enjoy the fact that they had hidden them so well). But as timing would have it, as if saving the surprise for my birthday, I didn’t just find one today, but I found the big one with the highest dollar amount of $20.00. The sales lady, recognizing me from the day before, said “aren’t you glad you didn’t find one yesterday,” reminding me that each person could only win once a season! What a great blessing!

So equipped with a $10 birthday coupon and now an unexpected $20 gift certificate (which had to be used on that specific day), I went about the business of deciding how to spend it. After roaming up and down the aisles for about 20 minutes, I realized that I really didn’t need anything. I didn’t need another clock or wall art. I had plenty of bath soaps, lotions; jewelry and other accessories; lamps and other various outdoor lighting configurations. I even tried the kitchen area, with my eye on one thing that would have cost double what my savings were. Since I was determined not to go over the $30.00 — and therefore, maintaining my Free Birthday Friday, I decided to wait for their big kitchen sale they hold once or twice a year. So as I settled back into the food and snack area, it hit me. With several summer birthdays of friends and family members coming up, I thought I’d pick up some items to make a nice basket for one of those. 

The challenge with trying to find gifts for my adult friends is that, like me, there’s very little they still need for their own homes. And outside of an “experience,” which can be a little tricky, there’s not a lot of things to buy that the person would need or even want in their home. But we all have to eat, right? And who doesn’t like some interesting things to snack on; stuff you don’t normally buy for yourself?

After making my selection, the cost, with the basket, and taxes, came to only 12 cents over! Who can complain about getting $30 worth of items for one 12 cents?!

Then it was off to get some lunch; a free birthday burger at Red Robin. I traded the french fries for a salad, and ordered the burger without the bun, in an attempt to reduce the carbs, knowing that a free rewards program desert was going to be in my birthday future! 

fullsizeoutput_3fab

After finishing lunch, I couldn’t believe how fast the day was flying by. How could I get everything in that I wanted to do? Fortunately, almost all of the coupons and rewards were good for multiple days. Only Starbucks required the same-day use. So after I made another stop at Chili’s to pick up the desert, I rushed home, dropped off the World Market items, threw the desert in the refrigerator for later, and did something I almost never do. I went to the movies — alone!

I surprised myself by how comfortable I felt sitting there alone, enjoying this movie! Doing everything I wanted, and on my own terms and time table, felt good. I later joked with my friend and hair stylist that perhaps cutting my hair short had given me some kind of new, special powers. 

I didn’t just feel free. I was also doing some things I hadn’t done before. And I was enjoying it!

After watching Ocean’s Eight, and realizing there was not enough time left in the evening to give my shopping the justice it needed, I decided to call it a day; making one more stop for dinner — Jersey Mike, whose rewards included a sub sandwich and drink. Comfortably at home with my free dinner, I began plotting my adventures for Saturday, which after a high carb and sugar day like today, will include a trip to the gym, where Planet Fitness offers a free bottled water to celebrate birthdays!

The moral of my birthday story? Sign up for rewards programs! It’s worth the inconvenience of receiving email throughout the year; especially if they’re places you shop, eat, or drink at some times during the other 364 days of the year. And you might get lucky enough to be able to save money using your coupons and discounts getting items you would have otherwise paid for — like, say, gifts for other people!

Adjusting Your Life to Your New Normal

Why the name Catching Raindrops?

The verb Adjusting means “to change (something) so that it fits, corresponds, or conforms; adapt; accommodate.” Adjustment is defined as “adaptation to a particular condition, position, or purpose.”

Interestingly, the dictionary gives an example of “adjusting,” by this sentence use: “to adjust expenses to income.”

That definition lines up so perfectly with the actions that lead to the name. As I’ve shared before, I spent about a year looking at ways to make adjustments in my lifestyle to accommodate my new life. One of those changes included figuring out ways to cut back not just on expenses outside the home, but things that impacted my money inside the home. There was nothing I could do about the fixed mortgage, because I already had a good rate, so I zoned in on adjusting the other things that were variables – my utilities, groceries, clothes, and related items.

With that, I kept my heat at 66 and my air conditioner turned to 78. For most of my friends, they thought I was crazy, and actually had their own heat and AC settings exactly the opposite of mine. But then, I was trying to save money, and to understand that being comfortable didn’t have to mean ending up with hundreds of dollars in utility charges.

I forced myself to wear the clothes that were already in my closet; not that I was a fashionista to begin with. And limited purchasing new items only for special events, and with retail coupons. I did likewise with my groceries; using reward cards, coupons, and waiting for certain sales before shopping, still trying to stay with only buying the things I needed and not what I wanted. I think sometimes it’s harder to deny yourself from those things you want, than even the things you need! But I knew I had to do it.

I started cutting my own grass again and stopped watering the lawn and floor gardens, allowing nature to take its course. If it rained, they got water. If it didn’t, I just prayed the lawn and flowers wouldn’t all die. Fortunately, that never happened. And since I’d started a patio garden with vegetables and herbs, I took advantage of any opportunity that the skies would deliver water for FREE. I caught as much water as I could by placing water buckets around the deck in my backyard. Southern summers demand a regular watering of container plants if they are to survive. So the water-filled buckets I caught when it rained served to refresh plants later to avoid the summer’s hot sun from drying them out. And it didn’t cost me anything!

It was equating that literal process I was engaged in – taking advantage of free resources today to save and use when the need occurs later – that the name Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets, grew. Whether that was saving herb plants on the deck, cutting and using coupons at the store, joining loyalty programs for discounts on gas and other items; or even in the downgrade of things such as cable TV and my house alarm system — all of it was for the purpose of making adjustments in how I was living to survive these new times.

I was adjusting my life to my new normal!

Free Shopping Days of Christmas

Don’t let the word “shopping” fool you! I’m not advocating going out and spending a lot of money this Christmas season. Quite the opposite. Because I’ve never quite understood why people will run up their credit cards to buy lots of things for many people who either don’t need what you’re buying for them, or would have loved a lesser priced gift from you. And for those with higher expectations, including family members, you have to ask yourself what do they value more — the monetary amount of a gift you can barely afford, or spending time together with an understanding that the holiday season isn’t a license to go further into debt, as so many Americans do!

I recently shared on the Catching Raindrops Facebook page that twice in the last three weeks Thorntons Gas has dropped a six cents off fuel rewards on my card. Both times it happened the day I needed to gas up! Just the other day, another one appeared. I may not need to gas up yet, but topping off my half tank before it expires tomorrow will still be beneficial! Last month I got a free cup of coffee from there as well. Then there was two weeks ago when I got a coupon from Kirkland’s for ten dollars! What great timing, because I need a new pair of gloves. I would never have thought to go there for clothing items, but just this morning, an email of sale items appeared? Not only were gloves listed on sale for FIVE DOLLARS, but so was a pair of women’s slippers, which I also need. So I’ll be getting two more things I need — for FREE! That’s MY kind of shopping.

Earlier this month I hit up Bath & Body Works and their $4.95 sale on aromatherapy products (these items are regularly $12.00-$15.00; and more), and was glad to be able to use my buy one get one free coupon which I’d been holding on to for the right moment. So YES, I got TWO aromatherapy products (i.e. Christmas gifts) that would have cost me over $25.00, instead for just $4.95!

And at Cost Plus World Market, after some “smart shopping” purchasing several bags of coffee for friends during their buy one get one free sale, I ended up earning another free BAG of coffee on my account for myself! But that wasn’t the end of my World Market venture. While there, I noticed an in-store treasure hunt, in search of the Golden Llama. I was too late for that day, but four days later, I decided to show up when the store opened. Yeah, there were about six other women with the same idea, but as the door opened, with the clue of the Llama being seen near something green, I decided to try my luck. While most of the ladies started near the front of the store, I headed straight to the back, looking at everything green. I found one! What started off as a silly game and marketing ploy, of course, won me TWENTY DOLLARS in shopping money! Okay, I admit I wish it had been one of the $50 or $100 rewards, but $20 was better than nothing! And apparently FREE money counts because later that day I had earned a TEN DOLLAR coupon to use later!


So why am I sharing all of this. Well, I’ve talked often about the benefits of joining Rewards programs before. Times like these are when I like sharing specific benefits to these programs. They’re free to join and you get rewarded for doing what you already do — shopping, getting gas, etc. I don’t join programs for places I don’t already visit. But getting rewarded — in other words, saving money — for engaging places I go to anyway makes perfect financial sense! It’s the very essence of catching raindrops in water buckets!