Friday, December 11, 2015

Secret Santa Savings

This is part 2 of my 3 part series called Serious Holiday Savings.

Oh what fun it is... to participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange!

Tell me I'm not the only one who enjoys doing this.  I guess I like it because I enjoy surprises myself, so I find it fun to surprise someone else with little things I think they'd enjoy.

We are currently doing a voluntary Secret Santa exchange at the school where I work.  I wasn't there to draw a name, but another teacher drew for me and I received the name of a dear Kindergarten teacher.  I seriously doubt she's reading this blog, but just in case, I won't mention her name just in case I spoil a surprise!

Over three weeks' time, the Secret Santas are to place a minimum of two gifts per week in the recipient's mailbox.  At our holiday celebration, we are to bring one final gift and reveal who we are to the recipient.

I was excited to get started with my secret gifts, but wanted to stay within a certain budget without my gifts coming across as cheap and unusable.  So, I started a list of ideas for this certain teacher.  I decided to run to the store and get some of the things I needed on the list.  The only problem was, I wasn't able to get to the store that evening and I wanted to give my first gift the following morning.  So, I got a little creative and went shopping in my own house!  Don't worry, I didn't choose some kind of used, junky gift that I hadn't gotten around to throwing away yet.  I found a new, unopened set of yummy-smelling tealight candles that I wrapped and was quite satisfied with my first gift.

Just in case you're interested in participating in a Secret Santa, but are worried about spending too much, here are a few budget ideas that are sure to please both you and the recipient.

1. Go "shopping" at home.  At any given time, I have perfectly usable "stuff" hanging around my house that I'm just not going to use myself, but it might make a lovely gift for someone else.  If you have a give-away pile, check that first for any new items that you could regift.  Just make sure you're not giving an item to the same person you received it from!

2. Bake and take some holiday goodies.  Another one of my Secret Santa gift ideas came to me naturally after hosting my annual cookie exchange.  I had plenty of fresh, homemade cookies that I was never going to eat by myself, so I bagged them up, added a pretty tag, and they were ready to be gifted!

3. Hit the dollar store for themed gifts.  If you've read any other post on this blog, you've probably figured out that I'm a true fan of the dollar store.  I was actually there for something else, but I started noticing that some of the holiday-themed items would make great Secret Santa gifts.  I ended up getting a lovely holiday mug along with some hot chocolate packets and some peppermint tea.  I put them all together and had a perfect themed gift.

4.  Make a gift.  I like this idea so much, I'm devoting the entire next blog post to it, but people always seem to appreciate a handcrafted gift.  Put your skills to work, whatever they are.  I like to make jewelry and stamp cards.  Maybe you can sew simple ornaments or bedazzle a plain ball ornament with rhinestones.  You probably already have the supplies you need in your house.  Take an afternoon and work on some holiday crafts and you'll have some great gifts as a reward for your time.

5.  Re-gift a gift card.  Disclaimer: please make sure you check the balance first of any gift card you plan to regift and make sure it matches the price displayed on the front!  There is nothing worse than going to use your gift card and discovering it only has five cents left!  However, if you have full-value gift cards to restaurants and stores you don't think you'll visit anytime soon, these can make great free Secret Santa gifts!

I hope this post inspires you to get creative with your Secret Santa gifts this year!  There's no reason you can't provide great gifts and still stay on budget.  Happy Holidays!

For more awesome savings tips you can use year-round, check out my book called 8 (Really Creative) Ways to Save here.  It also makes a great Christmas gift!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Classy Invitations for Less

The next 3 posts will be part of my series called Serious Holiday Savings.

Have you noticed how expensive it is to throw a holiday party these days?  There's the food and the beverages and the venue (if you use a place other than your home).  There's the added expense of the decorations to spruce up your location.  And something that might surprise you: the invitations.   All of those expenses really add up in a season that is already putting a serious dent in your wallet.

One of the highlights of my year is the annual Cookie Exchange Party I host at my house the first weekend in December.  I serve appetizers and holiday themed beverages and all of my guests bring their best cookie to share with everyone else.  I've done it for at least 5 years, and one of the areas I try to save on is the invitations.  Some years, I've just done a free invite online, but I really prefer to hand out physical invitations.  That way, my guests can display them somewhere to remind them of the upcoming party.  And they have a memento to keep after the event.

One year, I used Christmas-themed recipe cards and put my invitation on the back.  That made a cute invitation.  This year, I decided to look for holiday-themed computer paper so I could print my invitations out.

My son and I went to several stores that I know carry the sort of paper we were looking for.  Would you believe, we couldn't find anything even like it.  I finally found a set of paper at an arts and crafts store for a whopping $13.99, but I was not going to pay that!

We made one final stop at the dollar store, one of my favorite places on earth.  Lo and behold, I found a set of 12 gingerbread foam cutouts.  I realized they were big enough to write the invitation on the back and decorate the front.  I picked up a package of sparkly green "pipe cleaners" to bend into bows for my ginger men, and voila! I had invitations.

If I had gone with my original idea of buying themed paper, I would have spent a lot more on my invitations.  Instead, I allowed inspiration to seize me in the moment and I am so pleased with the resulting invitations.  The best part: they cost $2.

As you are thinking of hosting your own holiday soiree this year, don't be afraid to improvise when you are looking for invitations, party favors and decorations.  You just might find something better than your original idea and it might cost a lot less too!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How the Journey of Saving has Changed My Life

When I began to pen the book, 8 (Really Creative) Ways to Save in January, I was really just doing it to challenge myself to save more money.  I wanted more creative ways to do it.  Practically all savers will give the advice to shop at the dollar store (which I do) and use coupons (which I do on occasion), but I wanted to come up with some unique ways to save that would work for me and my family.

At the time, I still had a few thousand dollars left to pay on my student loan and I still owed a lot on my car loan.

As I wrote the chapters in the book, 8 creative ways of saving emerged:

1. Grocery shopping savings- It's about more than using coupons because, let's face it, not all of us are extreme about our coupons, or even excited to use them at all

2. Habit building and savings- For those of us who want to develop positive habits while growing our money

3. Piggy bank party- A savings tip and celebration the whole family will enjoy and remember

4. Percentage savings plan- It's amazing to discover the power of 1%.  This tip will help you save more money than you can imagine

5. Christmas in June- December 25th won't catch me by surprise anymore.  I have a plan and as a result, I have holiday shopping money

6. Buy it used- Buying used doesn't have to be scary if you know where to shop; also, it's important to recognize that some items just aren't worth it used and you should buy them new

7. The $5 ban- For all the visual people out there, this one will "catch your eye" and grow your savings like a wildfire

8. Pantry raid 'n' save- Did you know dinner can be both entertaining and save you money?  It's true

These are the tips I cover in the book.  I love each of them because they are creative and they work.

What I didn't realize at the beginning of this writing process is that using these tips would change my life.

I became inspired to use some of my savings to pay off my student loan.  I did!

My husband made a huge personal sacrifice which allowed us to pay off my car loan, 4 years early!

I am not the same person that I was in January, and as a result of the savings tips above, my family is living debt-free besides our home.

If you don't think there is any way you can learn to save, I challenge you to read the book (get it here).  If you're not inspired, you can return it for a full refund.  But maybe, just maybe, you will experience a transformation like mine.

What if saving money could change your life?

(Holding the book that changed my life for the better.  To get your own copy, click here.)

Monday, November 9, 2015

8 Awesome Holiday Savings Hacks

The following excerpt is a bonus chapter from my book 8 (Really Creative) Ways to Save.  For more tips like these, pick up a copy of the book here.

8 Awesome Holiday Savings Hacks

Ready to put more “Ho, Ho, Ho” in your holiday savings this year? Check out these money-saving ideas for the most wonderful time of the year!

1.   Buy all your wrapping paper from the dollar store. They actually have great selections, as long as you get it early (before Halloween!). The longer you wait, the more picked over it will be.

2.    Have Christmas after Christmas. Stuff goes on deep discount on December 26. Yes, you run the risk of lower stock, but you’ll practically have the mall to yourself, and you won’t have to pay full price for many items!
3.     Establish a spending limit with those you exchange gifts with. Have an honest conversation with extended family and friends about what you can all actually afford to spend on gifts for each person. It’s also ok to decide not to exchange gifts and simply enjoy one another’s company.
4.   Visit your favorite thrift stores for decorations and quirky gifts that are one of a kind. Many thrift stores have a full aisle dedicated to holiday decorations. There are treasures and bargains to be found if you look hard enough.
5.      Make a giant batch of holiday cookies and divide them by the dozen to give away to neighbors, teachers, coworkers, people who provide services to you through the year, etc. Most everyone appreciates a box of baked goodness! And even if they can’t eat it, they can surely find someone who can. It’s the thought that counts!
6.     Put your special skills to work by printing and gifting coupons for free services. Whether it’s music lessons, babysitting, or organizing, gift your friends and family with your services and encourage them to use the service!
7.    Set a holiday budget and stick with it! Have a family meeting and make sure everyone knows that you’re going to spend a certain number of dollars and after it’s gone, it’s gone. Brainstorm creative, inexpensive gifts that will mean something to the recipients and set a spending limit for each person on the list.

8.     Shop for the holidays all year long. Always keep some extra cash on hand for buying presents. When you see that item your sister would love go on sale in February, you’ll be able to snatch it up and have a great gift when December arrives.

I just went shopping over the weekend and used tip #1 at the Dollar Tree with awesome results.  I found some cute character paper to wrap my son's gifts in and he also picked out a roll that he liked.  I got 3 rolls of wrapping paper for $3!

What are some ways you save money for the holidays?  I'd love to hear!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

What's the dream?

My new book, 8 (Really Creative) Ways to Save is about two things: 1. It's about saving money in unusual ways and having a little fun while doing so and 2. It's about dreams.

You see, everyone has a dream.  And, most everyones' dreams require money to achieve.  So that is the first thing I cover in my book: focusing on your dream.  If you can start to think about what your dream might look like, feel like, smell like and sound like when you achieve it, you are going to be easily motivated to work hard to get you to that place.

Today's post is going to challenge you to think.  What is your dream?  Now, don't start putting qualifiers on it like, "Well, I want this certain type of car, but it's too expensive," or "I want to eat healthy foods, but we don't live in an area where a lot of healthy food is available."  No, simply think about your dream, as if you can instantly achieve it.

Once you have your dream, I ask you to take 5 minutes at some point today and think about it.  Imagine yourself living your dream.  Describe your surroundings.  Who is living it with you?  How does living your dream make you feel inside?

If you actually complete this exercise, you will feel amazing after 5 minutes of thinking about your dream.  That's because it is already a part of you.  You just need a way to bring the mental picture to reality.

And this is where the 8 creative ways to save will help you start to work toward paying for your dream.  In cash.  And probably a lot faster than you imagined because you will be motivated as you see the numbers in your savings account grow.

So, spend some time dreaming today.  After all, dreaming is free!  And if you don't mind sharing, I would love to hear about your dream in the comments below or on my Facebook page.


Ps. One of my current dreams is to get my new book into the hands of every person who wants to increase his or her savings!  In order to do that, I reduced the price of the eBook to just $3.99!  If you would rather have a paperback copy, you can get it for $9.99.  I hope you'll consider making this small investment in yourself.  Get 8 (Really Creative) Ways to Save in either format here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Some days I save, Some days I don't!

I wasn't planning on starting a blog about saving.  And then 5 different people (who know what they're talking about) said I should.

I released my 2nd self-published book today!  It is called 8 (Really Creative) Ways to Save and is all about saving money in order to fund your dreams and goals.  It is available on Amazon here.

Here I am, riding the wave of success that comes with publishing a book.  Ok, make that imaginary wave of success because life is pretty much the same as it was yesterday.  I had to go to the doctor for an on-going sinus infection.

I headed to the front desk after the appointment.  "Ok, Mrs. King, that will be $134.21."

I thought about asking her if there was a discount for people who just wrote books on saving money! Then I changed my mind and paid the bill.

The point of the matter is this: Some days I save money and some days I don't.  I guess I'll be reading my own book and working on some of the creative savings tips to make up for an expensive doctor's appointment!

Life happens and life is expensive.  Wouldn't you agree?