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How to Create and Implement a Realistic Household Budget


Most adults have never been taught how to balance a checkbook, much less plan a household budget. And yet, knowing where money is coming and going is essential to keeping your household financially solvent. If you don’t have a clear concept of your income and expenses, you can easily find yourself spending more than you earn and digging yourself deeper into debt by the day.

 

However, the average budget isn’t as cut and dry as a column for earnings and one for expenses. You likely have financial obligations that include unknown costs, making it difficult to plan and while most households feature one or two incomes, there may be other forms of money coming in on a regular basis or infrequently.

 

Creating a realistic budget for your household can be a complex undertaking to say the least. But if you want to keep yourself out of debt and even set yourself up for future success, financially speaking, it’s imperative that you put in the time and effort to craft and implement a workable budget. Here are just a few guidelines to help you meet your goals.

 

Pool Monthly Receipts.


The place to start is by taking a good, hard look at what you’re actually spending. You probably have a pretty good handle on your income and even if you’re not a salaried worker, you can likely calculate your average earnings by month or by year.

 

What you might not be entirely aware of is just how much you’re spending. You can start with the easy stuff: your monthly household bills for mortgage, utilities, car payments, and so on. From there it gets a little harder. What are you spending on groceries, eating out, or your morning cup of coffee? What about costs for fuel and parking? And there are always extras like clothing and other retail items.

 

Here’s an experiment to try. For one month, save every single receipt and keep a running tally of any and all cash expenses, from the five bucks you give your kid to the quarters you put in the parking meter.

 

At the end of the month, add up all of your expenditures and compare them to what you earned. If you’ve overspent this month, chances are you’ve done the same (or worse) in the past. And now you know why you can’t pay off your credit card – and that’s not even accounting for the interest you’re paying on past purchases.

 

Compare Income and Expenses

Now that you have a clearer picture of what you’re spending you can start to put together a more realistic household budget. You’ll want to begin with two columns: one for known income and one for monthly recurring expenses. The income column should be pretty simple since most homes feature only one or two incomes.

 

You may also have money from social security, an annuity of some sort, or other sources, and you likely have potential income like stocks and bonds, but for the moment, set these aside and focus on the steady income from your job.

 

Next, list out expenses that are more or less stable, such as your mortgage payment, utilities, and phone, cable, and internet. Using past receipts you can probably set aside a budget for food, fuel, and other essentials, as well. And don’t forget to break out annual payments like insurance into monthly increments so that you can plan for them accordingly. Now you have your basic budget in place.

 

Prioritize.


You’ll find that once you’ve completed your budget, you will most likely have other expenses.

 

For example, when you planned your grocery budget, you may not have accounted for the money you spend dining out. You also probably didn’t list entertainment amongst your monthly bills, but if you like to go to movies on the weekends, you could be spending $20-$50 that you didn’t budget for.

 

If you’re careful, you should have some spending money left over when you pay all your bills, but you need to prioritize spending to make sure you’re not going over budget with the items you haven’t accounted for on paper. This is most easily done by setting aside a cash stipend for weekly treats like eating out or going to the movies. When the cash is gone, you need to stop spending.

 

Plan for Future Costs.


It’s all well and good to put together a budget that allows you to pay your monthly household bills and come out with a little extra spending cash in your pocket, but it may not be entirely realistic.

 

Before you blow your overflow on fun, you need to think about future expenses. If you were smart, you budgeted for known annual expenses like insurance payments, property tax, and medical and dental check-ups, breaking them out into monthly increments.

 

But what will you do if you end up needing a root canal or a false tooth? What if you’re the cause of a car accident and you have unanticipated medical expenses and car repair costs? In addition, you should think about sending your kids to college and planning for your retirement.

 

It’s a lot to consider, especially when you don’t know what the costs are going to be, or if you’ll even face such expenditures. The point is that you need to make saving for unknown future expenses part of your budget if you don’t want to wind up in debt down the line. Granted, these costs may not be included in your average household budget, but if you fail to plan for them, they’ll certainly impact your monthly payment plan when they pop up.

 

Find Ways to Save


You may find yourself in the unfortunate position of owing more money monthly than you earn, and this likely has something to do with credit card debt.

 

If this is the case, the best thing you can do to get your budget in check is to tighten the belt, lock up your credit cards, find ways to save, and start paying down your debt (by the way, this will likely improve your credit score in the process).

 

This could also mean giving up the movie channels on your cable plan, brown bagging your lunch instead of eating out with co-workers, cutting back on your wireless data usage, addressing your shopping addiction, and of course, waiting for sales and using coupons.

 

The household budget you create is only as good as your dedication to following it but you can always find ways to live within your means and resolve your debts when you take the time to budget accordingly.

 

So if you’re looking for the peace of mind that comes with paying all your bills and having a rainy day fund on the side, start creating and implementing a realistic household budget post haste.

 

 

 

6 Valentine’s Day Gifts with a Sweet Price Tag

valentines gifts
 
Valentine’s Day is a booming retail holiday when it comes to gift-giving. Forget a token of love on this holiday full of hearts and flowers and you could end up spending the night in the doghouse. Not to fear, however—we have some fantastic suggestions for thoughtful gifts that will impress your loved ones with your dedication… without breaking the bank.
 

Don’t just send flowers. Grow a garden.

If you’re dating a green thumb, go above and beyond the typical cellophane-wrapped bouquet this year and get her something she’ll really love. Save $25 on your order of $50 or more from Dutch Gardens for a high-class selection of tulip bulbs in every shade of the rainbow. Love blooms for longer than a day, after all.
 
Even more practical, some deep savings on gardening tools from Sears will have you and your loved one humming a happy tune on February 14th.
 
Of course, if you do want to go the traditional long-stemmed roses route, a 25% rebate from 1-800-FLOWERS is just the ticket. Romance and savings, all in one.

Nothing says, “I love you” like a dual phone plan.

What with those schmoopy texting sessions and hour-long phone calls, a couple’s phone bill can really skyrocket. Get around these penalties with a pair of phones from Verizon, who sweeten the pot with many opportunities to score a free phone. Be a shrewd shopper and shop the deals at AT&T and Boost Mobile, too, to find the best plan for you and your hubby.
 
If an amazing FreeFone deal still hasn’t tempted you, try picking up something simple, like one of these snazzy personalized phone cases. Then he’s sure to think of you whenever he gets a call.
 

Keep happy memories close with a canvas print.

A gorgeous, museum-quality canvas print is a fantastic way to honor your love while adding some decorative flair to the home. Canvas Lifestyle is currently running a white-hot deal on prints and guarantees shipping in time for V-Day. Wedding photos, family photos, or even a landscape photo from a favorite vacation—all of it spells L-O-V-E a lot better than a box of candy hearts can.
 
Other ideas? Create a collage of frames with different snaps or splash out for a glossy photo book from York Photo at a very budget-friendly 50% discount.
 

Give heart-shaped boxes for a dazzling Valentine’s Day.

If you decide to go the pendant, earring, or bracelet route on Valentine’s Day, be sure to search Coupon Chief for “jewelry.” You’ll turn up everything from special discounts at jewelry.com to 50% savings on luxe Swarovski designs.
 
For a quirkier twist on this V-Day favorite, give bohemian-chic Amy O. Jewelry a try. Wow her even more with your own ode, tucked into a locket. Then, help her to store her trinkets beautifully with a charming mini-chest from JewelryBoxes.com.
 

Indulge in sweets for the sweet.

Although the rows of identical red candy boxes at the grocery store might be tempting as a quick fix, resist and go for the savings from Ghirardelli or Godiva instead. What’s not to love about tasty and thrifty?
 
Pour out a glass of premium bubbly from WineBasket.com and savor the other artfully-treats tucked in the basket. Combine with artisanal cheeses, crackers, and you’ve got a sophisticated spread that’ll be sure to cue the violins and cherubs.
 
Don’t forget to tuck in a sappy, humorous, or heartfelt card from Cards Direct while you’re at it!

Take flight for the best Valentine’s Day ever.

You’ve done the flowers. You’ve done the jewelry. You’ve done the chocolates. This year, go above and beyond for your significant other with a surprise Valentine’s getaway!
 
Book by 2/14 using Cheapoair’s promotion and jet off to a destination that’s sunny, carefree, and ripe for romance. Knock $150 off your booking of a flight and hotel at CheapTickets.com, or save on a tony deluxe suite for two at the Venetian. The options are limitless with discounted European hotel rooms at Hotwire or huge markdowns on beach and ski vacations at Expedia.
 
Our advice? Shop around for a dream vacation and cement a whole new year of treasured memories—plenty to last you until next Valentine’s Day.
 
And, if you’re still on the hunt for the absolute perfect gift, look no further than our Coupon Concierge tool. We help you search by the unique tastes of your loved ones while ensuring you reap the rewards of deep savings.
 

Start Your Year Off Right With the Deepest Post-Holiday Discounts

post holiday discounts
Too burned out from Christmas shopping to even think of pushing another shopping cart around? These deep New Year’s savings are sure to change your tune! As calendars flip from one year to the next, retailers often begin paving the way for new products and a new season. This means that existing items on the shelves must be moved quickly. Enter: you.
 
Be a savvy January sale shopper and save on vacations, bedding, and more with our guide to the all the best discounts 2014 has to offer.
 

Get outfitted with jackets, hats and gloves.

Temperatures are still frosty out there! With the holiday shopping frenzy fading, department stores and clothing shops are looking to turn over a great deal of their outerwear inventory.
 
Check out deals on fashionable women’s coats and designer duds at Nordstrom’s and save up to 40%!
 
Keep the whole family snugly wrapped with hats and mittens from Kidorable, too. Tried-and-true family retailers like Old Navy and the GAP are likely to roll out some good post-holiday sales as well.
 

Update your bedrooms and bathrooms with brand new sheets and towels.

Department stores have been holding white sales since the 19th century, and this year is certainly no exception!
 
Macy’s is featuring Martha Stewart Collection bedding at super low prices until mid-January, while you can bet many of your personal favorite stores are, too. Be sure to browse their websites in January or try searching for them by name using Coupon Chief’s handy search tool—it’s easy to discover the right deal for you.
 

Gear up for summer’s high temperatures.

Plan ahead for sizzling summer weather by scoping January’s deals on seasonal items like air conditioners, grills, and lawn furniture. You’ll feel great about planning ahead when you check out the sales at Home Depot, Sears, and Lowe’s.
 
Even niftier than the money you’ll save on summer necessities is the fact that many of these companies will also offer free installation of new appliances, or complimentary removal and hauling of the very air conditioner you’re replacing. Avoiding a hassle at the busy start of a new year is always helpful.
 

Time to get gifting.

Gift-giving season does not end on December 26—after all, birthdays, weddings, and “just ‘cuz” occasions happen all year round!
 
Stay on top of your gift list from Day One with deep savings on gift cards on everything from Visa cash to iTunes. January is an especially great month for entertainment and technology fiends as mega-retailers like Best Buy slash prices on a wide range of products, including laptops and HBO series box sets.
 
And, of course, our Coupon Concierge tool can help you uncover a money-saving gift for the most special people in your life, every time.
 

Score a sweet new television set.

Electronics stores get ready to clear stock in January, which is a boon for you if you’re in the market for a new television in the New Year.
 
For instance, cutting-edge company Samsung can drop television prices on certain models by as much as $400-500! Plus, you can hoist that spiffy new flat screen up on the living room wall with a fancy new set of mounts from Stands & Mounts. We call that a win for your pocketbook and future movie nights.
 

Book your vacations now and save big.

If this year is meant to be the one where you finally take that cruise, you’ll reap the biggest rewards by booking now, including better accommodations. For instance, Carnival offers complimentary stateroom upgrades and savings of $400 for former cruise-goers. CruiseDirect can also be a great source to check for low ticket prices on a multitude of popular cruise liners.
 
You don’t have to take a sea voyage to save a bundle on travel this year, either. Travel booking sites such as Orbitz and Travelocity also offer discounts on vacation packages, hotel stays, and rental cars. Expedia is even knocking off a solid 10% on all current transactions.
 
Book now and start envisioning yourself sunning by the pool without a care in the world…least of all financially.
 
As with any hot deals, January savings can be blink-and-you-miss-‘em. Stay on top of your shopping list in 2014 by researching your roster of trusted shops, dropping by the linen and apparel sections of your favorite department store, and above all, browsing for the best sales online.
 
Where have you discovered hot New Year deals in the past? Please share your tips in the comments below!
 

The Best Time to Buy Everything

best time for your purchases
 
Trying on a winter coat in July or stocking up on Christmas decorations in April may seem like madness, but paying attention to when items are at their biggest discount is just another way to save big on necessary purchases. Time your shopping just right, and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank—you just need a little insider know how first. We’ve collected our seasoned tips in one simple place to provide you with a month-to-month checklist of the best times to buy absolutely everything.
 

January

With seven months to go before July hits, now is the perfect time to scout deals on hot-ticket summer items like grills and air conditioners. Because many large stores know that they’ll have new models in stock come spring, discounts will be deep all winter long.
 
Although it may seem odd, waiting for after Christmas to shop for apparel and winter coats is actually a great idea. After the initial pre-holiday shopping frenzy, retailers are left with picked-over stock and will be ready to unload it to you for a fraction of the cost.
 
Along the same lines, carpets, video games, and even gift cards will all be on sale come January 1, as most have been rolled out in anticipation of holiday buyers.
 
January is also the month for traditional “white sales,” so save your new sheet and towel purchases for the New Year.
 

February

Major phone companies are often in the mood for love during February, and will offer two-for-one deals on phones in honor of Valentine’s Day. One past deal involved two-for-one phones and double data plans to sweeten the pot.
 
If you’re in the market for a new TV, be sure to monitor pre-Super Bowl sales. This is the time of year when companies are gearing for new product releases and therefore pushing prices down on in-stock items.
 

March

Did you know that March is National Frozen Food Month? True story. All month long participating retailers will be lowering prices on frozen foods, and consumers can even enter a $10,000 sweepstakes.
 
Remember Valentine’s Day? Well, now all of those heart-shaped boxes and special edition candies are on sale.
 
March is also a great time to shop for new luggage. Falling in between the year’s peak winter and summer travel times, March provides your chance to snag a sleek new roller bag at an even sleeker price.
 

April

April is not the cruelest month when it comes to savings. Your local thrift stores will be bursting to the seams with clothes other households have purged in the name of spring cleaning.
 
The annual Consumer Electronics Show in January is where electronic product launches are announced for the upcoming year. With shiny new digital cameras about to flood stores, you can slip in and snap up an older model for cheap during April.
 
Along similar lines, vacuums often go on sale during the spring in anticipation of new models entering stores in June. April is also a great time to buy a new pair of running shoes, even if the weather’s not ideal for outdoor sports just yet.
 

May

Wait until after Tax Day to outfit your workspace with new desks and chairs and save on items you can then deduct on your own return next year. Win, win!
 
Mattresses often go on sale during springtime, and the best time to purchase a new refrigerator is definitely May. As always, new products equal fantastic savings on your receipt for older models. Find discounts on installation and repair prices here, too!
 

June

You don’t have to be getting married to appreciate the multitude of dishware discounts at home shopping stores gearing up for wedding season. Plus, you can avoid all that registry hassle.
 
Score the perfect Father’s Day gift by taking advantage of big sales on tools and other essential home repair items. In fact, finding the perfectly discounted gift for a loved one is always a breeze with our Coupon Concierge.
 
Six months out from January 1, many gyms are suffering for members as they lose clients to the call of the great outdoors. It’s the perfect time to show off your ability to negotiate a primo deal on gym membership. Or, go ahead and reap the savings on equipment such as ellipticals and exercise bikes for your home gym.
 

July

August is a big month for Back to School and new furniture in stores, so July is the perfect month to check out student sales on computers and clearances at furniture outlets.
 
Wedding season is still chugging along as well, so if you’re looking to freshen up the interior design scheme of your home with updated décor, you’ll find friendly prices in stores and online.
 

August

If you were able to put off swimsuit shopping until now, enjoy showing off your brand new (and cheaper!) suit for the last weeks of summer.
 
Back to School deals means August is the best month to shop for children’s clothing and shoes, as well as office supplies for them and you. This is also the time of year when older children head off to college, which means linens for smaller bed sizes and storage containers will be on sale at large chains such as Target.
 

September

September is a HUGE month for savings, which is why we covered September deals at length in another blog post.
 
Since it’s key to book flights two months in advance to maximize the best prices, now is the time to book your travel for the holidays.
 
With new cars and new bikes coming out in September, here’s your shot to bargain down the price on last year’s models. Salesmen will be eager to get these out of lots and showrooms, so it’s on you to negotiate the best price possible.
 
Lawnmowers and other relics of summer are on sale now, too.
 

October

Throughout the autumn months, keep abreast of sales on large appliances. Besides refrigerators (which are best purchased in May), pretty much all the greatest deals on dishwashers, ovens, and the like can be had during this time window.
 
Houseplants and jeans have already been picked over during the summer and back-to-school rush, so if you’re hoping for deals on either one, find them now.
 
With a chill now lacing the air, we know you won’t be grilling out on the back porch much anymore, but that doesn’t mean October’s not the perfect time to buy patio furniture on the cheap and be prepared to show it off next year!
 

November

If you’re not oversaturated with sugar yet, post-Halloween discounting means lots of mini-Snickers at low prices at the beginning of November.
 
November is also a gigantic month for holiday gift shopping. Cyber Monday on the Monday after Thanksgiving week offers tons of discounts at participating online retailers, and you can typically expect free shipping on your orders, too. The infamous Black Friday falls the day after Thanksgiving. Both days represent deep savings on electronic items, televisions, and other large purchases. Read our guide on making the most of Black Friday shopping to bone up on even more savings strategies.
 

December

Look at you—you’ve made it all the way to the end of the year, and you’re still saving right and left! In celebration, snag a couple of bottles of champagne. So many people buy champagne during the month of December that stores compete ruthlessly to offer the lowest prices.
 
Sales on televisions, tools, and electronics continue through the lead up to December 25.
 
We know it can be hard to think of pools while there’s still frost on the ground, but if you are thinking of installing a pool this year, shop for a great deal in the thick of winter. And if you didn’t get that car back in September, now is the absolute best time as dealers prepare to offload inventory to avoid paying tax on it.
 
As always, use Coupon Chief’s simple suite of search tools to regularly scan your favorite stores and most-wanted items for coupons and sales. Bring in a coupon to combine with the frenzy of product clearances, and you’ll be set to enjoy a year’s worth of screaming good deals. Check the calendar and get to shopping!
 

5 Gifts for the Host

 

 

Attending a party this holiday season? It’s a thoughtful idea to bring a gift to the event’s host. No matter how big or small the gathering, bringing along a small gift showing how much you appreciate all of the hard work put into planning the party is always a smart move.

 

Here are five great gifts that every host will be thankful for being given.

 

Fancy Cleaning Products

Sometimes you have to spoil someone, even when it comes to cleaning products. One of my favorite cleaning product lines is from Mrs. Meyers. Made with Castile soap, essential oils, and natural cleaning agents, these are some of the best around. Every year, Mrs. Meyers also features holiday scents that are amazing! Grab a set of cleaning products and treat someone to a fresh, clean smelling house after the party is over.

 

Elegant Bottle Stoppers

Wine is a wonderful host gift, but wine and a beautiful bottle stopper are even better. Pottery Barn has a beautiful selection of bottle stoppers with a style to please any host. From monogram bottle stoppers to those that are more holiday inspired like a snowflake, these are gifts someone can use all year long. They are reasonably priced, so you’ll easily can find one to meet your budget.

 

A Sweet Treat

Who doesn’t love a sweet treat? Treat the host to something sweet this year. Red Envelope has some amazing hot cocoa gift sets that make great gifts. With choices ranging from peppermint to creamy chocolate, you’ll find one that your host will love.  Pair hot cocoa with some marshmallows and peppermint sticks, and you’re set!

 

Gifts for the Foodie

If your host loves cooking, you can’t go wrong with something from the Food Network Store. It has an array of gifts in every price range and offers complimentary gifts at certain price points during the holiday season (this year, it is a candle.) You can shop for a general foodie gift or something more specific such as a great Mexican food cookbook or an Italian pasta cutter.  It also offers gift sets that make amazing host gifts.

 

Send Flowers

When in doubt, send some flowers. Won’t your host be surprised when they open the door long before the party starts and someone has sent the a beautiful array of flowers? There are many holiday arrangements too choose from this holiday season. See whether you can specify a time of day that your holiday gift can be delivered before the party starts.

 

We hope you have found some inspiration!  What are some of the host and gifts you have given in the past?

 

 

How Coupons Can Save Your Christmas

coupons save christmas
 
The Christmas holidays are a time of cozy nights around the fire, reunions with loved ones near and far, and the delights of decorating and gift-giving. However, as the season’s bills for ornaments, travel, and presents rack up, we can all feel a twinge of our inner Grinch. Last year, the average American household spent $750 on Christmas. Ouch! This holiday season, arm yourself with amazing coupon deals on all aspects of Christmas, and enjoy the gift of savings.
 

Go Online for Super Savings on Gifts

Gifts to family, friends, and colleagues make up about 75% of total holiday spending. Whether it’s the newest smartphone, gaming system, or standbys like toys and clothing, presents are where we all aim to please… and can feel the spending squeeze.
 
Save on your holiday gifts this year in a number of ways: search for coupons from specific retailers, or search by item. For instance, if your husband has his heart set on a new tablet, search for a company like Samsung to view what sorts of deals the company is offering. Then, try an online search for “tablet” and check the deals for every retailer in one place. You can also browse tags such as “electronics” and “gifts.”
 
Internet retailers also have their own version of “Black Friday.” Known as “Cyber Monday,” it hits on the first Monday after Thanksgiving. Most online retailers provide all kinds of perks such as free shipping, price slashing, and/or free items with every order. Set a little time aside on that Monday to search your favorite stores and be rewarded with the perfect gifts for everyone in your circle.
 

Decorate in Style without Breaking the Bank

Don’t scrimp on lights, candles, and festive home décor. Even Christmas trees can be purchased with a coupon discount! The “Christmas” tag groups these items together, or you can browse for your specific needs. For example, deduct over $40 on an artisan Christmas tree that lasts all year, or save 25% on Christmas ornaments by ordering early. You can even enjoy discounts on personalized stockings for the family using Personal Creations.
 

Spend Christmas with Family… and Still Save

The holiday season can be one of the priciest—and frustrating—times to travel, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Many airline mile programs have black-out dates around the popular travel days, meaning that free miles cannot be used at those times. However, play around with your dates, and see if you can find something that just skirts the restrictions.
 
Other money savers for the willing include flying on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Day. Though some may consider these undesirable days to travel, extreme savings may convince you and your family otherwise. For example, a flight from Houston to Chicago from December 23 to 30 can run to nearly $400. Change the dates to December 24 and January 1, and this price drops to below $270.
 
Coupon savings are available on all kinds of travel expenses: rental cars, hotel rooms, service fees—even car parts! In terms of flights, receive money off on aggregate booking sites such as Travelocity, or individual airline websites like Alaska Airlines. Saving $50 per flight really adds up.
 

Bite Down on Delicious Holiday Deals

Coupon-clipping for local grocery stores is always a great way to save on Christmas staples like honey-glazed hams, potatoes, and sugar cookie fixings. Go online for even more money-scrimping deals on luxury brand truffles, or free shipping on fruit and goodie baskets from Harry & David. Heck, even that Christmas ham can be ordered online at a 15% discount!
 

Send Memorable Holiday Greetings at Low Prices

Stay on top of holiday greetings by browsing all of the incredible deals on cards, photo books, calendars, and more.
 
Pick out a pretty natural scene for this year’s cards with a 30% discount on Christmas card sets from the National Wildlife Federation. Better yet, personalize your cards with adorable family snapshots using photo-editing websites like Snapfish or Shutterfly. You can also create family photo albums or calendars. These are fun to hang in the New Year, or to send as gifts to family members who live far away and would appreciate a keepsake.
 
Wrapping paper, bows, and other trappings can also be had at a discount. Jazzing up your presents this year is a breeze!
 
And if you need a little extra help finding the perfect coupon to shop for that certain someone this holiday, try our Coupon Concierge.
 
From stocking stuffers over the hearth to presents under the tree… all the way to the twinkling star on top, start searching coupons today to unlock a holiday season full of good cheer.
 

Stockpiling Savings: The Best Deals for that Hard-to-Please Person on Your List

best deals for Christmas
 
We all have those people in the family who reply “I don’t need anything” when they are asked what they want for Christmas or a birthday. Since not giving a gift simply isn’t an option—and secretly you know they want something anyway—try our list of amazing savings for the hard-to-please people in your life. This way, you can wow them with your thoughtfulness and your smart shopping sense. It’s a win, win!
 

1. Photo Books or Calendars

Even the most crotchety in-law’s heart will be warmed by a photo book highlighting the family vacation to Florida, or a calendar that includes 12 months of memories and smiles. Check photo-editing sites such as Snapfish and Shutterfly for ideas and savings.
 

2. Gourmet Treats

In general, it’s hard to go wrong with gifts of food. After all, we all do a little thinking with our tummies. Go online and find the most lavish gift baskets for your sweet-toothed friends, or try looking for salmon coupons from Seabear for those with a more savory bent. For something really unique, try alligator jerky from Mountain America Jerky. Novelty is sure to win over the hard-to-please.
 

3. Automotive Repairs

For an ultra-practical gal or gent, discounts on pesky car repairs or parts are sure to be a hit. Get a discount on tools from Eastwood, or send along a coupon for CarMD and help your friend diagnose his own car troubles to save even more!
 

4. Gift Cards

Sometimes, a picky gift-getter just needs to pick out her own gift. Reap the savings on many different retail gift cards at Giftcard.com, or go straight to the source. Gift card coupons are available for popular services like iTunes, Victoria’s Secret, and even SpaFinder. After your recipient treats herself, you’re sure to receive an enthusiastic “Thank you!”
 

5. Soda at Home

One gift that keeps on a giving is a home soda maker. Penny-pinchers will get a kick out of the years of savings stockpiled after making their own customized beverages at home. In addition, the actual process of mixing the sodas and blending flavors is like a fun science experiment for the whole family. You’re in luck – Sodaclub.com offers coupons.
 

6. Phone Plans

Keep your friends and family connected with the gift of a prepaid cellphone. Appealing to phone users that prefer to stay out of a contract, and therefore only pay for that they use, a prepaid phone from Boost or Virgin Mobile means savings for you on purchase, as well as savings on messaging and chatting for budget-friendly pals.
 

7. eBay

Do you have an eBay-lover in your midst? Let him or her do all the legwork of bidding on items, and then swoop in with a surprise: free shipping on certain items or up to 50% off on popular bids! Combine bargains with bargains for savings on both ends.
 

8. Custom Clothing

If you’re shopping for an artistic teen or twenty-something, give the gift of a custom tee or hoodie. At Threadless or CaféPress, users can browse designs from thousands of other artists, or upload a design of their own. Voila! A one-of-a-kind fashion statement is born. With discounts available on shipping and orders of a certain amount, your gift is sure to get lots of play as a daily wardrobe staple.
 

9. Geek Splendor

Appease the self-described “geek” in your life with something from ThinkGeek. Collecting memorabilia and merchandise for shows like Star Wars and Game of Thrones in one place, ThinkGeek is a treasure trove for avid followers of all kinds of science fiction and fantasy brands. Pass along a coupon, and get ready for the touched thanks to start rolling in.
 

10. Techno-wonders

Pass along savings on all kinds of gadgets—plus specific discounts for students—at Newegg, a website that collects the best possible prices on must-haves like external hard drives, earphones, and tablets. Browse other “computer” related tags for savings on software, hardware, and repairs, too!
 

11. Memberships

If your brother hates cluttering up his home with knickknacks, don’t give a physical gift at all. Instead, provide a membership to a gym, museum, or season tickets to his favorite team. The gift of an experience is something he will always remember, and every time he uses his membership, he’ll think of you…especially since it won’t require pulling out his own wallet.
 
Have other ideas for family and friends that are hard to shop for? Share your money-saving tips in the comments below! Or, if you need more help finding that perfect gift, try our Coupon Concierge.
 

How to Camp Out for Black Friday

 

If you are brave, you might consider camping out in front of a store to wait for the Black Friday deals. Often the only way you can have a shot at getting those in-store flash deals and those crazy deep discounts is to camp out at a top shopping mall.
 
Here’s how to camp out on Black Friday and have a great time while being safe.
 

Bring Warm Clothing

Baby it’s cold outside! That’s what you’ll be saying right around 1am if you decide to camp out. The important thing to remember is that you need to wear layers of warm clothes, which you can remove. Whatever you bring to wait in line you’ll need to take away with you. So pack light.

 

Think of easy-to-store clothes like a beanie, mittens, gloves and a scarf.

 

Wear a warm coat with pockets and long johns if you live somewhere where it snows. The idea is that you can slowly add clothing while outside to keep warm and then slowly remove the layers when you get into the store so you don’t overheat. If you bring a backpack, you might be able to bring a small blanket.
 

Be Entertained

You’ll want to bring something to keep yourself entertained. Playing games on your smartphone is a plan, but one that’ll quickly run down your battery. A deck of cards and games like Uno can be a great way to pass the time.

 

If you are by yourself, you might want to bring an MP3 player. It’s important that you don’t have too many items and that any items you do have are small and can go in your pockets, purse or a backpack.
 

Bring Some Snacks

Opt for high protein snacks and snacks that don’t have too much salt (these will make you want to drink something and then you’ll have to use the bathroom). It’s also important that the snacks will keep you going and not cause a crash from consuming too much sugar.

 

Avoid anything that needs to be heated and of course anything that can’t be stored easily.
 

Bring A Friend

If at all possible, bring a friend. The old saying “safety in numbers” is so true. Here are a few reasons why having a friend with you is a priority:

  • If you need to go to the restroom, someone can hold your spot
  • You’ll have someone to talk too
  • You can watch each other’s valuables while you take it in turns to have a nap
  • One of you can go for hot coffee or hot food while the other stays in line
  • If you want to spend a couple of days in line, you will need a tent, which will need to be taken back to your car a few hours before the doors open

 

Think About Organization

Although you might always shop with a purse, for Black Friday, a backpack might be your best choice. Most backpacks have pockets where you can store your wallet, some lip gloss and other small items.

 

A backpack is also perfect for storing an extra pair of gloves, a small blanket and even a book to read. Just remember to keep track of your belongings and never leave your backpack unattended when you with a number of people in a small space.

 

Have you ever camped out for Black Friday? What are your tips for success?

 
 

8 Tips for Shopping on Black Friday

 
Named for the day that retailers start to “get in the black” and turn a profit for the year, Black Friday is not only the day after Thanksgiving but also the year’s biggest shopping day — the day consumers hope to find the best deals. Yet long lines, huge crowds and limits on discounted merchandise make the day’s shopping frustrating for many.
 
But there’s no law that says you have to have a headache by the end of Black Friday. Shoppers who plan carefully can find amazing bargains, killer price slashing and rock bottom savings on some of the most expensive items on their lists. Here are eight tips to help you reach the end of the day feeling satisfied and content.

Be Organized

You might laugh at women who plan out their shopping trips like generals invading a country. The truth is, these are the shoppers who will be able to say at the end of the day, “Veni, vidi, vici!” (“I came, I saw, I conquered!”).
 
Begin by making a list of the gifts or items you need and the people for whom you are buying. If you are buying clothing, note the sizes you need. There is nothing worse than walking into a jam-packed store at 4 a.m. only to forget what you need to buy.
 
Make your list very specific. Don’t be afraid to include details like “four pairs of white tube socks” or “three pairs of bootleg cut jeans.” This will help keep you from getting distracted by every deal you see.
 
One of the biggest mistakes you can make on Black Friday is to wander the aisles and browse without knowing what you plan to buy. Black Friday is not the time for that. You need to keep your “eye on the prize” and head into each store with a mission.

Set a Budget

If things are tight, avoid impulse buys by sticking to your list and making a budget.  Don’t buy something thinking that “someone might like it.”  Buy what you need only and spend no more than you budget.
 
If money is tight, avoid impulse buys by sticking to your list and your budget. Decide ahead of time how much you will spend. Don’t buy something that wasn’t on your list thinking that “someone might like it.” Buy only what you need and spend no more than you planned to.
 
This is not the time to throw something in your cart because it is a great deal. If you start doing this, you will overspend in a heartbeat.

Do Your Research

Timing is everything on Black Friday. Know what time each store will open and when you need to show up. Find out if you will need to camp out to ensure your spot in line. If you need tips on camping out, read How to Camp out for Black Friday.
 
Find your deals before Black Friday. Collect the newspaper ads and weekly circulars for Black Friday ahead of time and search the Internet for coupons and codes. This is important because you can use this information to plan where you will go, what you will buy, and how much you will spend.
 
For each store you plan to shop at, note:

  • The opening time
  • What time the deals you want will go live (not all stores offer their deals all day long)
  • Prices and incentives (coupons)
  • Available quantities and whether you have a shot at getting the item in question. You don’t want to stand in line for five hours to buy a TV if the store is only offering 20 at the sale price.

Once you have this information, prioritize your list of stores — know which ones you plan to hit first.
 
Don’t forget to plan your transportation. There will be a lot of cars and a lot of people. Decide whether you want to carpool with friends or spend the night before at the home of a friend who lives nearby so you can shuttle purchases back and forth. Plan how you will transport all of your purchases back home.

Have a back Up Plan

If you are shopping for Christmas, have an alternative in mind for each gift. Maybe you hope to snag a new camera for your sister but will arrive to find them all gone before you reach the doors of the store. Have a go to item in mind to get instead. This is thinking laterally and will help you stay on task.

Take Along Everything You Need

Make sure your cell phone is charged so you can stay in contact with friends and family, especially if you are shopping together. Bring along your money, double check the balances on your credit cards (if you plan to use them), and have all your coupons organized. Some people like to paper clip their cash together with the coupons they are plan to use at each store. This approach can really help you stick to a budget. Put whatever plan works best for you into action.
 
Consider bringing along large bags to hold all the smaller bags you will get. I love the oversized eco-friendly bags. They hold a lot, tend not to rip or tear, and will help keep your purchases safe in one place.

Eat a Good Breakfast

Avoid consuming lots of sugar in the morning. Instead, stick to protein, fruits, and vegetables, and hydrate well. Eating too much sugar or greasy food will just cause you to crash halfway through the morning. Nobody needs that on Black Friday!

Plan to Take a Break

Everyone needs to recharge. You might not want to take a nap but you will definitely need to rest and put your feet up. You won’t enjoy your shopping, and you won’t use good judgment in sticking to your budget, if you don’t take good care of yourself.

Get Ready to Shop!

Now that you know the ropes, here are a few more reminders for Black Friday success:
 

  • Don’t sleep in — the early bird gets the deals.
  • Be prepared for people who get rough. Choose your battles wisely!
  • Never leave your basket unattended.
  • Always know where your purse and wallet are at all times.
  • Avoid the layaway lines if you can. They tend to be longer.

 

Decided all this is too much for you? Don’t forget that most stores have Cyber Monday deals and online Black Friday Sales as well. You don’t have to face Black Friday crowds unless you really want to.
 

Secret Black Friday Shopping Tips to Get Everyone What They Really Want for Christmas

black friday shopping tips
 
It seems that every year Black Friday sales last longer and get a little crazier. Luckily, you don’t have to camp outside the mall all night or push your way through maddening crowds to score a great deal this holiday season. Smart shoppers can still reap the benefits of the Black Friday frenzy without getting caught up in the hysteria. Here are a few sanity-sparing suggestions for all your holiday deal hunting.

Make a List

Holiday shopping lists are one of the oldest tricks in the book, and navigating the onslaught of Black Friday sales is where lists really come in handy. Though a little aimless browsing can be a fun way to pick up some surprise gifts, if you show up to a store that’s hosting a huge holiday sale without a clear idea of what you’re looking for, you could quickly be overwhelmed. Take detailed notes of what items you want to pick up from where and use it to map out your shopping trip ahead of time.

Do Your Research

From big-box electronic stores to mom-and-pop shops, Black Friday madness has infiltrated every corner of the retail world. Buy a Sunday paper the week before Thanksgiving and scour the ads for bargains on some of the big items on your list. Check the websites of stores you might want to stop by. Take note of where the best deals for you list items are advertised and then prioritize your stops to snag your most coveted gifts early before supplies run out.

Discover the Joy of Cyber Monday

During the mad rush of the holiday shopping season, nothing beats the satisfaction of getting the bulk of your shopping done online in one lazy morning. While others madly race around town to nab the year’s most popular items before someone gets to them first, you could be home in a robe and slippers, a cup of coffee by your side, checking items off of your list with ease.
 
Consider skipping the stampede this year and focusing your attention on Cyber Monday, when online shoppers can take advantage of as many deep discounts and amazing deals as there are in the malls on Black Friday. Chances are, you won’t miss dodging throngs of texting teens, endlessly circling parking lots, and waiting in line after line.

“Like” the Stores You Plan to Shop At

Look up a few key retailers on Facebook and Twitter and start following them now to get the inside scoop on holiday sales and promotions. You can always un-follow and un-like them when your shopping is done and you’re ready to give your deal-radar a rest until next year.
 
In addition to getting the early word on big sales, many retailers offer contests where fans and followers can win anything from gift certificates to prime parking spaces on busy shopping days. Most large shops, like Amazon and Nordstrom, also have email lists that sale-hunters can sign up for to receive daily updates and coupons.

Load Up Your Cart Online the Day before the Big Sale

The massive increase in traffic that accompanies big online sales can slow down or even crash store websites. If you’ve got your eye on an upcoming online sale it’s a good idea to create an account on the site ahead of time and fill your cart with what you want to buy once the discounts goes into effect. Then when the sale begins you’ll be ready to check out quickly and easily.

Beware of Mail-in-Rebates

40-60% of mail-in-rebates are never redeemed according to ConsumerWorld.org.
 
While not exactly a scam, mail-in-rebates often require a bit more work than many consumers expect. With these deals, items are advertised for a great low price but reading the fine print often reveals that you’ll still have to pay full price up front, fill out some paperwork, mail in a proof of purchase, and wait up to several weeks for your savings to arrive.
 
Some mail-in-rebates even require that buyers cut out and send barcodes from the box that a product comes in. Watching your friend open a carefully wrapped gift to reveal a holey box might make you wonder if that illusive rebate check was really worth the trouble.
 
If you’re planning to brave the crowds in person this year, bring water and some snacks to cut down on some of the stress of waiting in long lines. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to score all the gifts on your list in one trip. The beauty of online shopping is that you can check for new deals any time from the comfort of home. Keep in mind that throughout the holiday season stores will be adding and revising deals and the best price for your most sought after gifts might come on a day when you’re not expecting it.