Tricks to Spending Less on Christmas Gifts

lights

I managed to limit Christmas spending this year through a variety of techniques.

First, I took advantage of Kohl’s Veteran’s Day sale. The store offered $10 off a $50 toy purchase plus $10 off a $25 purchase and an additional 20% off. I bought $54 worth of toys for roughly $29.

If you aren’t aware Kohl’s has a Yes2You Rewards program that offers one point for every $1 you spend in store or online. For every 100 points you earn Kohl’s will email you $5 worth of Kohl’s cash. It’s free to join and a good deal if you plan to shop there anyway. If you join via referral you’ll receive $5 worth of Kohl’s cash just for signing up with a referral link. If you’d like an invitation leave me a comment with your email and I’ll send you one.

In December I used $10 worth of Kohl’s cash and a 30% off coupon to buy a $50 toy for $28. I returned an unwanted baby gift to the store earlier this year and used $15 worth of merchandise credit to whittle down the cost to just over $13.

As a side note: Kohl’s prices are often much higher than other stores, but through a combination of dollar off coupons and percentage off coupons I can often buy items at roughly half price.

Chase card holders received a $15 credit for purchasing items via Visa Checkout. I bought a cute little Christmas outfit from Crazy8 for the little guy and pajamas for the older one. I took advantage of this promotion with both of my credit cards.

Amazon also ran a number of promotions for Chase credit card holders this year. I received $15 off one purchase and $10 off another. As an extra perk Chase Freedom card holders will earn 10% cash back on Amazon orders. Hooray!

I also took advantage of the 30% and 20% promotions on books. Although we typically use the library these days it’s still nice to maintain a small shelf or two of my children’s favorites. Books also make great gifts, especially when the sea of Christmas toys seems to overwhelm me.

I used CamelCamelCamel to track various toys and books and purchased items only when when my target prices were reached. I tried to wait until prices were near record lows. I also used CamelCamelCamel as a way to track prices after I purchased items. I received a refund when the price dropped five days after I ordered my son’s present.

I used Google shopping to compare prices across stores. Amazon is not included, so I just searched for the item on Amazon and then compared it to the stores listed. While Amazon was often the cheapest option it wasn’t always. If I used a store other than Amazon I used Mr. Rebates to receive additional cash back on my purchase. There are other cash back sites but Mr. Rebates seems to work more consistently than others and they have really prompt and helpful customer service reps.

I also spent previously unused credits from a variety of stores including BeyondTheRack, which offered me $10 worth of credit for absolutely no reason at all.

How did you do with your holiday shopping? Did you use any special promotions or tricks to spend less?

December 22, 2015 at 5:04 PM Leave a comment

Book Review: I Love My Pet Elephant

i love my pet elephant

Book Description:

A colorful tale of friendship and fun between a little girl and her best friend – her pet elephant! I Love My Pet Elephant is a delightful medley of reality and fantasy, with shenanigans and adventures brought to life through vibrant illustration and simple rhyming text.

Meet the author:

Lauren Micchelli is a newly published author, having penned her first book in 2014. She has since continued the Snootzytime Adventures of Maddie and Murphy series, and went on to publish A Day Of What Ifs and I Love My Pet Elephant.

Impressively, she was the recipient of New Book Award 2015 for I Love My Pet Elephant.

​Lauren Micchelli grew up in West Caldwell, New Jersey and currently resides in northern New Jersey.

Author Interview:

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by the world around me, cliché as that may sound. I’m inspired by the people that I’ve had the good fortune of meeting, the places that I’ve been, the memories that I’ve made- it all drives my energy and fuels my imagination.

Where and when do you write?

I write when I feel inspired, whenever and wherever that may be! I keep a small notebook with me wherever I go to capture a burst of creativity. In fact, I was inspired to write I Love My Pet Elephant while I was on a train coming back from Manhattan. The concept came to me seemingly out of nowhere, so I grabbed my notebook and had the entire story on paper before the train ride was over!

Do you have another profession besides writing?

Writing is one of my many hobbies and an outlet for creativity. By day I work full time in business and have been continuing my education in holistic nutrition studies, which has made for a hefty schedule! Down the road I aspire to write about health and wellness in addition to children’s stories. Who knows, perhaps my next adventure could be writing about health as pertains to children!

What’s your fondest memory from your writing adventures thus far?

My first book, The Snootzytime Adventures, was released early December 2014. Shortly thereafter I received an email from a friend which included a picture of his four year old daughter snuggled in an oversized chair, engrossed in my book. He said his daughter loved my book so much she wanted to read it every day. That candid picture, and love of a story that I worked so hard to bring to life, was incredibly surreal and heartwarming.

Name someone – past or present – that you would like to meet if given the opportunity.

That’s a great question, and while there are many people I’d love the opportunity to meet one person that’s top of mind is Ellen DeGeneres. Not only does Ellen crack me up but she always appears to be having fun, and people seem to have a great time with her! I’d love to see what kind of humor she would bring to my book, if given the opportunity to chat with her about it!

What are you most proud of?

I’m extremely proud of myself for swinging pendulum from apprehension to excitement and pursuing my dreams. I didn’t anticipate it would be easy to publish and market a book, but I didn’t let that stop me! I’m proud of how much I’ve accomplished in such as short amount of time. In addition to publishing four books in six months, I was a recipient of New Book Award 2015 for I Love My Pet Elephant! While I still have a long way to go I’m happy of how far I’ve come in the last year!

What advice would you give budding writers?

Follow your dreams and don’t take no for an answer! Be aware that the road ahead may be filled with twists and turns, and don’t be afraid to ask questions to help you along. It may not be easy, but if it’s something you want to pursue then find a way to make it happen!

My Thoughts:

When my oldest was just a few months old we started a bedtime routine that involved a bath, snuggling, nursing and reading three stories. We removed the nursing component at some point, but we’ve continued the rest of the ritual every night since. At just over four years old he knows the routine by heart and happily selects three books off his bookshelf before climbing into bed each evening.

Now that his baby brother has joined our crew we switch between more complex books he enjoys and colorful stories that will capture the interest of our littlest guy. When I received I Love My Pet Elephant in the mail I knew it would be the perfect story for both of them. On every other page there is a brightly colored illustration of a little girl and her pet elephant. The opposing page includes a short rhyming verse detailing the adventures they experience together.

The story is told from the perspective of the little girl who loves to go on adventures with her favorite pet. There are every day experiences a child might share with a pet dog like washing him and feeding him and of course more mystical adventures like sledding, playing hide and seek and even flying.

This book has a good rhythm to its rhymes. It reads rather easily and the words roll off the tongue quite nicely. The pictures of the girl and her pet elephant are colorful without being too bright. I especially love the expressiveness of the little girls eyes as they light up with each adventure. Best of all both children really seem to enjoy this story!

Connect with the author:  Website   Twitter

December 15, 2015 at 8:00 AM Leave a comment

Things to consider when applying for a bad credit auto loan in 2016

Next year is a new beginning, which means you can get a fresh start on your finances. I know a lot of people are worried about a bad credit score effecting their ability to get an auto or car loan. But there is a way to help yourself when applying for an auto loan next year. You can get started before the ball drops on 2016, even today!

Your budget

This is the crucial factor before even considering buying a car with a suspected bad credit score. If you don’t set a budget, a bank or lender isn’t going to look well upon your application. You should figure out with good certainty how much you can afford in auto repayments per month or week, plus your insurance costs on top of that. You should also figure out how much you could afford in gas every week if you’re a heavy commuter.

Check your credit score

Before you look around for bad credit auto loans, you should check “the damage.” There are several credit check providers out there, so choose one that’s right for you. If you know your credit score and it isn’t as bad as you thought, there may be some wiggle room for a more favorable APR.

Help yourself by proving your trustworthiness

If you have documents like paychecks, bank slips and residential documents proving that you are making a real effort at paying down debts and being a good financial citizen, this may convince your auto lender that you are a lower risk. If you can show that you’re paying off or have paid off other debts like student loans or credit card bills, you might be in an even better position.

Save now for sales galore in the new year

If you aren’t too picky about your color or model of car, you can hit up dealer sales that happen in the new year. If you save some money over the Holidays to put down as a deposit, this also helps you qualify for a bad credit auto loan. “No money down” loans are often more expensive over time!

Don’t apply for loans, just browse

Remember, don’t apply for loans because they may affect your credit score. When you are looking for quotes on auto loans, stress to your representative that you don’t want a credit check done until you’re ready.

Honesty is the best policy

Just like mom and dad say, honesty is always the best policy. Be upfront with your lender and they will be more than eager to help!

December 13, 2015 at 10:51 PM Leave a comment

Book Review: The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse

The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse in Canada The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse in Queensland

Book Description (The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse – in Canada) :

PJ Mouse, an adorable little stuffed animal, was lost and alone until young Emily heard his cries for help. Now, along with his new family, PJ gets to travel the world-discovering exciting new places and people along the way!

Come join PJ on his first adventure across Canada as he hikes on a glacier in the Rockies, finds a salt lake in the prairies, and walks on the ocean floor in Nova Scotia.

Book Description (The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse – in Queensland ) 

PJ Mouse, an adorable little stuffed animal, was lost and alone until young Emily heard his cries for help. Now, along with his new family, PJ gets to travel the world – discovering exciting new places, people, and animals along the way!

​Come join PJ on this, his second adventure, along the coast of Queensland, as he snorkels at the Great Barrier Reef, chats with a Loggerhead turtle in the midst of a great undertaking, and explores the tropical rainforest- until he has to be rescued by one of the local friendly wildlife.

Meet the author and illustrator:  

Gwyneth Jane Page (Jane), who holds an MBA from Simon Fraser University, has called many countries home. She grew up in such places as England, Peru, the USA, and the Caribbean, and has also lived in Australia and Canada. She now resides in Victoria, BC with her husband and four children. The PJ Mouse books are based on Jane’s family trips with the real stuffed animal, PJ, who was found by Emily, Jane’s youngest daughter.

Megan Elizabeth, Jane’s second oldest daughter, has lived in Canada and Australia and travelled extensively with her family and PJ. Having been artistic since she was a little girl, illustrating the PJ Mouse books has enabled her to combine her love of travel with her love of art. Megan completed her studies at VanArts and is now building her career as a professional photographer as well as an illustrator. She currently resides in Victoria, BC with her family.

Connect with the author:  Website   Twitter   Facebook

My Thoughts:

My four-year-old son is graduating into books with more words and fewer pictures. Where he was once more interested in the images on the page then the words, he is now much more interested in the story line then the pictures set out on the pages before him.

When the Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse arrived on our doorstep I knew he was just the right age and at just the right stage to enjoy them. I typically read books while he eats breakfast in the morning. While he actually enjoys reading multiple times throughout the day, morning and nighttime have always been his favorite.

I started the book in the morning before he went to school, but told him it was too long to finish before we piled into the car. I read the first two chapters of The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse – in Canada before we left in the morning and the minute we arrived home he asked me to finish the story. He loved how PJ Mouse kept getting into trouble on his adventure. His favorite parts occurred when PJ got caught up in a wave,and when he fell into a crevice in the ice. He asked me to read those chapters two or three times before we could move on to the rest of the book.

The same thing happened when we read The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse – in Queensland. Although he was interested in many parts of the book there were a few chapters that he absolutely loved. After reading them he’d flip back to the beginning of a chapter and ask me to read it all over again.

Both books were a huge hit at my house. We even used our imaginations to think of adventures my son’s own stuffed animals might like to take.

December 7, 2015 at 8:00 AM 1 comment

Looking for Unique Holiday Gifts: Try Novica

Novica

I’m hosting a contest! Hooray! The fine folks at Novica provided me with a $50 gift certificate to give to one lucky reader of One Frugal Girl.

I’ve worked with Novica a number of times in the past and I am unbelievably excited to host another giveaway for them. Novica’s products are created by talented artisans from around the world. They sell a HUGE range of unique, hand crafted items that you won’t find anywhere else.

Every year I purchase a number of gifts from Novica and this season is no exception. There are a number of new arrivals like these hoop earrings I adore.

Another absolute favorite: fingerless gloves! With two young children in our house I find them warm and practical. It’s a great way to keep my hands cozy while still having access to my fingers for buttoning, zipping, digging fallen snacks out of corners of the car and feeling around for sippy cups lost behind the passenger seat. Seriously, why did I just learn about these?

Glove

Of course their selection of women’s gifts are quite extensive. Are you looking for something special for your mom, sister or sister-in-law. I bet you can find a unique gift on Novica.

Now for the fun part. To enter the contest simply use the widget below. You will be entered to win a $50 gift code to NOVICA.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

December 3, 2015 at 4:16 PM 12 comments

Paying it Forward: The Kindness of Strangers

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I recently read the story of Matthew Jackson and cannot get this young man’s good deed out of my mind. If you aren’t familiar with the story read the details below:

Jamie Lynne-Knighten is on a mission to pay it forward to honor a good Samaritan who was killed 24 hours after picking up her $200 grocery bill.

On November 10, Knighten had a crying 5-month old baby in her arms, a cart full of groceries and a line forming behind her at an Oceanside, California, Trader Joe’s checkout counter when she realized she had left her debit card at home.

The mother of two attempted to pay her more than $200 tab with her credit card that declined repeatedly due to anti-fraud lock. As she was attempting to reach her credit card company get the lock lifted, a young man in line behind her offered to help.

“The gentleman behind me quietly says ‘May I?’ ” she recalled in a Facebook post about the encounter. “I’m overwhelmed and didn’t think I heard him correctly so he repeats ‘May I? May I take care of your groceries?’ ”

When she refused, the man, 28-year-old Matthew Jackson, asked again.

“This time I look at him and he says ‘I would be glad to take care of your groceries as long as you promise to do it for someone else..’ and I came to realize how much it would mean to him if I humbly accepted,” she continued.

Now crying, Knighten asked the young man for his name and where he worked, hoping to find a way to acknowledge or repay his good deed later.

Unable to stop thinking about the kind stranger, Knighten called Jackson’s boss at LA Fitness more than a week later to share his kindness and ask about sending a gift.

“That’s when [the manager] started crying,” Knighten told NBC San Diego.

The manager then explained that Jackson had been killed in a car accident less than 24 hours after the chance encounter at Trader Joe’s, the Los Angeles Times reports.

As a mom of two small children, (four and 8 months), I can only imagine how stressed this woman felt and how happy she must have been to receive assistance from a complete stranger.

This morning I was also helped by someone I never met before. I walked into Macy’s carrying two huge boxes and pushing my son’s stroller. When I reached the counter the cashier informed me that I could not return housewares in the clothing department and that I would have to take the elevator downstairs.  It was difficult enough to get from the car to the checkout counter without dropping anything and the idea of walking any farther seemed logistically impossible.

I asked the cashier to make an exception, but she simply said “no” and pointed to the elevator on the other side of the store. A very kind young customer turned and offered to help. She took the two boxes and offered to meet me downstairs. She not only met me down there, but also offered to walk them all the way to the housewares department.

I asked if I could do anything for her, but she smiled and said ‘I’m a flight attendant. I like helping people.” She smiled, turned and walked away. There are so many good people in this world and my encounter today and Matthew’s story above are a reminder of all that is right.

December 2, 2015 at 5:11 PM 1 comment

Black Friday and Cyber Monday: I Own Too Much Already

hands

I typically spend Black Friday cleaning out my house. The goal is simple: to find better homes for all of my unwanted items and to make room for any new gifts that might appear between now and Christmas.

Five or six years ago I spent the day after Thanksgiving decluttering and ever since that day I’ve found the experience quite cathartic.

It feels good to get rid of the clutter and even better to pass it on to someone else who might need it more than I do.

Why spend the day shopping when I own too much already? I stopped exchanging gifts with my brother and sister-in-law and hope to do the same on the other side of the family.

Other than toys-for-tots and my niece and nephews I have no need to purchase gifts anymore.

So instead of shopping I spend the day decluttering and counting my blessings for all that I already have and own. I am so grateful for everything.

November 29, 2015 at 2:14 PM Leave a comment

The Top Four Ways to Save Money Online

We’re all looking for ways to save money online. That much is evident from our shopping patterns, and in a way, it makes sense. The Internet certainly didn’t give birth to the idea of everyday savings, but it’s sure made them more a part of the savvy shopper’s everyday life. The sociological reasons behind that are a story—and PhD-worthy study—for another day. For now, the fact remains that from eBay to Amazon, Groupon to Expedia, we’re all looking for the best deals online.

But how can you go about finding them successfully? Here are the top four ways to save money online.

ONLINE COUPON SITES

Let’s think back to 1995. In that prehistoric, (that is, pre-Amazon shopping time), how did people save money while shopping at old-fashioned brick and mortar stores? Why, by clipping coupons of course! The same principle applies today, as online coupon sites have quickly become one of the hottest properties on the Internet. Take a look at sites such as Groupon, for example, which has quickly come to define the new online coupon market, or competitors such as Coupons.com, Retail Me Not, CouponNinja, Groupon, Fatwallet, and many more. All of these sites have their own particular quirks, and finding the one that suits you best can bring you big savings online.

AMAZON PRIME

Any Amazon shopper can attest to the fact that this online giant has a way of offering great deals (well, except on Prime Day, anyway.) As such, if you frequently shop on Amazon, or think you might be interested in doing so, you’ll definitely want to invest in an Amazon Prime account, which can yield huge savings as well as faster shipping options

MEMBERSHIPS GALORE

By that same token, online memberships in general can be a great way to save big. You’ll need to verify that a site’s memberships and savings are real and not a scam, but if you find sites you can trust, a membership may well be worth it.

CONTROL YOURSELF

There are a great many ways to save money online, but this is perhaps the most heralded. With the Internet making shopping easier than ever, overspending has likewise shot up as well. Controlling your urge to shop ‘til you drop is a quick, practical way to save money online.

November 24, 2015 at 1:31 PM 1 comment

The Power of Investing

Net Worth Chart

For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in saving money. While my older brother spent his allowance on music, games and toys I placed mine in my piggy bank and let it sit there for as long as possible. At a relatively young age, (I can’t remember when exactly), my father took me to the bank so I could open my own savings account.

I saved up all of the money I earned from chores and birthday presents and asked my dad to take me to the bank every time I collected $20. I’m not sure why I chose that magical number, but I was thrilled beyond belief when I placed my pennies, nickels and quarters into paper rolls and counted out $20.

Many of my early memories involve money. I remember my dad counting coins at the kitchen table. I have vivid memories of the smell of old coins mixing with the scent of morning pancakes. In elementary school our teachers taught us about the stock market and asked us to choose and track five stocks. The teacher told us to think carefully about our options and I selected Hershey’s and Heinz, because I loved chocolate and ketchup, though not at the same time.

I am grateful for that early introduction to investing. I bought my first stock, (FedEx), in college followed by a few others. There are various investment options available and it can be quite difficult to decide where to invest. As for myself, I made many mistakes along the way. I bought stocks that plummeted and gave up on others just before they took off.

After graduation I began investing heavily in my 401(k). I started contributing in 1999 with my very first paycheck and continued until I left my job in 2011. I couldn’t max out my contributions in the beginning but it didn’t deter me from putting aside as much as I could. Here is a snapshot of my contributions from 1999 to 2011.

  • 1999 — Limit $10,000 — My Contribution $898.49
  • 2000 — Limit $10,000 — My Contribution $4042.65
  • 2001 — Limit $10,500 — My Contribution $6521.03
  • 2002 — Limit $11,000 — My Contribution $10,452.81
  • 2003 — Limit $12,000 — My Contribution $11,843.89
  • 2004 — Limit $13,000 — My Contribution $13,000.00
  • 2005 — Limit $14,000 — My Contribution $14,000.00
  • 2006 — LImit $15,000 — My Contribution $15,000.00
  • 2007 — Limit $15,500 — My Contribution $15,500.00
  • 2008 — Limit $15,500 — My Contribution $15,500.00
  • 2009 — LImit $16,000 — My Contribution $16,000.00
  • 2010 — Limit $16,500 — My Contribution $16,500.00
  • 2011 — Limit $16,500 — My Contribution $16,500.00

If you add up those numbers you’ll see I saved $155,758.87 in just over a decade! I think this is one of the reasons automatic savings is so valuable. You start out small and increase the percentage ever so slightly with every raise and wham twelve years later you wind up with a large chunk of change!

When I left my job in 2011 my 401(k) account contained over $272,000. That’s a difference of more than $116,000! Since leaving my job I’ve kept my money in the market and continued to let it grow.

The first step is to save your money. The second step is to invest it. The last step is to watch it grow!

November 20, 2015 at 5:12 PM 3 comments

The Power of Investing!

Net Worth Chart

For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in saving money. While my older brother spent his allowance on music, games and toys I placed mine in my piggy bank and let it sit there for as long as possible. At a relatively young age, (I can’t remember when exactly), my father took me to the bank so I could open my own savings account.

I saved up all of the money I earned from chores and birthday presents and asked my dad to take me to the bank every time I collected $20. I’m not sure why I chose that magical number, but I was thrilled beyond belief when I placed my pennies, nickels and quarters into paper rolls and counted out $20.

Many of my early memories involve money. I remember my dad counting coins at the kitchen table. I have vivid memories of the smell of old coins mixing with the scent of morning pancakes. In elementary school our teachers taught us about the stock market and asked us to choose and track five stocks. The teacher told us to think carefully about our options and I selected Hershey’s and Heinz, because I loved chocolate and ketchup, though not at the same time.

I am grateful for that early introduction to investing. I bought my first stock, (FedEx), in college followed by a few others. There are various investment options available and it can be quite difficult to decide where to invest. As for myself, I made many mistakes along the way. I bought stocks that plummeted and gave up on others just before they took off.

After graduation I began investing heavily in my 401(k). I started contributing in 1999 with my very first paycheck and continued until I left my job in 2011. I couldn’t max out my contributions in the beginning but it didn’t deter me from putting aside as much as I could. Here is a snapshot of my contributions from 1999 to 2011.

  • 1999 — Limit $10,000 — My Contribution $898.49
  • 2000 — Limit $10,000 — My Contribution $4042.65
  • 2001 — Limit $10,500 — My Contribution $6521.03
  • 2002 — Limit $11,000 — My Contribution $10,452.81
  • 2003 — Limit $12,000 — My Contribution $11,843.89
  • 2004 — Limit $13,000 — My Contribution $13,000.00
  • 2005 — Limit $14,000 — My Contribution $14,000.00
  • 2006 — LImit $15,000 — My Contribution $15,000.00
  • 2007 — Limit $15,500 — My Contribution $15,500.00
  • 2008 — Limit $15,500 — My Contribution $15,500.00
  • 2009 — LImit $16,000 — My Contribution $16,000.00
  • 2010 — Limit $16,500 — My Contribution $16,500.00
  • 2011 — Limit $16,500 — My Contribution $16,500.00

If you add up those numbers you’ll see I saved $155,758.87 in just over a decade! I think this is one of the reasons automatic savings is so valuable. You start out small and increase the percentage ever so slightly with every raise and wham twelve years later you wind up with a large chunk of change!

When I left my job in 2011 my 401(k) account contained over $272,000. That’s a difference of more than $116,000! Since leaving my job I’ve kept my money in the market and continued to let it grow.

The first step is to save your money. The second step is to invest it. The last step is to watch it grow!

November 20, 2015 at 12:48 PM Leave a comment

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