Just In…Gift Certificate Concerns

Even those Doing Christmas may find themselves buying a gift certificate here and there – a fact retailers love because many are never redeemed. This year, more than ever, that might be true!

Here’s a partial list of  stores planning to close after Christmas that are still selling cards through the holidays even though the cards may be worthless January 1. Apparently there is no law preventing them from doing this – it’s just part of the process known as “Bankruptcy Planning.” 

Those that aren’t going out of business may still be closing stores that your gift recipient would be able to access. Better put them on Santa’s “not nice” list or you may end up there next year… 

                  ·        Ann Taylor– 117 stores nationwide closing

                  ·        Bombay closing remaining stores

·        Cache will close all stores

·        Catherine’s to close 150 stores nationwide

·        Circuit City (filed Chapter 11)

·        Dillard’sto close some stores

·        Disney closing 98 stores and will close more after January.

·        Eddie Bauer to close stores 27 stores and more after January

·        Ethan Allen closing down 12 stores

·        Fashion Bug to close 150 stores nationwide

·        Footlocker closing 140 stores – more to close after January

·        GAP closing 85 stores

·        Home Depot closing 15 stores, 1 in NJ ( New Brunswick )

·        J. Jillclosing all stores (owned by Talbots)

·        JC Penney closing a number of stores after January

·        K B Toys closing 356 stores

·        Lane Bryant to close 150 stores nationwide

·        Levitz closing down remaining stores

·        Linens and Things closing all stores

·        Lowes to close down some stores

·        Macys to close 9 stores after January

·        Movie Galley Closing all stores

·        Pacific Sunwear(also owned by Talbots)

·        Pep Boys Closing 33 stores

·        Piercing Pagoda closing all stores

·        Sharper Image closing down all stores

·        Sprint/Nextel closing 133 stores

·        Talbots closing down specialty stores

·        Whitehall closing all stores

·        Wickes Furniture closing down

·        Wilson Leather closing down all stores

·        Zales closing down 82 stores and 105 after January

Frugal’s Weekend Moral Support

It’s the weekend. Ads bombard you – TV, radio, Internet, newspapers – all screaming at you to buy, buy, buy. Your resolve is crumbling faster than those chocolate chip cookies you forgot to freeze last week. Don’t do it!! 

In two weeks, the pressure and guilt will be over. Unless, of course, you succumb and blindly funnel your funds into the media frenzy like a herd at the slaughterhouse. Instead, spend your time and read this great article on dealing with Santa’s shrinking budget. You’ll find you’re not alone. Which means chances are that dreaded, “Bobby got the …” whine won’t be heard quite so often in the aftermath of this paper-ripping season. Your change in attitude  will not only reduce stress levels in the coming months, but bring the opportunity to help you teach your kids to be rich.

(Note:  “Rich” is relative. If, like most parents, you want your children to live better than you do, wouldn’t simply not having to experience your level of financial stress make them “richer”?)

Then, take another look at Doing Christmas and get busy with some new frugal traditions that will make  your holidays brighter for  many years to come.

Frugal and Jobs

All I want for Christmas is… a JOB! That’s on the wish list of millions this year – like the  4.4 million who are trying to survive on unemployment benefits. The 400k who gave up looking?  In an economy that lost almost 2M jobs this year, it’s not hard to understand their hopelessness. Which leads us to auto workers.

$73 an hour? Absurd! Yes, but also not true. Workers COST $73 an hour, they don’t MAKE $73 an hour. If you’re earning $15 an hour, you’re probably costing your employer about $20, assuming you have a reasonable benefit package. Auto workers do make about double the average worker and about $10 an hour more than their non-union counterparts. And, they get pensions – I know, most of us don’t have a clue what that is anymore. Our future financial health is our problem. (also known as the tanking 401k.)

If you’re unemployed, you probably want to save the auto industry so you don’t have to compete with another 3 million job-seekers. If you’re employed and struggling just to survive, the fear of higher taxes from the bailouts probably has you saying, “the heck with ’em.” I can talk out of both sides of my mouth on this one. There is no easy answer. What I do know is this:

1) If you have a job, suck up, do what’s asked, do more than what’s asked, smile a lot and KEEP it! If anything in this article sounds familiar…

2) If you have a job, spend like you don’t. Given that companies are dumping  jobs faster than I can hit the delete key, think like a good Boy or Girl Scout – Be prepared.

3) If you’re going to spend money, make it count. Money can buy happiness – if you understand what happiness it.

4) Practice frugal principles and extend your bucks, always grateful that you have them to extend.

But even the most frugal finagler can’t invent bucks.  For those of you without a job:

1) Now’s the time for, “If I didn’t work I’d…” (fill in the blank.) Make this a time to regroup. Get in shape. A healthier you interviews better. Use your brain. A well-versed you interviews better. Learn something. A confident you interviews better. Volunteer. A paying forward you has more opportunities available.

2) Lower your standards. Income can be extended, juggled, massaged. Zero is still zero.

3) In an economy where 1 in 10 find themselves in trouble with their mortgage, you won’t be alone if you try to restructure debt. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason – it won’t feed you.

4) Knowing you’re not alone in this nightmare doesn’t relieve the stress of living it. Try one of these.

Now’s the time to prepare for 2009. Part of that planning is restraint during the holiday season. Part of it is visualizing the frugal you in the year ahead. And, part of it is attitude, the most predominant aspect of gratitude. Not since more years ago than most of us can remember has the economy left so many so hopeless. A quick look down and  you’ll see there are plenty of people even worse off. It’s the looking up that makes the glass half empty.

Best Gifts for the Holiday Season? A Sense of Humor & a Budget!

Ok, so you’ve stayed in a mall-free zone thus far and your mood is cranky. Darn cranky. You tried some of my suggestions. Your cookies are flatter than Faith Hill’s stomach, the gift certificate you slaved over hid in the C drive, and the grocery stores checked your coupon organizer so that, hee, hee, none of those items are on sale this week. (Yes, the paper is getting pretty sparse on the coupon front. Try these sites out.)

“Pfft. Doing Christmas. This moron makes Pollyanna look like a pessimist,” you’re saying. I feel your pain. Neighbors are putting up lights and decorations all around me. I’m sure it’s aimed at making me feel even more broke. The extra cost of electricity alone… (On that subject, Bracing for Winter and Cut your Heating Bills may help.)

Everywhere you’re bombarded with messages that say SPEND, as if somehow emptying your wallet will fill you with the holiday spirit everyone else seems to have. FACT: While it may make the next 20 days woohoo-party time, you’ll regret it when January rolls around. And February. And March… Which is why I loved this Top Ten article on why it’s great to be broke this season.  

I received an  email from a friend yesterday that said holidays just aren’t the same. No, they’re not. We turned them over to the retailers. And with that, we lost the good, warm, ahhh feelings that holidays used to bring. Now, if we can’t let go of the $832 people say the plan to spend we’re thinking they aren’t fun or fulfilling. Hey, at $832 they’re not fun and fulfilling either – they’re foolish and frenetic. And, NOBODY APPRECIATES OUR FINANCIAL INSANITY ANYWAY! Long gone are the days of, “it’s the thought that counts.”

Instead of labeling yourself a failure this season, embrace these top ten reasons for why your fiscal savvy puts you way ahead of the pack.

10. Credit card bills have all that junk advertising enclosed. You’ll be saving trees, too.

9. You won’t be on anyone’s “worst gifts” list next year.

8. No one will curse you for making them look cheap.

7. Not a single person will have to exchange your gift. You’re saving them gas, stress, helping cut pollution!

6) No one will feel guilty because you bought for them and they didn’t buy for you.

5. And you won’t shame anyone by being the “best gift giver” while they make your worst gifts list…

4) The postal person won’t be overburdened delivering tons of credit card bills to your house. 

3. You won’t have to eat 5 out of 7 meals at the happy hour buffet come January.

2. You can listen to others bemoan their holiday debt, nodding sympathetically without adding a single comment yourself as you smile gleefully – inside of course.

And, the number one reason you’re not a failure?

1. The first time is always the hardest. With your new frugal fixation, you’ll actually be able to look forward to 2009’s holiday season.

Doing Christmas: 28 Frugal Gift Ideas

Here’s my guess. Since I had to google sales figures for Thanksgiving weekend and the stock market is tanking, uhhh, I’d say sales probably weren’t that hot last weekend. I found estimates of maybe a 3% increase over last year to, well, flat. I’m proud of you guys!!

Ok, you’ve narrowed down to the “matter” people. You’ve detailed out all those skills you forgot you had. You dug out all the old photos. And, you did a little closet cleaning. So, let’s get to that “do” list. Once you decide, make a gift certificate on the computer and wala, you’re awesome!

Outside Ideas: (Useful for parents and grandparents)

Standard “stuff” required to maintain a house is expensive if you have to hire it out. When supplies are needed below (paint, weed killer, etc.) it’s time to call that rich brother. Make it a joint gift – he supplies the product, you supply the effort.

1) Clean the gutters, caulk the sills, put up storm windows – think winterize the house.

2) Spring cleanup – trim trees, pull weeds, apply weed killer, fertilize the yard

3) Paint the trim

4) Stain the deck

5) Clean the garage

6) Repair/refresh patio furniture

7) Cut and stock wood

8) Repair sprinkler systems

9) Research – check the house out, get quotes for projects, manage the repairs. You can’t afford to fix their roof, but you can make sure they don’t get ripped off by an unscrupulous contractor or end up flooded because they haven’t climbed up to check out the roof in decades.

Inside Ideas:

Again, these probably most apply to older individuals. Guaranteed, Auntie Matilda will love something from this list more than another cat platter or foofoo towel set.

10) Think cleaning – spring, cupboards, closets, refrigerator, baseboards, whatever. Even those who have cleaning people need the stuff done that Merry Maids doesn’t touch – light fixtures, move the furniture, climb up and clean the plant shelves kinda stuff.

11) Paint a room

12) Repair – the toilet, leaky faucets, peeling caulk.  

13) Clean the carpet.

14) WINDOWS – God, don’t we all hate that job.

15) Organize  – help them re-do the pantry or move dishes to make daily living easier.

16) Turn the mattresses, wash the mattress covers AND the comforter, air out the pillows. Make nite-nite nice.

What about those photos?

17) You don’t have to be a scrap-booking expert to make a great gift. A photo album from the .99 cent store and your heart is all it takes. Tell the person what these memories meant to you. “Thanks Mom & Dad for this trip to Disneyland,” or “Remember the year you coached my team,” kinda stuff. Give your siblings photos from their lives – the pics you took of them with their kids. They probably forgot some of these times. Give your friends, nieces, nephews, co-workers the pics that will mean something to them. If you have a scanner, create a PowerPoint or photo  album for them (also keeps the pics from being lost to age.)

18) Help Grandma or Pop or Auntie organize their own pics. Get ’em scanned. Build a pictorial history they can enjoy. They’ll love reminiscing and you’ll know who that skinny guy in the overalls is when someone asks later on…

In the Kitchen:

19) Bake. Everyone loves treats this time of year. (Ok, based on society’s collective waistline, all year long…). Found this great recipe for 12 cookies from one dough. Efficient. My kinda recipe. Even if you’re not a “from scratch” kinda person, buy a cake mix and can of frosting. With coupons, I get them darn near free. Great for taking to a party, the office, or a “it’s the thought that counts” gift for #358 on your list.

20) Cook. Hit the $1 store and buy those partitioned dishes you can freeze. Make TV dinners. Great for singles, kids on their own, grandparents or parents, me… Eating good food can be tough if you’re alone or cooking for just two tiny appetites. With your couponing talent, you can do these cheap and be a big hit.

21) Make a basket. We’ve all done it; picked up the “I don’t know what to get them, this coffee, tea, cracker, whatever basket will do” gift. If you couldn’t drop this person, like maybe it’s your boss, build your own. Again, your ability to coupon and sale shop will keep the cost low and make it more personal. A 4 qt. pan from the dollar store filled with 10 packs of Ramen, a measuring cup, wooden spoon and 10 recipes for the stuff works great for a college student. How about some mugs from the $1 store, marshmallows (which you picked up on sale) hot chocolate mix (also on sale with a coupon) and a dozen of those cookies you made in #19?  Coupons and a little creativity make this a great (inexpensive) gift.

22) Dinner gift certificates – at your house, of course! Good for 5 dinners with the Olsons will make Uncle Walter grin. You know you should invite him over more often anyway!

23) Give ’em groceries. This can be a cheap way to be very generous. With coupons and sales you can build a food basket that’s sure to help. 

If I were a rich b*%#h…

24) Pedicures, manicures, hair coloring – who doesn’t enjoy having these things done for us? 

25) You cleaned out the closet. Bound to have found some candles, perfume, a purse you bought and never used. Build your own spa day treat for someone. Add some bath oil beads, lotions, loofahs, whatever stuff you can find cheap, and make a gift that would cost you big bucks if you bought it ready-made.

Miscellaneous:

26) Mr. or Ms. Fix-it. An oil change, tune-up, even just taking the car to the shop can be a big help. Putting up a shelf or hanging a picture; mending clothes or alterations; replacing a toilet. I’m no fix-it person, but for those who are, there are untold great gifts in your talents.

27) Time – take someone anywhere – the mall, the library, a movie, an art fair. Many people on your list would rather have your time than any gift you could purchase.

28) Write. Parents don’t outgrow that ‘ahhh’ just because you’re 20 or 30 or 50. When your words come from the heart you warm their souls. Try it with your kids, too.

BE the gift this year. It’ll save your budget and you’ll deliver a gift that truly does keep on giving.