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Ideas for Frugal Stocking Stuffers

Posted on Thursday, December 11th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Bright red Christmas stocking with presentsThe presents are wrapped and sitting underneath the tree. Now, what are you going to fill the Christmas stockings with? Purchase too much, and you could wind up going over your budget. Here are some ideas for frugal stocking stuffers that are appropriate for children.

Oranges
The orange is a traditional stocking stuffer. Oranges were rare in early America. The orange was a treat and also a sign of prosperity. Put one or two into your children’s Christmas stockings. You might already have some in your refrigerator.

Candy Canes
The candy cane, with its red and white stripes, is another traditional stocking stuffer. Buy one box of candy canes and put some into each of your children’s Christmas stockings.

Chocolate
Foil wrapped chocolate Santas and snowmen make excellent stocking stuffers. There is something special about holiday candies that are eaten on or around the holiday they were made for. Again, you can buy one package and have enough Christmas candy to split between everyone’s Christmas stockings.

Christmas Cookies
This one is a super easy (and frugal) idea for families that love to bake batches of Christmas cookies. Collect up a variety of the different types of cookies you made. Put the selection into a resealable plastic bag. Gently place it into the Christmas stockings near the top so the cookies won’t get broken or smashed. What if you aren’t a baker? You can split up a package of gingerbread men cookies the same way.

Books
Toddlers will love to find a small, Christmas related, board book in their Christmas stockings. These durable little books are built to withstand the wear and tear that toddlers give their belongings. Older kids might prefer a paperback book that includes their favorite character. You can curve the book a little bit in order to make it fit in the Christmas stocking.

Play-Dough
This stocking stuffer will give the kids something to do after the excitement of opening presents is over. Buy one package of play-dough. Put one plastic container of one color into each child’s stocking. For best results, try and give each child their favorite color (if possible). Later on, if you happen to come across play-dough that has been mashed into the carpet – you will have a clue about which child did it!

New Winter Wear
Keep everyone warm on Christmas, and the days following it, with new hats and gloves. They can be folded up to fit inside a Christmas stocking. The new winter wear can replace the gloves that got lost in the snow and the hat that doesn’t seem to fit well anymore. You were probably going to have to buy replacement hats and gloves anyway. Why not add them to your children’s Christmas stockings?

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How to Care For Your Christmas Tree

Posted on Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Christmas treeDid your family get a real Christmas tree this year? Make sure that you are properly caring for it. Doing so can help prevent it from drying out and save you the money of having to buy a replacement tree. Here are some idea that can help you to properly care for your real Christmas tree.

Caring for your real Christmas tree is important. Part of the reason is aesthetic. You want your tree to look good for the photos on Christmas morning. The biggest reason to care for your real Christmas tree is safety. A dried out tree is at risk for becoming a fire hazard.

The National Christmas Tree Association has some excellent advice for caring for your real Christmas tree. They point out that more than half your tree’s weight is water (when it is first cut). To properly care for your Christmas tree, you will need to diligently replace the water that the tree loses. Doing so will help prevent your tree from drying out.

Your tree should be displayed in a traditional reservoir type stand. The reservoir is where the water will go. You can minimize needle loss if you make sure your tree always has a good amount of water. Once you get your tree home, you are going to want to place it into the water as soon as possible.

How much water does it need? This depends on the size of your tree. The National Christmas Tree Association says that your stand should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. They also note that you should use a stand that fits your tree. Don’t try and whittle down the trunk of your Christmas tree in order to force it to fit into a stand.

The National Fire Protection Association has some good advice about Christmas trees and fire safety. They point out that the risk of fire is higher with real Christmas trees than with artificial ones. Real trees that are kept moist are unlikely to catch fire unintentionally. The biggest risk is with real trees that have dried out.

What causes a dried out tree to ignite? The most common cause is electrical failures or malfunctions. Other fires happen because there was a heat source that was located too close to the tree. Decorative lights with line voltage can also cause fires. Every year, there are some Christmas tree fires that are started by candles.

Is your tree already dried out? That can happen if you put up your tree before Thanksgiving. It might be safest to replace it with a fresher Christmas tree that has not dried out.

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Tips for Selecting a Christmas Tree

Posted on Thursday, December 4th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Christmas treeDoes your family prefer real Christmas trees to the plastic versions? One of the benefits of getting a real tree is the lovely scent it creates in your home. What kind of tree should you get? Real Christmas trees require care and maintenance. Here are some tips that will help you select the right tree for you and your family.

Where to Find a Tree
The National Christmas Tree Association has a tool on its website that will help you to locate a tree farm that is in your area. Type in the name of your city and state. Select how many miles from home you are willing to travel. The “default” setting will show you Christmas tree retailers that are within a 60 mile radius from where you are.

Is there a Christmas tree lot in your neighborhood? You might be able to find a nice tree there. However, if you want your tree to be as fresh as possible, the tree farm is the place to go. This is because the trees in lots have been shipped there, while the tree in the farm is one you will cut down yourself.

Be Prepared
How big a tree is too big? Before you leave the house, take the time to measure your space. You need to know the size of the room the tree will be displayed in. Measure the distance from floor to ceiling. Next, measure the width of the space you expect the tree to fit into. Bring those numbers with you to the tree farm.

It is recommended that you dress warmly when you visit the tree farm. You will be spending a lot of time outside as you hunt for the perfect tree. Wear comfortable shoes and old clothing. Family members who will be cutting down the tree, and loading it onto the car, need to wear gloves to protect their hands.

Look for Signs of Dryness
Ideally, you want a tree that is fresh. Trees that have started to dry out are not going to last as long as the fresh ones. Avoid trees that have excessive needle loss. Skip the ones that have a lot of needles fall off when you touch the branches. Outer branches should be pliable. If they snap when you bend them, it is a sign that the tree is drying out.

After Care
Your Christmas tree is going to need water shortly after you get it situated at home. In general, tree stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Keep your tree away from major sources of heat. Heaters, fireplaces, and direct sunlight can dry out your tree. It is possible for a real tree to ignite. Make sure your tree has plenty of water so it does not dry out.

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What to Buy in December

Posted on Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Woman with tools.December is a month when people tend to do a lot of extra shopping. People are buying gifts for their friends and family. There will be plenty of sales going on this month, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of them are good deals. The best deals come from the items that have their annual sales in December.

Cookware
December is a good time to update your cookware. Replace your worn out pots and pans. Now is also a good time to buy new mixing bowls and casserole dishes. Cookware makes a great gift for your family members who love to bake. Look for a brand that you know your loved one really likes and pick out some for him or her.

Tools
Home improvement stores tend to put tools on sale in December. This is due to several reasons. Obviously, the cold and snowy weather makes people decide to hold off on doing outdoor home improvement projects. The other reason is that tools make great gifts for people who like to build and repair things.

Christmas Decorations
December has barely gotten started. Even so, there are already sales on Christmas trees, Christmas ornaments, and other decorations. Now is a good time to purchase another string of Christmas lights to replace the ones from last year that burned out. Christmas ornaments can make nice gifts for friends and family members that you will visit before Christmas. Choose an ornament that matches their hobby or that celebrates a first Christmas.

Golf Clubs
Golf is a sport that requires people to go outside and hit a white golf ball across a very green space. It is not something that is easy to do in the snow. As such, there isn’t a lot of call for golf clubs right now. Those of you who have loved ones that golf can get a great deal on a set of golf clubs now. They will be the end of the current year’s models, and at a lower price than the new models that come out in the next few months.

Champagne
Champagne is a beverage that people tend to connect with New Year’s Eve. The companies that make it have about a month to attract customers. You can expect to see discounts on champagne now. Pick up a few extra bottles and hold on to them for birthday and anniversary celebrations that are coming up in the new year.

Jewelry Boxes
December is the month when it suddenly becomes easy to find jewelry boxes. Wait a few months, and they will disappear. If your plan was to give a family member a jewelry box for their birthday, it would be worth it to buy it today.

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Free Kids Events in December

Posted on Thursday, November 27th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Kids CraftsNeed something that will occupy your children’s attention for a little while so you can get your gift shopping done? There are plenty of free kids events happening in December. Some of them require registration, and all of them require an adult to be there. Your significant other, or another family member, could attend the event with your kids while you shop.

Visit Santa
It won’t be too difficult to find a Santa near you! Talk to your kids and let them know that they will have to wait in line to see Santa. Select an adult family member to stand in line with your kids. This will give you a little while to shop the mall for Christmas gifts without your kids seeing what you purchased.

Lowe’s Build and Grow
Lowe’s Build and Grow offers free building events for kids. Registration is required ahead of time. Kids who participate get a free apron, goggles, a patch, and the opportunity to build a wooden project.

December 13, 2014: Holiday Train Engine – Kids get to put together a wooden train that is festively decorated. The finished build looks like Santa is driving the train.

Home Depot Kids Workshops
Home Depot also offers free building events for kids who are between the ages of 5 and 12. Registration is required. Kids who participate get a free Workshop apron, certificate of achievement, and a commemorative pin. They also get the opportunity to build a wooden project.

December 6, 2014: How to Build Holiday Yard Stakes – Kids will learn how to put together festive holiday yard stakes that have snowflakes, snowmen, or gingerbread men on them.

Lakeshore Learning
Lakeshore Learning holds free craft events for kids who are ages 3 and up. No reservations are required.

December 6, 2014: – Chilly Snowman – Kids will decorate a cup and make it look like a snowman that is wearing a scarf and earmuffs.

December 13, 2014: – Welcome Winter Wreath – Kids will create a wreath by gluing pieces of tissue paper and yarn onto a prepared paper plate (that has been cut to form a circle with an open center).

December 20, 2014: – Festive Card Holder – Kids will create and decorate a paper folder that can be used to store their holiday cards. They also get to make a snowman that will help them hang up that folder.

December 27, 2014: – Celebration Noisemaker – Kids get to make a “noisemaker” musical instrument out of paper plates, a craft stick, feathers, pom-poms, and glitter. Beads will be placed inside the “noisemaker” so that it makes a sound when shaken.

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Tips for Shopping Black Friday Sales

Posted on Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Young girl with gift bag. Isolated.Shopping the Black Friday sales can be chaotic and frantic as everyone rushes to get the product they desire. Will you be going to the stores for the Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday sales? Here are some tips that may help you maximize your efforts as you work your way through the crowds.

Do some “homework”.
Most, if not all, of the Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday sales have been announced. Before you head to the store, check to find out what day, and what time, the store will be open. Some of them are staying open all night, others are taking a break and closing for a few hours and then re-opening. Find out those details, and you will be better able to plan out which store to visit first, second, and so on.

Is there a particular product that you absolutely must have? Take the time to check the weekly sales papers of the stores that might carry it. One could have a better deal than the others. Checking ahead of time will help prevent you from starting with a store that doesn’t carry the product you are hoping to buy.

Bring a buddy.
Shopping with a friend can be more fun than shopping by yourself. Bringing a buddy with you has some specific advantages that can help make your Black Friday shopping more successful. For best results, bring a friend who has already finished their Christmas shopping, or who doesn’t want to make any purchases of their own that day.

Before you shop, create a strategy with your buddy. For example, you could decide to go after the TV that is on sale while your buddy goes after the hottest toy of the season. This technique essentially puts you in two places at once. It increases your chances of obtaining the products you want to buy before they are sold out.

Sometimes, people become injured by the crowd of shoppers during the Black Friday sales. You and your buddy can watch out for each other. Check in with each other via smartphone to make sure both of you are ok. Don’t leave the store without your buddy.

Other Helpful Ideas
Did the store run out of what you wanted to buy? Sometimes, the store will offer a rain check if you ask for one. Not all will, but it is worth asking about. A rain check lets you get the sale price on that product after it is restocked. Be prepared to wait in a line in order to obtain a rain check.

If all else fails… try the Cyber Monday sales. This year, you don’t have to wait until Monday to shop them. They have already started. The store may have run out of what you wanted to buy. The website might still have it available.

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What Not to Buy at the Black Friday Sales

Posted on Thursday, November 20th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Decorative cosmetics and perfume.There are plenty of people who get really excited about the Black Friday sales. The combination of great deals and the rush to grab an item before the store runs out of them is thrilling for some. Keep in mind that there are some things that you shouldn’t buy at the Black Friday sales. Resist the urge to buy things simply because you can.

Pre-packaged Gift Sets
That pretty box that contains four different kinds of perfume, or a bunch of makeup, might sound like a great gift for someone you love. Be honest, though. Would you really consider those items to be a good gift if you saw it at any other time of year? Sometimes, the items in a pre-packaged gift set aren’t of the highest quality.

Before you buy a pre-packaged gift set, take a close look at it. Would your loved one really like this gift? Or, would she be happier with one bottle of her favorite perfume? Apply these types of questions before you grab a gift set off the shelf. Sometimes, the gift sets aren’t even on sale!

Chocolate
Valentine’s Day isn’t the only holiday associated with chocolate! There are tons of Christmas chocolates, and other candies, to be found. You may see large displays of chocolate Santas, mint candies, and specialized “fancy” chocolates during the Black Friday sales.

Resist the urge to buy them. Yes, that box of chocolate might be a great gift for someone in your family. However, Christmas is still a month away! It’s too early to by chocolates as gifts now. Pick some up closer to Christmas. (They could be on sale then, too).

Gift Cards
Everyone knows that gift cards are the “go-to” gift. When in doubt, get that hard to shop for person a gift card. That doesn’t mean every gift card is going to be a good deal.

There is a good chance that a worker is going to go down the line at the register and ask everyone how many gift cards they need. Realize that this is a loaded question. The assumption is that you are in need of gift cards. If you weren’t planning on buying any, don’t fall for this trick.

Calenders
Calenders start to go on sale the day after Christmas. Wait a bit longer, and the price will drop even lower. If your plan is to buy a calender for yourself, and you aren’t super picky about the style, you will get a better deal if you wait and buy it later. The only good reason to buy a calendar before Christmas is if you are giving it as a gift.

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Start Planning Ahead for Christmas

Posted on Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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piggy bank, woman saving moneyIt’s not too early to start thinking about Christmas. The sooner you start planning out what you need to buy as gifts, the better chance you have of finding a way to save money on it. Whether you are in need of big ticket items, stocking stuffers or holiday decorations, now is the time to buy them.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday
This year, a lot of stores started their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals the day after Halloween. If you aren’t looking for the newest, hottest, item, you might be able to get it at a discount without having to brave the crowds on Thanksgiving Day. Many stores have special deals on shipping if you buy things from their website (instead of walking into the store).

Start by picking out a few stores that carry the item you want. Compare the prices. Don’t forget to consider the discount each store offers. Store loyalty cards can give you some “extra” savings. Pay close attention to when the sale ends. It can be incredibly disappointing to miss the sale on what you wanted to buy.

Christmas Decorations
Every year, Michael’s has a fantastic sale on Christmas trees. Do you need a new one this year? The same store also has great sales on Christmas ornaments, decorations, and gift items. Visit their website for Daily Deals (which could be just about anything) and print out some of their coupons while you are there.

Target also has sales on Christmas trees and indoor Christmas décor. Be sure to visit their website and check for coupons on holiday items before you shop. You might be able to get a bigger savings if you add the Christmas items you want to buy to their Cartwheel app. Try using your Red Card to save even more.

Stocking Stuffers
Gift cards are the “go-to” item for gift giving. You can put the amount you want on the gift card and let a friend or family member pick out something nice for themselves. Check out Raise.com to see if they have any gift cards you are interested in. It is a website (with a new iOS app) where you can buy discounted gift cards.

Another option is to find out if a particular store has a gift card deal. For example, they might give you a free gift card if you spend a certain amount of money (on specific types of items). This can work out well if you were planning to buy those kinds of items anyway. If all else fails, use the free gift card as a “stocking stuffer”.

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Ways to Save Money on Your Heating Bill

Posted on Thursday, November 13th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Winter Piggy BankIt’s that time of year, again! The weather has turned cold and you need to heat your home in order to keep your family comfortable. Unfortunately, turning on the heat can result in an expensive heating bill. One way to stay warm, and within your budget, is to use some of these tips that will help you save money on your heating bill.

Insulate the Windows
It has been recommended that homeowners close the “gaps” that allow heat to leak out of your home. Use weather stripping to seal the leaks around windows. There are decorative items that are designed to block the gaps under the doors that lead to outside.

Another way to prevent heat from leaking out of your home is by using insulating curtains. Choose the type that has acrylic or high-density foam insulation and reflective film that directs heat into the room.

Popular Mechanics suggests that you cover windows and patio doors with plastic film. You can purchase transparent film from a hardware store. It is simple to put on and won’t damage your trim. When spring comes, the plastic film can be easily removed.

Use a Programable Thermostat
Many families have several hours a day when no one is at home. The kids are at school and the parents are at work. You can use a programable thermostat to automatically lower and raise the temperature in your home in an efficient, cost effective, way. Program it once, and it is good to go.

Set the programable thermostat to a lower temperature during the day when no one is home. (This may not be an ideal solution for families who have pets). Set the temperature low when everyone is sleeping. The programable thermostat can be set to make your house nice and warm as your family is waking up and when people are about to return home.

The U.S. Department of Energy says that you can knock 10% off your yearly heating and cooling expenses if you turn the thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours a day. Lower the heat when no one is home.

Wear a Sweater
Feeling a little cold even when the heat is on? Before you turn up the heat try putting on a sweater. It doesn’t cost you any money to put on a sweater, sweatshirt, hoodie, or Snuggie that you already have at home. You might find that the additional clothing keeps you warm and comfortable.

A sweater can help lower your heating bill. You get to stay warm without having to turn up the heat. Sometimes, the simplest solution to a problem turns out to be the most cost effective one.

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Thanksgiving Art that Kids Can Make

Posted on Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Thanksgiving Kids CraftsHolidays are the perfect opportunity to let your kids make some artwork. It entirely possible for kids to make art that isn’t incredibly messy or time consuming. Channel some of your children’s excitement about Thanksgiving into fun, colorful, pieces of art. Here are a few ideas to start with.

Handprint Turkey
What could be more traditional than the iconic “handprint turkey”? Many kids first learn how to make one when they are in preschool or kindergarten. Older kids might decide to draw one just for fun. It is very easy to do. Parents can provide a little help if a child has difficulty with it. You will need:

* White paper (computer paper will do)
* Pencil
* Markers or crayons in fall colors (red, orange, brown, yellow)

Step One: A child needs to place his or her hand on the paper, palm down. Next, spread out the fingers as wide as possible (or comfortable).

Step Two: The child can trace around his or her hand using a pencil. Most find it easiest to trace their non-dominant hand. Parents can help with this part by doing the tracing or by letting the child trace the parent’s hand.

Step Three: When the tracing is done, it is time for the child to take his or her hand off the paper. The “thumb” becomes the turkey’s head. The fingers become feathers in the turkey’s tail. Kids can draw the turkey’s face, feet, and wings. They can color the feathers however they would like to.

Thanksgiving Coloring Sheets
Do your kids prefer to color (instead of draw)? They can still participate in Thanksgiving Day artwork with some free, printable, coloring sheets. Parents can cover the finished coloring with clear contact paper (both front and back) and use the artwork as placemats at Thanksgiving dinner.

Crayola.com has a “Happy Turkey Day” coloring sheet. It shows a goofy looking turkey who is holding a pumpkin pie and a small pumpkin. (This coloring sheet can be colored online).

Disney has a “Mickey & Friends Thanksgiving Coloring Page” that shows Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daisy at the table for Thanksgiving dinner. They are wearing pilgrim outfits.

Nick Jr. has an entire “Dora’s Thanksgiving Coloring Book”. It has five pages that can be printed out. Dora is wearing a pilgrim hat and there are fall leaves and pumpkins on some of the pages. Parents can choose to print out just one page or all five pages of this coloring book.

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