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Give like Santa, spend like Scrooge: 4 tips

Give like Santa, spend like Scrooge: 4 tips

Published 11/19/13

Give like Santa, spend like Scrooge: 4 tips By Holly Johnson

Whether we like it or not, the holidays are back. Did you miss them?

It really seems like last year's shebang just ended, but yards are already filled again with Christmas light displays and blow-up Santas. And if you're loved one's gift expectations are already through the roof, you're surely not alone.

But, regardless of those expectations, not everyone is able to shower their friends and family members with gifts this time of year. In fact, many are struggling just to pay their bills, let alone buy gifts. And for every family who is struggling, there's another who is tight on cash simply because they're saving for a new home, college tuition or other important expense.

Whether your funds are tight or you're saving for a goal, you may be wondering how to get through the holiday season without being renamed Ebenezer. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save on gifts without calling attention to yourself or your situation.

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3 frugality myths that need to die

Published 11/8/13

3 frugality myths that need to die By Justin Boyle

It's always been a dorky thrill of mine to find small ways to save money. Over the last several years, I've developed a workable strategy for frugal living that decreases my everyday costs, but allows me to maintain a perfectly agreeable quality of life.

Along the way, though, I've taken a few suggestions from like-minded folks that have turned out to be less helpful than they sounded at first. Here are three myths on frugality that people should really stop spreading.

1. Generic electronics are no different from name brands

Although it's true for the most part at the grocery store and pharmacy, the phenomenon of near-identical generics doesn't stretch into all walks of life. Take phone chargers, for example: Internal electronic components that are poorly assembled or source their parts from unlicensed manufacturers can cause voltage spikes and fry the delicate sensors on your handset. Not only that, electronics blogger Ken Shirriff reports that unlicensed power adapters may deliver less than half of their advertised wattage output and produce "dirty" electricity with an extremely bad signal-to-noise ratio.

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Dear Secret Santa: Make the holiday work expenses stop

Published 11/4/13

Dear Secret Santa: Make the holiday work expenses stop By Georgie Miller

It's still October as I write this, but the holiday onslaught at my day job has already begun with our annual Halloween potluck and gift exchange. Yes, you heard that right. We are expected to bring a "sweet treat" for our co-workers as well as a spooky gift for a white elephant-style exchange.

And it doesn't stop there. As December approaches, so does the Cookie Party, the End of Year Reception, and the White Elephant Exchange. And those are only the official work events. There is no shortage of other opportunities to socialize with co-workers this time of year, and unfortunately, this type of socializing can get expensive.

But it doesn't have to be! In some ways, holiday-themed parties and happy hours are like children's birthday parties. While many people's default setting may be "no expenses spared," there are ways to enjoy the company of your colleagues without spending a fortune.

1. Pick your battles parties

Your normal strategies for avoiding office spending may not work as well during the holidays, when people are expected to attend a variety of organized events. But remember that you're not obligated to attend everything.

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Tired of extravagant birthday parties? Fight back with frugality

Published 10/16/13

Tired of extravagant birthday parties? Fight back with frugality By Holly Johnson

If you have school-aged kids, or younger, you've probably been invited to your share of birthday parties. And, the expectations seem to creep up every year. I've seen everything from fancy custom birthday cakes to specialized birthday attire for the birthday boy or girl. Some families even rent clowns or entertainers, ponies or miniature choo-choo trains. I've even been to a child's birthday party that was professionally catered. And, from the looks of the food we were served, it wasn't cheap!

Fortunately, over-the-top birthday parties like the ones I've described are not required. You don't have to spend a fortune, and you don't have to keep up with all of the popular birthday party trends. And, with some thoughtful planning, you can have a party that looks expensive, but isn't. Want to know how to save on your favorite girl or boy's birthday extravaganza? Follow these simple tips:

1. Make the cake

Even if you're not a whiz in the kitchen, you should be able to make a regular ol' Duncan Hines box cake. Take it a step further by decorating with colored icing, edible letters or sprinkles. Or, if you're feeling fancy, check out Pinterest for free or low-cost cake decorating ideas.

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4 ways to avoid the office spending trap

Published 8/22/13

4 ways to avoid the office spending trap By Holly Johnson

A couple of years ago, my husband and I worked together at a local funeral home. Unbeknownst to me, an unexceptional weekday turned out to be "Administrative Professionals Day." I had never heard of this "holiday," but when I arrived that morning I found a large vase of fresh-cut flowers at my desk. The card read "Happy Administrative Professionals Day" and was signed by a few co-workers, including my husband. "What a nice gesture," I thought as I started the day's work.

Then I got the bill.

Apparently, another co-worker had arranged the surprise for the three administrative workers in our office. And although my husband thought it was strange that he should have to buy his wife flowers for this seemingly contrived holiday, he agreed to participate. After all, he didn't want to be the only person who didn't take part.

But after realizing that I had effectively bought my own flowers, I no longer felt very appreciated at all. "Some people love to spend other people's money," I later said to my husband, shaking my head.

Resisting office spending

The pressure to spend on workplace functions is common in many offices. In these settings, well-meaning coworkers may appear to hunt for situations that separate you from your hard-earned cash.

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3 oft-overlooked ways to add savings

Published 8/16/13

3 oft-overlooked ways to add savings By Jeffrey Steele

Though much of my life, I've had a reputation as a tight-fisted, penny-pinching pinchpenny. "The cheapest guy I ever met," is how one friend of 30 years refers to me, with just a hint of a smile crinkling her face.

Am I bothered by my reputation as an abstemious tightwad? Not a whit. I see it as evidence of my other reputation as a true rebel. In a society where the Great Marketing Machine informs us we are to spend every cent we have (and even some we don't) on items to help us keep up with the Joneses, I enjoy my standing as a non-conformist who marches to his own personal finance drummer.

Among ways I pinch pennies are three oft-overlooked approaches to economizing and building a savings account. I recommend them, having profited from each.

1. Coupon books

Thanks to Groupon and similar businesses, we've all become aware of deal-of-the-day coupons. For some of us, coupons have been a way of life for longer than many Groupon users have been alive.

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