Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Tip #8- 5 Cheap Gifts that don't scream it!

I had a great meeting with my savvy savings team this weekend. We all discussed how the stores have really been looking for business early this year. The day after Thanksgiving is almost passe this year with all the bargains they have handed us early! We have been shocked at all the freebies or cheapies that have been available to consumers this year! It's nuts and we have all been able to get a haul for nothing.

So, maybe you haven't done your shopping yet and budgets are limited? You don't have time on your side as much now as you only have 30-ish days until Christmas...this post is for you! This week I focus on 10 gifts that are cheap, but don't look it! Plus, they are easy to acquire and don't take a lot of time for those of you who haven't jumped on the coupon bandwagon yet.

Gift #1- Magazine Subscriptions...super easy to get and give! You can select a very targeted magazine or a general one that anyone would love. The best thing is that you can most likely get one for under $10 and your recipient will get to think of you 12 times over the next year every time they get it! Cool, huh?

Gift #2- Gift of time. I talked about this earlier in the year, but this is truly a rarity this day in age. It won't cost you a dime and your recipient will LOVE IT! You can make up a cute certificate for babysitting, closet organization, car washing, yard work, etc. Pick something you are good at and give it!

Gift #3- Meals To Go. Shop the sales for cool dishes or cooking pans and make up a meal in a dish and gift it. They get the pan and the's easy, but doesn't cost a lot! My hot pick for this is the Le Creuset combo pack at Hartwicks that runs around $30. It includes a 9x13 baking dish as well as a square baker. They often run coupons for $5 off this price point so for around $25 you can get 2 high end baking dishes. Make 1 dessert and 1 casserole and woo-hoo, you have 2 gifts done and who wouldn't want a free treat with bonus!

Gift #4- Consumable Gifts with a theme. This is a great way to put together a very fun and easy gift pack on short notice. You could pick a movie theme (gift card for Netflix or Blockbuster, popcorn, candy, etc. They have cute popcorn tubs in the red dot section of Target) or Oregon treats (grab some Oregon made treats-cheese, smoked salmon, Euphoria truffles, etc)..a fun treat for someone who has everything!. Everyone loves gift baskets, so shop sales and apply coupons when possible and you can get a lot of cool stuff for hardly anything. If you have specific themes you would like ideas about, please let me know! I would be happy to give my feedback.

Gift #5-Handmade gifts. It's easy, yes it takes time, but sometimes these are the perfect gifts for those who have everything! Usable gifts are awesome and kids can be corralled to help with these types of gifts on a rainy day! Bookmarks and ornaments are easy to create. I love to find cool frames for cheap (coupons or discounts, etc) and then blow up a picture I have shot during the year to fill the's a special gift that is cheap!!! What do you enjoy making or doing? Handmade gifts don't have to require crafty skills, the photo idea is super easy and you don't have to be crafty. I think people often think homemade=crafts, but not necessarily, think outside the box and save $!

And 5 tips to save even more without really trying:
1) Buy things on Wed this week that may be Black Friday discounts later...take in you receipt and get the refunded difference. Most stores have at least a 7 day price drop guarantee!

2) Take advantage of the Pacific Time Zone and start shopping at 9:01 p.m. on Wed for stores that start their holiday sales on Thursday!

3) Visit for online promo codes that work and for free ship codes to help you save more!

4) Use the coupons that I refer you to on FB...for example, the $10 off a $10 purchase for Hallmark allows you to get at least a few things for FREE!

5) Visit and shop the local social networking deals from sites such as Mobba, Eversave, Groupon, Living Social, Gilt Group, Rue La La, etc. Many of these sites give you sign up credits and referral credits and it is a great way to get some nice freebies and cheapies this holiday season!

Happy Saving!

Summer H.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holiday Tip- #7....How To Save $ without Trying!

Hello All-

These week the tips are short and sweet....kinda like your time. I realize I devote more time than average to saving $, but I don't want to spend my hard earned money if I don't have to and I hope these tips (which require very little time) will allow you to see that saving $ is super easy!

Tip #1-internet shopping is easy for the holidays! It requires very little of you as you don't have to leave your house! Great deals are to be had on line and if you are a West Coast reader the best tip I can offer is our time zone! You see most stores start their sales on Thanksgiving Day at 12:01 EST, which for us equates to 9:01 PST...start your shopping on Wed. night before Thanksgiving and beat the rush. You will get 1st pick at merchandise and you won't have to stand in line!

Tip #2-many online stores will offer free or discounted shipping at certain price points. If the store has a brick & mortar or affiliate in the area...get what you need to get the free ship and then return what you didn't need. Examples: Gap offers free shipping with $50 purchase. You need $25 worth of stuff, buy $50 and return the other $25 to Gap next time you are at the mall. Savings: approx. $8. You buy from Lands End (you can return to Sears), so that would save you money too! Don't see a discount for reduced or free shipping! Try or go to and type in store info for potential deals...still no luck? Click on the "live help" button found on most retail sites. Tell the retailer you want to go with them, but can get the product from a competitor that is offering free shipping, can they help you out? It never hurts to ask. Savings: $5-25 easy!

Tip #3-search for promo codes or click through a rebate site for additional savings! This season the stores are being extremely competitive. Visit or click in the store and promo code in a search engine and check your might get lucky and save between $5-100 or more depending on what you are buying! If you want to go the rebate route, check out or similar site that if you click through their site before purchasing a portion usually 1-3% of your purchase gets applied back to you in a refund check. You can combine these sites with existing promo codes you have. I like to say it's my 3 part online shopping model:
1) Search for promo code
2) Click through rebate site
3) Make purchase/apply promos!

If you do these 3 steps with every online purchase you will save $ and it is so easy!

Tip #4-Have you jumped on the group buying fad this year? Why ever not?? Groupon, eversave, Mobba....just to name a few have outstanding deals at usually 50% or more and they change every day or every few days guaranteeing you maximum bang for your bucks this holiday season! Many of the sites such as Groupon also offer internet deals that anyone can take advantage of regardless of what city you live in. Recent ones have included Gap, Coldwater Creek, Lands End Canvas, Regal Cinemas and I am sure more to come. When you can get deals like that, you don't have to shop the mall! Refer your friends once you have purchased and earn referral credit too getting even more free!!! It's so my Facebook page for updates if you just want to make it easier on yourself too!

Tip #5-Take advantage of all the great freebies out there. I am seeing them everywhere, but mostly restaurants jump on with deals this year. Many restaurants will offer you a $5-10 bonus card (to be used in Jan/Feb when sales slow) if you buy a gift card now. Here are some savings examples: my family went to Red Robin last week for dinner. They have a Buy $25 gift card, get $5 Bonus Bucks running right now. I bought the gift card on the way in (go to the's faster and service is better than the front staff...can you say grouchy??...oh yes!). Anyway, buy the gift card on the way in, get the bonus card and apply the gift card to your dinner. You are buying it anyway, you might as well get a nice freebie on the side! You can't use the bonus bucks until January, but I will give it to my daughter in her stocking...we ate out and I got a free gift out of the deal! Or buy the gift cards for people and get the rewards for yourself or a gift for someone's called killing 2 gifts with one bow (or something like that?....ha, ha).

I hope these tips will help even the non-savers in my readership. These tips have saved me tons of $ and don't require much effort. Happy holiday shopping! I'll be snoozing on Nov. 26 thanks to these deals, hope you will be too!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Top 9-Holiday Entertaining Tips!

Hello All-

My savvy holiday savings team is currently working on interviews with me so as I wait to find out all the things they are doing to save money we will take a break from interviews this week. However, next week be ready to see some real life examples of how my team is saving $ this holiday season!

I have had a few Facebook friends ask for tips on entertaining and how to save $ on holiday meals. I think I have about 9 tips that I think might make your holiday entertaining easier and more enjoyable!

Tip #1- If you plan to have people over to your home (bless you, it's a lot of work!, but a lot of fun too). My #1 tip is plan ahead! I know you are probably tired of me saying this, but it helps keep you sane and helps you actually enjoy the event. I typically find myself waiting until the last minute until my events because I am so busy, but this year for my annual Halloween party I planned ahead and it made things so much easier. I started on Wed with prep for a Saturday event and it made the day much easier as most of the work was spread over 4 days instead of just the morning of the event. Save yourself time, spread out the duties and make your event fun and enjoyable!

Tip #2- Make your guest list and plan the menu at least 30 days (or more!) ahead if possible. This allows you to make sure you have the budget figured out for the correct amount of people and can start purchasing any food items or paper goods that will be needed for the party. Stick to your budget! Holiday events can quickly spiral out of control if you don't have firm attendee #'s and a menu figured out.

Tip #3- Take a tip from the pros at any major hotel or restaurant venue. What dishes are cheapest when running a catered meal? A buffet or sit down dinner? A buffet. What's cheaper pasta or high end meats? Pasta! So, take a tip from the pros and your wallet....people don't care as much as what you serve as much as they appreciate that you are enteratining so they can sit back and enjoy! I have experienced that sometimes the most memorable dinners were those that weren't "traditional" holiday fare or that you provide an experience around another culture. If you do a pasta spread...maybe incorporate in some Italian traditions or if your family fares from a faraway land...bring that in somehow into the non-traditional food buffet, but it will still be cool and nobody will know you saved $ that way! A buffet spread will allow people to pick what they want and not be required to eat only 1 option. Some of my favorites have been a pasta bar with all types of sauces and toppings. This works well for people who have dietary restrictions or picky eaters...they simply put on what they want! A baked potato bar is always another great holiday hit because it is a nice warm dish and people can choose their own toppings. My aunt one year made "haystacks"...basically tortilla chips and we had about 12 options of toppings to put on them. It was delicious and CHEAP! Everyone talked about that meal as we really enjoyed not sitting down to a formal turkey dinner, but we all got to personalize our meals and it was different and fun!

Tip #4- If you have a large crowd or a diverse crowd or you simply have the biggest house for hosting, but don't have time to prep all the food for everyone a potluck is a great way to save money and allow all the attendees to participate and ease up the costs on you. If you are hosting at your house...this is a fair request to have others chip in! To make this easy, you could do a few things. You could ask last names with A-L to bring desserts and M-Z to bring side dishes. I have been to a few parties where the letter of your last name had to be the first letter of the dish...this was hilarious! Since I was "H", I could bring hot dip with chips or something with ham, etc....that is kind of a fun way to make a potluck fun! Another thing you could do if you want to be a bit more specific in what you get you could tell guests it is a tradtional theme, Italian Theme, Far East theme or Mexican theme and to bring foods from that region. This keeps the food items flowing well within a certain group of foods and everything will flow a bit better. It is really up to you and how adventurous you are. A full table of desserts? It is the holidays, but these tips can ensure that you get a balance of food items!

Tip #5-One of my favorite dining ideas was one we did a lot when I was growing up! Progressive dinners can be a very fun way to keep costs down and share the experience of dining at multiple places. This is usually best for groups of 20 and under, you get too many people and it can be too much work. Ideally you find 3-4 houses of people attending that live fairly close to each other. Each person or family has 1 course at their house. You start at one house for apps, 1 house for soup/salad, 1 house for main dish, 1 house for dessert. These could be certainly combined as your needs require, but it is really fun to eat and then move onto the next house. Kids love it, just make sure to tell them when you will be moving on so they don't get too involved in playing and have to stop mid-point!

Tip #6-Party goody bags? Think things kids can really use in the future. You can find really fun stuff like pencils/stencils and worthwhile gifts at $1 store. Skip candy and unhealthy will get plenty of that this holiday season!

Tip #7- Hostess Gifts, should you give them? In a word...yes! There is nothing better than working your buns off to get a party ready and then having your guests acknowledge this hard work by presenting you with flowers, wine or some other nice (cheap!) hostess gift. Immediately display flowers...not mathing your decor? Slip them in the bathroom...they will jazz up that space! If you get a gift you just won't or can't use, then stick a piece of tape on the bottom with who gave it to you and re-gift as a hostess gift at a party that the person won't be at or give to service professional (mail carrier, hair stylist, etc). Regifting is not a taboo topic to me, if you won't use it give it to someone else who will truly enjoy it!

Tip #8-If you have a large family or a bunch of extended families that get together at the holidays consider keeping the gift giving simple! I offer 3 tried and true tips for this!
1) Draw cuts down on gifts you have to buy and cost overall, just make sure to set some guidelines around cost so that everyone feels they got a fair return.
2) Do a group ornament or other type gift exchange.
3) Don't buy gifts, but do an experience party (schedule a round of Laser Tag or miniature golf, paint pottery at a local studio (BrushFire!) or volunteer your time at a food shelter, carol at a nursing home or do some other type of service gift...those are so helpful around the holiday!

Tip #9-If you host an annual party consider purchasing your paper goods or items you always need at your party post season and store in tubs. This way you get a good deal and you don't have to think about those tasks the following year, just pull out your tub and you are ready to go!

Happy Saving!

Summer H.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Holiday Tips-#5, Smart Shopping Strategies + Savvy Saver Interview!

Hello Readers!

If you love the thrill of the find the day after Thanksgiving this post might not be for you totally (but please keep reading!).

I want to assure you that the day after Thanksgiving (even though the retailers want you to believe its the first day of Christmas shopping), it truly isn't! Believe me when I say those of you who plan ahead (or start planning now), can actually score better deals in true shopping hours than those deals that require no-sleep, grumpy associates (I've been there, it's tough) and lines, lines, lines! You can avoid all of that (if you want to), by following some of my tips this week.

Tip #1-Vendors are going to be fiercely competitive this year because business will probably be a bit slower due to the economy. They will try to lure you with all kinds of freebies...take advantage of the ones that you really need. Focus on...FREE items, there will be many or a substantial $ off purchases or credits to online shopping accounts to encourage you to buy. You will be able to get some great deals this way. This week already:

Haute Look is offering a $10 credit when you sign up for their website deals, Rue La La is offering a $20 credit when you sign up good through 12/31...both of these can be used on shipping too, so you can score some almost free deals! For items like these, watch my Facebook page...I feature several daily that will save you a ton and make your shopping easier this year! Old Navy has been offering all types of deals on Saturdays and coupons galore from many retailers allow you to get good deals NOW!

Tip #2- Gifts with Purchase, hit 2 birds with one stone! Right now Macy's Clinique counters are offering a nice pack of freebies with a $21.50 purchase. The trick is staying within that amount....I found a blush for $21.50 that I love and I have the free gift to give to someone this holiday season! Many stores are going to do these types of offers, so take advantage of them! You could buy someone a gift of a Clinique product and end up with 2 gifts for the price of one. Fred Meyer always offers some great toy deals from now through the holidays. Last week they had some action figures B1G1 Free, I stocked up for birthday gifts at 1/2 price!

Tip #3-The group buying sites are exploding! Mobba, Groupon, etc. Basically they pool individuals and businesses to offer you explosive savings on all kinds of products. Mobba sends emails out (sign up at their site). Groupon isn't in Eugene yet, but you can qualify for any of the internet offers they post in cities across the U.S. I have gotten a Cafe Press gift cert for gifts and they have also featured Red Envelope, Gap, Movies, etc. offers in the last few weeks that are awesome. These are time sensitive deals so watch my Facebook page for those and don't delay. This is a great way to get your gifts at 1/2 price and many deals can be combined with other discount codes getting you even more savings!!

That wraps up my Top 3 tips for the's time to check in with my Savvy Savers and let you know what they have been up to...we hope to inspire you to saving with the tips they are using!

This week I spoke with one of my team members, P. and she is a local teacher and mom that has limited time to shop, but loves a good bargain. For our project she choose 2 gifts that she needs to put together this holiday season. I asked each of my team members to select 2-3 strategies that they wanted my help with while looking for budget conscious holiday gifts. P. choose the following 4 strategies: Gift Baskets, Gifts of Experiences, Freebies and Home Parties. We discussed who she needed gifts for and we chose:
1) A friend who helps with her kids each day. She wanted a heartfelt gift basket with the theme of cooking. Her budget $20.

2) A family gift to a close family friend. She wanted a gift basket that included an experience based gift. Her budget $30.

You may recall from my post on gift baskets (please refer back for more detail), but you have a few things you MUST do to have an incredible gift basket. You need that anchor item...the thing that pulls the whole basket together, 5 or 6 or more filler items and a container that fits the whole basket together.

Upon discussing the cooking themed basket in more detail I found out the recipient loves to bake so that was the theme of that basket...baking! We would incorporate a baking theme, with a bit of experience and since P. was interested in Freebies and home parties this fit well together.

The family gift would become a gift of Dinner & A Movie. This provides a family "experience" of making a meal together and then some good 'ol family movie time. We were able to incorporate all that P. thought was important into these themed baskets. Getting the idea going is the start...finding the items is when the fun begins!

Again, I am focusing on strategies with my team this year to show them how these strategies can make gift giving frugal & fun and keep you within your budget! Those strategies are mentioned more in-depth on my blog (refer there for more info). Each of these strategies is proven to work, so the next few blog posts will focus on how to utilize these strategies.

P. was interested in "gifts of experience", we were able to incorporate that easily into the gift basket by having a baking theme were the recipient would bake an item and still have the products to use later. The family Dinner & A Movie will allow the family an experience of a night together (a treasured event these days!) and give them the ability to use the products in the basket for many years.

Gift Baskets were of interest because they could easily be obtained well within budget and would have the lovely WOW factor!

Freebies will be sought out to use as filler items for either gift basket. P. had used my tip about 1 Kings Lane to score some various items that may work as filler in these baskets or other gifts she intends to give. Freebies are great, but you can't rely on them solely to fill a basket because you don't know what might be offered. However, when something is offered that works for your basket...jump on it as FREEBIES go quickly!

Home Parties, P. was interested in this concept as it would allow her a chance to have a fun night in with friends and she could receive some great hostess items just for having a party. Based on her 2 themes (baking/dinner) I suggested she host a Pampered Chef Party. They have a very generous host incentive program and she could easily use her incentives to acquire the items she needs to fill her baskets for FREE! She will host a party in Nov (so I will let you know what she gets!), but the goal is to get a Small Batter Bowl and some baking accessories with her free host credit. The batter bowl will be filled with a dry mix recipe that the recipient will be able to make. She will get the gift of a baked good and the fun of having the products to use in her kitchen in the future. The dinner kit will be also achieved with the 50% off host incentive of the Pizza Stone Kit which includes a pizza stone, pizza cutter and pizza crust mix. This item can be purchased at 50% for about $24...a great deal! P. will include some fun filler items in both baskets along with the items she got for free. The dinner/movie kit will likely feature a movie gift card, movie snacks, etc. Her budget was $50 for both gifts, but it is very likely if she incorporates the strategies we have looked at she will be able to put both baskets together for under $40, keeping her $10 under budget! I love saving $ this way, it's awesome!

I hope this weeks tips have inspired you to put together some fun holiday baskets for inexpensive! It's fun to see what you can gather and put together!

Next week we will continue to look at what our savers are putting together this holiday season!

Happy Saving!

Summer H.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Holiday Savings Tips- #4

Hello Readers!

It has been a busy and exciting week for me on the gift giving front. As I continue the journey with my remaining team I look forward to using the strategies I presented to you a few weeks ago and to give you real life examples of what they are doing. These tips they have learned will be coming in the next few weeks, but this week I am going to focus on 1 strategy and tell you what I did to earn some great FREE items this week.

I am sad that my holiday savings team has shrunk a bit. I have 1 saver, who has had to drop out because of life (moving/guests visiting, etc.). This is life and I have lived long enough to know that challenges always present themselves! I am going to miss this team member being along with us for the journey! However, she promises to keep reading and I hope you will too! We still have 3 or 4 ladies who remain with me on this journey.

My first tip this week that I do want to share is that saving can benefit you a lot or a little, it is truly based on the time you have to devote to it! If you can devote a little, you will save a little. If you can devote more, you will multiply those savings! However, regardless of the time you can put into will save $ ALL THE TIME and that is good news! Those of you following these steps, I hope that you will share or comment to the blog what you have found or done for your holiday gifts.

This week I am going to focus on the strategy of hosting a home based party. This is the kind of strategy where you have a party in your home and you present a product to friends/family and you earn "free items" based on party sales. I love this strategy because 1) I make sure my house is really clean 2) I get to have people over and we get to learn things and 3) I have the opportunity to earn items for FREE and in this case towards my holiday gifts!

The company I chose was Pampered Chef with Laura Caldwell. I wanted our party to focus on inexpensive holiday gift ideas and Laura delivered! My guests left with some great holiday gift giving tips and I earned a bundle in free products! I like pampered chef because they have a generous host discount plan. You always get a host special (for Oct is is 60% off cookware), 1/2 price items and free products-all dependent on total sales, the more sold the more you get!

I ended up with the option to purchase 1 piece of open stock cookware at 60% off, 2-1/2 price items and $90 in FREE products. This was going to help me greatly in checking off items on my holiday list and with a party such as this I like to think about gifts I may need into next year as well.

I got:
8" Saute Pan for 60% off, bringing it down to just $18!!
1/2 Price Pizza Kit $21.25
1/2 Price Bamboo Pepper/Salt Grinders $26
Muffin Pan-Free
Grilling Set-Free
Classic Scraper-Free
1-2-3 Dip Set-Free
Small Slotted Turner-Free
Beer Bread Mix-Free
Herb Seasonings-Free

I love having the opportunity to get FREE Stuff for only doing a little bit of work! I will combine the Saute Pan/Turner/Classic Scraper into a wedding gift for a couple next year. The pizza kit will be for a teacher. The bamboo salt/pepper mill is for a relative for Christmas. The Grilling Set is going to another relative for Christmas along with the BBQ tool kit I got using my HSN $20 off $20 code I featured on Facebook last week. The other items will become filler and/or stocking stuffers for other people on my list. I made a nice dent this week!

A couple of tips for pampered chef or other party incentives:
-If 1/2 price items are offered....see if they have items grouped in special kits so you can get more for your money! The pizza kit above features a pizza cutter, pizza stone and pizza crust mix, but since it is grouped as 1 item I actually get 3 things at 1/2 off in that kit....a great deal!
-Consider checking on what the host deal will be for that month and match it your party date with a month that has a host gift that will benefit you!
-Many companies offer incentives if you have others book parties. Pampered Chef gives you the opportunity to get the host special up to 6 months past your party when friends book parties. For example, I have a friend who is hosting a party in Dec. so I will get to take advantage of the host special and I don't have to do anything....even more discounts!!

I hope you will consider this strategy as we move into the holidays, it's a great way to score some inexpensive or FREE merchandise!

Happy Saving!

Summer H.

Homework Holiday Savers: This week as I begin to call you and discuss strategies more in depth, I would like you to think about the strategies you told me you were interested in and try to pair those strategies with the recipients on your list. Which strategies do you think would work for those on your list? You don't have to answer me on this, just be thinking as we will be discussing this when I contact you this week!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Holiday Savings Tips-#3

Hello Savers!

Sorry this post is a bit late this week! I started a short term sub job and it takes priority over saving money...ha, ha!

This week and over the next few weeks I am going to be sharing tips around gift baskets and starting to discuss tips that my savers are specifically using in their holiday shopping this year. The next few blog entries will have a very personal feel to them which I hope through the examples we share will inspire you to save, save, save this holiday season!

This week I want to focus on my 5 tips to putting together a fabulous gift basket! These tips will direct you to what is needed to put together a spectacular basket that your gift recipient will think you spent a bundle on, it will look that way, but you know better!

Tip #1-You have to have a theme. It can be a broad theme such as cooking, reading, sports or it can be very specific such as Movie Night, Italian Cooking or Mom & Me Spa Day. You can be as general or specific as you want, but if you don't have the theme then you won't be able to put your mind around what you need in that basket. I would suggest selecting a theme based around what your recipient likes and what you are finding or think you can find to fit into your budget for this gift. Certain gift baskets lend themselves to more frugal filling, so don't select say a U of O themed basket if you only have $10 to won't find much in that category at that price point, but you could do an awesome Movie Night basket for just $10...yes you can!

Tip #2-Make sure you have a specific budget figured out for what you are able to spend for the basket. This is important because you will be buying items for it and you need to know how much you can spend (not what you want to spend). You will need to keep track of what you buy for this basket as this isn't a one shop and you are done kind of thing (typically). I will work on baskets for a year (okay, most of you that isn't possible, but you can still do it in a shorter period of time!). Keep track on a paper or your phone or on some kind of tracking tool what you are spending on items for the basket so you don't exceed your budget.

Tip #3-Fill, Fill, Fill! You have your theme, know it is time to find all the great things to fill up that basket! I always suggest picking the theme and one "anchor" item that will be the main focus of your basket. This will be the highlight or typically the largest single item you will put a majority of your budget towards. It might be a toy, a cookbook, a piece of clothing, etc. Then you spend the rest of your budget finding great "filler" items! If you want to do a good gift basket, you need to have at least 5 things in it. If you don't, it won't look like a full basket of fun items, so keep this in mind. Obviously, get as much as you can for your budget and you will have a great basket! When getting filler items (and these ideas will appear more in the next weeks posts), you need to find items that fit the "theme" of your basket. Say you are doing Italian might have picked up an Italian Cookbook at Borders (40% off 1 item coupon) and then are going to fill the basket with pasta, sauces, etc. These items can be picked up on the cheap, but coupled with your filler items give a rich look to your basket. We will be doing real themed gift basket ideas over the next few weeks in more detail too. However, whatever you decide...fill, fill, fill!

Tip #4- How do you fill and gather all these items. It does take more work than a traditional stand alone gift, but the rewards and the look can be fabulous and I guarantee your recipient will LOVE IT! This will take at least a committment on your part, but let's assume you want to do it. You will want to scour sales/clearance racks and promos at stores to fill those baskets. There are tons of opportunities for FREE or greatly reduced items during the holiday season and you can obtain great filler products if you pay attention to sales at stores you frequent. You can also watch my blog/Facebook for special alerts on great deals. Because many deals are awesome and more people are saving, you need to respond quickly to these offers, they are usually limited time and don't last, so delay and you will be sorry!

Tip #5-You've gathered and filled and you are ready for presentation...this is the fun part! You will need to find a box, basket, etc. to place all your items in. I encourage you to keep this to $5 or less (if possible), unless your container will be part of the gift basket. Italian Cooking-stock pot or something like gift pack, a popcorn bowl, you get the idea. If it is part of the kit you can go a bit higher. If it is just something to contain the item you might want to look cheaper. I see that Target often has containers for around $1-2 in their red dot spot section of the store, I often pick these up for my gift baskets. I also did just get some cool "drink bins" at Fred Meyer in the seasonal clearance section, but they can be re-purposed for what I am doing with gift baskets.

Gift baskets are fun and an easy way to make your $ spread further. I encourage you to give it a shot this year and see the faces light up on the people that you give your baskets too!

Happy Saving!

Summer H.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Holiday Savings Tips #2-Thinking Outside the Wallet

Hello Readers!

Last week we discussed making a comprehensive list of people you plan to buy holiday gifts for and a budget amount for each gift. You thought you might skip that step, it seemed to cumbersome huh? That was your first mistake, but it's not too late to correct it! Just got back and read my Holiday Tip #1 and then come back to this.

You did your homework? Fabulous! You are well on your way to saving money this holiday season!! This step is time consuming, but it is very important as you can always save $ if you plan ahead vs. waiting until the last minute. My tips will help you avoid that last minute crunch. That is why we are starting in September (I actually start on Dec. 26 typically, but hey Sept. is do-able for most of you!).

Once you have your list of recipients it is easy to start narrowing down ideas you want for them and we will explore that topic next week. This week I want to present you with my Top 10 Strategies to explore gift giving "outside the wallet". These strategies will explore ways to score, earn, trade, make and barter gifts that don't cost you a lot (maybe nothing!), but will be great gifts to give! The reason I do this post now even though you may not quite know yet what you want to buy your recipients is that these strategies may move you in a direction of what would be the best gift you could get for your budget based on the strategies you choose. Some strategies will work for you, some will not. However, I present them all so that you can pick and choose what works best for you and start using them to score great gifts within your budget and typically high value gifts for low budget pricing.

Summer's Top 10 Strategies for Shopping!

1) Bartering/Trading
Do you have a skill or resource that you can barter/trade with someone for something they need? It could be things such as cooking, babysitting, knitting, sewing, crafts, cleaning, organizing, product from a business you own. You could trade your product/service for something you need to give to a friend or give the gift of a service of something you do well. For example: I barter design work with a massage center for free massage credit I can apply to gift certificates for gifts. It's a great deal for them and me! Be creative, the possibilities are endless, you can trade or barter anything and it benefits both parties!

2) Gift Baskets
Yes we have all seen them and you automatically think high price tag because frankly they just look expensive! And they are if you don't plan, but if you plan and use some of these strategies they can be put together for very little and look like you spent a bunch! Typically a theme is the first step and then you spend a month or so looking for items that fit your theme at a price that works for your budget. To make your basket dollars stretch further you could combine say a husband/wife or a family and put all your $'s into the basket allowing you to fill it with more goodies. I put together gift baskets for Chaya's school at the Family Fun Night. I put together 10 baskets each year at about $20. You wouldn't believe some of the baskets I have been able to put together for that price. It is imperative to take advantage of store freebies, coupons, rebates and other incentives to fill these baskets on the cheap! They are awesome and the thrill of the find is so exciting. I will talk more about the gift basket concept and ways to make it work well for you in next weeks tips blog. I will also be sharing with you some real life examples of what our Savvy Shoppers are finding!

3) Survey Sites/Loyalty Sites
If you have time and $ is tight (as is the case with me as I am not working much at the moment) I participate in several websites that earn credit for filling out surveys, giving video opinions, etc. I use my "earnings" from these sites to purchase magazines, videos, $ to my Borders Bucks account, gift cards to all sorts of merchants, etc. I then use these great freebies for gifts! It takes a bit of time, but I score excellent gifts that are basically FREE with a bit of my time. I would suggest checking out ( or, these are the best sites I have found for the most points for your time. They also have in my opinion the most user-friendly rewards. As far as loyalty sites or loyalty points. Some of the best for these for redemption for rewards are or, if you drink Coke products check out this site as it is easy to get some quick freebies, also if you buy Disney DVD's or go to Disney movies, the points add up fast and you can score some great Disney merchandise for minimal time on your part. These gifts are essentially free and again can make great filler for your gift baskets!

4) Hosting at home parties. It's fairly easy, you host a party and you receive discounted merchandise. There are plenty of choices out there and you can get some great deals on items you can give as gifts! When I host a party, I try to think out for major holidays, end of the year teacher gifts, etc. It allows me to get my gifts at a great discount or sometimes FREE allowing my gift budget to not take a huge hit. Last year when I had a Pampered Chef Party (Laura Caldwell) I had the option to purchase several items at 1/2 price. This was perfect because I purchased some of PC's "kits" that come already gift boxed and ready to go, check out the Pizza Kit, it was the perfect item for Chaya's teacher and imagine my surprise when I went to wrap it and it was already in a decorated gift box...woo-hoo! I got this for 1/2 price too, I was stoked! You can also treat your girlfriends to a pampering facial, color session or pedi party with Mary Kay (Kelly Smith-Koets) and earn some free product for yourself or get some goodies for a "Beautiful You" gift basket, either way this can be a great way to get items at a discount or even FREE for your holiday shopping. Many of these consultants also offer you the ability to do a catalog party or product party such as Scentsy (Jody Tuntland) where you can take a scent box around and let people check out items and you still earn some discounted or free product!

5) Gifts of Time are the perfect option if your budget is limited, but you can provide a service to someone. Taking time in our busy society is a great gift as people strive to not acquire more, but want to have fun! Offering to watch a child, help organize a closet or wash a car are perfect "service gifts" that anyone could enjoy and could easily be part of a holiday gift or gift basket (movie night basket, you watch the kids or night out on the town, carwash included, etc....get creative!) if you live close and a gift of time is of interest to you! Don't underestimate the value of time, it is seriously priceless!

6) Gifts of Experiences are also a great option when money is tight! I love gift baskets with themes such as hiking in Oregon for example where maybe you create a fun day pack with goodies, a hiking guide, etc. A family could enjoy a day of hiking in Oregon courtesy of you! One of the best gifts my daughter ever got was a punch pass for Bounce Gymnastics! For about $20, she got to go 6 times to open gym and had a blast. Who needs more toys when you can go have fun? The ability to go to college (it's a huge expense), consider making a donation to a college fund or purchase savings bonds (I love the ones you buy for 1/2 the face value, they get more for their money in the long run) could say it was for something in the future when it matures. People love to spend time with other people and the gift of an experience may just be the perfect fit for someone on your gift list and they will appreciate the time and thought put into this and it won't have to cost you very much!

7) In Oregon, wouldn't you love to open up a swimsuit (well, maybe sunglasses) or some other seasonal gift in the middle of winter? It is dreary in the dead of winter and if your gift recipient loves the sun, they probably aren't seeing too much of it right then. Seasonal gifts are fun because they have something to look forward to come Spring/Summer, they don't expect to get something seasonal at Christmas time and you can get stuff on really great clearance deals now! It's a win win! Also, think about people you might buy for who live in climates that are not as seasonal. For example, my sister in the Bahamas could use warm weather things year round and I can get some great deals on "summer" items now that she can use year round!

8) Gifts with Purchase and Purchase Incentives are a great way to get more gift for your dollar! Many times during the holidays stores will offer a variety of incentives to get you to shop with! Many stores offer FREE items with purchase, free items with coupons (hoping you will buy more, don't!, just get your free item and be on your way), or dollars to be used on a future purchase (Kohl's/Macy's/Gymboree). Take advantage of all these strategies because again they will net you more items for your gifts and they don't cost you anymore than you were already spending. How do you find out about these types of deals? My Facebook page is a good start, I post all types of things there! You can also read blogs, watch your mailbox for deals, etc! For example just this last week I have posted over 5 ways to get items for FREE (photo gifts, stationery items, cosmetics, etc.). I had several of my Savvy Shoppers take advantage of these deals and they are already checking things off their lists. You can't delay on these offers, they are usually limited time and require you to be ready to get them! This is why it is so helpful to have your list of who you are shopping for so that you can get these items when they become available or know what you need as nice filler items for those gift baskets. Filler is what makes them look luxe!

9) Coupons, Coupons and More Coupons! In my family, Chaya knows we only buy about 20% of our items without coupons so it is very common for me to hear "mom, do we have a coupon for that?". It is a choice to use this money saving tool, I guarantee regardless of how much you want to get into this lifestyle tool, you will save $! This could be it's own post, but I will say as we get closer to the holidays all types of coupons will be available for all kinds of things! My #1 rule of thumb for coupons is don't use them the week you see them. Typically a coupon will appear and then you can combine with a deal happening a week or 2 later for maximum savings. Retailers know people see a coupon and you instantly want to spend it, stores don't put items on sale the week the coupons appear, if you are patient and wait and watch for a good deal you can maximize your savings! For example this last week Hasbro posted some coupons for select games. Refer back to my Facebook page for details, but Toys R Us this week is running a Buy 2, Get 1 Free on all games. You can apply coupons to these games and with the in store savings, get a great deal! I love these kinds of deals for gift baskets with a board game theme...especially for those winter nights, it's a great gift idea!

10) Splitting deals over several recipients, what? Let me explain! You have your gift list (remember I told you this 1st step was important, well it truly is!). If you know who you are buying for and you have your budget, you know what you are looking for it makes splitting deals even more cost effective for you. For example, say you are making 3 younger kids (say under 13) gift baskets and you are going with a cooking theme for each one. These kids are all in the same family so they may share, but you want them to be unique to each person. With all gift baskets you need to pick a theme and get a main foundational item that will help create the basket. You decide to go with fun kids cookbooks for each of these kids and you see that amazon has good deals, but wait they are running a Buy 3 Get 1 Free promo. You need 3 cookbooks and they are all included, but you can earn a FREE item if you order the 3 cookbooks. Your mom has been wanting a great novel that you see is included in the deal, you add that to your cart and you are over $25 so you get her book free and free shipping! Her basket is going to be a coffee/reading relaxing kit. You have just "split a deal", you have taken advantage of combining deals over several people, but you had to know what you needed to be able to take advantage of the combination of items to get the deal, way to go! This type of scenario is so easy to take advantage of and if you know what you need it makes it possible! Also, many stores offer you "cash" to spend on future purchases during certain dates, pick up items you need for your gift or for yourself and then go back and spend that incentive cash later on for a gift for someone you need!

That was a lot to cover in the second week! I hope these strategies will help get you thinking outside the wallet and encouraging you to be creative in your shopping strategies. Some of these tips are "advanced", but you can do them and if you have questions please email me at, I will get back to you! Next week I look forward to sharing the benefits of the "gift basket" idea and we will be looking at what our Savvy Shoppers are shopping for this holiday season and bringing you some real life examples of what that looks like for all budgets!

Happy Saving!

Summer H.

Savvy Shoppers: watch Facebook messages for your weekly homework!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Holiday Savings-Tip #1

Hello Readers!

As promised, I am going to start writing a weekly tip to help you save for the upcoming holiday season. Each week, I will present a topic that will carry you to the holidays stress free, budgeted and able to enjoy what the holidays are actually about!

I have selected 6 wonderful ladies to join me on this journey. I will be sharing examples from them in future posts to help you see how my tips apply in real life! I am excited to help them save money this holiday season.

Each week I will share a tip, if you want to follow on this journey simply apply the strategies that I will share and I hope (promise?) that if you do these steps (as I have successfully in the past) you will be able to be debt free post holidays and who doesn't want that?

In order to benefit most from these weekly posts, I recommend you put the time needed to apply the strategy and if you are going to follow the steps that you do them in order as that is how I am writing them for maximum savings options!

This week the topic is: Who to buy for?

It seems easy huh? However, I have found myself many times at the last minute realizing that I had forgotten someone (teacher at 10 pm the night before Christmas break...ha, ha!). You don't want to have this happen to you and it costs you $!! It is best to start right now making a list over the next week of all the people you plan to purchase gifts for. I use Excel to make my list, but you can use paper/pencil, iPod, etc....whatever medium is going to work best for you to track what you have bought (we will do this as we purchase items, topic coming soon!). If you give yourself a week to think about who you need to buy for you probably will have a more complete list. It might look something like this (categories only, please list actual names on your list):

-Friends & Family
-Service Professionals (newspaper, mail, hairdresser, etc.)
-Business Colleagues
-Children's friends
-Holiday Party Hostess Gifts

I would recommend writing down the name for EACH individual. This way you can add the gift you purchased next to their name once you have gathered the perfect item(s). I can email you my spreadsheet if you want, contact me at for that!

Once you have your gift list and names will differ for everyone based on who you typically buy for and what your budget allows. Just remember to be as comprehensive as possible because planning ahead allows you to save a bundle!

With your complete list in hand I want you to come up with a $ figure for your budget for each gift. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! It is easy to want to, but if you want to watch what you are spending this step is essential. Don't worry if your budget is a little trim this year, I have great strategies to help you along and we will be able to find a great gift for any budget!

With each person and the approx. $ amount next to their name, I would like you to total up the amount of the budgeted items and add it all together. With this figure, I would like you to divide it by 11. This is the amount of weeks that ideally you have to put towards gifts for the rest of the year. I want you to be done a bit early. If you have already been saving $ or you have $ set aside, even better, but if you don't yet (don't panic!), this just gives you an idea of how much you will need each week to put towards what your current budget is. Too much? Then you may want to revisit and figure out more appropriate #'s for what you need to buy for. You also may be pleasantly surprised at what you are able to get for really low amounts of $ with my tips too! Regardless, you have an idea of what you can spend and that allows shopping to be so much easier!

Now that you have your #'s in mind and your list, let's start shopping! Next week, my post will include some real examples from my Summer's Savers on who we are going to profile for specific gift giving categories. I hope you enjoy our strategies and learn about saving along the way!

Happy Saving!

Summer H.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Welcome Back Bloggers!

Hello All-

I am going to try to start posting to my blog again, so thanks for your interest in the past and I hope to show my new readers some great tips for living well through simple practices of planning ahead, striving for great deals and enjoying family time!

Happy Saving!

Summer H.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Join me for up to minute deals on Facebook!

Hello Readers!

I hope the holidays treated you well and that time with family and friends was wonderful!

I wanted to update you on some changes in my blog status. I will still be writing blog posts on this site (hopefully 2-3/week). These posts will mainly focus on general savings tips and local happenings.

However, it is much faster for me to post quick, up to the minute hot deals on my Facebook page, so if you want to get those tips too, please send me a friend request. You can find me on FB as "Summer Olsen Highfill". I hope you enjoy saving money with me in 2010!

Happy Saving!

Summer H.