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.