Gift Giving Ideas for the Holidays: Gifts from the Heart

The holidays should be a time for happiness and celebration. Most families look forward to gift-giving, holiday activities, and visits with families. However, it can also be stressful with hectic shopping trips, budget planning, and the holiday “hustle and bustle”. Holidays can be even more complicated when finances (especially credit cards) become overwhelming. Focus on alternative gifts to your family and friends without spending a fortune. Some suggestions are as follows:

  • Take advantage of sales throughout the year
  • Create your own gift baskets
  • Baked goods make excellent gifts using your favorite recipes.
  • Fill a basket with ingredients for your favorite dish and include the recipe.
  • Consider a gift subscription to a favorite magazine or newsletter.
  • Construct a personalized picture by framing a holiday card.
  • Take some of your favorite homemade jellies and jams and gift as gifts.
  • Personalize a sweatshirt or t-shirt with fabric paints for interesting gifts.
Wrapping Ideas:
  • Consider making your own wrapping paper with stamps or fingerpaint.
  • Reuse gift bags from prior year.
  • Make wrapping paper using fabric.  Fabric can be used later for other projects.

Other Gift Ideas:
Stocking stuffers can add up in addition to all the other purchases.  Save by making a list and staying on top of costs.  Christmas Stocking Stuffers: List what stocking gifts you have for each person.   List cost and location of purchase as well.

Gifts from the heart: Finding personal gifts can be a challenge, but here is a list to help you wow them this holiday season.

Looking for a NO cost gift idea?  Consider Gift Coupons – offer your valued services that will be appreciated more than any trinket you could purchase.

Holiday Gift Giving Ideas: Great ideas for saving on holiday shopping and still give great gifts.

My Holiday Spending Plan:  This is a must have.  Plan your holiday spending including gifts, food, activities, utilities and more!  

Creating Your Holiday Savings Plan

Sale doesn't always mean savings. That's why it is important to create your savings plan for the holiday season. Holidays -- once a time for family, food and gifts -- are now prime seasons of financial peril. When using credit cards to purchase items, it's easy to forget how much has been actually spent. Here we've written some guidelines to help make the holidays manageable.

It’s easy to overspend during the holidays. An American Express survey found its customers plan to spend approximately $1,500 this year on gifts alone. If you are concerned about staying within your limits, create a plan:

• Decide on how much you can afford to spend
• Budget in hand, write down your shopping lists for the year
• Look at the list and see where you can cut back
• Don’t forget to include the extras when you create your budget
• Plan your gift buying shopping trips
• Use store’s convenient lay-a-way plan, if unable to pay for full item
• Make gifts at home: baked goods, picture collages, or arts and crafts

1. Tally up your day-to-day expenses. List your monthly living costs, including essentials like house or rent payments, food, transportation to work and utilities. Once you know how much you are spending on the “need-to-have” items for your family, the easier it is to create a budget.
2. Prioritize what needs need to be attended to first. Once you know your priorities, create a gift list of who you want to give gifts and what you plan to purchase. Cut back on gifts for "social" friends; give a card or better yet, be creative – buy supplies in bulk and make homemade individualized gifts.

3. Create a Chart: Using the worksheet at the end of the post create a chart of who you are going to be buying items for, how much you estimate to spend on the items, and how much they actually cost. The chart provides an easy way to see where your money is going. Does your money go towards the little extras like gift wrapping, does it go towards traveling, or does it go towards family phone calls? By figuring out how much you estimate on spending, you can “cut the fat” from other areas.

4. Focus on alternative gifts to your family and friends without spending a fortune. Reduce holiday expenses and make gifts that will be treasured by your family and friends for years to come.

5. Use a planner: Use a planner to help organize when you are going to buy gifts. Some stores offer huge sales in accordance with the holiday, or during certain times of the day for a few hours. Go there early in order to bag the best deals on items. Combine money saving coupons with sales for extra savings. A lot of stores now offer their coupons online for extra convenience.

6. Remember How Much is Spent on Little Extras: Little items that are nice to have, like stocking stuffers, can really add up over time. They are small items. It's easy to forget how much they cost over time. between the candy, Dollar Tree items, and little gifts. Record those stocking stuffers! Click here for an easy to use chart.

Shopping tips:
• Don’t wait until the day before the big event to shop
• Leave the credit cards at home
• Charge carefully
• Get organized
•Remember that online items will cost more due to shipping charges

Also, spend time not money. Going out and doing things together can mean a lot more to family members than expensive gifts. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Consider a secret Santa gift giving event where each person pulls out a name out of a hat and buys only for that person. Each person only gets one gift, but each person spends less.

Additional Resources:

  • Holiday Expense Planner- this is an easy to use chart that will help you see and calculate your holiday expenses.
  • Savings PlannerThis calendar tool can help you stay on top of all the activities and deadlines this holiday season.  December Planner: Map out your holiday activities and events using this calendar planner. 

10 Tips to Bag a Bargain

1. Read the Ads: Read the local newspaper, or store brochures to find out what is on sale and when. Combine money saving coupons with sales for extra savings. A lot of stores now offer their coupons online for extra convenience.

2. Evaluate the Deals: Ready-Set-Shop… but with an open mind. If you find a better deal on an item go ahead and substitute. Compare the deals in the store.

3. Research the Right Product: An off-brand furniture polish might work just as well as another more expensive name brand cleaner. Also, you can save money on grocery items by comparing unit price or price by the ounce. To find the unit price, divide the total cost of the item by the number of ounces: a pound package of pasta that costs $1.60 carries a unit price of 10 cents. However, for those of us who are on a tight timeframe, many areas require the stores to post the unit prices on the tags. The type is tiny, but the information is located in the small print! Continuing, you’ll also want to make sense of multiple pricing. Offering products at prices like "2 for $7" or "3 for $5" are designed to do two things: obscure the true price of a single item, and pressure shoppers into buying more than one.

4. Save with “Triple Plays” Many grocery stores double coupons, but some will even triple them from time to time. Increase your savings by combining a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon for the same item; or take it to the savings extreme by combining a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon, a sale, and a rebate.

5. Be an Early Bird: Wake up early and get those savings! Some stores offer huge sales in accordance with the holiday, or during certain times of the day for a few hours. Go there early in order to bag the best deals on items. Success comes to those who prepare and put in the extra effort. So roll up your sleeves, read the papers, and find those coupons

6. Beat the Early Birds: Beat the early birds by stocking up on items that you use frequently when they are on sale! Deals change frequently. Pick up papers as you travel as coupons and sales usually vary from region to region, combine BOGO (by one get one) sales with buy one get one free coupon, and coupon the clearance racks for more savings.

7. Check the Return Policy: Just how long do you have to return an item? Are all sales final after purchase? These are important questions. Some stores require you to have the proof of purchase (receipt) for the item that you have bought in order for it to be returned. Other stores will accept the item, but take it for the lowest sales value. Often stores have a certain time period in order for an item to be returned, so make sure you know how long you have to return an item before you buy it.

8. Get a Gift Receipt: As much as we try to get the perfect gift for everyone, each year a large number of individuals get a gift that is the wrong size, something they already have, or something that they do not want. For that reason, a large number of gift recipients end up taking their gifts back. Give a gift receipt along with the gifts that you give, and ask for gift receipts. There’s no sense in keeping an item that you cannot use or don’t want.

9. Use the Right Credit Card: Buyer Beware! It is easy to buy, and keep on buying during the holiday season. Compare the interest rates on your credit cards. Carry just one, and make sure to think who you are buying the item for, what it is, how long it will take to pay it off and why you are buying the item. A lot of retail store credit cards have higher interest rates, so be sure to understand and compare them.

10. Save more with Price Guarantees: low-price guarantees have the potential to offer a good value; but, they require research, personal advocacy, patience, and lots of follow-ups. No two guarantees are exactly alike, and what gets you a refund at one store may not hold any weight with another. Read up and research for the best guarantees.

Holiday Grocery Shopping: How to Bring Home the Bacon without Breaking the Pig

Believe it or not, the average family of four spends more than $500 on groceries and food each month.

You can easily add another $50 or $100 to your monthly savings by making simple changes. Using the easy menu chart is like writing a grocery list. By using the chart you can track exactly what you buy. Also, we have included some easy tips to help you save more and spend less over the holiday season.

Holiday Meal Planning: Why plan out your meals? Planning meals may seem strange when most of us are hustling to get the job done. A planned menu saves time, money, and reduces stress. Reducing trips to the supermarket, a menu plan reduces impulse spending. Also, a meal plan improves good nutrition allowing more time for healthy side dishes and salads to be prepared, complementing your meal.
How to Use:

• Write the date of when you purchased the item Take advantage of plentiful coupons and rebates in advance, by buying non-perishable items when they are on sale. If you buy certain items regularly, stock up for additional savings.

• Write the occasion.

• Write down the food item. This helps you create an inventory.

• Finally, write down who is bringing a certain item. By having each family member be responsible for one or two items on the menu, you not only save money but create new family traditions!

Write a Grocery List: Writing up a grocery list that is efficient, time-saving and accurate takes a little planning. However, it can save you big money saved in extra items and trips to the store. You may want to look at the in-store sales and coupons you have before you make your menu up. Bulk buy whenever practical and save on cost per ounce or pound.

How to Use:

• Write what items you need and the quantity on the chart

• Organize according to the layout of the store to save yourself time and money.

• Know what you need. Then you won’t be tempted to spend on extra items.

• Check store ads and flyers for on sale money-saving specials

Additional Resources:

Holiday Grocery List Food can be a real budget buster during the holidays.  With so many opportunities to gather around the table, stay on top of costs by keeping a list and checking it twice!  This is a list for your grocery shopping by food category.

20 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store  The cost of food can really skyrocket during the holidays.  Here are some ways you can save organized by Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension. 

Groceries for the Holidays: Grocery Savings for you. 20 ways to spend less on groceries

Fall into Saving Money Around the House

We all like to save money, but who says a thrifty nest can look like a designer one? Here are some ways to save money around the house and give your home a fresh new look for fall.

In the Bedroom:

Giving the bedroom a fresh new look does not have to be expensive. A fresh coat of paint, or focusing on the main centerpieces of the room, such as the bed, can completely change it. Finding a comforter you like will help determine the color scheme for the rest of the room. Reversible, solid colored comforters are a good choice, because they offer twice as many design options. There's no better way to add a quick splash of color and comfort to your drab room. You can spend a fortune on designer throw pillows, but don't. Cheap ones are available just about anywhere. A big comfortable reading pillow will come in handy as well. If you're crafty create a photo and postcard mural, and turn it into a unique poster.

In the Bathroom:

Check the thrift stores for small hanging photographs. Depending on the picture and the size of the frame, you may hang it directly, or decide to frame a poster of your own. Towels are another way to add a bright splash of color without having to spend too much money-- about $30 dollars for a six piece set. Small, inexpensive baskets, can also turn into cute storage spaces. Also, when it comes to cleaning instead of buying paper towels over and over again, re purpose old t-shirts as dusting and dishrags cutting down on waste.

In the Kitchen:

Brighten up the kitchen by using mirrors to reflect incoming light, small ones, such as mirrors that would be placed in a locker, can be decorated in all sorts of ways. Bring the outdoors inside too, and don't be afraid to accessorize with small discount or thrift store items. Choose a theme and you could give your kitchen a whole new look just by replacing some key accessories like, dish towels, salt and pepper shakers and pot holders.

Also inside the kitchen, save money on food by freezing it. Buy shredded cheese in bulk when you see a deal. Sprinkle in cornstarch to prevent sticking, then freeze. Milk and bread, and nuts can also be frozen for later use. Also save on energy costs by hand washing dishes after small snack. After the dishwasher's final rinse, open the door and pull out the racks. Let the dishes air-dry to save electricity.

Money Saving Ideas for Halloween

Halloween is fast approaching. Here are some easy and inexpensive party ideas for you and your little goblins to have a good time, but without the financial monster in the closet.

1. Consider filling a homemade piƱata with treats and goodies, instead of buying numerous party favors. They are easily made from old newspaper and Elmer’s glue. This project is extremely creative, not just limited to painting a face! Cutting out ears from old plastic bottles, using brightly colored old magazines for wild hair, or the insides of a toilet paper tube for a nose, are just a few ideas using what would be thrown away around the house. Here is a link to show you how to make your own

2. Don't use an expensive table cloth for the party. Instead buy a cheap plastic table cloth and decorate it with permeate markers-- everyone gets to sign and doodle all over it, and afterwards the table cloth can be hung up for both children and parents to admire. Another easy way to do this is with construction paper, and letting each child create his or her own placemat.

3. Consider visiting thrift shops and using in house items for costumes. Old hats, dresses, and coats can be used to create a variety of personalities. A zombie costume, for example, can be made from ripping up an old t-shirt and jeans and applying a little eyeliner or dark eye shadow. Make sure to test your product before applying to your eyes as some products can cause allergic reactions. For more ideas visit

4. Skip the usual orange and black color scheme this Halloween and opt for something a bit different. Red is a bold choice that not only packs a big visual punch, but also allows you to recycle staple decorations from Christmas, Valentine's Day or Fourth of July to keep costs down.

5. Take a Halloween trust walk. Place a few random items on the table such as a water balloon, noodles, candy corn, the top of the feather duster, or a small piece of crumpled tin foil. What are these items? Blindfolded, the squishy water balloon becomes a monsters nose, the noodles worms, and the candy corn vampire teeth and so on. Encourage group members to lead each other. The stories can get really wild!

6. Consider each person bringing a small snack or drink for the party. Not only do you save money as you do not have to buy all of the food items, but it also opens up the floor for some really creative recipes. For more ideas visit.