Everything You Need to Know About Giving Gift Cards

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Once considered impersonal, today gift cards are perceived by millions of consumers as practical, convenient and the perfect holiday gift.

In fact, gift cards continue to top holiday wish lists for the eighth year in a row with expected spending on these plastic presents to reach a record high. According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers plan to shell out over $170 on gift cards this year, with overall spending to exceed $31 billion.

Holiday Bonus Gift Card Offers

Though buying a gift card is easier than ever these days, it’s important to be as thoughtful with your purchase as you are with other items. To help you in this process, I’ve listed everything you need to know about giving gift cards, including how to save money (of course!).

Redeem rewards for free gift cards.
Most credit cards allow users to redeem their rewards for gift cards, and some offer deals on specific cards throughout the year. This is a great option for gift giving since it won’t cost you anything extra. If you don’t want to give a gift card, you can still redeem your rewards for one and use it to offset the cost of a different gift. Remember to give yourself plenty of time to receive the cards, as it can take a week or so to get them in the mail.

Get them for a discount.
There’s no sense in paying full price for a gift card when you can easily save 5 to 30-percent off the face value. Shop for cards through GiftCardGranny.com and save 11-percent off cards to Starbucks; 26-percent off cards to Ann Taylor; and 11-percent off cards to Home Depot. You can also buy gift cards in bulk from Costco and Sam’s Club and receive a discount. For example, Sam’s Club is offering a 3-pack of $25 gift cards, plus a free $10 gift card, to Outback Steakhouse for $71.98.

Watch for promotional “gotchas.”
Some gift cards that come free with select purchases are not true gift cards and might have expiration dates and usage restrictions. For example, Staples is currently offering a free $5 Promo card with purchase of $25 in eGift cards. However, that Promo card is only valid through January 31 and must be used via Google Wallet for redemption. The free gift cards currently available with select purchases from Target, on the other hand, appear to be the real deal. Ultimately, it’s always good to read the fine print before using or re-gifting these cards.

Some still come with fees.
The CARD Act of 2009 did away with pesky fees and rapid expiration dates for most gift cards, but there’s an important exception. Bank gift cards like those offered by VISA, MasterCard and American Express still carry fees of up to $4.95. When you’re not sure what gift card to give, these bank cards may seem like a good choice, but that extra fee is an unnecessary expense when cash is just as useful. If cash feels too impersonal, consider getting creative with your presentation and turning the bill into an origami masterpiece.

Daily deals can be gift cards.
Giving the gift of an experience is increasingly attractive in our culture of mass consumerism. Daily deals are a great method of offering someone a day at the spa, a golf outing or an evening at the newest restaurant. A gift card of sorts, these vouchers should also be reviewed carefully before purchase, as expiration dates most certainly apply and restrictions can quickly derail your plans. For example, a friend nearly purchased a daily deal for a chiropractic exam and massage, only to learn she had to pay for a consultation before redeeming the voucher.

They make the perfect present in a pinch.
Whether you were surprised by an unexpected gift from a neighbor or coworker or you missed the shipping deadline to get that package to a loved one who lives across the country, virtual gift cards are the perfect present to give in a pinch. Most retailers offer electronic gift cards which can be ordered online and sent directly to the recipient’s inbox. Whatâs more, many of these can also be printed from your home computer for an instant gift. Keep in mind, you don’t have to be limited to department stores or big box retailers. The online gift card options are endless and available for movie theaters, spas, hotels and even airlines.

Get creative with the packaging.
Choosing the right gift card for the recipient is part of making it a personal gift. However, you can take it one step further by getting creative with the way you give it. For instance, a spa gift card could be given in a gift basket filled with a few at-home spa products like bubble bath and body lotion. A gift card to a favorite coffee shop can be paired with a festive mug and peppermint stir sticks. Putting effort into your presentation will make your gift card even more well received!

They’re not always the best gift.
As the ultimate “I don’t know what else to buy” gift, it may seem surprising that gift cards aren’t always the best idea. If you don’t know the recipient’s shopping preferences (online or offline), or have no idea if a store or restaurant is located in their area, it’s probably best to get them something else. In these cases, gift baskets of gourmet food or a subscription to a favorite magazine or newspaper might be a better alternative.

This has been a Guest post by Andrea Woroch, a nationally-recognized shopping expert for Kinoli Inc., who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. For more information, visit AndreaWoroch.com or follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

Winter Family Photo Outfit Ideas

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SDS RedBrown Family Photo Fashion Board

Looking for some inspiration for your family photos this year?

This Winter Family Photo Outfit Ideas post is a good place to start.

Use this to get ideas on how to pull together a complete whole family look.

I’ve included the links to every item shown above in case there is something you want to buy, although I suggest looking in your closet to see which things you might already have that you can use first.

Mother’s Outfit:

Boy Outfit:

Grocery University 50% Off Today Only!

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9 Ways to Save on Thanksgiving Food Deals

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All the optimism surrounding lower gas prices may be clouded by record-high food costs, according to consulting firm Customer Growth Partners (CGP). While retail experts are predicting between 4 and 4.5 percent increase in holiday sales this year, CGP is estimating more modest growth (3.4 percent) due in part to rising food costs.

The timing of these increases is especially harsh as millions of Americans prepare to host Thanksgiving dinner next week. Turkey prices alone have jumped 12 to 14 percent (per pound) since last year, according to the USDA’s Turkey Market News Report. To avoid letting these costs gobble up your Thanksgiving budget, check out these nine savvy tips.

1. Compare turkey prices online.
Prices on Thanksgiving groceries like turkey and canned veggies can vary significantly from store to store, so it pays to compare costs. Plus, many stores will offer to price-match their local competitors while others will offer discounts on a turkey based on a single trip or overall spending. You can access most grocery store circulars online for quick comparison so you can plan your shopping trip and avoid driving all over town.

2. Get cash back.
Several mobile apps have popped up offering cash-back for grocery purchases, including Thanksgiving dinner essentials. SnapiBotta and Checkout 51 enable shoppers to snap photos of their receipts and get cash back once they reach a certain amount. $5 back on Jennie-O Oven Ready Turkey, $0.50 back on asparagus or $0.25 back on butter represent just a taste of the offers available. These apps are free and can be used year-long to save on groceries.

3. Keep it simple.
Planning is easier than doing, so don’t allow yourself to go overboard when designing your menu. Keep it simple with the dishes you typically serve since new, exotic dishes can require expensive ingredients and result in a higher grocery bill. Stick to a single type of meat instead of buying a turkey and a ham, and calculate how much meat you actually need before buying the main course. Typically, one pound of meat per person is plenty, plus any amount of leftovers you want. For more tips on finding a turkey for less (or even free!), check out this article from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

4. Get clipping (or printing).
Using coupons to save on Thanksgiving groceries is hardly groundbreaking, but these days you don’t have to rely on newspaper inserts to get manufacturer’s deals. Websites like CouponSherpa.com offer a roundup of grocery coupons based on your location, so you can easily find and print coupons based on your shopping list. You can also search for specific product coupons, like $1 Ocean’s Spray Fresh Cranberries or $0.40 off two tubes of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.

5. Bake your own pie.
Cooking from scratch is the cheapest way to save on any meal, but lack of time is often hard to overcome. Ultimately, boxed stuffing and canned gravy won’t break your Thanksgiving budget. Where you really need to focus your do-it-yourself skills is on dessert and baked goods like pumpkin pie and cheesecake. Prices at the bakery are marked up 100 to 300 percent which will send your grocery costs soaring. If dessert isn’t your speciality, ask a friend or family member to cover this part of your menu.

Pumpkin Pie Recipes

6. Buy whole produce.
Whether you’re serving roasted broccoli, honey-glazed carrots or sauteed brussel sprouts as your signature veggie dish, buying whole produce will save you up to 40 percenton the prepackaged stuff. Sure, it’s going to require a bit more effort to wash and chop everything, but doing so will not only boost your budget: it will also enhance the flavor of your dish.

7. Go with frozen.
If your signature dish or dessert features an out-of-season fruit or vegetable, consider buying frozen instead. Frozen produce is cheaper than fresh and because it’s flash-frozen at peak ripeness, you still get all the flavor and nutritional benefits. Turkeys are also a better buy frozen: you can save up to 40 percent by opting for a chilly bird. Just remember to allow sufficient time for thawing and brining, if you choose to do the latter.

8. Bulk up your alcohol purchase.
If you’re serving alcohol at your Thanksgiving dinner, considering buying in bulk to save. VONS will give you a discount of 10 percent when you buy six or more bottles of wine, for example. You can often save 30-percent off liquor store prices when you shop at warehouse club stores for booze. Finally, don’t pass up boxed wine: for the equivalent of $5 a bottle, you can stock up deliciously drinkable wine at a huge discount, and serve it in a carafe to fool your guests! Check out this roundup of recommended boxed wines from Wine Enthusiast.

9. Snag doorbusters for cookware needs.
As if preparing for a house full of guests isn’t stressful enough, coming up short on baking dishes and other cooking essentials can send you into panic mode. Instead of running to the grocery store where cookware is marked up by 40 to 60 percent, take advantage of pre-Black Friday deals. Retailers will be promoting doorbuster offers on small kitchen appliances and cookware all week long, and Kmart opens their doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving. There, you’ll have access to deals like a CorningWare 7-piece bakeware set for $19.99.

Guest Post by Andrea Woroch who is a nationally-recognized shopping expert for Kinoli Inc., who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

Christmas Budget Calculator

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christmas budget calculator

Use the Christmas Budget Calculator to determine how much you need to save each week to pay for everything cash this year!

Check out the Christmas Budget Calculator here.


How to Make Christmas Trees Last Longer

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5 Ways to Make Christmas Tree Last Longer


Tips to Extend the Life of Your Christmas Tree


This such a magical time of year with the lights, decorations, and of course the Christmas Tree!

Because we love this time of year at my house, I try to make it last as long as I can!

In fact we usually host our final holiday party the weekend after the New Year. As you can probably imagine, having a tree this long can lead to droopy branches and piles of needles on the floor.

In order to keep our tree looking its very best long after Christmas has passed, we use the following tips.

1. Choose the right tree.  The first thing to do to make sure your tree has the longest life span possible, is to choose the right tree from the very start. Sometimes these trees have been sitting around for several days before you see them.  There is also the distance it took for your tree to get from the tree farm to your local tree lot. You’ll want to choose one that looks fresh. Look at the branches, are they sagging?  Check the needles by rubbing you hand across them. If they easily fall off, you’ll want to choose a different tree.

2. Prepare the Tree. Make sure you have a fresh cut on your tree trunk before.  Once a tree has been cut down, the sap naturally seals it from being able to take in anymore water.  It only takes the sap about 3 hours to completely seal off the trunk making it impossible to take in any more water. This is why the fresh cut is so important. Most tree lots offer this service free of charge.  They might forget to tell you about it, so just ask.  They have the saws and it really only takes a couple extra minutes to do.  Cutting at least 1 inch off the bottom give the tree the best possible chance of being able to soak up the water.

3. Lots of Water. Keep your tree stand full of water at all times. Water really is the key to keeping your tree alive as long as possible. If you allow the tree stand to run out of water, the tree will once again send sap to build the barrier you got rid of when you made sure there was a fresh new cut on the trunk.  Remember, it only takes 3 hours for the sap to seal the trunk.  This means it will not soak up anymore water even if you refill the base again, so it is very important not to allow it to run dry at all.

4. Location, location, location. Choosing the right location for your tree will determine how long the tree will last. You will want to keep your tree away from any direct heat sources such as furnace vents or fireplaces as these will dry the tree out faster. It is also a good idea to avoid direct sunlight.

5. Replace your bulbs. Choose to use newer LED bulbs on your tree. They do not give off as much heat as older bulbs and will help keep your tree from drying out as fast. You can also choose to use less bulbs as a way to keep even more of the heat off the tree.

Using any or all of these tips will help extend the life of your tree.

I suggest following them all to keep your tree looking its best all through the holiday season.