Free Christmas Ornaments at Cost Plus this Weekend

Cost Plus is offering a number of deals all weekend with a free Christmas ornament for the first 100 people each day (I received mine this morning and it’s adorable), a scratcher for additional savings (I won $5 off for totals over $20) and if you join the Cost Plus rewards program (just a phone and email) you can get another 5% off. There are plenty of reasons to shop Cost Plus right now.

Here are some of the deals I found, all pretty worthy depending on what you need. Wine glasses for $1.99 each (plus your member discount), plenty of kitchen tools – many marked down and plenty-o-Christmas ornaments with various sale prices.

Small Business Saturday is November 27, 2010

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Support your local Small Business community by shopping local and small on Saturday, November 27. Did you know that $68 out of every $100 spent at a small business stays in the community? That saves everyone money in the long-run.

American Express has a campaign out to help promote Small Business Saturday. Many shoppers are offering great bargains and products that you can’t find at the big box store. Don’t break the budget AND keep your community growing strong.

Costco Black Friday Sales Online-Only Deals

Costco now has their Black Friday online-only deals live through Dec 12 (while supplies last of course) with free shipping.  However, do compare prices with competing sites as the best Costco deals can be easily beat by online retailers such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart.

  • Dell Studio 15 laptop now $599.99 after $100 off (note that Best Buy has a similar Dell available for $529.99 and Black Friday in-store deals will be better)
  • Hannspree 32″ LCD Widescreen HDTV $269.99 (Best Buy 32″ LCD’s TV’s are only $10 more

What Time Do Stores Open on Black Friday?

It used to be that all stores closed at noon on Wednesday and didn’t open until 8am on Friday morning after Thanksgiving. That was your mother and grandmother’s Black Friday. With the internet and now 24/7 shopping, a number of stores will be open on Thanksgiving. Others will open at midnight and the slacker stores will open doors at three or four in the morning. Yes, as in A.M. Not that we weren’t aware Christmas was coming. The Halloween candy wasn’t off the store shelves before the bows and lights were being strung.

Here is a list of nationwide stores and when they will be open for their ‘Black Friday’ sales.

Open on Thanksgiving Day
Sears (select locations)
Toys R Us (opens at 10pm Thanksgiving night, specials good through 1pm Friday)

Open Midnight for Black Friday
Best Buy
Walmart (some midnight deals, others at 5am)
Old Navy

3am Doorbusters

J.C. Penney
(doorbuster deals through 1pm)

5am Crowd
Kmart (deals good from 5am-11am)

5:30am Snoozers
Radio Shack

Are there other stores you know about that should be listed?  Let us know in our Comments area!

I’m in Debt. Where to Start?

They say admitting a problem is the first step in dealing with it.  The only thing is, I haven’t been denying it.  I’ve known and been managing the mountain of debt over the past few years and slowly (and I do mean slowly) there are shards of light poking through.  No, it may not be the “I’ll be debt free in X days” but instead the sense of “ah…my lungs aren’t collapsing.”  

Where do I start?

  1. Take inventory of your debt.  Yes, it’s ugly.  I do this in excel with each account name downt the left and the month/year running along the top.  I input the the ending balance of each account at the end of the month.  I do include property taxes, etc. and not just credit cards,
  2. Find a few blogs to read every day.  You never know where the next tip or bit of inspiration to get you through the day comes from.  Some of my favorites are Blogging Away Debt, Beachgirl’s Budget Blog, Windy City Blues and Counting My Pennies.
  3. Make a Monthly and Weekly Budget.  You don’t need a fancy system for this.  You can use a notebook, the back of an envelope or stolen napkins from the washroom at the gas station – it really doesn’t matter.  Write down how much you take in each month and how much you are obligated to payout.
  4. Prioritize.  Easier said than done.  What items can you not go without each month (e.g. health insurance, prescriptions, utility bills); what items can you do without (e.g. weekly dinner out); and what items can you focus on trimming either by competitively shopping or seeking a reduction in the bill (see my lower your cable bill article).
  5. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Goals.  For the month of September, I’m looking to add no new debt.  I realize that sounds crazy, but it’s the only realistic goal given what I know the income and expense outlook is for Sept.  In October, I’m looking to pay our 2009 tax bill.  Long-term I’d like to have no debt other than the mortgage…but that’s a long way off!

This is my starting point and it may be different for you.  Yes, you can get into the “what do I pay off first?!?” conversation and we will.  For now, let’s just call a spade a spade and in this case, the spade is buried pretty deep in debt.

Layaway Plans are Back! Stores offering layaway service

Layaway plans are back for the consumer just in time for holiday shopping.  For those of you who missed this lovely store feature, layaway started during The Great Depression when people simply didn’t have the cash to make a purchase all at once.  Layaway started to phase out during the 1980’s and by the 1990’s with stores offering their own store credit cards – and making millions – allowing consumers to overspend, the cost of offering layaway simply became cement boots to retailers.  After all, you can’t make more money off of layaway, you can’t “count” the purchase until it is fully made for quarterly sales numbers and most of all…people tend to be more prudent in shopping.

What is layaway?  It’s putting money down on items at the store that are then saved for you in the storeroom allowing you to make payments over time.  Interest isn’t charged but some stores do charge a nominal layaway fee ($5).

With consumer credit and wallets tightening and holiday shopping around the corner, layaway looks to be a popular option.  Get the items you want now – ok, put on hold for you now – and pay in bits at the store until the balance is paid in-full.  Once paid in-full, you take the items home with you. 

Tips for buying on layaway:

  1. Get a copy of the store’s layaway policies and staple it to your receipt
  2. Make sure you understand the policies such as maximum time between payments / schedule of payments, late fee policies, refund and exchange policies, markdowns on sale prices, loss or damage of items while in the layaway room
  3. Be realistic in what you can afford over time and what you put on layaway
  4. Keep clear and accurate records of payments made (staple them to the original receipt and layaway policy statement signed) in case you have disputes later.
  5. When going to the store to make a payment use the direct in-out method.  Walk into the store and directly to the layaway counter to make the payment and then walk out and get back into your car.  Do not browse, sample, sniff, touch… in and out.  Once you are back in the car the chances of going back into the store to shop greatly decrease.

Don’t forget that until you payoff the items in layaway the store has your money and merchandise.  If the store goes out of business while you’re still paying you could be out both the cash and goods so only deal with reputable businesses.

Stores such as Walmart did away with layaway years ago but Kmart kept this feature of frugality.  Kmart, Burlington Coat Factory, TJ Maxx and Marshall’s have layaway plans.  If you know of other stores that have layaway service plans – let us know in the comment field!

How to Lower Your Cable Bill in 4 Easy Steps

I’ve been a Comcast customer for years and in looking for ways to get a handle on the household expenses I went looking for a way to lower the cable bill.  Some say you can plot to negotiate a lower cable bill, I say just ask for a lower cable bill.  There is no harm in asking and if you’ve done your research on the competition you can lower your rates or stay at “the best” rate by simply asking every 6-12 months.

Today I’m happy to say I reduced our monthly bill by $97 or 41% per month.  Over the course of 12 months that’s $1164 that stays in my bank account and flows to the bottom line.  Whoo!

Technically my husband has been a Comcast customer with the cable, internet and phone.  I’ve had a separate bill for my home office phone lines.  I work from home so phone and internet are vital and for our sanity, so is cable.

How did I lower my cable bill?  Here are the steps I took:

  1. I called AT&T to ask for the new customer package rate for 3 phone lines, cable and internet.  I explained I was currently a Comcast customer.  The AT&T new customer rates were far better than what we’re currently paying with Comcast.
  2. Next I called the Comcast number 1-800-934-6489 and selected the options to “upgrade” my account.  This gets you to the sales group.
  3. I asked what the current upgrade specials are and “best prices” and upon finding that they couldn’t beat AT&T explained that I’d been a long-time customer and was tired of watching my rates go up and went through the AT&T quote I was given.  I was then transferred to the Customer Retention group – BINGO!!
  4. Once in the Customer Retention group I once again explained my situation, AT&T rates and asked for my calbeasked what the best rates were for the Comcast Triple Play (phone, internet, cable).  The restul was $99 for the first 12 months; additional phone lines are $10 each and additional DVR’s per TV are $8 each.  No contract like a cell phone for 12 months.  The rep said the rate will go up in month 13 by $35.  At that point I’ll go back to step one and start again.

I’ve already put a reminder in my calendar for August 2011 to call and ask for a lower cable bill to keep. 


2009 Personal finance resolutions

With every new year we set resolutions.  Losing the weight of debt on your shoulders, trimming the fat from the budget and toning up assets should rank at the top of lists for 2009. 

Let’s face it – 2008 was a real financial stinker.   401k’s lost value, home values fell, credit card debt skyrocketed, unemployment, salary cuts… drink a dixie cup of cheap champagne and say good riddance to 2008.  2009 is the year to get your personal financial house back in order.

Here are some resolutions for thought:

Cutback on Credit Card Usage
Tuck the plastic away and pay cash.  Yes, cash.  It’s that paper and coin stuff in your wallet or purse.  Become friend again with George, Abe and Andrew.  If you aren’t a cash-carrying fan, use your bank debit card.  You’ll be less likely to spend the extra $5-$50 if you know it’s coming directly out of your bank account.

Make a Budget
Strange as it may seems, many people don’t know where their money goes each month.  If this happens to be you… it’s as easy as a notebook and a pen.  Write down what you spend every day for a month.  Track every penny from the electric bill to tipping the parking attendant.  Once you know where you spend, you can start making adjustments.  Be realistic and be ready to cut things – even if it’s for a month – to see if you really miss it.

Make a Commitment to Know and Improve Your Credit Score
If you don’t know what your credit score is, you need to.  It’s like knowing your weight.  If you don’t know what the number is and set a goal, how will you know when you get there?  Find your credit score using sites such as MyFico which is free an provides you with a full credit report.  Improving your credit score by paying bills on time and lowering debt will save you money in the long-run by being rewarded with lower interest rates.  Tip: Mark your calendar to order a credit report every six months to track your progress.

Pay More Than the Minimum
Yep.  If you are only making the minimum payment on accounts, not only are you paying more in interest but you aren’t taking the opportunity to improve your credit score.  Try and pay and extra $10-$15 on credit cards and if you are extremely disciplined, try and pay an extra 5-10% on your mortgage payment (if not each month, every few months).  Over time these extra few dollars can save you hundreds if not thousands in interest.

Create a Snowball Debt Payment Plan
If you don’t know what a snowball debt payment plan is, read past entries to get started.  It’s quite simple to do and will provide motivation and a great deal of satisfaction in addition to saving you – – – – money!  More for you, less for the credit card company.

Create “Found Money” Situations
Maybe it’s participating in a few focus groups over the year or cleaning out the garage and selling items on Craigslist or eBay.  Maybe it’s finding a job on the weekend or a freelance opportunity.  Make 2009 the time to earn some extra income to apply to your snowball debt plan.

Contribute the Maximum to Retirement Plans
The stock market is in the tank but we know it will come back so why not be buying when stocks are on sale?  Invest in yourself and put the maximum you can towards retirement.  If your company has a 401(k) contribution match – take advantage of the free money.  Don’t forget to contribute to your IRA too!

Start an Automatic Savings Plan
Even if it’s $25 a paycheck, put it aside in an ING savings account.  Having it set aside for emergencies will provide a great deal of comfort.

Get Smart About Your Personal Finances
Don’t assume you know everything or stick your head in the sand trying to hide from it.  Face your fear in the comfort of your own chair or in the library.  Read a few self-help personal finance books.  You will learn a few tips along the way and stay disciplined.  I’ve listed a few books below to help get you started.


Bonus Round Resolutions
I haven’t made it this far but someday I will!!!  The two most wonderful resolutions one could possible do is to save 10% of each and every paycheck and to make an extra mortgage payment each year.   This is a long-term goal of mine and not one that I’ll be able to achieve in 2009… but there’s always 2010.


Black Friday abandoned for a Blue Christmas

I’m not sure how anyone else out there is feeling but I can say it’s pretty darn grim at our house. In past years, Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) has been a bonanza for retailers and consumers with deep discounts and super savings.

According to a new survey out, 37-41% of people surveyed said they will shop on Black Friday, but expect their overall purchases or ‘spend’ to be a lot less than in prior years.   How much less?  The average shopper will spend $546 this as compared to $637 last year.

What isn’t in the study is the number of shoppers buying at places other than retailers surveyed and reporting.  There are hidden numbers – such as purchases made on Craigslist and sites like Etsy.  I’ve spent $37 so far for Christmas – on eBay.  I’m trolling Craigslist for certain second-hand items as well.  Sure, I’ll probably spend a little in the traditional stores, but selectively and with a great deal of hesitation. 

For those of you who are hitting the stores, The Wallet has a great article on saving your receipts for potentially more savings if retailers slash prices even further during the holiday shopping season.