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  • Morning Coffee: Best Last Minute Gift Ideas

    Need a gift at the last minute? My first recommendation – because it’s what I would want – is an Amazon.com gift certificate:you can email it or print it out. If you’re not comfortable with the gift card route, you could order a gift subscription to a magazine the recipient would enjoy all year long – Amazon has some holiday magazine deals,including Food Network Magazine for $10 after instant $5 discount, and quite a few $5 subscriptions,including Health and Golf. If you have a chance to get out of the house today, pick up a copy of the current issue, wrap it, and give it to the recipient with a note about the subscription. Disclosure: I’m an Amazon affiliate, so any purchase you make after entering Amazon through a link on Chief Family Officer supports this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

    Is it the last day for Amazon’s Holiday Toy Lightning Deals?I actually just noticed that it’s the “Year-End” event, so the deals may continue for another week. Today’s deals include a couple of board games – I didn’t know they even have a Star Wars: The Clone Wars edition of Monopoly (4 p.m. PST). I hope I remember to check in to see the Lightning Deal price – the current price is $19.99, so I’m hoping for less than $8. The deals start now and the last one is at 5 p.m. PST.

    PampersPampers Gifts to Grow has revised their rewards program, but it’s essentially the same deal: you enter codes, which convert to points, and then redeem your points for prizes. The biggest revision has been in the calculation of points, which have been multiplied by 10 to avoid fractions (as I recall, some codes were worth 0.5 or X.5 points). Sometime last year, they began including shipping and handling into the point total, so you don’t have to pay separately for that anymore, which is nice. I noticed that there seem to be more choices for rewards right now, so if you haven’t checked your account in a while, it might be worth a visit. While you’re there, use codes welcome2village and HappyHolidays10 to get 10 points each. Links via MySavings.com.

    IKEA will have one day deals starting December 26 through January 3. You can preview them here to decide what day(s) to go. You may also be able to get free food for the kids on those days (selected stores only).

    Get a free sample of Huggies Pull-Ups from Costco (membership not required).

    Growing Up Gabel has recipes from 1972 for a Swedish Tea Wreath and Cinnamon Bread.

    Common Sense with Money discusses Walgreens’ (lack of an) official coupon policy.

    Get a printable coupon for $1 off College Inn Chicken Broth 32-oz ( FF or IE). (Via Printable Coupons and Deals.)

    That Went Well is giving away a $100 Target gift card. Ends 12/26.

    Realm of Prosperity has a list of types of credit card charges – think things like speeding tickets and *cough* adult items – that could have negative repercussions with your credit card issuer. (Via Wisebread.)

    All Financial Matters crunches the numbers to show what a depressing decade the 2000’s were in the stock market.

    Skimbaco Lifestyle is giving away a $25 VISA card. Ends 12/26.


    Banner via Escalate Media Affiliate Network

    Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate and/or referral links, and may refer to items that were sent to me for review. However, all opinions are my own. You can read Chief Family Officer’s full disclaimer and disclosure policy here.

    Afternoon Coffee: Some Children’s Swine Flu Vaccines Recalled (But Don’t Panic)

    Just an FYI for parents: Some swine flu vaccine shots for children have been recalled because their potency has diminished. According to the article, there’s no cause for concern if your child got one or two doses of the recalled vaccine, but if you were planning to get the vaccine now, you may want to check with your doctor’s office to make sure they have some available.

    Parenting Squad is giving away an HP TouchSmart 600. Ends 12/18.

    Gourmet Mom-on-the-Go is giving away a Kitchen Aid commercial-grade Mixer. Ends 12/18.

    A possible new trend: Over at A Full Cup, someone noticed that NY & Co. changed the terms of their store charge card to require a $1 monthly fee for issuing a paper statement. I wonder if other card issuers will begin doing the same to urge customers to switch to paperless statements.

    Fabulessly Frugal is giving away a $50 Kohl’s gift card. Ends 12/19.

    Maybe Golf Digest is worried about the Tiger effect: you can get a one-year subscription free via Rewards Gold.

    Printable Grocery Coupons and Deals has details on how to get a free bag of Halo Healthsome Treats dog biscuits.

    The Carnival of Personal Finance #235: The Cinderella Edition is up at Well-Heeled, and includes my post on medical bills and personal finance.

    Home Made Simple
    Banner via MySavings.com

    Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate and/or referral links, and may refer to items that were sent to me for review. However, all opinions are my own. You can read Chief Family Officer’s full disclaimer and disclosure policy here.

    Morning Coffee: Are you going to the movies more?

    Yesterday’s LA Times had an interesting article on how much more money Hollywood has made on movies because of the recession. I’ve seen exactly four movies in the theater in the last four years, but apparently many people now consider movie-going to be the best value for their entertainment dollar.

    Today’s Amazon Holiday Lightning Dealswhich have already started, include an Indiana Jones Lego set at 8 a.m. PST, Mega Bloks at 4 p.m. PST, and jewelry and DVDs throughout the day. Disclosure: I’m an Amazon affiliate, so any purchase you make after entering Amazon through a link on Chief Family Officer supports this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

    CVS shoppers: Keep an eye out for high value Huggies coupons at the scanner and at the end of your receipt. I got one for $2 off baby wipes (tub or refill), and there are apparently $2 off Supreme diapers and Pull Ups printing as well. These can be combined with manufacturer coupons (there were several in the 11/15 SS), but have a short expiration date (2 weeks; the expiration date is rolling and the coupons should be printing all week).

    We just got a pre-approved application for the Chase Slate card, which I’d never heard of, so I was happy to see this review by Bargaineering, which helped me figure out that the card isn’t for us. We also received a pre-approved application for the Chase Sapphire card, which was reviewed by The Dough Roller – I’m still on the fence about this one. We’ve been thinking about adding another Visa/Mastercard and/or replacing our mileage Visa card and well, I’m still thinking . . .

    According to this article, women veterans don’t get the same recognition as their male counterparts, even though they are exposed to many of the same hazards and conditions in combat zones. I’m checking out a couple of the resources mentioned to see if I want to start contributing to them: American Women Veterans and Lawyers Serving Warriors.

    Common Sense with Money explains how to get a Sonicare toothbrush for just $14.99 at Walgreens. I started using Sonicare toothbrushes nearly ten years ago on the advice of my dentist, and it’s greatly improved my dental health. Plus, they actually whiten your teeth a little. And $14.99 is an incredible price for this toothbrush.

    Get a printable coupon for a free box of Special K cereal when you buy a box of Special K Original 12 oz. or Special K Low Fat Granola (registration required; expires 1/31/10). You should be able to combine the coupon with another Kellogg’s cereal coupon, like those at Coupons.com. (Via Bargain Briana.)

    Get a printable coupon for $1 off 3 Lean Cuisine entrees (FF or IE). (Via Printable Coupons and Deals.)

    Request a coupon for $10 off any ham 8 pounds or larger from the Honeybaked Ham Store (I found my original $7 coupon in Parents). Expires 12/31.

    Coupons Inc.
    Banner via Logical Media

    Guest Post: Types of Reward Credit Cards and How to Evaluate Them

    This is a guest post by Mr Credit Card from www.askmrcreditcard.com. Mr Credit Card reviews credit cards. He has also compiled a list of what he thinks are the best credit card deals available.

    Firstly, I would like to thank Cathy for giving me the opportunity to write this guest post.

    If you are like Cathy and have no credit card debt (or rather, you pay off your credit card bills in full every month), then you should be taking advantage of rewards that credit cards offer. In this post, I’m going to run through the types of rewards (mainly reward programs and cash rebate cards) that are available and and how to evaluate them.

    But first, let me just say that there are probably three types of reward cards that folks should consider. And your choice really depends on how you would use them.

    The first category are airline credit cards. These cards (to be honest) are only for those who are true frequent fliers of a particular airline. For example, if you are always flying on United, then there is a case to be made for getting a United Airlines credit card. The advantages of getting an airline card are:

    • Most will allow you to earn double miles for every dollar you spend on the card when you buy their airline ticket
    • The higher end cards allow you to earn points towards elite membership status
    • The higher end cards also have perks like free companion ticket once a year
    • Allows you to use your card for club lounge access

    The main disadvantage of these cards are:

    • They charge an annual fee (sometimes over one hundred dollars)
    • Their interest rates aren’t particularly attractive (never carry a balance with airline credit cards)

    It is obvious that unless you are a jetsetting business executive or or business person that flies a lot, you are better off getting regular rewards credit cards.

    The second type of reward cards are those offered by the credit card issuers themselves. Most credit card issuers have reward programs that are more well rounded and cater to those who want to earn points for rewards, but are not exactly frequent fliers. Here is what a typical reward program would look like:

    Typical Reward Program – A typical reward program has a few types of rewards. They are :

    • Travel Rewards
    • Gift Cards
    • Merchandise
    • Cash Rebates
    • Charities

    Travel Rewards – Let’s start with travel rewards. Traditionally, this has been the most popular form of rewards. After all, who would turn down a free airline ticket? There are a few types of travel rewards that are available in any given reward program.

    • Transfer points into air miles- Only a couple of programs allow you to transfer reward points you have earned to air miles. Examples would be the American Express Membership Rewards Program and the Starwood Preferred Guest Program. This form of travel rewards would suit those who are members of multiple airlines’ frequent flier programs.
    • Use Points and Book Flights – This is the more traditional way of using points for air tickets. With a frequent flier program, you are subject to the airlines’ blackout dates and quotas for that particular flight for those who redeem air miles. The credit card reward programs always say that their has more flexibility because they do not have to use a particular airline but can use any airline. An example of this system is to use 25,000 points for a round trip domestic economy flight.

      But this system is not all rosy either. Very often, you have to book your flights 21 days in advance, stay a Saturday night and very often, you will not get your preferred flights.

      If you are a last minute type of person or do not like weekend stays, or if you like searching for your own deals, then this method of reward redemption probably does not suit you

    • Do Your Own Booking – To get around the issue of restrictions, many programs now allow you to use points to book any flights you want on your own. You can then submit your expenses and get a statement credit. The Discover Escape Card uses this method, as does the Amex Blue Sky. Some like Citi’s thank you network allow you to book any flights or hotels from expedia.com. This method of redeeming points for travel rewards will suit the true bargain hunter because you can hunt for the best deals. This method is probably the most flexible.

      However, please be aware that some programs allow you the flexibility to book whatever flights and hotels you want but you have to use their own “in-house travel agent” which itself is subject to the seats and quotas made available to them by the airlines and wholesalers.

    Merchandise Rewards – Credit card reward programs also allow you to exchange points for merchandise. Most programs are stocked up with many items from Apple iPods to coffee makers to digital cameras. I personally prefer not to use my points to exchange for such items because I feel you always need too many points for the particular price points. Still, if you do not want to pay for a new coffee machine and you have enough points, that’s one way to get a free one.

    For merchandise, it is really hard to evaluate which program is better. The items keep changing and the points requirement may change from time to time as well.

    Gift Cards – You can also exchange points for gift cards. There are some aspects to consider before you a card. The better programs allow you to exchange for example, 1500 points for a $15 card, or 5000 points for a $50 card. The not so good ones require, say, 2000 points for a $15 card or 6500 points for a 5000 card.

    If you are a gift card junkie, then the thing that you want to watch out for is if your favorite retailers are on the merchants list. And also, how many merchants do they have as their partners?

    Cash Rebates – If you are looking to earn cash rebates, I would suggest getting a dedicated cash back credit card. That is because most reward programs pay less than 1% cash rebates (you get 1% for the most basic cash rebate cards!) and only pay 1% when you redeem for lots of points! You should not even bother with them.

    Charities – There will be some of you who are very charitably inclined and would like to donate cash or points to charities. Well, most reward programs do have charity partners. Some like Membership Rewards and Capital One have over a million charities that you can donate to. Others have less, but may have exactly the charity that you were thinking about.

    Other perks – Credit Card issuers have become innovative in the types of rewards that they offer. Citi’s Thank You Network for example, allows students to use points to pay off their student loans. They also allow you to use points to reduce your mortgage principle.

    Online Shopping – Cathy has pointed out that she uses Swag Bucks for her searches and makes money by referring friends and earning Swag Bucks. Well, credit card companies have the same features. Swag Bucks is essentially a big affiliate shopping portal. Credit card companies have the same arrangements with merchants as well. So for example, if you have a Discover Card and you decide to shop at landsend.com, rather than going to landsend.com directly, you could log in to your Discover account and go to landsend.com from there. If you do that, you could earn 5% rebates off what you spend and charge on your Discover Card.

    Other cards like Chase are now beginning to implement such programs. Others like shopamex.com do not let you earn discounts or cash rebates, but allow you to earn extra points or use your reward points to shop for what you want.

    How Do You Choose a Reward Card?

    The key to choosing the right reward card is to actually know:

    • How much you spend a year?
    • What sort of rewards you would like to redeem your points for?
    • Whether these rewards are available in the program

    If you do not intend to use reward points for travel or any of the types of rewards available in a typical reward program, then the third type of reward card to consider are cash back credit cards. In fact, if you combine the right card with coupon clipping, you will save even more at the supermarket.Here are some tips to choose the right one:

    • Choose cards that pay more than 1% rebates – Generic cards pay 1% rebates for every dollar that you charge to the card. Avoid these, there are better ones out there
    • Look for cards that pay 3% to 5% on things like gasoline supermarket, travel, restaurants etc
    • Make sure you can earn unlimited rebates
    • Decide how you want to receive your cash rebates – some send your checks automatically, some require that you request a check and some automatically give you a statement credit

    How to choose a cash back credit card that’s just right for you?

    The first thing you have to do is to write down all that you charge to your card. And also categorize your spending into the following categories:

    • Travel
    • Gasoline
    • Supermarket
    • Dining
    • Internet Shopping

    There are other categories that you can slice and dice but most cash back cards come with these spending categories. The next step would be to do research on the cash back cards that major issuers have and see which card will give you the most rebates. The is a very tedious task but well worth it because with the right card, you can earn a few hundred dollars in cash rebates in a year.

    So I guess that’s it from me. Remember, if you pay your bills in full every month, then take advantage of rewards that credit card companies offer. If you are the sort of person that cannot control your spending when you have a credit card in your wallet, then you should perhaps stop using a credit card and just use cash. Just bear in mind that using cash may not work for everybody!.

    Here are some other resources for reward programs:

    FlyerTalk Forum
    Insider Flyer

    Something I wish I’d known three months ago: Some credit card issuers do not allow merchants to impose a maximum

    As you might recall, back in March, Marc and I bought a new car. I had intended to make a down payment of over $10,000 on my credit card, but the sales manager told me that the maximum I could pay with a credit card was $5,000. When I mentioned this on CFO, I received a comment from MITBeta stating that Visa and Mastercard do not allow merchants to impose minimum or maximum limits on purchases.

    I had known that merchants can’t impose a minimum purchase amount, and that the mom and pop stores that have signs that say “Credit card purchase requires $10 minimum” were in violation of their merchant agreement. But it never occurred to me that the opposite might also be true.

    I was reminded of this issue by this Bankrate.com article. The author quotes a Visa rep confirming that their “rules require merchants to always honor valid Visa cards regardless of purchase amount — large or small.” (Mastercard has the same rules, but American Express allows merchants to limit transactions.)

    If I had known this back in March, I definitely would have insisted on being allowed to make the full down payment that I wanted to make. And, according to the Bankrate article, the dealership would most likely have given in when I informed them that I would pursue the issue with Visa. The article’s author points out that the dealer might want to re-negotiate a deal under such circumstances, but it wouldn’t have worked in our case. Marc and I had made clear when negotiating our old car’s trade-in value that we were prepared to walk away.

    We don’t plan to buy a new car for at least another five years, but I plan on paying cash for that car. In fact, I’ve already started saving money for it each month. And in five years, I’ll be paying for that new car with a credit card!

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