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  • Tips for Managing Your Gift Box

    I’m a big advocate of keeping a “Gift Box,” which is basically a stash of items you can give as gifts so you don’t have to run out on each gift-giving occasion and pay full-price. It’s a great way to save money and reduce stress.

    Here are some tips for getting the most out of your gift box:

    If you buy a gift on discount with someone specific in mind, use a post-it to tag the gift so you’ll remember your intentions when you go through the box. You can even wrap the gift and put a gift tag on it, but I personally prefer to look at the gift one last time before wrapping it up.

    Don’t hold onto gifts for too long. They might go out of style, or be discontinued, and at some point, it’ll be embarrassing to give them as gifts.

    Don’t buy more than one or two of the same item. You don’t want to accidentally give the same gift to someone more than once! The exception to this rule would be if you see a great deal on an item you want to give to a group of people – a good example would be Amazon’s inexpensive jewelry. During the holidays, I picked up several of these crystal bracelets for less than $7 each and gave them to my son’s preschool teachers.

    When in doubt, don’t gift. If you’re not sure if you should give something, don’t. It’s better to be out a little money and time, than to be embarrassed about the gift you’re giving.

    Don’t be afraid to re-gift. If you receive something that’s just not for you, there’s nothing wrong with giving it to someone else, as long as the original giver will never know, the item is in good condition, and it’s appropriate for the new recipient.

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    Using what I have: Wedding China

    When I met my husband, he had some colorful plastic Heller plates (like the ones pictured here) that he’d inherited from his parents, and we’ve been using them for over ten years now. They’re sturdy, almost unbreakable, and the lip on the side keeps food contained – obviously, they’re perfect for kids.

    However, ever since BPA in plastic became a known health issue, I’ve been wary of plastic. And this set is old.

    So I looked around for alternatives for quite some time – I considered glass, melamine, Corelle, wood, and other materials. But they were all too expensive, raised new health concerns, or too fragile.

    For a while, I was paralyzed by indecision. What was the right thing to do?

    Finally, I decided on the easiest alternative: using what I already have, i.e., the lovely set of plain white bone china that we registered for when we got married. We were lucky enough to receive 12 complete place settings. Four are still in their boxes, so I actually have replacements if they are necessary. The kids are old enough now that I figured we’d just see what happens. If we end up with a series of broken plates, I’ll have to buy something.

    But in the meantime, I’m pleased. I’ve always loved my wedding china, and it makes me happy to use it every day. Plus, we saved quite a bit of money by not buying anything new. ^_^

    How to Save Money on Contact Lenses

    Savanna wrote in recently to ask about saving money on contact lenses, and it so happened that I was pricing Acuvue Oasys lenses at the time. So here are some tips on saving on contacts:

    • See if your doctor can get it for less. It turns out that my prescription is so strong that my insurance provider actually considers my contacts “medically necessary.” That means they cover a significantly larger portion of the cost than they would otherwise, so it’s cheapest for me to get my lenses through my eye doctor.
    • Shop around. When I was growing up, there was no question that we’d get our glasses and contact lenses through our doctor. But your doctor should give you a written prescription and you can take it anywhere to be filled. The type of lens you need should be written on the prescription, which makes it easy to order online. You’ll have to enter your doctor’s information as the prescription will be verified with them.
    • Look for coupon codes. The last two times I ordered contact lenses online, I ordered from using coupon codes that had been sent to me via email that reduced the cost by 20%. There are also frequent offers for free shipping at the different sites that sell contacts.
    • Go through shopping portals. As with all online shopping, I recommend going through a shopping portal like Ebates or Mr. Rebates to get cash back. These sites also list coupon codes for discounts and free or reduced shipping.
    • Take advantage of your employer’s Flexible Spending Plan. Contact lenses and contact solution are expenses that qualify for reimbursement from tax-advantaged medical reimbursement accounts, so you can pay for them with pre-tax money if your employer offers these accounts. When calculating the amount to be deducted from your paycheck throughout the year, be sure to include these expenses.
    • Take proper care of your lenses to maximize their use. Ask your doctor about the best way to care for your contact lenses, as different types of lenses require different types of care.
    • Get free contact solution through The Drugstore Game. Contact lens solution is something I no longer pay for because it can frequently be obtained for free through The Drugstore Game. Even if you prefer a brand that is usually not free, you should be able to at least get it discounted after coupons and store rewards.

    Five tips for getting reimbursed for faulty products

    I love the internet, not least because of online contact forms. When there’s a problem with a product, I just hop online and find the manufacturer or seller’s contact form to let them know of the problem. Here are five tips to keep in mind when writing your note:

    1. Be polite. Remember that the person who will be reading your note is likely not personally responsible for the problem, no matter how aggravating, and isn’t deserving of a diatribe. I always start my notes Dear Sir or Madam, end with Sincerely, and use polite language in between.

    2. Be concise. You have to explain enough of the problem so the reader understands the cause of your dissatisfaction, but your complaint may be overlooked if you ramble.

    3. Provide product information. Sometimes the online form requires you to input the pertinent information – like an order number, product code, etc. If it doesn’t, provide those facts that seem important to prove your complaint (for example, when complaining about a packaging error, I have included the UPC code, lot number, and location of purchase). Don’t discard the product until you have heard back, since companies sometimes ask for items to be sent back (at their cost) so they can examine the defect.

    4. State your desired remedy. Whether you want a full refund, a partial refund, a free product coupon to replace the faulty product, or some other remedy, you should state that clearly in your note.

    5. Provide your contact information. In some cases, like with an online purchase, this may be unnecessary if you provide the order number because the company shouldn’t need more info to issue a refund to your credit card. But if you requested a coupon or something that needs to be sent to you, provide the appropriate information so that the company can fulfill your request.

    By following these guidelines, I save my family a few dollars per month, on average – and as we’ve discussed before, small amounts add up!

    Four small things I do to save money

    I do a few things that result in small savings, but that psychologically make a big difference to me. Here are three four of them:

    1. Buy gift cards at Ralphs for stores that don’t offer rewards. My main credit card is an American Express Blue Cash card, which gives 5% cash back for grocery purchases (after the first $6,500 in total purchases each year). Ralphs Rewards gives me $1 for every 100 points I earn (usually 1 point per dollar spent; Ralphs is our Kroger affiliate here). That means I get 6% back when I buy gift cards at Ralphs. I shop a decent amount at Target and Amazon, so I buy gift cards for those stores there at Ralphs. Amazon doesn’t participate in any cash back sites, so this is pretty much the only way I can save extra money there. And while Target offers 5% back every day when you use their credit card, I really don’t want another card. So buying gift cards while I’m at the store anyway helps save me money.

    2. Use online banking instead of sending checks. I save on postage by using my bank’s online payment service instead of mailing checks. It also saves me money on checks, since I use fewer of them and need to reorder much less often.

    3. Redeem cans and bottles for CRV (California Redemption Value – $0.05 for small bottles and $0.10 for large ones). We don’t drink that much soda or bottled water, so it takes me 3 to 4 months to collect enough to redeem for about $10. But still, that’s $40 a year I’m getting back, and it doesn’t take much effort.

    4. Use reusable grocery bags. Some stores give a credit when you bring in your bags, so I’ve become quite good about remembering them. The one exception is Target, where I find the cashiers extremely unreliable about giving me the credit, and where I have a hard time remembering to remind them (because I have kids vying for my attention, or there’s a coupon issue that makes me forget, etc.).

    I find that these small steps help me to be mindful of all savings, no matter how big or small. Each step by itself may not save much, but they all add up to a big savings in total.

    What small steps do you take to save money?