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Posts Tagged ‘frugal’

Last Friday I posed a question to Lifestyles of the Organized readers: Do gift cards help us or hurt us? After a bit of thinking this week, along with some great responses from Autumnesf (from Autumn Asks Why), Christina (from Nifty Thrifty Homemaker), Kimm Boes (from Reinvented), and Michelle, I put together a list of things to consider when you receive your next gift card in the mail.

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1. Try to spend the exact amount the gift card is worth

If you receive a gift card in the mail for $10, try to buy something that costs $10, or as close as you can get. The problem is, sometimes the stores make it tricky. Christina pointed out:

I received an e-mail from JC Penny in December for $15 off $15 or more. But almost everything I liked was priced at $14.99, meaning I needed to spend at least some money.

So if you can’t spend the exact amount, what can you do? See the next point.

2. Buy something for your children

It goes without saying that kids’ merchandise is considerably cheaper than that for adults. If you can’t find something for yourself within the price range of the gift card, then try to buy something for your children. Christina (from above) bought snow pants for her daughter. Autumnesf tried this tactic as well:

Luckily right now I have a 4 year old. This means when the JCP $10 comes I get her something and have yet to spend over $2 out of pocket. And she looks smashing in the dress or shoes I find. So, for me it is currently a plus. But when she gets older I have no idea what I would use those $10 for!

Michelle also spent her gift card money on her kids:

I have always had good luck with them [gift cards] because I have 2 young kids, so most of the time I get a cute outfit or pjs and only spend a couple of dollars.

So it definitely seems like the way to go is to use those tempting gift cards for inexpensive children’s items!

3. Use the gift card to get higher quality items

Have you ever bought a cheap pair of shoes because you were trying to be frugal, only to have those shoes fall apart a few months later? It’s in cases like these where gift cards could come in handy. You’re given extra money that can push you up to the level of being able to afford the more expensive shoes that last much longer. Autumnesf had a similar experience:

Once I was in need of bed pillows when I got the card. They had a sale of buy one get one for a penny. So with the card I ended up getting a higher quality set of pillows for the same price I would have paid anyways…so that one worked in my favor as I was already going to spend the money anyways.

4. Hold on to the gift card until you can spend it on something you actually need

My husband and I still have a Best Buy gift card (pictured above) that is now going on 2 years old. We just haven’t had anything we really need come along that we can’t get somewhere else for cheaper. So we’re waiting. Something is bound to come along at some point. Kimm Boes shared:

Lately, I’ve been saving gift cards until I NEED something (although that can be dangerous in today’s economy). This is part of my new focus on “look how little I spent”, instead of “look how much I saved.”

Just watch out for expiration dates! Sometimes gift cards last as little as one week.

5. Beware of compromising your price standards

It’s tempting to use your gift card on just about anything because it’s free money, right? But it wouldn’t really be wise to buy something that costs well above what you would ever agree to pay just because you can. Don’t compromise your frugal standards—you should still try to get great deals! And think of how much greater that deal will be using a gift card on top of it.

Reader Reflection

Kimm Boes said it best when she stated:

Gift cards are tricky little buggers. I’ve been guilty on many occasions of receiving a gift card and then immediately going to said store, determined to find something, ANYTHING to buy to use the card. Usually this results in a purchase that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. And that item almost always costs more than the value of the gift card, while I rationalize, “look how much I saved.”

I think we’re all guilty of this! So get out there and try to beat the stores at their own game…spend your free gift cards wisely and truly save.

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It’s likely that at some point during this past holiday season you either gave or received a gift card. Gift cards are increasingly popular gift options because of their convenience, flexibility, versatility, and small size. This year I received one gift card (for Kohl’s Department Store) as a Christmas gift. I also got a $10 gift card in the mail from J.C. Penney in early December. I haven’t spent the Kohl’s gift card yet, but I did spend the J.C. Penney card. Let me tell you a story about how that went.

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How three annual shopping trips add up

I my home town we have a very small-sized J.C. Penney. I almost never go there. It’s crowded, there’s not a huge selection, and frankly I don’t think the prices are all that great. But every year I’ve lived here I’ve received a $10 gift card in the mail from J.C. Penney in December. How can I pass up free money, right? So each December I make my annual trip to this store I really don’t like in order to spend this ‘free’ money with only a vague plan as to how I’m going to spend it.

Each year I’ve purchased one clothes item. The first year it was a lace skirt, the second year a pair of high dress boots, and this year a pair of black dress pants. The prices of each item before the gift card were $25 for the skirt, $40 for the boots, and $20 for the pants. How do I remember all this so well? I have a good memory. But that’s not my point. My point is in the math: $25 + $40 + $20 = $85, while $10 + $10 + $10 = $30. Now subtract $30 from $85 and you get $55. Wait a minute, I thought J.C. Penney was giving me FREE money? How did I end up spending $55?

Reader Reflection

Today I’d like pose a question to Lifestyles of the Organized readers. Do gift cards help us or hurt us in the long run? When we are trying to be frugal spenders, getting free money in the mail can be a great thing. But what happens when we spend over that free money amount? Would we have bought that item anyways with or without the gift card? In my case, I think the answer is no—I bought all three of those clothes items because of the gift card, not because I needed them or had a previous plan to buy them. But in hindsight I’ve gotten a lot of use out of those clothes…so was it a poor spending choice or not?

What do you think?

Coming up next week

After collecting some insight from readers this week, next Friday I will present some of my thoughts and yours and attempt to come up with sound solutions about how we can use our ‘free’ gift cards in a truly frugal way.

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Even though Christmas is a short week and a half away, I must confess that I am not completely finished with my shopping yet. This happens every year and I always get so frustrated with myself for leaving a couple of gifts until the last minute! Why I can’t kick the habit I do not know (you’d think writing a blog about organizing would motivate me!).

In any case, as I anxiously try to figure out these last couple of gifts to buy, I have come up with a list of common mistakes made when attempting last-minute shopping. I’ve made some of these mistakes and perhaps you have too. What are they? Read on.

christmas-cactus

Mistake #1: Attempting last-minute shopping

Okay, so I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but this is truly something to avoid at all costs. Some people claim they find amazing eleventh hour deals and perhaps they do, but I’m sure these deals come at a price: extreme stress.

My brother had all his Christmas presents purchased and wrapped before Thanksgiving and now he’s resting easy while many others are frantically searching for that perfect gift in crowded malls where products are picked over, people are cranky, and so are you. I’m not to the point yet where I am frantic, but it would be nice to not have to worry right now when I also have to bake, wrap, pack, and plan.

Mistake #2: Buying a gift just for the sake of buying a gift

This is a tough one. Have you ever bought a gift for someone just because you had to? Of course, we’ve all done this at some point. I have really grown to dislike this concept. I’ve met people recently who have a novel approach to gift buying: they only buy a gift for a person if they actually have something in mind. Furthermore, they may do it anytime of the year, not necessarily at Christmas.

I know, I know, what do you do if you will feel terrible not giving that person anything for Christmas? Well, consider this: perhaps if you have so much trouble year after year buying gifts for a particular person, you should consider just talking with them and mutually agreeing to stop exchanging presents. Gifts should be meaningful, not forced. And who wants to receive a gift they don’t even want anyway?

Mistake #3: Relying on the gift card

This approach is often a preferred solution to mistake #2. What is easier than buying a gift card? Then the recipient can take it to their favorite store and buy whatever they want. Now, I admit I’ve bought and received gift cards with success. But there are times when gift cards go too far.

For several years my cousins and I would have a name-picking gift exchange, brought on by our parents. At first it was a lot of fun—we were young and good friends and we had ideas of what to get each other. But then we started growing up, drifting apart, and the ideas stopped. Enter gift cards, the easy solution to having no idea what to get a person. But the problem was, several of my cousins went this route, to the point where we were just exchanging gift cards. Now that’s just silly if you ask me. We no longer exchange presents anymore, by the way.

Mistake #4: Spending more because you’re desperate

I made this mistake just a few days ago, which gave me the idea in the first place for this post. I was trying to find one last gift for a particular person and when I found it, I was met with a dilemma. It was a CD, but it was priced at $18. I NEVER pay $18 for a CD! But for some reason I felt justified doing so this time around because, gosh, it’s Christmas and I needed a gift!

The problem is, if you do this for everything, you will undermine all the frugal shopping choices you made throughout the year. The last thing you want to do is try to shop responsibly all year long, but then somehow forget your spending policies around Christmas time. If you normally only spend $10 on a new blouse, then don’t buy a $50 blouse for your Aunt Martha just because you need something to buy her, you didn’t plan ahead, or you are just giving up.

Reader Reflection

I don’t want this post to sound negative or pessimistic. On the contrary, I’d like it be though-provoking and cause you to consider how you shop in these last days before Christmas. Even if you can’t make significant changes this year, you can decide for next year and hopefully end up in a better situation. Have any of you encountered the four different shopping mistakes I mentioned above? Do you have any advice to give or stories to share?

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