Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do Good: Army of Women

If you are a woman and you've been looking for a way to make a difference, consider signing up for Army of Women and their landmark study Health of Women. It is a giant, comprehensive women's health study focusing on finding causes of women's cancers. They need both cancer patients and survivors, and women who have never had cancer. As a member you will participate in surveys and be eligible for clinical studies that will help to unlock some of the mysteries about women's health. In short, they will accumulate information from participants over time and keep track of what factors seem to affect cancer growth.

This is a great opportunity to make a difference in women's health.

Goals and resolutions

It's that time of year again when we all set goals and resolutions. I have a tendency to overreach, as I think most of us do, and end up frustrated when I can't keep up. This year I'm going to try to be a little bit more moderate in my goal setting, and set some short term and some long term goals so that I can have more of a sense of accomplishment.

1. Post to my blog at least once a week. Blogging used to be a source of encouragement and inspiration to me and I've let it fall by the wayside. Every time I say I'm going to start posting again, I try to post every day and and then give up when I can't think of anything brilliant to say. So, I'm going to post at least once a week this year, whether it's a how to, a check in, or a simple deal or charity post. I just need to keep my hand in it to keep my chops up.

2. Actively pursue gainful employment. I'm hoping to get my teaching certification in the mail by the end of January and then I am going to hit the streets and apply to substitute at every school district in the area. My goal is to be on at least 3 substitute lists by the end of February. I'm already ramping up my tutoring and part time teaching, so hopefully I'll be able to keep up that pace.

3. Increase passive income. I currently make about $1 a month from my Squidoo lenses and about $2 from performance payments on old Associated Content articles. Not exactly enough to retire on. My goal will be twofold: to create at least one new lens and one new article every month, and to try at least one new method of earning passive income every month.

4. Save another $10,000 for a downpayment on a house. Since all of my income goes directly into savings, this should be a cinch if I even maintain my current earning pace. Hopefully I can save even more.

5. Reduce the grocery budget from $300 a month to $250. We had some start up expenses when we moved cross country, but I'm getting my pantry stocked again and hopefully I can get back in the swing of saving.

I know I should probably set some health, clutter, and personal development related goals, but for now five sounds like enough. Please feel free to share your goals in the comments or to leave a link to your resolutions post.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas day and that the rest of your Christmas season is filled with peace and joy. The spirit of giving is alive and well.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Frugal Christmas shopping: Less is more

This is the second part of my series on Frugal Christmas Shopping.

Last time I focused on how to get good deals on things you knew you needed to buy. Today I'm going to get a bit more philosophical and talk a little bit about what you really need to buy. There's a tendency at the holidays to let things get a little out of control, and there's always a point of diminishing returns when it comes to joy and appreciation. There are, for example, some small children in my family who rip open every one of their gifts in about five minutes without looking at any of them, and then are immediately bored and start asking for more gifts to open. This could be seen as very anti-materialistic of them (who cares about possessions?? I just want to play!), but I think it's really more of a sign of people losing sight of what's important. This can happen to adults just as easily, maybe even moreso as we rush around trying to get our holiday preparation and shopping done. So, as with many things, the solution may be simplify, simplify, simplify. But how, you ask?

10. Sit down your spouse or significant other, and any close friends - particularly those who have a tendency to escalate gift giving - and agree ahead of time on a set number or value of gifts which will not be exceeded. Some people who care about you may be reluctant at first, but convince them that it will make you happier to get less, not more.

11. If you have a large family, or a large group of friends, who typically all give each other gifts, consider a gift exchange instead. You can draw names for a Secret Santa, or each bring a gift to a party and play a gift swap game (there are many variations). Often these types of exchanges are more enjoyable than simply opening presents because, as with most things, it's the experience we remember not the thing.

12. Start a new tradition. Instead of exchanging gifts with your friends, consider getting together for a cookie exchange or to go caroling. Your holiday spirit will get a bigger lift and you won't have to stress about shopping.

13. Just say no. Sometimes, it can seem like you're being hit up in all directions, from office gift exchanges to extra family commitments to events for your kids. If something is going to bring you and your family more stress than joy, don't participate. You are honestly better off not being in the office Secret Santa than being the grumpy Scrooge in it.

14. Give no clutter gifts. Some of the best gifts I ever got were charitable donations. You might also consider memberships to museums and zoos, or tickets to events. When I was little, I had a cousin who used to give us tickets to various shows and sporting events. I can honestly tell you that I don't remember a single other gift I got those years, but I remember going to Disney on Ice, or seeing a basketball game with my dad.

15. Reconsider teacher gifts. In my years as a teacher, I got many lovely gifts. I truly appreciated the spirit behind all of them. What meant the most, though, was a personal note written from a parent or high school student. I've had to throw out candles and mugs over the years, but I still have every single letter.

16. Slow down. Instead of everyone opening gifts at once, spread the process out so that it takes the whole day (or even start at night on Christmas Eve with one teaser gift!). Somehow
with gifts, like with food, when you take your time less seems like more.

Check out more Frugal Ideas at Life as Mom

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Time to Give: Gifts that give twice

It's the holiday season, and I am always looking for more ways to give, both to the people I know and love and to charities that do important work. The ideal for me is to give gifts that do both: bring joy to the people around me and help people around the world.

Because I'm very anti-clutter, whenever possible I like to give gifts that won't just end up sitting around people's houses. Both Heifer International and Oxfam America have unique collections of clutter free gifts that help to end hunger and poverty in the world. Through Heifer International, you can give things like sheep and goats to villages in need and send your family a card. The Oxfam program is similar, but with a larger variety and price range of gifts. What I like best about these two programs is that you are giving a donation in someone's name, but they are also able to see exactly what that donation will accomplish.

If you would rather give something tangible, consider giving a gift that also triggers a donation and supports humanitarian work. Mercy Corps coffee is grown through a partnership that allows $2 from the sale of each pound of coffee (that's 1/3 of the price) to go directly back into Mercy Corps charitable programs. I also like the artisan collection at The Child Health Site because it does good in two ways. The items are made by artisans in the developing world, thus supporting the growth of small businesses internationally. Plus, every purchase triggers a donation through The Child Health Site to charities that support children. If you aren't into the artisan items, you can check out the large number of items for sale across The Hunger Site suite, many of which raise awareness and all of which trigger donations to good causes. Or, if you are looking for a more traditional gift, consider shopping through iGive, a charity portal that allows you to give to the charity of your choice while purchasing at the stores you normally frequent online.

While I'm on the subject, consider the sources of your holiday cards. It may be a little late for this year, but Feeding America has a collection of Christmas cards that raise money and awareness to help fight hunger in America. One of my favorites though is St. Jude's Ranch, a shelter for homeless and abandoned children which sells recycled cards made by the children themselves. They also accept donations of used card fronts. Read the website for more details.

Please feel free to share with me your favorite ways to give gifts that give twice, and check out more ways to give at Saving and Giving.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Frugal Christmas shopping: Deals and Points

Around this time of year, everyone is looking for ways to save money without skimping on purchases. I'm hoping this will be the first of a series on the ways I save (or even earn!) money on my Christmas purchases.

1. Coupons. Most online sites have coupon codes available. You can often get coupons by signing up for email lists, but you can also just do a google search for the name of the store and the word “coupon” or “free shipping.” Lots of brick and mortar stores have coupons available too. Bed Bath and Beyond famously accepts those 20% off coupons they send out in the mail, even if they’re expired and you have one for every item in your cart. They also have a 20% coupon available for signing up for their email list. Old Navy also has great in store coupons available, just search around the site for new coupons added every day. JC Penney and Kohls will also send you high value in store coupons if you sign up for their mailing lists.

2.Gift cards. The grocery store where I shop gives you a discount on gas based on how much you spend in their store, and Discover Card gives you 5% cash back on grocery purchases this month, so if I am buying someone a gift card I will generally see if they have it at my grocery store to maximize my rewards. Sometimes I even go there to buy gift cards for purchases I know I will make. This way I get the rewards and can spend the gift cards like cash. If you’re getting a restaurant gift card, though, check the individual restaurant first. Many have much bigger gift card bonuses than I would get at the grocery store.

3.Points programs. Swag Bucks is a great way to earn Amazon gift cards. I also tend to save up my My Points credits and some of my survey credits for this time of year and use them to buy gift cards. It’s a great way to get some free money while you shop.

4.Amazon Associates. If you are going to do a lot of shopping on Amazon, it makes sense to sign up as an associate and add the items you are going to buy to your own zstore. Then you make money off of your own purchases. You can also have your friends and families set up zstores in lieu of wishlists, and all earn a little extra money from buying each other what you wanted anyway.

5.Ship to store. If you can’t find free shipping coupons, it’s generally much more frugal to select ship to store. You can pick up the item at a store near your home, or near your destination if you are traveling. This way you can shop from home without having to pay for shipping, and can even avoid having to carry gifts in your luggage.

6.Cash back. If you’re shopping online check out EVReward first. It lists all the big cashback portals and lets you know which ones offer the highest rate of return for your purchase. If you haven’t used cash back portals before, sign up for several to maximize your sign up bonuses.

7. Store Rewards. Sign up for all the free store rewards programs available. Stores are giving you free money to shop at their stores. Often they will run promotions where you will get bonus points for your first purchase with the program. I will often sign up, buy something, and then come back to the same store to use my points. This is a bit time consuming, but you can always just save your points for later in the year when you need something.

8. Read deals sites. Slick deals, Fat Wallet, and Hot Coupon World constantly post promotions with very limited time frames. If you don't check often you will miss some of the best deals.

9. Win it. This time of year, many companies offer sweepstakes or instant win games to promote their brand. A good sweeps site like Sweeties Sweeps is a great place to learn more about this. While you may not win the car or vacation, many of these contests have smaller prizes like gift cards or free products which are much more winnable - and somebody has to win the car after all. Unfortunately since there's usually a delay (8-10 weeks sometimes), much of what you win now will get to you after the holidays. There's always next Christmas!

If you have any other ideas on ways to find great deals (or secret deals) at the holidays