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Buying a Used Car? Beware of Flood Damaged Vehicles

If you are in the market for a used car, stay alert for prices that seem attractively low. The US has experienced two major hurricanes and numerous floods this year. Hundreds of thousands of vehicles suffered water damage – Fortune Magazine estimates the number of hurricane damaged vehicles to be over 1,000,000 in 2017. Many […]

Furniture and Clothing – NonCash Donations as a Tax Deduction

Wondering if it would help your Federal tax return to take a deduction for the clothing your donated? The Fat Dollar article – Clothing and Furniture Donations on Your Tax Return was just updated and has links to Goodwill and Salvation Army valuation pages as well as useful information and IRS links. Click the link […]

Junk That’s Really Treasures – Your Stuff May be Worth Money

  Ok, maybe your old stuff isn’t worth a fortune, but it could be worth more than you expect. While I was clearing out some of my own clutter, I happened across a 2012 Woman’s Day magazine. (Yes, I did say I was clearing clutter.) An article in the magazine intrigued me. It listed several […]

Review Your Regular Bills for Hidden Savings

Now is a good time to review your regular bills. Make a list of the bills that are paid regularly, such as electric and gas bills, internet and TV, cell phone, trash service, home and auto insurance, etc. Start with the monthly bills and select one. Review every line item on the bill. Do you […]

Vinegar and Baking Soda – Not Exactly Frugal for the Laundry

Sooner or later it has to be dealt with:  the laundry.  The typical American household does almost 400 loads of laundry a year*, or an average of 7- 8 loads of laundry a week.  Saving just a small amount of money on each load of laundry can add up to substantial savings over the years.

In my house, we do only half the average amount of  laundry – usually 3-4 loads a week.   I often substitute vinegar or baking soda for fabric softener.  I have usually been pleased with myself for being so frugal and saving a bit of money on each load.

One day while I was in the laundry room and thinking about the actual cost of vinegar and baking soda, a vague uneasiness began to settle in.  How could it be cheaper?  It began to bother me.  Did it really save money to use vinegar or baking soda instead of fabric softener?

I decided to find out.

I’ve posted the calculations and pricing details in an article on The Fat Dollar site  – Making Homemade Fabric Softener with Baking Soda or Vinegar – Does it Really Save Money? . I’ll just give the results here.

It’s not what I wanted it to be, but more or less what that uneasy feeling told me to expect.

The results of the math showing the cost per rinse load:

Fabric Softener – Cost is $.04 *  to $.08** per load

Vinegar – Cost is $.06 (using 1/2 cup) to $.11 (using 1 cup) per load

Baking Soda – Cost is $.12*  to $.24**  per load

Fabric Softener
*Sam’s Club Members Mark Brand
**Final Touch Ultra

Baking Soda
*Sam’s Club

Vinegar could be possibly less expensive than fabric softener, assuming that you use only 1/2 cup and compare it against the most expensive brand of fabric softener (Final Touch Ultra in my case).  Even then, the savings are only $.02 per rinse load.

Using baking soda instead of fabric softener is a downright luxury if you use costs as an indicator.  The baking soda is 3 to 6 times more costly than fabric softener.  Who would have thought that it is splurging when you dump a half cup of baking soda in the rinse cycle?

Even with little or no monetary savings in the short term, there still are some very valid reasons to skip the fabric softener and use vinegar (or baking soda, if you really want to be a big spender).

  • Vinegar brightens whites and helps to preserve colors
  • Vinegar cuts through soap and fabric softener build-up and helps to rinse it away
  • Vinegar helps to remove odors from clothing
  • Vinegar is a natural product without dyes or perfumes
  • Vinegar can help to remove soap buildup in the washing machine and hoses
  • Baking soda helps to eliminate odors
  • Baking soda naturally softens water
  • Baking soda has no dyes or perfumes

While there really is little or no cost savings by using vinegar or baking soda in the rinse cycle, I will still use these in the laundry.  I like the freedom from chemicals and perfumes on my clothing.

Since I often make my own laundry soap, vinegar is a good complement to this.  Vinegar in the rinse cycle helps to get all the soap rinsed out of the clothing.

Lastly, I think I will probably always use baking soda and vinegar in the laundry because I like using natural products.  It just feels so right.

How about you?  Do you prefer fabric softener or vinegar in the rinse cycle?




*According to The California Energy Commission, Consumer Energy Center

Specialized Job Listing Sites for Your Job Search

Man Circling Help Wanted AdsIf you’ve been searching for a good job, you have probably tried monster.com, careerbuilder.com, or indeed.com.  These are listed as the top 3 most popular job websites according to eBizMBA.com in their article The Top 15 Most Popular Job Websites | July 2013.

But what if you’ve tried all of the general job listing websites and still haven’t found the right job?  Try searching the specialized job boards.

There are websites that list job openings just for the medical field, engineering, accounting and finance, blue collar, creative fields, earth-friendly jobs, and more.  Try searching for sites that cater to your specific field of interest.

Try some of the listings in this article: Employment Websites to Help You Find a Great Job – List of Targeted Job Listings Sites for a list of nearly two dozen sites for your niche search.

Often the perfect job is the one that is not widely advertised so contacting friends and acquaintances in your desired field to ask them if they know of any job openings can be effective, too.

What is your favorite job search site?

Getting Ready to Keep Cool This Summer

May has arrived with a bit of flair.  While cold snow was raging in Colorado, the temperatures hit the 80’s here in Indiana.   Odd.  I wonder what other bad behavior May has planned for us.

Melting Ice CubesThis early May heat makes it clear it’s not too early to start getting your house ready for summer.  We don’t have central air conditioning in our old farm house, so we depend on a variety of natural ways to keep our house cool. Here are a few tips we use for keeping cool without spending a fortune in energy costs:

1)  If you have ceiling fans, now is the time to switch the fan’s rotation.  Most ceiling fans have a switch that allows you to change the direction of the blades.  For cooling in the summer, the blade should rotate counterclockwise.

Note that the ceiling fans don’t actually cool the room – they circulate air so that the air flow makes you feel cooler.  If you have a ceiling fan running, you should be able to raise the thermostat 2 – 5 degrees and still feel quite comfortable.

According to the California Energy Commission Consumer Energy Center, you could save up to 2% in energy costs for every degree that you raise the thermostat during the air conditioning season.

2)  During these transition days from pleasant spring to summer heat, let nature cool your house.  Check to see if your windows have a feature that allows them to lock while partially open.  If so leave your windows open a bit in the evenings to let the cool night air into your home.

In the mornings, one of the first things we do now is to open up many of the windows in the house to let the cool morning air in.

When opening windows, open at least one on each side of the house.  This allows the air to flow through, creating lovely breezes.   As the temperatures outside start to exceed the indoor temperature, it’s time to shut the windows. We open the windows again in the evening when the temperature outside falls below the indoor temperature.

3)  Curtains and blinds are your powerful friends in the summer.  Close the blinds or curtains to block out the rays of the hot summer sun.  Open them once the direct sun has rotated away from the window.  Opening the blinds is another of my daily routines.

If you have venetian blinds, you can set the blinds so that you still have a view and the room still gets natural light, but the hot sun rays are fully or partially blocked.  Just turn the blind slats so that the bottom of the slats point down toward the window and the tops of the slats point up toward the room.

4)  Set your dishwasher to air dry.  That saves it from heating up your kitchen in the summer.

5)  Run your heat-generating appliances, like your clothes dryer and your dishwasher, at night when it’s cooler.

6)  Better yet, let your clothes dry in the dryer for about five minutes, then hang them up to air dry.  The few minutes in the dryer will remove most of the wrinkles and most clothing will dry completely after being hung up overnight.

7)  Clean the filters and vents on your air conditioners now, before you start using them for the summer.  Most room air conditioner filters can just be rinsed out in the sink and air dried. Your air conditioners will have better air flow and therefore run more efficiently with clean air filters.

8)  Get out your collection of slow cooker recipes so you can use your slow cooker instead of the oven.  You can even use the slow cooker to bake a cake.  I haven’t baked one yet, but I have a few slow cooker cake recipes that I’m planning to try.  I’ll let you know how they turn out.

9) Turn off your TV, especially if it is a plasma TV.  Those big screen TV’s can generate a lot of heat!


Do you have any secrets for keeping your house cool in the summer?  Share them with us in the comments, please!

These tips should get you started on keeping cool this summer and will help you to save on your energy costs, too.  Staying cool and saving money, too … now that’s The Fat Dollar way.





California Energy Commission – Summertime Energy Savings – Tips for Businesses



Clothing and Furniture Donations on Your Tax Return

[Editor’s note – this article was updated on 02-14-16 to reflect current tax years and links]

One common and easy way to help a charity is to donate your good used clothing, furniture, and household goods.

Family Donating StuffBesides a clean house with more usable space, you may also receive a tax deduction for the fair market value of your donations.   A tax deduction on your income tax return can mean more money for you to pay bills, enjoy, invest, or to donate to charity.

To claim a deduction on your 2015 Federal tax return for a donation, you will use the Schedule A (Itemized Deductions).  Yes, this means that you must be able to itemize deductions in order to claim a Federal deduction for a donation in 2015.

One common question with donated clothing, furniture and household goods is how to figure the IRS donation values.

The short answer is that you will be able to deduct the lower of the fair market value or your cost basis of the donated property.

Figuring your cost basis is simple.  Your cost basis is how much you paid for the item.  You may also add in any additional costs to improve or prolong the life of the item.  For example, you may have paid $55.00 for a pair of shoes.  $55.00 would be your cost basis.

As another example of cost basis with extra costs, you may have paid  $50.00 for a dresser at a garage sale, and then another $25.00 to buy new handles, glue, and paint to improve it.  Your cost basis in the dresser would be $75.00.

Note, though, that the amount you can deduct is the lower of the cost basis or the fair market value. For most taxpayers, fair market value is what they will use on their tax return to value their donations.

So how do you figure the fair market value of donations?  Good question and the simple answer is:  fair market value is the amount that you could sell the item for.   Usually this will be the thrift shop or garage sale price.

Here are some resources to help you value your donated goods:

Goodwill Industries – Donation Value Guide  This Goodwill page has a link to a downloadable booklet which gives guideline values for clothing, household goods, and furniture. The link is toward the bottom, under the section Taxes and Your Donations. For example, according to the Goodwill guide, a woman’s shirt in good condition would have a fair market value of $2.00 – $12.00.

The Salvation Army also has a guide – Valuation Guide for Salvation Army Donations  In their guide, the Salvation Army values a woman’s blouse between $2.50 and $12.00, similar to the Goodwill values.

If you frequently shop at garage sales or thrift shops, then you likely already know what prices are reasonable for valuing your clothing and other items.

Other things to keep in mind for tax return purposes when donating clothing, or household goods:

The condition of the items must be at least “good” condition before the IRS will allow a deduction.

The donation must be made to a qualified charity.  Giving furniture to a deserving family is a worthy action, but it will not be tax deductible because the family is not a qualified charity.  Use IRS Search for Charities – (previously Publication 78) to see if your charity is qualified.

Keep a detailed list of your donated items, or snap multiple photos for your records.  Also keep notes on the date of the donation, the address and name of the charity that you donated to.

If your donation value will be $250.00 or more, be sure to get a signed, dated receipt from the charity.

If all of your noncash donations for the year total $500.00 or more, you will need to report the details on Form 8283.   The Instructions for Form 8283 are also a good resource of information on donations of noncash items.

IRS Publication 561 has good information – Determining the Value of Donated Property

Simple Life Corp has a more detailed article on taxes and giving items to charity – Is Your Donation A Tax Deductible Donation?

How much will a donation of household items affect your Federal taxes?

Let’s use the women’s blouses as an example.  Say you do a major clean-out of your closet and end up donating a variety of 20 women’s blouses in good to excellent condition to Goodwill Industries.  Using Goodwill’s valuation chart, you value these at $8.00 each.  This gives you a deduction of $160.00.  If you can itemize and you are in a 15% tax bracket, you will reduce your taxes by $24.00.  Not bad for an hour or two of cleaning out your closet.

Even better, you’ve helped out a charity, you now have a simpler, less crowded closet, and you got a few extra dollars to donate, spend, or invest. Now that’s The Fat Dollar way!




[11-30-13 … the link to the Salvation Army valuation guide was updated.  Also note that Publication 78 is no longer published by the IRS, but the link allows you to search for qualified charities.]

This article is for guidelines only and not to be considered specific tax advice. Consult your tax professional for specific advice on deducting donated items on your tax return.


IRS Upgrades ‘Where’s My Refund’ Features

hundred dollar bills[Note 03-01-14:  The information and links on this page are still valid.  IRS refunds are processing in as little as 5-6 days, but allow up to 21 days according to the IRS. ]

Let’s face it.  An income tax refund is a nice relief.  Nice enough to let out a secret “whew” when a refund shows up on the bottom of your tax return.

This tax season is a little more chaotic than most.  It has started late with the IRS not even ready to process returns until Jan 30 2013.  It continues as the IRS will not be accepting certain returns (such as those claiming education credits) until at least mid-February. To add to the murky calendar, the IRS has also implemented new fraud prevention processes which promise to cause further delays.

One thing stands out this year so far:  The IRS has rolled out their new and upgraded “Where’s My Refund?” site.

This year the IRS is making no promises of a regular cycle of refund processing.  Tax practitioners have been advised to let clients know that their refund should arrive within 21 days.  That’s a far cry from the refund chart we had last year that generally allowed us to predict when a client’s tax refund would arrive (usually within 7-10 days).

That makes the new IRS “Where’s My Refund” site more attractive.

The site now has three powerful components.  First, it will acknowledge that your return has actually been received.   The site indicates that about 24 hours after you file, it can show that your return has been received.  Actually, so far my clients’ returns are showing up in as little as a few hours after they have been transmitted to the IRS.

Second, the site has a feature that will tell you not only that the return is still processing, but it will alert you when there is a problem with your return or if the IRS needs more information from you to continue processing your tax return.

Once the return has finished processing and is ready for a refund, the site will show that your refund has been approved.  At this point the IRS will give you the date that your refund will be issued.  According to the IRS, this will be an exact date, not an estimate, and will be personal to your income tax return.

To use the program, you will need to have your 2013 [updated from 2012 in the original post]  tax return in front of you – you’ll be asked for several pieces of information from the return.

Last year more than 90% of tax refunds were issued in less than 21 days after filing. Despite all the late starts, this year will likely have about the same results.

You can visit the “Where’s My Refund?” site at http://www.irs.gov/Refunds/ .  Remember to have your tax return in front of you.

I wish you many happy refunds!





Easy Savings Plan for The New Year

Woman's hands holding a jar of coins and dollar billsIf you take only one financial step this year, you can make it a powerful one by setting up an automatic savings plan.

In his book, The Automatic Millionaire, author David Bach considers this a secret to getting rich.  After witnessing how it has enriched my clients’ financial well being and even my own finances, I have to agree.

An automatic savings plan is simply where you set up a method for money to automatically be deposited into a savings or investment account on a regular basis.  The deposit should ideally not require any further action by you once it is set up.  It will be made electronically on an automatic basis.

After the plan is set it, you should consider the account off-limits.  In fact, you should do your best to simply forget that it is even possible to make a withdrawal from your savings or investment account.  The more trouble it is to make a withdrawal the better.  If it is an investment account, do not add a “telephone withdrawal” feature.  If it is a savings account, set it up in an out-of-town bank, or any bank that takes some time and trouble to get to.

Once you have set up a method for the money to be transferred regularly to a savings or other investment account,  some magic begins to happen.

First, the pain of having a little less money to immediately spend begins to fade and you find that you have simply adjusted and likely do not even miss the money.  This one will really surprise you.  If you are like me, you will be shocked that you could adjust to a little less money each week.

Next, the account begins to build.  Not fast, but after a few months you suddenly realize that you now actually have an emergency savings account and you no longer have to be afraid of what would happen if, say, you were unable to work for a week.

As the months turn into a year, the savings quietly and without any effort on your part continues to grow.  You now realize that it really may be possible to do some of the things you’ve been dreaming about – like save enough for a down payment on a house, or to finish your college degree and change careers.

As you learn the discipline of regular savings, it becomes natural.  When you get a raise, a bonus, or some unexpected income, your first thought is ‘how much of it should I save?’ and not ‘whoo boy!!  Party! New shoes! Dinner out!’

Do not let a tight budget stop you from learning this habit.  At first, it is not the dollar amount, but the discipline of setting up the process, letting it continue, and keeping your hands off the savings account that is important.

I remember that years ago, when I first set up an automatic investment account, I had $5.00 deposited from each paycheck into a savings account.  At the time, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to afford it. After a month or so, I didn’t even miss it.

A year or so later, I got a large (for me) bonus at work.  I decided to invest in a mutual fund with most of the bonus money, mostly because I now had the experience of knowing that the pain of parting with the money would soon pass and that I would survive (and thrive).

Over the years, I increased the automatic savings and also started an automatic monthly investment into my mutual fund.  I slowly added other automatic investments.  I did not worry if the starting amounts were small.  I worried about maintaining a regular habit of saving and investing.  Those habits made a huge difference in my financial health today.

There are many ways you can set up an automatic investment and I highly recommend that you pick one and get started … even if you can only part with $5.00 or $10.00 and even if it is painful to part with those dollars.

Try one of these:

1.  If your employer offers such a program, have your employer automatically deposit from your paycheck to your savings account.

2.  Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account.

3.  Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a brokerage account.  There are many brokerage firms that accept and encourage small automatic investments … try researching Fidelity, E*Trade, American Century, ING Direct, ShareBuilder, and many, many more. (Note this is not a recommendation or endorsement of any of these firms, just a list for you to start researching on your own.)

4.  Join your employer’s 401(k) (or similar) plan and have an amount invested with each paycheck.  This one often carries a bonus:  you will immediately double your money if your employer offers a matching investment plan.

5.  If your employer does not offer an automatic savings plan, then pick your dollar amount and each time you deposit or cash your paycheck, be certain that this amount goes into your savings account.

6.  If none of the above are feasible, then get a jar, cut a coin and bill sized opening in the lid, then glue the lid on the jar.  Now decide on a dollar amount, and a set day and time of the week to make your automatic investment.  For example, you may choose to put $5.00 in the jar every Friday at 5:30.  Then do it.

It is not rocket science.  It’s discipline.  And the more financial discipline you learn, the richer you will become.

Now that’s a nice way to begin the new year.  And that’s The Fat Dollar way.

Here’s to your growing wealth.  Happy New Year!



Last Minute Low-Dollar Gift Ideas … Scouting Out Ideas

I spent some time looking for last-minute gift ideas.  While many links were hardly worth clicking, a few sites had some good lists:

I found this post on Money Crashers titled 10 Romantic and Inexpensive Gift Ideas for Your Girlfriend or Wife. The ideas were for Valentine’s Day, but they would all be lovely and thoughtful gifts for Christmas.  A few of the suggestions might require that you plan it now and give a coupon for redeeming.

There is a recipe for delicious homemade chocolates, an idea for a hometown tour vacation, a couple of romantic craft presents, creating a date-of-the month club, and even the ultimate: breakfast in bed.

All these ideas can be done without long, harried trips to the mall.

Other links to last minute gift ideas: 10 Last Minute Gift Ideas That Are Shockingly Cheap  from BusinessInsider.com (I’d ignore the one suggesting you find a house in Detroit priced at $1.00)

Simple Organized Living also has Quick, Simple, Inexpensive Last-Minute Gift Ideas with several unique ideas, such as homemade wooden blocks or a homemade bulletin board.

While we’re being thrifty, Modest Money has a good post 7 Ways to Lose Money with Last-Minute Gift Shopping that you should take a look at.

Work Save Live has 5 Frugal Christmas Ideas for Children

The Dollar Stretcher has a few Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas that I liked.

When doing last minute shopping, don’t let panic overtake reason.  Determine your budget before you begin shopping.

Look through some of the above lists so that you have some good ideas and feel that you have some choices.  This will help to alleviate panic spending.

If you are shopping online, don’t forget to check for coupon codes.  Retailmenot.com and Coupons.com/coupon-codes/  are good places to check. You can also just google “coupon code” and the name of the online store you want to purchase from.

And don’t forget the advice from the Beatles … “Can’t buy me love!”

How about you?  Do you have an idea for an awesome last-minute gift?  Share it with us in the comments. Thanks!

Ho Ho Ho!  Enjoy!

Merry Christmas from The Fat Dollar!


Related posts from The Fat Dollar –  More Inexpensive Christmas Gift Ideas – $10 or Less!

Frugal Gifts – 10 Inexpensive Gift Ideas

Awesome, Yet Inexpensive Gift Ideas






More Inexpensive Christmas Gift Ideas – $10 or Less!

Woman with gift wrapped package[Editor’s note 11-14-13:  I updated the prices and availability on most of these.  If they are updated, the information is in the brackets]

It’s wonderful to be able to give special gifts at Christmas, and it’s even more wonderful to be able to give a perfect, yet inexpensive gift.

Last year The Fat Dollar published Frugal Gifts – 10 Inexpensive Gift Ideas  and Awesome, Yet Inexpensive Gift Ideas but there are still many more gift ideas for gifts $10 or less.  Most of these are for older children or adults.  I’ve tried to include links where I thought it would help you find the specific recommendation.

1.  Make an Admiration or Adoration Box.

Start with a smaller box or a pretty jar.  Decorate it with fabric, costume jewelry, and/or trim if you like.

Next take slips or squares of paper and write (or print with your computer) one thing on each slip that you love, admire or find unique about the person the gift is for. You can even write special memories of that person.  Use full sentences, single words, even little photos or drawings.  The idea is for each slip to bring a special thought or feeling.

You can get as creative as you want with decorating the slips of paper, using calligraphy, special paper, or printing them with your printer with special fonts for the letters.

Put the slips in the box or jar so that the person can draw one out and read it whenever they like or whenever they need a boost of love.

This is an especially good present for grandparents or for someone who does not really need more “things”.

Cost:  Will vary with how much decorating you do and whether you buy a box or container, but the estimate would be $1.00 to $3.00 in paper and decorating materials.


2.  For your down-to-earth friends, Mother Earth News is having a great sale of items that would make perfect gifts.


This sale is good through Dec 15 and includes:


119 Recipe CD for $5.00

4 piece cork or bamboo coaster set for $2.99

Organic Cotton Oven Mitt  $4.99

Molded Bamboo (Moboo) Salad Serving Set  $2.99

Practical DIY Projects How-To CD $5.00

 Cost of each above gift is $2.99 to $5.00 each (not including shipping)


3.  If you are buying for a writer or someone who keeps a journal, look at the Miquelrius line of notebooks.

These are a premium notebook and my personal favorite for journaling.  I’d rate them a 5 star. The pages are ultra smooth, the lines are fine and straight, and the spirals are high quality.  The notebook lies flat for easy writing.

I order them from Kate’s Paperie online.

[Update 11-14-13 – Kate’e Paperie appears to not carry this line of notebooks any longer.  You can buy them from www.shopmiquelrius.com or from amazon.com]

Cost:  $8.00 to $10.00 (does not include shipping)


4.  Book Ideas:


101 Things Every Man Should Know How to Do – paperback – currently $9.68 at Amazon.com

How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free – currently $9.93 at Amazon.com

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats – currently $7.77 at Amazon.com




The World Almanac and Book of Facts  2013 – currently $7.36 at Amazon.com

The Everything Kid’s Science Experiments Book – currently $8.95 at Amazon.com

Pocket Posh Brain Games – 100 Puzzles – currently $7.99 at andrewsmcmeel.com, Amazon Pocket Post Brain Games also has a variety – [11-14-13 updated amazon.com price is $7.19]

5.  For the book reader – a book light


Energizer LED Book Light – currently $7.90 at Amazon.com  [11-14-13 currently 10.51 at amazon.com]

Fulcrum Multi-Flex LED Task Light – currently $8.73 at Amazon.com [11-14-13 price is $8.19]

Carson Flexneck Booklight – currently $9.99 at Kmart.com [11-14-13 appears no longer available]


6.  Leather Kindle Cover by mCover in Pink , Green, Blue, or Black


mCover Kindle Cases at Amazon  – currently $9.99 at Amazon.com

[11-13-14 … I’ve had mine for a year now and it still looks great!]

7.   Make a book of your family’s favorite recipes – hand write or print with your computer.


Put them in a spiral hardback notebook and leave room for the recipient to add their own favorite recipes. This is especially nice to give to a new family member.

Black n Red Hardcover notebook – currently $8.13 at amazon.com

Lady Jayne Flower Poppy Spiral Lined Hardcover Notebook – eBay has one for $3.99  but the listing ends Dec 15th.


 8. Bag of gourmet coffee and a coffee cup


Try SoZo Coffee Roasting for a unique gourmet gift.  They roast the beans in-house and ship them immediately.  Fresh!  – cost $6.00 for a 6 oz bag


9.   Make a gift basket


Ideas:  Variety of popcorn in a popcorn bowl

Muffin mixes and a muffin tin

Pancake mix and syrup (darn it, adding a skillet or griddle would take the cost over $10.00)

Jellies and jams and a box of biscuit mix (or a container of your homemade biscuit mix)

Decks of cards and a book of card game rules

Basket of soaps and wash cloths


10.  Give a garden
Growums has delightful kits for $9.99


Kits include Pizza Garden, Ratatouille Garden, Herb Garden, and Stir-Fry Garden

Perfect for the cook or the gardener … even great for kids!


11.  Give a bottle of wine.


Consumerreports.org has a a good listing of recommended wines, with many being $10.00 or less … you have to be a subscriber to see the ratings, so this link may not work for you.

Here are a couple of Consumer Reports 10.00 and under recommended:

Caberbet sauvignon – Columbia Crest Grand Estates 2008

Caberbet sauvignon –  Trackers Crossing 365 (Whole Foods) 2009

Chardonnay – Bogle 2009

Merlot – Cherrywood Cellars – 2009

Moscato – Yellow Tail

Gayot.com has a listing of the Top 10 Wines under $10.00

The Reverse Wine Snob has a listing of the Top 10 Red Wines Under $20.00 – several are 10.00 and under


12.  For your northern friends, give a pair of gloves and a deluxe ice scraper.

Other ideas in this category:

Reusable Hand Warmer – Amazon has HotSpot for $2.95, Flapples.com has Winter Warmers Re-Usable Hand Warmers, Mitten, CampingSurvival.com has ProHeat for $4.95, Amazon has Proheat Reusable Hand Warmer (free shipping for Prime members)

Carhartt Mens’ Extremes Cold Weather Boot Socks
Dickies Men’s Acrylis Thermal Boot Crew Socks

HeatMax Cold Weather Survival Readiness Kit (hand and foot warmers, body warmers) – Amazon  $9.73 (free Prime shipping)

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (pack of 10) – $8.19 at Amazon


13.  Zorbitz Lucky Bracelets or Zorbitz Karma Bracelets

These bracelets cost about $6.99 to $9.99 and each bracelet has a meaning or special purpose.  There is a wide selection of really intriguing and attractive bracelets.

To find them, try  Luckyvitamin.comZorbitz Bracelets at Amazon.com, or some Whole Foods Markets.

 14.  Find a magazine subscription for $10.00 or less

Good Housekeeping – $7.97

Family HandyMan – $10.00
[11-14-13 price is now $12.00]

Others … Redbook, Outdoor Life, Motor Trend, Marie Claire, Midwest Home, Men’s Journal, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Boating World … all usually available for $10.00 or less for a year

A magazine subscription is nice because it recognizes a person’s individual tastes and it lasts for an entire year!

15.  Practical gifts


These work when you want to give something to someone who has little interest in “stuff” or who may simply need certain things.

  • A book of stamps.  Add envelopes and note cards too.
  • Gift certificate to their favorite fast-food restaurant (yes, I know I said practical and this is a little off-base).  Restaurant.com offers discounted restaurant certificates, but I have not tried them so I cannot offer any information
  • Especially nice socks or underwear
  • Laundry basket with laundry detergent
  • Set of bath towels and washcloths (get the nicest you can – a good bath towel is a treasure after a shower!)
  • Set of kitchen towels – again go for the more plush ones; the cheap ones are somewhat useless
  • Set of shop rags and disposable shop towels (I did say practical, didn’t I?)
  • Mason jar filled with homemade cookie or muffin mix with the recipe attached (I love making these!)
  • An assortment of spices and herbs – try Penzeys Spices, The Spice House, your grocery store, or local specialty shops.  It’s especially nice to get a spice or herb that a cook might hesitate to buy because it is a little more expensive than average.
  • Make and freeze a meal, dessert, main dish, side dish, or snack
  • Fill a large, tightly-lidded food storage container with homemade biscuit or muffin mix.
  • A set of re-useable shopping bags
  • Give a deluxe mechanical pencil to someone who appreciates writing instruments such as a writer, engineer, or accountant
  • A couple of low-energy fluorescent (CLF) or LED bulbs to replace their energy-hogging incandescent bulbs
  • An assortment of chocolate bars for the choc-a-holic (of course this is practical)
  • A fire extinguisher, smoke alarm, or carbon monoxide detector
  • An assortment of AA and AAA batteries (try the Maxell batteries from Amazon)
  • If they have a charger, they would love more rechargeable batteries – find out what kind of charger they have – you can buy the specific battery brand or many chargers will charge a variety of brands of rechargeable AA and AAA batteries
  • Make a set of coasters from 4-inch ceramic tiles – use paint, or decoupage pretty gift wrap.  Glue a piece of felt on the bottom.
  • If you have leftover herbs from your garden, make sachet bundles or little pillows with either specific herbs (like lavender or mint) or from a mixture.
  • Give a small planter or flower in a pot
  • Make a little gift basket for their favorite pet
  • Give a special Christmas ornament that recognizes a person, special interest, or hobby
  • Supplies for their hobby – scrapbooking, photography, bird watching, small rocket launching, etc. – find out what they frequently use or like.  Unless you’ve heard the person specifically express an interest in something they don’t normally use, then for our practical section, it’s best to buy them something that they normally use but is harder to get or is slightly out of their current budget.


I hope these give you some ideas.  As you can see, you can give special gifts for $10.00 or less.

If you have additional ideas, share them with us in the comments.  Thank you!

(Note that some of the links are in affiliation with Amazon.com and may pay us a commission.)






What to do With that Turkey Carcass

Roasted TurkeyYesterday, I was thrilled to serve my family simply the best turkey I’ve ever made. It was a brined turkey and it was tender, juicy, and had subtle spice tones and broth flavors. This was my first year to brine the turkey and I’m a convert. I’ll brine the turkey next year for sure.

Last night, Chris and I each spent time carving and scraping off every last bit of meat from the turkey carcass. We got as much as possible and even gave a few scraps to the dogs (much to their delight). Yet there still seemed to be good turkey meat left on the carcass and I was sorry that we had to throw it away.

Normally, we toss the carcass in the field behind our house for the racoons and who-knows-what other animals to feast on. This year we decided not to do this, because we’ve heard coyotes howling across the field and we did not want to attract them to our area.

This morning, I realized that there are delicious uses for the turkey carcass and all those tasty bits of meat that we could not cut off. A fellow personal finance blogger, Eyes on the Dollar, has a great recipe for making turkey soup from the carcass. How I wish I had read this a day or two ago! I’d be making turkey soup right now.

Here is the blog post Leftover Turkey Recipe just in case you can still make use of it.

Even if you don’t want to make turkey soup, you could make turkey stock.  (Why, oh, why didn’t I read this blog post yesterday!!)

Here are a few more sources for recipes:

Next Day Turkey Soup – Food Network

Homemade Turkey Soup Recipe 

Rescued Turkey Stock

The vegetables and seasonings may add as much as $1.00 to the cost of your stock. If you make a habit of collecting leftover veggies in a freezer bag in the freezer, you could use those for your stock, reducing the cost even more.

Keep in mind that you can use most any vegetable to make stock – be creative!

The 3-4 hours of heating on a gas stove will cost about $.35 *.

The cost of the vegetables, spices and energy for the heat would then make the turkey stock cost $1.35 or less for 6 -10 cups of stock.

Immediately make your turkey soup with the stock and then put the extra stock in containers in the freezer and use it for soups and other dishes. You could also make a large batch of turkey soup and put the extra soup in the freezer for ready-made dinners.

Mmmmm… I can hardly wait for my next turkey.  I may even watch the grocery store ads and pick up a turkey on any after-Thanksgiving clearance sales.

Do you have any recipes or ideas for that turkey carcass?  Share them with us in the comments below!



*estimated cost of energy from Duke Energy of Ohio

Lower Your Food Costs With Creative Recipes

Father and Daughter Studying RecipeAccording to the US Census Bureau, the average family of 4 with a moderate cost food plan will spend $185.50 to $221.00 per week on groceries, depending on the ages of the children.

Just cutting those costs by a mere 10% will save $18.55 to $22.10 per week, or up to $1149.20 a year!

If you are trimming your food budget, you have probably already made a shift from highly processed foods to homemade foods. This not only saves money, but is usually much healthier since your homemade dishes will not have the preservatives, food colorings, artificial flavorings, and added fat that so many processed foods have.

One way to further cut your food costs is to be willing to experiment with recipes. If you want to make a new recipe, first read it all the way through. Does it call for a specialized spice or have one expensive ingredient? Why not experiment with substitutions?

For example, does your recipe call for allspice? Try substituting cinnamon or a dash of nutmeg. Dry mustard? Substitute prepared mustard (use 1 Tbs prepared for each 1 tsp dry.)

Does your recipe call for shrimp? Experiment with substituting chicken (really!) or any variety of fish.

The new cookie recipe calls for butter? Experiment with butter-flavored shortening (get the kind that has zero trans fat for a healthier cookie.)

Is a cup of wine part of the recipe?  Try grape juice, apple juice, or even chicken stock. The NDSU link below even has a substitution using water, lemon juice and sugar.

You can also use the expensive ingredient, but cut back on the amount. For example, in a casserole, use 3/4 lb of meat instead of 1 lb. in the recipe. If this affects the volume of the dish, make up the difference with a vegetable, cheese or pasta.

Here is a very comprehensive list of ingredient substitutions from the North Dakota State University. Excellent resource – bookmark it for future use!

Learning to use tasty, yet less expensive, ingredients in your recipes can be a tremendous help with your food budget.

It can also help with your gasoline budget if learning to substitute will save you from making an emergency trips to the store to pick up missing ingredients.

What about you?  What substitutions or changes have you made to recipes that save money yet still make a delicious result?


Other resources:

Mayo Clinic Healthy Recipes: A guide to ingredient substitutions

All You Magazine: Save in the Kitchen: Ingredient Substitutions