We might as well dispense with Thanksgiving altogether and just enjoy an extra day of shopping. It’s certainly not going to be a happy holiday for those poor souls who work at Wal-Mart or other popular Black Friday destinations.

After several stores announced that their Black Fridays specials would start at midnight (which is ridiculous, but still technically Friday), Wal-Mart is upping the ante. They will now open their stores at 10 PM on Thanksgiving! So, stuff your faces, then run to your car to get in line for some cheap stuff. $5 Barbie dolls are worth giving up a holiday for, apparently.

When will this madness end? Doorbusters on Thanksgiving morning? Holiday sales on Halloween? Aw, heck, let’s just roll it all the way back to July 4 now and be done with it.

Stop the Madness
When did Christmas become all about the crap and the deal? Even as a non-Christian, I recognize that family togetherness and winter cheer are far more important than a $5 Barbie or an iPod Touch or whatever other discount goodie you bought at Black Friday because it was on sale.

If your budget is tight, then buy less stuff. I get a lot of emails from people saying “I need to give my kids a good Christmas.” What your kids want is your love and time with you. The rest if just stuff that will be forgotten within a couple of weeks. They will not be traumatized for life by a Christmas or two without a lot of presents. Instead, they’ll remember that you played games with them and spent time together as a family.

Once again, I will be avoiding Black Friday sales. My husband and I have only purchased one thing at a Black Friday sale, and it was on a Sunday. We’d been looking for a new laptop, so when we saw the deal in the Sunday paper, he went to Staples to buy it. Last year we considered buying a new TV at a Black Friday sale, but actually found a better deal at Costco the week before Thanksgiving. So, we skipped the hassle and enjoyed sleeping in instead.



If you’ve ventured into a store recently, you’ve no doubt been assaulted by Halloween decorations. Which is fine, it is almost October. But if you continued around to the other side of the display, you may have also been confronted by Christmas decorations. That’s right, the holiday shopping season has begun. In fact, my Joann’s mailer already has Christmas decorations at a discount! So, apparently, the holiday discounting season has also begun.

It’s tempting to just hide your head and wait until December when it feels like Christmas. (As I write this, it is 85 degrees outside. I don’t live in Australia, so that’s definitely not Christmas weather. Although, I live in Los Angeles, so I guess it could be. But I digress.)

Create Your Gift List Now
Don’t hide your head. Take action. Determine your holiday budget now, before you’re swayed by all the commercials, temptingly wrapped “stocking stuffers”, and the spirit of generosity. If you do it now, you can be realistic.

Then, with your budget firmly in mind, create the list of gifts you’ll be giving people, along with a dollar limit. I usually wait until Thanksgiving to ask what my younger cousins want, but I know the budget way in advance, so when they tell me this year’s gift card request I can purchase one in that amount. (My cousins are teens and tweens. They want gift cards, not toys.)

If you’re planning to buy any big ticket items, start scouting out sales now, but wait to buy until the Black Friday and pre-Black Friday sales start, because that’s when you’ll see true deals. Scouting now will help you get an idea of what a great price is. No, you won’t score an iPad for $100, but you might get a great deal on an Android tablet come Thanksgiving.

Keep an Eye Out for Gifts
As you’re out an about, keep an eye out for gifts on your list. Once you’ve bought them, do not keep shopping for that person just in case you find something “better.” Better usually means more expensive, or extra. Be firm with yourself. Being generous doesn’t mean you have to go into debt.

Start Making Gifts Now
Many people have the intention of making gifts, which is great and affordable, if you start now (except for baked goods.) If you wait until December to start making gifts, you will probably find yourself among the last minute holiday shoppers because the gift isn’t ready in time.

As I’ve posted numerous times, I am anti-Valentine’s Day. Yes, I’ll cook a nice dinner and spring for a card, but I’m opposed to the price inflation that accompanies the gifts and dinners out on this occasion that really doesn’t mean anything. Still, I know a lot of people feel compelled to do something for the day. That’s probably why I still make a nice dinner. If you’re like me – you hate yourself for observing the occasion, but can’t make yourself stop – here are five frugal tips.

Cook Dinner at Home
You can get a lovely filet mignon at the grocery store for about $10 a pound (that will serve at least two people). If you ordered that in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, you’d pay at least $30 a person. Grill or sauté the steak, add a nice red wine and mushrooms reduction sauce, and serve with sliced potatoes roasted with olive oil and salt. It’s gourmet, it’s delicious, it’s easy, and it’s probably about $15 for the whole dinner if you cook it at home. You don’t even have to tip a valet!

Choose Untraditional Flowers
Roses are common. If your beloved likes a different kind of flower, you can probably get it at a much more affordable price. Right now, many grocery stores and nurseries sell tulips, hyacinths, and other early spring bulbs in pots. Some are already growing. Opt for an affordable option like this, and you’ll not only save $50 or more, your gift will also last a lot longer than seven days.

If you must do roses, and you own a home, buy a bare root rose bush. Plant it in the garden and it’s a gift that will be a constant reminder of your love for years to come.

Choose A Favorite Dessert Instead of Chocolate
Unless your beloved is a true chocolate connoisseur, in which case he or she will probably prefer a single super-fancy truffle to a generic one pound assortment, skip the expected heart-shaped box of chocolates. Instead, go to the bakery to buy your beloved’s favorite dessert. A slice of their favorite pie. A dozen of their favorite cookies. It shows you put some thought into it.

Rent a Classic Movie
Head to the video store, or log onto your streaming account, and search for classic romantic movies from the 1930s through 1960s. Look for Tracy and Hepburn, Clark Gable, etc. Since these movies are OLD, they usually only cost a couple of bucks to rent at the most. Cuddle up on the couch with popcorn and let these classic love affairs inspire your own love affair.

Flip Through Old Memories
Open a bottle of wine and then pull out your photo albums to revisit the memories of the time you’ve been together. Sometimes those pictures stir up great stories you both barely remember anymore. (Since we don’t usually take pictures of the bad times, there’s not much risk of dredging up an old fight.) If you find some really good photos, compile a photo album of your greatest hits. If you want to turn it into a photobook, watch the coupon sites for coupon codes. There are always lots available.

If you want other cheap Valentine’s Day ideas, and frugal Valentine’s Day ideas, or unusual Valentine’s Day advice, check out my previous posts.

My husband and I have never been the type to think we need to spend hundreds of dollars on each other at Christmas. In fact, many years we’ve opted not to exchange gifts and instead bought something big jointly, like our trip to Belize or a Wii. If you and your spouse plan to exchange gifts, make sure you agree on a budget beforehand.

Spend a Lot or a Little?
Some couples view holiday gifts as a way to show each other how much they love and appreciate each other, which is sweet. But you should show it all year round. Of course, there are times when a big gift is a grand gesture on Christmas. My dad gave my mom her first pair of diamond earrings about five years ago, after thirty-five years of marriage. Opening those on Christmas morning meant so much more. However, that’s not every year. There have many years of practical gifts between them.

It doesn’t really matter what you spend, it depends on the thoughtfulness of the gift. If it’s something your spouse really needs or wants, but would never buy themselves, then this is the time to get it. However, if the reason your spouse hasn’t bought it is because they think it’s too expensive, then make sure it doesn’t exceed your agreed upon budget.

How to Set a Budget
Do you already have a gift in mind or are you the type to go shopping on Christmas Eve in search of just the right thing? I’m a planner, so my plan would be to choose a budget, and then find a gift within that budget. In years we do give each other gifts, we usually spend about $50 on each other. No, that’s not a lot, but we tend to buy the big items throughout the year. Usually our Christmas gifts to each other are fun little things, like a book we saw on Jon Stewart or a new Wii game we’ll both enjoy.

To set a budget, start by thinking about your total holiday budget. Now figure out what you should spend on other people. Now consider the amount you’ve spent on each other in past years. Use all those as a guideline to set your spending on each other.

Keep that number firmly in mind while out shopping. You don’t have to spend it all, but you should also try not to go over it by much. If it’s something really special, save it for a birthday or anniversary. The exception, of course, is that once-in-a-lifetime gift. That shouldn’t be part of the budget, but you should be sure you can pay cash for it. The once-in-a-lifetime gift becomes less special if your spouse has to spend five years helping to pay it off!

What Are You Spending?
What are you planning to spend on your spouse this year? Are you in the $500 camp or the $50 camp or the $0 camp?

Although I prefer a homemade Thanksgiving, in some case it may be more frugal or more convenient to buy a Thanksgiving dinner at the grocery store. This is especially true if you don’t have good kitchen or much cookware!

Pros of a Storebought Thanksgiving Dinner
The first advantage is that someone else does most of the work for you. Note, I said most, not all. You’ll still need to do a little work. However, you won’t need to worry about basting the turkey or making the stuffing or any of the major items.

Only minimal cookware is required. Depending on the dinner you order, you may need to bake some par-baked rolls so they have that fresh taste. You might also want to make your own gravy or salad so there’s something fresh on the table. If you buy a whole turkey, you’ll probably need to partially cook it. It may or may not come with the tools to do that.

It’s becoming more affordable. With more stores getting into the act, price competition is steeper. Last year I probably spent about $40 for dinner for six. A grocery store dinner would have been around $50 at my local Ralph’s, and $100 at my local Whole Foods for an organic meal.

Cons of a Storebought Thanksgiving Dinner
Storebought just isn’t the same as homemade. Think about a grocery store roasted chicken vs. a home roasted chicken. Although I like storebought roasted chicken, I often find that it’s much saltier than a homemade chicken. It’s also not as large and usually not as juicy. The same is true of most deli items. I can make a better stuffing myself.

You may still have to do some cooking. Depending on the store you order from, they may not have the necessary equipment to cook a turkey all the way. In most cases, it will arrive partially cooked from a central warehouse. You will then have to finish cooking it (usually at least an hour) on Thanksgiving. You may need a pan for that, although you can pick up a cheap roasting pan at Target or Bed Bath and Beyond this time of year. If it’s a smaller turkey, you could even use a rectangular baking pan.

Everything will still need to be reheated. Sure, it won’t take as long, but you’ll still need to do it.

You won’t get as much food. Usually, home cooks provide more than necessary. With grocery store meals, they usually try to scale appropriately, so you may find that your meal designed for 8-10 just barely feeds 10 and there aren’t much leftovers.

It costs more. With careful shopping and coupons, you can get your grocery costs down for Thanksgiving. That’s how I spent $40 on the meal. Of course, I also had houseguests, so there was also wine, appetizers, breakfasts, lunches, and additional dinners. All told, I probably spent around $150 for those four days. Not bad, considering.

If you’re considering a storebought Thanksgiving, don’t let someone else tell you that you’re being lazy or untraditional. It’s all a matter of time vs. money vs. convenience. I enjoy cooking, so it was fun for me and I had most of the necessary equipment. My mom brought my grandmother’s roasting pan, but I know have my own $5 roasting pan. If I didn’t have the equipment and was still living in my old apartment with the miserably tiny kitchen, Thanksgiving would have been a different story! Buying Thanksgiving dinner at the store may not be the most frugal choice, but it’s cheaper than going out to a restaurant.

Every year, my Christmas list seems to get shorter and shorter. When I was young, my list was very detailed and long. Now I struggle to come up with a few items. I seem to have reached a point of max stuff and now am just looking to fill new needs that have arisen. Maybe it’s time to trim down your list, too.

Think About Your Needs
No, it’s not romantic or exciting, but if you really need a new blender, put it on the list! I usually do a mix of necessities with a couple of fun items thrown in. The fun items are usually cheap, like fancy soap for my guest baths or holiday decorations for my home. This year the practical items include a circular saw!

Think About Your Wants
Of course, this is also a time to fill a few wants. My want list includes a Flip Video camera. Right now all I have is a regular camera. Although it will capture video, it doesn’t capture a whole lot or great quality! That’s a big ticket item, though, so I certainly don’t expect to receive many other gifts if I receive that.

Be Prepared to Buy It Yourself
If you don’t receive something you really need, be prepared to hit up the post-holiday sales. That blender might be 50% off now! If it’s not something you would buy yourself, do you really need it? If I don’t get a circular saw, I plan to buy myself one because it’s something I need. The same for the video camera.

That should also give you some help in trimming the list. If you don’t receive it for Christmas, is it something you would buy yourself? If not, maybe you don’t really need or want it that badly. Of course, some are fantasy items, like a guitar and lessons, so put those on your life list if you don’t get them this holiday.

Make It about Sharing, Not Receiving
When I was younger, there was always a letdown after all the gifts had been opened because I didn’t get one or two things I really wanted. Now, I don’t feel that. I’m grateful for what I got, and don’t worry about what I didn’t get. Try to remember the spirit of the holiday rather than getting invested in the stuff that accompanies it. This is about family, not stuff.

Halloween is just a few days away. Have you finished your costume yet? Have you decorated your house yet? If not, here are five last minute Halloween costumes and five last-minute decorations to get you by.

Last-Minute Halloween Costumes
Just in case you haven’t looked at a calendar, or you got invited to a party at the last-minute, here are five ideas for cheap, DIY costumes you can pull together at the last minute. For the ladies – I promise no slutty costumes! I think the slutty [insert role here] look is played out!

Zombies are all the rage, and couldn’t be easier to put together. If you have an old pair of ripped pants and shirt with holes in it, more the better. If you don’t, just grab and old shirt and pants and rub them in some dirt. Throw them on, then smear some Halloween makeup on your face. You should be able to find it pretty cheap at any drugstore. Mess up your hair and you’re done!

It’s so cheesy that it’s classic! Stop by a thrift store to buy an old white sheet. Cut two holes for eyes. Drape over you. Done. Is it creative? No. Is it funny? Yes.

Put on a suit. Stick a “Vote for Me” sticker on the lapel. If you don’t have a small flag you can carry, use a flag pin or print out a flag sticker, which you should also attach to the suit. Now you’re a candidate for political office! Bonus points if you’re a woman and add a witch’s hat. Now you’re Christine O’Donnell.

Old Spice Guy
This one really only works for men. Put on a pair of white or light khaki pants. Roll up the cuffs. Alternate – wear a towel. Toss a scarf around your neck. Carry a bottle of Old Spice. Speak in nonsense.

Yet another classic. Dress in baggy clothes. Bonus points for a flannel shirt. Stuff wadded up plastic bags into a ball and wrap in a handkerchief. Tie the bundle to a stick. Now you’re a hobo.

Last-Minute Halloween Decorations
Did you suddenly discover that trick-or-treaters will be coming to your area after all? Are you the only person in the building/on the block without decorations? Here are five last-minute decorations.

Okay, this one’s a duh, but no Halloween house is complete without a pumpkin to decorate the front stoop.

Paper Ghosts
Make tissue paper ghosts and suspend them from a tree if you’re not expecting rain on Halloween. you can also make spiders and pumpkins out of construction paper. To make ghosts, Get two pieces of facial tissue or gift-wrap tissue. Wad one up into a ball. Drape the other one over it. Tie a loop under the ball with string or yarn. Draw on eyes and a mouth. Stick a safety pin in the top to attach the hanging string to.

Stop by the craft store to buy some spiderwebbing. It might also be called Angel Hair. Stretch it apart and drape it over gates, trees, shrubs, and anything else it will cling to. You’ll probably only need one bag to get good coverage.

Headless Dummy
Stuff an old pair of pants and an old shirt with newspaper so it looks like a body. Set it on a lawn chair in a darkened corner of the front yard. Attach shoes. Either use an un-carved pumpkin for the head or leave it headless.  If you can set a light under it, it will cast an eerie upward glow to add to the spookiness.

Find some flat rectangles of styrofoam or cardboard. Cut out grave shapes. Spray paint them gray. Paint silly epitaphs in black letters. Attach them to garden stakes or poles and stick them in your front yard.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on Halloween costumes or decorations. If you need more ideas, check out these previous posts on cheap Halloween costumes and more cheap Halloween costumes.

So, this weekend I called my sister to tell her that I’d found my mom’s Christmas present. I haven’t bought it yet, but I know what it is unless Mom drops some hints that she’d like something else. To be fair, it was something I almost got her last year and then opted for something else, so it wasn’t a new idea. Nevertheless, my sister was a bit startled that I’d already started thinking about Christmas. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I am going to insist that it’s time to start thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Planning for Thanksgiving
For Thanksgiving, figure out if you’re cooking or traveling. If you’re traveling, I hope you already bought your plane tickets. If not, BUY NOW! If you’re driving, well, then, you’re planning is done. If you’re cooking, set a budget now and start watching the grocery store sales to match with coupons and stock up. I’m already seeing sales on baking items.

Planning for Christmas
Christmas is more involved, so your planning will have to be more involved, but not quite yet. For now, I want you to do four things:

1. Decide if you’re having an artificial tree or a real one. If it’s artificial and you need to buy one, now is the time to start shopping online for early deals. If it’s not, plan to pull it out soon just to test it and make sure it still works.

2. Decide if you’re traveling. If you are, start pricing tickets, reserving days off, booking rooms, now.

3. Decide who is getting gifts.

4. Decide on a budget for everything – gifts, decorations, travel. Start saving now.

Once that is done, just keep your eyes open for potential gifts as you’re out and about. If you see something perfect at a good price, snap it up. Then stop shopping for that person. Once the gift is bought, you’re done. Do not decide to find something better and give an extra gift if you want your budget to remain under control.

Consider Giving to Charity
If at all possible this year, donate money to a holiday charity or plan to contribute to several toy collections/food drives. Although the economy is starting to turn around, many are still suffering. I started to receive requests for aid two weeks ago. Please, please put needy families in your budget. A great way to help is to organize a family gift where your family pools their money to create a great Christmas for a needy family. My family does it with my relatives and with a group of good friends to help spread the cheer. If you can, please do this, too.

Unfortunately, I can’t personally help the people who write to me. If you need help, visit this page to learn how to sign up for a program.

Monday is Memorial Day, which the stores consider the official kick-off of the summer shopping season. You’ll see sales galore, but you can still be frugal if you try!

Check for Deals
If there are items you need for summer projects, check the store circulars for coupons and discounts. If the item you want is discounted, go snap it up. But first, check a price comparison site to see if it’s a good deal.

Attend a BBQ
We’ve just learned that our block hosts a Memorial Day block party. We will certainly be attending! All we have to bring is something to throw on the grill. Since it’s a block party, we don’t even have to go anywhere!

Spend a Day Outdoors
Pack a picnic and then go for a hike, a swim, or just loll about on the grass with a good book. You’ve been working hard, you deserve a day of rest.

Work on Your House
Since we have a long weekend, I’ll be catching up on projects around the house, which will keep me out of the stores. I plan to paint the bathroom ceiling and fix some peeling paint in the kitchen. If I have time, I’ll also start painting the baseboards.

Bake a Pie
Anyone who knows me knows I love pie. Cherries are in season. So is rhubarb! I’ve seen peaches at the farmer’s market, too. So, snatch up some fresh fruit and then bake your first summer pie. Serve it with vanilla ice cream and I think you’ve got yourself the start of a perfect frugal summer.

If you’ve visited any store at any point since December 26, you’re no doubt aware that Valentine’s Day is coming. Even worse, this year it falls on a Sunday and a holiday weekend. The pressure will be high to go romantic and go big. But I say ignore the pressure and go small, if you go at all. Here are five more frugal ways to celebrate V-Day.

Vow “Just Cards” This Year
Maybe a chocolate or two, if you must. If you both make a vow that it will be just cards, and promise to keep that vow, and agree that no one will be offended if you don’t get “a little something extra,” this vow should keep your money firmly in your pocket. So ladies, if you go “just cards,” don’t decide to pick up “just a little something,” because you know that will just result make him feel bad.

Make a Nice Home-Cooked Meal
As much as I try to ignore the holiday, it’s still ingrained on me that I should do something. Usually I make small steaks (3-4 ounces each, not 22) with a red wine sauce, thin-sliced roasted potatoes, and a walnut-gorgonzola salad. Served with wine and a scrumptious dessert, and it’s perfect. And since I serve small steaks, we’re not too exhausted for after-dinner activities.

Eat Out on a Different Night
There will probably be more people choosing this option this year, but if you’re set on going out, try Friday or Saturday rather than Sunday. Don’t try to go out Monday, though. It’s a holiday, so you really will be eating the slimmest of the slim pickings!

Rent a Romantic Movie
After eating your home-cooked meal and reading your cards, you might want to settle in for a romantic movie. If you have Netflix or Blockbuster Online, adjust your queues now to ensure that something appropriate to the evening arrives that week. Appropriate to the evening depends entirely on your tastes! It might be a horror movie, a comedy movie, a drama, it doesn’t matter so long as you can snuggle up while watching it.

Go Out to Breakfast
Instead of making a big “to do” about dinner, go out for a nice breakfast. It is a Sunday, so you may have some competition from church-goers, but it’s also brunch day, so you should be able to make brunch reservations somewhere. Then you’ll be free to enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend without the pressure of ROMANCE!

As you can see, I’m not a huge fan of V-Day. I was into it when I was younger, but then I got tired of the crowds and forced feeling of it all. The Valentine’s Day that coincided with the All-Star basketball game being played in Los Angeles was the last straw. I may never go out on V-Day again!

Want more ideas for avoiding the day? Check out my previous posts on cheap Valentine’s Day ideas and five ways to save money on Valentine’s Day.

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