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How I Purchased 3 Gifts — For Next to Nothing!

3 free gifts

Guest post from Abby of Humani Tribe

As an entrepreneur, my income is not always predictable. It’s tough for us to know from week to week how much will be incoming, so my husband and I live by our budget.

However, we also love being generous and giving thoughtful gifts. So when this fall wedding season hit and I found myself responsible for a shower gift and two wedding presents, I wanted to give generously — but within our means.

Now, after getting three gifts for $10, I put together this guide so that you can use to hopefully learn from my mistakes:

1. Compile all your gift cards and figure out the balances.

If you use a consumer rewards program such as Bing Rewards or Swagbucks, you may have unused gift certificates you’ve earned in the past lying around.

Likewise, use the website or 800-number listed on the back of store gift cards or same-as-cash cards (ex. Visa gift cards) you find in your wallet or purse to check your remaining balance on each.

Even balances of $3-$4 can come in handy, as you’ll see in the points below. Use a permanent marker to write the balance on each card for your own reference.

2. Determine which stores are offering free shipping.

This is important to know, since you’ll have to figure out a way to cover the cost of shipping using your gift card or pay for it outright.

Use a site like RetailMeNot.com to filter stores offering free shipping.

3. Pick a store to purchase a gift from.

The important thing here is to pick the store ONLY if it meets all of these criteria:

  1. You have a gift card for the store or a same-as-cash card
  2. The store is offering free shipping.
  3. You can earn consumer rewards by shopping there.

This is the Big Kahuna — this is how you’ll get items for free or very cheap!

Once you know where you will purchase your gifts, then you’ll need to decide HOW you will purchase them.


My 3-Part Purchasing Action Plan

This is how to go about purchasing the items with low-balance gift cards. I’m offering three purchases as examples of different ways you can pay.

Gift #1: Purchased with Gift cards.

I started my purchase by going through Swagbucks shopping portal in order to earn SB for my purchase. I had $20 in Target gift cards to spend.

I bought one registry item and two small supplementary gifts for a total of $20. Target was not offering free shipping, but I could get in-store pick-up for free. I applied the two gift cards.

Gift #2: Purchased with a store gift card and a same-as-cash gift card.

Again, I started my purchase by going through Swagbucks shopping portal in order to earn SB for my purchase. I noticed that Swagbucks was offering 4 SB/dollar on outdoor items at Amazon.com, which is right up the alley of one of the couples whose wedding we’re attending soon.

I found a great gift for them at $14, and I had $15 in Amazon gift cards. Amazon was not offering free shipping, so I needed to pay for the shipping with the remaining balance on one of my Visa gift cards (See how I didn’t follow my own advice? There’s a reason I suggest you only shop at stores offering free shipping!).

I applied the Amazon gift cards first, then used the Visa gift card for the balance.

Gift #3: Purchased with several low-balance several same-as-cash gift cards.

This was my last gift to purchase: a small something for my cousin’s bridal shower. The problem was that I had no more store-specific gift cards to use, just several Visa gift cards, all of which had quite low remaining balances.

I found out my cousin is planning to take a dream honeymoon a couple of months after the wedding, so I had my “theme” idea for her shower gift — travel gear!

I used RetailMeNot to figure out which stores were offering free shipping, and what I ended up with was a code for free shipping AND 30% off any item (even clearance!) from J.Crew Factory.

Again this time, I made sure I could earn Swagbucks from J.Crew Factory, and I made my purchases by starting in the Swagbucks shopping portal.

In order to get around the low Visa gift card balances, I bought three travel-themed gifts on three separate transactions. (Since Visa and other same-as-cash gift cards are processed like debit cards, they can’t be combined on purchases. The bank has to process them for the whole total only. This is why I made the three separate transactions.)

I chose an item that was on clearance, then I applied my 30% off + free shipping code, and finally made sure I had a Visa gift card with enough remaining balance to cover the total.

Because none of my Visa gift cards had a balance more than $6, I did pay for the largest item at J.Crew Factory using my personal debit card. However, that still left me with a total of $10.06 out of pocket for a shower gift and two wedding presents.

Since both weddings are out of state, it was really important to keep gift costs low — and now we can give generously without worrying!

Abby Woody is the editor of Humani Tribe, and an avid drinker of single-origin coffee and small-batch gin. She loves hiking muddy trails with her dog Brida and getting her passport tattooed at customs. She enjoys writing about self-acceptance and finding peace within. 

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“We’re Debt-Free. No Thank You.”

Guest post from Jessi of The Budget Mama

I used to feel rich, as if I had “made it” when I whipped out one of my shiny credit cards.

I loved the rush I’d get purchasing a brand new Coach bag. I loved spoiling my loved ones with expensive gifts that were well above my pay grade.

I loved going on well-deserved vacations and spontaneous weekend getaways. I felt like a reality TV star. I always looked like a million bucks and felt that I looked good too.

But then, in the dark of night, it would seek me out.

The fear.

The looming.

The dread.

The truth.

I was broke.

Sure, I had nice things and I had amazing credit, but I was broke. I was scrapping by living paycheck to, “Please God, let this paycheck last me until next payday”.

I thought I was happy living the good life with all my stuff. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I mean, aren’t we supposed to enjoy life? Enjoy the fruits of our labor by spending our money how we see fit?

Yes. We are supposed to enjoy our lives and spend our money in a wise way; but too often we forget that cash is real money. Debt just means you borrowed the funds to pay for it.

I used to love my credit cards. I couldn’t live without them. I always had them with me. I felt empowered when I used them, but then I’d spend the night stressing about how I was going to pay back the money plus pay rent and buy groceries.

One day, while working a huge sale as a manager of a jewelry store, I came face to face with the person I wanted to be.

She walked in and put purchased an expensive watch for her husband’s birthday and paid in cash. When I tried to convince her that our store credit card was the best option to pay, she looked me in the eye and said, “We’re debt-free. No thank you”.

Now, many years later I get to give this same response. I no longer have credit cards, student loans, car loans, and am working hard towards paying off the mortgage. We’ve been able to dump just over $55,000 in two years!

It’s an amazing feeling when you can walk into a store and pay cash for something that once you could only “afford” to pay for with credit.

It’s freeing no longer lay awake at night realizing that you’re living in a self-made nightmare.

If you’re where I was, I want to encourage you that paying off debt and living without it is a real possibility. Also, YOU CAN DO IT!!!

Carry only cash and make swiping those cards a thing of the past so one day you too can respond, “We’re debt-free. No thank you”.

Jessi Fearon is the founder of the popular personal finance blog The Budget Mama, where she shares her family’s real life on a budget in all its gory details. She believes that money is a tool that should be used to help us live our best lives possible and she is an advocate of achieving financial freedom by helping her readers learn how to manage their money.

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5 Tips on How to Love a Spender

tips to love a spender

Guest post from Reelika of Financially Wise On Heels

Having a good relationship and communication with your partner is the key for a good life. Unfortunately, statistics show that many people get divorced due to financial issues. One of the problems may be that one person is a spender and the other is a saver.

If you and your significant other are at odds when it comes to financial issues, these 5 tips can help you better understand each other — and learn to love the spender in your life!

1. Listen, Share, and Communicate

Spenders think differently about money, saving, and spending. They are more impulsive and don’t consider the differences between “wants” and “needs”.

However, before you speak, listen carefully to what the spender has to share. Don’t get emotional, but instead, share your thoughts and find the mutual language. Don’t brag about how much you always save and don’t be judgmental.

2. Understand the Spender’s Background and the “Why”

How did the spender grow up? What were their family’s saving and spending habits? What are the real “whys” he or she wants to spend so much?

Maybe it is a relief of stress, or finally having the opportunity to buy something? Spenders just love spending, no matter what the cost is. It can be frustrating, but always look for the real “why”.

3. Create a Family Budget Plan Together

Having a family budget plan is crucial… and having the main spender involved is even more important. Create a plan together and discuss any splurges with the purpose of finding a solution.

Create a separate section for “free spending,” so it becomes part of your budget plan already… and determine the amount that you are both able to spend without breaking your budget.

This relieves the stress for both of you as the spender can enjoy spending, and it is already part of your family’s expenses.

4. Have Regular Family Meetings

Regular family meetings to discuss family finances can be very helpful. Don’t only discuss spending, but also the possibilities for increasing the number of income streams.

Make sure you don’t have the meeting after stressful day at work. This is never a good idea. Rather pick a weekend when you are not tired or rushing anywhere. It is important to make it a regular habit, otherwise the results are often only short term.

5. Balance Spending with Frugal Hacks

Spending and shopping are not necessarily bad habits. However, spending should be balanced with frugal hacks and/or savings.

One way to do it is to create a separate cash cushion for emergencies that potentially come up due to spending habits. Additionally, you should also consider cutting back on other items so the spender won’t feel stressed about his or her spending.

Being responsible with finances is very important.

Following these five tips should help you find understanding and compromise with the spender in your life. Just remember to make plans and decisions together that are comfortable for BOTH of you.

How do you better understand spenders? Or if you are spender, how can others better understand you?

Reelika is an entrepreneur and the founder of Financially Wise On Heels. She is a happy wife and mom, Christian, financial management lover, and passionate about coaching. She provides inspiration, tools and resources to Moms to better plan, budget and manage their finances without sacrificing the needs and dreams of their families.

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The Importance of Writing Down EVERY Purchase

writing down every purchase

Guest post from Rachel

As someone who is fairly organized, occasionally even bordering on obsessive-compulsive, I had always just assumed that my grasp on budgeting and keeping track of my finances was fairly solid.

I’ve seen numerous friends and relatives struggle with spending outside of their means, but this has never felt like a struggle to me or my family. We don’t go on vacation particularly often, and when we do, it’s after finding a good deal on Groupon or the like; we don’t eat out except for special occasions; we don’t buy exprnsive clothing.

But I’ve found that it’s so easy to delude ourselves into thinking that if we aren’t spending on big things, then we aren’t overspending on small things either. However, this could not be further from the truth!

How could it be that I, the woman who spends hours researching hotels and airfare to find the best possible price, could be so lax about my spending in other, smaller, day-to-day areas?

The answer is simply: it just doesn’t seem worth it at the time.

In the moment, spending $3 or $4 on a cup of coffee seems like a small splurge to make, a small price to pay, for living in the moment. But a bit of careful planning would actually demonstrate how easy it is to get in the habit of letting these small charges grow and grow until they are no longer so small.

I’ve read countless articles on this topic over the years, all with the same message of how cutting corners here and there can yield large savings in the long run. I just never found it applicable to my own life until I spent one week where I wrote down literally every purchase I made.

$27 filling up gas

$78 on groceries

$7 for the café bill with my friend

$13 thanks to the bookshop next to the café :)

None of these sound unreasonable just yet… right?

Until I really stopped to think about it, none of my purchases sounded outlandish. What’s a few dollars in the big scheme of things, really?

But slowly, small realizations started creeping in on me. That $13 book is something I could have just as easily taken out of the library if I had been patient enough to reserve it instead of feeling the need to start reading it right then and there.

The $78 grocery shopping would have been cheaper if I’d been willing to go across town to the slightly less expensive, but slightly more crowded, supermarket.

I continued writing down each purchase, both the large and the small, and began noticing more trends in my own spending.

Becoming more aware of these little habits has helped me cut down on so many unnecessary expenses… even if it only saves me a few dollars each week, that really adds up over the course of a year.

I’ve continued to write down each purchase as I make it, which really forces me to stop and think about whether what I’m buying is absolutely necessary; and if it is, if I’m buying it at this particular shop due to its price or merely due to convenience.

The best news is – with all the money I’ve saved over the past year, we’re now looking to book another mini-vacation over winter break! Looks like it’s time to scour Groupon for the latest travel deals.

And you can bet that I’ll keep writing our purchases down even on vacation! Once you get in the good habit of writing everything down, it’s not something you want to break! Plus, it makes you really appreciate those things you do choose to spend your hard-earned cash on all the more.

Rachel teaches third graders, and in her spare time she enjoys writing, practicing yoga, and spending time with her loved ones; one day she will perfect the art of doing all three at the same time. Rachel calls the Midwest home, where she aims to live as naturally as possible.

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My “Rules” For a Minimalist Wardrobe

ruls for a minimalist wardrobe

Guest post from Carly of Happy The Home

Like me, I’m sure many of you would love a $1,000 shopping spree to your favorite clothing store. Truth be told, some of us would be happy to spend $50 or $100! But for most of us, we can’t spend a lot of money on a whole new wardrobe at the drop of a hat.

A few months ago, I began trying to simplify things in my life and home in an effort to spend more time doing things that are important to me. I wanted more time for Bible study, so I get up earlier. I wanted less laundry, so I minimized my kid’s clothes. Now it was my closet’s turn. But OH MY! It was not going to be easy.

I looked for ideas and found good blogs and articles for help with what to keep and what to get rid of. The What I Wore blog, and How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe were very helpful. Additionally, I texted my sister for her advice, as she always looks cute and we tend to like the same things! I also made some rules of my own.

My 6 “Rules” for a Minimalist Wardrobe

1. I won’t keep something if it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t fit me well.

2. I won’t buy anything new (at least not for a while).

3. I won’t feel bad keeping some of my favorite t shirts and gym clothes, but I will sort through them.

4. I won’t consider any “dry clean only” items except coats.

5. I won’t hang on to gifted clothing simply due to nostalgia.

6. I won’t keep anything because it “might fit if I lost a few pounds”.

With those rules in mind I also looked through my clothes by pulling EVERYTHING out of my closet and dresser. I decided to keep the following:

  • 6 pants
  • 8 blouses
  • 8 sweaters/cardigans
  • 4 skirts
  • 4 dresses
  • 3 vests
  • 5 scarves
  • 4 pair of shoes
  • 2 belts
  • 2 tights

I don’t think there’s a magic number to how many items of clothing one should have… and the pictures I took are merely to show how many things you can create with a few of these items.

What you see in the pictures are: 3 pants + 5 shirts + 2 jackets + 1 dress + 1 scarf + 3 pair of shoes

minimalist wardrobe

By no means have I exhausted the possibilities, but it’s exciting to think that I can do more with less. I want to simplify to make things easier and I don’t want my life to be characterized by “excess” and “disorganization”.

You might decide to keep way less than I did. But this is a start for me. Hope you enjoy watching a fashionably-impaired person enjoy a day of dress up!

Carly is a stay-at-home mother to four boys. She blogs at Happy The Home about faith, family, homemaking and all that lies between!

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5 Fun & Free Ways to Enjoy Fall

enjoy fall

Guest post from Pam of Be Healthy Be Happy Wellness:

The hot weather is winding down, and I am starting to feel a crisp bite to the air when I let our puppy out in the mornings. Fall weather is almost here!

I love, love, love fall. It is a fabulous time of year – it’s not too hot but still warm enough to be outside. We get to enjoy the beautiful fall colors on the trees. Plus, there are so many fun and free things to do.

If you’re looking for ways to enjoy this fall to the fullest, here are my top five FREE ideas:

1. Hiking.

With a new puppy in the house, this has become our favorite weekend outing.

He gets to go along, we wear him out (so we all sleep better) and we enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

We are lucky enough to live near several county parks with short (1-2 mile) trails. Perfect for little legs and a fun way to spend a few hours.

2. Bike rides to the park.

My littlest one is finally a proficient biker – yeah! A short trip to the park is just the right length for him. The kids play, the adults talk, and we all end up feeling refreshed.

With many neighborhoods having little parks, why don’t you give this a try after dinner one night?

No neighborhood park? How about your local elementary school playground? Top off the evening with ice cream cones after the ride home.

3. A picnic.

As a child, we went on picnics every month with my Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles. It was inexpensive (we all brought our own meat and a dish to share) and fun.

In the fall it’s especially pleasant as it’s not so hot that cooking over a charcoal grill sounds dreadful. Plus, there are still plenty of tasty watermelons available to consume after the meal is complete!

No family nearby? Ask a friend or neighbor you’d like to get to know better to come along.

4. Visit an apple orchard or pumpkin field.

If you decide to purchase fruit, you will spend a little money on this trip, but I can justify it as grocery money myself.

Younger kids especially get a kick out of picking their own apples from a tree. Some orchards also have farm animals and little markets to check out.

We’ve been going to our local orchard every year since the kids were little, and they ask me every year when it’s time to go!

5. Find Local Festivals.

In the Midwest, fall is the festival time of year!

When we were at the State Fair last month, I picked up a state festival guide and discovered there are a dozen festivals EVERY weekend this fall around the state. Many of them within an hour or less drive — and ALL of them are free!

Don’t know where to find any for your area? Check your local newspaper or do an internet search using the keywords “festival + your state.” Pick one, load the kids in the car and tell them you are off on an adventure.

How do you enjoy the fall?

Do you have any fun and inexpensive ideas to share?

Whatever you decide to do, I encourage you to plan to enjoy at least a few fun outings. Before we know it, the cold weather will have arrived and we’ll be missing these beautiful fall days!

Pam is a Certified Health and Lifestyle Coach specializing in helping frazzled working moms create a happier, healthier life. Reach her at Be Healthy Be Happy Wellness

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