A Financial Education Event
     

Ellie on ABC News “Money Matters”

It’s one of those west coast satellite interviews where I’m picked up at my hotel at 5:40 AM, in studio by 6:00 AM and on the air by
6:30. Except things don’t always go as planned–especially in media.

I really enjoy being on shows like Money Matters because the hosts are out to give people news they can use, so there’s good natured bantering associated with the practical tips.

I arrived at the west coast ABC bureau and they put me in a studio. As they were putting on my microphone, the audio feed box broke–something clearly beyond anyone’s control. The tech (who has been doing TV stuff for 25 years) fiddled here & there and kept saying “Oh no!” and “this isn’t good.” Trust me, these are not words that bring comfort as you’re waiting to on national television in front of a gazillion people. But this guy looked resourceful and he kept fiddling, trying one thing after another.

By now, we’re 5 minutes to air. Finally, he takes a phone and a microphone, then DUCT TAPES the microphone to the top part of the phone. Then he plugs the audio feed into the phone and puts the mini earpiece into my ear. This allowed me to “hear” the producer on the phone from NY and also hear the host ask me questions! All of this you’d never know to watch the piece on Money Matters .

The result is a fun, upbeat piece on Mother’s Day gifts that you can even use for Father’s Day too, if you want to get a jumpstart on that holiday.

As a mom of so many, I find that Mother’s Day isn’t just “a” day around our house–it’s a season by the time all the gifts come trickling in from all the kids. Hope YOU have a great Mom’s Day, too!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Win Ellie’s New Book – Submit Your Ideas for Frugal Holidays

It’s time for you to have another chance to win a copy of Ellie Kay’s new book, “The Little Book of Big Savings” (Waterbrook/Random House, 2009).

According to a new study, the new frugality is here to stay. The report indicates that post-recession spending is predicted to be at 86% of what it was pre-recession. So that means, Americans will be spending 14% less than we did before our economy tanked.

Along those lines, how you are going to be frugal during the holidays this year? What are you frugal tips to save?

Enter your frugal ideas at Ellie’s blog at: http://halfpriceliving.blogspot.com/ and/or send a copy of your tips to assistant@elliekay.com .

If the producer selects your questions to air on ABC NEWS “Good Money” on Sept 15, 2009, we will send you a free copy of Ellie’s book! Please be sure to send us your email address, so we can contact you if you win.

The deadline for submissions is September 14, 2009 at 6:00 PM PST .

Happy Savings!
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

ABC News Now – Frugal Holiday Tips Starting NOW

Here’s the link to my major media appearance on ABC News Now “Good Money” where we talked about frugal holidays. View the winning tips entries from Summer who lives in Springfield, OR; Sasha Payne and from Ann in Charlotte, North Carolina. Each of these frugal tipsters got a complimentary copy of my book, The Little Book of Big Savings, just for sharing their tips.

It’s no surprise that everyone racks up massive debt during the holidays, but I say the time to start saving and preparing is now! Buying early is the key to holiday savings. Set a holiday spending plan, make your list, scour the sales and mark off items purchased. By the time the holidays get here, you could have most of your gifts already bought and consequently have minimal credit card charges.

There are 2 areas we can save the most money: gift giving and the food. First, shopping for clothes: I think they are going to be a common gift item as families need practical gifts to recover from the recession year. The next time you’re shopping clearance racks at your favorite clothing store in the mall, don’t let the wrong size on the rack become a deterrent to saving. First, ask the sales associate to check the back for your size. Many stories do not put all their clearance items out front. Secondly, if they do not have your size, ask them to check another store, give you the sale price and ship it free. More and more stores are starting to offer this service in order to compete with online retailers.
The second area is food and it’s important to look out for how much you spend on groceries for the holidays. Don’t settle for just one kind of savings at the grocery store. Instead learn to add “layers” of savings such as store sales, coupons, double coupons, cash off your next shopping trip, store coupons and more. One place to go is http://www.couponmom.com/ to see what items are on sale with a coupon in your neighborhood. According to the USDA cost of food at home in 2008, the average family of 4 spends $7,968/year on food and by following these tips can spend in the thrifty category of only $4,068/year.
Thanks for your tip entries and keep posted for our next contest where you can win a book and have your tip or question featured on national television, too!
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert

Five Ways to Stay on Budget this Summer!

Summer means a lot of fun for the Kay Family, we’re going to get to see mini pilots flying in from overseas as well as an airplane hopping son in the deep old south of Georgia.

Recently, I was on ABC NEWS NOW, talking about how summer is a tough time for anyone to control spending, much less stay on a budget. With the kids out of school and summer vacation around the corner, it’s a time when people fall victim to the thought, “I’ll go on vacation now and deal with the bills later.”

But there are ways to cut back on spending to stay on budget before summer hits. The three areas that require consumers to spend money on a regular basis, that do not go away with difficult economic times: groceries, gas and family essentials (such as clothing, birthday gifts, etc). You can plan for summer and still stay on budget for these “little” areas that add up to big expenses.

Q. Ellie, we often think of the holidays as a difficult time to stay on a personal finance budget, but this time of the year is really is a difficult time to stay as well. There are end of the school year gifts to buy, vacations to plan and a summer clothes to get for the kids. We have to start somewhere, and you say the first step is to start with a plan?

ELLIE: Yes, it’s amazing how kids keep growing every year and the summer clothes they wore last season are two sizes too small this year. But having a plan is a good place to start and while the basic a plan is a budget, now is the time to break down the household budget into a plan for the more manageable subsections. This time of year, stores and websites are cleverly designed to get you to spend more than you intended. So it’s important to know what you are going to get and spend before you go to the mall or online. This plan will take into consideration past spending behavior and any impulse buys that tend to kick in while you’re in spending mode. Write down what you are going to spend in the little areas and be specific. If your two preschoolers need clothing, then conduct an inventory of what each of them has—including any hand-me-downs and the vacation gear they may need for the entire season. If you’re planning a vacation and find that you will eat fewer meals at home because you’re going to be away, then don’t budget the same amount for the grocery store. Otherwise, you’re adding spending upon spending when you should be cutting in one area and adding in another.

Q. So we have a plan, the next step is to not fall for questionable “deals.” What do you mean by this?

ELLIE: This time of year, you’ll see sales on summer clothing, electronics and even summer foods—all the things that people are thinking about as the school year winds down and vacation time starts to gear up. But not all sales are created equal and you may see a lot of $90 digital cameras and $100 GPS sales but there can be a huge difference in the models. So before you pick up a steal of a deal, do a general price search on the specific model at Shopping.com or PriceGrabber.com before you get too excited. Plus, if you go into the store and they do not have it in stock, ask for a substitute that is an upgrade from the model that is on sale. You’ll be surprised at how much you can save by just asking. It’s also important to read the fine print in a sale advertisement. If there is a “limited quantity” or “no substitutions” then that could impact your spending plan. Finally, look at the whole world of “price comps” this is where a store offers to match the price of competitors in any sale advertisement that you bring into the store. While one store may not have that GPS in stock and may not offer rainchecks, another store might match the sale and have plenty in stock. We’ve taken advantage of this kind of offer quite a few times, so much so that price comping has become a habit in our family. This can also save quite a bit of money and help to keep you on track in the “little” areas that can tend to torpedo the budget.

Q. So we have a plan, we’re not falling for questionable “deals” and now you say that the next step is “don’t miss any discounts.” How can this help keep us on track and what if there aren’t any discounts—especially for things like gas and other essentials?

ELLIE: Just because a store or website doesn’t mention a discount on merchandise or shipping on its site or in the ads doesn’t mean its not offering any. There is often a number out there in cyberspace that can be retried into either the promotional code box online or even a coupon code into the register at the mall. To find out if what you are buying has an additional discount, go to RetailMeNot.com on your computer or smartphone and enter the store’s name. Or you can go to CouponCabin.com, BradsDeals.com and you may find digital coupons that you can download from the store’s websites.
The same principle applies in the grocery store or when filling up your tank with gas. Go to couponmom.com to save in the grocery store and Go to gaspricewatch.com to find the best values on gas. Don’t forget to check and see if the gas station may offer an unadvertised free car wash, cup of coffee or soda. I just found out that I could have been a lot more caffeinated, for free, at my neighborhood gas station when the attendant asked me, “are you going to get your free cup of coffee?” Once again, if you just do your research you’ll find all kinds of freebies and these “little” things, when multiplied and combined will add up to big savings if you create this awareness level.

Q. You’ve covered a lot of areas so far, but what about those birthday, Father’s Day, and “teacher gifts” that we still need to buy this time of year. Does your next step give us some ideas on what we should buy in terms of gifts?

ELLIE: Yes, in our family of seven, I remember those days when all the kids were in school and we had to buy as many as 40 “teacher gifts” to say thanks to what these educators do all year long. It really added up. Plus, there are birthdays, anniversaries, and other special days that may happen in summer months as well.
I have seen that there is a trend toward necessities rather than luxuries that has emerged since the great recession. Consequently, practical gifts including cookbooks, exercise equipment and power tools are on the top of the list for gift giving. This doesn’t mean that its OK to give your wife a microwave for your 10th anniversary, unless this is on her list, but it probably is OK to get your husband a new power drill for Father’s Day.
Do the research we recommended earlier and comparison shop, combine the lowest price with free shipping and coupon codes and you’ll find that those gifts don’t have to bust your budget. Furthermore, I think that concentrating on the “multiple use” gifts is also a practical way to go.
These are gifts such as DVDs, music, cookware, etc. Gifts that will keep on giving year round.

Q. The final step you recommend in order to stay on budget in the little things is to use cash or debit cards. There are pros and cons to using debit instead of credit, what are your thoughts on this?

ELLIE: Yes, there is a time to use a credit card instead of debit when it comes to charges that you may dispute on your credit card or when you want an extended warranty or the added protection that comes from using a credit card. However, for these little areas, we tend to track the spending better by using cash or debit and consumers are far less likely to go into debt because people simply spend less when they are using cash according to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Applied. Store clerks have long found that it is easier to persuade people who are using credit cards to spend more than they were intending. And when it comes to shopping online, you dn’t necessarily need a credit card to have more protection than using your debit card online. One other option that won’t get you into debt is to research the layaway plan at your local retailer by going to eLayaway.com

Happy Summer!
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Gift Cards and the New Card Act

Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future! I love looking back at holiday pix when my babies were babies, that’s part of the fun of the season.

Recently, I was on ABC NEWS, talking about the fact that for the past three Christmas seasons, the present at the top of most people’s list is the gift card. While recent surveys indicate that people love to give and get gift cards, this year, gift cards are not just for those who are short on time or scrambling for ideas. In a post recession economy, gift cards can help some families make ends meet for months to come. This year, there’s good news for those in the market for gift cards, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act enacted last year has imposed new restrictions on gift cards so they are more consumer friendly.

Understanding the new CARD Act rules will help you make the best selection when purchasing gift cards. First of all, there are different kinds of gift cards, so it’s important to know the options and how to you decide which card to buy. There are basically two kinds of gift cards and they each have had their advantages as well as drawbacks. The credit card or bank issued cards have the advantage that they can be used almost anywhere, but traditionally, they’ve been racked with fees, including a hefty purchase fee. The other kind of card is a retailer card, which may not have the fees attached, but the obvious disadvantage is that they can only be used at a specific retailer.

Billions Lost in Christmas Past

Over the past several years there have been billions of dollars lost each year. Consumer have lost out because of expiration dates on cards, fees that can deteriorate their worth, and lost or misplaced cards. Plus, some businesses went under and the customer who had not yet finished using their card was out of luck.

CARD Act is Helping With Christmas Present



The CARD Act changed the scene on behalf of the consumer when it comes to gift cards in several ways. For example, gift cards sold after Aug 22, 2010, can’t expire in less than five years. The law also bars issuers from charging an inactivity fee unless the card has been dormant for at least 12 months. In the past, some gift card issuers deducted inactivity fees after only 30 days. Issuers are also barred from charging a fee to replace a lost or stolen card.

Even though these restrictions can do away with a lot of unpleasant surprises, it’s not all smooth sailing, there are still some drawbacks that people should be aware of. The first area is purchase fees. If you decide to give someone a gift card from a credit card or bank, then you need to expect to pay more than the face value of the card. All eight of the general purpose cards included in Bankrate.com’s annual gift card survey charge between $3.95 and $6.95.

Why do credit card and bank issuers charge these fees? What kinds of services do they pay for?



They do pay for a variety of services, including the infrastructure that allows gift card holders to check their balances online. To contrast that with retail cards, none of the 46 retailers and restaurants in the Bankrate survey charge a purchase fee for their gift cards. Some retailers go even further, offering customers a gift or discount with the gift card purchase.



Beware the Ghost of Christmas Future

There are still areas where you should consider the future in purchasing your gift card. While the CARD Act restricts inactivity fees it doesn’t eliminate them. Consumers who allow them to languish for a year or longer could still get hit with fees, which are typically subtracted from the value of the card. Most of the general purpose cards in the Bankrate survey charge a $2.50 per month inactivity fee if the card isn’t used after 12 consecutive months. But this is primarily true for the credit card and bank based cards, not for retailers and restaurants.

Isn’t there suppose to be full disclosure at the point of sale for any kind of gift card and how do you decipher these disclosures, they can be really confusing?



All of these disclosures, as mandated by the CARD act are now suppose to be on the back of the gift card itself. The info is supposed to include fees, expiration dates, and a toll free number. In July, though, Congress agreed to extend the disclosure deadline until Jan 31, 2011 for gift cards produced before April 1st. So this holiday season consumers won’t get in on that part of the good deal. This is because Congress granted a reprieve. You would think it would be a good idea, especially during the holidays, to have full disclosure for the consumer. But the gift card industry would have had to destroy 100 million gift cards, which might have had a negative trickle down effect for the industry, and would have also made it virtually impossible for card manufacturer’s to meet retailers’ order in time for the holidays. So be aware of the fact that the cards you buy this holiday may have some outdated information on them. You can find the correct information through websites that the retailer will give you as well as signage and advertisements.

Ellie Kay

“America’s Family Financial Expert” (R)

The Gift of Communication – Christmas Gifts that Keep Giving

In my series on “Gifts that Keep on Giving” I’m reminded of my college daughter, Bunny, and the fun we had staying at the Drake hotel in Chicago on a business trip. I really miss seeing her and today’s gift is perfect for her and her friends, it’s the “gift of communication.” When she was little, she talked non stop and now that she’s grown, she still love to chat whenever possible!

In my work with families who are on a budget, I have found that many have had to rethink their cell phone plan. In an effort to pay the bills, they may have had to cancel a cell phone plan or in some cases, they don’t have the credit to establish that service. In my quest to find a great communication alternative, I came across a cool new partnership in prepaid plans. This year, if you want to give the gift of communication to a family who is on a budget or a struggling college student, you can do so through a prepaid phone from Boost and Virgin Mobile as well as prepaid mobile broadband with Virgin Mobile’s Broadband2Go plans.

This is a partnership that is easy for me to talk about because it really benefits people who are on a budget. Let’s face it, those who need to limit their expenses, still need the ability to have a cell phone or connect to the internet. Whether you are happily employed or unemployed, it’s important to be able to pursue work situations through the use of a cell phone and through broadband connectivity.

Prepaid cell phones:



I think that prepaid cell phones are perfect for those who might not otherwise be able to afford or have the credit to qualify for a contract plan. I’ve also found they are a good option for families who have members who routinely go over their traditional cell phone limits, sometimes costing their parents lots of dollars in extra charges each month. (Ahem, not that this has ever happened to the Kay family! All I will say is: the leaves were raked and the laundry was folded by penitent teens for the several weeks.)



Prepaid plans from companies like Boost and Virgin Mobile were created for consumers such as college students who want to be able to afford freedom and independence on a budget. However, economics aside, cell phone plans such as the Virgin Mobile $25 Beyond Talk plan or the Boost Mobile $50 Unlimited plan keep both students and their parents happy. Parents appreciate being able to keep in contact with their kids, especially if there’s an emergency. On the other hand, students, many of whom spend little time in their dorm rooms or apartments, like the flexibility and convenience of not having check if they’ve gone over their monthly allotted minutes.

Prepaid Mobile Broadband:

Another great gift of communication involves giving the gift of connectivity! Whether you are searching for a job, or the best price on a new pair of jeans, you need to be connected. Virgin Mobile’s Broadband2Go plans offer unlimited 3G, nationwide internet access for $40 a month with no contract. The Virgin Mobile MiFi device allows up 5 wireless enabled devices to connect at one time, so college roommates can share their gift all year long & divide the costs among themselves.

When you are selecting your gifts this year, be purposeful and try to give a gift that will keep on giving the whole year through. And Bunny, keep on calling, I love to hear how those finals are coming along!



Merry Christmas!


Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert ®


Don’t Get Scammed When Giving to Japan

The tragedy in Japan is one that makes us want to open our wallets and help in a practical way. But with every tragedy there arises a new crop of scamsters, out to make a profit off of someone else’s sorrow. How do you give smart and make sure your dollars go to the people who need it most? Follow these tips:

Email Scams

McAfee recently reported a significant increase in the amount of spam being generated by “Japanese Earthquake Relief” scams. So NEVER respond to an email, even if you suspect it is legit. Do not link to the link provided in such an email. Instead, go directly to your browser and type in the link to investigate–even if it’s a charity you recognize. Some criminals are linking to sites like the Red Cross but the link will actually take you to a false site where they skim your money and your credit card number.

Don’t Fund Overhead or Fund Raising

You don’t want your dollars going to pay fat salaries, fancy overhead, or excessive fundraising expenses. The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance offers guidance to donors on making informed giving decisions through their charity evaluations, various “tips” publications, and the quarterly “Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide.” You can access this information by calling (703) 276-0100, going to www.give.org

You can ask them to mail you the various tip guides or read them online. These guides include information on:

Charitable Giving

Police and Firefighter Organizations

Handling Unwanted Direct Mail From Charitable Organizations

Child Sponsorship Organizations

Direct Mail Sweepstakes and Charities

Contributing Used Cars to Charities

Tax Deductions for Charitable Contributions

Record Keeping

If you itemize, you’ll need all receipts for donations of $250 or more. If you give away more than $250 worth of clothing throughout the year, you should have saved all receipts for tax purposes. The money donated directly to a needy person is not deductible. It would be better to donate the amount, anonymously, to your church and have them send the donation to the family in need. Check with your tax specialist every year for your state and federal tax laws.

Starting Your Own Foundation

If you are fortunate enough to have a large gain from a stock or mutual fund that you have held for over a year, consider using it to become what is essentially your own “foundation.” For example, if you own $5,000 worth of stock that you bought years ago for only $1,000, then you can donate the stock by setting up a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund account (call 1-800-682-4438 or go to www.charitablegift.org ) By doing this, you get an immediate $5,000 tax deduction and save having to pay taxes on the $4,000 gain. In the years to come, as that $5,000 grows, you instruct the company that manages your “foundation” where to donate the proceeds. Besides Fidelity, there are also charitable gift funds available thorough Vanguard at 1-888-383-4483 or www.vanguardcharitable.org or Schwab at 1-800-746-6216 or www.schwabcharitable.org .

Kid Philanthropists

You may want to allow your children to manage a donation in a predetermined amount $25, $50, or whatever you have budgeted.) They get to research a variety of non-profit organizations and decide which one will receive their donation. Then donate the amount in your child’s name. You get the tax benefit, your child gets the thank you note—you both feel good about giving.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Half-Priced Holiday: Christmas on a Budget

With so many people unemployed or underemployed this year, it’s easy to ask the question: Is it possible for consumers to emerge debt free this season, and how can they do that? This is a great question to ask, and I believe that the key is to simplify your holidays by developing a strategy for your purchases and executing that plan throughout the entire season rather than waiting until the last minute. We have seven children and have seen our finances run the full gamut of possibilities. When we were first married, we were essentially paupers and didn’t even have enough money for groceries for a few weeks. Now, we’re debt free in every area, but we still want to be purposeful with our money. So my plan works whether you’re flush in cash or your cash has been flushed!

Joshua gave Jonathan cars he painted with whiteout. The only problem: they were Jonathan’s cars to begin with.

Once you’ve decided to develop a Christmas spending strategy, you may be wondering where to begin. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you shop to save:

 

SpecificSet aside a specific “cash” budget—don’t use credit cards unless you know you can pay them at the month’s end.

Simplify – Gifts don’t need to be elaborate, especially during a recession. Think “practical” for friends and family who have been hit by the recession and consider giving gift cards that they can use to purchase essentials like food and clothing. These can still be customized to be more personal but the practical aspect of this gift can be more far reaching than any other gift and it’s better than cash.

Strategize Decide which gifts you’ll purchase and match them with seasonal sale ads.  Check off the items on your list and make note of any special limitations (i.e. ‘price only effective for three hours, limit two Ipods per person, etc.). Prioritize the stores you’ll shop according to limitations and values.

Split It – Follow the old “divide and conquer” rule when shopping holiday sales by going with a friend or your spouse. If there are multiple purchase discounts, you can split it and take advantage. You might also have a “two for one” special and share the savings.

Stick to Your Guns – Be aware that you may be tempted to keep buying even when you’ve already conquered your list. Marketers are good at placing irresistible bargains in eye catching places. Remember the main rule of the shopping season:  You can go broke saving money.

Steal It – Be sure to save some money in your budget for the after-Holiday sales. You can often get non-perishable gifts for next year’s list at anywhere from 50 to 75 percent off retail.

Since financial stressors are the number one source of arguments in most homes, getting a grip on holiday spending and trying to keep it on a budget makes sense.  You may be wondering how to get other family members on board because sometimes you aren’t the one overspending—it’s your kids or spouse.

Having a plan and sticking to it not only simplifies your holidays, it can simplify your life. The recession is a good excuse to restructure the way you do the holidays, and it’s a good idea to have a family meeting. Set up a fun night with hot chocolate & marshmallows and everyone’s favorite holiday dessert. Then explain that with so many people hurting financially around the world, you are thinking that it’s a good ime to focus on the gifts of love that we can give and receive during this time of year. After you outline your holiday spending plan, ask everyone to contribute their ideas as to how they can stay on budget but still show their appreciation and value for the people in your world. We’ve done this with our children, and you’d be amazed at the creative ideas they initiate that also save us money!

Great Dates With Your Mate

Here a happy snap of the first time I went to a military ball with the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot. You have to love that 80’s hair, don’t you?

Valentine’s Day is a few days away, and according to the National Retail Federation, the average consumer will spend more than $115 for Valentine’s Day this year – up more than 11 percent from last year. Coupled with the money spent during the holidays, many will carry extra expenses over the coming months – particularly if a credit card is the chosen method of payment.
On Valentine’s Day, we all like to do things for our significant other to make them feel loved But while buying a beautiful piece of jewelry or spending a fortune on dinner may make them feel special, creating a mound of debt in the process is not very loving. Today, let’s look at creative ways to keep that date cheap without being a cheap date.

For Valentine’s Day, you might feel the need to pull out all the stops, but it’s not necessary. Sure, some people want to celebrate the holiday in a lavish way, but others prefer to go the low-key route. Whether you fit into these descriptions or fall somewhere in the middle, there are a romantic date ideas for Valentine’s Day or the weekend before that suit every budget.

FLOWERS When it comes to flowers, you usually get what you pay for and one way to cut costs is to hand deliver, this can save anywhere from $8 to $20. You could look at localliving.com or other group buying sites in your area which has been offering great deals on flowers. Another option is to get a potted bowl of blooms that she will see everyday. Treat them right and they will survive all year or longer for the price of cut flowers.

THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS – One kind of fun option reminds me of one of my favorite romantic comedies, “Kate and Leopold” and that is to give flowers with specific meanings. Go to TheFlowerExpert to find out the meaning of different flowers. For example, red roses mean romantic love while a bouquet of mixed roses means “I don’t know my feelings about you yet, but I’m sending you roses anyway.” Carnations are a less expensive option and a red carnation conveys love pride, beauty and admiration.  Daisys are also inexpensive and convey “loyal love.” A sunflower symbolizes pure thoughts and it’s one that my 16 year son is getting his special friend-who-is-a-girl. So you can select a cheaper flower if, and only if, you write a note explaining the meaning of the flower and why you chose it for your true love.

DINNER – Eating out for Valentines is really important and there are quite a few ways to save a lot in this area and still have a nice time together.  Lunch or brunch can be half the price of dinner and you could go on the Sunday before the big day. In fact, some restaurants are offering prix fix menus for the weekend or entire Valentine week. Go to your favorite restaurant’s twitter or facebook page and see what specials they are offering to get the best value. Some of these values are only offered to social media friends. You can also go to www.restaurant.com where gift certificates have gone on sale this week. You can  get a $25 gift certificate for your favorite restaurant for as little as $2. Check community billboards at your local chamber of commerce website. For example, in our area, a local Greek center is offering a romantic, candlelight dinner for two with champagne, flowers, dinner and dancing for $50 a person. While this may not seem like a bargain at first, when you add up the cost of the individual items like the food, flowers, bottle of bubbly and a cover charge you would have to pay to dance, it’s an all inclusive deal that is sure to please. Plus, you can learn how to dance the Kalamatianos, a traditional Greek dance.

A SHOW – If you have a little more to spend, and want to take in a show, then go to broadwaybox.com or goldstar.com to find great prices on tickets.  Remember that you don’t have to attend on Valentines week for it to count, you only have to have purchase the tickets and presente them as a gift! We saw Phantom on Broadway for 50% off and got great orchestra seating. Or, if you want to give a gift that will cost less each time you use it, buy a season’s pass to a museum at www.museumca.org  and not only can you visit your local museum whenever you want for the year, but you also have reciprocal privileges at 400 other museums. The same applies to zoos and aquariums, go to www.aza.org (association of zoos and aquariums.)

Send me your questions or your ideas and I’ll answer them in my next blog!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert ®

Black Friday: Fact or Fiction?

The Kay Family, Christmas on the Move, 1995

The Kay family has been waking at the crack of dawn the Friday after Thanksgiving for almost two decades in order to save as much as 50% on our Christmas purchases. But does all that hot chocolate and bleary-eyed effort really pay off? There is a lot of misinformation about this retailers’ dream day, so I’d like to set the record straight on what is fact and what is fiction regarding this special day.

  • Black Friday sales begin on Black Friday.

FICTION:  It seems that the holiday sales begin earlier and earlier each year. We are used to almost bypassing Thanksgiving as a holiday and decorations go out in stores even before Halloween is over. While some stores like, JC Penneys have issued press releases that they will “honor Thanksgiving as a family day” and not open until 6:00 AM on Friday, other stores aren’t sharing the sentiment. For example, some big sales will start on Thanksgiving day, including stores like Sears, Wal-Mart and K-Mart; you’ll find them at Bradsdeals or BlackFriday So if you need an excuse to get away from your annoying sister-in-law and walk off some of that turkey, you may want to do some shopping on Thanksgiving.

  • Getting a store credit card to get a discount will hurt your FICO score & you should never use any credit  card for purchases.

FACT: Every time you open a line of credit, or there’s an inquiry about your credit you run the risk of getting a hit on your Fair Isaac Credit Score, or FICO. So trying to receive that extra 20% off all your purchases and then closing down the account in a couple of months is usually a very bad idea. It’s especially bad if you’re going to buy a new car or a home in the next several months. Plus, if you are someone who is prone to run up your credit cards and not pay off the balance each month, then you’re in for a double whammy. Your best friend may tell you she does this all the time to get the discounts, and all she’s telling you is that she also gets hit on credit score. Give her the facts, and help a sister out!

When it comes to using a credit card, you are are often better off using credit if you know you can pay the balance at the next billing cycle. It will help you in a dispute with an online vendor and can help you earn rewards points to buy other gifts. Check out LowCards for the rewards and cash back conus you might get. Some credit cards have their own extended warranties if you buy that item (think electronics) with the card. They’ll take a one year warranty and double it. Go to Credit.com to find out the details on what your card is offering.

  • Price Matching Doesn’t Apply on Black Friday

FICTION:  Wal-Mart has offered to match competitor’s ads for years, and this year is no exception. Last year, Best Buy, Amazon, and Home Depot got in on the price comping, and this year you can expect even more including
Target.  So bring in the ads to these various stores to get the good deals (some stores will even match online offers), and save those receipts as well. Because if you have an elite credit card, including  or some offered by Citi and Visa, they will offer a price-protection feature where they will refund you the difference if you find a lower price for the item you’ve bought. For example,the  Chase Freedom card refunds up to $500 per eligible purchase and up to $3500 per calendar year and is valid 90 days after purchase.

Black Friday is not the busiest shopping day of the year.

FACT:   According to the International Council of Shopping Centers the busiest shopping day of the year is actually the Saturday before Dec. 25. In fact, only 35% of respondents plan on shopping on BF—which is more good news for you. It won’t be as crowded as you thought!

  • They give away products for free on Black Friday

FICTION: Yeah, right. You may have been dipping into the cider a bit early if you really believe there are free door busters on Black Friday. The most you will get is some cheesy little ornament worth $2.99 given to the first 100 customers. This also means that sleeping outside the store to get something you think is free.

  • The Best prices of the year are found on Black Friday

FACT: Sorta. There is no doubt that some items will never be cheaper than on Black Friday, but other items may be part of a large retailer’s push to get those Saturday-before-Christmas shoppers and may cut their Black Friday prices. You can use a cool tool at Decide.com to help you figure out whether you should buy that item now or later. It uses data to help you decide the best time to buy a certain product.

  • Black Friday deals are worth sleeping on the curb to get

FICTION:  If you really love the great outdoors and want to sleep under the starts to get one of the 3 HDTV deals that Best Buy is offering in your city, then knock yourself out. But really, this year there are more BF deals available online and in the store as well. For example, this year Kohl’s is offering its online shoppers all early bird deals on Nov 21 and all day on Thanksgiving!  So unless you just have a whole lot of free time on your hands, I’d pass on the sleepover.

  • Be careful before you buy because you may not be able to get a full refund on some of your Black Friday purchases

FACT: Retailers sometimes tighten their return policies during the holidays.  I remember one year I got 35% less than what I paid for a camera because of restocking fees that Best Buy charged me. Not fun. Other stores may only give you an in-store refund, so you are locked into spending your refund at that store. So be sure you know the store’s refund policy before you slap down the dough.

  • There are special, “secret” deals online that are not in the circulars.

FACT:   In recent years, on Thanksgiving Day, retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart have advertised extra Black Friday deals that were not listed in their circulars. These “secret” deals are only found online or with the store’s app, so the trick is to find them early so you’ll know about them when you arrive at the store on Friday. Get the Dealnews app to find new listings.

Myth: Cyber Monday offers the same caliber deals online as Black Friday in-store sales. For those of you who’d rather fully digest your Thanksgiving meal and not stand in line starting at 3 a.m. on Black Friday, we understand. Shopping for the best deals can be exhausting, but if you wait until Cyber Monday you may be missing out on some of the highest markdowns of the holiday season.

Happy Savings!

Ellie Kay

 

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