A Financial Education Event

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thankful Traditions

The Kay family photo for Woman’s Day magazine.

Back when my co-host of The Money Millhouse was just a little girl with a big smile, we created memories through holiday traditions.

One of the things I discovered is that not every “savings” can be measured in dollars and cents. One of the things we emphasized in our family is the saving of memories. Our Thankful Tree was featured in a Woman’s Day magazine one year. It took two photographers 8 rolls of film and four hours to get one 3 x 5 photo in the magazine. Joshua was missing for one roll of film and we didn’t notice until we saw him making faces from behind the photographers and we asked, “What are you doing back there?”

The tip we gave is how we’ve stayed in touch with family and friends during this holiday. On November 1st, we made a Thankful Tree on poster board and put it on our wall or front door. The tree was bare because the leaves that we made out of construction paper have not yet been gathered. The leaves have the person’s name on them and say, “Papa is thankful for _________.” But we left the tree bare at the beginning of the season to teach the children how barren our lives are without the giving of thanks.

We made and sent the leaves to friends and family around the world along with a self-addressed envelope. When these envelopes came back, the children got excited as they took turns opening them. At dinner that night, we read the leaf and give thanks along with those who are thankful and put the leaf on our tree. By Thanksgiving Day, we had a tree full of thanks. We carefully saved the leaves in an envelope marked by the year and kept all in our Thanksgiving decoration box. Each year, we read the leaves from past years.

We never know when this year’s leaf might be someone’s last, or which family might have a new leaf on next year’s tree. So we give thanks.  These days, we gather “thankful comments” from facebook, email and twitter, but the point is we are connecting with friends and family in a meaningful way.

This holiday, what are YOU thankful for?  Besides our health and our family, we are thankful for two weddings this year, healthy grandchildren, and the chance to be together during the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ellie Kay


Black Friday

Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) was a blast at our house! Bob and I wanted to “sleep in” until 4:15 AM but Bethany and Jonathan didn’t want to wait that late, so they were in the Wal-mart line at 3:45 AM and we joined them at 4:30. Did you know that Wal-mart will match any store’s sale ad–even on Black Friday?
Everyone had their assignment and had different items to snag when the doors opened. I had all the other stores’ loss leaders ads with me and only had to go to ONE STORE to get all of our area bargains. For example, I got a 30GB Zune MP3 player that was on sale at Toys R Us for only $79 and I got it at Wal-mart by showing my Toys R Us ad. One friend, who went to Toys R Us that morning said they ran out before she could get one! I also showed ads to save $300 on a Garmin navigational system (Staples) and seasons of our fave television series, “Monk” for only $12.99 (Circuit City). Of course we took advantage of Walmart’s loss leaders, too, such as an $89 Sony digital camera that is normally $250. Bob bagged a Chicken Dance Elmo (yes, it’s Elmo in a chicken suit) that dances and sings and he saved $20 in the process. Bob had a diabolical gleam in his eye as he thought of our son-in-law having to put up with his sweet little boy pushing that chicken dance button over and over and over again! As Bob says, “Payback is a bummer!”
We were in the store by 5:00 AM and completely done with the bulk of the season’s shopping by 7:00 AM. We spent a total of $350 and saved a total of $750 off of retail! That’s saving twice as much as we spent in keeping with my Half Price Holidays theme!

Remember to de-stress this holiday by making a budget, sticking to it, and scheduling time for the things that matter most (like our annual chocolate house creation at the Kay home).
Happy Savings!
Ellie Kay
“America’s Family Financial Expert”

Mother’s Day Gifts – 8 Cool & Inexpensive Gifts

This is a test. It’s a test to see if ANY of my kids ever read my blog. If I get at least ONE item from the following list, then I’ll KNOW you guys read your mama’s website. If I don’t….well you don’t wanna know–trust me! 🙂 So if you know my kids and you read this blog, you might want to send them a heads up that their heads are on the line on this one!

Here are some ideas I came up with that are cool and inexpensive gifts for Mother’s Day 2009. And I would be happy with ANY of these!

1. Gift Mom Her Own Facebook Page: Middle aged women are the most quickly growing demographic on facebook! Set it up and have the family write a profile for Mom. Tweens and teens love this one and even Dad can get involved Your Mom can then use the site to do her own social and professional networking as well as keep in touch with the family.

2. Help Her Organize A Room: Give Mom a room of her choice and help her clean it out and simplify things. Design a gift certificate that’s good for a few hours one morning or afternoon. From the kitchen to her office, this is a great idea for any home area that needs de-cluttering. She’ll not only love the stress-busting effects of an organized environment, but even more importantly, the time she’ll have with you. For more ideas on how to organize, go to Marcia Ramsland’s site, www.organizingpro.com

3. Assemble a Playlist for her iPod or other portable music player: Know some songs that bring your Mom to mind? Nothing will bring a smile to her face faster than music with lyrics that say what she means to you or take her back to a special time. Think Bette Milder’s Wind Beneath My Wings or the Caribbean tunes she fell in love with on vacation.

4. YouTube Tribute: Take it one step further and marry one or two of her favorite tunes with photos and funny videos from the family collection for a full multi-media extravaganza. Post it at www.youtube.com . These can also be assembled into a special Mother’s Day e-book online at need website suggestion here.

5. Personalized Coupon Book: If all these tips are too high tech for you, then let’s go back to yesterday and a low tech, but meaningful gift, one that I remember my kids making for me when they looked like the kids sitting on this camper! Make your own coupon book with gift certificates for everything from doing the dishes for a week and mowing the lawn to a Mom and Dad’s night out or allowing Mom to be queen for the day. The latter means that dinner is on the table when she gets home, no one argues with her and she gets to watch her favorite TV show or movie without interruption! The one catch: you gotta mean it!

6. Coupon Collection: Speaking of coupons, agree for a month to take over the chore of maintaining and organizing the coupon collection. For Ellie, who saves $8,000 annually on groceries, this is a huge help and time saver especially with the number and variety of coupons available on the market today.

7. Plant a Vegetable Garden: Stake out a piece of the backyard or fill window boxes, barrels and tubs, urns or even pots and hanging basket with seedlings and starter plants for a vegetable and/or herb garden. Aside from the food bill savings, harvesting the bounty will provide months of good taste and good cheer for your Mom and others.

8. If you’ve left it to the very, very, very last minute: Remember anything personalized is better. So, instead of the generic stuffed animal, go with the item labeled “World’s Greatest Mom.”

Remember, Kay kids, that your mama loves you!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Back To School, Baby! – ABC News “Good Money” Show

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Summers are great and kids run free, but by the end of the break, a lot of parents are more than ready to start that back-to-school shopping. Truth be told, I think my “babies” are as ready to get back in the academic groove as I am ready to send them back! (BTW, I still call my 6’5″ sons baby and get away with it). But getting ready can be hard on the old bank account if you are not strategic in how you shop. Here are some ideas that I shared on a new ABC News Now show called “Good Money”
1. Layer the Savings –When shopping online, look for sale items where you can also use a coupon or code to save even more on the price, shipping, or by getting free products. With the economy forcing parents to make hard decisions about what’s really a necessity, putting a little research into finding extra discounts can add up to big savings.

2. “Double Dipping” – To maximize limited back-to-school shopping dollars, look for items that have good value, but also look to shop at locations where you can have a percentage of that purchase deposited into your child’s college savings account. Sign up for www.upromise.com so that a percentage of your purchases will go into your child’s 529 plan.

3. Logistical Savings – If your college-bound baby is attending a school out of state, shop at online retailers that also have physical stores in the town where she/he is going to school. Often times, these retailers have online-to-store options where they will send the products to one of their local stores without charging a shipping fee. This option will allow parents and students to shop at their leisure online, take advantage of all the savings options, and have the convenience of going to a local store to pick up the items they ordered.

4. Link-in Friends and Family – Oftentimes, family and friends want to help contribute to a child’s education, but they don’t know how to help – especially in a recession. Grandparents or others can sign up for Upromise as well, for free to have a percentage of their purchases from hundreds of participating merchants deposited in a college savings account.

5. Family Spending Plan – Distinguish between “needs” and “wants” by making financial savings a family affair. Give children a spending plan that shows them how much money they can spend on back-to-school items. Inform children that what they do not spend, they can keep. This added motivation of learning ways to spend less and save more not only saves the family money, but trains children in money matters, making them more adept as young adults.

Wonderfully Yours!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Tax Free Holidays

Consumers across the country are searching for ways to cut their spending and still buy what they need, especially when shopping for back-to-school essentials for kids. Many states offer tax free holidays during the back to school shopping season to help families purchase back to school necessities.

The tax free holidays are just around the corner and if your state offers this, it’s important to take full advantage of this holiday. Here are some tips to help:

FIND OUT THE DEALS – Take advantage of savings opportunities linked by local retailers to the upcoming Tax Free Holiday weekends. Don’t worry, there will be lots of ads in your local paper. Some stores like Sears even offer further discounts like $10 off a $50 apparel purchase just for showing your PTA or PTO card or student id. Be sure you go shopping prepared with these forms of identification to get your discounts.

FIND OUT LIMITATIONS – Each state has its limitations, so ask the cashier at your retailer what the rules are for your state. For example, some states will only allow up to $100 on any single item of clothing and only up to $750 on a computer. So know the rules by googling your state, “tax free holiday” and “2009.”

FIND LAYAWAY – Some stores such as K-mart have reinstituted layaway in direct response to the recession. This option varies from family to family but our family tries to minimize credit card debt and layaway is another option that helps avoid consumer debt.

Upcoming Tax Free Holiday Dates


Vermont 8/22
Georgia 7/30 to 8/2
Mississippi 7/31 to 8/1
D C 8/1 to 8/9
Alabama 8/7 to 8/9
Iowa 8/7 to 8/8
Louisiana 8/7 to 8/8
Missouri 8/7 to 8/9
New Mexico 8/7 to 8/9
North Carolina 8/7 to 8/9
Oklahoma 8/7 to 8/9
South Carolina 8/7 to 8/9
Tennessee 8/7 to 8/9
Virginia 8/7 to 8/9

Happy Savings!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)


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)

Debt Free Holidays — Can You Do It?

Do you want to have a Debt Free Holiday?

Here is another chance for you to win a copy of Ellie’s newest book, The Little Book of Big Savings (Waterbrook, 2009) by having Ellie answer your question on ABC News Now’s Good Money Show on November 17.

Despite the recession and rising unemployment, the holidays still insist on arriving! Once again, we are approaching the time of the year when retailers will make or break their profit margins based on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

Do you have financial concerns about the upcoming holiday expenses? Do you believe that this year its going to be a buyers market? Are you looking for a strategic holiday spending plan? Do you think it is possible to get through the season debt free?

If you have questions you’d like to have Ellie answer on the air, we would like to hear from you! What question(s) would you like to ask Ellie about the upcoming holiday season? The producers of ABC News Now will select the questions for Ellie to answer on Good Money.

Please e-mail your questions to assistant@elliekay.com by 11/16 or post them here on Ellie’s blog.

Answers for Debt Free Holidays- Ellie on ABC NEWS NOW

Yes, you can have the answers to debt free holidays by clicking onto my recent appearance on ABC NEWS NOW – GOOD MONEY SHOW
Plus, three of you won including Bev, from Steinbech, Manitoba, Canada; Linda from Mt. Pleasant, IL and Joe, from Panama City, FL. You will receive a complimentary copy of The Little Book of Big Savings!
Here’s the essential steps to save this holiday season!
Be Specific – Set 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. At www.AmericanExpress.com/gift you will find the only 100% gift, 0% fee universal gift card on the market. Write down the card number after you buy it and if you lose it or it’s stolen, just call American Express for a replacement.
Strategize – Decide which gifts you’ll purchase and match them with sale ads for Black Friday. or Cyber Monday. 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 on Black Friday 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 eye catching places.
Steal it! – Be sure to save some money in your budget for the after-Holiday sales. You can oftentimes get non-perishable gifts for next year’s list at anywhere from 50% to 75% off retail.
Happy Shopping!
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Last Minute Holiday Deals For $8 or Less (Even Free)!

Hey Guys!

I just wanted to post some last minute deal ideas that will expire soon:

  • $2 Gifts — Get $25 restaurant gift certificates for only $2! Put your friend or family member’s zip code into the site and see which participating restaurants will give you a $25 gift certificate for a mere two bucks!
  • $8 Zhu Zhu Pets — Walmart is flying in Zhu zhu pets on 747s all around the country THIS WEEK. If you’ve been waiting, then call your local store to see when their “event” starts and send your teenager to wait in line!
  • FREE Gifts — In this last minute rush, you’ve probably already been given new gifts that just aren’t “you.” Maybe you got a silver chafing dish that fits your best friend’s personality and hospitality skills better than your own. The National Retail Federation says that 20% more people are regifting this year than last year. If it looks new, then gift it!
  • FREE Gifts — Maybe you are at the flat end of your budget and have nothing to give. You always have gifts of service. Create a gift card in your area of expertise. If you’re a stylist, offer free hair cuts to your friends. If you love to cook, give a gift card for three dinners for your neighbors. If you are a mechanic, change the oil of your out of work football buddy for free. Your gift of time may be someone’s else’s essential provision!

Happy Holidays!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)


How to Save $160,000 on Groceries!

According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) food prices rose 4% in 2007 and 5.5% in 2008. This year, according to the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), prices are predicted to rise as high as 3.5%. This means that shoppers will continue to look for ways to cut corners while still feeding their families and purchasing household goods. Our family has saved an average of $8,000 per year for the last twenty years (according to the USDA cost of food at home chart) or a total of $160,000!

Here’s how we did it as seen on ABC NEWS NOW – Good Money Show.

Q. So you’re saying that saving money on the food budget can make a significant impact on a family’s financial situation. Where does “food” generally rank in terms of expenses in a family’s budget?

Ellie: The greatest expense for most families is the mortgage and insurance, then there’s transportation and food ranks third. So if you can save money on the third largest bill you have in your family, then it can make a significant difference in your overall financial health. In fact, I fed our family of seven for only $200 per month during that first decade. According to the USDA’s “Cost of Food at Home” chart, I saved an average of $8000 per year. Since I’ve been doing this for 20 years, that’s a twenty year savings of $160,000. So it really adds up!

Q. That’s a lot of money you’ve saved, Ellie. We’re ready to hear about how your plan works. You say that “layering the savings” is the way to save 50% or more on grocery items. What are some of the savings layers?

Ellie: A lot of people think they are saving money by buying store brands or shopping the sales. While they may save a little here and there, I’ve found that the biggest savings are found when you combine or layer the savings factors. Here are some of the layers:

1. Shop the Sales
2. Use manufacturer’s coupons on brand name items
3. Shop at a double coupon store
4. Use a store coupon
5. Look for Value items – Items that donate to worthy causes such as Dawn’s Everyday Wildlife Champions
6. Get rebates
7. Get Cash off Your Next Shopping Order

Q. OK, let’s get a little more information on these different layers. I understand shopping the sales and using manufacturer’s coupons. But you lost me at combining a manufacturer’s coupon with a store coupon. How can you use two coupons on one item?

Ellie: In today’s example, I found a store coupon that made this $2.59 bottle of Dawn cost only .99. That is a store coupon. Then I used a manufacturer’s coupon for .25 off the same bottle. So this bottle of soap only cost me .74. And because it’s a higher end brand name, it lasts longer than a store brand (which has mostly water). Which makes it a “value” layer in our savings factors.
If you follow the funding source, then you’ll know which coupons can be combined. A “true” store coupon is one that is funded by the store’s advertising or marketing department. It is usually evident by the store name on the coupon and/or the store’s mailing address. If it has a manufacturer’s address on it, then it’s not a true store coupon. A manufacturer’s coupon is reimbursed by the manufacturer, not the store, so it can be combined with a store coupon.

Q. The other layer that can be a bit confusing is the “Cash Off Your Next Shopping Order” how do you earn that coupon, can you give me an example?

Ellie: In my example, I went to Albertson’s last week and found Post cereals, that were usually $2.89 on sale for only $1.69. I had a coupon for $1.00 off each box of cereal, which made them cost only .69 each. Post was running a promotional with Albertson’s and offered a $4.00 off your next shopping trip coupon for the purchase of 5 or more boxes of cereal. So, with sales and coupons, I paid $3.45 for five boxes of cereal and received the $4 off coupon for a net gain of five free boxes of cereal and .55.

Q. What about double coupons and even triple coupons, how does this work and what are some of the limitations that consumers should be aware of when double couponing?

Ellie: If you go to my website, and click onto the “resources” at the bottom of the home page, you’ll find a link to a list of double coupon stores across America. These are stores that will take the face value of a coupon and double (or even triple) it for the customer. So if you buy that Dawn soap, we talking about earlier, the .25 manufacturer’s coupon would now be worth .50. You need to check with the customer service desk because some of the limitations that might be included are: up to a limited amount, you might only be able to get one item doubled on any one particular product. So the first Dawn coupon would be doubled to .50 but the second one would be worth only the face value of .25. Another limitation might be on a “Buy one/Get one free” even though you are getting two products, they may only accept double coupons on the first product. If, however, the product will ring in at half price, then you could use two coupons.

Q. Are there any websites that can help me organize all these savings layers and let me know what deals are available in my area?

Ellie: Couponing can not only be time consuming and confusing, but you might not understand each store’s “rules” either. Thankfully, there are some outstanding websites that can help as they do a lot of the legwork for you. All you have to do is enter your zip code and they’ll let you know what is on sale in your area, what kind of manufacturer’s coupons should be out there on the product, what stores offer double coupons and even which stores might offer a store coupon in addition to the other sales. You can go to www.couponmom.com (free membership) or www.thegrocerygame.com (paid membership).

Q. What about saving money on food outside of the grocery store? Volunteer food programs have sprung up across the country, how do some of these work and are they cost effective for the consumer?

Ellie: There are a few different programs out there such as S.H.A.R.E that have been out there for quite a few years. SHARE is an acronym for Self-Help and Resource Exchange – is a program where people get a break on their grocery bills by exchanging volunteer time for the opportunity to buy affordable food. For each package of food purchased, we simply ask for two (2) hours of “good deed” time, whether at SHARE, other institutions in your community, or your own neighborhood. Food packages (worth up to $45) offer meats, fresh fruits and vegetables and grocery items. The price you pay is based on what you select from the menu but you can generally save about 50%. SHARE purchases the food from growers, brokers and packaging plants and is never donated, government surplus, or salvage.
For those who may not have access to a SHARE program in their area, there are other non-profits that have sprung up in response to the economic needs of families and they also offer boxes of food at bargain prices. Angel Food ministries offers $70 worth of food for $30 if you order it ahead of time and go pick it up at a central location. You can order online and it’s also a great organization to volunteer with as they have locations all across America. There are no income requirements and anyone can participate.

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

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