Pinching Christmas Pennies II

Installment #2 on how to spend wisely so we can give better this Christmas.


If you have gift certificates or coupons that have expiration dates, try them anyway. I tossed $30 worth of Chamber of Commerce “cash” because they’d expired. Later I learned they could be updated. In fact, now it’s unlawful in some states for gift certificate issuers to enforce expirations.

Expired Holiday Gas Station coupons from Cub can still be used at certain gas stations. Just ask. (The Holiday Gas Station in Inver Grove Heights, MNtakes them, in case you’re in the neighborhood.)

Also, food expiration dates may cause you to throw away perfectly good products.


Vacation by Owner and Home Away may offer cheaper alternatives for family getaways because you can prepare your meals and eat in. However, take photographic inventory of damage to rental property and send it to the owners before you move in.

The owner of a summer rental threatened to keep our deposit because the housekeeper reported a hole in a bedroom wall. Since I couldn’t say for sure that no one in our party did it, I asked the owner to ask the previous renters if they saw it when they stayed. Luckily, they had and we saved $75.

The aforementioned example applies to any rental item. Recently we rented a car that had small dents in it. We snapped pictures and asked the rental car attendant to record the dents. Only then did we feel comfortable driving out of the parking lot.


We’ve been overcharged on our telephone bills more than once. It’s a hassle to get overcharges reversed, but it’s worth your time.


We earn enough travel reward points through our credit card to pay for the bulk of our travel. We pay for everything with it to build up points. We’d even pay our mortgage with it if our mortgage company would allow it. Then we automatically pay the balance each month with our checking account.

Disclaimer: If you can’t pay your balance in full each month, this is a BAD IDEA for you. In fact, if this is the case, you should not have any credit card. Pay cash for a shredder and destroy all plastic!

The rest of you, be smart with your rewards. Redeem your points for travel only. Don’t use them to buy the advertised products like that overpriced glow in the dark alarm clock that sings “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.


Buying event tickets online will cost you much more in tax and shipping. Plus they charge per item, so if you purchase more than one ticket it will cost significantly more. Also, many metropolitan theaters offer rush tickets, where unsold event tickets* are available at the box office half an hour before show time at a reduced price. A friend bought rush tickets for her daughters for Wicked for $25 each. I felt stupid standing in line with my $87 Les Miserable e-tickets. And, I think they got better seats.

*Have an alternative plan in case of a sold-out performance. Sometimes this offer is limited to students and educators. Do your research ahead of time.


Finally, when the checkout person asks if you want the extended warranty on the item, just say “no”. Here’s why:

Happy giving!

Pinching Christmas Pennies

Most writers and artists live modestly to do what they love best. Unless you’ve written a New York Times Best Seller or inherited a fortune from Grandpa, you probably have to pinch your pennies if you want to be generous this Christmas. Here are some tips to make Abe Lincoln say “uncle”.


Save significant moolah by not drinking your income (and calories). Enjoy that Quadriginoctuple Frap; that shaken, not stirred martini; and that Masala chai tea  when you’re “discovered”. This will decrease your fitness gym and dental hygiene expenses, too.


Reusable water bottles save money and the environment. Refill as needed.

Last time we accidentally ordered fajitas for two. It will feed my husband and I four times over. We’ve saved meal-size servings in the freezer so we don’t overdose on Mexican cuisine. 


When you eat out, ask for the to-go cartons. Luckily, I have a spouse who likes most of the same meals I like, so we often share restaurant meals. The best deal is fajitas. We usually end up with enough food to feed us twice or more at home after the initial meal.

Vegetarian? Try the tofujitas.


Stay clear of lottery tickets and slot machines. Because the odds are so poor, my economic major son calls them a tax on stupid people. Besides, if you won, you’d go crazy and die penniless and embarrassed like most big money winners do.

Note that this gambling warning comes from someone determined to get her books published. My odds aren’t so hot either. But, writing’s more fun than scratching ticket stubs.


For instance: resist certificates. Chances are you’ll be required to go to a restaurant you never intended to visit, spend more than you expected, and when the check comes the waiter will say, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept those.” Then you’ll go to the website and they’ll offer to make it right by requiring you to go to another restaurant you never intended to visit …


Resist gift card purchases–period. They’re slippery little buggers. Unless you want your certificate, your spare change, and your remote control to enjoy each other’s company in the recesses of your couch cushions. Also, landfills are full of unused gift certificates hastily tossed by OCD people like me who can’t stand wrapping paper laying all over. We have a $35 certificate in a Fort Meyers, Florida landfill, if anyone wants to look for it.

Also, we’ve been burnt more than once buying gift cards from restaurants that are now out of business. Ouch!

Disclaimer: Okay, gift cards are a too-convenient habit–even though I know they’re a bad deal. I must confess, I bought movie theater gift cards last week. SAVING MR. BANKS isn’t in theaters until December 20. My KEM Christmas party was last Friday. What could I do?

Amendment: If you must buy a gift card, ask your gift receiver it in their purse or wallet before you throw away the gift wrap.

Anyway, if you want more advice from a hypocrite, watch for “Pinching Pennies II” in next week’s blog post.

May your days be filled with work you want to do,
not work you have to do.