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Good and bad Christmas gift ideas for the flat broke

10 Dec

Two years ago, I did a 12-day series called “Flat Broke Christmas”, where I featured cool and cheap gift ideas. I considered doing the same thing again, but I remembered how the whole thing, while very popular, made me want to Fa la la la la over when I got it finished. I also didn’t want to wind up inevitably recycling something.

So today, I decided to do the opposite take on things. I decided to work up a post also about what NOT to do when trying to save money this Christmas. There are some ways to save money that will not make you a hit at the family Christmas gathering. Furthermore, if you buy something someone will likely hate, you create awkwardness as people try to be nice, lie, and thank you — as they hunt for a gift receipt.

GOOD IDEA: Drawing names

I mentioned this in my first Flat Broke Christmas post two years ago, but I believe this is worth mentioning again. You automatically save yourself time shopping because you only have a few people for whom to buy gifts. You save money for the same reason. You can (generally) afford to spend more on this person’s gift and have a greater chance of getting him/her what he/she wants. This can be a serious help for both families and workplaces.

BAD IDEA: Name-draw-free-for-all

If you have a decent-sized group, names should be divided up before they are drawn. They should be divided among either gift-givers ages or genders or both. With work situations, make sure the gift givers are divided among department and/or shift. You want to make sure these people know each other well enough to know what the other would want. Otherwise, you could have some really awkward situations arise. If you don’t divide people of different age groups, you often have someone like me, a thirty-something grunge/metal nut, trying to find out what stuff from a techno gangsta rap group your teenage cousin wants. On the flipside, you could be trying to find out what doo-wop band your grandparents dig. Also, a lot of men in particular feel awkward about buying presents for women. My dad often goes to me when trying to find out what my mom would like, and they’ve been married for more than 30 years. Sometimes, the group is too small for such dividing, but divide accordingly if you can.

GOOD IDEA: Gifts only for the kids

Christmas sucks if you’re a kid with nothing under the tree, especially if you’re a little kid. Adults, however, SHOULD understand that sometimes, money is just too tight. This can especially be helpful with large extended family gatherings. If you have 10 aunts and uncles, 20 cousins, and 145 pets in your family, there’s no way any person who’s trying to save money can afford all of it. Not all adults are going to be adults about this, but they should grow up if they don’t.

BAD IDEA: Gifts only for your “favorites”

There’s a certain group of people who often hear of how another relative being preferred over them really sucked. They’re called therapists. Don’t even consider buying a gift for your favorite child/niece or nephew/sibling/etc. unless you’re going to buy for them all. If you can’t afford to buy for them all, buy nothing. Don’t use your poverty as an excuse to pit family members against one another — or against you.

GOOD IDEA: Price limits (Maximums)

When time comes to draw names, set price limits on which everyone can agree. This keeps more awkward situations from developing when Uncle Moneybags draws your name and Uncle Poorhouse draws someone else’s. Did I mention this can also help you save money?

BAD IDEA: Price limits (Minimums)

Telling people how much they have to spend in any type of way really makes you look like a snob.

GOOD IDEA: Buying gift cards from stores your recipient patronizes

Even if you can’t put much money on the gift card, the thought of having someone learn enough about you to buy something you would really like really speaks volumes. You’ve cared enough about a person to take their preferences into consideration. Last Christmas, one of my totally awesome cousins bought this avid bookworm a Books A Million card. Perfect! It was also perfect timing. I needed a GRE study guide. The card was not enough to totally offset the cost of one of those beasts (that are such THRILLING reads, let me tell you), but it was enough to where I only had to pay a few bucks. Buy your tech junkies a Best Buy card. Buy your scent fiends a Bath and Body works card. If you don’t know what stores the person likes, ask.

BAD IDEA: Buying gift cards from places you BELIEVE your recipient would or should patronize

Whether you spend $2 or $200, a gift card for a place that has nothing your recipient likes or everything your recipient hates will be meaningless and likely create discomfort. Here’s a case study. A friend of mine won a gift card at his all-male job for a pawn shop. Many guys he works with hunt. This guy would probably barf three seconds into field dressing a deer. He actually spent Lord knows how long trying to decide what to do with the thing because he didn’t want to just waste that gift card. He eventually bought his wife a mandolin when she once mentioned she’d like to learn how to play it. She never has played the thing. It collects dust as a decoration in their bedroom.

What will really make you have egg on your face and make you look like a total jerk is buying what you believe your recipient SHOULD want. If you buy your hippie granddaughter who won’t wear makeup or shave her legs a beauty store gift card, you’re going to send her the message that you disapprove of her looks/lifestyle. Here’s the thing: If you do disapprove, Christmas is not the time to point fingers. In fact, it may not be cool to stick your nose in her business even if it isn’t Christmas.

GOOD IDEA: Taking the middle road

Sometimes, you want to get something nice, but you’re still on a budget. So, when you’re stuck in the middle, take the middle road of buying mid-priced items. You don’t go all-out, but you generally buy something of greater quality and something that will last longer. Otherwise, you wind up with a situation I’ll describe in the next paragraph.

BAD IDEA: Buying the cheapest thing, even if it’s crap

Yay! You’ve saved a few bucks by purchasing something cheap. The celebration will quickly end when the thing falls apart five minutes after you walk through the door. When you have low prices but poor quality, you haven’t saved a dime. Think about it. You either have to spend money and/or time on repairs or spend money replacing the thing. Even if things don’t break, if someone hates your crap because it’s crap and doesn’t use it, you’ve also wasted money. Therefore, cheapest is not always the best. If you absolutely have to strike a deal, look for sales on mid-priced to high-end stuff, and make sure to check your friendly resale shops or closeout stores.

If all of this fails, always remember the gift receipt. Your recipient will silently thank you ever so much.

Current music: Megadeth, “Use the Man”

 

 

 

New Year’s Day advice: Just keep on truckin’

30 Dec

Traditional New Year’s resolutions bite.

We never fail to make and break these every year. I don’t care if it’s losing weight, being kind to others, cleaning up our language or quitting smoking. By Jan. 15, we’re chowing down on steak and gravy, mac and cheese and Old Milwaukee beer while watching really bad Lifetime movies. We’re screaming at the Wal-Mart cashier. We talk like drunken sailors, even at church. We’re lighting up a Marlboro behind the church.

But ladies and gentlemen, there is one serious resolution we can all make. You shouldn’t need a lit-up Times Square ball to do this.

Face the challenges thrown at you — constructively and immediately. Do this when they’re thrown at you — not just during the first days of January.

OK. So I know that may sound pretty lame and like something you’d find on one of those “inspirational” signs you’ll often find for sale at a mall kiosk. They’re next to the people trying to sell you miracle nail buffers — telling you to “prepare to be amazed”. But with our economy, it’s something we should all keep in the back of our minds and at all times.

Life is basically a fan. Sometimes, it’s moving at a slow relaxing pace. In a matter of seconds, it will spin so furiously that it sways back and forth — looking like it’s going to fall out of the ceiling. And crap continually hits it at warp speed.

So, here’s the deal. If you see something that needs to be done, just do it. You may come to this realization in January, April or July. You may have never been able to plan for it. But don’t wallow in your misery until the next Times Square ball drops. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT AND AT THAT POINT. When you do this, try to keep the crying, screaming and general dramatics in check. I admit that I’ve done that quite often this past year, but I’ve let it out and gone on with life.

Case study: I used to smoke like a burning freight train from hell and did so for 11 years. One day, I was vacuuming the carpet with the sweeper I inherited from my grandmother. It weighs about 900 pounds and has a frayed cord thanks to her dogs chewing it up. I got halfway across my living room and I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. I honestly thought, “Oh God, I’m having a heart attack, and I’m not even 30!” I took a few minutes to chill out on the couch. I was just overexerting, I presume, because it went away rather quickly. I’m guessing it wasn’t a heart attack. But that did it for me. I took a moonlight ride, bought Commit lozenges and the rest is history.

It was Jan. 15, 2008. I had made no resolution to quit until that moment. I just had something suddenly thrown at me, and I took care of it. I haven’t touched a cigarette since.

See, the problem with traditional resolutions is that we often define them too tightly or automatically start slamming down mountains to climb right in front of us. The combination of little-to-no flexibility and something daunting is a great way to set yourself up for failure. When those resolutions fail, we tend to not get in the mindset of “Hey, let’s do something to make our lives better,” until another new year comes. The vicious cycle keeps repeating itself.

Here’s why there’s a better chance of the other one working. All of our challenges are different, and they usually travel in groups. These can be financial — as well as personal, health-related, etc. These pop up at various times. Some can be overcome in minutes, and others take years. Nevertheless, we’re not specifically defining what we will do and when.

Sure, a lot of people in the goal-setting world are all about strict definitions. But sometimes, you need flexibility. For we, the flat broke, stuff hits the above-mentioned fan constantly. If what we are doing is extremely rigid with its rules and timelines, there’s a higher chance it will fall by the wayside.

Need more proof that this is something we all need to do? Sure, there are signs the economy is improving. The unemployment rate has recently fallen in 36 states, and the national numbers have seen a slight decline. But that decline was only .2 percent. Notice that little decimal point. According to this CNN Money story, about 100,000 people enter the workforce each month during a normal economy. As the economy improves, that number could double each month of 2010. That means more than two million jobs would have to be created this year just to keep the overall unemployment rate from rising.

You also have to look at exactly what is making those numbers get smaller. Michigan has been in an economic quagmire even before “The Great Recession”. Its recent unemployment rates peaked at 15.3 percent in September, and they are now at 14.7 percent. But how much of this can be attributed to people leaving the state to find work? Economists say the only way Detroit’s unemployment rate — 17.3 percent — will decrease is for the jobless to leave and find work elsewhere.

I hate to be the manure dumped on the parade, but I don’t want to stray from reality, either.

But as I’ve said here before, we are in charge of our destinies. We are going to get things thrown at us that are out of our control, but we have a choice as to how we’re going to face them. You can run away or fight. I plan to fight. Are you with me?!

I have to give kudos to sandyb for the inspiration on this one. I was going to do an entry about financial resolutions for the new year, but she got me to thinking in a much different direction. She and I don’t have the exact same take on the situation, but she put my gears in reverse 🙂 Check out her entry here.

Black Friday: Was it personal desperation?

7 Dec

 

How many of these people are Christmas crazy, and how many of them are desperate to get something they need?

 

So, you may have been brave enough to shove through the Wal-Mart stampede on Black Friday. Perhaps you chose to stay at home, watch news footage of it all and laugh.

But are the people who were in the stampede working to fill Santa’s sleigh or desperate to get a discounted sweater because they’re sick of being cold?

This year’s Black Friday was definitely not the economic shot in the arm retailers had hoped to have. According to monthly same-store tracker Thomson Reuters, overall sales rose just 0.5% last month. This firm had originally forecasted a 2.1 percent increase. Note: Their figures do not include Wal-Mart, because Wal-Mart reports its earnings on a quarterly basis.

On the other hand, those numbers are quite sweet when you compare this past November with November 2008. In 2008, sales DECLINED that month by a much steeper 7.8 percent. Let’s further compare the two Novembers. This year, the unemployment rate was 10 percent versus November 2008’s 6.8 percent. I’m sure most people who still have jobs now aren’t seeing their salaries increase. Also, keep in mind all the people who have had to take pay cuts this year. They’re not factors in the unemployment rate, but they have definitely seen their standards of living decrease.

Now, take a look at who is at the top of most shopping lists. It’s the shoppers, themselves. Sixty-six percent of Black Friday shoppers planned to buy at least SOMETHING for themselves, according to Consumer Reports’ Holiday Poll. That poll also indicated 51 percent of adults planned to go shopping on Thanksgiving weekend.

Were those shopping for themselves wanting to treat themselves? Or were they jumping at the chance to FINALLY get their hands on something they desperately needed.

Here’s a little hypothetical situation. You haven’t been able to afford a TV for the better part of a year. Meanwhile, the one you should have burned last decade has 10-foot-tall rabbit ears that are covered with tinfoil — and held up by bent wire hangers. Joan Crawford would have a heart attack if she saw that contraption.

Suddenly, you find out Megamartsupercentercheap is selling TVs the size of Earth for $50. These babies are sweet. They don’t just make you FEEL like you’re in the middle of your favorite sporting event. NFL players will actually jump out of your screen and battle one another for a Super Bowl victory in your living room. Tina Fey will be sandwiched between her crazy boss and insane employees right beside you as you chow down on a sandwich. The people screaming at one another on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC will all take their fight to your house. You will stand with The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore as a Category 5 hurricane makes landfall — on your couch.

Yes, this will all be in your living room. Did I also mention this TV can wave its magic wand and turn a pumpkin into a carriage?

OK. So I totally exaggerated on prices, sizes, features — hell, everything. But if you were desperate for a new TV AND needing a sweet deal to do it, wouldn’t you want to take advantage? Wouldn’t you wait outside in weather so cold your fingers are ready to break off? Wouldn’t you get up before the roosters crow?

I can tell you I personally took advantage of a sweet deal and for a very similar reason. Just a few months ago, I had to replace a computer that was more than five years old and a printer that was about 10 years old. I was holding out and trying to make these things last as long as I could. But time was running out. Then, my state waived all sales taxes on Energy Star-certified products for a little while. Sure enough, the computer I wanted had such a certification, and I found a sweet printer/scanner/copier that had it, as well. I was more or less forced to make the purchase, but I saved some major dinero.

Let’s take a look at what people are buying. Hot sellers include power tools, clothing and Snuggies. Everyone needs to fix things, and repair services cost money. No one can legally walk around naked (except in certain locations). Everyone also needs to stay warm. Sure, electronics were hot sellers, but how many people were replacing that infernal computer that eats every other midterm paper?

On the other hand, compare the price of a Snuggie to a dollar store blanket. Remember how Snuggies are as trendy now as ripped Jordache jeans were in the ’80s. Compare the price of power tools to your old-school screwdrivers and hammers. Electronics? Sure, everyone needs a good computer these days. But does anyone really need a device that projects TV images onto a blank wall?

I’d love to watch my beloved “30 Rock” from a blank wall. I’d also love to pay the rent.

Does everyone NEED Zhu Zhu? Toys R Us was hopping this year. In fact, people were in line at the Times Square store as early as 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. People weren’t just after this robot rodent. Xbox 360s, PS3s, video games, Hannah Montana dolls — and just about anything to make a kid’s dream come true — were being trucked out the door.

Here’s a major counterpoint to THAT: How many people also flooded Toys R Us because those deals meant they wouldn’t have to tell kids Santa wasn’t coming this year? Some people may call that overly sappy, but take it from someone who grew up in a family often in dire straits: It happens, and it’s terrible. All parties involved feel like dirt. Trust me. For those folks, things like a Barbie Fashion Fever Doll marked down to $7.98 or a Tickle Me Elmo doll for $5 off and with free shipping could be an answered prayer.

Sure, there will be some people out there just to treat themselves. But how many people in that crowd see the chance to have an ounce of enjoyment when they have only used money for bills all year? I confess, I often find myself wanting or even needing some kind of treat to keep myself going.

It’s a hard call, folks.

The Flat Broke Diva is thankful for…

25 Nov

Every job involves crap, even ones at the White House. White House intern Nick Butterfield, who was assigned to watch May, the National Thanksgiving Turkey, follows the bird sprinkling wood shavings over his droppings, prior to a ceremony where President Bush pardoned the bird in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Tomorrow is a day when many of us — myself included — will break our diets and eat turkey, dressing, pie and whatever else would make a TV health expert run through the streets screaming like a banshee.

Thanksgiving is here, and it’s that time we’re traditionally asked “What are you thankful for?”. Most of us in the Flat Broke Universe are tempted to roll our eyes when we hear this. Personally speaking, this year has been a financial rollercoaster ride on crack. I’m sure I’m speaking for many others out there. But from personal experience, I also know the situation could be far worse. There are so many people in far worse conditions right now.

I believe, though, we all have something for which we can be thankful. It may be hard or even painful to come up with such a list, but here’s mine:

I’m thankful for this computer chair that is all but destroyed because of all the claw marks. My cat must truly love me if he has climbed it to get to me that many times.

I’m thankful for my old computer that’s more than five years old from which I still have to clear a boatload of files. It lasted for an amazing amount of time and kept me from having to replace it sooner than I had do so.

I’m thankful for the old printer on my floor right now. That baby lasted for almost 10 years. I was able to go even longer without having to replace a printer. That was one awesome ride, my friend.

I’m thankful for being able to finally get out of my Sprint contract and drop their awful service.

I’m thankful for slipcovers. For a fraction of the price, I was able to cover my couch and chair that are more than 10 years old and look like something out of your grandmother’s living room.

I’m thankful for dropping the cable converter box that was hooked up to my bedroom TV — the 1995 model that my grandmother threw out. I thought that TV was a goner until I decided to save a few bucks and just run the cable straight out of the wall. Now, I can actually see the picture and hear sounds other than static. It actually works now. Sweet.

I’m thankful for my toilet. I only have to plunge it perhaps once or twice a week, and it unclogs rather quickly. I’ve never had to call in the professionals like I have before.

I’m thankful for my grandmother’s dogs chewing up her vacuum cleaner cord. I now have a vacuum cleaner that actually gets dirt out of the carpet for a change. I just have to watch where I grip the cord.

I’m thankful for one of my best friends’ mom for giving me two massive lamps she was going to throw out anyway. I have no overhead lighting in three rooms. I can actually see my hand in front of my face when in the living room, bedroom and office, and I’m no longer in danger of falling.

I’m thankful for another one of my best friends for hurriedly de-junking her home when she moved from West Virginia to South Carolina. I now have a bookshelf, end table, dish set I use almost daily.

I’m thankful for filthy rich people. They regularly discard items that would cost me more than a month’s salary. They take the initial hit, so I can buy their stuff for a buck at yard sales, consignment stores and book/music exchanges.

I’m thankful for my parents, who have pulled their near-30-year-old daughter out of numerous financial jams during a year that included 10 days off without pay.

I’m thankful that, for the first time since 2003, I will get to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Welcome to a life of moving all over the Southeast and a career in journalism.

Oh yeah, one more thing…

I’m thankful for YOU. Yes, you. Over the past few weeks, this blog’s readership has taken off more than my wildest dreams could have ever imagined. Your loyalty knows no bounds, and I hope I can provide you more commentary and survival tips that keep you coming back.

Just as I’m sure others in the blogosphere will be doing, I’ll be taking a few days off because of the aforementioned first Thanksgiving with my family in six years. But don’t worry. Just because the “12 Days of Flat Broke Christmas” are over doesn’t mean The Flat Broke Blog is over. Oh, no! No! This Flat Broke Diva will be back with more poverty fun, and she plans to keep on trucking until she can’t truck anymore!

Have the most awesome Turkey Day ever, even if you are eating TV dinners. Please be safe if you plan to join the Black Friday stampede.

And what better way to conclude the “12 Days of Flat Broke Christmas series” than this awesome version of the real Christmas song. The Muppets rock my socks. Poor Fozzie.

Twelfth Day of Flat Broke Christmas: Night on the town!

25 Nov

The night lights are beckoning. Give the gift of allowing someone to afford going out.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Flat Broke Blog gave to me: A night on the town!

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town. I’m counting on you, Lord. Please don’t let me down. Prove that you love me, and buy the next round. Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town.”

— Janis Joplin, “Mercedes Benz”

You may not have enough money to buy someone a three-wheeled Chevette and a View Master, much less a Mercedes Benz and a color TV. But you can make at least one of Janis Joplin’s wishes come true.

I know I’ve stressed things like at-home cooking, “night-in” entertainment options and the like here. But let’s face it, sometimes, you need a break from it all. Think about it. You’re already stressed about your financial situation AND you have to cook? And after that, you can’t watch the totally awesome new movie coming out? It’s terrible!

But you can throw a bone to your fellow stressed-out Flat Brokers and give them the night on the town they so deserve.

Food!

You may be the point where you are literally cutting back on your eating to save money. I know I am. But eventually, you have to give in and have something to eat. If not, you’ll die. That would be terrible, wouldn’t it?

Almost any restaurant — fast-food and all the way to the top — offer some type of gift certificates or gift cards. With these, you can provide as much or as little as you would like. Just like cash gifts, you at least provide a discount for someone even if what you give doesn’t cover everything. Make sure your gift certificate/card is for a restaurant your recipient actually likes. Also make note of the expiration date.

Keep in mind that someone who is as broke as you are may not have the fanciest wardrobe in the world. If that’s the case, don’t get anything from a restaurant where this person will feel like dirt or not even be allowed inside!

Here’s another food option for which I must give credit to my dear friend Jacque, the totally awesome Girl of Words.

Restaurant.com is an excellent bang for the buck. Basically, you can buy a $25 gift certificate that can be redeemed at numerous restaurants — for $10! You basically get a gift that’s worth more than double what you’ve paid for it! There are other options such as $50 for $20, etc.

Here’s what you must watch about this Web site: Make sure there is a decent selection of restaurants within reach. Larger cities may have this, but a smaller rural area may not. For example, West Virginia only has four participating restaurants and in one city. That’s pretty sad when you consider Alaska has seven for its entire state. I digress.

But if you can find a good selection that isn’t an insane distance away, this is one serious deal.

A night at the movies

I rarely watch movies in a theater nowadays. Yes, I’ve been to see two movies in the past few weeks, but these were both movies I had been dying to see. I believe the last time I went before that was around Halloween — in 2008!

Sometimes, though, there are movies people want to see right now, but they’re forced to wait until it arrives at the local video store. It’s always sad because you hear your friends talking about how good the movie was, how you should see it, etc. You basically sit there feeling like a bum because you can’t afford to have fun.

Enter movie gift cards. You can pay for someone to see a movie for one night. For one night, this person can actually have fun away from home! They can see the newest, hottest movies out there and without the wait!

If you have a Marquee Cinemas nearby, here is the Web site from which you can order $10 movie gift cards online.

Make sure they’re not going alone

You don’t have to buy both dinner and a movie. I’m sure your recipient will totally understand and be totally happy with one or the other. Nonetheless, your friend or relative will be miserable if she/he has to go alone! Make sure you have an extra card/certificate/ticket for at least one more person, like a spouse or significant other, to come along. If they have no one else with whom they can go, come along and keep your recipient company!

You may also want to offer to babysit children while your recipient has a wonderful night out, too. The stressed-out parents will worship you for that!

Final roll call!

One name draw and price limit

Two wads of cash

Three people asking me what I’d like

Four gas cards

Five personal assistants

Six warm, cozy things

Seven cheap, fun board games

Eight tools

Nine bags of diapers

Ten anti-skanky products

Eleven homemade crafts

Twelve nights on the town!

And a fabulous Flat Broke Christmas for me!

Eleventh Day of Flat Broke Christmas: Get crafty

24 Nov

You don't have to have these kind of mad skills to make an awesomely creative Christmas present.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Flat Broke Blog gave to me: Eleven works of art!

Use the right side of your brain this Christmas, and you’ll steal all of someone’s heart.

Let’s face it, many of us don’t have the means to buy jewelry, home decor and artwork at any time — much less, a God-awful recession. These tend to be luxury items to the nth degree. But use an ounce of creativity, and you can give someone a gift that’s deeply personal, highly personalized and one you could never buy in a store.

Crafts aren’t just those big wooden snowmen country-style things you find in rural craft fairs, anymore. There are about a million different routes you could take with crafty gifts, and they don’t require much — or sometimes, any — artistic skills. You just really have to think outside the box and think about who is receiving gifts.

Jewelry

You can basically make any type of jewelry nowadays, but necklaces seem to be the crafters’ and wearers’ No. 1 choice. The fun thing about a homemade necklace is that they’re not just something that resembles 1960s love beads anymore. You can buy larger beads that resemble pricier items — or even beat pricier items in terms of being outright stunning.

Generally speaking, you can buy the smaller, less expensive beads in a large supply for dirt prices. After you get the beads, make sure you have some type of necklace fastner (You can generally buy these in a large supply on the cheap, too.) and then some fishing line (or something from the craft store that’s similar). Then, decide on a length, cut the line, tie a knot at the end and begin stringing. Make sure you leave room for the fasteners to be attached at each end. It’s really straightforward.

The good part about this is that one bag of beads, one bag of fasteners and one roll of fishing line can make multiple necklaces. With those three purchases, you could very well have gifts for Mom, Grandma, Cousin Jane, etc. One of my cousins made me one for Christmas one year while we were in junior high. It was bright, hippie-like colors I wore and still wear quite often. I still have it, though it is missing right now. I love it!

If beading isn’t your thing, there are still necklace medallions that shouldn’t be overlooked. Some of these are beautiful, trendy, unique or a mix of them all. I had been looking for a silver fleur de lis necklace for some time, and I finally managed to find the medallion piece at a craft store for $3. I attached a loop to it, put it on a five-dollar chain, and I was good to go. I have received numerous compliments on a necklace that cost $8.

Picture this

There are a billion ways you can go with pictures and framing.

Find pictures that matter to your recipient — something awesome they did, their kids/grandkids, etc. — then get a photo quality printout. If you have access to a printer that will do that, great. If not, you can get printout from a digital camera for less than a dollar at a Wal-Mart and several other locations. Larger photo printouts do cost more. I would personally not get anything larger than a 4×6 or 5×7 if you’re trying to save money. Poster-size printouts can have insane price tags.

Then, go to a discount or dollar store and find a simple frame. I personally brought a 5×7 frame back from a yard sale just last week, and it set me back a buck. Be careful when frame hunting because some frames are made of very high-quality materials or are highly personalized. A high price tag comes with them.

If you have mad painting or photography skills, then please, put them to use. What would you rather have hanging on your wall? A picture of a barn you found at Wal-Mart or one your best friend painted just for you? Would you like a seascape you found in a bin somewhere or one your brother shot just for you while he was at the beach this past summer? Personally, I’d rather have something just meant for me and done by a person I know well. Find a low-priced frame, place your masterpiece in it and you have a totally awesome Christmas gift coming someone’s way. The only thing you have to consider here is someone’s home decor and tastes. You may love that graphic design you did of dragons eating people alive, but I’m sure your mom won’t.

Here’s another great idea for the music enthusiast in your life: Album frames. Most classic rock fans have an old LP they keep as a souvenir, even though they’re no longer played. Having the music as it was originally printed, in my mind, is a piece of history that should be placed on display. You can find these frames built to contain an LP cover and LP inside for about $10, like this one at Target.

Reader contribution!

I have to thank the lovely Von for this one 🙂

Dollar Tree has retro dishtowels that can be used for artwork and pillow covers and you can give them separately with a vintage kitchen or bar piece. She gave one of her clients lemon and lime graphic dish towels, wrapped them around a bottle, included real lemons and limes and put it all in a bag. I thought this was sweet and cheap!

I’d be here all day and all night if I gave you all the possible craft ideas that you could make into a cheap, extremely creative Christmas present. The best thing for you to do is do an online search for cheap, easy crafts and find whatever works for you.

Keeping track:

One name draw and price limit

Two wads of cash

Three people asking me what I’d like

Four gas cards

Five personal assistants

Six warm, cozy things

Seven cheap, fun board games

Eight tools

Nine bags of diapers

Ten anti-skanky products

Eleven homemade crafts…

Coming tomorrow: The 12th day of Flat Broke Christmas! The FINALE!

Talk Turkey to Me: Flat Broke Thanksgiving

23 Nov

Editor’s note: Yeah, I know I promised more for Thanksgiving, but I honestly had no idea how much of a beatdown the 12 Days of Flat Broke Christmas would give me!

You know I, I’ve never seen turkey look so good. I always scarf down more than I should. But I like it. And I like pumpkin pie, too — the way that I want chocolate mousse. I gotta have two (plates). Oh, yes I do.”

— Extremely poor parody of Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” I wrote in less than five minutes

Thanksgiving is almost here, folks. You know what I’m talking about, right? That holiday that comes sometime before Christmas? Black Friday Eve?

Today, I bring you good news about this year’s Thanksgiving dinner prices: Prepare to pay LESS. The American Farm Bureau Federation reports that 2009’s average Thanksgiving dinner costs will drop four percent from last year’s. The biggest contributors were milk and turkey price declines. Milk prices are down by 92 cents per gallon, and turkey is down by three cents per pound.

Let’s not forget that retailers are doing everything they can to draw in holiday shoppers this year, and they are slashing some prices. I went on a moonlight trip to Wal-Mart this past weekend and found stockers moving out a crate of Stove Top stuffing that would probably fill my kitchen. Turkeys were in just about every frozen food/refrigerated area of the store. Right at the entrance, I found a gigantinormous display covered with every Thanksgiving treat under the sun — which included $5 pumpkin pies.

Despite lower prices, there are a few things you can keep in mind to keep yourself from being less Thankful:

Potluck dinners

These can be a major way to get more for less any time you have more than one person eating together. Basically, everyone agrees to bring and/or cook a particular item so the burden isn’t entirely dumped on one person. You also don’t wind up with a Thanksgiving dinner with 10 pies and one piece of turkey.

Basically, get together as a group and decide who will bring what. Leave the more expensive items to those who are in more of a position to afford it. Let the ones who don’t have much money bring something cheap, like two bottles of Sam’s Choice pop. Also make sure that the person bringing a hard-to-fix item like a turkey CAN ACTUALLY COOK. If someone has no cooking skills whatsoever, maybe he/she can be the person bringing cups, paper plates and plastic cutlery.

Determine dinner size

This one is rather cut and dry. Don’t buy and cook enough food to feed the Duggar family when Thanksgiving is only you, your spouse, your one child and two cats.

Generics, generics, generics

Nine times out of 10, they’re the same damn thing as the name-brand item. Take advantage of these because your overall savings could be outright dramatic.

Get a newspaper

OK, so maybe I’m plugging my own industry here, but newspapers have all of those lovely sale papers from grocery stores. There’s all sorts of coupons to clip, too. Sunday papers are your best resources. Sale papers and coupons aren’t just for your grandmothers anymore. With all of these retailers trying to slash prices for economy-weary consumers, you’re bound to find some killer deals.

By the way, Thanksgiving Day newspapers will have tons of Black Friday sale papers you can use to find killer Christmas deals, too.

FYI: Here’s a CNBC slideshow of common Thanksgiving items. It shows 2009’s and 2008’s average prices for all of them.