Frugal Living Tips: Holiday Shopping For The Kids

Christmas is like the world’s best day when you’re a kid – it’s a day of magic, anticipation, and excitement. When you’re an adult, though, Christmas can be a lot of stress on the budget. Each year, toy companies make “new!” and “exciting!” toys (mostly by, I’m pretty certain, repackaging last year’s hot toy in a fancy! new! box!), which can lead us to roll our eyes, wondering how long, exactly, the toy will last until it’s been broken, discarded in favor of the box it came in, or deemed “stupid.” Here are some frugal living tips for holiday shopping for the kids (or el ninos, which, I think, is Spanish for “The Nino” or “The Train. I took Latin, gimmie a break).

1) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Toy Swap. You know that old exersaucer space-ship looking thingy you put your baby in for like 3 months because then you didn’t have to hold him for like a zillion.5 years? I do. It sat there, sadly unused now that my kids walk and run and kick the crap out of things, and I knew that Salvation Army has a policy in which they don’t accept donations of items that kids “sit in.” While I ended up giving it to my kids preschool, it’s one of those things I could’ve easily given to a friend to give to his or her child for Christmas. Same goes for toys – old toys that are in good shape, you can totally exchange with others so that everyone wins. No more dust collectors and no money spent!

2) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Craig’s List. Okay, I’m still afraid of Craig’s List, but I’m pretty sure that there are some rad deals on toys there. I mean, if I ever got my act together, I’d totally drive out to some creepy strangers house for a DS for the kids.

3) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Watch The Ads. Since so many companies want you to part with your cash during the holiday season, sign up at places like Target.com and ToysRUS.com so you get a newsletter (unsubscribe later, obvs) that details all of the specials they have going on. This way, you can keep your eyeballs on a particular toy you want, rather than simply blindly choosing (which is, apparently, BAD in my house.)

4) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Think About The Age Of Your Kids. There comes a point when quality overrides quantity, and when that happens, you’re going to have to make sure you budget appropriately. But if your kids are still in, I HAVE THREE PRESENTS UNDER THE TREE! mode, that means that they’ll be much happier if you buy them a buttload of things from the dollar store (or in the Dollar Bins at my boyfriend The Target) and wrap them all up. Kids, man, they’re goofy. You could probably wrap up individual crayons and they’d be all WOW MAMA!

….until they hit the age where they’re all, “Where’s my Wii and new TV and blah blah blah.”

5) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Deal Sites. I know, I’m always talking about my favorite deal site, SneakPeeq, but I freaking love it for reals. It’s fun. And many times, they do have children’s items on the site. If you “peek” a certain amount of times, you can get credits anywhere from a certain percentage to 10 bucks off any item (which happens to be going on TODAY, yo) and that can cut the cost of the item you want.



What are some of the ways you handle holiday shopping for the kids?

Frugal Living Tips: Girl’s Night Out – On The Cheap

Just because you’re pinching pennies doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a girls night out. It just means you must save for it, or find a way to have girls night out for less. The key to a great night out with your BFF’s is checking out the best deals, and taking advantage of them at the right time.

Group Rates are always a great way to save, especially if your group is at least four or more. Each location will have different definitions of group size, but generally the minimum is four to receive the group discounts. Call ahead and check out what the minimum number and discount is before hitting it up.

Timing is everything when it comes to pricing. Plan your girls night out when the prices will be at the lowest. Avoid high tourist season and holiday season. Generally the spring and fall are the slow seasons which means that restaurants and venues are willing to haggle prices or offer better discounts. Fewer tourists means slower business, so they tend to offer better rates to bring people in.

Do you and your gal pals love sweet treats? Forget bar hopping, and go bakery hopping. The latest trend sweeping the US is bakery tours. You load up into a bus or van, and they drive you from bakery to bakery, while enjoying treats and often drinks at each stop. Some cities offer walking tours of the same. These tours are generally billed as an all-inclusive event and tend to offer group rates.

For the party girls out there, get perks for partying. Check out organizations like Shecky’s where you can earn points online towards free gifts, and attend their annual Girl’s Night Out trade show events. For as low as $10 you can attend the trade show, receive a goodie bag with high end samples, enjoy free mixed drinks, and take advantage of free makeovers from companies such as Maybelline.

For dinner out, skip the big names with celebrity chefs and look at the local diners. They’re typically cheaper but with the same quality of food and service. You can also look into smart phone apps that allow you to earn points towards coupons for your favorite restaurants. Check into sites like Restaurant.com or Foursquare, where you can purchase discount certificates or check-in to earn points respectively.

Daily specials are a girl’s best friend. Make sure to check out the neighborhood bars for the daily specials. Then plan your outing for the day that offers a special you’ll take advantage of. Every bar varies, but generally you’ll find a mix of drink and food specials.

And don’t forget the equally fun Girl’s Night In. Instead of heading to a movie and spending a fortune on the ticket and movie snacks, rent a movie from Redbox or Netflix and stay in. Pop your own popcorn, buy bulk candy at the store, and settle in for a fraction of the cost. You can also pop the cork on that bottle of wine you’ve been eyeing, which most theaters don’t offer.

Get creative, and focus on the fun. Because fun doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

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Dawnie can be found wandering the internet looking for ways to get that damn song out of her head. You know the one. She throws out snarky one liners on Twitter and writes dribble at The Dawnie Project. Her claim to fame is being followed by Little Debbie Snack cakes, and eHarmony once laughed at her via tweet.

Frugal Living Tips: Holidays On A Budget

It’s coming up on the most (sarcastically said) wonderful time of the year, which means to those of us over the age of 20, stress, stress and more stress. It’s not that I don’t love the holidays — I do — it’s that they bring about unwanted, and frankly, unnecessary stressors into my life, especially now that I’m living on my own as a freelancer who is currently struggling to purchase a gallon of milk for her kids. I cannot fathom how I’m going to make the holidays work this year; just that I have to. Which is why I’m going to have to adhere to my own frugal living tips about doing the holidays on a budget.

1) Holidays on a Budget: Taking a Hard Look At The Numbers. I’m not a numbers person; I’m a people person, so learning to budget in the first place has been a bit tricky for me to manage. I know, I know, by 32, I should have this figured out, have a home, a plan, and milk in my fridge. Alas, I do not. Which isn’t the end of the world. But when you’re trying to do the holidays on a budget, it’s extremely important that you make a list of people you want to buy things for and how much you can (safely) spend on them.

2) Holidays on a Budget: Christmas Lists. I know, I know, most people don’t bother putting together a Christmas list after the age of twelve, but if you’re going to be parting with your money to buy a present, at least make sure it’s something the person you’re gifting wants. Ask for a list of several items, so it can still be a surprise!

3) Holidays on a Budget: Don’t Succumb To Temptation. One of the easiest ways to blow your holiday budget is to see a fabulous deal and buy it without even considering what you plan to do with it. Certainly a great deal makes me happy in the pants, but sticking to my budget is far better.

4) Holidays on a Budget: Consider Secret Santa. If you have a large family (which I do not), it may be easiest to say, “eff that” to buying presents for each person in your family and coordinate a Secret Santa approach so that you only have to spring for one gift rather than fifty.

5) Holidays on a Budget: Kids. Now, kids are kinda particular about the things they’ll play with (or, I should say, MINE are, because they’re stubborn like their Mama), which means that I have to pinpoint the precise toy they want, make sure it’s something all three can get into, and search out deals.

6) Holidays on a Budget: Crowd-Sourcing. While it may seem odd, more and more people are using social media these days, which makes me do the happy dance. It’s easy to ask Facebook or Twitter where they can score a deal on a particular item, because chances are, someone in your network KNOWS and can point you in the right direction.

7) Holidays on a Budget: Scour Sale Racks. The holiday season is all about stores trying to dump old product just in time for the new releases in the new year, which means that half the things you see are marked down, which can make sale shopping both easier and harder. My suggestion is to start at the back of the store (Target = my boyfriend) and see what deals you can find allllll the way in the back where they repackage and resell returned items.

8) Holidays on a Budget: Go Halvsies. If a family member really wants something that costs more than you can spend, see if you can go in on the present with a couple of other family members. That way, everyone’s happy and you’re still doing holidays on a budget.

9) Holidays on a Budget: Regift. I know that the whole “regifting” thing is rife with controversy, but I like to consider regifting as a means to recycle the items I have that I no longer need. I’d much rather they find a home where they will be loved instead of throwing them away. So take a peek at the things you own but don’t need, then see if any of them would work as a present for the holidays. If it makes you feel better, go ahead and tell the person that it’s a regift of something you don’t need.

10) Holidays on a Budget: Make What You Can. I’m about as far from “crafty” as one can be and still have two thumbs, so making things for people isn’t really my way of doing things. But this year, I may have to, so stay tuned for some ideas (or write up one for me and we can share it with everyone! Email becky.harks@gmail.com) for things you can make for the holidays that don’t suck.

11) Holidays on a Budget: Dire Straits. If you’re genuinely struggling to make ends meet, don’t be ashamed of telling your loved ones that you’re simply not going to be able to afford to do much for the holidays. It may make you feel humiliated, but I assure you that having your electricity turned off by the city because you decided to do some shopping ANYWAY is much much worse.

12) Holidays on a Budget: Scour Budget Websites. Even if you never buy anything from these sites, it’s often worth a gander just to see what’s out there and the prices you can expect. I’ve included several of my favorites below:




Shoe dazzle is a lot of fun to peek around to get ideas from. Whether or not you buy their shoes, they do have the pulse on the hottest (and most affordable) shoes for the season.



Amazon Local is always a good place to keep your eyes peeled for local deals and give you some ideas for holiday gifts.



Most of the stuff on this site is under twenty dollars, which means you can score some very unique things for people on your holiday lists. Since the site is always updating its merchandise and offering oodles of money off items, it’s really easy to discover new and awesome gifts.

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How do YOU do holidays on a budget? Any tips and tricks for those of us who need the help?

Giveaway: The Drinking Diaries

In an odd twist of fate, I was asked what feels like sixty million years ago, to submit an essay for a real, live book. Me. In a book. A book called The Drinking Diaries.

(if you don’t have I’m On A Boat in your head, you’re dead inside)

(here, let me help)

Ah, now I feel better. The best thing about earworms is sharing them.

Anyway. Me. In a book. Woah.

I’d long thought I’d be a writer with a book of my very own and everything, but the market tanked and well, I’m still a blogger. Don’t get me wrong – I love blogging – it’s just a dream I’d all but given up on. Until now.

And because my friends who’d put out the book are FULL of the awesome, they’re offering to give away a copy of The Drinking Diaries, which, I’m going to tell you, has some of the awesomest essays ever (mine not included, although I’m quite proud of it).

If you’d like to win a copy of The Drinking Diaries – in a REAL BOOK – boy do I have something for you! A copy to give away!

If you’d like to win a copy of The Drinking Diaries, you may do the following to enter the contest, which will last until next Friday, November 9 (please leave a comment documenting each of the things you’ve done to enter)

  1. First, leave me a comment telling me something hilarious or awesome.
  2. Use The Twitter to mention this site: http://deals.mommywantsvodka.com/
  3. Become my Facebook BFF
  4. Subscribe to this site
  5. Leave an additional comment suggesting things you’d like me to both research and write about for this site (or my regular blog, Mommy Wants Vodka)

Easy, peasy.

Let’s get this party started!

*blows streamers*

Frugal Living Tips: Have Your Wine And Drink It Too

I hear it all the time – wine is the drink for the ‘classy drunk.’ But just because you’re classy, it doesn’t mean you’re flush with cash. While I won’t begrudge you your $2 bottle of wine, I do want to arm you with money-saving tips that will also expand your palate – before you grow tired of that same bottle of cheap wine. Let’s learn how to have your wine and drink it too.

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Have Your Wine And Drink It Too: Flash Sale Sites:

I’ve seen wine sales on many a flash sale site, including Beyond The Rack and Rue La La, but it’s not consistent and sometimes the prices are the same as what you see in the store. There are two wine-specific sale sites I can recommend, though, that often have high quality wines at affordable prices:

In VinoThis is an invitation-only sale site and when you refer friends who purchase wine from the site, you’ll get a $20 credit.
Lot 18 -
This is an invitation-only sale site and new users get a $25 credit when they sign up (see? I just gave you free wine). Again, you’ll get credits for each person who signs up and makes a purchase, too. Save ‘em up and you’ll have free wine in no time!

Have Your Wine And Drink It Too: Retails/Distributors:

Beverages & More – This chain often has sales, but their big one is the Five Cent Wine Sale. During this sale, if you buy a bottle of wine at full price, you’ll get a second bottle of the same type for a nickel!

If you don’t feel knowledgeable about varietals, I suggest going to the website prior to visiting the store and looking at wines in your price range (for instance, under $10) using one of their search filters – then sort by critic’s rating. I usually print this list off and circle the wines I want to find in the store – highly rated wines that are the cheapest on the list. Or you can even place your order online and pick it up at your local store so that you don’t have to search out the wines by yourself.

To take advantage of this sale, you’ll need to sign up for their free ClubBev card, which also gives you 5% discount coupon every time you reach $250 in purchases.

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Winetasting.com – I love this website for their mixed case deals. They tend to happen around the new year and you can get a lot of awesome wines for an average of $5-8 a bottle if you keep your eyes peeled. There is also a section on the website for “mystery collections” that have cosmetically imperfect bottles that are discounted by up to 30%.

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Naked Wines – This is my absolute favorite place to buy wine. I discovered them through good ol’ Groupon (keep your eye out!) and fell in love immediately. My husband and I liked every single wine we tasted in the starter case we received.

Naked Wines is a hub for small winemakers who for one reason or another can’t effectively market their wines. Naked Wines has a core of ‘angels’ who commit to spending at least $40 a month on wine, which then helps them invest in these winemakers and assist them with distribution and sales. The benefit of this business model is that you – the consumer – can purchase some really unique and QUALITY wines at a fraction of the cost you would normally pay since less is spent on promotion and labeling. Their wines are $9 and up regularly.

But wait – if you sign up to be an angel with Naked Wines, you can buy any of their wines – which are already offered at a reasonable price – at a 40% discount AND have the opportunity to buy a premium bottle of wine for $1 each month. Oh and shipping is free on orders over $100. If you can beat that deal anywhere, let me know.

And because I like you, I’m even going to give you a $100 voucher toward your first case of wine with Naked Wines. This means you can get twelve bottles of wine for as little as $60 out of pocket. You’re welcome!

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I can’t leave out boxed wines. Big box retailers have some quality wines that they are able to offer at a great price because the packaging for a box of wine is cheaper and holds more volume than a bottle. I can see you looking at me with disbelief as you think back to that box of ‘Blush’ wine your parents kept in the ice box. Let me assure you, there are some very good boxed wines out there that are worlds above the likes of wine coolers. Try Black Box Wines or Target’s Wine Cube, each of which gets you the equivalent of four bottles of wine for less than $20. Always check the coupons to see what’s out there:


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Lastly, if you’re lucky enough to live in a state where you can buy booze in the grocery store, look for discounts for stocking up. Safeway and Fresh & Easy both offer a 10% discount when you buy six bottles or more.

Have Your Wine And Drink It Too: Wine Clubs:

Belonging to a wine club is like subscribing to receive wine shipments periodically. Becoming a wine club member can also give you certain benefits – discounts on cases of wine, invitations to member-only events, and free wine tastings at the winery. I’ve been a member of quite a few wine clubs, but I like to fly solo now for the variety and in order to take advantage of any sale I see. Wine clubs might be perfect for you if you like a particular wine maker, though, or you are looking to learn more about different varietals.

If you don’t have a favorite winery but still want the club experience, check out the Virgin Wine Club.

Have Your Wine And Drink It Too: At The Winery:

If you’re visiting a winery, always ask if there are discounts available if you buy a case. And, if you’re lucky enough to be heading to wine country in California, check your wallet for a Visa Signature card. There is a large list of wineries that will provide free tastings to Signature cardholders. Some even provide discounts on any merchandise you buy.

Where do you find the best wine deals?

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Crystal T. (who pities the fool!) is a compulsive do-gooder who loves to share shortcuts and savings tips with anyone who will listen. She writes at Ewokmama.com and dallies with other online projects when she feels like it.