Monday, 26 November 2012

Cyber Monday

Today is a great day to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and settle in at the computer to do a little sale shopping from the comfort of your home. 

Lots of retailers are offering free shipping with purchases above a certain amount for Cyber Monday ... but even if you're making a smaller purchase, in some cases it will be worth it to pay for the shipping if the discount and shipping cost is less than you would regularly pay for the full-price item.

Happy Shopping!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Disguise something needed as a gift!

To stretch the budget, try turning something you would otherwise NEED to buy your children into a special gift.  If you can do it for the same cost you would otherwise spend it's best, but it can even be worth spending a few extra dollars more than you normally would if it means you don't have to buy 2 separate items.

For example, if your growing child is in desperate need new t-shirts ... well, a plain t-shirt does not make an exciting gift for a small child.  But if they absolutely love everything to do with Spiderman and you just happen to find a shirt with Spiderman on it ... suddenly it's a great gift. And even if you spend $2 or $3 more on the t-shirt than you would for one with the Spiderman picture, you still come ahead of having bought them a toy and then still having to buy them a shirt after Christmas.

Other suggestions for needed items that you can turn into a gift by looking for something a little special:

- bubble bath
- shampoo/conditioner with a favourite tv character on the bottle
- socks
- pencils/pencil crayons/markers for school
- new backpack or lunch bag
- hat or mitts in a special design or with a special character
The hat my 1 year old gave to my older daughter as a Christmas gift last year.
The 4 year old LOVED the hat, and I loved that it only cost about $5 on sale ... and she needed a hat anyway.

Black Friday

Just a quick note to say that the famous American Black Friday sales are on today (and through the weekend), and Canadian retailers are starting to get on the Black Friday sale bandwagon too. 

There are too many sales to list them all for you, but check out your flyers for sales at local retailers, and you can also find a LOT of online sales, both from Canadian retailers and from US retailers who will ship to Canada.  A quick Google should bring up lots of retailers with Black Friday sales, and
MrsJanuary and SaveaLoonie sites are posting many of the deals today too.  If you're a member of the Debt Free Christmas Facebook group, I'll be "sharing" some of the best deals that cross my newsfeed in the facebook group too.

Happy shopping!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Free Anti-bacterial soap from Bath & Body Works

Free anti-bacterial soap from Bath & Body Works Canada when you spend $10+. A good opportunity to pick up some small gift items or stocking stuffers, and get hand soap for free ... either for yourself (choose a nice holiday scent for your guest bathroom) or to include in a gift basket.

[Thank you to for sharing this deal]

Bulk Buying ingredients

The cost of ingredients for specialty foods at the holidays can add up rapidly.  So it makes sense to try and buy them as inexpensively as possible.  I've talked before about using coupons and store sales to stretch your budget.  Today I want to talk about two different kinds of bulk food buying.

The first is the bulk food store.  These are stores where most of their products are sold in open barrels or containers, and you scoop out the amount you need into bags or containers and pay by weight. (Bulk Barn is one example of this type of store). The cost of buying items this way is often less than buying pre-packaged brand name items, especially if they are also on sale at the bulk food store.  There is also the added advantage of being able to buy exactly the amount you need, so there won't be any waste.  Need only 4 squares of bittersweet chocolate for a recipe?  No problem ... and no need to buy an entire package of 8 squares and have the rest go to waste.

The second is buying in bulk .. or large quantities.  Many regular grocery stores have larger, or "Club Sized" packages of foods for sale, as well as items such as paper plates, napkins, etc. that work out less expensive per unit than smaller packages. 
You may also consider shopping at a warehouse type store that specializes in large containers (Costco, for example).  It is often cheaper to buy a much larger package of something, rather than two or three smaller packages.
Another thing to consider about buying in large quantities is to pair up with a friend or family neighbor to purchase some of the items that are cheaper in large amounts, but would be much more than you can reasonably use (or more money than you are willing or able to outlay at one time).  Found a stellar deal on 10lbs of onions, but you don't need that many?  Split it with a neighbor.  The 20kg bag of flour from Costco is a steal of a deal but more than you'll use in a year?  Get your mom and sister to go in on it with you, and split it three ways. 

Whatever you do, ALWAYS take your calculator so you can figure out the per unit price.  Sometimes the costs of items in bulk stores can be deceiving.  And if it is a perishable item, don't forget to consider whether you will use all of the item before it will spoil.  It's not a savings if you end up having to throw out half of the container because you weren't able to finish it before it went bad.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Gift Baskets

Gift baskets are a great way to put together a series of smaller items on which you've saved money into one larger gift that has a value altogether that is greater than the sum of it's parts.  Here are some great ways to save money on gift baskets:
Saving on the container
  • Get the basket for free by re-gifting or re-cycling a basket or container you already have.  If you don't have anything appropriate of your own, ask family and friends, and see what you can come up with. 

  • If you can't get a basket for free, baskets and containers can also often be found very cheaply throughout the year at yard sales if you're planning ahead.  If you have your heart set on one new, I recommend the Dollar Store, but go early in the season as the best designs or shapes/sizes often go fast.

  • Think outside the basket.  Consider using a pretty box, a flowerpot, a cookie tin, a (new) wastebasket, or other type of container for the basket.  Many of these could be re-used or purchased very cheaply at the Dollar Store.

  • Upcycle your containers to give them a fresh look.  Sometimes things are sitting in our basement because they're outdated or not to our taste, and so we don't want to use them.  Same with some items that go on clearance because they're not a colour anyone wanted. But a touch of spray paint, a different ribbon, or covering a box in gift wrap can give a whole new look.  (Just don't spend more money on fixing up the item than it would cost you to buy a new one!)
Saving on the contents
  • Make it yourself.  Homemade gifts and goodies can be low cost, but high value due to the labour and love that go into them, not to mention their uniqueness.  You don't have to make an entire gift basket of all home-made items ... but slipping in one or two home made things can add a special loving touch while also saving you money.

  • Buy on sale.  Watch for sales and buy items when their cost is low.  Specialty coffees and teas for example, can be costly, but if you pick them up when they are on sale (and use a coupon if you can!) You can save a lot. 

Women's Gift Basket created by a fellow couponer. 

 Basket $2,  Wrap $0.50,  Bag at the back $0.50,
Skintimate shave gel $0.46,  Dove body wash $0.99
 The rest were samples
  • Take advantage of freebies.  Many companies offer free promotional samples of their products throughout the year.  If you pay attention through the year, and register online for these free samples (some full-size and some sample size), you can keep them and then when it nears Christmas time see how you can group them together to form the basis of a gift basket.  Many of the samples that would work well for gift baskets are health and beauty related (Olay cleansing lotions, Neutrogena soap bars, etc), but you can also get samples of food items such as herbal teas, instant coffees, and flavoured coffee whiteners.

  • Increase your budget per basket by making it a combined gift for a couple, or even a whole family.  For example, if your per-person budget worked out to only $20 per person, you can probably create a gorgeous gift basket for a couple for only $30, and still come out with $10 left in your budget to allocate to spend someplace else.  You can also create gift baskets for a whole family.  Consider a theme such as games night, and include a board game or two, some popcorn and candy, and some hot chocolate.
Have any good gift basket ideas of your own?  Please share in the comments below, or come visit us at the Debt Free Christmas Facebook Group to interact with others and catch more deals and suggestions.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Canadian Toy Testing Council Sale on Gently Used Toys

Each year the Canadian Toy Testing Council enlists help from real kids and families to try out a variety of toys and then reports the findings to the public in early November.  Then the toys used in their toy-testing program are offered up for sale at discounted costs in their annual Toymendous Sale.  The toys are usually gently used, and may have some damage to the boxes and packaging from having been used, but are in good shape and generally have seen less wear and tear than toys you might find at a garage sale or second hand shop. 
Here's the info on the sale:

Toymendous Sale
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Algonquin College, Building T Room 102
1pm-3pm and 5pm-9pm
  • New and gently used toys
  • Get this year’s top toys just in time for Christmas!
  • Save between 30% and 60%
There is paid parking available on campus, and free parking after 5:00pm in lots 8, 9 and 12. Please note that there are no children allowed in the sale room, and we encourage families to bring their own bins/boxes/bags to carry their sale items. Signs will be posted to help direct people.

For more information, visit the website of the Canadian Toy Testing Council.

[Thank you Dana for bringing this event to my attention!]

Sign up for E-mail Notifications

Signing up for e-mail notifications from stores you routinely shop at, or which you will consider shopping at during the holiday season, is a great way to get information about upcoming sales, as well as discount codes and free shipping offers for online shopping from those retailers.

If you don't want to flood your regular e-mail inbox with these notifications (some of which come almost daily!) set up an e-mail account you use solely for these types of notifications and other promotional offers.

As an added bonus, some retailers (such as Old Navy) offer customers a bonus discount offer when they initially sign up for their mailing lists.

Children's Place Sale

Today Children's Place has free shipping on web orders, plus 20% off your purchase with web code 2A2G2012.

Pick up a Christmas outfit, clothing gifts for the children on your shopping list, or socks, tights, and other accessories for stocking stuffers at a fraction of their regular cost. Plus, save yourself the hassle of going to the store and shop from home in your jammies!

You can also shop in-store for the 20% off savings, and can often pick up items on clearance or sales that have already sold out online. If you're on their mailing list, print and bring in the e-mail they sent you with the discount code, or most stores will accept you verbally telling them the savings code (which for this promo is associate code 073).

I love shopping Children's Place online sales when they have free shipping and a discount code. I always start by heading straight to their clearance section to check for steals of a deal. But there are often good savings to be had by looking for sales in their regular sections too and applying the discount codes.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Toy Coupons

Fisher Price and Mattel are both offering coupons for a variety of toys right now through the coupon provider  Head on over here and sign up for a free account and you can select coupons to be mailed to you, or to print off and use.  While you're there, you may find some household coupons you're interest in as well.

Hasbro has partnered up with Kellogg's for the holidays and is offering $10 coupons through specially marked family sized boxes of cereal.  Find one PIN code printed inside specially marked boxes of Kellogg's cereals, enter the code on their website and then receive a coupon by mail for $10 off a select toy from Hasbro --there are 14 toys to choose from!  This is a high value coupon, but you do have to decide ahead of time which product you want to buy and have them send the coupon ... so make sure you submit your pin code early in order to get your coupon in time for Christmas Shopping.  See details about this offer on the Kellogg's Website

Hasbro has ALSO partnered up with Orville Redenbacher popcorn, and is offering a coupon inside specially marked boxes of microwave popcorn to save $5 on Hasbro board games.  Pair this coupon with a good Christmas time sale and you may be able to walk away with a board game for as little as $5 or $10!  (Or even free ... last week, Zellers offered Scrabble and Monopoly games for $5 ... so with the coupon to save $5 all you had to pay was the tax!)  Visit the Orville Redenbacher site for more details.

Mattel meanwhile has partner up with General Mills cereals to bring you a Play and Save offer.  Head over to the Play and Save portal at to order your coupon to save $10 on a toy purchase of $20 with select cereal purchase.  Please note:  I haven't received this coupon yet, so I don't have specifics of how it works.  But it's worth ordering if you think it may be useful to you.

There is a Barbie booklet/coupon offer that offers 10% off when you spend $40 or more on Barbie products.  I haven't seen this one myself, just heard it described.  It has been seen located near the Barbie displays at Toys R Us stores, and may be available elsewhere too.

Edited to add:
The P&G Brandsaver coupon insert that was delivered this weekend (November 10th) included a coupon to save $5 on the Playskool Rocktivity Sit to Stand Music Skool toy.  It is on the page with the Duracell battery coupons.


Coupons are a great way to save money, especially when you pair them with an item that is already on sale in order to get even deeper discounts.

Using coupons can take a little bit of planning and organization in order to acquire them and decide on how/when best to use them.  But it is well worth investing a little bit of time in order to get great savings, even if you decide only to take advantage of the most common offers.  In this entry on my personal blog, I described some of the beginning of my own journey into couponing last spring.  Suffice it to say, I continue to see significant savings on my grocery and household bills each month.  And I'll definitely be taking advantage to save money on holiday items. 

I won't get into all the specifics of couponing because it would take me forever to describe it all.  If you're interested in knowing more about couponing I recommend you visit and check out the "How to coupon" button or and look for the "start here" tab.  These sites explain all the basics of couponing in Canada, post links to new coupons and deals daily, and also offer weekly lists of the best sale prices and coupon match ups for the major Canadian grocery chains, saving you a lot of work.

I'll be posting separately with some specific coupon offers currently available that are great opportunities to save in your holiday spending, even if you don't plan to routinely use coupons.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Buy Second Hand

You can save a bundle by buying items second hand.

Buying gifts second hand works really well for toddlers and babies, since they couldn't care less if a toy or item of clothing is new or not.  Also, clothes and toys for small children are often outgrown so fast that they don't get much wear and tear. 

For older children and teenagers, it may still be reasonable to gift a second-hand item if it's for something they really want, and it would normally have a larger price tag.  For example, when I was in high school, I took a photography class one year.  I borrowed a 35mm SLR camera for the class.  But I really wanted to have one of my own going forward.  So the following year, my parents bought me a second hand SLR camera and I was thrilled with it.

If you gift outside of your own children, use your judgment as to whether family members and friends would welcome this.  My sister is into the environment and stuff, and would be perfectly happy receiving second hand items for her kids and has in fact specifically requested them before ... especially for items that would otherwise be more costly, such as an infant swing. 

Buying second hand for adults can be a little trickier.  But antique shops or white elephant tables at church bazaars could still yield some great vintage gifts.  Or you might pick up some inexpensive baskets or bowls to form the basis of a gift basket.

Buying second hand shouldn't be restricted to gifts, though.  There are lots of items for the holiday season that you may be able to pick up second hand.  Decorations, serving dishes, candles, and table linens can help you decorate your home for a fraction of the cost.  And you can also save a bundle on holiday outfits for the kids, or a new cocktail dress for your husband's work party by checking out your local consignment shops and thrift stores.  Many church and community bazaars and craft sales offer second hand jewelry and accessories for a fraction of what things would cost new, and sometimes you can find some real gems among the costume jewelry.

Have an example of a great second hand buy?  Share it with us!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Make Money from Stuff you Don't Need

You found money hidden in your home in the form of spare change, gift cards, reward points and more. But you probably have more cash lurking in your home, disguised as un-needed items. Now is the time to search out some of the things in your home that you no longer need and sell them to make a few bucks. It’ll have the added benefit of helping de-clutter your home before the influx of holiday guests and new toys and gifts. Depending on how much time you have, and the value of the items, you may choose to sell them yourself through online ads, or take them to a local consignment shop and have someone else do the work … though they will also take a portion of the sale price.

A general rule of thumb for setting prices for re-sale of items is to price it at about 1/3 of what it would cost new. Possibly a little more if it’s in excellent condition and a well sought-after item, or a bit less if it has more wear and tear. And of course, you should always balance how badly you want a few more dollars for your item, versus the benefit of making a quick sale.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Find your Hidden Money

Now that you’re made your budget, it’s time to go looking for money that we have right in our homes, but is sitting there idle waiting to be put to good use.  Search them all out, and right down the amounts.  The total might surprise you!  Here are some places to find hidden cash:

Spare Change.  Check piggy banks, coin dishes, car ash trays, and anyplace you routinely dump loose change.  This is the time of year to count it out, roll up larger amounts of coins, and get them back into your wallet to spend.  Depending on your habits, it might not add up to a lot, but hey ... every penny counts!

Gift cards.  Hunt them down, and check their balances.  Some cards you can check online, others you will have to go into the store.  Large value cards are great, of course, but even smaller amounts can make a difference.  The $1.97 left over on a Tim’s Card could be applied to a new $5 card to give to your child’s teacher, for instance.  If you have gift cards that are unused because they’re for a place you would truly NEVER EVER shop at for yourself or anyone you know,  ask around among your friends and family, or post online to see if someone would be willing to buy the card from you, or trade for a different gift card instead.

Points Plans.  Check the balance on any and all reward plans you participate in, and see if there is anything you can redeem your points for.  It could be a gift item for someone else (body shop gift basket), something to help you celebrate the holidays (new cookie sheets), or an everyday item that will cut down expenses in other areas so you have more to spend on the holidays (Esso gas card). 

Coupons.  Coupons are like money in your pocket.  You use them to pay down the amount of money you will owe at the cash register when you make a purchase.  Now is the time to round up any loose coupons floating around the house, and make a plan of which ones will help you out over the holidays.

Bottle or container deposits.  Collect up any items in your home/garage/basement that can be returned for money.  In Ontario, this mostly means beer and liquor bottles.  In some jurisdictions across Canada you can also return milk jugs, or other plastic and glass containers. 

Credits.  If you have any in-store credits from returns you've made, or money from selling items through consignment shops, find out how much money you have on account and either plan to spend it for items you need at that location (for gifts or everyday items), or arrange to have the money paid out to you, if possible.

Any other ideas of where to find hidden money?  Share them with us!


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Shorten the Gift List

One way to save money on gifts is to give fewer of them.
First, decide if there’s anyone on there who can immediately and easily be cut from the list. Ask yourself questions like:  Do you really need to buy a gift for your neighbour’s dog?
Next, decide if there are any people on your list whom you can double up on.  This works best for adult couples. For example, instead of budgeting to spend $30 each on your brother and his wife and buying them each their own gift for a total of $60, consider budgeting to buy them a shared gift for $50.  It’s trickier to select shared gifts for children, but it can still work out sometimes, especially for bigger ticket items for your own family, such as a gaming console.  Last year, my husband and I gave a train table to our children as a combined Christmas gift from us.  But we knew they would have individualized gifts from Santa and from extended family.
Thirdly, see if you can make arrangements with friends and family to not exchange gifts.  In my family, we don’t exchange gifts with my sister and her husband, we just give gifts to each other’s children.  In some families, the adults hold a Secret Santa and each adult then gives a gift to only one other adult in the extended family.  Agree with your girlfriends that instead of exchanging gifts, you’ll get together for a special lunch date over the holidays.  Or better yet, plan to do it in early January when your social calendars free up and the post-holiday blahs hit.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Begin with a Budget

The very first thing you need to do to avoid being challenged by Christmas debt is to SET A BUDGET.
Based on your usual monthly income, and any savings you have that you are willing to spend, figure out how much money you want to spend (or can afford to spend) on Christmas.  Once you know how much money you have that you can spend, or want to spend, set a budget.  Make sure you include all the areas in which you’ll have extra expenses during the season, not just Christmas gifts.  Here are some thing to consider including:
  • gifts for family and friends
  • gifts for teachers, bus drivers, day care providers, etc. (if this applies to you)
  • cost of Christmas dinner.  Include not just  food but also any table decorations, favours, wine, etc.
  • travel (include gas if you drive out of town)
  • baking supplies
  • cost of other holiday foods. Include the things you expect to take to potluck meals, and the extra food if you’re having out of town guests
  • special clothing such as Christmas outfits for the kids, a cocktail dress for the office Christmas party, new shoes, etc.
Once you’ve established the budget for those bigger categories, take your gift budget and break it down further for how much money you want to spend on the individuals (ie … for nieces and nephews, what do you plan to spend, for each of your own kids what do you plan to spend, etc.).
If the amount of money per person ends up a little skimpy after you’ve divided it by all the people on your list, then you know you need to start using strategies to save money where you can in order to meet that budget, and/or to be able to shuffle some of the money around by saving in one part of your budget so you can spend more elsewhere.  A budget is a plan … a work in progress that can change as you go along.  The most important part to set in stone is the maximum amount you are willing to spend.  How you allocate that money will change as you go along and keep track of your actual expenses.
Feeling the pinch of your budget already?  Don’t despair.  There are lots of ideas coming up to help you trim your budget, cut costs, and find hidden money.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Debt Free Christmas Challenge

The Christmas season is a joyous one; full of celebration, family, friends and fun. We decorate, exchange gifts, attend parties, have a blast … and spend tons of cash. Then January rolls around, the bills come flooding in, and our wallets are hit with holiday hangover.
For many families, Christmas presents a dilemma: the difficulty of staying out of debt, or the struggle of digging themselves out of debt in the following months (often just in time to begin the cycle again the following holiday season).
This intent of this blog is to give ideas and inspiration for you to turn the holidays around and arrive in January free of Christmas debt. Together, let’s take the challenge of celebrating Christmas debt-free.