Christmas means family, friends, giving, and the whole holiday cheer… yada yada yada. But the best part of this time of the year for frugal people like me are all the good deals just ready for the taking. Our first round of good deals includes gift cards. Quick warning: most of these places are Chicago area only. But I’m willing to bet there are plenty of places in your neck of the woods which have similar deals if you keep an eye out.

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There’s a couple of places in particular where we like to get gift cards because of the added bonus they give you for purchasing one.

Lou Malnati’s – Lou’s is the, yes *THE* best deep dish pizza in the Chicago area. Side note: try deep dish, sausage, butter crust, with extra sauce on the side. Freakin’ sublime! Every Christmas they offer a deal where if you purchase a $100 gift card, you’ll also receive a $25 bonus certificate. We don’t order from Lou’s a ton, so it’s not unusual for the $100 and the bonus to last the entire year and then some. The bonus certificate has to be redeemed by June of the following year. Great deal!

Culver’s – If you have a Culver’s in your area, I’m betting you’ve been there already. Their burgers are in my Top 3 burger joints. And as an ice cream fiend, their frozen custard is great, especially when you add sprinkles. Anyway, they have a heck of a deal around Christmas. Purchase a $25 gift card and you’ll get a coupon for a free value meal (needs to be used by the end of February). We’ve redeemed the coupons for value baskets that are worth $8-$10. For a $25 gift card purchase, this bonus is something else!

Savers – Savers is a resale store ala Goodwill. I really like Savers. They have special discount days pretty often where they offer an additional 50% off regular prices. During Christmas they offer up a bonus for purchasing a gift card. If you buy a $25 gift card, they’ll give you a $5 bonus certificate. $30 goes a long way at a resale shop.

Bulldog Ale House – Bulldog is a local bar/grill that has some really good daily deals. Our fave is Sundays because they have boneless wings for just $.39/each. For me though, it’s the Bloody Mary w/beer chaser for $5 and the $4 domestic 32 ounce beer! For their Christmas deal if you purchase a $50 gift card, you’ll receive a $25 bonus. We didn’t make it in time to purchase last year, but we’ll get one this year!

Noodles & Company – From November 14th until December 31, 2016 every time you purchase $25 in gift cards, you get a $5 Great Giver Bonus Card (bonus card valid 11/14/16 – 1/16/17).

As with any gift card purchase, be sure to learn all the details and/or restrictions that go along with the card and any bonuses. It’s not unusual for there to be some restrictions. Know what they are before buying so you’re able to take full advantage of the offer.

Joe-

A couple of weeks ago I met up with a friend for dinner at the mall food court. After dinner we decided to walk around the mall for a bit and found ourselves in a Bath & Body Works. I’ve always liked their products even though I feel they are overpriced. I only purchase them occasionally when I can get a hefty discount. The last time I bought anything was in December 2015 when I placed a fairly large order online for several foaming hand soaps and other assorted items and received a $20 discount. The soaps came out to under $2 each, which to me, while still not cheap, were reasonable compared to the $6.50 sticker price. I’m one of those people who finds pleasure in even the smallest of things so these soaps bring me joy every time I wash my hands. Luckily, I still haven’t gone through all the soaps because I add water to them to make them last longer. That didn’t stop me from wanting some new ones, however, especially when I came across a new scent I really liked (Sparkling Mint Blossom in case you’re curious). I didn’t buy anything, however, because I don’t need any new soaps, I just wanted some. But with Joe still out of work (and our Marketplace insurance doubling in price for 2017 – more on that in another post) I really don’t want to spend any money since we’re short every month as it is (thank goodness for savings).

Psychologically speaking it’s been really tough dealing with curbing our non-essential purchases even though when we were both working and could have easily blown money on whatever we wanted I still wouldn’t have purchased that soap anyway just because $3.50 (the current sale price) is still too much for a small bottle of soap. It’s simply the fact that I “can’t” buy what I want verses choosing not to that is starting to get to me. It’s funny how that works. I’m struggling to keep things in perspective but I’m not gonna lie – I will be so much more relaxed when we have enough money coming in again.

I posted recently how we’ve been cutting monthly expenses, so I figured I would post a compliment to that showing some of the things I’ve done to bring a few bucks into the household each month as well.

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Clinical Trials/Studies

I sat down and added up the clinical trials and other items studies I’ve been a part of, and up until now it’s only amounted to about $800. But $800 is $800. Just last week, I was selected for another clinical trial. This one will amount to about 50 “work” hours and it will pay $1,325. Not bad, and it will help to cover about what we need to cover a months of expenses (including Nicole’s income).

The same facility I do the clinical trials does other studies and food taste tests as well. Their taste tastes pay between $20-$30 for about a half hour of your time. Couple some of the other studies and taste tests with the higher paid clinical studies and this has been a decent way to add some money each month for me.

Unemployment Compensation

This isn’t so much a side gig, but it is a way to have monthly income while you’re out of work. This should be a given if you lost your job. Regardless of if you were laid off or terminated for cause, apply for unemployment regardless. The worst they can say is “no”. Here in Illinois, you can collect for unemployment for 26 weeks, you just need to certify every two weeks that you looked for positions etc.

Craigslist

Perusing the Gigs section of Craigslist, you can often find a few side gigs that are just a few hours or a day. Best part is that they’re pretty much all cash. Some may be odd jobs like cleaning a yard or tossing stuff out of a garage. Depending on your skill set, this can include some computer work such as networking or hardware repair. If you’ve marketed yourself well enough, you can make a couple or few hundred bucks a month just from this and word of mouth. Don’t discount a little effort into checking Craigslist postings to generate some few extra dollars each month especially if you’re good with doing some manual labor.

Misc

I was able to get a few gigs doing some home networking/audio/video work as well. If you have an area of expertise or something you’re good at, it’s likely someone will pay you to help them. I was able to get about $50/hour for this type of work. It would be awesome if I was able to get this amount full-time, but it definitely helps supplement what is coming in, albeit inconsistent.

Joe-

Sunday was our 11 year wedding anniversary. Since money is tight we agreed not to exchange gifts but we did order an electronic gift card for Claim Jumper thanks to our Discover cash back rewards. We love their steaks so we tend to eat there once every few years, typically on our anniversary.

Then inertia struck. Sunday evening rolled around and we didn’t feel like going out so we ordered pizza (using our Lou Malnati’s gift card) and decided we’d visit Claim Jumper on Monday evening instead. We reasoned it wouldn’t be as crowded and since we had errands to run that day we’d already be out. Except on Monday we got up early, got our errands out of the way, and when dinnertime rolled around were busy with stuff around the house and didn’t feel like going out again.

So that’s how we did absolutely nothing to celebrate our anniversary. Woo hoo, marriage!

On the plus side when we are in the mood for a good steak we have the $50 gift card and shouldn’t spend too much out of pocket if we split a nice filet and another entree.

Since my unforeseen departure from my job in February, we’ve done a pretty good job (IMO) at cutting as many of our monthly expenses as we can. I thought I would outline the things we’ve done to accomplish that.

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Cable TV


We had every intention of canceling our video service and only continue with internet service from our current cable provider. We were resigned to the fact that the internet package we wanted was going to be $79.99/month which we were okay with considering we have Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. But when Nicole called the our cable provider, they offered us the internet package we wanted along with basic cable service with HD for only $60/month. We’re saving $20 a month over what internet only would have cost and we’re getting basic service along with it. Admittedly, we do still have our security package with the cable provider, but the service is on the way out and should be completely gone sometime in November/late December. We’re awaiting the shipment of our Almond 3 device which we should be able to use with all our zigbee enabled security devices and set up automatic alerts to our phones. We’ll basically have the same comfort level of having a home automation/security service without a monthly fee.

Landline


Okay, I’m taking a little latitude with this one since we switched to Magicjack a while ago, but it deserves to be mentioned! For less than $4 a month, it’s hard to beat unless you do away with a landline altogether. We could just cut the landline totally, but for me, having the comfort of a landline is worth the few bucks a month.

Car Insurance


In the category of it doesn’t hurt to ask, Nicole called our auto insurance agent and basically said, hey we’re driving much less now because Joe is out of work and I don’t drive much and we can’t afford what we have. What happened? They were able to drop our insurance by about $80 every 6 months. Call and ask, it doesn’t hurt!

Cell Phone


We switched to Ting Wireless back in April. Switching to Ting Wireless has by far been the best cost savings thing we have done so far. I wish we would have done it long ago. We used such little data and voice back in August, our bill was just over $30. That’s for two smartphones for a month! Compared to our $135/month AT&T bill, it makes me feel like I was getting robbed by AT&T. Check out Ting Wireless here.

Those are the ones that come to mind first. There have been several others which have definitely helped us save a few dollars over the last few months. We’ve wrote about several other things which may not add up to much right away, but they do contribute to our “blow” money. We use different reward programs such as Discover cashback, Shopkick, Bing, Swagbucks and survey places like Harris Polls and Pinecone research.

Joe-

How’s your Tuesday going? Not too shabby here I suppose. See, Tuesday for me is cleaning day. Since being out of work I’ve taken on the bulk of the cleaning and cooking duties. I mean, rightfully so – I’m not working. Whomever is at home more should take on more weight of the household maintenance. And I don’t mind doing it; I have the cleaning down to an art, almost. I’m finishing up some laundry and I’m pretty much done for the day. BTW, dinner tonight is pesto salmon with rice and broccoli. If you haven’t tried the frozen salmon from Costco, you’re missing out.

I’ve had a couple of calls for interviews over the last two weeks. Both were for similar jobs to the last one I had. Two phone interviews so far at one company and a phone and a face-to-face at another. Haven’t heard back from either one yet, but that doesn’t surprise me. Sometimes the process can take some time. Even if it doesn’t work out, so be it. I’m not the type of person to get frustrated. To me, if it doesn’t work out that just means there’s something better on its way.

Unemployment compensation has run dry, and that really sucks. I’m still looking for jobs and applying on a near daily basis. I mentioned before I’ve been able to get in a couple of clinical studies in the past, and I was able to get into another one that starts next week. Those tend to pay pretty decent considering the number of hours invested. This one is about 50 total hours for $1,325. Not bad. I’m also considering contacting a former colleague whose SO has a company I think I can get a part-time gig with.

We’re going to be taking advantage of me being out of work and visit my family in Arizona next month. We haven’t seen them in some time, and I am really looking forward to it. My parents, sister, niece and her family are out there. We’re going to be spending about 8 days hanging out in the valley of the sun.

Joe-

I remember when I was growing up – I had a passbook savings account. Some of you may not be old enough to remember those “passport” like books which you used as your savings account. I would collect $10 or $20 and go with my mom or dad to the bank so I could deposit my money and have my passbook updated showing my money grow. Of course then I didn’t have the appreciation for saving money, or money in general for that matter. But I can still remember how cool the feeling was to see my money in the passbook increase. That little nugget of a feeling still helps me today.

I’m not sure the options that were available back then to get a kid started with saving or investing. The passbook and savings bonds were all I had. They taught me some valuable lessons about interest and saving for things you want down the road.

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Happy Sunday Morning!

If you’re a DD Perks card holder with Dunkin’ Donuts, starting today (9/25) and for the whole week, you can get a free item each day. The freebie will drop into your DD Perks app and is redeemable at participating DDs. A pretty sweet deal. Yes, there’s mostly free coffee or tea, but if you’re a coffee/tea lover like me that’s perfect!

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We’ll be heading out shortly to take advantage of today’s free item, an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich.

Don’t have a DD Perks card? No worries, you can pick one up at the store and add money to the card. Or even better, just download the app and you can join right from there. Note: in order to receive the freebies, you’ll need the DD Perks app as they put the free item into your “perks” section of the app. The app is pretty sweet though. You can add money directly to the app and use the QR code on the app to pay for your items. The best part is if you use the app regularly, you build points which are redeemed for drinks. Not a bad deal. Plus, they drop in some pretty sweet deals from time to time.

Joe-

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