Readers' Tips

Easy Thanksgiving Table Decor

Here's an easy way to decorate your holiday table. Find a few fallen leaves. Mist them with some diluted Elmer's glue. When dry, spray them gold or silver. It only takes a few minutes and costs almost nothing for a neat table display!

Additional TDS Resource: A butcher talks about turkeys

Finding True Professional Handymen

When my kitchen faucet needed fixing, I called a plumbing company that advertised they specialized in home plumbing repairs. The person they sent was able to fix the problem, but I learned while chatting with him that he was "not" a licensed plumber (by which I mean licensed by the state). The same thing happened when I had an electrician come to the house to install some ceiling fans. This company advertised that they provide full capability electrical contracting. The company even claimed that when a situation requires a professional electrician, customers can feel confident in calling on them for help. Nevertheless, when the contractor arrived and I asked point blank, he said that he was "not" licensed. This time, the job eventually got done, but it was only after many trips back and forth for which I paid dearly. My point is that if you think you're getting (and paying for) a licensed electrician/plumber, you may well be getting someone less than fully qualified. From now on, I will make sure I'm getting what I thought I was paying for.

Additional TDS Resource: Should I use a HELOC for home remodeling and repairs?

Editor's Tip: Discounted Everything

With the holidays approaching, many stores and restaurants sell gift cards at a discount or offer bonus gift cards for the purchase of a certain dollar amount. You can use money from your entertainment budget to buy a handful of discounted restaurant gift cards to use for nights out in the new year. And depending on what other good gift card deals you might find, you may want to use money from your grocery budget to stock up on a few Walmart or grocery store gift cards or your auto budget to purchase discounted gas cards. If you are buying any gift cards as Christmas gifts, make sure to get them at a discount if you can.

You can easily save $100 or more each year purchasing discounted gift cards for places at which you're going to spend money anyway. A few good sites for getting discounted gift cards year-round are and New customers can save $5 off their first order of $50+ with code RAISE50AF (Ends 11.30.17) and Swagbucks, which is free to join, is offering a $5 bonus when you sign up.
Your Editor

How to Make Money by Eating Healthy

One way I've found to make money is to save the seeds of the fruit and squash that I eat. I can sell the cleaned, dried seeds for ten to twenty times what I paid for the food. With avocados, I sprout the seeds in water (it can take two to three months). When they have true leaves, I list them online for at least $10 each. I generally make an extra $2,000 to $3,000 each year. It's not much, but the seller fees on Etsy are much lower than other sites. Every little bit helps.

Additional TDS Resource: How to get the most when you're selling online

Why Buy Broth?

For a long time, I have made my own veggie broth. My neighbor comes often for tea and remarks that my house always smells delicious. It's because I generally have something going in my slow cooker. That day it was veggie soup. She tasted the broth and wanted to know what brand. I explained that it came from all the leftover peels and pieces of veggies that would normally be tossed. I freeze carrot and turnip trimmings (peels), ends from celery, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, onion skins, leeks, and green pepper. It goes in the slow cooker when I have two bags full. I add water and just let it simmer. After I strain off the veggie matter (which goes in the composter), I bag the broth into single use bags and freeze. It costs little to make versus buying the ready-made stuff, which has a lot of salt and preservatives.

Additional TDS Resource: How to stretch ground beef

My 401k Experience

Your recent article about a 401k reminded me of a tip. When I was working, my employer offered matching up to 3% of contribution to the company's 401K. I thought at first that I could not afford this, so I started out at 1%. My take-home pay actually went up! I increased it to 2%, and my take-home pay went up again. When I went to 3%, my take-home pay still increased. There is no tax withheld on 401k and the less taxable income meant more take-home pay. This may vary, depending on income level. Talk to someone in Payroll to see what impact your contribution will have on you.

Since I was older when I started this, I only paid in for about three years. I didn't think that little bit would make much of a difference, but I left it until I was 70.5 years old and needed to start taking an annual disbursement. It had more than tripled in value. Now I take the minimum required disbursement each year, which gives me enough cash to take a little vacation or for a major purchase. The principal goes up each year more than the amount of the disbursement. The money will still be there if I need it for an emergency.

Additional TDS Resource: Who is managing your 401k?

Easy Winter Meals

In the cold of winter, we have a soup swap at my house. Everyone brings a quart of soup to share and a quart of soup for each person attending. We generally invite six people. We each enjoy the evening of soups and everyone goes home with quite a variety. The soups can be frozen and will last for weeks. The cost is minimal and the evening is always fun. Best of all, we are able to enjoy the soups for the rest of the winter.

Black Friday Cashback Deals

I do all of my Black Friday shopping online. I do this because I hate fighting the store crowds but also because I actually save more money shopping online by shopping through cash back sites. My favorites are Ebates, Swagbucks and TopCashback. I look through the Black Friday sales flyers a few days before Black Friday to compare prices and make a list of exactly what I am going to buy and from where, as well as make note of sale start times. Then I go to the sites ahead of time and save the items I plan on buying to a store wish list. On Black Friday (or Cyber Monday), when I sit down with my laptop to shop at store #1, I first quickly pull up each of my cash back sites to see if one has a better percentage cash back than the others for that store. Once I click through to shop, I can simply go to my wish list and add the items to my shopping cart without getting caught up in browsing pages and pages of additional sale items that can lead to overspending. I just repeat this process for each store I need to shop from and get my Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping done in a matter of minutes per store all while getting the biggest amount of extra cash back.

editor's note: We have a relationship and recommend these cashback sites. Hope that they help to make your holiday season more affordable!

Ask the Grocery Expert

I do a lot of my grocery shopping during off-hours. Once the kids are in bed, my husband watches them and I go shopping. I ask questions of any of the employees I see, especially in the meat and produce sections. I've found out when they drop prices of things that are nearly out of date and when I can expect certain items to go on sale. I'm saving a lot and we're still eating well!

Additional TDS Resource: How to keep track of your pantry inventory

Last Minute Thanksgiving Centerpiece

Last year, I didn't have time to do a centerpiece for our Thanksgiving table. Therefore, I filled a basket with an apple, onion, a small squash, and a few dried leaves from our yard. It was seasonal and didn't cost a dime. The food items visited the table a second time in meals a few days later!

Additional TDS Resource: Holiday stuffing recipes

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