Saturday, December 26, 2009

Smart spending: 7 ways to use gift cards wisely

By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO Associated Press

Got a stash of gift cards for the holidays? Better use them wisely.

That's become a little easier, because many retailers have eliminated expiration dates and fees that sap the cards' value over time.

The changes come well ahead of proposed rules from the Federal Reserve that wouldn't allow gift cards to expire for five years, among other changes.

Even so, about $5 billion, or about 6 percent, of what Americans spent on gift cards this year won't be used, including what's lost to fees, according to TowerGroup. That's down from a high of 10 percent in 2007, said Brian Riley, research director at the financial-services consulting firm.

It's easy to waste those nifty pieces of plastic. You might forget about them by sticking them in a sock drawer, or you might not spend the full amount. But in this tough economy, every penny counts.

“You should treat it like cash and have it be a contribution to something you really need or want,” said Laura Gurski, partner in the retail practice of consultant A.T. Kearney.

Here's how experts advise wringing out the full value of cards you receive:

1KEEP IT SAFE.Experts say that as soon as you get a gift card, put it in a safe place. That means stashing it in an envelope reserved just for gift cards. Some say to just put them in your wallet along with the credit cards.

“Don't leave them sitting on a desk,” said Dudley Blossom, chairman of the marketing department at LIM College, a fashion college in Manhattan.

2MAXIMIZE THE VALUE. Buy discounted merchandise when redeeming a gift card. Shoppers wanting to take advantage of post-Christmas discounts should do so between today and Jan. 2.

That's because stores won't be swimming in holiday leftovers through February, because they came into the holidays with lean inventories.

“You'll find the peak” of inventory right after Christmas, Riley said.

You also should look for any special discounts from retailers like J.C. Penney specifically for gift-card users.

Riley says it's better to spend beyond the value of the gift card because that will ensure that you used all of it.

Many shoppers don't redeem gift cards to their full value — but $3 on a gift card is $3 that's not coming out of your own pocket.

Want to buy that winter coat but couldn't afford it? Use the gift card toward the big purchase.

Gift cards may be free money, but experts say you shouldn't just buy anything, particularly in the difficult economy.

“You have to plan what you want to use it for,” Blossom said.

Gurski said customers getting an all-purpose card such as an American Express gift card should use it on necessities such as groceries.

Don't like that particular store? Then get together with friends and swap cards.

You can even do it online., a leading credit card comparison Web site, just launched a gift card application for Facebook.

Its main feature is the Gift Card Wish List, which let users pick favorite stores so friends know what gift cards they'd like.

But it also has a gift card exchange, which lets friends post cards they want to buy or sell at a discount.

Card-bearing customers can turn to sites like or to exchange gift cards or even donate them to charity.

But there is a price. At, customers can sell the card for cash and get up to 90 percent of the balance. (There's a minimum gift card value of $25). Customers can no longer list their cards on the site for direct swapping and must sell them directly to the company.

If you receive a card as a gift before the holidays, regifting is always an option.

You can also use the card to buy a holiday present for someone on your list.

This is some great advice.... Have a great week everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where is the line to see Jesus?

Hope you all have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Spirit of Christmas

May we all remember what the true spirit of Christmas is. Hope all my friends out there in blog land has a wonderful Christmas....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Getting the Most Out of Our Daily Bread

By: Glynis M. Belec

Maybe those last three slices of bread in the cupboard have gone stale. Perhaps you made too much toast for breakfast. Can't resist the day old bread bargain at the store? Don't know what to do with the excess? Here are a few ideas before you toss all the crumbs to our fine-feathered friends.

* So you left the rice cooking a little too long and now it's scorched. Place a slice of white bread in the pot on top of the rice while it is still hot then replace the lid. Wait five or so minutes. Remove the bread slice. The burned taste will be gone.

* Speaking of rice, if there is a little extra moisture in a pot of rice, remove it from the heat and place a piece of bread on top of the rice. Cover the pot. In a few minutes, the water should disappear.

* If you have leftover toast, don't toss it. Pop it into a freezer tight container and use for making dressing. You can either break up the toast immediately or do it when you make the dressing. Don't forget to label the container.

* Slightly stale bread is perfect for bread pudding. Butter about seven slices of the stale bread and line the bottom and sides of a buttered baking pan. Mix about a quart of milk, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of raisins, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. If you like, add more buttered bread, but make sure it is submerged in the milk mixture. Cook at 350 degrees for about half an hour covered and then uncover it and bake for another half-hour.

* If your marshmallows have gone stale, place a couple of slices of fresh white bread into the bag and then seal it. Leave it for a couple of days and then remove the bread and enjoy the soft marshmallows!

* Do you love cabbage and brussel sprouts but hate the smell when they are cooking? Put a piece of white bread on top of the lid as the vegetables cook. It will absorb a lot of the odor.

* Does your smoke alarm sound when you are broiling meat in the oven? Stop the billowing smoke and splashing grease by placing two or three slices of bread in the drip pan. The bread will absorb the grease, decrease the smoke and lower the chance of the grease catching fire in the oven.

* Remove most dirty or greasy fingerprints from wallpapered walls by cutting off the crusts of a slice of white bread and rubbing the affected area.

* Put two slices of bread in the container of chocolate chip cookies and it will keep them fresher for days.

* If your brown sugar is hard, place a piece of bread in the container and in a few hours the brown sugar will return to its original softness.

* Use the end crust or heel as a spoon rest.

* Wad a couple of white pieces of bread into a ball and use as a sink stopper if you are desperate.

* Soak a piece of stale bread in vinegar and tape it over a bothersome callus or corn overnight. The corn will disappear.

* Attach a slice of bread using toothpicks to the side of a cut edge of cake. It will stop the cake from drying out.

* Buy bread on the day old shelf or use up your old bread to make croutons. Cube the bread. Spray with vegetable oil and then sprinkle with Italian or other seasonings. Package in an airtight container.

* Thread a cube of bread on the handle of a knife before chopping onions. This will absorb some of the odor and eliminate some of the tears.

* Hold a piece of bread in your mouth (between your teeth with the bread hanging out) as you chop onions. This will help absorb the odor and prevent tearing.

* Got a smudge on a suede purse or shoes? Take a piece of white bread. Rub the affected area gently with the bread. You might need a second slice to finish the job.

* Picking up tiny slivers of glass if you don't have a broom and dustpan handy can be easily done using a slice of bread. Press the bread over the area where the glass is. Be careful as you pick up the bread and then toss it in the garbage can.

* Dust your oil paintings by gently rubbing the surface with a piece of white bread.

* Before you toss out excess stale bread, try one of these tips or see if you can come up with additional ways to use it.

Note from Lucy: Wow! I had no idea you could do so much with a piece of I hope you find something that will be of use to you...