By now, you've survived Brown Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.
Maybe you're deep into buyer's remorse, that panicky feeling you've spent too much on the holidays. And there are still weeks of sales, and last-minute gifts, and grocery shopping for parties and potlucks to get through.
Before you hyperventilate, take a breath. I'm here to help.
It isn't too late to get it all under control. You don't have to wait until January to make resolutions. Maybe that's all you can do at this point, but it's a start.
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But before we plan out next year, get a grip on this one.
■ Maybe that 62-inch TV seemed like too good a deal to pass up at 5 a.m. in Best Buy on the morning after Thanksgiving. But a week later, sanity has set in. Get out your receipts (yes, all of them) and figure out what you've spent. If it's more than you can afford — and by "afford" I mean pay off your credit card in full next month — then take some things back now, if you can. It's a huge pain, but so much less so than carrying hundreds of dollars on your card at massive interest rates. Never carry over credit card debt, and never borrow from payday lenders. The interest rates just aren't worth it.
■ Map your holiday grocery needs and look for ways to save. Figure out now what you're likely to need for church suppers, office potlucks, holiday dinners, and special treats. I like to make a master list (spoiler alert: I'm bringing brownies to the office holiday potluck, jazzed up with mint chocolate chips from the after-season bargain bin) and then look online for coupons. If I can't find one electronically or to print, I go to coupon services and order them.
■ Look for ways to make your remaining purchases do double or triple duty. For instance, if you are going to buy online from a retailer, check ebates.com first to see if they are offering a discount code or rebate. I also like to buy gift cards at Kroger when they offer quadruple fuel points and pay for the gift card with my Visa; I earn rewards points on the Visa, and get a discount on gas, pay for my online purchase with the gift card, and get a bit of cash back, too. Occasionally, stores will have electronic coupons for gift cards, making them an even better deal. And if you get the cards at Kroger, your purchase can benefit a charity, too, through their community rewards program.
■ Still looking for the perfect special gift? Try making something with all those photos you take all year. For instance, Shutterfly and other online services can help you make calendars, photo books and much more. If you create an account, you'll start getting discounts via email; those can make a thoughtful gift a bargain, too.
Once you have your pre-holiday house in order, take a few moments to think about the next year and ways to save. Here is your final homework assignment:
■ After the holidays is a great time to stock up on baking needs (where do you think I got the bargain chips and the brownie mix?) for the next year. If you think you'll need bake-sale items next fall, then scoop up extra bags of goodies now and freeze them. I like to keep on hand all the ingredients for a handful of cakes, cookies and casseroles, in addition to the weekly menu item. Most of these can be made ahead and frozen, for extra convenience.
■ This is a great time to sign up for rewards programs for items you use regularly. Many brands offer their most loyal customers opportunities to cash in. Buy diapers? Pampers and Huggies offer rewards. How about Morningstar vegetarian products or Keebler cookies? You can rack up Kellogg's points that you can use for coupons, gift cards or merchandise.
■ Here's a bonus: Often I get a code for a free Shutterfly item from Kellogg's. Shutterfly then often offers a chance for a freebie or two as well with a purchase, like a trial of Hulu or a discount code for Restaurants.com or Shoebuy.com. And occasionally there are free gift cards for online wine purchases in the Shutterfly box with my item. So sometimes you can keep the savings rolling.
■ Another great place to earn points toward free stuff: Recyclebank. If you live in a community that lets you get points for your recycling, lucky you. If not, you still can go online and perform tasks that let you earn your way to great coupons or gift cards. (Free movie tickets, anyone?)
■ Speaking of free, take advantage of your local library. Many now offer much more than books, like movies and e-books. In Lexington, the Friends of the Library's Book Cellar (in the basement of the main library downtown) is a great place to get books, music and movies for cheap prices. Join the Friends and you'll get even bigger discounts at their book sales. If you have books or magazines you don't need any more, donate them to the Friends; you can qualify for a charitable donation for your taxes. (And it just makes you feel good.)
■ The library also offers great learning opportunities, like computer classes. Want to turn your hobby into a money-maker? Sign up for "Selling your Crafts on Etsy.com." Want a marketable skill like Web design? There are classes for that, too.
■ If you think you have a blog in you or want to write a book, check out the Carnegie Center's classes. Some events are free; others have a registration fee.
■ Another terrific resource for information on just about anything is your county extension service. They have a huge array of publications and classes on virtually any aspect of home management. Want to can blackberry jam, lower your heating bills or grow orchids? They have classes on that. Get in the loop and you can get ready for next spring's garden and next summer's canning. (I parlayed last spring's free basil, pepper and tomato plants from the Fayette County extension service community garden give-away into delicious quiches and sauces now in my freezer.)
■ Fayette County even has a class on couponing. Already a coupon master? Put your skills to work for others. Plenty of local charities would love to get toiletries, canned goods, pet food and other nonperishable items. Keep receipts for how much you spend and give away; you might be eligible for a tax deduction for charitable giving. Talk to your accountant.
■ And keep track of your spending on health care: if your insurance plan offers a flexible spending account or health savings account, these can be great ways to save money through tax-free paycheck deductions.