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How To Preserve Your Identity
The Don’ts of ID Fraud

By Barbara George

1) Know above all that you may not always succeed at this! There are NO guarantees! As in all things, however, being informed is the best ammunition you have.

2) Hold your SS# very close – don’t pass it to anyone you do not know. If it is necessary to give it to say – your doctors office, do it in writing, not aloud.

3) Limit your credit card applications-10% off at the local mall is not worth the hassle in the end. You are giving that employee behind the counter (who may or may not be there next WEEK) too much information! Also, the ‘hits’ those applications make on your credit report can reduce your credit rating. Close out all zero balance accounts. Be CERTAIN they are closed. Don’t respond to free credit reports on the internet. DO NOT JUST TOSS OUT MAIL OFFERS FOR CREDIT – SHRED THEM!

4) Don’t carry your checkbook with you at all times. It is very easy to ‘lift’ it off of someone, leave it behind at a counter, and checks are too easy to copy. If you feel the need to hide one or two checks do it someplace not thought of (my daughter hides one in her tampon carrying case – genius!) Don’t store passwords on a PDA or store in your purse or wallet.

5) Don’t leave your copy on a restaurant table or counter. Check ALL receipts! Many older established businesses are still using credit card machines which put your ENTIRE number on the receipt. Do talk to the manager – they may not be aware of this issue, and should be getting new equipment – keep people accountable!

6) When out for a ‘festive’ evening, and you know you may be not as careful as normal, think ahead. Carry a small amount of cash and limited credit cards; the real necessities and leave the rest at home. Also, when traveling limit what you carry in the way of credit cards.

7) Don’t give out too much information. You may be excited about your upcoming world cruise – but don’t let everyone know about it! The bus boy or hair stylist or person sitting in the next booth may have a ‘sideline’ job. Don’t let EVERYONE know your home is empty, have someone pick up mail, etc.

8) A locking mailbox is a great addition to your safety, but even a locking mailbox can be gotten into by someone trying hard enough! The information coming through the daily postman is vital and important information. Pay attention to what you ARE GETTING AND TO WHAT YOU ARE NOT! If you think you are missing a bill – you may be. Keep a copy of your local utilities phone numbers (available off the bill) with your account numbers for easy access. If you don’t get a phone bill for a couple of months – CALL THEM! Either a locking mailbox or a post office box can be purchased easily.

9) Don’t give it away. YOUR TRASH IS AN IDENTITY THIEVES DREAM! Use a confetti shredder, split up your records when throwing large numbers out (i.e. in several BLACK trash bags – that way someone has to REALLY work at getting at YOUR records).

10) Your children need to learn about this complex situation from you. I want to remind you all to use this information with your kids. Don’t assume that your children will not be the victim of identity fraud. Spend time talking about financial situations with our next generations. Have them know the drill – the numbers, the rules, the dangers. Along with the college applications and the prom dresses – give your kids information that can keep them from having this happen to them as well. They probably will not learn about this in school and it could easily hurt them financially in the future.

11) DON’T SLEEP THROUGH LIFE. If your local news has a story on identity theft, do a simple check of your habits. If your neighbor finds mail trashed around their mailbox, check yours out too. You may not be the victim today – but you MAY be at a later date. Or it could already have happened — many times ID theft takes several months to show up as the thieves hold on to info to throw off authorities. You may not know it yet. REMEMBER, it takes 14 months on average to realize you have been the victim of identity fraud. REALLY check your statements. REALLY pay attention to your habits. If something seems out of place, or not correct, it is your responsibility to correct it.

12) DON’T USE ANY OLD PEN! The pen you got from the dentist’s office may= just cost you the cash in your accounts. The ink is easily ‘washed’ (with= acetone – yes, simple nail polish remover) and can be ‘replaced’. GEL ink pens are the safest route to go.

©2005 Barbara George, All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to use and forward any information shared in the Clean Slate Newsletter as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Please also notify me where it will be used. The attribution should read: "By Barbara George of Clean Slate Organizational Consulting . Visit my site at _www.cleanslateconsulting.com_ ( or call at 360-281-5332."

New Law Entitles You to a Free Credit Report

The Fair and Accurate Transactions (FACT) Act entitles all Americans over the age of 18 to receive one free credit report annually from all three credit reporting agencies.

The site below allows you to request a free credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

You can also request your report by phone or mail. Monitoring and periodically reviewing your credit report is an effective tool in fighting identity theft.

Eligibility for an annual free credit report is determined by your state of residence based on the rollout schedule set by federal law. Western and Midwest states are now available. Southern states available June 2005 and Eastern and US Territories in September 2005.

Find out more here on requesting your report .

Get more information on the Fair and Accurate Transactions (FACT) Act .

Ways to Save on Purchasing Household Appliances

>by Dr. Charlotte Gorman

Although major household appliances usually last for many years, the initial purchase can take a large amount of your money at one time if you pay cash. If you finance the purchase, you will have monthly payments (including interest) for an extended period of time. You will have monthly operating costs (utility bills) to pay also.

Below are some suggestions for keeping the costs of appliance purchases at the lowest possible level.

1. Ask yourself: "Do I really need the particular appliance I am thinking about buying?" "Do I really need a freezer, an automatic dishwasher, a clothes dryer, or a trash compactor?" "Could I use the money I don’t spend on the appliance for something I need more?" For example, if you are thinking about buying a freezer, consider such things as the initial cost of the freezer, the cost of electricity to operate the freezer, how full you realistically think you will keep it, how much you could save by purchasing items on sale if you had a freezer in which to store them, how much you could save on the cost of food by buying fresh fruits and vegetables and freezing them yourself, and how much you could save by buying in bulk if you had a freezer.

Don’t just assume that a home freezer will save you money on your food bill. Think about how much and what kind of use you will make of the freezer. Do some in-depth reading on freezers at your library before you rush out and buy one.

2. Sometimes replacing a particular appliance will be cheaper in the long run than having it repaired. Make the decision which will give you the greatest financial advantage.

3. Never be afraid or embarrassed to haggle for the best price possible on appliances. You may be surprised at the discount the dealer will be willing to give you.

4. Buy on sale rather than pay full price for appliances. Usually, most appliances will be on sale sometime or several times throughout the year. You could save from 10 to 25 percent or more of the original price.

5. When you are comparing prices, ask how much trade-in allowance you can receive for your used appliance. If you can get more for it by selling it yourself rather than trading it in, you may wish to sell it.

6. Be careful about buying on impulse. Appliances are expensive, so considerable thinking and planning should be done prior to purchasing in order that you may buy exactly what you need at the lowest possible price.

7. Don’t look first at the most expensive models of the appliance you need. Look first at the bottom-of-the-line models. These basic models, without all the "extras," may fit your needs perfectly. If they don’t, then examine the next price level models and so on until you find the appliance with the "extras" you feel you simply cannot do without. If you start with the top-of-the-line models, you may be tempted to buy one which has features you really could do without; and you will pay more for it.

8. When looking for a new or used appliance, shop around and compare prices at a half-dozen or more different places, such as appliance stores, furniture stores which sell appliances, department stores, rental shops, furniture and appliance warehouses, home remodeling businesses, thrift shops, auctions, garage sales, and bulletin boards at your place of work and in your community. Also, ask acquaintances if they know of someone who has a particular appliance for sale. The more places you look, the greater the likelihood you will find what you want at a price you are willing to pay.

9. When shopping for new home appliances, read the information listed on the required Energy Guide labels found on such items as room air-conditioners, clothes washers, dishwashers, freezers, refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers, furnaces, and water heaters. The label on each of these appliances shows the estimated annual operating cost of that particular appliance. Compare different makes and models of the particular appliance you need and determine which would be cheaper to operate. The savings in operating costs could be considerable over the life of the appliance. Those savings could be drawing interest for you if invested.

Also, you should take into account the purchase prices of the various makes and models of the appliances you are comparing. For example, is the purchase price of the most energy efficient 18 cu. ft. self-defrosting refrigerator-freezer greater than the one that is less energy efficient? Will the savings in operating costs over the life of the piece of equipment be more than the difference in the purchase price? In general, select the make and model that will give you the greatest overall financial advantage.

10. When trying to decide between a gas and an electric model of a particular appliance, calculate the annual operating costs using local gas and electric rates. Take these costs into consideration when making your final decision to purchase. You should consider, also, the initial purchase price and estimated cost of upkeep for both the gas and electric makes and models as well as the cost of converting to gas if your home is not already equipped to handle gas appliances.

11. Don’t buy an appliance with a capacity larger than you really need. For example, if you are planning to cool one small room, you probably don’t need an 18,000 BTU window air-conditioner. In general, the larger the capacity, the more expensive the appliance. Why waste your money paying for more capacity than you need?

12. When buying appliances, don’t buy models with features you probably will never use. Ask yourself, "Do I really need those added options?" Buy appliances with only the options you really need and plan to use. For example, if you never use liquid fabric softener in the clothes washer, would it not be a waste of your money to pay extra for an automatic dispenser for liquid fabric softener?

13. Buy white, rather than colored new appliances, if white ones are cheaper. At some stores, colored appliances are a little more expensive.

14. Buy this year’s models of appliances on sale at the end of the year. Often, you can find some excellent buys because business establishments normally try to sell as many "old" models as possible to make room for "new" models.

15. Check around for floor-models when shopping for new appliances. Often, you can purchase such models at drastically reduced prices. My husband and I bought a floor-model electric clothes dryer at considerable savings (probably below cost). It was perfect, with the exception of a tiny scratch on one side; and it carried the same warranty as the nonfloor- models. If you purchase a floor-model, insist on the new model full warranty.

16. Consider buying good, used appliances rather than new ones. Following are some possible ways to locate used appliances:

a. Place an ad in the local newspaper. The ad might read, "I would like to buy a good, used, small electric range. Call——-."

b. Watch the ads in the newspaper. For example, some people who are moving out-of-town may not wish to move their large appliances and will offer them at prices considerably below their real value.

c. Shop the garage sales. Occasionally, home appliances are available.

d. Check with new appliance and furniture dealers to see if they have good, used appliances for sale which they have taken as trade-ins.

e. Check out used stores that sell appliances.

Regardless of where you shop for used appliances, be very careful when buying them. You could be buying the problems of the previous owner. Be sure the appliance you buy is in good working condition and get a warranty if possible.

17. Consider buying "rebuilt" household appliances. "Rebuilt" appliances have been checked and repaired and are in working order. One of these may meet your needs as well as a new appliance and, generally, it will be much less expensive. Some "rebuilt" appliances may carry a store warranty for a short period of time–maybe 30 to 90 days.

18. Consider buying certain household equipment with others and sharing the purchase price, upkeep, and use of it. This type of arrangement is best suited to equipment that is used infrequently. For example, you might make a joint purchase of a pressure canner, a floor polisher, or a rug shampooer. Buying equipment with others will cut your initial cash outlay and reduce your costs for repairs and general maintenance. Put your share-purchase, repair, and maintenance agreement in writing, and see that each purchaser has a copy.

19. Take advantage of free items. For example: You need an electric range. An appliance store is offering a free, small microwave oven with the purchase of an electric range. Other appliance stores are offering nothing free with such a purchase. If the prices, models, quality, and various other conditions are the same or very close to the same, buy the range at the store where you can get the free microwave. If you already have a microwave, save the new one and give it as a gift and save yourself some money. Or, place an ad in the newspaper and sell it. The proceeds you receive will reduce the cost of your new range.

20. Ask about, read, and make sure you understand the warranties on any appliances you are considering buying. Compare warranties of various makes and models. All other things being equal, choose the makes and models offering the best warranties. The better the warranties, the greater the potential financial benefits for you.

21. Before you purchase an appliance, make sure service will be available near where you live. For example, if you plan to buy a particular brand in a city 60 miles from your home, check to see if that brand can be serviced locally. Also, if you plan to buy a certain brand locally, be sure that it can be serviced locally. Don’t just assume that a particular brand can be serviced near where you live. The farther you or the repair person has to travel, the higher the overall expenses will be.

22. If you have the necessary transportation and the help required to unload and set up, deliver your own appliances, unless delivery is free. Delivery charges increase your costs for the appliances you purchase.

23. If you are "handy" with tools, install your own appliances, unless installation is free. In general, don’t pay for something you can do yourself.

24. When buying an appliance, try to get terms of 30, 60, or 90 days with no interest charges, rather than pay cash or finance it with interest charges. By getting "same-as-cash" terms–for example, "90 days same-as-cash"–your money can be drawing interest for 90 days. The interest you earn on your money will, in a manner of speaking, reduce the purchase price of the appliance. Also, you will pay no interest on the purchase.

About the Author
Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and Speak for Yourself.

Saving on the Purchase, Care and Repair of Shoes

by Dr. Charlotte Gorman

1. When considering buying a pair of shoes, ask yourself, "Do I really need another pair of shoes?" For example, "Do I really need a new pair of black shoes, since I already have four pairs of good, black shoes in the closet?" Answering "no" to such questions could save you a sizable amount of money.

2. If possible, wait until needed shoes are on sale–preferably at 50 to 75 percent or more off. My favorite pair of high-heel shoes was regularly priced at $56. I bought them on a closeout table for $3.00. Nearly all shoes (men’s, women’s, and children’s) will eventually be put on sale. Rare should be the case when you would need to pay full price for a pair of shoes.

3. If you really do need a pair of new shoes and you cannot find them on sale, shop around for the best full price. For example, the price of an identical style and brand of shoe can vary from store to store.

4. Check out the garage sales. Shoes, especially ones still in very good condition, are usually rare, but not impossible to find, at garage sales. I have purchased some in like-new condition, so be on the lookout. Spray the insides of all secondhand shoes with a commercial fungicide to avoid the chance of getting athlete’s foot.

5. Check factory outlets.

6. Consider "seconds" and "irregulars" if the flaws are so minor that it really doesn’t matter, and if they don’t affect the comfort or fit. "Seconds" and "irregulars" will be cheaper than the same "first-quality" shoes.

7. Consider "samples." Watch the newspaper for advertisements of sales on shoe "samples." You can usually get them at considerable savings.

8. Buy shoes which will stay in style beyond one season. Choose simple, basic, classic, conservative, and traditional styles. Such shoes should be stylish for many years and, thus, should decrease the need to buy additional shoes as {oon.

9. Avoid (or drastically limit) the purchase of "fad" shoes, which are in style for very short periods. If you do buy fad shoes, pay as little as possible for them. If you do pay more than a small amount for them, you will have more to lose when the shoes are no longer stylish.

10. Buy a pair of shoes in a color and style which can be worn with many of your clothes, not just one particular garment. The more clothes with which you can wear a pair of shoes, the fewer pairs of shoes you should need.

11. Buy children’s shoes slightly larger than needed so that the children can wear the shoes longer. Of course, you don’t want to buy shoes which are uncomfortably large or damaging to your children’s feet. Use your good judgement. The children could wear thick socks and switch to thinner socks as their feet grow.

12. Be careful about buying shoes on impulse. Make a list of the styles and colors of shoes you need and try to stick to it. Otherwise, you could end up with a closet full of shoes which match very few of your clothes. In addition, the more shoes you buy, of course, the less money you have left to use elsewhere or put in your savings account.

13. When you are buying shoes, buy ones which can be worn for several occasions, if possible. For example, a pair of office shoes may be comfortable enough for a day of shopping and dressy enough for dinner out. The more occasions on which you can wear a pair of shoes, the fewer pairs you should need.

14. Buy shoes in which you feel "good." If you don’t like the shoes a great deal in the store, you probably won’t like them any better when you get them home; and your money investment will spend most of its time on the shoe rack in your closet.

15. Buy shoes that are comfortable. If they are not comfortable during the five minutes you wear them in the store, they probably won’t be comfortable after you have worn them for hours in the office or on shopping trips. Thus, you will probably end up not wearing them; and you will have wasted your money.

16. If possible, try on shoes before you buy them. A size 6AA in one brand or style may not fit the same as a size 6AA in another brand or style. Once you have scuffed the soles, you usually can’t return or exchange them for another size. Also, if you bought them on sale, you may not be able to return them or exchange them anyway. Your money will be lost.

17. Limit your purchase of light-colored shoes which might not look as good for as long a time as darker-colored ones. Lighter colors have more tendency to show scratches, stains, and evidence of having been repaired.

18. Have shoes repaired rather than buy new ones. For example, have the shoe shop replace worn heels and soles, resew straps, and make various other repairs. However, use your good judgement. For example, it probably would be a poor investment to put new heels and soles on a pair of men’s shoes which are practically worn out in all other places.

19. Replace broken or badly worn shoe laces to extend the lives of the shoes instead of discarding the shoes. New laces could also perk up the look of older shoes. New laces certainly will cost less than a new pair of shoes.

20. Insert pads inside of shoes, wear socks, or wear thicker socks than you’ve been wearing for a better fit, instead of discarding shoes which have stretched. Continuing to wear the shoes will decrease the need for buying additional ones.

21. Launder washable shoes by hand in the bathroom lavatory, bathtub, laundry room sink, or a bucket or other container of water rather than run them through the cycles in the washing machine. Washing them in the washing machine could shorten their lives, and you will have to buy new ones sooner.

22. Keep your shoes clean and polished to extend their lives.

23. Wear rubber or plastic overshoes or galoshes in rainy and snowy weather to protect your shoes.

24. Protect your leather shoes from mildew. If you detect mildew on shoes in the closet, leave the shoes outside the closet after you have cleaned off the mildew so that they can get light and air, or lay a package of chemical moisture absorber in the shoes when they are in the closet–one or both of these suggestions could remedy the problem. Mildew could damage shoes and cause you to have to buy new ones.

25. Have children to change from "good" shoes to "play" shoes if they are going to "play." Adults should do likewise. Changing shoes will help "good" shoes to stay in that category for a longer period of time.

About the Author
Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and Speak for Yourself.

Escape From Affluenza

Q. One article mentioned buying copies of the PBS specials "Affluenza" and "Escape from Affluenza". I have heard these shows mentioned before. Can you supply instructions on how I can order copies?

I too like the tip about the video Affluenza and went to the library and requested a copy. My library does not own the video but they will borrow it from another library and lend it to me. This is only one of the many free services offered by public libraries.  Trude

The home video versions of the "Affluenza" is available here – with a link to the follow up video "Escape from Affluenza". The phone number for Bullfrog Films is, 1-800-543-3764. Price as of 5-16-02 is $50.00 each.  

Yes. Different. New Again.

My wife and I just celebrated our third anniversary of Debt-FREEDOM. My debt freedom date ended 20 years of indebtedness, counting my college school loan days. Virtually all of my adult life was spent owing money to various banks, car dealers, mortgage companies, credit card issuers, department stores. The last time I can remember not owing money was when I was a freshman in college. When my life journey was just starting. When the future was unfettered by the past.

As humans, it seems we can get used to anything, even when it’s detrimental, irrational, illogical, and sucks the life out of tomorrow. We cheerfully signup for a lifetime of fear for the immediate gratification of today, and in doing so we impoverish our future. Someone much wiser than me once said,”We are what we repeatedly do.”

Life after debt is different. It’s a lot like life before debt…if you can remember that far back. Except it’s different. Life after prison, I imagine, is a lot like life before prison, except it’s different. The experience leaves you changed. You are happy for the change of scenery, yet the knowledge of the loss of so many years of productive life – for what is money if not the embodiment of time – weighs heavy on your soul. You seek forgiveness from your creator for your poor stewardship of his gifts.

But it’s also New Again. It’s like before. It’s like before you knew about credit, debt, loans, interest, bankruptcy — except it’s different. You DO know about these things. And what’s more, you know you have defeated them. And you know that the future is once again unfettered by the past.

How to Earn What You’re Really Worth
In The New Internet Economy

by Louis Burrows

Article Courtesy of MediaPeak,

These are exciting times. Every day the headlines tell us about someone else who made a fortune almost overnight in the new Internet economy.

Of course, not everybody is getting rich. The vast majority of North Americans are actually earning less than they were ten or fifteen years ago. Unless you’re one of the lucky few, the news can be a bit depressing.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Launching yourself into the middle of Internet success is easier than you think. In the dynamic of the new economy, the difference between earning $15,000 and $100,000 a year is really quite simple.

I can’t say it is only as easy as changing your state of mind (although attitude is a big part of it). But by knowing some insider secrets and having a solid plan you can work, you can make big, quick strides toward getting your fair share of the new high-tech wealth.

Here are four things you can do NOW:

1. The new wealth is based on people dealing in pure information. Take an inventory of the ways you use or can learn to use information well. Being able to motivate people via email, keeping in close contact with a wide range of associates with your cell phone, and understanding financial statements can all be the basis for a successful career in the new economy.

2. Focus on how you can learn new skills now and in the future. The new economy is a learning economy where your value is based on what you know and how fast you can learn new things. The old idea that people over the age of 25 learn more slowly is pure myth. Adults with lots of work experience are usually the first to find ways to put new knowledge to work.

3. Work with experts to learn insider techniques. We are now beyond the pioneer stages of the Internet. The techniques that work are proven and well-known to experts. Don’t waste time reinventing the wheel. Learn from those who have already paid plenty of dues. Find what works and put it to work.

4. Create a logical plan, work it, and stick to it. Nothing comes to those who don’t work hard. Equally, very little comes to those who don’t plan their work and work their plan. Keep your goals in mind each day and refuse to let yourself become derailed by temporary setbacks or the bewildering crush of new information.

By keeping these four things in mind, you will be firmly on your way to realizing your full potential in the new Internet economy.

Ways to Save on Gifts, Wrapping and Decorations

by Dr. Charlotte Gorman

1. Limit gift-giving, both in the number of people to whom you give gifts and in the cost of the gifts. Otherwise, you could find yourself spending a disproportionate amount of your income on gift-giving. Other people may enjoy your generosity, but it is you who will have to pay the bills.

2. Always keep an assortment of gifts on hand for gift-giving. Buy gift items when they are on sale (preferably when they are 75 percent or more off) and save them until the appropriate occasions arise. Usually, you will pay much more (probably full price) for gifts if you wait and buy them immediately prior to the times you need them.

3. Give gift vouchers to immediate family members and other relatives, to neighbors, and to friends. The recipients can exchange these vouchers for the items listed on them. Some examples are: A child could give his or her working mother a voucher reading "dishes from one meal washed"; a wife could give her husband one which says "one breakfast in bed"; a husband could give one to his wife saying "one outside grilled dinner for the family"; you could give to an elderly neighbor a voucher which says "one free lawn mowing"; and to a friend who seldom goes out because she can’t afford a baby-sitter, you could give a voucher which reads "one night of free baby sitting." These gifts need not cost anything extra and could be unique and fun.

4. Make gifts. Use your talents and imagination to make attractive gifts for less than you could purchase satisfactory gifts. (Below are just a few examples of gift items which could be made.) Think–"what gifts could I make?"

a. Make cookies, cakes, and candies to give to family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

b. Make and give jams, jellies, and preserves as gifts.

c. Write out your favorite recipes on cards, place them in recipe file boxes, and give them to people you know who take particular pride in their own cooking.

d. Compose a poem for a friend or family member who would appreciate such a gift. Your only cost should be a few sheets of paper.

5. Purchase potted plants from a nursery, grocery store, or discount store to give as gifts.

6. If you receive a gift which you cannot use or you have a sufficient number of similar items already, save it and give it as a gift to someone else for whom it would be appropriate. Giving this item will save you the expense of purchasing a gift.

7. If you win items or receive free merchandise which you cannot use, put them in your gift inventory. The fewer gifts you have to buy, the more money you will save.

8. Get free gifts by saving and sending in box tops, labels, and other proofs-of-purchase. Place these gifts in your gift inventory and use them on appropriate occasions.

9. Get free gifts for your gift inventory by hosting parties offered by home-party plans. The gifts you receive usually are based on the dollar amount of orders you are able to sell. Getting free gifts saves you money.

10. Be on the lookout for new items suitable for gifts when you go to garage sales. The items normally will be only a fraction of the cost of similar items purchased in a store.

11. When you receive a gift and think you might want or need to exchange it, be sure to save the box, wrapping paper, and any labels and tags which will identify the store from which the gift was purchased. Take all of these with you when you go to exchange the gift and present them to the salesperson as evidence that the gift was purchased at that store. Being able to exchange an unusable gift will allow you to exchange it for something you would ordinarily have to buy yourself.

12. Save and reuse gift-wrap paper. The more you can reuse, the less you will have to buy.

13. Buy gift-wrap paper on sale (up to 75 percent off) following Christmas and other holidays for use next year. If you wait until just prior to the holidays to buy the paper, you will likely have to pay full price.

14. Check to see if rolls of gift-wrap paper are cheaper per unit (square inch, square foot, or square yard) than sheets of gift-wrap paper. Buy the type that offers the most for the money.

15. Use black-and-white and colored sheets of newspaper for some of your gift wrapping. It’s cheap and chic.

16. Wrap your gifts yourself, rather than pay to have them wrapped, unless, of course, having them wrapped is cheaper than wrapping them yourself. If free gift wrapping is offered, by all means take advantage of the service.

17. Save and reuse bows and ribbons. The more of these you reuse, the fewer you will have to purchase.

18. Whenever you purchase items which you are not going to use immediately as gifts, always ask for free gift boxes, anyway. Save the boxes for later gift-giving. Gift boxes can be expensive if you have to purchase them, and this adds to the cost of the gifts.

19. Save suitable, miscellaneous boxes for use as gift boxes. Keep a supply on hand at all times.

20. Buy Christmas cards on sale following Christmas. You can expect to save up to 75 percent over the price charged before Christmas. Keep the cards until next year and use them.

21. Buy holiday decorations on sale following Christmas for use next year. Buying decorations after specific holidays can mean savings of 50 to 75 percent or more over pre-holiday prices.

22. Check at garage sales for used holiday decorations. You may be able to find new or nearly new decorations at almost "giveaway" prices.

23. Make your own holiday decorations. Use your talents and imagination to make decorations cheaper than you can buy them.

24. Save holiday decorations for use again next year. The longer you can use them, the longer you can postpone purchasing ones to replace them.

25. Save used Christmas cards for use in decorating. For example, cutouts from used Christmas cards make excellent decorations for your Christmas tree and dining table.

26. Buy an artificial Christmas tree which can be used year after year rather than buying an expensive live tree every year. A $40 live tree each year over a ten-year period would amount to $400. By shopping carefully and after Christmas, you should be able to buy an artificial tree for a small fraction of that $400.

27. Cut your own Christmas tree. It should be cheaper than buying one already cut. Maybe you have a friend who lives in the country and has an ample supply of wild, suitable evergreen trees. Ask if you might cut one for your Christmas tree. Some Christmas tree farms will give you a discount if you cut your own tree from their plantation.

About the Author:
Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and Speak for Yourself: A Handbook on Practical Public Speaking.

Frugal Christmas Gift Ideas

Q. We have a large extended family on my husband’s side. We need suggestions for Christmas gift exchange without breaking the piggybank (i..e. exchange only items you received as a free-premium throughout the year or homebaked) and are also very interested in other non-traditional giving ideas (i.e. give to a local need/charity during the year and on Christmas, give a praise report of how the funds were used. (Money given mid-year also saves stress at the Christmas crunchtime.)

SIDENOTE: We lost our home and loved-one to a disaster and learned about this Christmas idea by being the recipient of a stranger’s Christmas tradition. Midyear, a family of strangers, who had heard about the tragedy, sent us a explanation note and the $70.00 they typically spend at their adult-Christmas gift exchange. At their Christmas gathering, we were their Christmas story to share of how that $70.00 bought back the daily essentials-of-life and some dignity for us. (When disaster strikes, it does not leave you a packed suitcase with toothbrush, comb, razor, deodorant or change of clothes…That $70.00 helped!) The money was a tremendous blessing to us at our time of need…and the giver said that, rather than spending monies for an adult family-gift-exchange (buying unneeded meaningless trinkets that would be tossed aside a few days after Christmas), they were blessed by giving to the real-life needs of others and teaching future generations a new Christmas tradition!!!) Anyone have any other Christmas gift-exchange ideas or alternative Christmas giving ideas? – Thanks, Julie

A. We make homemade gifts. We are fortunate to have wonderful artists in the family. Sometimes they ask what we’d like for Christmas, and sometimes they surprise us! For those who are not so artistic, me included, we buy all year for Christmas when we travel, buy when we find new items at the thrift shops, and use the freebies we get from the Internet for stocking stuffers. These are saved all year too. I try to go to the freebies site, no S&H, as much as possible to get the stocking stuffers. These are not small items, full sized mens and women’s razors, full sized bottles of bar-b-que sauce and some sample sizes of make-up, hair shampoo,conditioners, and shaving lotion, along with coupons for the items. Each time I go into the discount drug store, such as Eckerd or CVS, I check out their sale basket, sometimes 90% off the retail price. I’ve gotten pantyhose that retail for $4.89 for $.89 and one time pantyhose and trouser socks together for $1.00. I fill Christmas stockings for the children and adults and put the most special item in the bottom in the toe of the stocking! – Betty

A. On the Christmas idea someone asked about, my family for the last few years have started a tradition that continues & we enjoy. We adopt a family at Christmas we take the money & pool it together and give to a family who needs it. Since their is six of us plus our spouses this can add up to nice little sum of money. We have helped a family who lost their home in a fire, and last year we gave almost $300 to a mom who had recently divorced, and then had health problems and was not going to be able to provide Christmas for boys. Her tears & joy about being able to give boys Christmas was the best Christmas that I have ever, had. And because two of us live in different states then the rest of the family we take turns. One year it’s in Colorado, Missouri & Kentucky. This also teaches my two young children that not everyone is able to have Christmas without some help. – Neta

A. Have you tried the old Secret Santa trick? Each family member pulls a name to buy a gift. But be sure to set a minumum and maximum amount on the spending. (We have a few people who take thriftiness into cheapskate realm.) Otherwise you’ll have people spending anywhere from $2. to $100.. You can also try limiting gift giving to only children – ie. only up through grade 12. This way, all the children receive gifts. Finally, my last suggestion is one that my inlaws do each year. Each family secretly brings a gift for each of their OWN children, spending not more than $25 each. Someone collects the gifts on the sly, and Santa appears during the party and gives a gift to each child. – God Bless You, Maria

A. Use a theme each year. Let people suggest some, then all get one vote on the final "theme". Our family has done this with great success. Some ideas would be: Puzzles and Games, Hats and gloves, Something unique to the giver’s home state (if everyone is from different areas), and so on. Once we all had to give something homemade and had some great gifts that would become treasures. The children always had a ornament exchange. They are given enough money or use their own to purchase an ornament for each of their cousins, and they get to pick them out. It is amazing what thought goes into selecting just the right ornament for each child. Then as each child grew up and moved out to a place of their own, they had a tree full of ornaments with lovely memories. You can put a price cap on all of these that is affordable for all. And if money is a real issue, simply draw names so each person has to but only one gift. You can afford a nicer one that way too! – Pam

A. My husband and I decided early on in our marriage to pick a charity together and give money rather than spending it on Xmas gifts for each other. Most years we have chosen an area of the world or an animal (we have a small hobby farm) from the Heifer Project. They are a wonderful organization based in Arkansas that provides needy families in the USA and abroad with chickens, goats, water buffaloes, what ever animal is indigenous to the area, for sustenance. For example, a Peruvian family will be given a llama. When that llama has a female baby (called a cria, by the way, and they typically spend almost a year to deliver one llama) that family passes the baby to a neighbor, who in turn will breed her and pass on the next baby
to another family. In other words, they give a family a fishing line, not a fish ….

This practice has been deeply satisfying to both of us and a lot less stressful than trying to buy something.. It doesn’t work (yet) with our young daughter but at least we have more time at the holidays to spend with her.

A. Our family totals 26 and this is a lot of gifts. Several years ago we drew names and each person had to make the gift for the name drawn. This has worked well. Very unusual gifts arrive. Homemade bird feeders, picture albums of a person’s life and the most interesting one was last year. A young fisherman received a "worm farm." It was made in a large plastic container. Wrapping the gifts is also a challenge. We sit down in a circle and each gift is opened one at a time. Try it, it works and lowers the cost.

Harassing Collection Calls

The Dollar Stretcher
by Gary Foreman

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
My husband and I have one credit card debt to the tune of about $3,500. I cancelled the account so we can’t charge any more.  We have been making payments of $100 every month, which is well below the minimum payments that the credit card company requests.  They call nearly every day, most often more than once, hounding us for the rest of our minimum payment, which has reached in the neighborhood of $800 a month.  Although we are not paying what they request every month, we are making a payment. Is there any way we can stop the phone calls?  Are we breaking the law by not paying the entire minimum payment?  We do plan on making a large payment when we can, but with 3 kids and one income, $800 is hard to come by. Thanks for any help. Tina

Tina’s not alone. In calendar 2000 the average U.S. credit card debt per household was $8,123 according to The American Bankers Association indicates that 5.4% of credit card accounts were delinquent at the end of the year. Recent reports show that there was a surge in bank card delinquencies in the 2nd quarter of 2001. So a lot of people are falling behind in their payments and will be dealing with bill collectors. In fact, in 2000 the FTC received approximately 22,000 complaints about both ‘in house’ and ‘third party’ collectors.

To answer Tina’s first question, yes, she can stop the collection calls. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prevents harassment by bill collectors. It is a federal law so it applies to all 50 states.  Section 806 specifies that "a debt collector may not engage in repeated personal contacts with a consumer with such frequency as to harass him".

If Tina notifies the collector in writing that she wants all communications stopped, they must cease any attempt at contacting her. This includes both phone and mail contact. She would be wise to get a return receipt so that she can prove that her letter was received by the collection agency.

Some bill collectors are persistent despite the law. According to the Federal Trade Commission approximately 500 consumers complained that notifying the collectors didn’t stop the calls. If Tina has this problem she can get relief by contacting the FTC (1-877-FTC-HELP).

Tina didn’t mention it, but collection agencies are also prevented from telling others about her situation. Nor can they threaten her with physical violence.

To answer Tina’s second question, she has not broken the law so she won’t end up in jail. But she has not lived up to the contract that she made with the credit card company.

Notifying the collection agency to quit contacting her does not prevent the credit card company from trying to collect the debt. In fact, they may be more likely to file a law suit if Tina asks to be left alone. That suit could require repayment or force bankruptcy.

So getting the collection agency off her back is only the first step for Tina. The $3500 debt is costing her over $800 per year in interest. And each month that her payment is less than the minimum a penalty is tacked on. Her $100 payment isn’t really reducing the debt.

Now is the time to take drastic action. At her current rate of payments Tina will be repaying this debt forever. She needs to recognize that the longer this goes on without a solution the worse her credit score will be.  She could get in a situation where it’s almost impossible to borrow money to buy a car or home for many years.

So getting the collection calls to stop is only the first step. In fact,
it’s the easier step. The bigger challenge is to get the debt current so she doesn’t hurt her future borrowing ability.

Hopefully Tina and her husband will find a way to put this debt behind them.

Gary Foreman is a former Certified Financial Planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website