Category Archives: Thrifty

7 Gifts I Gave in 2014: Ideas for Your 2015 Gift-Giving


If you’ve ever read my posts around the holidays, you’ll know that I’m a fan of personalizing gifts.

I don’t mean just putting someone’s name on a gift, although that can work, too! What I truly mean is finding a gift that illustrates your relationship or shows that you really know that person. If you are giving a gift to someone who lives across the miles and are unsure what they already have because you don’t see them on a regular basis, these gift ideas might give you a bit of inspiration, too!

Here are 7 unique gifts I gave in 2014…


1) Magic Photo Mugs from Printer Pix

Last year, we ordered these special photo mugs for our parents. They are black, but your designated photo appears when you fill the mug up with hot liquid!

We got a pretty sweet deal through Living Social last year {just $7 each plus $5 shipping!}, although I am sure you can find other deals online. I was a little worried about quality because they were so highly discounted. But they turned out fantastic! We used photos of Sophie and Shamrock and labeled these as gifts from them.

One word of caution – these take a long time to ship.

Here is our experience: Last year, when I bought them, it said that they would take approximately 21 days to arrive. For us, this meant the mugs would arrive a few days after Christmas. {I am not sure if that has changed now if the company has grown and they have more staff/better turnaround. Check the website before purchasing.}

Every year, we send a holiday box with gifts to Rob’s parents in Michigan. For these mugs, we put a note in the box that Shamrock and Sophie had something on the way that would arrive just after Christmas. When I ordered the mugs, I shipped them directly to his parents. We spend Christmas with my family in Green Bay every year, so I had my parents’ mugs shipped straight to their house. I informed them if a package arrived for each of them before Christmas not to open it. My intention was to wrap them upon our arrival.

All mugs arrived before Christmas…

the last one on Christmas Eve at my parents!

Rob’s dad called and said to him, “Why thank you, son. But I’m not quite sure why you got us black mugs.” HA! Rob told him to wait and just use them for their coffee the next morning. Sure enough, we got a lovely message filled with joy from Rob’s mom the next morning gushing about how much they were enjoying their coffee in their new mugs.


2) Towels

Laugh all you want that I got this idea when I was cleaning! I really can’t stand how gross dish towels get over time and started thinking that I should buy a new batch every six months or so. But I just hate spending money on those sorts of things!

“If only someone would buy them for me,”

I daydreamed.

Then, the light bulb went on! I bet someone would appreciate that themselves…

However, I took it one step further… I had this idea to get my brother’s family all their very own soft, comfy, over-sized bath towel, each in their favorite color so that they could differentiate. {See how I personalized those?!} Who wants to buy more bath towels for their family of six? I certainly wouldn’t! I’ve been using the same bath towels for longer than I care to admit. But if you buy the really good quality ones, they do last a long time. You wouldn’t believe the sales on these this time of year, too. For the record, these gifts were from Sophie and Shamrock, too. 🙂

towelsBefore, I did this, I ran the idea past my mom to make sure it wasn’t too strange. She loved it and agreed with me that she hates buying dish cloths and towels, too. So that’s one gift got this year as well!


3) Personalized Growler

There was a Groupon for Red Envelope last year of which we took advantage. Have you ever shopped there? There is a lot of unique stuff you can personalize; but it can be a bit spendy. This personalized growler was perfect for my dad!


You supply the last name, city, state and year. We used 2014 to indicate the year we gave the gift. You could use your recipient’s birth year or, if they brew their own beer, the year they started brewing!

Because it had to be personalized, this one took a while to arrive and was delayed a bit. Luckily, it arrived the evening of December 22nd, so I could run to Indeed Brewing and fill it up with some Stir Crazy Winter Ale for just $10. Luckily, Indeed fills growlers that are not their own. Not all breweries will do this! The beer just had to be consumed in approximately 4 days. Dad shared it with us on Christmas Eve.

Tip: Make sure to order any personalized items well in advance because they take longer!


4) Something Very Personal to You

Last year on Black Friday, we pulled out our Christmas tree and other holiday decor. Then we got really motivated and cleaned out our basement storage! Well, Rob came across all of his baseball cards he collected as a child. There had to be at least 20 to 30 of those long old-school boxes! We wrapped two giant boxes filled with these for our teenage nephew who plays baseball.

Rob really couldn’t think of any need for them, nor did he want to go through them and determine any value. So he put my brother’s name on the box as well as Jake’s and it was one of the last gifts to be opened. Rob beamed when Jake exclaimed, “This is the best present I ever got!”


5) Something from Your Travels

I remember when I was a kid and my dad come back from his annual summer fishing trip in Canada. He didn’t really bring back any gifts. {Well, I think he did get my mom a Canada sweatshirt once.} He was usually in the boonies fishing!  However, he usually did give us a Canadian dollar bill or coin upon his return.

As a kid, I loved this because it was so foreign to me.

I once read that you shouldn’t have to worry about getting gifts while on vacation and just enjoy yourself instead. You are not there to be stressed about what to bring back. I remember feeling that anxiety on my first trip to Paris. Since I read that advice, I’ve taken heed to it. Nobody expects anything.

However, when we were in Australia last year, we picked up a few small, affordable souvenirs, with no real idea of who exactly would get them. This included boomerang key chains, clip-on koalas, Vegemite, t-shirts, etc. I divvied these up as appropriately as I could after we returned. We also had four remaining 20-cent Australian coins with the platypus on the back. Perfect for the kids! All you need is something little.



6) Ornaments

While putting up the tree last year for the first time in a few years, Rob and I had a wonderful time reminiscing about each ornament as it went on the tree – the ornaments from our travels, from friends and from the past few Christmases with my family.

But what I love the most is seeing Rob’s face light up every time he pulls out an ornament from his childhood.

You see, every year, Rob’s mom bought him an ornament {oftentimes reflecting something going on that year or something he loved or was into that year} and marked the year on it with a Sharpie. When we moved into our house, Rob’s mom gave him all of these ornaments. These are some of our most precious possessions.

Last year, Rob’s mom sent him the first toy she ever got him. She suggested we put it in the tree each year. That bunny melts my heart!


In fact, I wouldn’t have much of any holiday decor if it weren’t for my mom giving me her old artificial Christmas tree and Rob’s mom giving me so many decorations from Rob’s childhood. Combining that with a few of the things I’ve picked up over the years makes our house look festive.

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I decided that this was what I was going to do for my brother’s family. Each year, I will give them a special ornament. My mom and I have already been doing this on and off for the past few years or so. How much easier and more sentimental is it to have these ornaments when you move into your own home and set up your own tree than to have to buy everything from scratch?!

Here are some links for some great ideas in creating your own homemade ornaments:

Not crafty?

You could also buy one that is meaningful to you or relating to your gift recipient this year. Last year, for time’s sake, I bought some frame ornaments marked 2014. For our parents, I added a photo of us in Australia with a koala and  another one of Sham & Sophie.

The ones for my brother’s family were from the time they visited us and we dined at Burger Jones. At Burger Jones, they have these crazy pictures on the wall of people eating burgers. I’m not talking about pictures of people who came into this restaurant to eat burgers. No, these are stock photos on the wall!

When we were there, the kids were trying to recreate the photos of people taking big bites of their burgers or eyeing their fries longingly. My original plan was to frame these pictures for their own photo wall at home. However, I finally decided against that idea because the pictures are creepy enough at Burger Jones. Instead, I put them each in a 2014 frame ornament as a memory. A little less tacky, no?!


7) Homemade Dog Treats

I had fully intended to make homemade dog treats for my brother’s dogs last year! But I ran out of time, so the poor dogs went without a thing. This past year, I have tried these two recipes with much success! Now, let’s hope time doesn’t escape me before our trip to Green Bay.

And our dogs always receive their December BarkBox wrapped up under the tree. For our last review and a discount, click here.


There you have it – some unique gift ideas for this holiday. Also, it’s Cyber Monday, so today it’s even more important than ever to use eBates when doing your shopping – extra discounts, promo codes and cash back.

And for even more ideas, here are some of my past posts on holiday gift ideas:


6 Unique Gifts They’ll Actually Use


I’m not a Black Friday shopper.

But I do like to buy gifts. Sometimes I stress myself out because one of my favorite things to do is to find the perfect gift.

While I don’t always come up with the perfect ones, I definitely try to come up with some ideas that are either unique or something my gift recipient will actually use!

In past years, I’ve posted:

Top 5 Gifts for the Hard to Buy for Person Who Has Everything

His & Hers Gift Guide – What They’ll Actually Use

I still stand by those lists.

But I came up with a few more ideas that I’d like to share with you this year, as well as how to make them unique!



This may sound silly or unoriginal, but my in-laws requested their favorite Virginia variety from Costco this year.


If you’ve never had blister roasted peanuts, then you are missing out!

Make It Unique: Choose a variety or flavor you love, not just something generic: Blistered Virgina Peanuts or Marcona Almonds {one of my faves, find them at Costco or Trader Joe’s}, Blueberry Almonds or Bloody Mary Peanuts. Or, make your own! Of course, when giving nuts, consider allergies.


Sports Fan Gear

This is my first year as a Packer Season Ticket Holder. It was 90 degrees at our first game in August (a preseason one). I realized I had no gear for this! Our last game was just above zero. I didn’t really have much to keep me warm and show I was a Packer fan. I did happen to have a gold scarf, a cute {but not warm} hat and borrowed some gloves from my mom. Rob on the other hand had nothing to signify his loyalty!


Make It Unique: Buy something that they can wear to the game! Or make it classy. I love scarves, so I wish these NFL infinity ones weren’t sold out! And I just saw these in a magazine:




I’ve mentioned how true Champagne is always a great gift because it is festive and most people wouldn’t normally spend that kind of money on a bottle on a regular basis.

Make It Unique: Try a lesser known region. And if your budget is limited, get something unique like a special prosecco or a bubbly from New Mexico {one of my faves!} Then, add a list of festive cocktails to make with it!



Rob saw this book and just had to have it! Why? Well, if you haven’t read Missing Missy yet, where have you been? You will just die of laughter. Books can be personal or already read, so a gift receipt might be a good idea. Or…

Make It Unique: Give a humorous book to keep ’em laughing. Try to relate it to your gift recipient’s hobby or something they did this year. I’d recommend anything by Bill Bryson for the traveler. I’m currently reading this:



Shark Tank

Okay, so not an actual tank with sharks in it. Who would want that? But have you watched the show Shark Tank? Every time we watch it, I think of someone who would love the product they are pitching!

Make It Unique: You can find the entire list of products pitched on Shark Tank here at I’ve always thought these Coffee Joulies {which keep your coffee hot} are pretty cool. Plated was also featured on Shark Tank, although I don’t know how you’d gift that. And I’ve been eyeing DDP Yoga for ages now. It’s through this program that this disabled veteran, who was told he’d never walk unassisted again, became strong and can even run.


Subscription Boxes

I’m still huge on giving these, though they can be expensive depending on how many months you decide to give. All you have to do is a simple Google search of your gift recipient’s favorite hobby.

Make it Unique: Type into Google the hobby + subscription box. For example “fishing + subscription box” just might yield TackleGrab“Get a box of baits delivered to your door every month.”

One of our favorites is BarkBox because it means we never have to buy treats. And Shamrock loves every time he gets a new toy.


My Subscription Addiction has a great list of nearly all of the subscription boxes out there, along with reviews and coupon codes!


Looking for more ideas? Try these links:

Share the love! Help give ideas!

What’s a Unique Gift You’ve Received and Loved?

What’s a Unique Gift You’ve Given?


Aussie Funnies


Now that I have most or our upcoming fall trip to Australia planned, I’ve been reading some more fun things…

It all started with my Aussie friend Wineaux friend Helen, who posted a link on Americans guessing the meaning of Aussie slang. I honestly only knew five of these. And I know I won’t remember the others.

I’ll be meeting up with some Aussie’s my friends Jen, Kim and I met in New Orleans back on New Year’s Eve 2002. They’ve been giving us some travel tips. I liked this one:

“AUSSIE SLANG:  Can only be taught over drinks at night.”

From that site, I found myself hopping to others…

And then started to roll on the floor laughing… (Well, not literally. We have hardwood floors.)

Australian’s Answer Americans’ Dumb Questions

Outback Steakhouse as Explained by a Real Australian

There’s so much to see and so little time. It’s hard to research a destination when you realize you can’t do it all. I mean, who could see the entire U.S. or even just scratch the surface in two weeks? We’re planning to do as much as we can without burning ourselves out. Hopefully, I’ve created some balance in our itinerary.

We can hardly wait.


Thrifty Thursday


Everyone is different when it comes to thriftiness. We all spend a little less on something because we’d like to spend a little more on something else.

For me, I’d rather keep driving my ten-year-old Toyota Corolla in order to travel to far and away places.

For me, thrift stores are generally not the answer. I have yet to find something at a thrift store that fits me correctly or that I like enough that after I buy it that it doesn’t sit in my closet. I mean, it’s not deal if I’m not wearing it, right? Other people swear by thrift stores.

Some strategies work for some people and others do not. I’m finding though, that the trick is learning about these strategies and them testing them out to see if they work for me.

For instance, I love these Two Kick-Ass Spending Tips from Budgets are $exy. I’ve already used the Stranger and Urgency tests several times. They work. For me.

But what if you could get money back on purchases that you normally make anyway?

Enter Ebates.

Maybe I’m late to the game here… Ebates has been around for quite some time. In fact, I opened up an account in 2000. I got my last check in 2003.

Then I forgot about it.

I’m really not sure what brought me back around. I think my husband learned about it a few weeks ago and I recalled that I had an account.

What is Ebates?

By signing up for a free account with Ebates, you will find thousands of coupons, promo codes and discounts across the web. But what I like the most about it is the Cash Back you get just for buying stuff online that you already do!

How does Ebates work?

Just create an account. Whenever you shop, be sure to go to Ebates and login to your account first. Then, find the store where you’d like to shop to see if it is on the list. You may find promotions and coupons, but there are also rebates for cash back from 1% up to 12%. All you have to do is click through to the store from the Ebates website. That’s it! You’ve earned cash-ola.

Ebates pays out quarterly, as long as you’ve earned more than $5 in the last three months. If you don’t earn $5.01, you don’t lose that money. It just carries over. In fact, I had $4.04 sitting in my account from 2003. Seriously.

You can have your “Big Fat Check” mailed directly to you, deposited in your Paypal account, or made out to any charity, organization or family member.

What stores can I find on Ebates?

There are hundreds (thousands?) of stores, many from which you already shop. Here are some of my favorites and their cash back percentages as of today:

  • Living Social – 6%
  • Groupon – 6%
  • Target – up to 2.5%
  • Amazon – up to 3%
  • Kohl’s – 6%
  • Barnes & Noble – 1%
  • Old Navy – 2%
  • Hotwire – 2%
  • Wal-Mart – 2%

Other stores on Ebates where we could have earned cash…

Here are some sites where we’ve spent a significant amount of money in the past ten years. We really missed the boat.

  • Air France – 1% – I bought our Honeymoon flights to Italy in 2010 through Air France because it had a better connecting time than on Delta, despite the fact that the first and longest leg was with Delta. We could also take a three-day layover in Paris through Air France. That would have been nice cash to have back!
  • AmazonLocal – 3% – Rob just spent $120 here and forgot to use the Ebates account. That little bit adds up!
  • eBags12%, Baby!! – Back in 2003, I bought a piece of luggage through eBags based on the reviews. I still use it as my main piece of luggage. 12% back is awesome.
  • TaxAct – 7.5% – We do our taxes through TaxAct every year. That’s some missed dough for the last ten!
  • Hotwire – 2% – We aren’t loyal to any one rental car company, so we always refer to Hotwire for awesome deals, like when we were in St. Augustine and L.A. We’ve also scored some great hotels in Chicago and Miami through Hotwire. Those purchases add up.
  • eBay – up to 1% – This is Rob’s store for everything!

We won’t be missing the boat on future purchases through these sites!

You can even shop around for one time purchases:

  • Gifts – Stuck on gift ideas? Browse the shops!
  • Pet Food – I used to pick up a specific 30-lb bag of dog food at a local pet food store. I hated carrying it! Now I get it delivered to my door, always get free shipping because a 30-lb bag of quality dog food is usually about $50. I also look for a coupon code before purchasing, too. There are several pet food stores on Ebates; so I just go with the one with the best deal for the brand I want to buy.

If you think all of this seems minimal, think again about all of the shopping you already do. Over the course of three months, won’t it add up to some extra change in your pocket? Then think about any of the shopping you normally do that you could be doing online, saving time, gas and earning cash back.

Then set your “Big Fat Check” aside for something special. Anything I get back will be set aside for travel. What will that be for you?

If you think you don’t need the extra cash, just think of the check you could send to a charity or a family member in need to brighten their day.

It costs nothing to join, so it’s worth signing up. Worst case scenario, you’ll just forget about it, like me. Then you’ll kick yourself later for all the missed cash back.

*Disclosure: I was not paid by Ebates to write this post; but the links to Ebates are my referral links for which I can receive credit. However, I would not recommend Ebates if I didn’t use it myself!

What Ebates stores do you shop and recommend?