Regifting the right way: 8 rules for upcycling gifts with style

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 3:08 PM

Last year I obtained a $25 gift card at a conference – and promptly designated it as a Christmas gift for a relative.

Was this person any the wiser? Nope. She had a nice time treating herself with the card, and I had a nice time paying for one less present.

Part of the fun of the holidays is giving the kinds of presents that will delight your family and friends. Does it matter where you get these gifts? Maybe. Maybe not.

Many frugalists love regifting. A couple of years ago the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker survey noted that 76% of people believe the practice is acceptable. That number had inched up in the previous few years.

The Emily Post Institute, on the other hand, isn’t wild about the practice. An article on the Institute’s website, All About Regifting, says that at best it’s “lazy” and at worst it’s actually dishonest. They say that to wrap and give a gift you already have is “inherently deceitful…an attempt to pretend you went out and shopped for this item with the recipient in mind.”

Done poorly, regifting can be low-rent: “Hey, I can de-clutter AND not have to spend any money on holiday gifts – I’ll just give away all my junk!”

Done smartly, though, the practice is a budget-booster and a clutter-buster – and eco-friendly to boot.

Obviously you wouldn’t re-give a bad present. But how many of us have received things that were great – just not great for us?

The etiquette of regifting

That article from the Post website suggests a couple of situations in which regifting might be okay. One is when you’ve been given the same gift twice. It’s acceptable to give one to a friend – but unwrapped, and specifying that you got two and want him to have one.

(No gift wrapping, no element of suspense as it sits under your friend’s tree – where’s the fun in that?)

The second scenario: “Your sister’s coffeemaker just stopped working and her birthday is days away. You, who are on a budget, have been given an extra coffeemaker. Instead of stashing the extra coffeemaker in your closet, you wrap it in its original box and present it to her. She’s delighted.”

Wait: Re-gifting is permissible if you’re broke, but unacceptable otherwise?

O, earnest heirs of Emily Post, I respectfully disagree. Not all regifters are living paycheck to paycheck. Plenty of them are smart consumers who want to stay under budget, prevent waste and, yes, clear out some gifts that just didn’t click but that might make someone else very happy.

Use the following tips to be savvy, not tacky.

Rule #1: Don’t regift junk

Your sister – such a joker! – gave you a DVD of some of the worst made-for-TV romance movies in existence. A co-worker presented his self-published science fiction novel to everyone in the office. Great-Aunt Edna wrapped up a set of lotions and bath salts that smell like insecticide.

If you can’t get far enough away from gifts like these, why would you even consider passing them along?

Maybe the charity thrift shop will take them. But if not, don’t feel too much guilt about disposing of such items instead of re-homing them.

Rule #2: Don’t regift fruitcake

Do I really have to explain this? It’s been suggested that there’s really only one fruitcake in existence – it just gets passed around from household to household, year after year. Essayist Calvin Trillin claimed that “nobody in the United States has ever bought a fruitcake for himself.”

Or not. Some people love those fruity doorstops.

If that’s not you and you receive a fruitcake from the boss, don’t think about pawning it off on a friend. Or on an enemy, for that matter, even if he’s really asking for it. Christmas is a time of good will toward men, remember?

However, feel free to regift wine or spirits, as long as they’re unopened. Fancy chocolates or coffees are often handed out during the holidays, and are generally welcome regifts. And if vanilla-wafer-tongued you were to receive a gift basket of hot sauces in the office gift exchange the week before Christmas? Go ahead and wrap it up for your brother, he of the asbestos palate.

However, make sure that you observe…

Rule #3: Remove initial-gift traces

When I was an impoverished midlife college student, the school newspaper editor gave me a book about the history of the movies. (I was the oldest living cub reporter, and one of my jobs was to write about films.) A-ha! I thought. I can give this to my BFF, a former movie reviewer – what a great boost to my nonexistent budget.

Except that I neglected to note the inscription he’d left on an inside page. You know, one that mentioned me by name and also noted the date of the gift. Awkward.

Scrutinize that unwanted present before you pass it along. Maybe you never took that lime-green wallet all the way out of the package, and thus didn’t see notice that the giver had it monogrammed for you. Or perhaps inside that seashell-decorated jewelry box was a note from Uncle Bob, fondly recalling all those summer beachcombing sessions at the Jersey Shore.

Trust me: “Awkward” isn’t an emotion you want connected to your gift-giving.

Rule #4: Don’t regift old-looking stuff

That is, unless it’s a fabulous antique whose age is part of its charm.

But what we’re talking here is non-gently-used stuff. If some of the pages in those “Outlander” novels are tear-stained, the books will not make good gifts even if the covers are new-looking. That burgundy pashmina shawl is pretty, but suppose the recipient remembers you wearing it last New Year’s Eve?

Don’t give a gift card with a weird partial balance, either. Imagine unwrapping $19.33 worth of Walgreens scrip. Can’t exactly feel the love, can you?

Rule #5: Sometimes it’s OK to wrap old-looking stuff (but only sometimes)

Suppose you and your sis are both wild about vintage Pez dispensers. These things are old by definition. Giving her your super-rare “Creature From The Black Lagoon” dispenser will make this the merriest Christmas ever.

See also: rare books, sports memorabilia, coins, stamps and just about any other collectible.

Rule #6: Make sure the recipient isn’t the original giver!

I once heard about a woman whose wedding gift to a nephew and his bride was a cookbook with a $100 bill hidden inside. Two years later, guess what she got for Christmas?

And yes, it was the same book – the Benjamin was still tucked within.

The solution: Label each item with the giver’s name and the date you got it, so you don’t mess up. In fact, it’s a good idea to have an ongoing list of what’s available in the gift stash. Should your own nephew surprise everyone with a fiancée, you’ll know at a glance whether you have a picture frame or a journal (or a pashmina) you can quickly wrap for the new family member.

(Also: If someone gives you a book, flip through the pages before regifting it.)

Rule #7: Don’t give away handmade stuff (unless you made it)

If someone gives you a hand-painted ceramic snowman or a crocheted toilet paper cover, you don’t have to display it — but you shouldn’t give it away, either.

Really can’t stand that mud-colored pottery bowl or super-amateur seascape? Try to remember that such things are the result of hours of dedication. It’s the thought that counts, etc. Bonus good-guy points for bringing the item out whenever the giver is visiting.

Rule #8: Match the gift to the recipient

If your cousin is all about geocaching, don’t irritate her by wrapping up a scented candle from your regift closet. However, maybe that small backpack would be perfect for carrying her flashlight and other geocaching tools.

Uncle Joe has gone vegan. Do not give him that barbecue cookbook. But he might like the decorative bowl you got in the Secret Santa exchange. Tell him it’s perfect for quinoa or tofu (or both).

Grandma has moved into assisted living and her place is small. Instead of giving her yet another framed picture of her grandkids, check your closet for something experience-related: a movie gift card (paired with a promise of rides at least once a month), or a blank book so she can write down the story of her life.

Just as you wouldn’t buy presents on autopilot, you shouldn’t regift that way, either. Look over your stash and think about what might surprise and engage the recipient. (Hint: You probably won’t be able to meet all your gift-giving needs this way. Be prepared to go shopping as needed.)

In closing….

Does regifting feel wrong? Then don’t do it. Frugal hacks should make you feel happy, not queasy.

If you do this the wrong way, you’re putting people’s emotions at risk. As the Emily Post Institute notes, any savings you realize wouldn’t be worth “the cost of hurt feelings or a damaged friendship.”

And, seriously: Don’t regift fruitcake. It just isn’t done.

Donna Freedman created the Smart Spending and Frugal Nation blogs for MSN Money and has written for dozens of other blogs, newspapers and magazines. She is the author of Your Playbook For Tough Times: Living Large On Small Change, For The Short Term Or The Long Haul and its sequel, Your Playbook For Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs AND Wants Edition. Donna blogs about money and midlife at DonnaFreedman.com, and is at work on her third book.

Is credit monitoring a scam?

Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 12:01 PM

Clark Howard explains how to protect yourself.

With the recent massive security breach of Equifax — one of the three credit bureaus with which many may have thought their private information was safer than most — now many people are dealing with more insecurities, wondering where they can entrust their private information, if anywhere.

Here are some options:

Credit freezing

Better and cheaper than credit monitoring, an option for optimal security is freezing your credit through each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), according to WSB money expert Clark Howard at Clark.com.

The fee is $3 to $10 per person per bureau, depending on your state, to allow you to seal your credit reports — except now it's free with Experian from here on out due to the recent data breach.

You will be provided with a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can be used to temporarily unfreeze (or "thaw") your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed such as when you are buying a car.

This added layer of security means thieves can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.

LifeLock vs. CreditKarma.com

While LifeLock advertises it can help consumers secure their information to guard against identity theft, LifeLock charges monthly services that start at $10 a month.

This kind of credit monitoring is not the same or as effective as a credit freeze, said Craig Johnson for Clark.com.

Instead, he recommends CreditKarma.com for free credit monitoring.

Equifax

If you haven't already frozen your credit, now would be the time since Equifax recently got hacked and the information of possibly 145.5 million people was attained by these hackers.

Information accessed primarily includes names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers.

To try to compensate, Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring (but only through Jan. 31, 2018) with its TrustedID Premier.

Experian

Another point of confusion is the unsolicited free Dark Web Email Scan offered by Experian to your email, leading to a monthly fee for further scanning.

Experian IdentityWorks also offers a free 30-day trial membership for identity theft protection and resolution, involving a monthly automatic deduction of $9.99 for the plus plan or $19.99 for the premium plan.

It's free to cancel within the 30-day trial period, but the consequences are not revealed up front for those who decide to cancel their membership once the monthly fees begin.

TransUnion

The third credit bureau, TransUnion, also offers credit monitoring at $19.95 monthly. However, TransUnion says it offers free identity protection through its TrueIdentity program.

Free helpline

Those with specific questions about the Equifax breach and how it may impact them may contact Howard's Consumer Action Center — a free helpline open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST Monday through Friday with Team Clark volunteers available to answer concerns at 404-892-8227.

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4 of the best ways to turn your home into a cash cow

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 4:17 PM

Sites like Airbnb let you rent out your home to make money.
Sites like Airbnb let you rent out your home to make money.

Your house is a large expense with many associated costs like a mortgage payment, insurance, maintenance and more.

RELATED: How to Cash In on Short-Term Rentals Like Airbnb, VRBO

It provides a roof over your head, of course, but since it usually costs you money each month, why not put it to work for you and earn some cash in the process?

The following are four ways your house can make you money:

You can relax on the lake, in the woods or even in the back of a van when you're looking for a staycation in Gwinnett County.(Airbnb)

List your home with Airbnb or VRBO.

If you're planning to be out of town for a few days or don't mind bunking with a friend, you may be able to make some money by renting out your home through sites like Airbnb and VRBO.

Before jumping in, you'll need to take time to learn about the market, your expenses and any taxes you may need to pay. And before you list your property, you'll need to understand how to make it stand out with a good listing, including compelling photos and competitive pricing. Airbnb has a series of toolkits to help with this.

RELATED: Atlanta has Airbnb's most desired rental property in the world.

Rent it out to the area's growing TV and film industry.

When TV, film and commercial producers want to depict a home on screen, many times they'll rent the real thing, according to Money. It can be inconvenient for owners, however, since their homes may be taken over by a large crew and be completely rearranged.

On the other hand, homeowners often have fun with the experience while making some extra money. And while you're watching TV or a movie, you may be able to spot your home.

Host a foreign exchange student or faculty member.

Temporarily hosting a foreign exchange student or faculty member who's studying or teaching in this country can help you make some extra cash for anywhere from six weeks to six months at a time. You'll also be exposed to a different culture and language, and the experience could help you form a bond that lasts even when your guest returns home.

The Penny Hoarder suggests contacting student housing offices at local community colleges and universities, asking to be placed on their list of host families. After this, you'll have to apply, be interviewed, and allow your home to be toured. You'll also need to pass background and reference checks.

The 4-bedroom house sits on a corner lot with a concrete driveway that leads up to the two 2-car garages both having rear service doors. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS BY KATHY TYLER

Rent out your driveway or storage space.

If you have extra space in your driveway, you may be able to make some money by letting others park there, according to Men's Health. This is especially true if you live near a commuter rail line or sports stadium, but you'll need to check to make sure you're not violating any local ordinances. Check out websites like JustPark to get started.

The Balance also suggests renting out any extra storage space you may have. From vehicles to personal items, your garage or home could help you make money through a site like StoreAtMyHouse.

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5 ways to get the most out of your health insurance plan

Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 @ 3:15 PM

Here are five ways to ensure you're getting the most out of your health insurance Choose your plan carefully Take advantage of preventative care benefits Work within your formulary Utilize HSAs and FSAs Watch out for surprise out-of-network charges

Health insurance has a large impact on your finances, so it pays to get the most out of your plan.

Understanding its ins and outs can be confusing, but it's worth your time to check on benefits you could be losing out on or mistakes that could cost you money.

Here are five ways to ensure you're getting the most out of your health insurance:

Choose your plan carefully.

When it's time to renew your health care coverage, consumer adviser Clark Howard recommends not just blindly signing up for your current plan, even if you've been happy with it.

Your plan – as well as other options you may be able to sign up for – may have changed. Take a close look at the co-pays, deductibles, in-network providers and other specifics to make sure you're making the best possible choice.

Take advantage of preventative care benefits.

Almost every plan, according to healthcare.gov, offers preventative care benefits that are free. You won't have to pay a co-pay or meet your deductible to get these services at no charge.

Services for adults include age-appropriate vaccinations and colorectal cancer screenings for patients over 50.

RELATED: 8 ways to get the cheapest car insurance possible

Work within your formulary.

Health care plans typically have a formulary, which is a list of medications that they're willing to pay part of or the entire cost of. It may include a list of preferred medications, for which it will pay the highest percentage of the cost.

It pays to be familiar with your formulary before you get an unpleasant surprise at the pharmacy, according to NerdWallet. Print out a copy of the document from your health insurance company's website, or call up an online copy at your doctor's office. Your doctor can work with you to make sure you get an effective medication that you can afford.

Utilize HSAs and FSAs.

If your health insurance plans allow you to put aside tax-free dollars in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you should learn how they can help you. Consumer advisor Clark Howard's website, Clark.com, has a chart that explains the pros and cons of each.

An HSA is usually associated with high-deductible plans, and like an FSA, it helps you save money to pay for health care expenses. These can include everything from prescription eyeglasses to medication.

Watch out for surprise out-of-network charges.

Your insurance plan has a list of network providers, and when you can, you should stay in-network. That's easy enough if you're visiting a single doctor, but if you need to have surgery, things can get more complicated.

For pre-planned surgery, Consumer Reports recommends talking with your doctor's billing department to get a list of everyone who will provide your care, including radiologists and anesthesiologists. Call your health care company to see if they're in-network, and if not, ask your doctor if in-network providers can be used.

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5 ways to ensure you're getting the best mortgage rate

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 5:11 PM

The following are five ways to ensure that you're getting the best mortgage rate possible Look beyond a 30-year fixed rate Improve your credit score if it's low Beef up your down payment Get more than one quote Consider paying points

When you're buying a home, getting the best possible mortgage rate can have a positive effect on your finances for years to come.

RELATED: 7 clever ways to cut the costs of buying your first home

Depending on how large your mortgage is and how long you stay in your home, it can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

The following are five ways to ensure that you're getting the best mortgage rate possible:

Look beyond a 30-year fixed rate.

A 30-year fixed rate is the standard loan, but it's not the only option. If you can handle a higher monthly payment, you can save a significant amount over time by getting a 15-year mortgage.

Although you'll pay more each month, you'll get a lower interest rate and be able to pay off your home much quicker. In addition, more of your early payments go toward paying down the principal, according to The Motley Fool.

Improve your credit score if it's low.

It's important to keep your credit score in good shape because it helps determine how many loan options you'll have as well as the interest rate you'll pay. Check your score with each agency – EquifaxExperian and TransUnion – and correct any mistakes. If needed, delay getting a loan until you can improve your score by paying off debt and paying every bill on time.

The Simple Dollar looked at mortgage interest rates based on three different credit rates. The lowest credit score used (620) would cost the borrower more than $99,000 over the life of the loan when compared to a higher score (over 760).

Beef up your down payment.

Most lenders like to see at least a 20 percent down payment in order to get the best mortgage loan rate, according to Forbes. If you pay less, you may have a higher rate since the lender will consider you to be at higher risk of defaulting.

You'll also have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the lender's interests in case you default on the loan.

Get more than one quote.

Most people get just one mortgage quote, consumer adviser Clark Howard says. He recommends shopping around and getting quotes from multiple lenders, including a local bank, a credit union and a few online lenders.

Each inquiry will be recorded on your credit report, so you should get your quotes within a two-week period. That way, it doesn't look like you're applying for multiple loans.

Consider paying points.

Lenders will often give you the option of paying for discount points up front in exchange for lowering your interest rate. These fees are paid directly to the lender, and one point costs 1 percent of your mortgage amount.

The reduction in interest depends on the lender, and you'll need to run the numbers to determine when you'll break even by consulting a mortgage point calculator. If you plan to live in your home for a long time, paying points may make sense, according to Money.

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