Tuesday, January 09, 2007

(Fun and Frugal in January)

Thinking seasonally is one of the best ways to save your money and use your time wisely. In keeping with that idea, here are some ideas to make the most of January:

1) First, let's mention the obvious: now's the time to pick up holiday decorations at greatly reduced prices. You can save a lot if you buy Christmas cards and wrapping paper, now, as well. Even when I'm out and about this late in January, I still see some Christmas items on sale in the stores around here.

Another obvious bargain at this time of year is containers for organizing and storing items. Retailers know that most of us are eager to straighten up after the holidays. They also know that most of us start the new year with resolutions to get our lives in order. As a result, the stores offer sales on all kinds of storage containers.

Around here, I've been snapping up the cutest boxes on sale at Burlington coat factory. The boxes come in several themes and color schemes. For example, one set is in a pink rose pattern; another is coordinated around a 1920's Paris dress shop. In each scheme, there are hat boxes, boxes with handles shaped like small suitcases, boxes made to look like little steamer trunks, stationary boxes, etc.

I bought two hat boxes to actually use for hats, although I'm sure most people buy them to store other items. And, I bought a suitcase shaped box with a handle in which to store all of my letters and cards that DH has given me through the years -- after 26 years of marriage, in addition to our courtship and engagement, I need a fairly large size box to hold these treasures. I bought a very small round box with lid in the colors of my bedroom to hold hair pins and the like. I set it on my dressing table.

I am hoping the store's large supply of these containers lasts for a while, as I can not afford to buy them all at once. I work in buying one of these pretty, inexpensive storage items here and there.

2) Most of us also know that January is traditionally the month of "white sales". If you are looking to create a romantic bedroom or to stock up on towels, sheets, and other linens, now is a great time to shop! Among items to look for are high quality, high-thread count sheets. Do your homework, though. Just because a vender says it is offering a white sale doesn't mean that their prices are true bargains.

3) Remember that the retail world lives at least one season ahead of the true calendar. Stores are pushing the next season's merchandise earlier and earlier each year. I was flabbergasted when our local grocery store started putting out Valentine's Day goods a couple of days before Christmas!

You can use this seasonal push to your advantage, especially when it comes to clothing. If you live in the northern hemisphere, blustery winds may have you longing for a new coat or a pretty sweater. Merchants, however, already have their minds on "cruise wear" and spring fashions. They are eager to unload any winter merchandise that did not sell for the holidays, and you will find huge sales on winter clothing right now. (Reverse that thinking if you live in the Southern hemisphere).

In certain parts of the U.S., we had an unusually warm fall. I have read that this may result in even better sales on winter clothing this year. When the weather stays warm, consumers are less interested in buying wool skirts, sweaters, scarves, gloves, coats, etc. So, retailers are likely to have an even larger number of winter items than usual on their shelves and racks. All of these must be moved out to make way for spring clothes, so the extra stock is heavily discounted. And, it seems that this is timely; the weather experts are saying that our delayed summery phase is over and that we will start experiencing true winter weather.

If you sew most of your own clothing, look for similar deals on fall/winter fabrics and patterns.

4) Don't forget the grocery store when it comes to saving money in January. You will be able to find great savings on holiday meats, such as turkey and ham. Cook a turkey or ham and slice and freeze the meat in small packages to be pulled out for recipes or sandwiches. Or, simply freeze the turkey or ham until you are ready to use it as the main entree in a meal. Jams, chocolates, and other items that were meant to be Christmas food gifts are on sale now. Be careful here, as most were probably over-priced to begin with. But, if you shop wisely, you might be able to snap up some treats for your family at vastly reduced prices.

Look for great prices when it comes to citrus fruits and winter root vegetables. (Again, if you live in the Southern hemisphere, reverse your thinking to accord with your area's seasonal pattern). You can often save money by plannning a whole month's menus around whatever is in season in your area, even if -- ironically -- your chain grocery store ships this produce in from somewhere else.

5) Applicance manufacturers introduce their new lines in the spring. During January through March, they mark down their current stock in order to move it out to make way for new stock. Now's a good time to buy washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc.

6) While you're installing that new applicance, think of painting the room where you're putting it. Paint is often on sale at this time of year.

7) January is often a good time to pick up bargains on winter sports items. Additionally, this is off-season for some vacation spots, and you may find reduced rates for hotels, tickets to local attractions, etc.

Using your Time Wisely in January:

1) Again, let's mention the obvious before we move on to other things: Now, is the time to do some planning for the year. Be sure to include a plan for tackling re-organizing or spring cleaning or some other home improvement endeavor in little bits, so that you aren't overwhelmed by all that you want to accomplish. Think in terms of a year or two years out when setting goals.

Sometimes, we know we want to change something, but the change at hand seems nebulous and overwhelming. For example, let's say you want to do a thorough cleaning of your bedroom. You will find it easier to accomplish if you break down that goal into small steps and give each step a reasonable timeframe. For example, I will go through my closet and give away everything that I no longer wear by Janaury 31st.

I find that I do better with goal setting when I keep in mind the old saying, "Man proposes, God disposes". I pray and plan, but I remind myself to be flexible if the Lord moves events in a direction I had not forseen. Sometimes, even small things pop up can move us away from our goals. If we aren't surrendered to God, we can find these little unexpected happenings to be very frustrating. But, if we remember that God's plans and purposes are always good, we can accept the changes and adjust accordingly.

2) For the serious gardener, now's a great time to plan your spring/summer gardening goals. If you live in an area where the weather isn't condusive to getting out in the yard, you can use the time you might usually spend in pottering about in the garden by reading seed and garden catalogs.

If you live in an area where the weather is mild, as I do, you may be able to accomplish some lawn/garden tasks on warmish, sunny days. Our local paper provides a monthly calendar of things to do in the yard and garden for our local growing zone. The calendar is even more specific than the general guidelines for our Growing zone and it is geared to the few counties in the paper's reading area. Be sure to check a similar resource to make the most of your gardening efforts.

If you are ultra-serious about gardening and you live in an area where you experience hard winters, you may be able to extend our gardening season through cold-frame gardening.

Again, if you live in the Southern hemisphere, your gardens and yards are probably coming into their peak. Please go outside and smell the roses for those of us who are in winter now!

3) Now, while you're in the planning mode, think through the tools and appliances you will be using in 2007. This is a good time to clean and repair tools. If you would like to do a lot of sewing this year, for example, make sure that your sewing machine is in good order. Stock up on needles and notions.

Get your gardening tools ready before spring comes to your area. Does your lawnmower need to go to the shop? Are the blades on your garden shears rusty or dirty? Take care of these things now, while the days are cool. When warm, sunny spring comes, you'll thank yourself for having your gardening gear ready to go.

Remember, nothing is worse than starting a project, only to wrestle with poorly maintained tools or machines. If a tool or machine breaks from neglect, that's more frustrating still. You can save yourself a lot of headaches by keeping your tools in working order.

If you think it would be best to wait until later in the year to do maintenance on a tool, machine, or appliance, jot a reminder to yourself on a calendar page. For example, you could make a notation on June's calendar page to take care of a certain item.

4) Spring cleaning came about because older methods of heaing a home produced lots of grime over the winter months. This grime stuck to walls, furniture surfaces, drapes, floors, windows, and ceilings. Also, our foremothers of generations and generations passsed did not have the access we do to running water inside of the home. Nor, did they have vaccuums. So, when the winter snows were past, its no wonder that great-great-grandma cleaned every inch of her house.

For that reason, some people no longer do a thorough deep cleaning, but prefer to keep things fairly neat and clean as they go along throughout the year. Cleaning expert Don Aslett suggests that modern homes get the dirtiest during the summer, when people track in dust and pollen after outdoor activities. I think that may be true, here in the South, where we don't have to fight as much slush from snow and ice as other parts of the country. But, I would imagine that areas with heavy winters a lot of dirt may be tracked into the house from slush and snow. At any rate, Aslett suggests that we modern home keepers should do our deep cleaning during the fall.

Aslett's advice may work for some. But, I have an idea that spring will always awaken a desire in our hearts to make our homes clean and fresh. There's no time like spring for airing out the house or cleaning windows or sunning mattresses.

What we can do, in today's world, is to get a jump on spring cleaning by starting in January. Since we don't have the winter grime buildup that great-great-grandma did, there's no reason why we can't start cleaning out drawers and closets or polishing cabinets. If we start now and work little by little, we won't have to do all of our deep cleaning in one exhausting whirlwind. Plus, with many tasks out of the way by the time spring rolls around, we will have more time to enjoy sunny and balmy days.

5) Now is a good time to remember the elderly, people who are shut in with illness, and the poor. Sometimes, these people receive a lot of attention during the holidays, when people are focused on being charitable. But, they are forgotten once the holiday spirit passes.

Have a great January!



Anonymous said...

These are some great tips Elizabeth. I picked up some Advent calendars for 25p each on Saturday. I just need to remember I've got them for next Christmas, lol.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sarah,

I have the same problem with picking up Christmas things and remembering them for the next year. LOL.