Business

Penny-pinching tips for the holidays, food and fun

In today's economy, who can't benefit from a few saving tips?

Today concludes the penny-pinching ideas we've shared throughout this week in the Business section. Today's focus: holiday gifts, entertainment and dining out.

Some tips come from readers. Others come from the misers on our staff. And a few come from rules our mothers taught us. The full list is available at CharlotteObserver.com/business.

(Raleigh) News & Observer

On holidays, be a Scrooge

83. Shop for Christmas and other gift-giving times throughout the year to take advantage of sales. Organize a gift closet. Take a digital photo of the item, download it onto your computer and add notes about who it's for.

84. Frequent after-holiday sales. After Christmas, items go 75 percent to 90 percent off. Gift wrap, cards and toys can all be saved. Plain gift wrap can be used throughout the year as well. Stock up on cards.

85. Need teacher presents? Buy packs of items like cocoa and chocolate bars and then divide them up. Package them in pretty mugs (found at yard sales or on sale) and tie with a ribbon and a handwritten note from the student.

86. For wrapping paper, look at your kids' artwork or coloring books, especially holiday-themed ones.

87. Inexpensive wooden frames – available for a few bucks in most craft shops – can be decoupaged with wrapping paper or decorated with sea shells (hot glue guns work best).

88. Turn last year's holiday cards into this year's holiday postcards. Works best with stiffer cards. Save on buying cards and postage, as postcard stamps are usually cheaper.

89. Don't bypass dollar stores – they're great places to stock up on greeting cards – or discount stores such as Big Lots.

Entertainment on the cheap

90. Take advantage of free concerts by area community concert bands.

91. Try date night at the public library: free lectures, discussions and movie nights.

92. Read library books.

93. Get free books online. Visit www.gutenberg.org.

94. Entertain at home with board games and card games. Get everyone to bring a dish.

95. Don't forget sneak peeks at the local cinemas and free gaming nights at area game stores.

96. Look for reciprocal agreements. Many museums, zoos and botanical gardens have deals with similar attractions in other cities to allow members to get in at those sites for free or at reduced prices.

97. Rent new DVD releases for $1 per night at RedBox, found locally at Harris Teeter stores. Every Monday, it offers a code for a free rental.

98. Cut your cable or satellite TV. Keep your Internet connection and watch new and classic shows on Web sites such as YouTube, Hulu and NBC.com. For less than $20 a month, you also can join DVD subscription services such as Netflix or Blockbuster.com and get full seasons of your favorite shows shipped to you.

Eating out with a light check

99. When eating out, order from the small plates or appetizers section.

100. If you go out to partake of food and wine, check for specials (is Friday margarita night?) and order accordingly.

101. Fast-food chains make money on soda; the markup is about 80 percent. When dining out, order water. Need more? Ask for two slices of lemon, squeeze it, add Splenda and you've got lemonade.

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