Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Christmas story of a grandmother's love and of her friends' kindness

   With Thanksgiving over, we started with our Christmas decorations. The first items to go up were the children's stockings.
    My mother, Sara Hurdle, made these with needlepoint for the children. Ash's was given to him on his second or third Christmas. Lucy's took a little longer.
    Mother had started on Lucy's stocking, but set it aside. When she was in the hospital for what turned out to be her final visit, she asked that her needlepoint project be brought to her. I remember seeing her work on it.
    One day mother's friends Martha Carlisle and Lou Jones stopped by for a visit and asked Mother if there was anything they could do for her. She handed them the needlepoint and asked them to finish it. She said she just didn't have the energy.
    So Lou and Martha finished the needlepoint and took it to wherever stockings are made. A couple of weeks after Mother's death Martha gave me the stocking, sharing with me the story behind it. I cried, of course.
    Each year when I hang these stockings I can't help but think about a mother's love for her grandchildren and the bond of friendship that led Lou and Martha to finish Lucy's Christmas stocking.
    And yes, every Christmas I cry.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

After seeing the Wal-Mart "sale," I think I'd rather pay more and not endure it

    I needed a computer mouse today and drove over to Wal-Mart to pick one up. The photos above show the crowd I found. It's important to note that these crowds were all over the store, although a couple of spots did have a higher density.
    It seems Wal-Mart is having a pre-Black-Friday sale Thanksgiving Day, with several items going on deep discount at 6 p.m. and later 8 p.m. Everyone was waiting to buy some cheap stuff, such as a $99 32-inch television. Wristbands were being distributed in some fashion to keep the people from clawing each other's eyes out at the stroke of 6.
    Fortunately, I was able with some effort to get my mouse and checked out with little wait. No one was waiting to pay yet; they were waiting to grab their discounted items. I did get a sale catalog and discovered that for the $9.99 I paid for my corded mouse I could have gotten a wireless mouse at 8 p.m. It was worth the $10 loss in value to be out of that zoo!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

If shopping Amazon this Christmas, buy yourself a gift card from Kroger and save money on gas

    Last year I wrote about saving money on gas by buying an Amazon gift card from Kroger. It's that time of year again.
    Kroger is offering quadruple fuel points on most gift card purchases through Dec. 10. Kroger fuel centers redeem these fuel points with a 10-cent discount on gas per hundred points redeemed. So a $250 Amazon gift card purchase earns 1,000 points, or a dollar-per-gallon discount, the maximum allowed.
    There are a few quirks about the Kroger points. They don't accumulate, and points earned can be used immediately or carried into the next month. But after the next month they expire. Also, they pull from the earliest month possible when redeemed, but will pull from only one month's point. So if you have 800 October fuel points remaining and 1,000 November points, asking for an 80-cent discount will use the October points. Asking for a 1,000-point discount will use the November points, letting the October points go to waste.
    There is a strategy to all of this. You need to be aware of your fuel point balances, which are printed on your grocery receipt. On Nov. 29 or 30, buy just enough points to bring your November fuel-point total to an even thousand. Then buy additional gift cards Dec. 1 through Dec. 10 to give yourself fuel discounts through the end of January. So if you know you will be shopping on Amazon, go ahead and pay now!
    Oh, and the gift cards are easy to use. Just log into your Amazon account, go into "My Account" settings and apply the gift card. It will immediately give your account a credit balance for the amount of the gift card.
    The amount you save will depend on the size of your car's gas tank (and the size of your family's Christmas), up to a maximum of 35 gallons per fill-up. A $250 gift card purchase yields a $1-per-gallon discount on gas. For my car that's $16 in savings. Since I use an airline card to buy groceries, add another $2.50 to that for a total of $18.50 saved. If you drive a Suburban, figure $30 in fuel savings, so an effective 13-percent discount on your Amazon shopping.
    For us, this is only a seven-percent savings on our Christmas purchases, but if you know you are going to be spending money with Amazon, why not save the seven percent?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Spend $500 on magazines and American Airlines will throw in a round-trip ticket to Hawaii for free

    In the amazing deals department, a couple can buy $250 each worth of magazine subscriptions through the American Airlines AAdvantage shopping portal and they will throw in a round-trip ticket to Hawaii for free.
    Now, let me admit, they don't just issue a ticket to Hawaii with two $250 purchases. But they will credit each purchaser with 17,500 miles. For a husband and wife each making purchases that comes out to 35,000 miles, which is the cost in miles of an off-peak round-trip ticket to Hawaii.
    Here's how this one works. AAdvantage is offering a 2,500-mile bonus through December 2 to anyone purchasing $250 through its shopping portal. This spending can be spread among retailers. They also have a 1,500-mile bonus for $150 in spending and $75 for 750 miles.
    Each retailer also offers miles for purchases, generally from two to six miles per dollar. But from time to time a retailer will offer a really large milage bonus. And that's what's happening now. usually offers a generous 20 miles per dollar spent, but right now they are offering 60 miles per dollar. Add that to the shopping portal bonus and $250 nets 17,500 miles. A husband and wife can do this and each will get 17,500 miles, for a total of 35,000 miles -- the cost of an off-peak ticket to Hawaii.
    To put that in perspective, consider what AAdvantage sells airline miles for. They usually get almost three cents a mile, although a current promotion provides 10,800 miles for just under $250. So for $250 you can buy 10,800 miles directly from the airline, or you can buy $250 in magazine subscriptions and get 17,500 miles thrown in for free. So you can pay 2.5 cents for miles or you can get them for 1.4 cents each and have a lot of magazine subscriptions thrown in.
    Some of the magazines are quite reasonably priced. A two-year subscription to Time costs $60, or just over 50 cents an issue. A year of Rolling Stone is $59.90. Eleven issues of Esquire is $8. Twenty-four issues of the National Review costs $29.50. All of these prices are a fraction of the newsstand cost, and generally less than I've seen quoted for these magazines.
    These points can't be pooled, but presumably most AAdvantage members will already have some miles in their accounts. The AAdvantage off-peak for Europe is Oct. 15 to May 15, with round-trip tickets going for 40,000, so this deal almost produces enough miles for a trans-Atlantic trip.
    Don't wait too long. This one won't last.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

One Day More -- Nov. 15 is the last day to claim your free Marriott room nights

    Each day offers differing opportunities and dangers for every person. This is a reminder that you have one day more to sign up for Marriott's Megabonus offer, which for most will offer a free room night for every two stays. The promotion period lasts through January 15, but November 15 is the last sign-up day.
    The Megabonus offers are individualized, but for most casual travelers the offer will be a Category 1-5 room certificate for every two stays, up to a maximum of two. We've used these certificates to attend away football games, for a quick trip to New Orleans, or just when traveling.
    We usually use our certificates for hotel nights that would otherwise cost us in excess of $150. So 12 one-night stays per year yields six free-night certificates worth $900 in hotel stays. Oh, and you should earn in excess of 15,000 Marriott Rewards points over those 12 stays, which is enough points for a night at a Category 3 Marriott-family hotel. So 12 stays equals seven free nights. The math is pretty good on this one; if you have the need for hotel stays over the next two months then failing to sign up for these free room certificates is just silly.
    If a husband and wife both travel a little bit, just double it and make it 12 free-night certificates a year. That's about as many free nights as a family can possibly use.
    For those who keep up with such things, Marriott has one of the best aspirational awards going: Seven nights in a Marriott-family hotel plus 120,000 airline mile. The point cost varies, but most will end up spending 300,000 to 390,000 points for this.
    So what is the air-hotel package worth? Well, 120,000 airline miles will get two tickets to Europe in the shoulder season, which if purchased for cash could easily cost $1,500 each. Seven nights at the Paris Marriott Opera Ambassador Hotel could easily cost 2,400 Euros, or about $3,250. So the value of the flight-hotel package is about $6,000. Spouses can pool their points when redeeming these awards.
    Of course, it will take a while to earn that many points, and there is always the risk that the award chart could be gutted. But if the chart stays the same then  in two more years Jinny and I will get a heck of a vacation.