Saving Money with Buy Nothing Month

Saving Money with Buy Nothing Month: How we bought nothing but food for an entire month - and loved it.

We finished our BUY NOTHING MONTH! What is that, you say? It’s a 4-week period of time in which we reject consumerism, stuff our pockets full of saved cash and fly off into the sunset in our roflcopter (pre-owned and paid off, of course).

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.

– Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Words to live by. Buy Nothing Month resets your spending and makes you question everything you normally mindlessly whip out a credit card for. And, at the end, you have a big pile of money to do whatever you want with. If you’re earning a decent wage but just can’t seem to make ends meet, try this experiment. It’s so easy: you don’t even have to do anything. In fact, not doing things is the whole point.

Our Buy Nothing Month budget:

  • $50/week budget for groceries – essentials only, no treats
  • Gasoline fill-ups – it’s tough to compromise on gasoline, but we went nowhere except to and from the office

Saving on Groceries

$50/week for two adults should be reasonable – but our grocery spending had crept into the $75-$100/week range in January. What’s up with that?

Turns out, it was mostly mid-winter indulgences like expensive cereals and chocolates (which will, of course, just be weight we wish we could lose come June). We agreed to not buy any of those things in February and stuck with the essentials: fresh vegetables, bread, and eggs. For meat, we cleaned out our freezer.

The Freezer Diet

We also paired “Buy Nothing Month” with what we like to call a “Freezer Diet” – ie: eat all the stuff in the freezer. Any time the Safeway prizing wizards decide it’s time to put meat on sale I snap it up like a hungry vulture and stuff it into my freezer to get us through the weeks when Safeway prices the meat high. By thawing and eating our stockpile, our freezer went from overstuffed to half empty. By eating what we had already paid for we saved a bundle on February’s groceries – about $20-25 off each week (we eat a lot of meat).

For Valentine’s Day we grilled most of the meats we had stuffed away in the freezer. This gave us about 2 weeks worth of tasty, tasty meats:

For Valentine's Day we barbequed - and cleaned out the freezer, not our wallets.

Our Valentine’s Chill Grill tradition cleaned out the freezer – not our wallets

Our Grocery Outlet adventure

Our $50 a week food goal also inspired us to seek out a new grocery store. We drove over to Grocery Outlet and discovered that they sell the same 10 lb bag of chicken breasts we buy at Safeway for half the price: $5 instead of $10. Alas, the rest of the store didn’t carry much of what eat on a weekly basis (plenty of treats like Cheez-It and cookies, though). The frozen vegetable selection was lacking, and the fresh stuff didn’t look so hot, so we probably won’t be back except for a few bags of chicken every once in a while.

Nonetheless, it was good to take a trip outside of our “comfort zone” and see just how much Safeway marks things up. I really hate Safeway’s arcane pricing: some weeks a thing is $2.50, other weeks it’s $3.50, and there’s no real reason why! It’s not like there’s a supply shortage, it’s just some B.S. they use to milk a few extra dollars out of every shopper. I know what the lowest price is on our regular purchases and I keep enough on hand to skate through the weeks where things aren’t on sale. Either way, knowing that another store nearby sells the same thing for a few dollars less made me not want to buy it at Safeway – money saved!

Cutting back on treats

As an additional sacrifice, I quit buying fruit for the entire month. I usually buy about $6-$10 worth of fruit every week – mostly strawberries and blueberries, which I eat as snacks. Turns out, I didn’t even miss ’em. Strawberries are crazy expensive in February, and I pocketed about $35 by skipping them for the month. I figure I still get plenty of vitamins through all the veggies I eat, so a month without this treat isn’t exactly going to give me rickets.

We also didn’t buy any cereals, chocolate, or other treats. We have some left over from the holidays, and this stuff just makes us fat, anyway – lol.

We don’t buy soda, coffee, or booze, but if you’re doing a Buy Nothing Month those are also easy things to cut.

Trying new foods

Beans are like a buck a bag and offer pretty complete nutrition. I wouldn’t make beans the only thing I eat, of course, but an inexpensive protein would be nice to add to the rotation instead of eating pricey meats every day.

Well, I never had beans growing up and I assumed I didn’t like them. I was wrong – beans can be pretty good as long as they don’t get overcooked into grainy mush. Jim likes beans, so he and I went on a bean adventure in Buy Nothing Month. I tried lentils, black beans, and red kidney beans – mixed with rice, mixed with vegetables, and as a straight-up side dish. I need some more time to truly develop my love for them, but I could see beans becoming a household staple.


Beans mixed with coconut pineapple rice = omg yum

Seeking out Savings

Clamping down on spending also inspired us to seek out unnecessary spending. I didn’t expect to find anything – after all, we run a tight financial ship here… or so I thought.

Deleting doubled-up services

We made a huge discovery this month: Jim was still paying for his own separate web hosting!

With both of our hosting accounts offering unlimited storage there was no reason to have two hosting accounts. This was tough to track down because we buy hosting in 2 year blocks from Lunarpages, so the bill only comes around every other year.

We both thought it was my hosting being billed every time the bill came around.We canceled his hosting, moved everything to mine, and transferred his domain for $10 over to Dynadot from Lunarpages. Spending $10 to save $250 every other year sounds like a good deal to me, so we bought the domain transfer. We got together like, 8 years ago. It pains me to think that for over five years we paid for hosting we didn’t need to be paying for.

Alternatives to current services

I also tried Carbonite, a $60/year alternative to Mozy which is the online backup solution I normally use and pay $250/year for. I’m very happy with Mozy, but I wouldn’t mind paying $60 instead of $250!

Unfortunately, Carbonite didn’t work on my system. I’m on Windows 7 and it slowed Windows Explorer down to a crawl. Every time I right clicked the Start button or inside a folder on my hard-drive I had to wait through a 3-4 second pause before the context menu appeared. This slow-down survived restarts, reinstalls, everything. I gave up, uninstalled Carbonite, and my computer returned to the lightning fast speed I built it for. I guess with online backup services you get what you pay for. Failed experiment, but I’m glad I tried.

Itemized our taxes

Eyeballs… glazing… over.  I know… but it saved us several hundred bucks. In previous years we took the standard deduction and ran, but this year our property tax was enough to force us to itemize. We dug up old receipts and took the nuanced approach to this year’s taxes and pocketed a few hundred bucks.

Switched to a better rewards credit card

As if that wasn’t enough, we dumped our American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card on account of its rewards being too sucky for us (you can read more about that here) and switched to the American Express Fidelity Investment Rewards card. Now we spend money on the card and get 2% cash back deposited directly into an investment account. 2% cash back is nuts – imagine spending $1,000 and getting $20 IN CASH – not points, not fancy hotels, not gift cards to exotic boutique storesall for doing nothing.


Click here to go to Fidelity’s site and learn more about the very awesome 2% cash back Fidelity Investment Rewards card

I like getting paid for doing nothing. Too bad we didn’t spend much this month – hah.

Cheap entertainment

We’re very lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest where we’re able to walk outside pretty much year round (especially in February while everyone back home in the Midwest was buried under ten feet of snow). If you live somewhere nice, walking is some of the best free entertainment I know of. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see some crazy stuff, too, like a dude practicing yoga on a fountain or a mess of ducks fighting over bread slices thrown into the water by a toddler.


Bellevue Park – cheaper than the mall.

We made a point of not going to the movie theater, not buying the latest issues of Saga (this was actually painful, I love this series and am dying to know what happens next), and not going to any events. In the evenings we worked on our personal projects or watched Doctor Who (I love this show more than is probably considered healthy – you can see my Doctor Who fan art here).

Jim discovered Kindle book borrowing on Amazon, and he’s so enamored with it he’s declared that he never needs to buy another book again (we’ll see ;) ).

And, as I said earlier, we spent Valentine’s Day (well, the Saturday after) barbecuing meats we already had instead of eating at a crowded restaurant with jacked-up V-Day prices.

Total Spending

We spent a grand total of $380 in February. This all went into food and a domain transfer. The rest was the usual mortgage, electricity, gas, city garbage, and water. We had a sizable amount of money left over, which was shuttled off into our Vanguard investment funds.

Did we just get lucky?

To some extent, yes. After all, our range oven didn’t start sparking in February (no, it did that in March) and nothing fell off our nearly-90k-mile car (knock on wood). But by aggressively cutting discretionary spending, Buy Nothing Month gave us an above-average amount of savings in February to sock away for some future time when it might be needed.

But this isn’t sustainable!

Of course it’s not – but after four weeks of carefully considering everything you buy (or simply going without), it’s much easier to reject unnecessary purchases in the days and weeks that follow. Just like a diet, it doesn’t work if you diet for 4 weeks and then overeat when the 4 weeks are done.

What can YOU stop buying?

If you only spent $380 plus your usual mortgage/rent/utilities payments, how much would you have left over? Probably more than you usually do. That’s why a Buy Nothing Month is so awesome!

Pretend you just lost your job and you’ve only got enough for simple food and your rent/mortgage. That’ll get you in the right mindset for a Buy Nothing Month. You can go a month without:

  • Meals out
  • Anything from Whole Foods
  • Candy / snacks / soda
  • Movie tickets
  • Traveling anywhere
  • Home decor
  • Clothing & shoes unless the soles just fell off your very last pair
  • Personal appearance stuff like whatever voodoo happens inside salons
  • Knick-nacks / toys
  • Look for places to cut spending – phone line, TV service, texting plan, etc

Tell us about your own Buy Nothing experiments – even if it’s just for a day or a week, not buying stuff can have a huge impact!

50 Ways to Feel Warmer in Your Freezing Cold House (Without Cranking up the Heat)

Winter's here, but it doesn't have to feel that way. Make your FREEZING COLD house way more enjoyable with these heat-saving bill-slashing tips.

I love winter, but everyone around me thinks I’m nuts. Do I know the divine secret to keeping warm all winter? Maybe!

The over-arching theme to all of these tips is to focus your efforts on keeping heat in your house and warming yourself, not your entire house.

Here are 50 ways to feel warmer in your freezing cold house – without spending a fortune. (In fact, most of these tips should save you money in the long haul.)


20 Free Fixes

Free ways to be warmer?! Sign me up! Even better, some of these tips can save you more than new windows or appliance upgrades ever will!

1. Lower the thermostat

Sure, every “how to save on heating” list starts with this one, but what does it mean? It means if you normally keep your heat at 72 F, drop it to 66 instead. You’ll survive. Heated air is expensive and it likes to escape, so the best thing you can do is to not produce it in the first place.

The rest of the tips on this page will help you live with the lower temp.

2. Bundle your butt up

Double up on socks, get some nice thick slippers, wear a hoodie over a short-sleeve shirt over a long-sleeve shirt. Shirts within shirts, folks, that’s the secret! You get a choice: be bulky or have a bulky heating bill. The first time I got slapped with a $400 bill for the luxury of wearing a T-shirt in January was the last time that happened.

Level Up House: 50 ways to keep warm in your freezing cold house! Tip #2: BUNDLE UP!

Photo credit: Mark Turnauckas

3. Close your chimney flue

Is it closed all the way? Our flue is stupid and likes to open itself on its own. Leaving a window or a chimney flue open is like opening your wallet and letting dollar bills flutter out.

4. Lock your windows

Locking windows makes the seal a bit tighter. Oh, and duh – don’t leave windows open.  If you do open a window to get some fresh air, shut the door to the rest of the house.

5. Keep outside doors tightly shut

Even if you’re stepping outside for just a few minutes, pull that door all the way closed.

6. Minimize use of your kitchen and bathroom fans.

Kitchen and bathroom fans pull lovely heated air out of your home and into the outdoors. (Wallet, fluttering bills…)

7. Wrap yourself in a blanket.

Be a human burrito. It’s winter, no one will judge.  If they do, give them a good kick.  Kicking warms you up!


You should see her sexy heating bill!

8. Rob a bank

Or just pretend you’re going to rob a bank by pulling up the hood on a hoodie. It’ll trap heat and keep you warmer. Bank robbers might suck at being kind to society, but they do save a bit of cash on not having to keep the house so warm.

9. Drop and give me 20! 

Pushups or jumping jacks will warm you right up – and help negate the effects of tip #14.

10. Move furniture away from vents

If you’ve got any furniture over or near your heat source, it’s probably soaking up that heat instead of letting it float around the room. Try re-arranging your furniture, if feasible, to work better with the heating vents.

11. Open drapes during the day, close ’em at night

If your summers are hot, you’re probably in the habit of covering your windows to try to keep the rooms a bit cooler.  The same principle works in reverse for heating a room: open your drapes and blinds during the day to let heat in, then close ’em up at sunset to keep that heat in.

12. Block door drafts

My first apartment’s doors were the first in the hallway to the outside, so anytime someone came in from outside I’d get a whoosh of icy air under my own door. I wised up and stuck a rolled-up towel at the base of each door.  Instant improvement!  

If you’re crafty, Not Martha shows readers how to make a pretty DIY door draft stopper. And if you’re not crafty, there’s always something like this As-Seen-On-TV Draft Guard.


DIY draft stopper by Not Martha

13. Take a walk outside

Counter-intuitive, maybe, but a brisk walk in the freezing weather outside warms me up and gives me a new appreciation for the inside temperature.

14. Eat (or drink) something warm

Warm food makes cold temps more tolerable. Food in general kicks up your metabolism, too, so dig in.  That’s what I tell myself as I polish off the last of the Christmas cookies.


Photo credit:

15. Close the door to unused rooms

If you rarely go into a room, close the door and don’t heat it.  Cold air from the unused room won’t mix with the heated spaces.  Keeping 1500 sq feet warm instead of 1800 sq feet will save you quite a bit of cash.

16. Raise your door thresholds

If you see daylight under your front door, you’re losing expensive heated air through that crack! That metal bar you step over when you go through the door can usually be made taller to close the gap.  Turn the screws counterclockwise until the daylight is mostly gone.  Don’t make the door harder to open and close, just shrink the gap a bit.

17. Plug gaps around electrical boxes

Remove the cover plate from an electrical outlet – is there a large gap between the drywall and the electrical box?  Most hardware stores sell little sheets of insulation shaped like the outlet cover itself to stick in here. (PS: Don’t pump caulk or foam into the electrical box, that’s bad advice that sometimes shows up in lists like this).

18. Typing gloves!

Don’t heat your whole house just so your tiny fingers can feel warm. DIY typing gloves:  cut the fingertips off a pair of cheap garden gloves, and you can still use your keyboard, tablet, and phone while your hands stay roasty toasty. Or, get a nice pair of handmade typing gloves like these from ElenaLittleCreations on Etsy.

50 Ways to Feel Warmer in Your Freezing Cold House: #18 - wear typing gloves!

Typing gloves by ElenaLittleCreations

19. Roast a chicken

Fire up your oven and bake something huge – your whole house will smell great and feel warm and toasty!


Roasted chicken credit: Elsie Bauer SimplyRecipes

20. Snuggle up close to someone

The world needs more snuggling.

20 Cheap Upgrades

Easy upgrades that cost less as little as a few dollars and no more than $250.

21. Get a space heater

Drop the thermostat, corral everyone into one room, and fire up a space heater for $BIG SAVINGS$.  It’s way cheaper to heat just one room via a space heater than it is to heat the whole house.

My family used this space heater trick when I was growing up and I use it in my own place now, and it’s seriously the best. It’s below freezing outside as I write this, but I am toasty warm in my heated computer-room cocoon thanks to the space heater pointed at me.

Don’t have a space heater? Browse Amazon’s full selection of space heaters to find the right one for you.


Here’s a nice portable space heater by Lasko. It doesn’t take a huge space heater to make a room cozy.

22. Install a smart thermostat

No, not a programmable thermostat, unless you promise to program it and use it as intended (most people don’t). Read more about the programmable thermostat energy savings myth here and here.

Keeping the house the same temperature 24/7 is expensive and wasteful, but many people do it.  If you have a programmable thermostat, setting it up to lower the temperature during the work day and during the night could save you hundreds of dollars over the heating season.

make your home warmer in the winter with a learning thermostat

It’s crazy popular for a reason – the Nest thermostat finds the most efficient heating routine for your home with almost no effort on your part.

23. Change your furnace filter

A dirty filter makes the furnace work harder, which increases the cost to run the thing and wears it out faster.  This YouTube video shows how simple it is to change a furnace filter.  Measure your existing filter before shopping, since they come in lots of sizes.  Change the filter every 6-8 weeks, or whenever it looks really dirty, for the duration of the heating season.

Shop for furnace filters of every size at Home Depot.


The humble furnace filter can save you $$$.

24. Upgrade your insulation

You know that fluffy pink stuff that itches like hell if you touch it?  Stapling it into your garage, attic, and crawlspace or basement is messy and unpleasant but should save you some cash.  Even better, a lot of people have a few rolls of it left over from their own insulation, so ask around – I insulated the walls around my first garage door with some leftover insulation from my parents.

25. Wrap your hot water tank

If your hot water tank is in an unheated part of your home, such as your garage, a water heater insulation blanket might pay for itself very quickly.   Many people also report their water is hotter and arrives faster, so there’s that, too.

26. Replace weather stripping

Weather seals compress and wear out over time, making it easier for expensive heated air to escape. ThisOldHouse offers a simple guide for replacing your weather seals.

27. Caulk windows and doors

Depending on your window and door style, a thin bead of caulk applied to cracks between the trim and wall might save you some cash.

28. Locate and fix air leaks

Warm air escaping through tiny cracks and crevices wastes money. offers a guide on detecting air leaks.  Keep in mind, though, that you do need some airflow.  Blocking everything will cause a moisture build-up, so plug the big ones and then move on.

29. Tape duct cracks

Follow the heating ducts from your furnace: are there any cracks or sags?  You may need to seal (or fully replace) your duct work.

30. Give your chimney a pillow

Your chimney(s) are pointed in heat’s favorite direction: up!  Plug that thing with an inflatable draftstopping pillow.  It’s basically a glorified pool toy for your chimney, and it’s much cheaper than retrofits or new fireplace doors. Sizes vary, so measure before you buy. (PS: Always remove your pillow before lighting any fires.)


Plug your chimney with a chimney pillow and keep heat inside where it belongs!

31. Get a heated toilet seat

One of the worst things about lowering your home’s ambient temperature is having to sit on a cold toilet seat.  A heated toilet seat changes everything. I got a UltraTouch Heated Toilet Seat several years ago and it is amazingOne sit and you’re spoiled for life. 

32. Apply window film

Heat lost through windows accounts for 10-25% of your heating bill.  Covering your windows with clear plastic film (find kits at your local hardware store) can reduce this loss. If you want a really cheap window fix, try this bubble wrap window insulation technique.

33. Get a furnace tune-up

For about $80-$100 a technician inspects your furnace to ensure it is performing at its peak.  Doing the maintenance is also a great way to avoid being the proud owner of a dead furnace on Christmas Day, scrambling for your city’s only available repairman.

34. Clean and repair your roof

Moss, leaves, and pine needles retain moisture, so get those things off your roof. Also, repair any existing damage while you’re up there. Replacing damaged shingles and repairing flashing around vent stacks and chimneys will both help your roof last longer and make it a bit more energy efficient.

35. Insulate hot water pipes

Pipes that are warm to the touch should be wrapped to help keep that heat where it belongs (inside the pipe).  Pre-slit pipe foam is available at most hardware stores.  Just cut to size and fasten it in place with duct tape. The catch? Your pipes are probably in your crawlspace or otherwise awkward to access.

Level Up House: Wrap your hot water pipes with foam insulation to keep heat where it belongs.

I wrapped my own crawlspace pipes – took a few hours and several yards of foam insulation. Totally worth it – our crawlspace is exposed to the ambient temperature, and no busted pipes yet.

36. Insulate the attic “access door”

Even if you pumped your attic full of blow-in cellulose, if the access door itself doesn’t lay flat or lacks insulation it’s just another way for hot air to escape.

37. Hang thick curtains

Room darkening thermal curtains are a real thing and they are awesome. Open ’em wide during the day, then close ’em up at night.  The heavier the curtain, the more it will do to retain heat.

38. …or hang thermal liners

I use a Eclipse Thermal Liners on the back of my bedroom curtains year-round.  It makes them heavier, but the liners are very effective at keeping winter heat in and summer heat out.


My Eclipse-brand thermal liner hangs on the backside of my bedroom curtains, which keeps the room dark in the summer and a bit warmer in the winter.

39. Roll out some rugs

Floors can account for up to 10% of your heat loss if they’re not properly insulated.  Mitigate heat loss with rugs (or blankets).

40. Hug a heating pad.

A 50-watt heating pad can make winter so much more tolerable for the always-cold among us.  This Sunbeam Heating Pad is a family favorite.

10 Long-Term Investments

Here’s the big upgrades: for just a few hundred or thousand dollars, you can help your freezing house be a bit warmer for the rest of all time. Unfortunately, most of these things take a long time to break even on.  Still, buying these things make sense if you’re staying a while, or the one you have is already a complete piece of junk, and will help you sell in a buyer’s market.

41. Live in a small home

The practicality of this tip varies by region. Ironically, in my area smaller (1200-1600 sq ft) homes cost just as much, if not more, than larger (1800-2400 sq ft) homes. I think other people are onto this secret. But if you’re choosing between a small home and a larger one, consider the cost to heat the additional space.

42. Replace your furnace

Depending on what you’re replacing, a new model might be way more efficient and could pay for itself in a few years.

43. Install a heat pump

A heat pump isn’t something you just walk into Home Depot and buy – it’s more like a new furnace.

If you live in a climate with mild winters, you’ve probably heard of heat pumps, which move heat rather than generate it. They’re popular here in the Pacific Northwest, and can serve as air conditioning in the summer, but it will will take several years to recover the installation cost.

Read more about heat pumps at

44. Insulate your attic

Here’s an easy way to tell if your attic insulation isn’t cutting it: icicles are hanging from the edges of your roof.  Ice dams and icicles mean there’s heat escaping from your house through your attic – it goes through the roof, melts the snow, and that snow becomes icicles on your gutters.

We insulated our attic with blown-in insulation (it’s a fluffy cellulose material sprayed onto the “floor” of the attic). Our upstairs used to be “the cold floor” of the house: after the blow-in insulation, it’s now the warmest. 

45. Increase your home’s thermal mass

Heavy materials retain heat better. Mr. Money Mustache wrote a comprehensive guide on the concept of a home’s “thermal mass” – things to keep in mind when choosing materials for your renovations.

46. Replace your windows

New windows are expensive and messy, but depending on how ancient your windows are you may wait as little as two years for a return on your investment.  But most homeowners will wait a lot longer for a return on their window investment (like, a decade). Figure out what windows you have, and compare them to what you’d replace them with, before jumping into a new windows project.

(PS: Windows aren’t just about heat retention. This guide by Andersen Windows points out some of the other advantages of replacing your windows.)

47. Replace your front door

Is your front door super crappy? It might be beyond simple caulking and weatherstripping – replacing the whole door can also improve your resale value (assuming you pick a nice door that suits the house’s design, but you knew that).

48. Insulate your crawl space

Are your floors cold in the winter?  The crawlspace under your first floor might be poorly insulated. Explore EnergyStar’s guide on checking your insulation levels for region-specific information.  (In the meantime, house slippers help a lot.)

49. Get a tank-less hot water heater

Provides hot water on-demand, and the lack of a tank means hot water isn’t sitting around 22 hours of the day doing nothing.  I don’t have a tank-less, but some of my friends do and they love it.

50. Move!

When all else fails, relocate to a warmer climate! I happen to enjoy the cold weather, and I feel bad for people who complain from October to March about the winter season.  Las Vegas and Texas are affordable and booming – check ’em out!

Note to readers: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. They are provided to help you find the recommended product quickly.  If you shop through an affiliate link, a tiny % of your purchase (if you make one) helps support this site with a tiny kickback at no cost to you.  As always, I encourage you to shop around and price compare to be sure you get the best deal!

Black Friday Tips for Sane People

black friday tips for sane peopleI love a deal, but I hate Black Friday. The annual shopping frenzy that encourages people behave like animals for discount microwaves and video games is consumerism at its worst. But it sure is hard to argue with saving a ton of cash.

Three years ago, we closed on our house right before Thanksgiving – the timing couldn’t have been better: our refrigerator, washer, and dryer were all Black Friday deals, which saved us several hundred bucks, and many of the tools we needed were found on discount in December. We also filled out our gaming collection for the year thanks to Steam sales. :D

So what’s a sane person to do? I can’t stand joining the midnight mobs, but I have found ways to take advantage of holiday season sales without going crazy.

Welcome to Black Friday tips for sane people!


Plan Your Shopping Ahead of Time

If you must go out on Black Friday, don’t arrive at a store without a plan. Remember, retailers want you to go into the store for one thing and come up with 15 other things.

Browse Black Friday circulars as they become available (or get leaked) on sites like and Nearly all major retailers have released theirs by mid-November.

Making an Amazon wishlist, even if you also intend to shop in person, can help you track your shopping if you’re shopping for a bunch of people. I like to curate mine all year long to track what I might get when and if it ever goes on sale.

Shop Online

“Cyber Monday” has become more and more of a thing, with retailers holding back some online-only deals until the Monday following Thanksgiving.

Shopping online can net you some nice deals, especially on items in the $20-$100 range. I’m a big fan of Amazon, but you have to keep checking back to find what you need. You also need to be flexible – the deals aren’t predictable, so if you’ve got your heart set on a very particular item, you might not want to wait for Amazon to maybe put it on sale.

Amazon black Friday deals

Time Your Electronics Purchases

Appliances are fine and dandy but what most of us really want are toys! We here at LevelUpHouse are big electronics fans, but we’re only happy when we get a deal. Here’s what I’ve learned in some 8 years of buying electronics during the Holiday season:


Smartphones are expected to go on sale just before Thanksgiving.

It used to be that the only deal you could hope for on an Apple device was a free Apple Store gift card with your purchase. But times are changing: Walmart, Radio Shack, and Best Buy in particular are getting aggressive with their pricing on last year’s iPhone 5 model as well as this year’s iPhone 5C. The previous generation iPad is also on sale at many retailers. If you’ve been thinking about getting an iOS device, this is a good time to grab one.

If you’re thinking about any other phone, pretty much every major carrier is offering some kind of smartphone deal along with a 2-year service plan. Research which phone you want ahead of time, and hit the cellular store with a goal on Friday and you should come out a winner.

Laptops, Computer Monitors, and Computer Accessories

black friday tips laptop dealLaptops and computer accessories usually show up as “doorbusters” on Black Friday itself. I’ve you’ve been waiting all year to upgrade your monitor, this is your chance to do it at a record low price. I’ve personally spent a couple Black Friday mornings camped out (in the freezing cold) for the sake of a good deal on LCD monitors and video game consoles. has a somewhat ominous-looking Black Friday countdown showing the minutes remaining until they reveal their deals. The Big Reveal is a few days before Black Friday, so if you can still try your luck in the stores if you don’t find what you’re looking for online.


Thanksgiving Day itself is the best day to snag a deal on a new HDTV. Deals continue into Black Friday. If you want a new TV but you’re not ready quite yet, don’t worry – Superbowl Sunday isn’t far away, so TVs will go on sale again real soon in February.

Video Game Black Friday Deals

black friday for sane people2013 is a special year: two new gaming consoles are coming out this holiday season, the XBox One and the Playstation 4. But don’t expect any deals on the consoles themselves – new consoles never get discounted on their debut Black Friday.

But deals on games are a given – Thanksgiving and Black Friday are the days to shop (in person, alas) for video games. Cyber Monday doesn’t get quite the same discounts, probably because retailers are using video game deals to lure people into stores where they can buy bigger, more expensive things.

We’re PC gamers in this house, so we usually stock up on the Steam sales, which offer discounts on games, DLC, and game bundles. It’s unusual to find a discount on brand new releases, but if you want to back fill your catalog a bit and pick up some of the games you missed out on over the last year, the prices get crazy low (like, under $10 for lots of titles).

The best part of shopping on Steam? You don’t even have to freeze your ass off in the cold like we did for our Wii many years ago.


Black Friday for insane people: Back in 2008, Jim and I got up early to stand sub-zero Chicago temps for a Wii ticket.

Shop the “Other” Days

Black Friday isn’t the end of the discount season – it’s the beginning! The weekend after Thanksgiving in particular is known for appliance deals, and the entire month of December usually gets good discounts on house tools.

The weekdays following Black Friday, December 4th in particular, have lower store traffic and better customer service, with many of the same great holiday deals.

Start Shopping Now

It used to be that the deals didn’t start until Black Friday itself, but in the colossal effort to out-do each other, retailers are rolling out sales earlier and earlier.

A walk around the mall in early November shows plenty of sales already in effect. Shopping ahead of Black Friday might not guarantee you the lowest price, but it might help guarantee you leave the store with what you came for. styles itself as a “year round” Black Friday site. If nothing else, getting an early start on your shopping can save you stress and anxiety as the holidays approach.

Hit up Smaller Retailers

black friday tips for sane people shop local businessIn 2010, American Express (the credit card company) started promoting “Small Business Saturday” – which is ironic because small retailers are the most likely to not accept my AmEx card.

Regardless of the origin of Small Business Saturday, doing some of your holiday shopping at a local business can help you avoid the crowds, connect you with good service, and support your local community.

Two Ways to Skip Black Friday Entirely

The easiest way to stay sane on Black Friday is to just not participate. Obviously, this article was written for folks who do want to participate, just without going crazy, but for the truly bold I give you two strategies that Jim and I have utterly fallen in love with now that our needs are taken care of:

Help Someone in Need


KITH, my favorite charity, helps the local homeless start anew. No matter where you live, there’s a charitable group near you who would love your support this holiday season.

Here’s an easy and inexpensive way to feel good this holiday season: buy a toy for a toy drive. Give $25 to a cause you believe in. Put your money somewhere where it can do good, and you’ll feel good year after year.

I want to help the homeless, so I donate to Seattle Union Gospel Mission and KITH, two organizations right here in my own neighborhood giving homeless people meals, safe places to stay, and assistance in starting a new lives. It’s super inspiring to think that money I’d have spent filling space under the tree is helping someone feel hopeful about their life instead. I love giving to these organizations.

Focusing on your own needs counts, too. Skip the trinkets and buy yourself or your family that practical thing you’ve been wishing for, whether it’s a new appliance, tires for the car, or some cash in a savings account. Sure, it’s not as glamorous, but it sure is practical – and you’ll thank yourself come January.

Go somewhere!

Here’s a tip: many tourist destinations are complete ghost towns in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas (including Disney World!). Airfare is low, lodging is cheap, and you get the airport to yourself. Skip the shopping and go lay on a beach. Or ski the mountains. Whatever you do, it’s probably cheaper (and more memorable) than anything you could buy on Black Friday.

Travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas - no one else does!

Travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas – no one else does! I took this photo on December 7th, 2012, of SeaTac International Airport. I’m sure it was a zoo two weeks later.

PS: And whatever you do, don’t shop at Walmart. Walmart is for jerks.

How to Save Money on an Entry Level Salary

'Money' photo (c) 2010, 401(K) 2012 - license: level salaries are a lesson in irony.  You’re earning next to nothing, but you need to be saving and you’re probably eager to set up a place to call your own.

When I started working full time in 2006 I earned $33k a year before taxes. That money went about as far then as it does now, but I still managed to save a little bit each month. $25 here, $50 there, and it started to add up.  I got hooked on savings and wanted to watch my savings account grow.  My salary wasn’t about to change anytime soon, so I looked for ways to cut expenses.  Below are my 20 best tips for how to save money on an entry level salary.

20 easy things I did to save $$$

  1. I didn’t have TV service.  I didn’t even miss it and without it, I wasn’t even aware of all the cool things I wasn’t buying!
  2. I barely furnished my apartment.  With the exception of one sofa, everything in my apartment came from my parents or my own bedroom.  My kitchen table was a card table, my nightstand a short bookshelf.  All my chairs folded.  It wasn’t magazine-worthy, but it did save me a fortune.
  3. I bought very few video games. :(  SO SAD.  And ironic, considering my job was developing video games.  When I did buy a game, it was usually a Nintendo DS game from GameStop pre-owned selection for $10-$20.
  4. I didn’t subscribe to anything.  No magazines or newspapers – the Internet’s got more than you’ll ever read, anyway.
  5. I didn’t adopt a pet.  Unless you already have one, consider growing your salary to a more comfortable level before adopting.  A pet may also limit your apartment options and/or increase your deposit and monthly rent, and being mobile in your early years is helpful in some fields.
  6. I didn’t buy any books.  I did, however, check out numerous books from the library a mile away.  Added bonus: I didn’t have to move them (twice!) when I moved (twice!) in 2008 (twice!).
  7. I cooked everything at home/brought lunches. I don’t think I ate out more than a few times in my first year working. A meal out seems to run me about $8-15, but that much bought me several days worth of meals in a grocery store.  Conservative savings estimate: $5 x 250 work days in a year x 7 years = $8750.
  8. I didn’t buy much new clothing.  I dressed fairly nicely in college and was able to wear the same clothing to my first job, which had a casual dress code.
  9. I discovered Sunday morning movie dates. Jim and I would meet at a theater halfway between our homes to see movies for $5 on Sunday mornings.  It’s the same freakin’ movie for 1/3rd the cost of a Friday night showing.  We still go see movies on Sunday mornings.
  10. I bought few electronics: I did treat myself to an iPod so I wouldn’t have to lug my Discman and giant bag of CDs into the office each day.
  11. I dated cheaply.  Dates were walks, home cooked meals for two, surfing the web together, sitting and talking.
  12. I never bought soda/juice.  Once I saw how much soda and juice cost, I quit drinking them.  I probably saved several hundred dollars by going water-only (and probably avoided a few calories, cavities, and kidney stones).
  13. I shopped sales.  I never had the patience or time for coupons, but I did use sales to stock up on things I was going to buy anyway like meat and toilet paper.  BTW, buying crap on sale that you weren’t going to buy otherwise isn’t a deal.
  14. I didn’t socialize much.  Drinks, movies, GameWorks, dinners – socializing should just be renamed to “spending”.  My introvert brain didn’t mind not doing this stuff. :)
  15. I had cheap hobbies.  Painting in Photoshop, sewing, walking, and reading were all dirt cheap ways to spend my evenings and weekends.
  16. I moved to an apartment a few miles from my job.  I went from spending $80/week on gasoline to filling up maybe once every 3 weeks. This also extended the time between car maintenance.
  17. I didn’t vacation.  Sad but true.  I didn’t take any time off until I was nearly 2 years into my job, and even then we saved money vacationing in Michigan (a few hours away by car) in the off season (everything was boarded up, it was cool!).
  18. I bought store-brand everything. Most of it is just as good as the name brands I was raised with.
  19. Leaned on Mom and Dad.  They covered dentist appointments, let me do laundry (for free!), and occasionally filled my car with gasoline.  Visiting Mom and Dad has benefits. :)
  20. I set up an automatic money transfer.  By automating savings, I never even had the chance to see it pile up in my checking account. It just magically appeared in my savings, and I became very motivated to help my savings grow larger.

My frugal hobby #1: Painting! As a former art student, I already had a decent computer, Wacom tablet, and Photoshop.  (Ironically, TV show characters remain a favorite subject, despite my lack of TV :D )

Save money on an entry level salary with cheap hobbies
My frugal hobby #2: Sewing plush. I designed and created these little dudes my first year working full time (they are basically a part of our family now) .

Save money on an entry level salary with cheap hobbies

If you’re just starting out, see what you can do without.  Your list will be different than mine, and that’s okay.

I refused to cut back on

  • Meat. I must eat meat.  I don’t know how people live on noodles. Cutting from nutrition is like, a last resort option in my opinion.
  • Renter’s Insurance.  Nothing bad ever happened, but renter’s insurance was so cheap (like $100/year) and the peace of mind was good to have.
  • Quality toiletries, like good razors and deodorant.  Some things just have to work.
  • Internet: lol wut, give up the Internet?

Your 20s are the best time to start saving, so don’t let a piddly salary get in the way of that.  (The next best time to start saving is right now.)

Also, remember that saving money doesn’t do you much good if you just turn around and spend it on something else.  Move the money to a dedicated savings account (my favorite is my Capital One 360 savings account, formerly ING Direct – totally free, easy to use).

Last and Most Important Step

Once you have some savings, don’t let yourself spend it frivolously! 

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