The Black Friday Survival Guide

Despite our best efforts, we know not everybody can spend Black Friday on JoeShopping in the comfort of their home, dressed in a cozy robe and sipping a hot cup of coffee. Too many stores are having too many deals that are only in-store, and despite the hassle, they can be tough to ignore. So if you have to go out this Friday, here are a few tips that will help minimize the trauma.

Make a list and check it twice.

No, you don’t have to decide who’s naughty and nice — you have to figure out exactly what you want to buy on Black Friday. Exactly. Go through all the Black Friday ads, make a list of every deal you want to take advantage of, and note where they’re located. And keep your budget in mind — no need to shop for things you can’t afford.

Plan your attack.

If you get in your car on November 26th at 6 am without a plan, you might as well not go out at all. You’ve got to have a plan, and that’s more than just figuring out which stores open at what times (although you need to do that too). Questions to consider:

What store’s deals offer you the most savings?

Which deals are so big they probably won’t be repeated in the next few weeks?

Which stores might be so busy they might not be worth dealing with, especially if they’ll prevent you from visiting other stores? What’s the best route to take to visit all the stores you want to visit? How long should it take to actually do the shopping at each store?

Obviously, there’s no clear answer here — everybody will have their own unique schedule that will maximize their savings. Even if that means skipping the big ticket item that everyone else in the city will also be trying to get.

Be prepared.

Whether you’re the type who can get up at 4am or you’re better off just staying up all night, when it’s time to go, you need to be ready to go. Here’s an easy checklist:

List of items you’re shopping for and schedule printed out. All necessary coupons printed out, and all relevant flyers marked in case you have to argue with a cashier. The car has a full tank of gas. You have a full tank of gas — whether than means a pack of 5 Hour Energy drinks, a thermos of hot coffee, a PB&J, candy bars, whatever. You could very well be shopping from 4am to noon, depending on how much you need to get. Comfortable Shoes.

Stick to the plan.

We don’t mean just stick to the schedule, although it is important — if you’re stuck in a store where the check-out line reaches to the back of the store, it might be worth considering leaving so you can hit the other stores on your list. But the bigger worry is sticking to your list.

The whole point of a store’s Black Friday sale is to get you to buy as much as possible, and once you’re in a store, surrounded by hundreds of frenzied consumers and faced with endlessly unbelievable deals, it can be hard to resist not picking up a few more items. Don’t do it! If you didn’t need it when you made your list, you don’t need it now. Every single thing you pick up costs you time and, more importantly, costs you money.

If you guys have any tips you’d like to share or if you think we’ve forgotten anything, please let us know in the comments. And good luck on Friday!

And for you folks looking for Black Friday deals ONLINE (no need to leave the comfort of your warm, toasty house!), here are a slew of great online deals you can try to take advantage of.

Planning A Halloween Party On A Budget

A Halloween party is a great way to celebrate this festive holiday. You can plan a party that is traditionally pagan, a party that is festive and childlike, or one that is macabre and scary. Regardless of the type of party you plan, however, the fact of the matter is that parties can be expensive. To combat the potentially high cost of a Halloween party, here is a look at some tips to help you keep the cost low and the fun high.

Make your Costumes

As the party host or hostess, you should be wearing one of the best costumes in the house. To achieve a great costume on a budget, you may need to get creative or crafty.

A decade or two ago, most people were making their own costumes, or they were blending a combination of homemade items with store bought items. Now, however, the Halloween costume industry is worth close to 3 billion dollars per year, and countless costume stores are likely to appear in the abandoned storefronts of most cities as Halloween approaches.

Luckily, it is possible to avoid this racket by buying used costumes or making your own. A trip to your local thrift store is one of the best ways to find a cheap costume. Charity shops like Good Will typically have at least one fifty percent off sale per month. These sales which usually occur on a Saturday are a great place for you to stock up on costume essentials.

If you do not find what you want in the costume aisle of your local charity shop, you might consider how the other products for sale may help you. Old clothes make great new costumes while a cheap pair of drapes can be repurposed into a cool new outfit as well. If you are creative, you will succeed.

Shop ahead

Once you have your costume ready, it is time to focus on food. If you are worried about facing a tight budget on the week of the party, you may want to shop ahead. If you buy a little bit of party food with each paycheck leading up to the event, you will have what you need on the day of the party.

Another innovative idea to consider regarding food is the possibility of foraging. A surprising number of people have apple or other fruit trees that they never harvest. If you see a tree dropping fruit, you can knock at that person’s door and ask if they are willing to share. In most cases, they will be happy to let you have a bucket of the fruit that they are not using. This is a perfect way to get low cost apple pies, apple sauce, or even jams made from ornamental berries. Since the fruit is free, you will only need to pay a little money for other ingredients like sugar, flour, and butter.

Plan Old School Activities

At Halloween, apples are not just for pies. They are also for apple bobbing. Old school activities like apple bobbing are perfect for your Halloween party entertainment. The spider web game and the mummy game are also great ones to play at a Halloween party.

In the mummy game, party goers place themselves into groups of two. Each duo has a mummy and a wrapper. The wrapper’s job is to bind the mummy in toilet paper or crepe paper. The first pair to complete their mummy is the winner.

In the spider web game, the host hides several small objects. These could be expensive gifts, food items, or simple thrift store trinkets. Each gift is tied to a stand from a ball of yarn. If you want to save money on the yarn, you may want to search for that at a thrift store as well. Then, the ball of yarn is wrapped around the room. Each player is given one end of the yarn that they then follow to their prize. This fun game may result in a lot of laughing and more than one jumbled set of legs and arms.

To give party goers a break from the games, you may want to set up one area as a screening area. Classic horror movies like The Creature from the Black Lagoon or an old zombie movie are idea. These types of movies will create the scary but funny environment that you and your guests will be sure to enjoy.

How To Return Unwanted Gifts A Post Holiday Survival Guide

Are unwanted holiday gifts piling up around the house? Were the kids so disappointed in getting socks from Grandma again this year that they’ve been reduced to playing in the cardboard boxes they arrived in for a little excitement? No need to panic. We’re here to help!

We know returning gifts that were purchased online can be as frustrating as waiting in line at the DMV. But it really doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve put together some valuable tips and helpful information on how to get those less than desirable gifts exchanged online for what you really want this holiday season.

Always Keep the Packaging

Once an online order makes it to your front door, the excitement of tearing open the box usually means important receipts, packing slips and return labels get lost in the shuffle. You definitely want to keep these in a safe place, as many of them are required for a full refund. And although kitty is keeping cozy in the new bed she fashioned out of the shipping box, you’ll want to keep that, too. It’s usually just the right size you’ll need for sending those awkwardly shaped items back to the company.

Return Costs

Purchases at online stores like Endless.com, Piperlime.com, Zappos.com, and some purchases on Amazon.com qualify for free returns. However, many stores aren’t so generous, and you’ll be responsible for the costs associated with shipping your return package back. Using the return label (which either came in your original package or can be printed from the store’s website) can simplify the process, as the company will just deduct a flat fee from the amount of the refund to cover the shipping costs.

Also, be sure to check if you’ll need a RMA (which stands for “Return Merchandise Authorization.”) If it does, you’ll have to contact the store’s customer service department by email or phone to receive your RMA number. You may be asked to write this number on the outside of the box you’re returning. This number will help you and their return department verify and track your return.

Times a Wastin’

For nearly all returns, you’ll need to make sure to bring it back within a certain time frame. In most cases, returns will be accepted up to 30 days, although this varies by store. After the deadline, you may only be able to return for store credit or an exchange, if at all. Make sure to account for days in transit time, too, as the store may require for the item to arrive back to their warehouse within that given time frame.

Also, keep in mind that some store’s return policies may vary during the holidays. Usually, the time frame has been extended, but don’t be surprised if seasonal merchandise (such as holiday decor) has to be returned at an earlier date. You may want to double-check with the store’s customer service to verify the correct deadline for your return.

Return to a Store

For immediate refunds or exchanges, many stores offer convenient returns to their bricks and mortar locations. You may still need to bring the packing slip along with you, though. Stores that offer online returns to their local stores include ToysRUs, Target, Express, Walmart, Justice, and JCPenney, among others.

Some gifts can be returned or exchanged quickly and painlessly at local store locations.

Conditions

Some stores will only allow you to return merchandise if it’s in new, unworn, or unopened condition. This is especially true for electronics (like DVDs or computer software), that once opened, you cannot return in any circumstance. You’ll need to make sure all the tags are attached, seals and shrink wrap are still intact, and any additional manuals or accessories which came with the original packaging are included with the return. Other stores, like LandsEnd.com, offer a “satisfaction guaranteed” return policy, happily accepting returns on merchandise that you may have tried that you simply didn’t end up liking.

Gifts with Purchase and Special Promotions

If you received a gift or a free sample with the item you purchased, you may have to return it, too, in order to receive a refund. Sometimes, the value of the gift is deducted from the return price, or in some cases, you cannot return the product at all unless you bring back the gift, too. Otherwise, some retailers, such as Sephora.com, allow you to keep the gift or free sample even if you return the product.

The same can be said for purchases that you received special pricing on by meeting a purchase requirement. For example, if you bought 2 video games and got 1 free at ToysRUs, the “free” game would need to be returned, too, if you should decide to return the other 2.

Restocking Fees

Unfortunately, some stores will charge you a fee for returning a product. NewEgg.com, for example, has a restocking fee of 15% on all returns for refund. BestBuy.com has a 25% restocking fee for special order products. In these cases, it may just make more sense to regift or resell the item rather than losing out on some of what you paid it.

Marketplace Purchases

On websites like BarnesandNoble.com, Sears.com, and Amazon.com, you’ll want to double-check who you’re actually making the purchase from. These sites often offer products sold through a third party in their marketplace, which typically means they’re exempt from the standard return policy.

Of course, when in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact the store’s customer service. They’ll be able to clarify any lingering questions you may have about returning an item and (with a little sweet talking) may even be able to help you if your return falls outside of their return policy guidelines.

Look to these online stores for some of the most customer-friendly return policies:

“Guaranteed. Period.” Land’s End return policy can’t be beaten. If you’re not satisfied with any item, you’re able to return it at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price.

For in-store and Lowes.com purchases, no receipt is required to make a return if you have the credit card used to make the purchase on hand. If you made your purchase in-store and paid with cash or check, no receipt is required if you provided a phone number at the time of checkout.

Return any item, anytime, for any reason. If you have your receipt, you’ll get a full refund or even exchange. Without a receipt, you’ll receive a refund, exchange, or merchandise credit.

You can exchange or return most merchandise for a full refund (minus the shipping charges) anytime after purchase. If you are returning a gift, you will receive a store merchandise credit. And if you’re exchanging an item, shipping for the new item will be free of charge.

How To Put Together A September Outfit For Under 100

Happy September! Can you believe that it is already September 1st? I can’t. I feel like it was just January 1st yesterday and now it’s only four months until Christmas. Wait, I’m probably scaring you so I won’t go there yet. I think I’m scaring myself as well. 😉 September for me means a lot of things to look forward to. I’ll be turning 27 years old, the trees will start changing colors, and fall time will officially begin at the end of the month. What does September mean to you?

In regards to fashion, September also means it will most likely start to get chilly. When that happens it will be both a relief from the hot summer sun, but it will also be bittersweet because we won’t be ready for the colder temps to arrive just yet. However, I just so happen to love the fall time because I get to wear jeans, sweaters, long sleeve tops and scarves. Plus I’m finding out that ruffles are still in style, so fall fashion can’t be all that bad, right?

You’re in for a special treat because I’ve pulled together a September outfit for under $100 to celebrate the season. How’s that for savings! Hot deals are on their way to you…

Almost Famous Heavy Stitch Women’s Bootcut Jeans $34.99 – Whenever I find a pair of jeans that are under $50, I always have to give a little hip hip hooray! Great jeans are hard to come by and great jeans under $100 are even more difficult to come by. They look super comfy and get me in the mood even more for the fall season. If looks could kill, these would.

Ruffle Sleeve Scoop Neck Top $18.80 – I’ve heard that bright colors will still be in style for autumn, so why not incorporate long sleeves, the color orange, and ruffles all at the same time? The sweet ruffle sleeves at the end of this long sleeved top are priceless and remind me of a Medieval Renaissance Fair in modern times, of course. Orange also reminds me of Halloween in October, which by the way, will also be here before we know it as well. 😉 Boo! (Get GoJane.com coupons for this top, too!)

Not Rated Women’s Hypnotize Ballerina Flats $16.77 – Now we’re on a roll. These ballerina flats are adorable, not to mention black goes with positively everything. They roll up (to an extent) so if you want to wear heels and then switch to flats that is no problem! Just make sure you have a big enough purse to hold them, which, let’s face it, most of us women do! The jewels also bedazzle and made these ballet flats the star in any show.

Byzantine Silver Crystal Cross Pendant Necklace $11.95 – I actually really like the cross necklace that you can see in the picture of the model in the ruffled top. So I found a cross very similar and it’s simple, stunning, and significant of fashion all at the same time. I like how the cross is a lot larger than your averaged sized cross pendant.

So I bet you are wondering what our grand total is, right? Well, the GRAND total is only $82.51!!!

Guess what that means! You can go get some pizza in your new outfit with your remaining money. Well, if you like pizza that is. I think that sounds like the perfect plan.

Don’t let September overwhelm you into thinking that you only have to wear fall clothing. Ease into it slowly and don’t be afraid to wear ruffles or some cute flats like in the picture above. Flats are still great to wear during the summer but make it easy to transition and wear them during the fall time as well. Personally, I can’t wait for the autumn colors to arrive. I hope they come in time for my birthday.

7 Tips For Surviving Christmas Morning

Just because December 25th is supposed to be full of spontaneous wonder and instant joy doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be prepared for it. In fact, preparation can make the day twice as nice! Plus, it can help you avoid some of the annual pitfalls that always seem to sneak up on you that day.

Here are JoeShopping’s seven tips for not only surviving but thriving on Christmas morning!

1) Save all the receipts.

From the moment you start shopping, you should have one location — a box, a file folder, a Ziploc baggie — where you put every single receipt. You never know what may be broken, or missing a piece, or need to be exchanged, and the only way to remember where you put that receipt is to have them all in one convenient place.

2) Make a list (and check it twice).

If you’re buying a lot of gifts — and/or buying a lot of similar gifts for different people — you might want to write down exactly what you’re giving to whom. It might sound silly now, but there’s been more than one mom with three boys who’s forgotten whose gift is whose only to realize the mistake when the kids open their presents and give her confused looks (not that we’re speaking from experience).

3) Buy batteries.

Obvious, but still true. If you don’t want to make the effort of writing down exactly what you need, go get a ton of AAs, some AAAs, and maybe a 9-volt or two. A pack of D batteries couldn’t hurt, either.

4) Charge ‘em and load ‘em!

If you’re giving a gift like an iPod, iPad, Kindle or other electronic gizmos, chances are you’re going to want to let the recipient open it themselves. But you might want to think about charging their batteries before Christmas morning, so that they can be turned on right away. Likewise, why not put a couple of e-books on a Kindle, or load a few songs on an iPod, or download some fun apps on an iPad? It’s like a gift within a gift!

5) Charge the camera.

I’m not talking about cameras you’re giving, but your camera. You want to be able to snap pictures first thing in the morning, and you don’t want to try and explain to your crazed kids why they need to wait a few minutes before they can rip open their presents.

6) Get your “toolbox” out.

Batteries aren’t the only thing you need to have ready and accessible on Christmas morning. You should also have: Scissors (for tags), a box cutter or a pocket knife (for opening packages), wire cutters (for cutting toy twist-ties), and Ziploc bags (for loose pieces). It’s also probaby worth it to get one of those cutting tools made specificaly for safely opening those plastic blister-packs that seem to be made of transparent steel.

7) Make another list.

This isn’t as much a tip to get ready for Christmas morning as it is a tip during Christmas morning: Keep a pen and paper nearby to write down who gave what to whom, especially for big gifts and gifts from people who aren’t there. It might sound a little annoying, but it can be a lot easier than wracking your brain trying to remember what Uncle Lloyd gave you during your annual Christmas call.