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Online Shopping at ThredUp

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

When I lived in the Dirty South, consignment shopping was a way of life. There were consignment stores for kids, for housewares, for high-end labels, for sporting goods – you name it, there was a shop in town that sold it. It made it easy not only to get great clothes at a great price, but to clean out my closet at the same time.


So when I heard about ThredUp*, I was intrigued – both as a potential buyer and seller. Since moving back to my hometown, I’d struggled to find a dependable place to sell my gently used clothing, plus who doesn’t like to save money when filling out their wardrobe? After all – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure – and that’s exactly what ThredUp is all about.

Here’s how it works:

  • Sign up for an account. I’ve included my personal referral link in this post; if you use it, you’ll get $10 off your first order
  • Start shopping! You can set a variety of filters to browse, including tops, dresses, bottoms, formal, high-end labels (ThredUp’s “X Collection”), children’s clothing, by size, by price… you name it, you can set search criteria to search for (or particularly exclude) something!
  • Create your own “personal shop.” You do this by saving your search filters. This makes it easy to return to a particular size, style, or type of clothing with a single click – a huge time saver
  • Add items to your shopping cart. You can only “reserve” items for 24 hours at a time – after that, you can either covertly remove and re-add every item from your cart, or simply allow your cart to empty automatically
  • Once you’ve decided on your items, you can checkout just like you would on any other online store

After playing around with the website for several weeks, I decided to dive in, and have since experienced the shop as both a buyer and a seller, with mixed results.

Buyer’s Experience

My first purchase from ThredUp was a pretty hefty one – I bought 8 tops for a total of $114 and change. Because I bought more than $70 worth of items, shipping to me was free (more on return shipping later). Some of the tops were “Final Sale” – something that is clearly marked on the site – which meant I wouldn’t be able to return them whether they worked or not; everything else was returnable.

Of the 8 tops, only 3 worked. My grand total for those came to $35. ThredUp doesn’t cover return shipping, which means it’s up to you to pay. Ultimately, it cost me another $14 to send the 5 tops that didn’t work – some because the size was wonky, others because I just didn’t like them on me. So my total “out of pocket” cost for the 3 tops I bought was $49 – $35 for the actual purchase price, and $14 for the cost of returning the items I didn’t want to keep. I probably could have saved some money on the return shipping if I hadn’t added package tracking and insurance, but I didn’t want to be out for the entire balance.

ThredUp maintains that it meticulously inspects each item it receives in order to ensure it only resells items of the highest quality. However, after washing my new tops, I noticed a teeny, tiny hole in the armpit of one – an issue that was not disclosed at the time of purchase (ThredUp will let you know if an item has a minor defect; usually, prices on these items are further discounted than those that are in mint condition). I wasn’t 100% sure whether the item had a hole when it arrived at my house, or whether the tear occurred during the trying on/washing process, so I didn’t contact the company to complain – in hindsight, I probably should have.

ThredUp Buyer Grade: B-

Seller’s Experience

After receiving my purchase in the mail, I decided I had several items in my closet that would fit the bill of what ThredUp is looking to sell. So I went through my wardrobe and cleared out items that I hadn’t worn in a while. I was careful to inspect each item for any snags, tears, or holes, and paid attention to the site’s consigning guidelines to ensure I was only sending them items that they would accept.

ThredUp sent me a “clean out” bag – along with free shipping – to send all my items in to them. They don’t use any type of expedited shipping for this, so it took a long time for the bag to not only get to me, but for ThredUp to receive it once I’d sent it back to them. Add on the 2 weeks it took for ThredUp to process the contents of my bag once they received it, and the whole process from beginning to end lasted close to 5 weeks.

If I wasn’t impressed with the timeline of the whole process, I was definitely left wanting once I saw the results. Of the 15 items – just about all of which were brands like Gap, Banana Republic, and J Crew – ThredUp only accepted 4 of them (including a high-label dress), and paid me just shy of $19. I could have tried to get the other 11 items back, but I would have had to pay $12… again, it just didn’t seem worth my money.

ThredUp Seller Grade: D

My Overall Experience

After all was said and done, I would definitely shop from them again – my first experience gave me a clear idea of how to use this site to maximize my wardrobe. As for the selling experience, NEVER AGAIN. The timeline, combined with having to pay to get my clothes back (while, I can only assume, ThredUp got a tax write-off for donating my unwanted items?), really left a sour taste in my mouth.

I’ve heard there are other sites out there like ThredUp, but I’ve yet to try them. Are you familiar with any of these online consignment stores? If so, which ones, and what do you think of them?

*Note* – This is not a paid review for ThredUp. I was not compensated by the company in any way for this post. I am simply sharing my opinions and experiences on the service and its products. I’ve used my personal referral link in this post.


5 Ways to Find Fast Cash Now

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

Last night, my husband was called to a bank robbery (he’s a police officer – an important part of this story!). However, it wasn’t your typical case. The robber arrived at the bank after hours to find the doors locked (yes, even criminals have issues with their local bank branch’s limited hours). Undeterred, he pulled around to the side of the bank where he tried to force money out of the ATM; at one point, he left, only to come back with some tools as he attempted to extricate the machine from the wall. The whole scenario was caught on the surveillance camera built in to the ATM… and my husband caught the guy a few hours later.


As my husband booked the suspect, he asked him casually why he’d been so determined to get money out of the bank. The guy’s answer? “I needed money.”

Don’t we all?

Whether it’s to fix your car, pay a medical bill, or simply buy something you don’t think you can live without, everyone – at one time or another – has needed money. For most of us, robbing a bank isn’t the solution.

Better Ways

So if you need fast cash or can’t wait until your next payday to get the money you need (or just really, really want), here are 5 ways to get your hands on some:

1)      Take out a home equity loan. Yes, this assumes that you (a) own a home and (b) have some equity in it. Typically, banks want to see the owner have at least 20% equity in a property before they’ll extend this type of loan or line of credit. Truth be told, this isn’t exactly a speedy solution – securing a home equity loan requires filling out paperwork, going through an underwriter, etc. But if you already have a loan in place, then this is an option to get some cash now.

2)      Pull from your emergency fund… but only if your situation qualifies as an emergency! Do you need cash now to pay for a new roof? That’s exactly why you put money into an emergency fund in the first place. Do you need fast cash to pay for a family vacation? Sorry buddy, keep saving.

3)      Cash in mature savings bonds. Most savings bonds issued in the past 35 years stop accruing interesting after 20 or 30 years. So if your grandmother was like mine and gave you bonds for your birth, baptism, and early birthdays, then you may already have some bonds that have matured. These savings bonds are no longer doing any work for you, so even if you don’t use them when you need fast cash, at the very least consider reinvesting mature bonds so they’re not just sitting there.

4)      Bring in more Benjamins. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get a second job, though that is an option. But there are other ways to earn money quickly and legitimately. Many companies and industries pay consumers for their opinions, through online or phone surveys. You could sell your blood, plasma, or even participate in clinical trials of new medicines (though you might want to consult with your own doctor first). If you’re crafty, open an online store on a site like Etsy. Even taking a page from your teen years and babysitting or mowing neighbors’ yards can bring in cash fast.

5)      Minimalize. If you can’t get your hands on MORE money, then find a way to get the most out of the money you ALREADY have. Minimalism not only helps the environment, but it also helps your wallet. Selling items you don’t use or need; return prior purchases you’ve yet to open; offer to rideshare with a coworker, splitting the cost of getting to and from your job; rent out an extra bedroom. Even reevaluating your household budget can be a goldmine, whether it’s reviewing your insurance policies or canceling your cable – if you’re not willing to give up HBO for a few months, you’re not all that desperate for cash.

Have you ever found yourself in a tough spot where you needed money RIGHT NOW? How’d you handle the situation?


Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

My dad, who in our family is also called “The Tax Man,” raised me on 3 key financial principles:

1) Never, EVER get a credit card from the guys who hawk them in your college student union just so you get a free hat;

2) Shred every single receipt, tax form, bill, etc. that has your name or address on it;

3) As soon as you get married, enjoy the endless world of benefits that come with filing your taxes jointly.

I’ve clung to these principles, and have eagerly shared them with any financial novices I’ve come across along the way. So imagine my surprise when several friends announced this spring on Facebook that they’d decided to file separately on their 2014 FY taxes. “But that’s NEVER a good idea!” I immediately posted in response. What I got in return was a fast, fierce drilling down on why for some married couples, filing separately is the best way to go.

The Spouse Who Constantly Travels

One of my friends got married last summer, and fully anticipated filing jointly with her husband this year. But when they ran the numbers, the math just didn’t add up; they looked at what their return would be filing separately, and saw a modest benefit. But why?

Turns out, my friend’s husband travels a TON for work, and most of his travel expenses – some meals, baggage fees, transportation to and from the airport, etc – weren’t covered by his company. Those expenses that aren’t reimbursed can added to your Schedule A, provided they represent under 2% of your adjusted gross income. In my friend’s case, it took her husband from one tax bracket into a lower one.

The Spouse With High Health Care Costs

This is becoming increasingly common, thanks to a variety of reasons. First, many employers will no longer cover your spouse if they have a full-time job that offers health care benefits; second, health care reform means everybody has to have medical insurance, but doesn’t mandate or cap your out of pocket max. One of my friend’s chose to take a gamble on her 2014 health insurance coverage, and went with a plan that included a high deductible and out of pocket maximum. Then she broke her leg skiing out of state, and ended up in traction for ten days in a hospital far from home. Her out of pocket medical expenses were well over the 10% AGI threshold outlined by the IRS, so she was able to deduct them by filing separately from her husband, whose very high income would have made it impossible to reach that 10% zone.

The Troubled Marriage

I have a friend who has spent the last eight months in marriage counseling. She honestly doesn’t believe that she’ll still be married a year from now, so she decided to file separately, even though she’s still got a ring on it. Although this isn’t beneficial to her financially right now, she hopes that it could (A) expedite the divorce once she decides to file and (B) make it easier for her lawyer to draw up child support and alimony payments down the road.

The Complicated History

Another friend got married this year to a man who’d tied the knot twice before, and had children in both previous relationships. Between the alimony, child support payments, and the disparity between his income and his new wife’s, their tax attorney suggested they file separately. It wasn’t so much due to one single issue, but rather a compilation of issues.

Have you ever decided to file separately, even though you’re married?


Getting Paid to Lose Weight – For Real!

The following is from my husband, Len Stemberger. Yep, this is a miracle and only his

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third guest post for me in 5 years… icon wink Getting Paid to Lose Weight   For Real!

Every New Year I make a resolution to lose weight (again). And every year, about this time, I realize that that dream has, at best, cost me a lot of money.

Normal Costs

Eating healthy on budget is quite difficult, and don’t even get me started on joining a gym. Though, to be honest, if I don’t spend the money, it is even harder to convince myself to do anything. It is easier to skip exercising when I know that I’m not losing money by paying for a gym membership.


But what if you could get the exercise you wanted and actually make money instead of spending it?

My biggest problem with exercising on my own is motivation and boredom. Running or walking for the sake of exercising is incredibly boring to me, and thus I lose my motivation to do it.

If I am running for a purpose, such as playing basketball or soccer, I don’t notice that I’m exercising. But joining a league is more money. So, who else runs at a basketball or soccer game, and gets paid to do it?

The referee!

Instead of spending money on a gym membership (that I won’t use) or paying to join a sports league (that will only play half a dozen games or so), I can spend a little money upfront to join a local officiating organization and actually make money exercising. I usually bring in $2000+ per season per sport.

Officiating Costs that You Can Recoup

So what are the upfront expenses involved in sports officiating?

  • Membership dues in the local association (run a quick search online in the sport you want to find the chapter near you)
  • Travel expenses
  • Your uniform

Most of the things you will need for your uniform can be picked up at your local Sports Authority, which you can find a discount for at Groupon Coupons or search for other current specials. After a couple of games, you should be able to pay off your entire investment. The rest is pure profit! Getting in shape never felt so lucrative!

Are you still managing to stick to your New Year’s resolutions? How do you motivate yourself to exercise? Would getting paid to officiate help?


Three Services I Refuse to Pay Someone Else to Do

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

Are you the do it yourself type who is really handy and willing to tackle any home improvement job himself?  Or are you the hands off type who prefers to bring in the professionals for any and all jobs.

I’m kind of a mix between the two.  I consider myself pretty handy but I know my limits and I’d rather call in a pro to get the big jobs done.  However, I also understand all too well the cost of owning a home so there are some jobs I’m happy to do myself and save myself some money.

Gutter Cleaning

I hate cleaning gutters.  There, I said it.  It’s a pain of a job to do and I’m not a fan of heights.  Climbing up on a ladder just to pull leaves and grim out of the gutters isn’t my idea of a good time.  But I do it anyway to save myself some money.

In our old house I actually did pay someone to clean our gutters twice a year.  They charged $125 a shot but it was well worth it because we lived in what we liked to call a “park-like setting” with lots of trees including several with branches that hung right over the house.  Cleaning those gutters was a chore and would take a long time.

But in our new house we don’t have any large trees near the house and the gutters never get too bad. They just need occasional cleaning and maintenance, and I’m not willing to pay someone for such a small effort.

Lawn Care

I do not have the nicest lawn on the block and I’m ok with that.  Sure, I wish I had the kind of lawn that would be featured on Better Homes and Gardens.  But those perfectly manicured lawns come with a hefty price tag and I’d rather put that money into savings or towards paying down debt.

I do all my own mowing and edging and I use the Scotts Lawn Treatment (though I’m usually far behind schedule on that) and my lawn looks presentable.  I’m cool with that.


Painting is hard work…much harder than most people realize.  A good paint job involves a lot more than just slapping paint on the walls.  The devil is in the details and any good painter knows that the key to success is all in the preparation.

You need to lay down drop cloths to protect furniture and floors.  You needs to remove any wall decorations, light switch covers, and air conditioning vents.  You need to carefully brush all the edging around door and window frames, baseboard, and the ceiling (and any other nooks and crannies where a roller won’t fit).  Then you use the paint roller and that part goes pretty quickly, but odds are you’ll need to do a second coat or at least some touching up. Then you have to clean everything up and put everything back where it belongs.

Given the amount of work involved it’s no wonder professional painters charge an arm and a leg.  But their expensive rates are exactly the reason why I am more than willing to spend a few hours of my time with paintbrush in hand.

What about you?  Are there any home jobs that you just can’t bear to pay anyone for?


Wedding 101: How Much Money To Give The Bride and Groom

How many times have you been invited to a wedding, and put off shopping for a wedding gift until the very last minute? Then, with no time to spare, you decide to just forgo the set of towels, bed linens, or wine glasses and just give the bride and groom cash – it’s what they really want anyway, isn’t it? But then, as you get ready to write the all-important check, you freeze as you get to the “Amount” box – how much money should you give the new couple?

My Past

I was one of my first friends to get married; my husband and I are closing in on a full decade of wedded bliss (well, for the most part). After our wedding – and I mean immediately following our reception – my husband and I returned to our bridal sweet and brazenly ripped off… all the envelopes on our wedding cards. Yes, we dove right into the opening of the gifts, while still clad in gown and tux. Before we departed the hotel the next morning, my parents took all the cards, cash, and checks and painstakingly paired them back together. I thought it was a futile act – after all, I knew what I needed to know in order to write my thank you cards: “Dear Aunt Joan, thank you for your kind gift as we begin our lives together…” But my parents weren’t thinking in the short-term.

My parents used that information to put together their fail-safe wedding gift guide. It’s a document that they’ve used for the past 9+ years to give appropriately-sized wedding gifts – we’re talking solely money here, although this could translate to gifts purchased off the bride and groom’s registry, too – to just about anyone you could possibly imagine.


Q: A few years ago, one of my dad’s coworkers – a guy on the executive level, like my dad – invited my parents to his son’s wedding. How much money should my parents give? A: My parents consulted their guide, and saw that the groom’s parents had given me $250. The wedding was in the midst of the recession, so my parents didn’t feel like they needed to “add” for inflation.

Q: Last fall, my second cousin’s daughter got married. What’s the right dollar amount for extended family? A: Again, my parents consulted their guide, and found that when I got married, the bride’s parents gave me $100. My parents decided that since the economy was doing better, they’d up the wedding gift to $150.

My parents’ list basically ensures that they never “under-give” when it comes to wedding gifts.

When you’re deciding on a cash amount for a wedding gift, how do you reach the ultimate dollar amount? I’d love to hear your insights!


Christmas Budget Reality Check

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

I started the holiday shopping season with $1,000 in my pocket. I had $1,000 Christmas budget for the entirely of my shopping list, including:

  • 5 teachers
  • 4 grandparents
  • 3 coaches
  • 2 children
  • 1 partridge in a pear tree husband

When I first started out, I thought my Christmas budget was more than comfortable (I’d been setting aside $100 during each of the first 10 months of the year). $1,000 is a lot of money! I made sure to follow my 5 rules of holiday shopping: trimming my list, comparison shopping, and instituting a December 10th cut-off date, to ensure I didn’t have to pay trumped up shipping prices to get presents to out-of-town family.

So how do I do? Let’s do a holiday shopping reality check:

The Important People in my Kids’ Lives

This is the first year both of my kids are in school and partaking in extracurricular activities.

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Between the 2 of them, I bought presents for 3 in-classroom teachers, my daughter’s dance teacher, her acting teacher, and their swim coaches/teachers. I know I didn’t have to buy presents for these people, but the fact is, they are important to my kids, which makes them important to me. After all, I’d budgeted with the intent to buy for them.

  • Classroom teachers (3) received a $10 Starbucks gift card and a full-sized Yankee candle that I got for 50% with a Buy 1, Get 1 coupon. Total per teacher: $23.50
  • My daughter’s dance and acting teachers each got the full-sized Yankee candle, purchased again with that coupon. Total per teacher: $13.50
  • Swim coaches each got a $10 Starbucks gift card; I loved the “monogrammed” cards Starbucks had this year, as it made the gift feel much more personal. Total per coach: $10

When all was said and done, I’d spent $100.50 for individuals in this category.

Family and “Like” Family

My husband and I always buy for his parents; it’s a group gift from his brothers and sisters, while for my parents, it’s just me (only child and all). In addition, we did a name swap for my nieces and nephews; instead of buying for all 7, we only bought gifts for the 2 whose names we drew. We also bought a gift for family friends, whom my kids consider to be their “3rd grandparents.”

  • My parents: My dad got a new yoga mat ($45) while my mom got a photo calendar ($16) and – don’t laugh – a pair of Maleficent ears that I bought using my Disney Movie Rewards points… in other words, free. Total for my parents: $61
  • We went in with my husband’s siblings on a firepit for my in-laws. Total for my in-laws: $50
  • We set a $20 per child limit for the niece/nephew gifts. I got a great deal on shirts from NFLShop.com and was able to get both kids t-shirts for their favorite team with tax and shipping included. Total for BOTH nephews: $38
  • Our family friends always take pictures of our kids using an ancient film camera. Seriously? I had a friend who was selling a year-old digital camera she’d never even removed from its original packaging. Total: $45

When all was said and done, I’d spent $194 for individuals in this category.

My Husband and Kids

My husband never gives me a Christmas list, but I always work hard to buy him gifts he wants but wouldn’t expect. This year, I’m really pleased with what he ended up with. As for my kids, they are NOT toy people, so this is a category where I was really able to pare down.

  • My son needed a new bike (he’s still using a tricycle he’s long outgrown), but he wanted his “own big boy tools.” So when I found a new Huffy bike that came WITH a set of kid-friendly tools, I knew it was a must-buy. He also got a robe (his most bizarre request) and a mad scientist kit. Total for my son: $150
  • My daughter also wanted a robe (seriously, are my kids that weird?) and new clothes for her American Girl doll. Rather than spending $25 for a dress from AG – I don’t spend that much on clothes for my actual children, let alone their dolls – I shopped local and bought a whole bunch of clothes from a woman in town. I am most excited to give my daughter her very own mermaid tail – a gift I know will get a lot of use this summer. Total for my daughter: $235*
  • My husband is a police officer, so I used some store credit I had at our hometown jeweler (I’d traded in some gold necklaces I never word) to buy him a St. Michael medal, which I had turned into a pin for his uniform. He’s also getting an Amazon Fire Stick, which he’ll really like – and I got a great deal on, thanks to my Amazon Prime membership. He also asked for – and got – several kits to continue with his home brew hobby. Total for my husband: $128

When all was said and done, I’d spent $513 for people in this category.


It’s a sad, sad day when I can’t come up with a Christmas list for myself – and won’t let my husband shop for me (he LOVES to buy extravagant gifts, and never sticks to a budget; the result is I get expensive things I didn’t need – and don’t necessarily want). So I did my own shopping – new workout clothes for me. I thought about buying a higher-profile brand like Lululemon or Athleta, but at the end of the day, I went with the Champion line at Target because the brand really fits me well and I know from experience it’ll hold up.

Total spent on myself: $106.

The Grand Total

So was I able to stick to my Christmas budget? In all, I spent a grand total of $913.50. That left me $86.50 under budget. I used the extra money to buy gifts for our holiday giving tree at Church and donate to the food and clothing drives at my kids’ schools.

How did YOU do when it came to your holiday shopping budget? Did you stick to your budget?


When A Tree Falls Between 2 Yards, Who Pays?

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

All morning, I’d heard a pop-pop-popping sound coming from outside. At first, I thought it was a pair of squirrels having a war with the hickory nuts that fall in my yard this time of year. When it didn’t subside, I wondered if one of the neighborhood kids was home sick from school and playing with a cap gun. An hour passed, then two – then the popping ceased for just a moment, before I heard a huge CRACK followed by a whirring sound… watched as my neighbor’s 100-year-old oak fell into my yard, just barely missing my deck.

Who Pays?

When the tree fell, it took three smaller trees in my yard right along with it. I immediately texted my neighbor, who texted me back to ask, “So when a tree falls between two yards, who pays for it?”

A little research – and a call to my insurance provider – resulted in a quick answer. When a tree falls from one person’s property on to another, each party is responsible for the clean up – and related cost – for whatever portion of the downed tree is on each person’s land. That’s the legal thing to do – but what’s the right thing to do?

Handling It

Since I was already home (and since my parents had just had several trees removed from their property), I called a few companies for quotes. Before my neighbors even made it home from work, I’d already gathered two sets of very different quotes. The one quoted me $525 for the removal and haul away of the fallen tree, as well as clean up and removal of the other trees that were damaged; he quoted my neighbor at $1200 to get rid of the part of the tree that was in his yard, removal of the other half of the tree that was still standing, and grinding up the stump (the second quote was TWICE as expensive as the first). That night, my neighbors and I gathered around my kitchen table to talk it over.

They profusely thanked me for getting the quotes so quickly, then got down to business. The tree showed no sign of ill-health before its monumental demise, so there was no obvious “neglect” on their part; additionally, the tree had (blessedly) missed my deck, meaning there was no structural damage to any of the buildings on either property. All that meant that neither of our homeowner’s insurance policies would cover the cost of clean up. I was on the hook for the $525.

Yet my neighbors didn’t see it that way. While I may have been legally obligated to pay for the tree removal, my neighbors felt it was unfair for me to shoulder the cost for a tree that they saw as their responsibility. They immediately offered to pick up the entire $525 – they said it was the neighborly thing to do. I countered – I thought it would be neighborly for me to pick up some of the bill, since this act of nature wasn’t their fault. We decided that I’d pay $200; they’d pay the rest.

Here’s the thing about money: sometimes, doing the legal thing isn’t the same as doing the right thing.

Have you faced a situation like that? What did you – or would you – do if you were in my shoes or my neighbors’ shoes?


Giving To Charity: Why Do You Do It?

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

I like to think I’m a charitable person. I open the door for people when I’m heading in and out of my local Starbucks; I’m happy to dig in my purse at the grocery store checkout line when the lady in front of me (who insisted on paying with exact change) comes up a nickel short; I have my weekly church offering set up with electronic “Autopay,” so even if I choose to sleep in one Sunday morning, my donation will still make it to the church on time.

But have you ever stopped to think – I mean, really think - about why giving to charity is (or, perhaps isn’t) important to you?

To be honest, I never have. I’ve always just written the check, signed the pledge card, clicked the “give” button out of the belief that it’s just what good people do.

I’d held that belief – that good people make charitable donations, and therefore I must be a good person – close to my chest for years. Then a few months ago, two phone calls made me completely reconsider my motivations.

The First Call

The first phone call came from the March of Dimes. I’d recently made a $100 donation to the organization; it was actually an unplanned, unsolicited charitable donation via the MoD website. The call was to thank me for my contribution, but the MoD representative also had a question for me: what had inspired me to donate? Was it the tax write off? (Nice, but not a factor.) Was it the free return address labels? (If you’ve ever donated to March of Dimes, you know what I’m talking about – and yes, this is a perk, but no, not my main motivating factor.)

The short answer was that I’d just read a very compelling story from a friend of a friend of a friend (thanks, Facebook) whose micro-preemie had overcome the odds, and her parents had specifically asked people moved by their daughter’s story to make a donation in her name to March of Dimes. But the longer answer went deeper – my own cousin had given birth to a micro-preemie, who also overcame the odds. So the real reason I donated? The organization had personally affected someone I loved and cared for.

The Second Call

The second phone call came from Catholic Charities. Again, the representative was following up on a donation I’d made to the organization during my parish’s annual campaign. We chose to donate $250. Again, it wasn’t for a tax write off, and this time, I knew I wouldn’t be receiving free return address labels as a “Thank you.” The CC representative once again thanked me for my donation, then asked me why I’d chosen to give; she also asked me if there was any particular division of Catholic Charities to which I wanted my money to go. Yes, I told her – if possible, I wanted it to go to adoption services. She applauded my decision, and asked again: why?

My answer gets to the very heart of who I am – an adopted child. 32 years ago, I was adopted via Catholic Charities in the same diocese in which I currently reside. In other words, I was getting the chance – for the first time in my adult life – to give back to precisely the same people who facilitated my adoption. As I explained my motivation for giving to charity to the representative, I suddenly felt the urge to give more: $500? $1,000? $5,000? I knew that no matter how many zeroes I added to my donation, the dollar amount would never be enough to sufficiently thank this organization for giving me life, for giving me a family.

So why do we give to charity? I think it boils down to one of two things: the organization has either helped, inspired, or influenced us or the people we love. Simple as that.

In writing this article, I did a little background research on charitable giving, and came across this amazing interactive tool from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. If you’re curious about the charitable activities of your neighbors – right down to your zip code – you’ll love this tool. Definitely worth a few minutes of your time!


It’s That Time of Year: Christmas Shopping 101

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

Last year, I made a huge mistake. It was our first year in our new house, and I started the Christmas shopping season off by purchasing a new 10-foot pre-lit tree for our great room. Then, I sat on my laurels, enjoying the beauty of that mammoth evergreen until mid-December… before realizing I had nothing to put underneath it but underwear and socks for my husband and two children. So what did I do? I overcompensated, of course. I started buying everything under the sun, knowing that I needed big gifts to go under that big tree.

The result? I never even considered a Christmas shopping budget, spent far too much money, and ended up buying gifts that now - 11 months later – my kids haven’t even touched.

This year, I’m going back to the basics. For years, I’d followed 5 simple rules for Christmas shopping that consistently left me under-budget, under-stressed, and pretty darn pleased with my purchases. So not only am I sharing these shopping tips with you, I’m putting pen to paper (or, in this case, fingertips to keyboard) in hopes of holding myself accountable this holiday season.

Rule #1: Set Your Budget Early

This was my single biggest faux pas of last year. When I bought those first few gifts, I hadn’t even considered what our family’s holiday shopping budget would be. Needless to say, by the time I did set a budget it was too late: the first few gifts under the tree broke the bank, and I found myself thinking, “Why stop now?”

Setting your budget before you buy a single gift is the most important step you can take this year to make sure Rudolph’s nose – and not your bank account – is the only thing in the red this holiday season.

Rule #2: Make A List

Sure, you have to buy gifts for your parents, your kids, your spouse. But do you really need to go Christmas shopping for all of your siblings? For each of your 12 nieces and nephews? For your kids’ kindergarten teacher, dance teacher, soccer coach, assistant soccer coach, swim instructor, and the mail man?

C’mon, you know the answer.

It’s easy to get swept up in the spirit of giving and go over board. And it’s nice to be able to show the people who are important to you and your family just how much you care. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend $50 on a gift for someone you see only a handful of times each year.

This year, my solution is $5 gift cards to places like Starbucks and Target. Sure, $5 might not be an extravagant amount, but it does let people know that you’re thinking about them and that they are important to you. Pair that with a beautiful Christmas card, and for many of those secondary players in your life, you’re all set.

Rule #3: Now Check That List Twice

Now that you’ve set your budget and decided on who you’re shopping for, it’s time to hit the stores! But not so fast. Not only do you need to make a list of the gifts you’d like family and friends to purchase for you, you need to get an idea of what those family and friends would like to receive. 

You can also make this list yourself, but if you’ve waited until now to start compiling the wants and needs of your family and friends, you’ve waited too long. I start making a list of what my husband, kids, and other close family or friends might appreciate during the summer months; I take note of what they post on social media, what they talk about needing or wanting, as well as the things they oooh and aaaah over when we go shopping together. By the fall, I’ve compiled a pretty long list for each person, and have a variety of gifts – with a variety of price tags – from which to choose.

Rule #4: Check Online First

Before I hit the stores, I always check online first. It’s how I made sure I was getting the best deal possible on my son’s first big boy bike, but maintaining my budget isn’t the only reason to follow this step. It’s also helpful to read customer reviews, especially when you’re deciding between two similar versions of a product; that’s how I learned that the Huffy bike I was eyeing had gotten poor reviews, while the Schwinn model knocked it out of the park. When you shop online first, you may also discover web-exclusive deals, or find downloadable coupons to help you save money if you choose to go to a brick-and-mortar store.

And remember that shopping from online retailers isn’t your only option when it comes to Christmas shopping on the web. You can also check out sites like Craigslist or Facebook for gently used or re-gifted merchandise in your area, which will help you stay even further under budget. I used this method to find a brand-new-in-box Kodak camera for a close family friend for less than half of the retail price!

Rule #5: Institute A Cut-off Date

I cannot repeat this enough: don’t continue shopping right up to Christmas Eve! Stores know that shoppers become increasingly desperate the closer it gets to the Big Day, so they incrementally jack up prices between Black Friday and Christmas Eve. If you haven’t found exactly what you’re looking for by about a week before Christmas, it’s unlikely you’re going to find it during those last 7 days – at least for a price you’re willing to pay.

My husband’s extended family always exchanges gifts of New Year’s Eve. It didn’t start out as a tradition – merely a fact of life when everyone got married and had hectic Christmas Day’s of their own – but it’s become one. Why? Because we know we can hit the stores and get MORE for LESS if we shop on December 26th and 27th.

Another reason to stop shopping a few days before Christmas Day? It’ll give you ample time to wrap your presents and then simply relax!