Home & Garden

10 Must-Haves for a Picture Perfect Christmas Dinner

Hosting Christmas dinner isn't a task for the faint of heart. The perfect Christmas dinner is festive, fun and just a bit formal, and as old pros like your Grandma will tell you, cooking a flawless meal is only half the battle.

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Frugal Friday Movie Night: Snowpiercer and My Favorite Soup

Here in Chicago, December is off to its chilliest start in 118 years. It seems like we went straight from the beach to our puffy coats overnight!

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10 Expensive Things That Will Save You Money in the Long Run

Just because it’s the lower price, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best deal. When you’re factoring in what is and what isn’t a good deal, keep in mind what you’d be saving overall as well. Here are some examples of items that may cost more upfront but will save you money later on.

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25 Ways to Spend Less on Utilities and Stay Cool This Summer

Paying utilities including gas, electric, and water are unavoidable. And with the warm summer months rapidly approaching, these costs have the ability to skyrocket. Instead of breaking out that paper fan and sweating throw your summer clothes, here are some ways to save on your utility bills.

Free Things You Can Do

These simple tips are things you can start doing today to lower your utility bills and won’t cost you a penny.

Pay your utility bills with a credit card. Instead of paying cash, pay your utility bills with a credit card that earns cash back points. For example, Chase Freedom is currently offering $200 back when you spend $500, which is money you spent on utilities going back into your pocket. Use the card to pay your various utility bills and other expenses you’d usually pay cash for, pay off your balance in full to avoid any interest or debt, and get paid to pay your bills.

Grilling Saves Electricity

Seha bs / Wikimedia Commons

Skip the stove. A stove not only uses more electricity, but it’s going to heat your home making it more difficult to keep cool. Instead try grilling outside or use a toaster oven, microwave or a crock pot, which require less energy and give off less heat. This Kenmore 4-burner grill is currently available for just $185.

Use your dishwasher more efficiently. If possible, set the water temperature lower on your dishwasher and change to a lighter wash cycle. Only use the washer on a full load to prevent wasting water. Clean your dishwasher regularly to keep it working properly. Also, opt to air dry your dishes instead of a heated dry, which not only uses electricity but will also add heat to your home.

Air Drying on a Clothes Line

alessandra elle / Flickr

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Spring Cleaning Done Right: How to Plan, Save and Pocket Some Cash

A cough here, a sneeze there. When the dust balls have been piling up and those thick winter sweaters need a boot, you know it's time for that yearly ritual you dread the most...spring cleaning.

When many people think of spring cleaning, they often believe it means cleaning everything, from every nook and cranny in the house to even the outside yard and shed. Such a monstrous task can be overwhelming and expensive. Yet, with some careful planning and a little ingenuity, spring cleaning can be a lot simpler than you might expect.

Getting Organized

Before you even attempt to tackle your first cleaning job, make sure you're mentally prepared to clean in the first place. How long will this cleaning project take? A day? A weekend or more?  Create a list or at least a mental note of all the things and rooms you want to clean. Then decide realistically how long it will take to complete. Also consider whether you're completing these projects on your own or if you're dividing it up among family members, roommates, or enlisting the help of friends. The key here is not to overstress yourself but to have a plan and stick to it.

Quality Supplies

Using quality cleaning tools and products is an essential part of getting the job done right, and it doesn't have to cost you a fortune. However, the tools you use should involve a little investment since these are long-term purchases which you want to be using for years, instead of replacing every year. Avoid purchasing items like a $4 plastic mop that does not absorb water well and can break easily. Most of all, avoid fads.  The latest hip and happening "As seen on TV" product shouldn't be your first choice.

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Why You Should Buy Your Keurig Now Instead of Later

Keurig recently announced that its uber-popular coffee pod brewer is getting a redesign later this year.  But before you get too excited, you should know that the redesign will end up costing its consumers more in the long run.  The new coffee brewers will include some sort of technology that will only brew coffee pods made by Green Mountain Coffee (Keurig's coffee vendor), or major brands that are licensed Keurig vendors (including Starbucks, Folgers and Dunkin' Donuts).  This technology is meant to directly cut out the competition, meaning more affordable, non-Keurig licensed coffee pod vendors.

Though Keurig CEO and President, Brian Kelley, claims the company is not trying to cut other brewers out and will continue to license unlicensed vendors, it's not exactly a win for consumers.  Off-brand coffee pods are 5-25% cheaper than those made by Keurig's partners.  This means that even if Keurig licenses the cheaper, unlicensed brewers, there will undoubtedly be a cost increase, and consumers will effectively be paying up to 25% more for the same non-Keurig brands that they used to save money on.  Still, it's easy to see why Keurig wants to cut out the competition.  According to Kelley, unlicensed pods accounted for 12% off all coffee pod sales last quarter.  Sounds like they're starting to sweat!

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What You Need to Know About the Graco Recall and Your Options

Baby equipment manufacturer Graco announced a massive recall of 3.7 million convertible car seats and child booster seats yesterday over concerns that the buckles may trap children in their seats. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended recalling 18 seat models. Graco has agreed to recall 11 of those, all of which are for toddlers and older children. The seven other models that the NHTSA recommended for recall (and which Graco is contesting) are infant seats.

Recalled models include:

Recalled Graco Harness Buckle Photo

A side-by-side photo of the recalled Graco harness buckles (left) and their new and improved replacements (right).

  • Cozy Cline
  • Comfort Sport
  • Classic Ride 50
  • My Ride 65
  • My Ride 65 with Safety Surround
  • My Ride 70
  • Size4Me 70
  • My Size 70
  • Head Wise 70
  • Smart Seat
  • Nautilus 3-in-1
  • Nautilus Elite
  • Argos

Models recommended for recall but for which an official recall has not been issued:

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Summer KitchenAid Giveaway!

Summer is in full swing and it sure is a hot one. The last thing you want to be doing in 90-degree weather is sweating in the kitchen whipping something up. We're here to help. Save your strength and let a machine do all the work by entering to win a KitchenAid Mixer in our Summer KitchenAid Mixer Giveaway!

One lucky reader will win a 5-Quart KitchenAid Mixer in the color of their choosing.

Enter to WIN a KitchenAid Mixer

The Details:

  1. To enter you must register at our contest page
  2. You can register once per day for any and all of our weekly contests
  3. The winner will be notified via email once the giveaway has ended (7/30/2013 at 11:59pm CST) and will have 48 hours to respond before we choose another winner

When you register, you will also be signed up for the Brad’s Deals Newsletter, which gives you the latest handpicked deals every day.

The KitchenAid 5-Quart Stand Mixer features:

  • 5-quart stainless mixing bowl
  • Tilt head feature
  • 10 mixing speeds
  • Included flat beater, dough hook, and wire whip

Contest ends July 20 at 11:59 CST.

For official contest rules please click here.

4 Ways to Get Freebies and Reduce Your Grocery Bill

Guest post alert! We're excited to have Roland Karim of Coupon Pro sharing his tips for scoring discounts and freebies at the grocery store. The opinions contained in this post are the author's own and are not necessarily those of BradsDeals. 

If you love saving money, you probably use coupons or stick to buying items when they're on sale but did you know you can save a TON of money by scoring freebies at your local grocery store. It's simple, fun and rewarding!

How to find and use freebies to reduce your grocery bill:

Take Advantage of Your Grocery Store Club Card

Sign up for a club card at favorite grocery store. Many grocery store chains like Kroger (& affiliates), Safeway (& affiliates) and ShopRite often send their members free offers that can be digitally downloaded on to your card to be redeemed for free stuff. Just last month, Vons (a Safeway affiliate store) sent me two free offers: FREE Knorr Roasters and a FREE Bag of Mann's Veggie Mac-n-Cheese.

Free Grocery Offers from Vons, a Safeway Affiliate

Use Coupons

Print coupons at Coupons.com and CouponNetwork.

Popular grocery chains like Publix allow you to use a Manufacturer Coupon AND a Store Coupon towards one item. Reference your stores coupon policy to find out if they allow it. Using two coupons is better than using one and often leads to a freebie!

"Like" Your Favorite Brands

Follow your favorite brands on Facebook and Twitter. Companies often send out free samples and exclusive offers for their fans and followers. One of my favorites is free coffee samples!

Saving money on your grocery bill

Photo by Walmart Corporate via Flickr. Some rights reserved.

TIP: I suggest creating a secondary no-cost email account for freebies, so your primary email doesn't fill up with newsletters. Plus, avoid any freebies that require your credit card or Social Security number.

Follow Coupon Blogs and Websites

Bookmark two or three blogs like Coupon Pro to stay updated on all the ways you can score free groceries and to share your freebie finds with a large community!

Here are a few freebies you can grab right now:

Happy Shopping! :D

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How To Lower Your Electric Bill Without Unplugging Anything

Did you cringe at the thought of your electric bill every time you ran your air conditioner this summer? Are you dreading your winter heating bills? If so, then this post is for you.

I had no idea what alternative energy suppliers were or how they worked until just a few months ago. Up to the point when I switched, I associated the idea with the rather scammy guys who would show up every so often in my apartment building's stairwell claiming they could lower my power bills if only they could see a copy of my most recent bill. Yeah, not happening buddy.

But then I had an encounter with my power company that left me so hopping mad that I found myself searching online to figure out if I had any kind of choice at all for dumping them once and for all. And the answer is a big fat YES! Consumers in many states, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest, have a choice when it comes to who supplies their energy, and those alternative suppliers often charge much less than your default power company does.

First, an important note about deregulation.

To take advantage of alternative energy suppliers, you must live in a deregulated state. There's no single good place to check if it's an option for you, and many of the lists out there are badly outdated, but I can pass along a few tips for figuring it out. If you live in Illinois or Texas, Power2Switch makes it easy to check which companies service your community. If you're in the northeast, your chances are excellent. The Midwest is more of a toss up. Most Westerns states once were deregulated but suspended their programs after an energy shortage caused open market prices to spike. Most of the south remains regulated as well. The best information is available when you plug "[your state] energy deregulation" into your favorite search engine.

Not in a deregulated state? Your electric bill can still work for you. Skip ahead to the last section of this post to learn how.

Understand your power bill.

Lower your electric bill

Are you paying too much for electricity?

The first step to understanding how alternative energy suppliers work is to understand your electric bill. If you take a close look, you'll see that the charges are broken out into two categories: supply and delivery. These line items are charged at different rates. Chances are pretty good that you won't be able to change who delivers your electricity. Unfortunately for me, that means that I do still have to deal with my old power company on some level. However, you can change who supplies your electricity, and that's where you can switch to save.

Still confused? Let's say that there's only one grocery store where you live, and it carries a popular brand of soda pop. But then the market starts carrying a second brand that's cheaper but tastes exactly the same. So what do you do? Chances are good that you just switch to the cheaper brand. Alternative energy suppliers work just like that - you can't change the store since it's the only game in town, but you can change the brand you buy.

Compare the supply cost per kWh.

In Illinois, we have the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) which keeps track of what everyone is charging in a rather handy table. For example, in Chicago the default power company is ComEd, and they are currently charging 6.932 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) to supply energy to its customers' homes.  If you used 1,000 kWh last month, that's a supply charge of $69.32. By contrast, you can get a rate as low as 5.75 cents per kWh from Hope Energy, which would come out to $57.50, a savings of $11.82 over ComEd. Over the course of a year, you could be saving more than $140.

Some suppliers charge more, some less. Some rates are variable and some are fixed. And you can even find suppliers that promise 100% green energy, though those don't tend to save the consumer very much money. Of course, if climate change is an issue close to your heart, then the added cost may be well worth it.

Look for rebates.

Many alternative electricity suppliers will offer rebates to new customers. For example, Spark Energy is currently offering a $150 Visa gift card for signing up. When I made the switch, I chose a supplier that would give me a $75 Visa gift card as a welcome gift. Not only am I keeping more cash in my pocket every month with a lower electric bill, but I have an extra $75. It's hard to argue with free money!

Beware of contract terms and cancellation fees.

As with all good things in life, there is often a catch. It's not uncommon that a supplier will require that you commit to a 6 or 12 month contract, and the cancellation fees can be steep . The two I saw most often in my research were a flat fee of $50-$150 or $10 for every month left on your contract . If you know that you're not moving in the next year, this may not be such a big deal (it wasn't for me). Also, most suppliers with cancellation fees give you a 3 month opt out period. So if you're not happy with the switch, cancel within 90 days and you won't have to choose between coughing up a cancellation fee or being locked into a year-long contract.

Not deregulated? Not a problem!

This sounds counterintuitive, but if you're in the habit of paying off your cards every month, then there's no reason in the world why you shouldn't be paying your monthly energy bill with your credit card. Taking advantage of the opportunity to rack up your favorite reward points can certainly take the edge off your bill, especially when you're stuck with your supplier. Use the American Express Starwood Card to collect Starpoints points for a dream vacation to Paris just for paying your electric bill. Cash back cards are also a great option. The Chase Freedom Card gives 1% cash back on everything, and 5% back on select categories on a rotating basis. Rewards almost make you feel good about running the air conditioner!

Do you have any tips or tricks to share for saving on your energy bill? Tell us in the comments!

If you liked these ideas for saving money on your electric bill, be sure to sign up for Brad's Daily Alerts to get the best deals and tips sent directly to your inbox.