How far can you stretch $400?

I’m going to get a chance to find out.

On Monday my husband and I stopped at our bank to pay a bill and I saw a form laying on the counter for a “Holiday Makeover” essay contest that ended that day.  The winning entry would be chosen for its creativity and a demonstrated need for a holiday makeover. (one part of the form said a need for a TREE makeover, the other part said HOLIDAY makeover. I wrote an essay that would cover a demonstrated need for both, with the ending emphasis on a tree makeover)

“Ugh, too bad I didn’t know about this contest before. I could have entered,” I mused out loud.

“It’s not too late. Write something now,” David countered.

WHAT? 

I just couldn’t fathom whipping something out that quickly, instead of laboring over it for days, editing and revising it.  But then, what harm could there be in trying?  As David reminded me, I couldn’t win if I didn’t try, and the reward was worth a shot. The prize? A $400 gift card, well worth my last-ditch effort.

We were headed out-of-town that day, but David suggested I start writing, and so I did.  I wrote while he got gas, then wrote some more while he bought a to-go cup of coffee. Then I continued writing, in the car, while he ran in the house and got my coupon box.  When I finished the essay, I read it out loud and didn’t quite like it. (It WAS a rough draft, after all) David insisted I go in the bank to re-write the whole thing while he waited outside.  Feeling rushed, I went inside and transcribed the entire essay onto a new form, making a few changes and cutting out a sentence or two. (I tend towards being too wordy)  I turned it in shortly before noon and commented to the teller, “Nothing like turning in an entry right before the deadline,” and he nodded in agreement and wished me a Merry Christmas.

Then yesterday morning I got a phone call from the radio station that co-sponsored the contest.  “Out of the many entries we got for our contest, we chose yours as the winner,” she told me.  I was stunned.  For one thing, I just don’t win contests, and for another, that essay had not been my best effort. My best work would have been slaved over, morning after morning, until it read exactly the way I had wanted it to. And, I would have had it stored on my computer. Now, I don’t even have a copy of my own winning essay!

Even amidst my complete disbelief at winning, the wheels in my writer brain were turning.  How can I make an article or essay out of this, I wondered.  When she asked if I wanted Wal-Mart or Target, I really wanted to say Target because I prefer the quality of their clothing, toys, and appliances, but the frugal part of me considered the fact that I would have to travel to get to a Target and a Wal-Mart card could be used right here in town. The fact that the Wal-Mart here also has some grocery items made a difference in my choice, too.  So my final choice was Wal-Mart. 

I could blow it on Christmas. I could buy a new tree to replace the old one.  I’ll admit my initial idea was to lavish gifts upon others. I love giving gifts.  The best part of Christmas for me is to see the faces of children opening gifts, something I look forward to every Christmas morning. I’m like a little kid myself, shopping year-round and attempting to come up with the perfect gift for each of the people I love.  Sometimes I hit the nail on the head with an adult; the perfect gift for a sister or friend that I just know captures the essence of them and will give them a great deal of pleasure. But it is really the faces of the children I look forward to.

So, for a very brief moment, I actually considered using the money towards Christmas. And a small amount will go towards gifts.  There is a family I wasn’t going to be able to buy much for and now I’m thinking of some good board games to purchase and give to the children.  Of course, I will also use some of my Kellogg’s $10 certificates towards those games, too, or some coupons I’ve collected in case I find the games on sale.  All of a sudden, I’m excited about being able to take, say just $20 of that $400 and “magically” turning it into $60 worth of gifts!  I’m also going to be adding to a box of food to share with my mother.  Surely the Wal-Mart carries the Hormel products I have $2 coupons for.  I’ve already been setting aside food for a gift basket, and now I can add more!

It isn’t that I don’t want to spend the windfall on my own children, but I’ve had their gifts set aside for quite a while.  They don’t need any more.What they will need is things like shoes, socks, and underwear, items I can pick up after Christmas or when I see them on sale. Some of the $400 will be used for necessities like that.

After that initial burst of excitement and awe and wonder wore off, I started thinking about just how far a frugal couponer could make that money go.  How much food could I get at the Dubuque Wal-Mart using my coupons? How many times could I hit the clearance aisle of health and beauty products and combine the reduced prices with coupons to make for some incredible deals?  January is a great month for clearance.  Could I find some gifts for next Christmas on the shelves of Wal-Mart? What about the perfume and cologne gift sets they reduce drastically after Christmas? I have $2 and $5 coupons on Coty sets.  Various scenarios are running rampant through my head. Free cologne? Free perfume?  What about lip gloss and nail polish? No coupons, but if I keep an eye on the clearance shelves there is bound to be some sets marked down that could be used for birthdays.  Flannel sheet sets? Winter scenes will be 75% off by the end of January and early February.  I love warm, cozy flannel sheets on all our beds year-round.

So, if you see me in a Wal-Mart aisle in the next month or two, don’t bother stopping me and talking to me. I probably won’t even see you, I’ll be concentrating so hard on the deals. I’ll be a woman on a mission to squeeze that $400 until it squeals.  I have lots of plans for that gift card, and I think it would be fun to share the whole convoluted and creative way I intend to use my win. I’m pretty sure I can make an article out of the experience of maximizing my savings every which way, in ways I am used to, and those I haven’t even thought of yet.

Watch for updates on here.

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