By Ellen Breslau and Crystal Tate
We know, we know, the sensible thing to do with any amount of "extra" money is put it straight in the bank where it can earn interest. But guess what? Everyone needs to live a little, and we've got 29 creative ideas to help you.
$5 or Less
1. Bring the outdoors in. Treat yourself to a bunch of flowers or "buy potted herbs for your kitchen, like basil, chives or parsley," says Susan Troche of Marlton, New Jersey. There's nothing like the taste of fresh pesto (and you can make it for a way-below-supermarket price).
2. Give your hair a little luxury. Summer's heat and humidity can leave hair frazzled and you looking, well…less than glamorous. Our beauty editor, Melissa Matthews, tames her curls with hydrating TRESemmé Smooth No Frizz Shine Spray ($4.99; CVS.com). "You won't believe the shine, and best of all, your hair will do what you want," she says. What could be better than that?
3. Go back to school. Want to learn architectural design, computer science or Spanish? Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare offers free lecture notes, exams and videos for 1,900 courses in undergraduate and graduate subjects. Go to ocw.mit.edu for more information.
4. Buy Forever Stamps. Head to the post office and invest in the future! Forever Stamps, which currently cost 44¢, will always be good for mailing letters in the U.S.-no matter how much prices may go up later on.
5. See a movie. Find a Redbox automated kiosk near you and rent a DVD for $1 a night plus tax. There are more than 15,000 locations nationwide (try Walmart, Walgreens or supermarkets). Each kiosk has over 700 DVDs, including up to 200 new releases, and you can even choose your title online and pick it up at your location of choice.
6. Keep kids (and pets) busy. Buy a box of yummy dog treats and have your kids go to LoveYourDog.com/Tricks.html. They'll love trying to teach Fido to play dead, go to his bed or twirl. Have them put on a show when they're ready.
7. Indulge a little. "Buy a halfgallon of chocolate ice cream. It makes everything better," says Lois Rosen of Port St. Lucie, Florida.
$10 or Less
8. Host pizza night. "For 10 bucks I can make the most delicious pizza you'll ever taste, and it's family entertainment," says Jackie Plant, our food and nutrition director. "We make the dough from scratch. I buy marinara sauce and a bag of shredded cheese, and throw on any leftover veggies or meat I have in the fridge."
9. Reduce your wrinkles. Lenora Brennan of Brooklyn, New York, loves antiaging products but thinks there's no need to overspend. We couldn't agree more. Check out Drugstore.com, which our beauty editor Melissa swears by for great finds. Bonus: The site always has sales, coupons and buy-one-get-one (BOGO) deals.
10. Get your house cleaned. Tired of doing all the work yourself? Do what our Tip Talk columnist, Arianne Cohen, does: Put the money toward a professional cleaner. She squirrels away $7 every week, and in two months (for around $56, less in some places) she can hire a pro to scrub her house from top to bottom.
11. Spruce up your wardrobe. "I'd buy a funky new pair of sandals," says Christa Bischoff of Clarksville, Tennessee. Right now we love the gladiator sandals at Walmart. They come in lots of fun colors, and are a steal at $10.
12. Take a 'me' break. "I keep extra money in a jar that's my 'mad money for Mom,'" says Janie O'Connor of Hillsboro, Oregon. "I use it to hit the local bookstore and grab a cup of tea. If time allows, I can use it for a comedy at the movies. Or in times of 'extreme mom-of-two teenagers stress,' I'll go to the bakery and buy the most delectable looking cupcake and enjoy!"
13. Stash some cash. "I like to buy a supermarket gift card to put in my wallet for the times when I'm a little light on cash," says Patricia Judge of Weymouth, Massachusetts. Or buy a gas card to keep in your car for emergencies.
14. Have a family crafts day. Take the kids and check out the free crafts events on Saturdays at Michaels stores. The projects (such as creating back-to-school pencil containers) are usually tailored to kids ages 5 to 12. Afterward, take a spin down the aisles and pick up $10 worth of supplies to continue crafts day at home. For upcoming events, go to Michaels.com/TheKnack
15. Reconnect with friends. "Call a few friends and set up a playdate picnic at the park," says Sandra Gerow of Wallkill, New York. Everyone can bring a healthy snack to share. "The kids have the opportunity to play while the moms get the chance to catch up." Set up a photo shoot Visit a garage sale in your neighborhood or a thrift store and pick up $10 worth of dress-up clothes for your kids: boas, floppy hats, sequined dresses and other unique items. Once you get home, take out your camera and watch the kids go to town.
16. Set up a photo shoot. Visit a garage sale in your neighborhood or a thrift store and pick up $10 worth of dress-up clothes for your kids: boas, floppy hats, sequined dresses and other unique items. Once you get home, take out your camera and watch the kids go to town.
$20 or Less
17. Take in a game. Nothing says summer like baseball! For an all- American date night, grab your husband, pack some sandwiches and go see a minor league game. Tickets for teams like the Delmarva Shorebirds in Maryland start at $6 each. To find a team near you, visit MinorLeagueBaseball.com
18. Buy a gift card. Shopping just got a little cheaper now that there's PlasticJungle.com. They've got discounted gift cards to your favorite retailers for up to 40% off. New gift cards are posted every day, and PlasticJungle verifies the amount of each card. There are no shipping or commission fees, and you can even bargain with sellers to pay a lesser amount. At presstime, we found a $10 Gap gift card for $9 and a $20 Borders gift card for $17.75.
19. Eat out for less. If you're craving a nice dinner out, stop at Restaurant.com first. The site partners with more than 10,000 restaurants across the country to offer gift certificates. You can purchase a $25 gift certificate for $10 and a $50 certificate for $20 to a restaurant of your choice and print it out at home before you go. (Some restrictions and minimum purchases apply.) Special offer: From July 6 through July 31, 2009, Woman's Day readers will receive 50% off all gift certificates. Be sure to use promo code WDMAG at checkout.
20. Indulge your husband. Surprise him with something he loves: a pound of his favorite coffee (for the freshest taste, buy beans instead of grounds), or a few used games for his DS or Xbox from Game Stop. Or use the money to take him out for a special lunch-just the two of you.
21. Stay in touch. Tired of having a cell phone with a costly plan and long-term contract? Buy an inexpensive phone--we love Virgin Mobile's TNT! phone ($14.99; VirginMobile.com)--and choose a pay-as-you-go plan. It allows you to purchase the minutes you want rather than locking into a long-term contract. Buy minutes online, or pick up a phone card at Target or your pharmacy. Minutes are good for 30 days, and you'll have no more crazy cell phone fees and hassles.
22. Make a surprise scrapbook. Capture summer memories by having your kids make a memory book of your family's vacation, graduation or outdoor photos. At Shutterfly.com, the kids can create a professionally bound softcover photo book for $19.99. They can customize the cover with a photo and text, choose from hundreds of layouts and backgrounds for the 20-page book, and personalize fonts and borders.
23. Get a gadget. Sometimes it's the little things that make life better. Two of our favorites: the handheld rotary cheese grater by Oxo ($14.99; OXO.com), which lets you freshly grate cheese over pasta or salads, making any meal feel special. And an electric kettle, like the Presto Electric Tea Kettle ($17.99; target.com). Just plug it in and fill it, and in less than a minute, you'll have boiling water.
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