Author Archives: Kathleen O. Celmins

Frugal Gift Guide 2014

Frugal Gift Guide: How to gift frugally + what to give people working on their money goals.

Hi friends! Next week is Christmas, and after that, we’re going to have to figure out what else we’ll talk about on Frugal Portland, because holy smokes, it’s like I’ve gone to all the extra effort online and (ahem) simply hung stockings at home.

It’s been a bit busy over here (yes, I know, we all have the same hours as Beyonce or whatever) and I’ll tell you more later, but let’s just say it involves moving (and no, Tricia, it does not involve nurseries, thank you very much!) across town.

I was thinking about the kinds of gifts to give when you’re frugal, and what to give to people who are frugal (and not necessarily by choice). The former category is my wheelhouse — I do homemade gifts every year, which, sorry friends who do not live within my own town or Phoenix, Santa’s going to be a little late this year — and the latter category is really fun, since you can splurge a bit on someone who really appreciates a splurge. Read on for the best frugal gift guide I’ve ever put together!

If You Are Frugal

Frugal has a wide variety of definitions, but in this case, let’s agree that it refers to having a small amount of money in your holiday budget, but not a small amount of love for the people in your life. If money is tight, and you’re actively working toward your goals, you do not need to let Christmas take over.

Think Outside the (Perfectly Wrapped) Box

Hand holding Retro style alarm clock, isolated on white

Listen up, buttercup, you have two things: time and love. Don’t think because you don’t have a lot of money that you can’t give someone something they need. Spend time with people! Let them relax. Don’t worry about not having enough. That’s not what Christmas is about. Give your stressed out friend something he needs more of: time.

Clean House

Cleaning Tap

How awesome would it be to have a friend or relative say, “you know what? Take yourself out to lunch next Saturday, and leave me the key. Come back a few hours later,” and you take them up on it and come home to a blissful clean house? All the way awesome, that’s right. If you have more time than money, consider doing that for someone you love.

Make Cookies

Ginger Christmas Cookies Stars in the jar

Or caramel sauce, if that’s your thing. Probably just me, though, yeah? Everyone loves a tasty treat this time of year.

Take it to the Car Wash (Yeah!)


My dad does this for us when he’s in town. He’ll take our cars to the car wash and drive them through. But not only that, he goes the extra mile, with a pocket full of quarters, and vacuums out the interior. He even takes the spray bottle to the insides of the car! I love this tradition, and it feels like he’s spoiling us (which he is!) but all in, he’s spending less money than he does when he takes us out to dinner. Dad’s not frugal, but even if you are, this is an awesome gift.

If the Recipient is Frugal

This is the fun part. The short answer is, anything she’s not buying for herself. Or, better versions of what he’s buying right now. Below are some ideas, but just think about “upgrades” and you’ll be fine.

Or things the recipient actually needs.


My sister does not exactly follow the rules when it comes to where to hold the phone when she’s driving. Even though her car has bluetooth, she still fumbles with her phone more than she needs to. Enter Clipsee, the seatbelt phone holder!


Mom always got us sheets for Christmas. Now that she’s not with us, I thought it would be cute to carry on this tradition.


Specifically, Starbucks Christmas blend. Don’t hate. It’s delicious. And, right now, if you buy two bags, you get a free $5 gift card, which will pay for an Americano and a rice krispie treat (or so I’ve heard). When looking for an image of this, I realized it is now called Holiday Blend, as if they’re somehow being more culturally sensitive by not having the word Christmas in the name. Political corectness will be the end of us.

Trip to the Spa


Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 8.15.33 AM

Regardless of gender, a trip to the spa is always special. It’s always a treat. And, there are ALWAYS Groupon discounts at various spas around my town (yours too, probably). So, unless you’re so fancy that you have your “normal spa” where you’re a regular and everyone knows your name (in that case, what on earth are you doing here? Are you lost?), at least take a cursory glance to see what Groupon has to offer


Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 8.27.13 AM

Here’s where I’m hoping my sister really doesn’t read this site, as she claims she doesn’t. I bought this gorgeous map of Portland after seeing it on a Facebook ad (so good job, Minted!). It’s so so so pretty, and I’m a little worried I bought something I like instead of something I know she’ll like. But who am I kidding. It’s gold, and it’s Portland. It’s awesome.

Tickets to the Movies

Things I did not know you could buy on Amazon include movie tickets, but you can, and they’re cheaper than the box office, that’s for sure. If you end up going that route, your tickets might arrive after Christmas, so you’ll have to do something crafty like make your own ticket that your recipient can redeem for a trip to the movies.

Pay for Something on Their “No No” List

If your friend is a personal finance blogger, or has somehow restricted her shopping while working toward a goal, buy something she’s not buying. Buy Cait a coffee, for example. You know she isn’t buying her own. Buy the getting-out-of-debt version of me a haircut, since that was one thing I restricted when the end was in sight. Buy a restaurant gift card. Something special.


And have a really wonderful Christmas! If you’re offended by that, then have a really wonderful week next week, and don’t be offended so easily!

Shop for a Worthy Cause and Win!


If you live in Portland, and you are a woman, and you need more business casual clothing, you should not miss this sale. Clothing costs between five dollars and $15 and it’s all in wonderful shape, very gently used, and the kind of brands that you pay a lot more money for anywhere else. If you need another reason to come to the sale, you know that the organization, is outstanding. They provide interview outfits for women transitioning back into the workforce, support for women who are in their first 90 days of employment (which are traditionally the hardest), and job skills to help break the cycle of generational poverty.

Below is their email blast:

Amazing deals on new and gently used women’s designer clothing, shoes and accessories (All starting at $5!) ***Featuring designers like: Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Eileen Fisher, Georgio Armani, St. John’s and more! 

Accessory grab bags and raffles tickets available for purchase!

Where: 1532 NE 37th Avenue, Portland, OR 97232 – Dress for Success Oregon. Between Broadway and Sandy in NE Portland.

Parking: Available on the street or in the parking lot at the Banfield Motel.

Contact: Dress for Success Oregon at 503.249.7300
Cash and credit cards only (sorry, no checks).
Due to limited space, adults only please.
All sales final.
I’ll be there when the doors open at 10 AM, then I’ll be there again from 1 PM to 4 PM. If you see me, say hello!
I was just there this week (my usual time to volunteer is the HOPE program, which meets every other Tuesday and helps support women in their first 90 days on the job), and I came away moved. See, sometimes, especially for me, it’s easy to get locked up in my own little world (I say especially for me because working from home means I have to make an effort to be out of the house) and get caught up in, for lack of a better word, first world problems.
The HOPE attendees, though, do not have first world problems. They’re struggling. Some of them haven’t worked in months… for others, it’s been years. The odds are not in their favor. And yet? They keep coming. I sat at the front desk, checking people in, handing out grocery gift cards and gas gift cards (not much, but everyone was really appreciative) and looked at the sheets they were filling out.
Overwhelmingly, the women in this group who were stepping out of poverty and in general trying to get it together have jobs where they are helping people worse off than they are.
Think about that for a second. Tell me it’s not inspiring you to do better. To do more for others.
If someone who is not yet making enough money to stop qualifying for food assistance is taking a job counseling people on parole, or working with the homeless population so they don’t freeze over the winter, surely you and I can do more. Whether you feel it or not, if you’re surfing the internet from your home computer, you are privileged. Sure, you might have more credit card debt than you want (no judgement here, I’ve been there!), but if you have the funds for home internet, you’re not receiving public assistance, and therefore, you are doing really quite well. Kudos.
Look, it doesn’t matter whether you give to charity or not. I just want you to read this today, then pause, just for a second, and remember how good you have it.
Then, be nice to people. Everyone is fighting their own battle.
If you do feel compelled to give, Dress for Success is a worthy organization. The meeting I attended last night proved to me that this organization works. They provide a helping hand, not handouts. They empower women to use the tools at their disposal to make a good life for themselves.
Donate here if you want.
Put my name in the comment field (Kathleen Celmins) if you can’t come to the shopping trip. But if you’re local, you really should come shopping. I saw the stuff. It looks good.

10 Free Things to do to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

10 Free Things to do to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

Get into the spirit of the holidays without spending a dime (other than gas money to get places). Here are TK free things to do to get into the holiday spirit (some are Portland-centric, but I bet there are similar things in your fair city):

1. Go See the Big Christmas Tree

pioneer courthouse square christmas treeYou know, the big one. In the town square. Wherever that is for you. For me, it’s the middle of the city, and it’s lovely. I can enjoy the scenery as I drive past, or I can enjoy it for longer, if I happen to be downtown past dark (which, as cool as I am, let’s not mince words here, does not happen very often).



2. See Gingerbread Palaces

In Portland, step into the Benson Hotel and see this year’s amazing, enormous, gingerbread palace:

Frugal Portland free holiday things

I love this tradition. One, as a local, I never go to the hotels here, so it’s fun to step in and be surrounded by wood-paneled swanky hotel lobby. Two, it’s decorated so nicely, and three, holy smokes what a gingerbread house! My past attempts at glueing graham crackers together with powdered sugar and water pale in comparison to actual gingerbread palace with a church that has stained glass windows! See if there are gingerbread house competitions in your area.

3. See Crazy Light Displays

peacock lane

There’s a place in Portland… a neighborhood, really… with some odd rules in their homeowners’ association. If you buy a house on Peacock Lane, you must go all out in your Christmas lights. No, really. The best way to enjoy this little stretch of Portland is to park outside the neighborhood and walk. Driving through is ridiculous (and there’s another reason I won’t be living on Peacock Lane).

4. Watch Elf

Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit than watching Elf. My tradition is to watch it over Thanksgiving weekend, and I’ve done that for five or so years now. It’s sweet, it’s silly, and even my dad got into it. He started by asking, “What are you watching?” but then got roped in, and by the end of the movie was chuckling. I even heard him say later that weekend, “must be a south pole elf.” If you’ve never seen it, it’s on Netflix. If you don’t have Netflix, surely someone you know has a copy.

5. Take Pictures of Pretty Christmas Displays

Portland Oregon - White Stag sign.  Photo by Steve Morgan.I have a fancy camera with a lot of fancy accessories, and I like to take it on photo adventures. It’s really fun to head downtown and take pictures of lobbies. Hotels, restaurants, banks, even the streetlights, get into it with wreaths, evergreen boughs, lights, and twinkles. Our “Welcome to Portland” sign becomes Rudolph this time of year.

6. Write Emails to People You Miss

Stamps are expensive, but emails aren’t. Get fancy with your fonts and backgrounds on Word, then PDF that and send a non-traditional Christmas letter. Talk about your year. The highs, the lows, anything in between. Or send one-off emails. “Dear Grandma, I love you oh so much. Happy Christmas.”

7. Find Christmas Bazaars

This might sound counter intuitive, since we’re talking about free stuff, but I adore holiday bazaars, and have been to more than 100 in my life, and have probably spent money three of those times (not counting something warm to drink if the bazaar happened to be outside). They are SO FUN though, even if you don’t buy anything. It’s fun to see the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in the holiday space. Plus, it’s a place where people wear Christmas sweaters un-ironically, even in Portland, which makes my heart happy.

8. Watch the Lighted Boat Parade

lighted-boat-parades-mDo you live on a body of water? I always have. Growing up, we would get reservations at a fancy restaurant, and we’d get them early so we could have a window seat to watch the boats go by while learning how to behave while eating seafood. We’d dress up, make it a thing, and it was always so fun. After my sister and I left home, my parents still made reservations for a while to watch the boats. Here in Portland, the water is more of an every-person thing, given that there’s a river that cuts right through the middle of the city. That’s great for those of us who don’t want to go spend money in a fancy waterfront restaurant but still want to see boats with lights on them. There are all kinds of places to go watch the sparkly boats go by. My favorite happens to be J.D. and Kim’s place, because it’s inside, but you could bundle up and walk along the waterfront. Go tonight! Or Thursday! More info at

9. Attend Open Houses in Downtown Stores

Macy's_Holiday_WindowsGrowing up, my mom sometimes took us to Seattle to do holiday things because Seattle was so big and cosmopolitan compared to Olympia. One of our favorite things to do was walk around the outside of department stores and see the amazing displays. They were always so fun and different! This memory may explain why adult Kathleen still thinks of Seattle as a magical place around the holiday season.

10. Go for a Holiday Hike

PiestewaPeak-brittlebushThis one is new to me, because I am afraid of the cold, but last year at Thanksgiving, I was in Arizona. “Do you want to go on a hike?” asked Brent’s dad, the morning of Thanksgiving. Sure! Paying in advance for all the things I was planning on eating later sounded like an odd, but awesome, thing to do. I thought it would be a great idea, and the path wouldn’t be crowded since, after all, it was Thanksgiving. I was 100% wrong about that last part. It was a great idea, but we had to park so far away from the trailhead that we got an extra little hike in addition to climbing a little mountain! Exercise, it turns out, is the thing to do in Phoenix on Thanksgiving. I’m guessing Christmas, too. It’s a fun tradition: gets us out of the house, our blood pumping, and being outside when most of the country stays inside.

What do you do to get into the holiday spirit?

13 Ways to Save Money This Holiday Season

13 ways to save money this holiday season -- Frugal Portland

In case you couldn’t tell by the bell-ringing Santas, the lights up in your neighborhood, the colder-than-comfortable air temperatures, and more traffic in the retail areas, it’s the holiday season. Since Brent and I hosted our very first holiday as a married couple on Thanksgiving, we’re traveling for Christmas, so we’re doing a lighter decking of our halls than usual.

I got permission from my sister to skip a tree this year, and hopefully we’ll have a tree in the new house (wherever that ends up being) next Christmas.

I’m getting swept up in the season. I love Christmas. It seems like people are a little nicer to each other this time of year.

Also, now that I’m married to a boy from the desert, Christmas means I get to have some unexpected fun in the sun to go along with my … figgy pudding? Yes, figgy pudding.

I got to thinking, though, about the one part of Christmas I don’t really like: forced gift giving. Now, I don’t work in an office, so I don’t think my coworkers expect any treats from me (but if you’re reading this, coworkers, send me your address!) but I’m in the minority.

Let’s set up some ground rules for the season, shall we?

Splendid! Below are 13 ways to save money this holiday season.

1. Nobody “Needs” a Gift From You

Do not stress! There is nobody out there who absolutely needs a gift from you. If you’re working on your goals, whatever they may be, understand that you do not need to shell out $15 x the number of people you know and love. Remember: it’s about being together (and wearing too much red) not about keeping score.

2. Go With Homemade Whenever Possible

This is the 8th season of Kathleen’s Homemade Christmas, and it’s a tradition I love (and I think the people on my list love it too). There are always caramels (although this year, sorry, friends, I out-carameled myself for the wedding, we’re doing caramel sauce this time around), and there are always other things. I choose a theme, and send gifts based on the theme. They haven’t gone out yet this year, so I can’t tell you what the theme is, but it’s good. Send me your address and $ for shipping and I’ll put you on the “nice” list.

3. If You Get an Unexpected Gift, Simply Show Gratitude

When you get a gift, the very worst response is, “but I don’t have anything for YOU!” so keep that thought in your head, and say thank you. Then make sure you have something homemade for them the next time you see them. It’s not keeping score. It’s about cheer, and love. No tit for tat, okay?

4. Tip Service Industry Workers a Little Extra

If you’re out celebrating, tip more than normal. In my house, that means I pull out the credit card linked to the account we share. Because I’m a better tipper than Brent. There, I said it. I’ve aired the dirty laundry. Service workers in Portland are paid better than most cities (which is Brent’s defense for giving a 15% tip), but still. Having to attend all these holiday parties and not get to partake? Sucks.

5. Be REALLY Nice to People at the Airport

Speaking of jobs that suck, airport workers see people at their absolute worst. Add flight delays around the holidays, and wow. Be nice to TSA, the coffee stand person, the person at the airport bookstore, everyone. Not just “not mean,” but nice. Extra nice. Tell them happy holidays.

6. No Gift is Worth Going Into Credit Card Debt

Listen up, buttercup. If you have credit card debt, now’s the year for writing everyone you know and love a letter indicating all the things you love about them. Take the one you love on a scavenger hunt around town. DO NOT INCREASE YOUR DEBT for this holiday. It’s not worth it. It’s not the same as eating a piece of cake after a year of dieting. Get out of debt. Thank your loved ones for their help on your journey out of credit card debt.

7. Give Time (It’s More Valuable Anyway)

Even if you’re not in credit card debt, you may have more time than money on your hands this season. If you’re anything like me, your friends have babies. Give them time! Watch their kids for them while they go Christmas shopping. Spend time at their house if their kids are too little to leave behind. Run errands for friends. They can’t go get groceries because of their newborn? Tell them to make you a list and buy what they need. Even if they pay you back (and they will), you’ve given them something they can’t buy — time.

8. Give to Those in Need

Your kid’s teacher doesn’t need something expensive. Wait, that’s not actually true where we live. Teachers are underpaid. Get them gift certificates to places they won’t visit on their own. But give to those who are standing outside in the freezing rain asking for change. There are excuses, “they’ll just use the money for alcohol,” but I’m not buying it. First, who says people in homes are more entitled to a beer than people who are homeless? Second, would you stand out in this weather? No? Consider that you have more options than the person you drive past. Put together gift bags. Buy an extra coffee (this is MUCH more charitable than the silly “pay it forward” Starbucks lines where people aren’t even getting out of their cars!) when you see someone outside. People in need are the modern-day Tiny Tims of this world, and even Scrooge (McDuck) could be generous to Tiny Tim.

9. Consider Alternative Gifts

Brent and I agreed this year to skip traditional gifts and instead spend one night in a fancy hotel during our stay in Arizona. Most of the time, we’ll be with his family (OUR family!) so one night, we’ll escape down the road to a fancy hotel where we will be by ourselves celebrating our luck to find each other. Cheesy, right? Tis the season.

10. Save Where You Can

It wouldn’t be a Kathleen post if I didn’t mention the value of Groupon at least once. Sorry not sorry, there are awesome deals every single day on gifts and experiences that you can share and save up to half at the same time. Check it early. Check it often.

11. Sometimes the Thought Isn’t What Counts

If the thought is, “why on earth did she spend this money on me?” then it’s not the thought that counts. Far from it. If you’re giving a thoughtful present, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Give carefully, and really think about the recipient. Is it something they want? OR was it on sale at Groupon and you couldn’t come up with anything better?

12. Consider Experience Gifts

Have you heard of Goldstar Events? They offer experiences for 50% off. Things like tickets to the Nutcracker, the Santaland Diaries, or anything else can be had at steep discounts.

13. Do Cheesy Holiday Things

There are SO MANY things to do this season — my sister and I love to see the fancy decorated Christmas trees at the Convention Center. It’s a bigger version of what we used to do every year in Olympia, and it makes us think of Mom.

Biggest Advice: Plan, then Let Go

Follow these rules, then let December happen. Remember to focus on family (not focus on the family, that’s a political website), friends, and loved ones you maybe haven’t met before. Be nice, don’t stress.

That’s a motto we can all adhere to, right?

Groupon’s Cyber Monday Deals

I didn’t do Black Friday. Well, I did, accidentally step into a store looking for something specific, and came away shocked that what I wanted costs so much money. Seriously. I forgot what retail shopping was like!

However, as I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee wading through emails, I can’t help but notice that there are some excellent deals out there for Cyber Monday.

Groupon, especially, is handing out discounts like candy.

Below are a few:

Groupon 30% off gift shop sale

{30% off for Cyber Monday}

Huge deals on spa treatments, fun activities, haircuts, restaurants, and more

{Up to 80% off physical goods}

Fuzzy boots, earphones, fitness trackers, pet beds, kitchen stuff, electronic toothbrushes, and a wide assortment of random stuff

If you’re looking to treat yourself, go for the first deal. Some people (not me!) don’t like getting Groupons for Christmas, but if you set it up to say, “let’s go get our nails done together!” and clandestinely paid with a Groupon, your friend would be none the wiser.

If you want to save big on physical goods, go for the second deal. Your recipient wouldn’t begin to guess that you bought their gift using a coupon, so it’s a double win. Unless you write a frugal living blog that your friends know about. Then they’ll assume you got a deal.

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