A Pleasant Surprise

20141212_132004My mother’s mother was my last living grandparent; she died last year, just shy of her 98th birthday. Because I was blessed to know her until I was well into my 40s, I felt like I knew most everything about her. But, when I helped sort through some of her things, after she died, I discovered my grandmother was Illinois’ version of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (albeit on a much smaller scale).

With her jewelry, she had these tiny, plastic bags that each held an even tinier stone, labeled with words like “Fifth Prize: Genuine Black Star of India.” I asked my mother about them and she laughed as she told me about Grandma’s penchant for entering contests. Apparently, she did this all her life, alongside her regular outings to play Bingo. She never won enough to have a book written about her, but she never stopped trying.

Prize WinnerI remember reading about Evelyn Ryan (the aforementioned “Prize Winner) and thinking I would have been a lot like her, if I’d lived in that era – when options for women were limited and creativity was a requirement for running a household, instead of a luxury for women with “time on their hands.” Like my grandmother, I’ve dared to dream a little, when given the opportunity to enter a contest. I diligently clip Box Tops and Labels for Education, knowing my .10-cents per square, $5 per sheet, $50 per school year, makes a difference. And I treat coupons like cash. I wouldn’t throw away $2 if I saw it in my newspaper, so why would I ignore a $2-off coupon for the dog food I know I’ll buy at least once a month?

When our family’s income dropped significantly, two years ago, it was the mini-Melba (my grandmother) in me that inspired me to up my game. I Googled and explored websites, and read blogs by women (and a few men) who were finding creative ways to make ends meet. I’m no die-hard, but I make an effort and this time of year makes me especially grateful for the minutes I put in here and there, that result in gifts I can give to others.

Recyclebankrecyclebank 3 is a website I’d visit anyway, but they don’t take that for granted. Their articles are quick reads, informative and entertaining, and reading them earns me points I can use to purchase things like gift cards, eco-friendly products, and magazine subscriptions. So, my desire to learn more about recycling and sustainability helped me earn a $15 gift card to Cabela’s (my brother-in-law’s favorite store). Merry Christmas, Matthew!


Swagbucksswagbucks logo is a website for this generation’s Evelyn Ryans. Daily polls, surveys, even simply surfing the web, using their search engine, will earn you points you can use to purchase all sorts of things, including Amazon gift cards, which is how we purchase most of our boys’ Christmas gifts every year.


ebatesEbates is almost too good to be true. Their site has links to gazillions of major retailers’ websites and if you click through Ebates to do your shopping, you get a percentage back in cash. They mail checks once a quarter, so the next one will come just in time to help pay the Christmas bills. Of course, if you’re blessed enough not have extra bills coming after Christmas, wouldn’t this make a nice gift to your favorite charity?!


Plus, don’t forget the easy ways you can support some of your favorite people and organizations, doing nothing more than you already do. If you shop at Target and have a Target card (debit or credit), make sure it’s linked to your favorite school, so a percentage of what you spend goes to those kids. I peeked at our elementary school’s progress and, since joining the program, we’ve earned more than $16,000! P.S. You don’t have to have school-age kids or even kids of your own to do this. Just pick a school – the one in your neighborhood; the school your nieces and nephews attend; the school you attended when you were younger; the one with the weirdest name; whatever.

Or maybe you can surprise someone you love with extra Kroger points. A friend of mine doesn’t live near a Kroger, but occasionally shops at one when she’s on the road. Knowing how much her dad loves his Kroger card, especially the discount it gives him on gas, she knows better than to waste those points. So, when the cashier asks for her Kroger card, she’ll give his phone number (which is the link to his Kroger card) and he gets the points from her shopping trip. There’s no extra effort on her part, but scads of joy on his!

Bottom line: thoughtfulness comes in all shapes and sizes (including a teeny, tiny Black Star of India). Why not make an effort and make someone’s day?

Note: The links in this post to Recyclebank, Swagbucks and Ebates are what’s known as referral links. If you sign up for any/all of these programs, using these links, I will be given “credit” (of some kind) for your signing up. I promise this won’t go to my head – just to the worthy causes mentioned above (grin!).

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