MONEY Holidays

If You Insist on Regifting, Here’s How to Do It

gift with card that has been amended from "To: Me" to read "To: You"
J.M. Guyon

If the present you're planning to pass along doesn't meet these 5 cardinal rules, put down that wrapping paper right now.

We’ve all been there: stuck with a present we don’t want and feeling the urge to repack that hideous whatever-it-is and pass it off to the next unsuspecting person on our holiday gift list.

Should we give in to temptation?

“Nine times out of ten, regifting will come back to bite you in the butt. It doesn’t have a lot of good spirit to it,” says Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and co-author of the most recent edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette.

She recommends that instead of repacking the item, you cut your losses and simply donate it, or at least be honest with your loved one: “Hey, I got two copies of this book for Christmas, would you like one of them?”

But if you feel that the unwanted present is actually a really good gift—just, you know, not for you—there are certain circumstances where recycling a gift is perfectly fine, says Diane Gottsman, owner of the Protocol School of Texas. “We’ve all gotten gifts that just didn’t work, and we all want to be budget-conscious and not wasteful.”

So if you’re going to regift this year, follow these five rules and nobody gets hurt.

1. Keep It Out of Your Social Circle

“You need to be 99% sure that the person you are giving the gift to and the person who gave it to you won’t ever find out about your regift,” Post says. To avoid getting caught out, don’t pass it along to anyone in your family if it came from another family member. Same goes for swapping within your circle of friends. Instead, take that ceramic pie bird from your mother-in-law and give it to your baker friend who lives in another state.

2. Have a Flawless Presentation

Make sure the item is in the original box and that both are in perfect, store-shelf condition. Anything that you’ve opened, tinkered with, or tested out shouldn’t be going to someone else, says Gottsman. And don’t even think about doing a bait and switch and putting it in a new box or different bag to make it look newer or more expensive than it actually is, she adds.

3. Skip Any Items That Aren’t New

Anything that’s been sitting in your closet for a while will not be to current taste and may look dated. You’ll also want to be sure no original gift tags are still stuck to the package and, if regifting a giftcard, that the amount listed matches what’s actually on the card.

4. Ditto the Unique and Homemade

“Do not regift any family heirlooms, anything homemade, or anything really unique,” says Gottsman. “No matter how much you hate it, you should respect the effort, thought, and meaning behind that gift.”

More generic and less expensive items, particularly perishables like chocolate or wine, lend themselves more easily to being passed along because we think of these hostess-type gifts as less heartfelt or meaningful than other presents anyway.

5. No Regifting the Ugly

Don’t think of your regift as a way of unloading unwanted items. “If you find the item useless, ugly, or in bad taste, why give it to someone else?” asks Gottsman.

Your recipient still needs to feel that thought and effort went into their gift—even if it wasn’t yours. “You need to really think about the person who will be receiving your regift and be sure that it is an item the person would actually want.”

If the present you’re thinking of regifting doesn’t meet all the requirements on this list, put down that giftwrap right now. Return it, donate it, or find a special place for it in your closet so you can easily pull it out next year when your mother-in-law visits.

MONEY Taxes

10 Last-Minute Ways to Save on Your Taxes This Year

woman donating clothes
Clean out your closet by Dec. 31 and cut your tax bill. JGI/Jamie Grill—Getty Images

In between your holiday shopping and New Year's plans, make time for these time-sensitive tax moves.

You know that the window to finish your holiday shopping is closing fast. Well, so is the time you have to cut your 2014 tax bill. Before you pop open the champagne on New Year’s Eve, make sure you’ve ticked off these valuable tax tasks.

1. Be Charitable Now

Individual Americans donate some $250 billion dollars to charity every year, according to the annual Giving USA report, and December is high season for giving.

By donating to charity, you can trim next your tax bill next April. You must itemize to get a write-off, and the organization must be a qualified charity. Check at IRS.gov.

Then you simply need to get a check in the mail by Dec. 31. Or put the gift on a credit card before year-end and pay the bill in January. Make sure you have a receipt, be it a cancelled check or your credit-card statement. But if you donate $250 or more, you must get a written record from the charity.

If you give away clothes or stuff from around the house, you’ll be able to deduct the fair market value, as long as the goods are in good condition or better.

“The end of the year is a great time to donate some items to charity,” says financial planner Trent Porter. “Your good deed will be rewarded with a bigger tax refund and a clean closet”

2. Be Charitable Later

If you’re in search of a big deduction in 2014, but you’re not ready to support a single charity now, here’s a good option. With as little as $5,000, you can set up a donor advised fund with a brokerage of fund company such as Fidelity or Schwab. You get the upfront tax savings, the money is invested, and you can then donate a portion of the fund to the charities of your choice for years to come.

“These accounts make it easy to use appreciated securities and other assets to fund your philanthropy, thus avoiding paying capital gains tax on the appreciation,” says financial planner Eric Lewis.

3. Invest in Education

A year of tuition and fees at even a public college will cost you more than $23,000 today. You need all the tax breaks you can get.

If you’re saving for school in a 529 college savings plan, that money grows tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free as long as the money goes toward higher ed.

You can’t deduct those contributions on your federal return. But in 34 states and the District of Columbia, you can qualify for at least a partial deduction or a credit on your state tax return, as long as you fund the account by Dec. 31. Look up your state’s rules at savingforcollege.com.

4. Speed Up Deductions

A popular strategy for cutting your tax bill is to move up as many deductible expenses as you can. This is especially smart if your income will be high this year—say you cashed out winning investments or sold property.

One simple way is to donate more to charity. You can also make your January mortgage payment in December, which will give you extra interest to deduct. You could also prepay your property taxes, or send in estimated state and local taxes that you would otherwise pay in January. Or pay next year’s professional dues and subscriptions to trade publications.

Don’t employ this strategy, however, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2015. In that case, the deductions will be more valuable to you next year.

5. Top Off Retirement Plans

In 2014, you can save $17,500 in a 401(k) plan, or $23,000 if you’re 50 or older. If you haven’t saved that much, see if your employer will let you make an extra lump-sum contribution before Dec. 31. If you can’t, make sure you hit the max next year by raising your contribution rate now. The limit will rise to $18,000 in 2015, or $24,000 if you’re 50 or older.

You have until next April 15 to fund a traditional or Roth IRA for 2014, but the sooner you save the more time you’ll have to get the benefit of tax-deferred growth. What’s more, planning ahead might make for better investment choices. A recent Vanguard study found that last-minute IRA investors are more likely to simply park the money in cash and leave it there.

You can contribute $5,500 dollars to an IRA in 2014, or $6,500 if you’re 50 or older.

If you run your own business and want to save in a solo 401(k), you must open that plan by Dec. 31, though you can still fund it through next April 15.

6. Look for Losers

Nearly six years into this bull market, long-term stock investors are sitting on big gains. Maybe you cashed in a profitable stock or mutual fund this year. Or you trimmed back your winners when you rebalanced your portfolio. Unless you sold within a retirement account, you’ll face a tax bill come April. And the best way to cut that is to offset your investment gains with investment losses.

By pairing gains with losses, you can avoid paying capital gains taxes. If you have more losses than gains, you can use up to $3,000 worth to offset your ordinary income, and then save the rest of the losses for future years.

However, don’t let tax avoidance get in the way of sound investing. You should sell a stock or fund before year-end because it doesn’t fit with your investing strategy, not just because you have a loss.

If you want to buy the investment back, you must wait 31 days. Do so sooner, and the IRS will disallow the write-off (what’s called the “wash sale” rule).

7. Part With Big Winners

If you donate winning stocks, bonds, or mutual funds directly to a charity, you can enjoy two tax breaks. You won’t owe any taxes on your capital gains. And you can deduct the full market value of the investment on your 2014 return.

8. Tap Your IRA

With a tax-deferred plan like an IRA, once you hit age 70 1/2 you must take out some money every year. You have to take your first distribution by April 1 the year after you turn 70 1/2. Then the annual deadline for your required minimum distribution, or RMD, is Dec. 31.

This rule doesn’t apply to Roth IRAs, and if you have a 401(k) plan and you’re still working, you can usually wait until you do retire to start withdrawing money.

The IRS minimum is based on your account balance at the end of last year and your current life expectancy. Your broker or adviser can help you with the calculation, but you’re responsible for making the withdrawal. If you fail to do so, you’ll owe a 50% penalty on the amount you should have withdrawn.

You can also donate your RMD directly to charity and avoid paying income taxes on the withdrawal. In mid-December, Congress extended that rule, which had expired, for at least one more year.

9. Spread the Wealth

Making outright gifts is a smart move tax-wise, says Ann Arbor financial planner Mo Vidwans. Your heirs are less likely to face estate taxes down the road—and you can help out your kids or grandchildren when they need it the most. In 2014, you can give as many people as you want up to $14,000 tax-free. If both you and your spouse both make gifts, that’s $28,000.

If you’re funding 529 plan, you can frontload five years worth of gifts and put $70,000 into a child’s account now.

10. Pay Taxes Now and Never Again

With a traditional individual retirement account, your contributions are tax deductible, but you’ll owe income taxes on your withdrawals. A Roth IRA is the opposite: You invest after-tax money, but your withdrawals are 100% tax free.

Before year-end, you can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. You’ll have to pay taxes on the conversion in 2014. But then you’ll never owe taxes on that money again.

Converting to a Roth is an especially smart move if your income was down this year and you’re in a low tax bracket. “If you have a low-income year, do a Roth conversion,” says New York City financial planner Annette Clearwaters. “Whenever I see a tax return with negative taxable income I cringe, because it’s such a wasted opportunity.”

And if you later change your mind, you have until the extended tax-filing deadline next October to switch back to a traditional IRA. Clearwaters recommends undoing any conversion that puts you above the 15% federal tax bracket.

Update: This post was updated to reflect Congress’s extension of the rule allowing for direct charitable donations of RMDs.

MONEY Health Care

5 Things You Need to Know for Today’s Health Care Coverage Deadline

Today is the deadline to buy individual health insurance if you want to have coverage on Jan. 1.

Since open enrollment began on Nov. 15, almost 1.4 million people have signed up for health coverage through the federal insurance exchange, and another 183,000 through state exchanges. With nearly 7 million people already participating, signups are on pace to meet the government’s projection of 9 million enrollees in 2015, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

If you’re one of the many who still need to enroll for 2015 coverage, here are five keys things you need to know before you visit your state’s health exchange website.

1. If you want health insurance on Jan. 1, you must enroll today. You still have until Feb. 15 to buy a 2015 plan, but you will have a gap in coverage if you enroll after today’s deadline. Coverage begins on Feb. 1 for people who enroll between Jan. 1 and Jan. 15. Sign up between Jan. 16 and the end of the month, and coverage won’t begin until March 1.

2. Some states are giving you more time and extending the deadline to get coverage by Jan. 1. For example, New York and Idaho’s exchanges will allow users to sign up until Dec. 20. To find out whether you’re eligible for an extension, visit your state’s marketplace exchange website through healthcare.gov.

3. You’ll be automatically re-enrolled if you bought on an exchange last year and do not renew coverage by today. If the health plan you signed up for is no longer offered, insurers can automatically enroll you in another policy similar to the one you have now. But you can opt out of any plan you’re automatically enrolled in and choose another up until Feb. 15.

4. Skip automatic enrollment and shop again, even if you liked your 2014 policy. The Department of Health and Human Services found that more than 70% of people who currently have insurance through the health law’s federal online marketplace could pay less for comparable coverage if they are willing to switch plans.

5. Costs have changed. Many plans will have out-of-pocket spending limits that are lower than the maximums allowed under the health law, according to an analysis by Avalere Health. But the tradeoff for those lower maximums may be a higher deductible, so be sure to pay attention to both figures when choosing your plan. You can also expect to see your premium change. Depending on where you live, that may be a good or bad thing. The premium for the second-lowest-cost silver plan in Nashville jumped 8.7%, while it dropped 15.6% in Denver, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

MONEY Ask the Expert

How to Pick a Medigap Policy That’s Right for You

140603_FF_QA_Obamacare_illo_1
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: “I’m looking into Medigap insurance policies with very limited success. The information is very scarce. It is difficult to choose an insurance company. What criteria should I use to decide among carriers?” — Ray, Henderson, Nev.

A: Medigap, an insurance policy that supplements Medicare, helps pay for some of the medical costs that Medicare doesn’t cover, such as your co-payments, co-insurance, and deductible. Some policies even help with services Medicare doesn’t touch, like medical care outside the U.S.

You can choose from 10 standard Medigap policies, each named for a letter in the alphabet. The government mandates what features the 10 plans must offer, but the policies are sold through private insurers. (If you live in Massachusetts, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, the standard benefits on the Medigap policies sold in your state differ.)

Medigap Plan A is the most basic policy, while Plan F offers the most extensive coverage, picking up almost all of your out-of-pocket expenses. Plan F is also the most popular, accounting for 55% of plans sold, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans, the health insurance industry trade group.

The fastest growing Medigap policy, Plan N, is a newer option that has cost-sharing requirements but is typically less expensive than Plan F.

To shop for a Medigap plan, start with the Medigap policy search tool at the Medicare website. Enter your zip code, and you’ll see the standardized plans available to you, details about what they cover, the estimated costs, and a list of insurers selling those plans in your area. For price quotes, you’ll have to call each company directly.

Usually the only difference between same-letter policies is cost—and the price range can be shockingly large. According to a survey of rates by Weiss Ratings, the annual premium on a Medigap Plan F ranged from $162 to $5,674.

“I recommend that people get Plan F if they can afford it because it offers the most coverage,” says Fred Riccardi, client services director for the Medicare Rights Center. If you can’t swing a Plan F, pick the option that offers the most coverage within your budget.

Once you settle on a letter, you can shop on price alone. “Since the policy itself is standardized, premiums are really the only thing that will vary across insurance companies,” says Riccardi. “The only reason I see people go with a more expensive policy is if they prefer a certain insurance company.”

However, you do need to pay attention to the insurer’s pricing system too. Some plans are “issue age,” meaning the premiums rise with medical inflation. Others are “attained age” policies, with the price increasing each year with your age as well as medical inflation. You’ll also see “community rate” policies, which charge every policyholder the same premium regardless of age.

Attained age policies may appear to be the cheapest initially, but in the long run they could cost you more. “People should be aware that if they buy an attained age rated policy, their premiums will increase as they get older,” says Riccardi. “They may be better off considering a community rated or issue age rated policy if these options are available in their state.”

To get the lowest price and ensure that you won’t be denied, apply for a policy during the six-month open enrollment period that begins the month you turn 65, says Riccardi. Under federal law, insurers cannot deny you coverage during that window, and they must offer you the best available rates regardless of your health.

If you’re shopping for a Medigap plan outside of this window, you can be turned down or charged more for a pre-existing condition, unless you live in a state that offers extra consumer protections.

MONEY Holidays

8 Smart Ways to Save When Buying Holiday Gifts for a Big Family

Buying christmas presents for a big family
Vstock LLC—Getty Images

You've made your list, checked it twice, and—my god, are there really that many names on it?! Keep your budget from being scrooged by your generosity with these strategies.

If you’ve got a lot of people to buy for, you’re probably used to watching your holiday budget spiral out of control.

The costs of purchasing presents for a long list adds up fast. The average American expects to spend $720 this year, according to a Gallup poll, and a quarter of people will spend more than $1,000. If you’ve got a huge extended family or a big coterie of gift-exchanging friends, you may have found that your own expenses surpass even that not-so-grand figure.

And many people embrace the giving spirit and are generous to a fault: Nearly four in 10 people admit to feeling pressured to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season.

To help spare you some pain when January’s credit card bill arrives, MONEY asked a few smart mom bloggers to share some of the cost-cutting strategies they use for their own gift giving. Cue the elves!

1. Cut Out the Adults

“Last year we agreed with my brother and sister-in-law to only exchange gifts for the kids. It was the start of something wonderful. We have agreed to do it again this year, and I also reached out to another family-in-law this year to do the same. We have reduced our present load by at least four, saving about $150 to $200—as well as the weeks-long process of my husband mulling over the perfect present while vetoing everything I suggest!” —Elissha Park, The Broke Mom’s Guide to Everything

2. Rotate Recipients

“On one side of the family, we rotate between the four siblings and their families as to whom we give gifts. My three kids enjoy coming up with a theme and putting together a ‘family gift’ for their cousins.”—Gina Lincicum, MoneywiseMoms

3. Agree to Get Crafty

“On the other side of our family, we do homemade gifts—still sticking to a dollar amount because it’s easy to overspend even with craft supplies. These have been some of our family’s favorite gifts, like the CDs of favorite kid songs my son made for his uncles when they became new dads!” —Gina Lincicum, MoneywiseMoms

4. Think In Tiers

“It’s so easy to go overboard from year to year. That’s why I use a three-tiered gift-giving system: Tier 1 is family. We do gift exchanges with each individual person in our immediate family, and set a budget for each person. Tier 2 is friends. We typically do a single-family gift for our friends, like movie tickets with free babysitting or a fun new game for them to play together. Tier 3 is neighbors and co-workers. I create homemade chocolate goodies in handmade packages.

Once I establish my budgets for each tier and the people in them, I create a cash envelope for that tier. I only spend cash on what I buy for gifts, supplies and even wrapping paper. Once the cash in the envelope is gone, it’s gone!” —Kim Anderson, Thrifty Little Mom

5. Focus on Experiences

“Meaningful gifts don’t have to be extravagant and costly. Consider giving experience gifts—whether that means buying tickets for a ball game or making plans to take the kids to a matinee movie. Sometimes, the most remembered gifts are those that took thought, not money.” —Crystal Paine, Money Saving Mom

6. Pick One and Be Done

“We often employ the Secret Santa method for the adults in our extended family, because with all the siblings and parents things can add up pretty quickly! Rather than try to spend $50 on everyone in each family—which would total $500—we each pick one name to buy for, with a set price range of $100 to $150 per person. This cuts our costs pretty much in half. Plus, this method makes sure that the adults each get a nice bigger gift rather than a whole bunch of smaller gifts. (We don’t include kids in Secret Santa—under 18 means you get a gift!) It adds a fun element, too, seeing who got who and what they got them!” —Scarlet Paolicchi, Family Focus Blog

7. Set Aside Cash

“As a mom of five boys, planning ahead for the holidays is an absolute must. Four of my kids are teenagers, and while their wish lists may not be as long as they were when they were younger, the price of their toys has certainly gone up.

To combat the heavy hit the holiday season takes on our budget, my husband and I decide in January how much we want to spend on each child (as well as on ourselves) for the holidays and birthdays for the upcoming year.

We then take the total, divide it by 12, and put that amount into a special savings account every month. By putting away a small amount each month, we aren’t met with panic when the holiday season is upon us.”—Candace Anderson, Frugal Mom

8. Block Up the Chimney

“Decide with your family to forgo gifts all together. Volunteer Christmas morning so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything, and instead of exchanging gifts, take some of the money you all would have spent and use it for an experience together.” —Anna Newell Jones, And Then We Saved

MONEY Holidays

How to Get the Best Deal on Your Christmas Tree

Family carrying christmas tree they have just cut down
Cultura/Erin Lester—Getty Images

Decking the halls can be expensive, but there are plenty of options for finding a good deal on your Christmas tree.

While the tree is the centerpiece of most families’ Christmas decor, overspending on something that will be thrown away in three to four weeks doesn’t make much sense, especially in light of the staggering gift, food and travel costs that also need paying this time of year.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Americans spent more than $1 billion on fresh, farm-grown trees in 2013. The reported mean average price paid was around $35, but that can easily triple depending on the size and variety of the tree you pick and your location, or if you’re one of the families who decorate more than one tree at holiday time.

Here are five easy ways you can score that perfect tree for the price of Charlie Brown’s reject.

Cut Your Own

If you live near a wooded area, consider chopping down your own foliage. Check the USDA’s Forest Service website to see if there are any tree-cutting spots at a nearby national forest. Permits typically run between $4 and $15 (some places may charge an additional fee for the tree itself). Of course, the tradeoff for such a cheap tree is the extra time and effort it will take you to saw it down and cart it home—but it’s an adventure!

Shop Wholesale

If you’d rather someone do the legwork for you, look for a Christmas tree wholesaler who also will sell to individuals. Wholesalers often operate their own lots, and some even offer online ordering of their trees. You save by cutting out the middleman. The Christmas Tree Farm Network has a directory of farmers by state across the country; some even offer online ordering.

Shop Around

If you’re willing to take the time, you can do well by comparison shopping. Use the National Christmas Tree Association’s locator tool to find tree sellers in your area. “Each lot operates and prices differently,” says Rick Dungey, spokesman for the association. “I knew of one lot that gave a discount on Wednesdays since that was the slowest sale day, but it all depends on the individual seller.” Vendors also charge for trees differently: Some calculate the price by the foot, others charge a flat fee for any tree. Depending on the type and size of the tree you want, you may get a better deal going with one pricing method over the other. And while it may seem counter to the spirit of the holiday, feel free to haggle; sellers are often willing to negotiate.

Try a Different Species

There are dozens of types of Christmas trees you can choose from, each with its own unique features. Some, like the Noble fir, have superstrong branches that can hold your sturdiest ornaments. The Balsam fir gives off the sweetest scents, while the Fraser fir holds its needles the longest. Some species can be much more expensive, depending on popularity, growing time, and how far the trees had to be shipped. If you really want to save, skip the firs altogether and opt for the cheaper Scotch pine.

Wait for the Last Minute

The closer we get to Christmas, the cheaper you’ll find a tree. The steepest discounts will start four or five days before the holiday. Of course, by then the selection will be much more limited, and you’ll have less time to enjoy it. But if you’re a family that traditionally decorates the tree on or close to Christmas Eve, then this method is best for you.

Before You Leave the Lot

Whatever tree you buy, there are two keys things you’ll need to do before you leave the lot to make sure you’ve got a tree that will last the season:

Grab a tree branch and pull it through your hand, says Dungey. You want the green needles to still be firmly attached and for the branch to bend. “Look for pliability. If the branch snaps or seems brittle, it is already dried out,” he says. “You can tell when a tree is past the point of no return, it is all snap, crackle, pop. But if you’re unsure, just move on and buy another tree.”

Have the lot make a fresh horizontal cut, about a quarter-inch to a half-inch wide, off the bottom of the tree stump. This will help the plant take in water and stay fresh longer. “You’ll want to get the cut surface into water within three to six hours,” says Dungey. “Too much air will get into the tree if it is left out longer, and it will inhibit its ability to absorb water.”

Once You Get the Tree Home

The most important thing you can do to make sure the tree stays green is invest in a good tree stand—one that is stable, attaches to the tree, and holds plenty of water, ideally a gallon. “Even small trees can absorb a lot of water in a short time, and you want to make sure that the water level in the stand never gets below that fresh cut you had made,” says Dungey.

You’ll also want to be careful about where you set up the tree. Avoid placing it near any heat sources like vents, stoves, fans, or fireplaces. Hot blowing air will dry it out and make it brittle. You’ll also want to avoid placing it in front of a window that gets a lot of sunlight, espeically one that faces south, says Dungey. “Sunlight and hot air will destroy your plant.”

MONEY Thanksgiving

9 Food Blogger-Approved Thanksgiving Leftover Hacks

When you're tired of turkey sandwiches -- and you know you will be -- we've got you covered with tasty alternative ways to use your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Still got pounds of turkey leftover from your Thanksgiving feast? Or a whole bowl of cranberry sauce? Don’t let your extras go to waste. This year, instead of trying to eat ten turkey sandwiches the weekend after, give one of these nine dishes, all crafted and tested by top food bloggers to use up their own Turkey Day food, a try.

 

  • Thanksgiving Croquettes

    Thanksgiving Croquettes
    Thanksgiving Croquettes TheRusticPlate

    Recycle several of your Turkey Day dishes with this croquette recipe by Serena Cosmo of the cooking blog, Rustic Plate. These small pan-toasted rolls are made from your leftover mashed potatoes and roasted turkey, and feature — surprise! — an oozy center of cranberry sauce and cream cheese.

  • Turkey Gumbo

    Work your baggies of take-home turkey into this light and mild version of gumbo created by the Steamy Kitchen food blog. The tomatoes, okra, and Polish sausage in this dish will serve as a nice reprieve from the typical Thanksgiving flavors.

  • Spicy Turkey Cranberry Pretzel-Wiches

    Spicy Turkey Cranberry Pretzel-Wiches
    Spicy Turkey Cranberry Pretzel-Wiches

    We all make sandwiches from our leftover turkey, but why not try a more adventurous take on the Black Friday classic? This recipe by $5 Dinners uses up leftover cranberry sauce as well as turkey, and requires only two other ingredients.

  • Halal Cart Style Turkey and Rice

    If you’ve visited Manhattan, you’ve seen the food carts on the street selling Halal-style chicken and rice prepared right there on the cart. But you don’t need to be in New York to get the same taste. The Steamy Kitchen food blog has created a clever hack recipe you can do at home using your leftover turkey.

  • Trashed Up Barbecue Turkey Pizza

    Trashed Up Barbecue Turkey Pizza
    Trashed Up Barbecue Turkey Pizza foodiewithfamily

    By the second or third day of leftovers, you’ll probably be dreaming of ordering pizza just for the sake of change. But you can get all that melted cheesy goodness and still make use of those pounds of turkey. This free-style recipe from the blog Foodie with Family calls for all the pizza classics like crispy crust and multiple cheese varieties but “trashes” it up with BBQ sauce, olives, onions, cilantro, and cubes of avocado.

     

  • Sweet Potato Pancakes With Cranberry Maple Syrup

    Still got mounds of mashed sweet potatoes? Too many spoonfuls of cranberry sauce? Try this recipe by Erin Chase of the cooking blog $5 Dinners for a sweet and easy breakfast-take on Thanksgiving flavors.

     

  • Turkey Pho

    141126_FF_BloggerLeftover_FoodieFamily
    Turkey Pho foodiewithfamily

    Leave behind the classic flavors of Thanksgiving and work your leftover turkey into a warm, spicy Vietnamese noodle soup with this recipe by food blog Foodie with Family. Add a couple of jalapeno slices, sriracha, and hoisin sauce to the bowl and you’ll barely realize you’re still eating turkey all these days later.

  • Golden Raisin-Apple Stuffing Cups

    Reinvent your leftover stuffing by turning it into bite-size morsels with any extra pie crust you may have from baking pumpkin or apple pies for the holiday. For advice on how to form your flaky pie cups — or ideas for jazzing up your stand-by stuffing recipe with a few extra ingredients — see $5 Dinner‘s recipe.

     

  • Pumpkin, Sage, & Crème Fraîche Pappardelle

    Noodle dish

    Here’s one that was definitely not served at the first Thanksgiving feast: Try turning your leftover pumpkin puree or even sweet potato casserole into a creamy pasta sauce with this recipe from the food blog Two Red Bowls. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, the recipe includes guidance on making your own noodles.

MONEY Food & Beverage

The Staggering Cost of a Hipster Thanksgiving — and Other Pricey Alternatives to the Classic Feast

Overhead view of Thanksgiving feast
Marcus Nilsson—Gallery Stock

The average Thanksgiving dinner for a party of 10 costs about $50. But who wants a holiday meal that's merely average?

The traditional Thanksgiving dinner feast can be very affordable. On a per-person basis, the average meal easily costs less than bringing the crew to a fast food joint for supper.

But the total price of your Thanksgiving spread can vary by hundreds depending on where you shop, what you’re buying, and the overall quality and prestige of the meat, sides, and dessert, as well as how much time and effort you’re willing to devote to preparing your feast.

To give you an idea of what some different Thanksgiving dining styles will cost you, we’ve rounded up some sample pricing for groups with varying tastes and budgets–including some options for those who don’t want to cook at all.

The Average American
For a classic Thanksgiving dinner, plus leftovers, the American Farm Bureau Federation estimates you’ll spend $49.41 this year to feed a party of 10, including a 16-pound turkey plus bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, peas, rolls with butter, carrots and celery, pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream, and coffee and milk. Even though the wholesale price of turkey has soared for supermarkets this year, widespread price promotions have kept overall costs down for consumers, and the bureau’s estimated total for Thanksgiving dinner is only 37¢ higher than last year. That averages out to under $5 per person, which is still quite a deal.

What’s more, there are easy ways to cut costs even lower. If you were to take advantage of coupons, sales, and supermarket promotion, you could spend a lot less and still provide a feast. Wal-Mart estimates that you could buy the same menu for just $32.64 by shopping at its stores.

The Hipster
If you were to upgrade that conventional turkey to an organic, free-range one, the price jumps from $21.65 to well over $100 at specialty shops. A 16-pound turkey from Fleisher’s Pasture Raised Meats in New York City rings in at $127.84, or $7.99 a pound vs. the roughly $1.35 per pound for a supermarket bird. Add in organic, locally-sourced vegetables and dairy for your meal, and the costs for sides rise at least $15 over the Farm Bureau’s projection, according to our estimates. Altogether, a healthy, hipster-approved, fully organic Thanksgiving dinner for 10 will cost in the neighborhood of $170.

The Vegan
For a vegan thanksgiving, the “turkey” costs would be similar to that for an organic free-range bird. The soy-based Gardein Stuffed Holiday Roast, picked by Slate as the tastiest of the the faux turkey bunch, costs about $8 a pound. The costs for vegan side dishes and desserts would only be about $5 more than those of the Farm Bureau’s classic menu. Combine the price for 16 pounds of faux turkey and all the trimmings and dessert, and a 10-person vegan Thanksgiving dinner costs about $155.

The 1%
Upgrading to a purebred heritage turkey–which are leaner than standard supermarket birds, take twice as long to reach market weight, and have lineage that can be traced back to the 1800s–will cost upwards of $10 per pound for the meat portion of the meal. Factor that in, along with similarly upgraded sides and desserts, and Thanksgiving dinner for 10 will easily run $250 or more.

The Lazy Non-Cook
Not into cooking at all? Prepared meals save you hassle and time, but you’ll pay for it in more ways than simply losing out on the quality of home cooking. A prepared meal for 12 people from Boston Market, which includes an 11-pound turkey, spinach artichoke dip appetizer, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry relish, vegetable stuffing, dinner rolls and two pies, rings in at $99.99. That’s roughly double the Farm Bureau’s estimate for a home-cooked meal–but perhaps it’s money well spent if you’re hopeless in the kitchen or simply don’t have the time.

Supermarkets will happily do the cooking for you as well, for a price. A meal prepared by Whole Foods Market for 12 people, including a fully cooked 14- to 16-pound standard turkey, stuffing, cranberry orange relish, mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy, costs $200. An organic cooked turkey will add an extra $50, more or less, pushing the total up to $250 or more.

MONEY Ask the Expert

Do You Really Need Medigap Insurance If You’re in Good Health?

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: We are in good health and have a Medigap Plan N for 2014. With same expected health in 2015, do we need anything more than Medicare A, B, and D plans? —Norbert & Sue

A: Medigap, a private insurance policy that supplements Medicare, picks up where Medicare leaves off, helping you cover co-payments, coinsurance, and deductibles. Some policies also pay for services Medicare doesn’t touch, like medical care outside the U.S.

This additional insurance is not necessary, but, says Fred Riccardi, client services director at the Medicare Rights Center, “if you can afford to, have a Medigap policy. It provides protection for high out-of-pocket costs, especially if you become ill or need to receive more care as you age.” (If you already have some supplemental retiree health insurance through a former employer or union, you may be able to skip Medigap; you also don’t need a Medigap policy if you chose a Medicare Advantage Plan, or Medicare Part C.)

If you purchase Medigap, you’ll owe a monthly premium on top of what you pay for Medicare Part B. The cost ranges from a median annual premium of $936 for Medigap Plan K coverage to $1,952 for Plan F coverage, according to a survey of insurers by Weiss Ratings. The median cost for your plan N was $1,332 a year.

Even if you didn’t end up needing your Medicap policy this year, however, think twice before you drop it.

If you skip signing up when you’re first eligible, or if you buy a Medigap plan and later drop it, you might not be able to get another policy down the road, or you may have to pay far more for the coverage.

Under federal law, you’re guaranteed the right to buy a Medigap policy during a six-month open enrollment period that begins the month you turn 65 and join Medicare, says Riccardi. (To avoid a gap in coverage, you can apply earlier.) During this time, insurance companies cannot deny you coverage, and they must offer you the best available rates regardless of your health. You can compare the types of Medigap plans at Medicare.gov.

You also have a guaranteed right to buy most Medigap policies within 63 days of losing certain types of health coverage, including private group health insurance and a Medigap policy or Medicare Advantage plan that ends its coverage. You also have this fresh window if you joined a Medicare Advantage plan when you first became eligible for Medicare and dropped out within the first 12 months.

Most states follow the federal rules, but some, such as New York and Connecticut, allow you to buy a policy any time, says Riccardi. Call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program to learn more.

Outside of one of these federally or state-protected windows, you’ll be able to buy a policy only if you find a company willing to sell you one.And they can charge you a higher premium based on your health status, and you may have to wait six months before the policy will cover pre-existing conditions.

MONEY Debt

How to Protect Yourself From the “Epidemic” of Sleazy Debt Collectors

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jvphoto—Alamy

Some debt collectors are using illegal means to get payments. Here's how to spot such sketchy behavior and outsmart them at their own game.

Unscrupulous debt collectors, some of whom pose as law enforcement and threaten arrests to collect payments, have “become something of an epidemic,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.

On Tuesday, Bharara announced that seven people who worked for an Atlanta-area company, Williams, Scott & Associates, were arrested for their “ruthlessly persistent” payment collecting methods.

He said the workers threatened people with arrest if they didn’t pay the debt; falsely claimed to work for the Justice Department, the U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI and sheriffs’ departments; sent people made up documents designed to look like the government had sanctioned them; and used bogus legal terminology, such as: “The statute of limitations on your civil legal rights has expired.”

These unlawful methods netted the debt collection agency more than $4 million from 6,000 victims.

If you’re one of the many Americans with delinquent credit-card, hospital, or other bills, don’t let a collection agency bully you into accepting its repayment terms. Here are 9 ways you can turn the tables on them and get the upper hand in negotiations.

1. Don’t Get Emotional

When a debt collector calls, he’s trying to assess your ability to pay and may attempt to get you to say or agree to things you shouldn’t. You’d be best served by keeping the initial call short and businesslike. Collection agencies are required by law to send you a written notice of how much you owe five days after initially contacting you. Wait to engage with them until after you receive this letter.

2. Make Sure the Debt Is Really Yours

If the debt sounds unfamiliar, check your credit reports. Request a report from each of the three credit bureaus for free from annualcreditreport.com and scan for any incorrect data. A study by the Federal Trade Commission found that one in 20 consumers could have errors in their reports, and 24% of the mistakes people reported were about a debt collection that wasn’t actually theirs. (Learn more about how to fix costly credit report errors.)

3. Ask for Proof

Once you get written notice, contact the debt collector. If you are disputing the debt because of an error or identity theft, send a letter to the collector by certified mail within 30 days of receiving your notice stating that you will not pay and why. Also notify each of the three credit bureaus by mail, explaining the error and including documentation so that the problem can be removed from your report. If you are unsure about whether you owe money or how much you owe, ask the collector by certified mail for verification of the debt. That should silence the calls for a while; collectors must suspend activity until they’ve sent you verification of the debt.

4. Resist the Scare Tactics

Some debt collectors may try a range of tricks to get you to pay up, but it’s important to know your rights. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, collectors cannot use abusive or obscene language, harass you with repeated calls, call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., call you at work if you’ve asked them to stop, talk to a third party about your debt, claim to be an attorney or law enforcement, threaten to sue unless they intend to take legal action, or threaten to garnish wages or seize property unless they actually intend to. If the agency commits a violation, file a complaint with the FTC and your state Attorney General, and consider talking to an attorney about bringing your own private action against the collector for breaking the law.

5. Be Wary of Fees

Typically, the contract you agreed to when you took out the loan or signed up for the line of credit states how much interest a collector can charge on your debt. Most states have laws in place capping the amount of interest agencies can tack on. Check the balance the original creditor listed as “charged off” on your credit report. If there is a big increase in the amount the collector wants, consult your original contract. Your verification letter may also give you more info about how fees are calculated. If you believe the debt has been inflated, reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which might be able to resolve your issue with the collector.

6. Negotiate

Collection agencies will push you to pay the full debt at once, but if that is not an option for you, tell them how much you can afford to pay and ask if they will settle for that amount. If they accept these terms, get confirmation of the deal in writing before you pay. This way, you avoid any miscommunication about the total to be paid and time frame for the payments.

7. Call In Backup

If you and the debt collector can’t reach an agreement and it appears likely they will take you to court, consider hiring an attorney. While the fees and costs of doing so may be prohibitive, the collection agency is more likely to drop the case in favor of easier targets, a.k.a debtors without attorney representation.

8. Know the Time Limits

Creditors may imply that court action can be taken against if you don’t pay up, and while that’s true, there is only a certain window of time—typically three to six years—in which a creditor can sue you over the debt. While you’ll still owe the money, and collectors may still call about it, creditors cannot take you to court over it once it’s past your state’s statute of limitations. Statutes vary widely by state and type of debt, so check your state’s specific rules if the collector is calling about older debts.

9. Don’t Get Tripped Up By Your Own Good Intentions

Collectors can’t legally “re-age” your debt by giving it a new delinquency date, but you can inadvertently extend the statute of limitations or restart the clock in some states by making a payment on old debt, agreeing to an extended repayment plan, or even acknowledging that the debts is yours.

More Help for Conquering Debt:

3 Simple Steps to Get Out of Debt

7 Ways to Improve Your Credit

Which Debts Should I Pay Off First?

 

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