Dear Cheapskate: I just love your column, it has certainly helped me. My question has to do with wedding gifts. Recently I’ve been swamped with invitations. I was wondering if you had some good ideas for affordable gifts. I’m tempted to give money or gift certificates, even though they say that is rude. — Avid C., Texas
Dear Avid: If the couple is registered with a major retailer like Target or Macy’s, you’re in luck. It’s likely there are several affordable items on their list for, say, $50 or less. On the question of giving money, I checked with the Emily Post Institute for etiquette guidelines and learned that it is quite proper to give a wedding gift of cash or a gift certificate to the store where the couple is registered. How much should you spend? The institute says there is no rule; it is entirely up to you. So let your affection for the bride and groom, and your budget, be your guide. And thanks for your kind words!
Dear Cheapskate: About a month ago I called to order merchandise from a company I’ve done business with previously. The customer service lady asked, “Will we be putting that on your MasterCard again today?” as she rattled off my account number. Because I’m in the process of moving, I have a major concern that the next person living here might receive a catalog with my name and customer number, call up and place an order, only to be given my card number by some friendly customer service rep! — Stacy M., California
Dear Stacy: You know, I’d never thought about that, but it is certainly something to consider. Some companies do keep credit card numbers on file. You point out a very good reason to opt out from any retention of payment details. At least one company, Citigroup, has a virtual credit card number program available for some of their credit cards. The way it works, you go online and receive a substitute credit card number that is good for only that one transaction. Your real number is never revealed to the merchant and provides great protection when ordering online or by phone.
Dear Cheapskate: For years I have been coloring my hair with an $8 name-brand product. It looks pretty bad and I need professional help. But how can I save money on this? Salons in my area start at around $100 per session for color and highlights and it goes up from there. Thanks from a grateful reader. — Sheila M., New Jersey
Dear Sheila: If I were you, I would look in your area for a college of beauty, cosmetology school or community college with a cosmetology department that offers services to the public. Typically, you will pay for materials only. Students perform services under the close supervision of instructors. Try to get a recommendation from a satisfied customer or request a senior student who has demonstrated excellent colorizing skills. Hope that helps, and thanks for your kind words!