Dear Sara: I got a wedding invitation in the mail this week with a note that cash or gift cards are preferred. Is this in poor taste? -- C.M., California Dear C.M.: Call me a traditionalist, but I think it is in poor taste. However, I am not at all surprised by these types of requests and am not offended by them. I have seen them on birthday invitations, too. Gifts are not an obligation and shouldn't be mentioned in the invitation. They're voluntary and shouldn't be expected. A family member or friend in the wedding party can share that the couple prefers cash if he or she is directly asked. Another option that's more of a "meaningful gift" registry than what some might perceive as a "money grab" is rainfallofenvelopes.com. This site allows you to set up a registry that requests, gives and receives monetary gifts online. But it is a fact that times have changed. Many couples are including notes in their invitations that request cash gifts, and more and more people are finding it perfectly acceptable. Instead of being offended or judgmental, remember as the gift-giver that whether there's a request note or a gift registry, what you give is still up to you. Dear Sara: Where can one purchase coconut oil? In one of your recent articles, a reader mentioned that she used coconut oil for her feet, but she didn't mention where she got it from. -- Allison B., email Dear Allison: Check health food stores, Trader Joe's, Costco, Whole Foods and Wal-Mart. Many grocery stores carry it. If you have trouble finding it in the store, ask the manager. Dear Sara: I don't have curtains, but I want to keep my room as dark as possible for sleeping. White poster board is the only creative idea I can come up with, although it is not quite large enough for some of my windows. Any ideas? -- M.L., email Dear M.L.: Thin Styrofoam insulation can be used. You can cover it with fabric if you don't want it to look strange from the outside. You can get it with a foil coating. Some people use foil-covered cardboard, too. There are various blackout/darkening shades on the market. A sleep mask can be easier to manage. Tempur-Pedic offers a nice one. It's not the cheapest, but it has an adjustable Velcro and elastic closure, and it contours to your face. Dear Sara: I am going back to college in the fall, and I want to be super-prepared. I have the summer off from work and would like to spend that time doing things that will reduce my home workload while I am in school next year. I figure the more prepared I am, the less money I will waste. I could use some ideas on where my focus should be. I already plan to cook and freeze meals, and I hope to have around 150 meals at least mostly prepared. We have two full-sized freezers, so I have the space for this. I only have one teenager at home at this point, and no little kids. I am feeling overwhelmed at what lies ahead, but I suspect once I start and get into a routine, that will change. Some things I have already thought of to get ahead: • Schedule all doctor appointments for the year • Stock the pantry • Do any deep housecleaning that will be needed • Perform vehicle maintenance • Get Christmas and birthday shopping and wrapping partially done Do you have any other suggestions? -- C.B., Vermont Dear C.B.: You're doing well preparing. When I went back to school, I discovered the biggest challenge was family boundaries. Family members tend to forget that you need study time and that they need to pull together with chores and responsibilities and be supportive. You might want to seek out support from other students in a similar situation. Streamline your day/week and establish a routine now so you're used to it by fall. This will give you time to adjust anything that isn't working well, too.
(Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village (www.frugalvillage.com), a website that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut Street, Kansas City, MO, 64106, or email email@example.com.)