Monday, April 7, 2014

Money Saving Tip: share your family history for free!

Genealogy is not a cheap hobby; I'm sure that's not news to anyone here. Even the most basic records can cost $15-$20 apiece, visits to repositories usually require both travel and time off work, and an subscription could very easily break the bank on a tight budget.

And of course, doing the research is only half the battle. Many family historians want to share what they've found, an endeavor that adds another level of expenses. There are charts to buy, books to have printed, photographs to make copies of.

So today I'd like to share a tip that I've used frequently, to preserve and share various aspects of my family history at little to no cost:

Sign up for e-mails from photo printing sites.

The "Promotions" tab in my Gmail inbox is full of things I never read, and deals that just aren't that good. The GAP might sometimes offer 20% off, but you still have to pay the other 80%. They just never give out free, no-strings-attached shirts. (I would be totally on board if they did!)

However, I read at least the title of every single e-mail I get from Shutterfly and CVS Photo, because they offer freebies all the time.

I've gotten two offers for a free 8x8 photo book from Shutterfly in the past 6 months or so, and every once in a while, CVS Photo sends me an e-mail saying "We miss you!" and offering a free 8x10 photo print or collage to entice me to use their service again. Last fall, they sent an e-mail titled "We never do this!" that offered a free photo book, and while it's true that I've never seen them do that before, now that I know it's a possibility, I'm keeping an extra sharp eye out!

The beautiful thing about CVS Photo is that when they say free, they really mean FREE. Not "free, but you still have to pay taxes on the regular price." Not "free, except for shipping and handling." Just FREE, as long as you choose to pick it up at your local CVS. (If you want it mailed to you, shipping charges will still apply.)

I haven't always used this for strictly genealogical purposes, but I have used it to preserve and share photos of important events in our lives, memorialize deceased loved ones, and gather pictures of our recent (very genealogically oriented) trip to Ireland. And really, isn't that all genealogy, anyway?

Check out my photo book of our Ireland trip, below!

Shutterfly photo books offer a wide range of artful designs and embellishments to choose from.

This photo book, while quite nice in its own way, is not exactly a perfect specimen. These "free book" codes tend to last for 3 days or so, and I started putting this book together approximately 2.5 days after receiving the code in an e-mail. There are a couple of ways, though, to really use these codes to your advantage despite the short time frame.

1. If you have no particular time frame, go start working on your book right now. Open an account (you'll start getting e-mails; make sure you opt in if there's a choice), and upload your images. You can make a pure photo album, like mine; or make it more text-heavy, to tell a story; or upload images of documents to include more of the nitty-gritty of your research. Take your time, experiment with backgrounds, arrangements, and effects. Make yourself a really nice book. (On Shutterfly, limit it to 20 pages if you want it for free.) And then stop. Wait. Do not submit an order. You're in no rush. It could take a few months, but you should eventually get a promo code for a free book. That's when you submit your order, and pay nothing but shipping and handling, for a lovely, high-quality book, that showcases an aspect of your family or family history.

2. If you've gotten a "free book" promo code, and want to make use of it while it's still valid, but have no project planned, think ahead. What family-history or gift-giving events are coming up? Maybe there will be a family reunion this summer, or maybe you'd like to share a story you've discovered with your family at the holidays. Put together that book now. So what if it's April? Cross one Christmas present off of your list early! Whether you're putting your research into a brief illustrated narrative to catch the attention of relatives, or you're compiling all of your family's holiday traditions into a nicely bound volume to preserve them for the future, do it now - while it's free! When you've received your free photo book, set it aside to be given at a gift at the appropriate time in the future, and get excited that you've managed to come up with a present that simultaneously shares your family history, saves you money, and gives you one fewer thing to do in the throes of the holiday shopping season!

While I've only ever used this strategy with Shutterfly and CVS Photo, I'm about to see if the principle is more universal, by signing up for accounts with Vistaprint and Snapfish, too!

What would you do with a free photo book?

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