Some Holiday Tips To Help Out

Here’s a little help in your holiday shopping.

A Christmas Carol releases on Nov. 16, 2010 on Bluray and DVD.

Don’t Be a Scrooge!

In the midst of a sluggish economy, high unemployment rates and rising airfares, there’s a reason so many people utter Charles Dickens’ memorable line, “Bah, humbug!” at some point during the holiday season. However, with a little ingenuity—and planning—you can have a memorable celebration even if money is tight. We have numerous tips to help you spend wisely on gifts, entertaining and travel. Ebenezer Scrooge, be damned!

GIFT-GIVING GUIDANCE

This holiday season may be the time to set some new ground rules for gift-giving in your family. Don’t worry. We’re not suggesting the stockings go unstuffed, just that you be a bit more creative in bestowing meaningful gifts that won’t leave you penniless. Robyn Spizman, the country’s foremost gift-expert and author of Make It Memorable, shares eight wallet-friendly ideas:

  1. Give from your heart. “Think about your attitude of gratitude and a kind deed someone did for you this past year. Express your thanks by writing a heartfelt note or poem or get creative and write an acrostic based on their name like Thank you Tony: T is for Terrific, O is for One of a Kind, N is for Nice and Y is for You…Terrific, One of a Kind, Nice – You!”     
  2. Gift a page turning gift! “Re-gift your favorite book. While you should avoid being a Scrooge and re-gifting things you don’t want—what makes you think anyone else wants them—when it comes to a treasured book you loved reading, that’s anti-Scrooge and approved. Add a bookmark or self-sticking notes throughout the book with little messages of what a novel friend or family member they are.”
  3. Give them a hand! “Give a gift that saves time and frustration. Grandma might love to sew, but threading those needles can be a Scrooge moment. Thread up a month’s worth of needles for Grandma and just watch your gift sew up her affection. It will clearly keep her in stitches and put a smile on her face.” 
  4. Think free and fabulous. “Give the age-old coupon that you personalize for an errand, from getting your best bud organized, driving carpool, pet-sitting, babysitting, to cake baking!”     
  5. Give mini wishes! “Consider filling a care package with their favorite chewing gum, free samples of higher-priced items, etc. Small gifts can be a big way of giving a variety of your favorite things, such as new products to try. You can include some coupons from the newspaper or stores to save them time, money and energy!”  
  6. Give a do-together gift. “Choose something for a friend that you two can do together, such as tickets for a friend or a mani and pedi.”
  7. Share a recipe. “Give a favorite recipe and the ingredients and maybe even a lesson in cake baking. Bring everything with you, stir up some fun and voila! You’ve made dessert for them.”
  8. Consider freezer pleasers. “Fill up a friend or family member’s freezer with casseroles, home-baked goodies and anything destined to freeze and then please! It’s such a thoughtful gift that’s certain to warm up even a Scrooge’s cold heart!”

ENTERTAINING                 WITH EASE

If you are responsible for hosting your family’s extended Christmas Eve dinner, or you just can’t give up the annual holiday bash you always throw, do not worry. The party can still be a smashing success even on a smaller budget. Los Angeles caterer Kate Paul of Food Ink believes a fabulous party is all in the details. Here are her top ten tips:

  1. “Easy floral décor for the table: do one type of flower so that there is no time-consuming arranging that might make you tear your hair out! Mismatched mason jars or small juice bottles (Italian fruit juice bottles are the best for a designer look) filled with one bloom—and underlit by tealights—is an easy, ten-minute design.”
  2. “Place candles outside the doorway, perhaps even up the path, to greet guests and let them know that you are happy to see them.”
  3. “Don’t forget hand towels, a candle and a small bud vase filled with fragrant flowers in the bathroom. These three things will make all the difference and guests will feel like they are at a high-end restaurant!”
  4. “Always offer a cheese platter, which you can set up the night before. Add crackers and berries just before the party starts. That way if guests turn up early (someone always does) they will have something to eat.”
  5. “In this challenging economy, think about potlucks with your friends so that you can all see each other without huge expenses falling to one person. Perhaps designate a theme and ask people to bring along a dish of their choice that fits the theme. You designate appetizer, salad, vegetable, side, dessert, etc., or just serve all heavy appetizers!”
  6. “Don’t be overly ambitious with the menu. It is better to offer the best-tasting four appetizers EVER than try to replicate that French Laundry Chef’s Table Experience. Good as you are, you won’t relax!”
  7. “Take one day to visit your local gourmet stores to see what new appetizers and prepared foods they have in stock. That way you can pre-plan food that can be oven easy if you don’t have it in you to cook every element.”
  8. “Ask your local liquor store if they will supply you with alcohol on a sale/return basis. You send back unused and unopened bottles so you only pay what is consumed and don’t have any leftovers that cost you money.”
  9. “Set up a proper bar, even if you’re only serving beer and wine. Put wine in a wine cooler, line glasses up on trays, and be sure to have the extras like sliced citrus for water, a bottle opener and a small garbage can nearby for trash.”
  10.  “Take the time to introduce your guests to each other, note what each may have in common or how you know them, and make sure that no one is left without a glass in their hand.”

TRAVEL TIPS

One of the most stressful things about the holidays is travel: from packing to security lines, crowded flights to inevitable delays. Add to that the fact that airfares are on the rise again this year and it’s hard to get too excited about leaving town. Fortunately, expert Peter Greenberg, CBS News Travel Editor and author of “Tough Times, Great Travels,” has lots of good advice for surviving the season:

  1.  “I’m a contrarian traveler, so my advice is this: it’s best to travel when everyone else ISN’T,” says Greenberg. “That means not hitting the road the Wednesday before or the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and definitely not the day before Christmas. But guess what? Winter does provide two great opportunities to travel when there are no crowds: the week AFTER Thanksgiving and just after New Year’s. Those are known as the dead weeks in travel, which means great deals, no crowds, and best of all, no traffic.”
  2. Use the Internet to your advantage, advises Greenberg on his website, PeterGreenberg.com. “Sign up for fare alerts for your specific city so you’ll be notified if and when the price goes down. Specific airlines have them, as do resources like Farecompare.com and AirfareWatchdog.com. Also, take a look at Bing Travel’s Farecast alert which tells you with reasonable confidence whether prices will go up, down, or stay flat.”
  3. If you have the time, connect. “Look for connecting flights rather than non-stops for better deals,” he says. “But make sure the layover is at least an hour. If you miss a connection due to a delay, it will be difficult to get on another flight.”
  4. “Last, but not least, on short trips, remember the most economical alternative is to skip the planes altogether and opt for a bus or train,” says Greenberg. “Prices around the holidays remain relatively stable, whether you’re traveling before, on or during Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.   Not all reservations are guaranteed, so arrive early to avoid being bumped.” 

Here are a few of my own…

  1. Respect the people that you deal with at the stores you are shopping in.  Retail jobs are stressful enough, and the holidays seem to bring out the anger in everyone.
  2. Utilize your phone web browser to keep up with specials that are going on.
  3. Make sure to get “gift receipts” if you aren’t sure if the receiver will want the gift.
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