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Holiday Tips and Guides Series

Co-written by Melissa Tosetti and Teresa Riccobuono and originally published on The Savvy Life website

Holiday Gift Giving
Holiday Gift Ideas
Holiday Air Travel
Holiday Entertaining
Holidays & Overnight Guests

Savvy Holiday Gift Giving

The holidays are a time for family, friends and celebration. Unfortunately, too often the never-ending lists of errands, obligations and purchases around this time of year make us feel anything but festive.

In this Savvy Holidays Article Series; you will learn tips to turn the holidays from something you barely survive, into a time to enjoy!

Today’s article on Savvy Gift Giving will make shopping systematic and fun again. Gift giving is typically the biggest of holiday expenses. Creating a plan for how to acquire and pay for those gifts will save you time, money and quite possibly, your sanity!

The following tips will help ensure you don’t wide up with a Holiday Hangover in January when credit card bills start to arrive.

Making The List
You know that making a list is important. Putting together a budget is equally important. Your budget should not be based on the amount of gifts you have to buy. It should be based on the amount of money you can afford to spend.

Once you have established your budget, sit down and write a list of everyone you want to buy for – and we mean everyone. If you want to purchase a box of candy for your garbage man, write it down. Now, take a hard look at the list. Are there people on there that you aren’t as close to as in years past? Would a holiday card do the trick? Sometimes we continue to purchase for people out of habit rather than out of desire.

Are there people on your list that are in a similar financial situation as you? If so, call or write to them and ask if instead of exchanging gifts, you do something together like volunteering. They may be grateful for the opportunity to save money this time of year.

Once you have culled/reviewed your list, decide how much you can afford for each gift. It will help keep you from blowing your entire budget on the first few gifts you buy.

Gift Giving Guideline
It’s easy for your list to get out of control. Consider the following guideline when it comes to exchanging gifts.

Immediate Family – Each set of parents buys presents for their children only. Adults exchange names so they only need to purchase one gift.

Extended Family – Holiday cards or handwritten letters. Cards can be personally selected for greater impact.

Friends– Potluck gathering.

Children’s Friends – If your children are old enough to want to give gifts to their friends, they are old enough to use their own money.

Work/Business Associates – Charitable donation of time (before, during or after the holidays) or money in their name.

Church – Adopt-a-family together.

Teachers and Coaches – Note of appreciation from parents and child.

Keep Your List Handy
Put a copy of your list in your purse or wallet and keep it with you. You never know when you’ll have an opportunity to pick up an item or two.

Adjust Your Budget
As you make purchases, jot down how much you spent on each gift. From there, you will know if you have a little more or a little less to spend as you go. Quicken has a new mobile app that allows you to track your spending on your mobile devices.

Sales Ads
Spend 10-15 minutes a week scouring online sales ads. This strategy alone will save you time and gas as you’ll be able to plan your shopping trips to take advantage of the best sales. It may also help you come up with a few gift ideas. Target.com and Kohls.com are just two of our favorite sites.

Systematic Shopping
Unless shopping is your passion – marathon trips are torture. Don’t do that to yourself. Besides, who has the time to set aside an entire day for shopping? Instead, take it in baby steps and shop systematically. Make a list of the stores you want to target, then divide and conquer them. Stop by one on your way home from work. Try to go through each store methodically so you don’t have to go back. Also, be willing to delegate and have your spouse help out with the shopping.

Open Your Mind
As you shop, don’t go into a store looking for a gift for just one or two people on your list. You may stumble upon an item someone else on your list would truly enjoy.

Traps
Don’t attach a dollar amount to an individual and fall into the trap of, “Oh, I didn’t spend a lot on that gift so I should give them something else too.” The people you’re buying for don’t know that you got their gift for 50% off. They’re more excited about receiving the gift and the thought behind it.

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Savvy Holiday Gift Ideas

The holidays are a time for family, friends and celebration. Unfortunately, too often the never-ending lists of errands, obligations and purchases around this time of year make us feel anything but festive.

In this Savvy Holidays Article Series; you will learn tips to turn the holidays from something you barely survive, into a time to enjoy!

Today’s article on Savvy Holiday Gift Ideas will help ensure you don’t have Holiday Hangover in January when credit card bills start to arrive.

Photos
Would your friend like a framed photo of the two of you on your last vacation together? Go through your photo albums and see if there are any gems there for members of your family. A copy of an old photo and a new frame is a very thoughtful gift.

Books
Books are great gifts for the bookworm, the occasional reader or the enthusiast. From novels to biographies, cookbooks to do-it-yourself guides, there is something for everyone. Stores like Barnes & Noble offer an extensive inventory of discounted books on just about every subject.

Holiday Ornaments
Ornaments are precious gifts for those who are just starting out. Your gift will be remembered year after year.

Movies
Giving the gift of someone’s favorite movie tells them just how well you know them. Brand new DVDs of old movies can be as inexpensive as $5. Movie tickets also make great gifts. Purchase them at warehouse stores such as Costco and save up to 30%.

Plants
Know a new homeowner? How about giving them a pear or an orange tree? Is there someone on your list who likes to cook? Would they enjoy a container filled with oregano, rosemary and thyme?

Family Recipes
A small collection of family recipes neatly presented in an album or recipe box is an instant heirloom.

Baked Goods
Never underestimate the power of baked goods. To some, baking is a secret art unknown to them. If you have a kick-butt recipe that everyone raves about – bake it, box it and give it!

Gift Items to Look for On Sale Throughout The Year:

  • Elegant stationary, note cards and notepads
  • Fancy soaps, hair products, shave cream, lotions
  • Great smelling candles
  • Oil and vinegar combinations
  • Photo frames

Time Together
Instead of exchanging gifts, suggest an event to your friends or family. Chip in together and rent a cabin in the snow for the weekend. Fifteen years ago Melissa asked her friends if instead of the 10 of them exchanging holiday gifts, could they rent a cabin at Lake Tahoe for the weekend. That request turned into a much beloved holiday ritual. With everyone chipping in, the cabin rent for the weekend costs each person less than one night in a budget hotel. More importantly, they’ve created memories together over the past 15 years that are priceless to all of them.

Other Ideas for Spending Time Together Include:

  • Dinner out with friends
  • Dinner in with friends
  • A day together at a favorite museum
  • An evening stroll through an over-the-top holiday decorated neighborhood followed by hot cocoa.

Give The Gift of Time
In today’s world, time is as precious of a commodity as money. A gift of your time could be exactly what the recipient needs.

Some ideas include:

  • A week of shuttle services
  • A home-delivered gourmet meal
  • A week of pet-sitting for a friend who has travel plans
  • An evening of baby-sitting for young parents
  • An evening of parent-sitting for someone who cares for an ailing parent
  • An afternoon outing for a shut-in
  • A certificate to mow the lawn, rake the leaves, or shovel snow

Be creative. Look around. Find a need and fill it.

Charity Donation
A donation to a loved one’s favorite charity beats out a knickknack any day. Here are some additional ways to give a meaningful gift to someone who needs it:

  • Make a payment to a local supermarket and have them notify a needy family that someone has arranged a food gift certificate in their name.
  • Arrange for a local market to deliver a box of fresh fruit or vegetables to a family every month for a year. Set aside part of what you normally spend on gifts and donate it to a local family that has lost everything in a fire or natural disaster.
  • Donate blood at your local blood bank. Arrange to have hot meals delivered to a family that has a child in the hospital with an illness.

Next Year’s Holiday Budget
Greg Karp, personal finance columnist for the Chicago Tribune has a wonderful rule of thumb when it comes to the holidays. He suggests spending no more than 1.5 percent of your gross income on holiday gifts and travel. This is an excellent idea to keep in mind when planning for next year. In fact take action on January 1st by calculating the amount, divide the number by how many paychecks you receive in a year and have that money automatically put into a holiday account. The small amounts set aside each paycheck will be relatively painless and you’ll be grateful for it at holiday time!!

Additional Tips
If you have the space, begin purchasing next year’s gifts at the after Christmas sales. The day after Thanksgiving isn’t necessarily the time to get the best prices. There is a lot of hype around Black Friday.

Save your sanity. Stay home and enjoy time with family. Unless of course, braving the crowds with family is your idea of a great time.

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Savvy Holiday Air Travel

The holidays are a time for family, friends and celebration. Unfortunately, too often the never-ending lists of errands, obligations and purchases around this time of year make us feel anything but festive.

In this Savvy Holiday Article Series; you will learn tips to turn the holidays from something you barely survive, into a time to enjoy!

Today’s article on Savvy Holiday Air Travel will help you save on air fare and enjoy the journey.

Christmas Day
Christmas Day can be one of the least expensive days to fly. Depending on where you’re traveling to, you can save $200-$300 per person over flying in the days before.

Off Peak
The Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are the heaviest air travel days as well as the Sunday and Monday after Christmas. Traveling during off-peak days can save you over $250 on your airfare. Also consider traveling during off-peak times. Book your flight for midnight or 5:30 a.m. and you can save a considerable amount of money.

Saturday Night
If your schedule will allow it, plan to stay through Saturday night to reduce the cost of your airfare – that is as long as you’re staying with family or friends and not incurring hotel costs.

Book on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm
Although this late in the season, the bargains have mostly been had, try searching for and booking your flight on Tuesday at 3:00 pm EST. That is when most airlines have updated their sales offerings.

Traveling Between Different Temperatures (Bay Area to Colorado)
With airlines working to reduce costs, pillows and blankets are a thing of the past.

Teresa wears a soft, but substantial winter scarf and uses it as a pillow by rolling it up. A substantial shawl doubles as a blanket (Not recommended for the gentlemen). Make sure you have your umbrella, gloves, hat, and any other required cold weather gear easily accessible once you land. Don’t assume your checked luggage will arrive at your destination. Carry these items with you.

If, on the other hand, you are traveling from cold weather to a sunny location, be prepared for your final destination by carrying on those items you will need, such as sun glasses, sun screen and sandals. Again, don’t assume your checked luggage will arrive with you.

Layering is always a good idea, even if you are not changing temperatures. Airplanes tend to be either too warm or too cold for most passengers. Layering allows you to adjust your temperature as desired.

Traveling with Children
Traveling with children offers special joys and challenges. Although traveling at night can be difficult for adults, traveling during a child’s natural sleep time can be a fair trade off. If this is not an option, be sure to have a variety of distractions available. This may be the one time you throw out the family’s electronic restrictions and allow your children to spend more time with their electronic gadgets than normal. Make sure to keep any and all chargers with you.

As noted above in the Traveling Between Temperatures section, be sure to have your children’s necessary items available once you reach your destination. Comfortable clothing and layers are important. Transporting their pillow, favorite blanket and plush toy, although challenging to keep track of, could make the difference between enjoying quiet time and dealing with a temper tantrum.

Traveling with Gifts
If you know you’re going to be flying to your holiday destination, keep that in mind when gift shopping. You don’t want to buy your niece a gift so big, you have to buy a second seat on the airplane just to get it there. Another way to save is to purchase your gifts online and have them delivered directly to your destination. It’s worth paying the few extra dollars to have the items gift wrapped.

Save on Food at the Airport
Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up at the drinking fountain at the airport once past security screening. We hate the idea of paying $2.00 or more for water, don’t you?

Pack snacks that don’t require refrigeration, unless you have a handy tote like Teresa which has a separate cooler section. Chocolate and sticky snacks are not a good idea for obvious reasons. Protein bars, sliced apple and dried fruit bars are ideal.

Don’t forget to pack gum. It really does help relieve or avoid ear pain at take-off and landing. If you are not a quiet or graceful gum chewer, remove it as soon as possible. Don’t annoy your seat mates.

Additional Tips
Make sure you have a fully charged cell phone and the charger is packed in your carry-on luggage.

Place a copy of your itinerary and contact information in each piece of checked and carry-on luggage.

Pack Your Patience
Between winter weather issues and the crush of additional travelers, pack a good book and plenty of snacks when heading to the airport. The distractions will keep you patient while your fellow travelers lose their holiday spirit. The best accessories you can wear is grace and a smile.

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Savvy Holiday Entertaining

The holidays are a time for family, friends and celebration. Unfortunately, too often the never-ending lists of errands, obligations and purchases around this time of year make us feel anything but festive.

In this Savvy Holiday Article Series; you will learn tips to turn the holidays from something you barely survive, into a time to enjoy!

Today’s article on Savvy Holiday Entertaining will help you save time and money as you prepare to entertain this season.

Cleaning
Before you start decking the halls, you’ll want to clean them first. It may be tempting to give your house a thorough spring cleaning, but it’s not necessary. In fact, the added pressure of cleaning out your closets and scrubbing the base boards will only add stress, not release it. Wait until January to do your “spring cleaning”.

For now, one of the most important tasks is to declutter in the areas that can be seen by guests. This can be done in 15 minute spurts - don’t attempt to do it in a marathon session.

Next, stick to the basics of house cleaning; dust, vacuum, sweep, mop and clean the bathrooms.

Decorating
Decorating your home for the holidays can be one of your favorite activities of the season, or the most dreaded. You may have negative feelings about decorating because you always try to do everything at once such as; buy the tree, transport the tree, grab the decorations from the attic, unpack the decorations, decorate the tree, grab the ladder, hang the outdoor lights, etc.

Instead, spread the tasks across several days. Dedicate one day for getting the Christmas tree and grabbing the decorations from the attic. The next day you can decorate the tree. The following day, go outside and hang the lights.

By doing just one or two tasks a day, you can focus on and enjoy them rather than doing them as fast as you can so you can move on to the next item on your list.

One year, Teresa had the most beautiful holiday tree and there wasn’t one ornament on it. She used a string of white lights with velvet bows and baby’s breath in place of ornaments. It was simple to put up and tear down without the fuss of sorting through boxes of ornaments.

On her fireplace mantle, she did something similar. She placed a garland on the mantle and decorated it with pearl lights, baby’s breath and just a few round ornaments. Gorgeous candles were included in the mix.

If you choose to go the artificial tree route, make sure to burn some pine scented candles. After all, the pine scent is one of the best parts of having a real tree.

Poinsettias always bring a dramatic dash of color and festiveness to any room or outdoor entryway. They are relatively inexpensive, so bring home several.

It is probably time for a new holiday welcome mat for the front door. And, don’t forget the festive towels for the bath and kitchen.

We both love candles, but are careful with what type we use. Those that are self-contained in a jar and are not top heavy are the safest. Candles can be used as decorations without being lit. As a safety precaution, please make sure all of your smoke detectors are in working order.

Food
When planning your holiday party menu, keep it simple. You want to make sure you’re able to spend time with your guests, not stuck in the kitchen babysitting a complicated dish.

This may not be the time to try something new. Sticking with tried and true favorites are often your best bet.

Be willing to allow guests to bring their favorite holiday dish. It will relieve some of the time and financial pressure off of you and allow them to showcase their dish.

The sooner you get your menu planned, the sooner you can start purchasing items for your meal, spreading the cost over several paychecks. This will also let you take advantage of sales. Over the course of the holiday season, just about everything from baking items to side dishes will be on sale. By watching the sales ads and biding your time, you can purchase your entire meal at 20% off or more.

By the way, if you’re eyeballing your kitchen counter and thinking of remodeling it before your holiday party in two weeks, don’t even consider it!

Have a Buddy
On the day of your event, ask your spouse, older children or a friend to help you greet guests and offer them a drink. This will allow you to take care of any last minute details in the kitchen so you can get out and enjoy all of your guests that much sooner.

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Savvy Holidays & Overnight Guests

The holidays are a time for family, friends and celebration. Unfortunately, too often the never-ending lists of errands, obligations and purchases around this time of year make us feel anything but festive.

In this Savvy Holiday Article Series; you will learn tips to turn the holidays from something you barely survive, into a time to enjoy!

Today’s article on hosting overnight company will help you and your guests enjoy their visit so much more.

If you have a spare bedroom…
Make sure the sheets have been freshly laundered.

Also, set aside an extra blanket in case they get cold.

For an added touch, set aside a box of tissue, as well as a few books and magazines so your guests can keep themselves entertained.

A couple of bottles of water by the bedside will be appreciated.

Place a few small holiday decorations in the room to keep the feel of the holidays intact.

If your guest will be sleeping on the couch which is not a sofa bed...
Use a set of twin sheets for the sofa. It may not be a perfect fit over the cushions, but will help them be more comfortable while they sleep.

Provide a pillow with a freshly laundered pillow case as well as a few blankets.

If possible, make adjustments to your morning routine if guests will be sleeping in community areas of your home. If you are an early bird and they are a night owl, prepare as much of your morning routine in advance. Grind your coffee beans the night before.

In the bathroom…
Set aside a clean towel and washcloth for each guest.

Fragrant soaps and travel size toiletries in their original packaging (if you have them) will make your guests feel special.

You may also want to put items like cotton swabs and cotton balls where your guests can see them.

Teresa has a couple of extra robes in sizes of her frequent visitors – (father, brother, best friend).

In the kitchen…
Keep fruit and snacks visible so guests feel free to help themselves.

If your guest is a coffee drinker – make sure you have creamer and sugar.

If your guest is a tea drinker – have English breakfast tea for the morning and Chamomile/herbal tea for the evening.

Communication
If your children or pets have any dietary restrictions, be sure to let your guests know so they don't inadvertently cause problems.

Let your guest know in advance if you’re planning on dining out or will be attending a holiday event over the course of the visit. It will help them plan their budget and wardrobe and give them an opportunity to let you know of any constraints they may have.

If your home has any quirks, such as sticky doors, tricks to getting an appliance to work correctly or you have multiple remotes to work the television set correctly, please let your guests know about them.

Our thanks to Kathleen Kuebelbeck for the many ideas she offers in her article, What Every Girl Should Have... for overnight guests.

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