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Seasonal Strategies: Helpful Hints

Martha Stewart Living, December 2006

A few minutes saved here and there can add up. Along with our countdown, we've assembled extra ideas to ease you into the New Year.

Do the Numbers
Draw up a budget and a gift list before you shop. This will ensure even distribution (among, say, your kids or grandkids) and eliminate aimless shopping expeditions. Organize lists by category (clothing, electronics, toys), so you'll have to make only one trip to each store.

Simplify Shopping
Encourage friends and family members to set up wish lists with their favorite online retailers. You might do the same for the benefit of people buying you gifts. These services, which work just like wedding registries, are especially helpful for long-distance gift exchanges.

Tip Smartly
Put gratuities into personalized cards. Amounts vary by region and length of service. Here are some basic guidelines: cleaning person, one week's pay; newspaper carrier, up to $30; babysitter, one night of sitting, plus a gift from your children.

Know the Deadlines
Double-check that your long-distance packages reach their recipients in time. This year, Priority Mail parcels must be sent by December 20 and Express Mail items must be sent by December 22 in order for them to make it to their domestic destinations by Christmas Eve. If you prefer to use the services of a private carrier, such as UPS, December 22 is also the deadline, although you will have to pay an extra fee for Saturday delivery.

Look Good, Feel Good
Carve out some quiet moments for your self during the frenetic four-week stretch. For instance, you might schedule a spa visit to help rejuvenate your mind and body. Or make an appointment to have your hair done. You can also arrange these activities with friends you otherwise might not get a chance to see.

Don't Forget Pets
If you normally groom them yourself, this may be the time to hire a professional. Those that make house calls save you even more time.

Work Together
Organize a party with friends to tackle a big holiday task, such as baking cookies and wrapping presents. Expeditions to cut down the Christmas tree are also fun in a group.

Tend the Bar
Take inventory of liquor-cabinet staples, including tonic water and other mixers, and restock those that are running low. Also chill a few bottles of Champagne, as the best holiday fetes are often spontaneous.

Keep Bows Neat
Start wrapping presents early, but add ribbons, bows, and tags later (label gifts with sticky notes so that you don't forget who gets what). Unadorned boxes are stackable and, as a result, will be easy to store and transport.

Eliminate Clutter
Sort through clothing, toys, and household wares, identifying those items that are in good shape but that you and your family no longer use. Box them up and give them to a local charity organization.

Fly Lightly
When traveling for the holidays, lighten your load by purchasing gift cards rather than bulky presents. If you must bring gift-wrapped items, package them in such a way that airport security will be able to examine the contents; a box in which the top and bottom are wrapped separately, with a card and the ribbon tucked inside for attaching later, is one option.

Comments (25)

  • donnaannharris 2 Dec, 2010

    Our family has had "Santa" lists for decades. Each person writes down things they would like to get--from the sublime (a car) to the ridiculous (a wisk broom). The lists are exchanged at Thanksgiving dinner. You might not get everything on your list, but you will at least get something you really wanted in the right size and color.

  • alibee5 1 Dec, 2010

    From the time our kids were little, we have made a Wish Book, with a separate page for each family member and friend. Everyone is encouraged to write down all their wishes, big and small, from World Peace to lipstick to a camera to pink socks; the more things you write on your page, the greater your chances of being surprised and the greater your chances of getting stuff you want. We pass around the book at Thanksgiving or sometime when most of the fam is together.

  • Habitudes 1 Dec, 2010

    Great tips! After years of trying to remember sizes, preferences, requests, etc. and trying to co-ordinate shopping with my husband I decided to organize it all into a software program with a gift shopping list template. It helps us plan, and because it's stored online we can each log in from our offices to see what remains to be done. After the holidays we use the "Gifts" program for other gift giving occasions. You can get "Gifts" at my online family organizer, Habitudes.info.

  • goodiemaker 4 Dec, 2008

    I try to pick one item to buy for each couple of in-laws

  • cjincarolina 2 Dec, 2008

    I am programming chair for a volunteer organization and decided that we would "adopt" a soldier who is serving in the Mideast. I was thinking I would have a couple of boxes to mail, but my group brought 198# of items to send to our soldier. What a wonderful feeling!

  • Maple24 2 Dec, 2008

    I was surprised and relived to see budget. Honestly, I shop Willy nilly, so these ideas, such as lists, and personal down time re-energized me to change my way of shopping. Besides, I'm Disabled-Permanently, and use a cane; so shopping is challenging, to say the least. So, though I love to see the stores displays, and touch what I'm sending, I now do all of my shopping online. It really reduces headaches.

  • lilysnana55 30 Nov, 2008

    Now that my children are grown and have left home, I find on-line wish lists very helpful when choosing gifts for all occasions. Even though I speak to them often, we seldom discuss what they would like to receive as a gift. They are still surprised because I've chosen from several things I know they would like.

  • lilysnana55 30 Nov, 2008

    Now that my children are grown and have left home, I find on-line wish lists very helpful when choosing gifts for all occasions. Even though I speak to them often, we seldom discuss what they would like to receive as a gift. They are still surprised because I've chosen from several things I know they would like.

  • loislane1947 30 Nov, 2008

    I am 61 yrs old and have a hard time walking. I really appreciate when someone gives me a specific idea of what they would like. It makes the shopping much easier,

  • kimmiets 29 Nov, 2008

    Sorry, the message I left befoe was to thewreathartist that works at Hobby Lobby

  • kimmiets 29 Nov, 2008

    Hi, I am from the Gasden, Al. area and was wandering if you were from the same area. The reason being is that if you are, if you are familiar any of the Noccalulla Falls Christmas decorations? If so, please let me know, because I am trying to find out about how to make some of them. Thanks so much, Kim

  • NancyMcManus 29 Nov, 2008

    And another one who agrees with Michelle! In fact, we have always given our two boys three gifts each, because that's what the Wise Men brought. Socks, batteries, toothbrushes, etc, don't count. They go in the stockings. My 15 year old, when he was about three, called those gifts the ones the shepherds brought. :0 )

  • alibee5 29 Nov, 2008

    We have always had a family wish book, with a separate page for everyone in the family, and close friends too. The idea is to write down all your wishes, big and small, from a new toothbrush to a new car to gel pens to world peace. It isn't about greediness..it gives the rest of the family a lot more things to choose from, and people choose what they can afford, assuring everyone that they will get something (big or small) they really want. This year I think we should do our wishlists online.

  • SoJoMaMa 29 Nov, 2008

    Laurel_Lou - great idea. I love that we can share what has worked for us with each other here. Thanks again for the really great tip!

  • ncgymnast 29 Nov, 2008

    I agree Micellewash! We make sure the kids not only know the reason but also they get to pick an angel from the angel tree at the mall and spend a day shopping for someone else. The only rule is no asking for anything, this is about helping others like Jesus taught us!

  • rubyslippersownr 29 Nov, 2008

    Kaboodle.com is a great place for creating and viewing wish lists. You and your family can even check off what's already purchased from the list so nobody else gets the same thing!

  • michellewash 29 Nov, 2008

    Christmas is about giving and not receiving. The Wise Men came bringing gifts for the baby Jesus. This year is hard enough economically, keep it simple and don't embarass the ones that really can't afford to give elaborate gifts. America will have lots of beautiful children not smiling this year without Christmas gifts. Remember the reason for the season, and share the true meaning of Christmas. Merry Christmas and God Bless!

  • Laurel_Lou 29 Nov, 2008

    When it comes to my children, I have categories of gifts - Santa Claus' gift, something you want, something you need, something you wear, something you read, and then a stocking of little treasures - an ornament, a toothbrush and toothpaste, batteries, a sweet treat, and a small gift, plus an orange in the toe. It keeps things simple and not too extravagant, but still magical. It also helps us with impulse purchases and over-buying.

  • elliespencer 29 Nov, 2008

    As for the gift cards (see Fly Lightly), be careful! Your recipient might not get full value for the dollar -- note the expiration date, use big names that don't appear to be going under in this Christmas '08 economy (AmEx, Visa, Mastercard)

  • ladyorena 29 Nov, 2008

    And I hate to tell you but there are plenty of us out there who never gave anyone a wish list!

  • frenchmom 29 Nov, 2008

    I keep the list of hte gifts and their receivers in my computer and write down good ideas for next Christmas as soon as they come to my mind.(often right after Christmas, which enables me to buy on sale.)
    I also make a point to look around for gifts when I am on a trip: the people who receive them usually rejoice at the original gifts and my gift-related expensesdon't all fall in december.

  • Nikki_W 29 Nov, 2008

    I appreciate the gift registries as well. I am often asked by husband and family for a list - online is no different. I put a wide variety of prices and items, from most needed to fun little things, so that there is something for every budget. And for my husband, who has dyslexia, the pictures are so helpful - he can print them out and take them with him to check for the same item at any store he chooses. Much better than well-meant but useless items.

  • logangb 28 Oct, 2008

    I agree with Smokeysgal--gift registries make shopping for people much easier. It's basically a wishlist. Think of what you did as a kid, it's the same thing.

  • Smokeysgal 27 Mar, 2008

    Get real, I would rather register and get useful things, than get stuff I don't want or can't use.

  • sandra_wong 20 Mar, 2008

    oh my goodness, i can't believe you would encourage people to sign up for gift registries... that is so grabby and greedy.