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.


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