Developing New Gift Ideas This Christmas Season

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You know you’re in a gift-giving rut when you accidentally buy the very same gift for someone two years in a row, as I recently did for a family member’s birthday. Fortunately I caught myself before sending it and could make a switch, but what I switched to wasn’t all that creative either. It got me thinking – am I too predictable with my Christmas gift-giving? And how can I develop new gift ideas for this Christmas season?

The answer to the first question is a resounding yes – but I am not overly predictable with everybody. In fact, I can be quite creative with my daughters’ or significant other’s gifts, but others get the usual sweater each year. Of course time and cost factor into each gift, but by starting now to think creatively and specifically of each person, and by keeping my eyes open for the unique and special, I know I can do better!

Here are five strategies that can make your gifts stand out this season, and give you a head start on your Christmas shopping:

  • Decide on a formula. Last year, I used a tried-and-true formula with a handmade twist for my kids. Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read, something to do, and something I made – it all added up to six quality gifts to open. I have to admit that was a lot harder for me to come up with some of these gift ideas than to just buy the same old things,, but I enjoyed the challenge, and they were delighted to be truly surprised on Christmas morning!
  • Brainstorm for each person. The key to being creative with gifts is having (and taking) the time to really think about each person, and their interests, hopes, likes and dislikes, before deciding on a gift. It is hard to do this in November and December, however, when time becomes an issue and you just need to find something to give everyone. Taking a day or two now to really think about each person, and to list their interests and gift ideas, will make your shopping much easier no matter when you start!
  • Experiment with new stores or sites. Part of why gift-giving becomes predictable is we fall back on the same “big box” stores or sites such as Amazon when time is an issue. Why not take treat yourself to a small business shopping excursion each month? Go to smaller boutiques or specialty shops in a nearby town, or check out curated lists of exceptional but lesser known shopping sites. You can see what’s out there that might delight someone on your list, while you get a head start on your Christmas shopping, too!
  • Don’t forget handmade gifts. Last year I had grand ideas to make something special for everyone in my immediate family. However, I waited too long to do anything substantial. Not wanting to give up that piece of my formula, though, I made small gift boxes with sweets, cocoa and a cute mug in each. It was not what I originally planned, but it was handmade-ish and still very much appreciated. Start now to think about what you could make yourself, check out Etsy or use the gift basket/box approach to up your creativity game this Christmas.
  • Consider gifts of time or experience. One way to get creative with Christmas giving is not to give “stuff” at all! I once gave my mother the gift of taking her to lunch at a different restaurant each month for a year. It ended up being a global culinary tour as we tried all types of cuisines, and it was lots of fun for me as well! Consider tickets to a show, a museum pass, an online course or a tour of some unique local feature. Try a service such as cleaning, yard work, babysitting or cooking. The only caveat with a gift like this, though, is to make sure you actually follow through with whatever you promise to do!

Now is the perfect time to start thinking creatively about your Christmas giving. Have fun and happy hunting!

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Dos and Don’ts of Early Christmas Shopping

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When spring arrives, everything winter goes on sale. And with those sales comes the possibility of finding deals on the perfect Christmas gifts for the upcoming season. It is worth trying, of course, because the special prices will help you stay within your Christmas budget, and potentially save lots of time in the fall.

But it isn’t always easy to make the most of early Christmas shopping. First, we aren’t always in the mood to think about Christmas just as it is getting warm outside and flowers are starting to bloom. Also, how do you know what your family and friends will even want next Christmas season? And of course there is the age-old problem of forgetting what you’ve bought or not liking what you chose for someone when you look at it six months later.

Make the most of early Christmas shopping.

Here are some dos and don’ts to make the most of early Christmas shopping:

Do make a point of browsing the sales racks whenever you shop, keeping family and friends in mind.

Don’t buy anything just because it is on sale. Make sure it is something that you would want to give as a gift.

Do add what ever you find to your gift list, so that you don’t forget what you’ve bought come fall.

Don’t store the gifts in such an obscure place that you forget where they are. Designate a corner of a closet, or high shelf away from prying eyes.

Do mark the gifts by recipient and store them in an airtight container if possible. This will prevent them from becoming dusty or damaged in some way.

Don’t limit yourself to sales items. When you are able, take the time to try a new store or a different department. You may not find early gifts, but you’ll like have some new ideas for family and friends.

Do remember to look for more little novelty items that can be used as hostess gifts, stocking stuffers, or workplace surprises.

With no time pressure, lots of sales, and of course new spring and summer inventory to look forward to, you can find the perfect gift and save time and money later. Just follow these dos and don’ts to make the most of your early Christmas shopping!

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Handmade Gifts and How to Plan for Them

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One thing that I love to do at Christmas is to surprise those closest to me with something handmade in addition to, or even instead of, other gifts. Handmade gifts can really reflect what you know and love about the other person, and they always show how much you care.

I have always wanted (but have never quite achieved) a Christmas where each person on my list received a handmade something from me. There are no shortage of gift ideas online and in craft books, of course, so it is never a question of picking things to make for my family and friends. In fact, I usually save gift ideas in my Christmas planner, or just in a list on my phone.

For me, it all comes down to time and planning. In order to have my handmade gifts ready for Christmas – and to enjoy the process of making them – it is essential to begin early. Handmade gifts should be made with love, not stress!

Now is a good time to start.

Decide which handmade gifts to make (and for whom).

The first thing to decide is to whom you’d like to give handmade gifts. Maybe you’ve seen a pattern or two for DIY gifts that would be perfect for a few people on your list. Start with those ideas or, conversely, begin with the recipients in mind. Either way, the first step is to list who will receive a handmade gift and what you plan to make for each person. The gift ideas should be fluid, as not every project will work the way you hoped, but by being flexible, you will be able to treat everyone on your list to something made by you.

Buy the materials now.

Two weeks ago I was at the fabric store and noticed that they already have a limited selection of Christmas fabrics. Within the coming months, there will be much more. But for most handmade gifts, specific Christmas materials are not needed. General craft supplies, fabrics and other materials may be purchased now, so that you have what you need and can work on the projects when you have the time over the coming months. Print out any patterns for your projects and keep them in your planner. Make a list of supplies and watch for sales.

Organize materials by project.

Because life is busy, you’ll want to be able to pull out your handmade gift projects whenever you have a chance to work on them – and without having to hunt for the pattern or materials. Use shoeboxes, or other small containers (even the extra-large Hefty zipper bags work great!) to keep all the related materials with the pattern so that you can easily pick up where you left off and complete the projects over time.

Store the handmade gifts safely.

As you complete your projects, store them in a gift closet or wherever you keep your early Christmas purchases. Make sure to note them on your planner and to congratulate yourself on a job well done!

Handmade Christmas gifts make the holiday extra special for the you, the giver, as well as the recipient. So enjoy a little Christmas spirit anytime, and start planning for handmade gifts today.

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Save Now for a Simpler Christmas Season

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It is only March, but now is a great time to begin a savings plan for the holiday season. By starting to save now, you will have a simpler Christmas season later!

Get Started

Start by making a comprehensive Christmas list. Include not only the gifts you buy, but all the extras you will need (decorations, lights, wrapping paper, etc.) Now, put what you want to spend on a gift next to each name and add a rough total amount that you’d like to spend on the extras. Once you have your total, make any adjustments to arrive at an amount that you are comfortable with and that is affordable – and then divide by the nine months that are remaining until Christmas. That is the amount you must save each month between now and December.

Shocked? That’s good! So often, we shop under pressure during the holidays and don’t even realize until the credit card bills come in January how much has actually been spent. With a budget in hand, you can save now and pay cash for holiday expenses, as well as take advantage of early gift purchases when you see something special.

Take Simple Steps

So, let’s say that you’d like to save around $1200 for Christmas, and you have nine months to do it. If you save roughly $135 a month between now and mid-December, your holidays will be paid for and you will not have the shock of January bills. Sounds good, but how?

In his article, “How to Save Money: 20 Simple Tips”, Dave Ramsey suggests ways to “find” money that can be saved for a special purpose, such as a holiday fund:

  • Cancel subscriptions you don’t use. I recently went through my Amazon charges and realized I have been paying for a subscription to a movie service that I apparently signed up for when renting a film one evening. I was also paying for Kindle Unlimited, which I had never used. By cancelling these, I save $25 each month. What subscriptions do you no longer use?
  • Cut your grocery bill. This could be an easy place to save at least $50 – $75 each month. Plan a few meals each week, look at what you have already before you shop, stick to the grocery list, and buy generic when you can. You may find your entire Christmas budget at the supermarket!
  • Explore cell phone and cable options. By streaming TV, rather than paying cable, you can save $50-$60 a month, and the same with switching cell phone carriers or eliminating features you don’t use or need.
  • Borrow or buy at a discount. When you do need to purchase something significant, check online marketplaces or even a Buy Nothing Group, if you have one in your area. Often you can find what you need for free, or at a greatly reduced cost – and save something from the landfill in the process.

Saving for Christmas may seen strange when spring is just arriving, but when the holiday crunch hits, you will be glad you did!

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The Perfect Time to Make a Gift List

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The end of February is near, and maybe you are thinking ahead to spring planting or a summer vacation. But now is also the perfect time to think ahead to those who will be on your Christmas 2020 gift list!

This may seem a little absurd, especially if, like many, you have just finished paying for all the gifts you gave this season. But that is precisely why it is a good idea to plan now for giving at the end of the year. By planning ahead, you can take advantage of unique gift ideas and sales, which will save you time and money in November and December.

If you have a created a Christmas planner, you may already have a gift list started. If not, creating a gift list is a great way to begin planning. I keep a running gift list on my computer, which I usually update once immediately after Christmas, and again in September when I start looking for gifts in earnest.

For Family First

I am someone who likes to wake up Christmas morning to a huge pile of presents under the tree. I always have numerous gifts for my immediate family to open. My gift list reflects this: next to each family name, I add spaces for the number of gifts I want to have them unwrap.

My immediate family page also has a section for stocking stuffers, where again I add spaces for the number of things I want to put in their stockings. Extended family and friends are on the next page, where their names are simply listed down the side, with one space for each.

And Everyone Else…

Here I also include the more general gifts that I know I’ll need, such as small hostess gifts, gifts for exchanges, something for neighbors, work colleagues, or household helpers (babysitters, dogwalkers, etc.). and a couple of “emergency” gifts, good for last minute giving to anyone. By putting those smaller items here, no occasion or person is forgotten and you will always be prepared for any last minute needs.

Giving the right gift to everyone on my list is, for me, the most fun part of the Christmas season. By making my list early and keeping it updated throughout the year, I can be sure to make everyone on it feel special!

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Making (and Using) a Christmas Planner

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Now is a great time to create a Christmas planner! Why? Because the best way to have lots of good ideas for the upcoming Christmas season is to have a place to save and organize your ideas as they come.

My Christmas planner is a large binder, where I have sections for things that are most important to me: Gifts, Cards, Cooking, Decorating, Entertaining, and Crafts. Each section holds the key to what has worked well in the past, as well as new ideas I’d like to try.

Organize Your Ideas Section by Section

Gifts: This section has a computer-generated gift list that I update each year, adding new friends, family members or colleagues, and removing those for whom a gift is no longer appropriate. After each name, there is a space for recording gifts that have been purchased throughout the year. At the end of the list, there is a space for writing ideas for certain people as I think of them. I also keep gift ideas torn from magazines with notations on whom may like them.

Cards: In this section is another computer-generated Christmas card list that also serves as an address book when necessary. Each entry has the contact names and addresses (including names of children) and I keep it updated with each address change I receive. I also keep favorite past Christmas cards in the divider pocket for inspiration.

Cooking: Here I keep my favorite recipes that I plan to use again, as well as new recipes that I’ve found and know will fit my needs during the busy Christmas season, including those for large groups and that can be made ahead.

Decorating: For this section, I tear out and keep Christmas images that speak to me, that create the kind of vibe or color scheme I want for my home at Christmas time. When it comes time to decorate, I have inspiration at my fingertips.

Entertaining: I host an ornament exchange mid-December, and Christmas Day each year. In the past, I have also hosted a Christmas luncheon for friends. I love creating a festive setting and picking up new ideas to make these events special.

Crafts: Christmas crafts always make me smile. I keep patterns and directions for handmade items in this section, and when i am thinking of making a gift or a special decoration, I look here first.

Create a Christmas planner and use it to organize all your good ideas throughout the year. Come November and December (and even before then), you’ll be glad you did!

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Getting Organized for Next Christmas Season

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By the end of January, Christmas is a happy memory. The decorations are put away, the carols are off, and the house is back to its normal state. But rather than put the holidays out of your mind, now is the perfect time to get organized for next Christmas season!

While there are certainly obvious things to do in January, like hit the Christmas sales and return gifts that didn’t work out, now is really a great time to sit down and think clearly – and yes, strategically – about next Christmas.

Grab a pen, and write down your ideas as you consider these questions:

What worked this Christmas? Maybe your party was a smash, or you were able to finally bake cookies with your kids. Maybe you started gift shopping earlier so you were less stressed in December. What will you want to do the very same way next year because it went so smoothly?

What didn’t work this Christmas? This year I wasn’t able to make gifts for my kids like I wanted to, and I never planted the paperwhite bulbs I usually plant to be in bloom on Christmas Day. Those are two things I’d like to do differently next year, and I am sure there are others. What will you want to do differently next year to make your Christmas all you’ve dreamed it could be?

What do you know you need? As I put away my Christmas decorations this year, I took stock of what I have and what I will need next year. To keep this list handy, as I am sure I will think of other things throughout the year, I started a Note on my phone. Already it lists “Lights for the tree” and an “Extension cord for outside” among other things. What do you know that you’ll need for next season? Don’t try to remember later, start a list now!

What do you know you want? Maybe you’d like to host a party next year, or like me, you’d like to make more of your gifts. Maybe you know you want a family portrait taken for the cards or you want to do more baking. Write down whatever will make your holidays ideal. Many of these things a can be done during the year and that will save you stress next season.

Finally, what are your Christmas priorities? For me, it is hosting Christmas Day and having as many from the family as possible be a part of the celebration. It is being personal in my gift-giving and as stress-free as possible come December. Keep these priorities in mind as we go through this year and prepare for Christmas 2020!

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After Christmas Sale Savvy

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If you’re like me, on December 26th, the last thing you feel like doing is fighting a crowd at an After Christmas Sale. And maybe, like me, you have thought that by mid-January, everything is so picked over that the time for Christmas deals is long past. But here are six things worth looking for now that will save you time and money next Christmas season:

  • Indoor and outdoor lights – Check the Christmas clearance bins for specialty lights such as icicles, snowflakes, larger globe ot LED strand lights that might still be left. Home maintenance and hardware stores may have a larger selection on sale through the end of the month.
  • Christmas fabrics – These actually go on sale before Christmas arrives, so the selection may be dwindling, but you can still pick up festive plaid flannels and winter motifs for quilting or pajamas, or whatever sewing projects you’ll want to start in the summer months.
  • Wired ribbon – Honestly, I don’t think you can ever have enough wired ribbon. Great for wrapping, of course, but it also can be used in a million different ways for decorating the house and tree. Look for unusual patterns or colors you know you’ll use.
  • Odd ornaments – Most of the ornaments will be picked over by this time, it’s true, but it is worth a look for the odd, one-of-a-kind or funny ornament that will make a great topper for a gift or stocking stuffer for someone special.
  • Food containers – Often tin containers for cookies and other treats are still available, as are unusual containers, such as the “Chinese food” boxes in Christmas prints I found last year. So do a quick count of anticipated hostess or neighbor gifts and stock up now.
  • Boxed Christmas cards or invitations – If you don’t use personalized, printed cards and invitations (or even if you do, but always need a few extras), now is a great time to pick up a box or two of cute Christmas cards to use as needed next season.

Finally, don’t forget to shop the outlet or sale pages of your favorite online stores in January, where you’ll often find cute decorations, ornaments, and specialty gift items that can be easily stored for next Christmas.

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Mastering the Christmas Decorations Clean-Up

Gray cat under lit Christmas tree, sorry to see the Christmas decorations cleaned up.

We are now one week into January, and for many this will be the week to take down the Christmas decorations. While Christmas decorating is a big job in itself, taking it all down now can seem at least as daunting and much less fun. I admit that I often have the strong urge to throw things into plastic containers and worry about it all next season. But that will just make next season’s decorating more frustrating.

Here’s how you can make the clean-up easier and next Christmas less stressful!

The “Fed Ex” Method of Sorting and Organizing Christmas Decorations

I begin with the “Fed Ex” method of creating a “hub” from which I will organize everything as I store it. I collect all the decorations from around the house (except the trees) and bring them to a central location – which, in my case is the kitchen table. Once gathered, I can sort and re-group the decorations by type or by the room I typically put them in – or I can just to store them in containers in a way that makes the most efficient use of the space. By working with everything at once, I can also see which decorations are ready to be retired or donated, and I start a running list of what I need for the following year.

Tree by Tree by Tree…

Once the Christmas decorations are stored, I start on the trees. The ornaments come down first and are individually wrapped in paper towels (if breakable) and then placed into plastic zipper bags. While initially it may seem like a lot of paper and plastic, I can honestly say that I have used the same paper towels and bags for over ten years – and with no broken ornaments!

The bags of ornaments are carefully placed in the clear plastic containers, grouped typically by tree. In other words, the fancy ornaments for my larger tree go in two containers (I have a LOT of ornaments), and likewise each of the two smaller trees has its own container, too.

I use wired ribbon for the tree garland and toppers, and so once the ornaments are packed, I carefully wind the ribbons and place them in the containers as well. The tree skirts are washed or spot-cleaned and laid on top.

Lights

Last, I pack up the lights. I keep them together in one container with the extra boxes of lights that I have in case there are strands that aren’t working next season. (This is a great time to stock up on lights as everything is on clearance!)

As I unwind the lights from the tree branches, I check them one more time by plugging each strand directly into a socket. I place those that don’t fully light into a bag to be recycled. Many communities now offer a place to drop off Christmas lights for recycling through the month of January.

Finally I take the trees down and store them in their large nylon bags. Later, I’ll take down any outdoor lights or decorations and store them together in one container for easy decorating next season.

It usually takes a day or two to take down and carefully store all of the Christmas decorations, particularly if I group them differently or do a purge of older, less-used decorations. But it is time well-spent, because come next November, I will be able to decorate more quickly and enjoy the Christmas season that much longer!

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