Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas (items) in July? Buy now!


By the time Christmas is here, tinsel seems kind of tacky and garlands are just a little bit gaudy, right? But here’s a hot tip to tweak your perspective: holiday decorations (for almost any holiday) can be surprisingly cool if you wait a few months and find innovative ways to use them out of season.

If you are hitting the stores right before or right after Christmas, you'll find some fantastic discounts on holiday goodies that you can use for other purposes in the next two to 10 months. Buy now, use (much) later.

Bear in mind there are only two rules if you are going to use Christmas stuff after Christmas:
  1. No green and red color combos. Ever. Except in December. Or if you are designing a kilt.
      
  2. No Christmas icons may be used in months that don’t end in “cember.” Santa Claus and candy canes are off-limits, naturally, but so are snowflakes, holly, gingerbread men, pine branches, moose (meese?) and almost every P.C. holiday-neutral symbol you can think of. Even penguins, sorry to say. Stripes are safe. So are polkadots. Plaid is iffy, except maybe for Father’s Day, and only if it’s green OR red (not both) and Dad has Celtic roots or smokes a pipe.
If you follow the rules, Christmas stuff (now being sold at 60% off) can put a fun twist on out-of-season d├ęcor and gifting. For example:
  • Garlands can be used to cushion a box’s contents (instead of tissue paper) or instead of ribbon to add sparkle to a gift. Especially fun for Valentine’s Day or wedding gifts.
      
  • Tinsel strands can be added to Easter basket grass, or scattered to add sparkle to a birthday party table. Tinsel can also be incorporated in hair braids (a topic for a different blog, to be sure).
      
  • Christmas tree ornaments in fun shapes can make wonderful gift-toppers. Consider a car ornament for someone who’s turning 16, or an airplane ornament for a friend’s bon voyage party, an owl ornament for a graduation gift six months from now, or a frog ornament for a bachelorette who has finally found Mr. Right.
      
  • A mini disco ball , glittery initial or other mirrored ornament adds sparkle to a wrapped gift any time of year. A simple star ornament can be a perfect gift-topper on a congratulatory gift.
      
  • Traditional glass ball ornaments are pretty even when they are not on an evergreen tree. Try silver balls hanging from a backyard tree at a summer party, or pastel balls in a bowl at Easter time, or green and purple balls adorning a door at Mardi Gras.
      
  • Christmas lights are now super-cheap and will add festive sparkle to an event any time of year, as long as you avoid the multi-colored lights associated with Christmas. White lights are lovely for weddings, summer parties and patio soirees. Or find lights in your school or team colors to make a spirited post-game event or dance even sparklier.
      
  • Christmas wrapping paper and tissue paper can be used year round, and long as it’s solid tone or a very simple non-holiday pattern (stripes or dots, for example).
      
  • Red gift wrap can be combined with pink or white ribbon for Valentine’s Day, or blue for 4th of July, or black any time. Anything but green!
      
  • Green wrapping paper is perfect for gifts in springtime: birthdays, Easter, St. Paddy’s, Earth Day (OK, maybe not Earth Day -- skip the wrap for that), or to wrap creative gifts involving cash, gardening or the Green Bay Packers. For example.
      
And of course: if you have storage space, you can always pick up Christmas wrap and decorations on sale now and use them exactly as they were intended to be used…next Christmas! It's definitely on the calendar to happen again. Soon.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Impossible Gifts Made Possible

We are closing in on the ho-ho-home stretch for Christmas, but as of two days ago 52% of Americans had not finished their holiday shopping. The same survey showed that 29% of men (and 19% of women) had yet to even start their holiday shopping. And that's OK. Some people prefer to wait and enjoy the excitement, beauty and spirit of Christmas shopping at Christmas time (or that's what they're telling themselves right about now).

Here are the top three gripes* of last-minute shoppers:
1. I don't know what he/she wants.
2. He/she doesn't need anything.
3. I'm broke.
* Gripes are completely made up by SB Gift Girl. (But you know I'm right.)

The good news: all three gripes can be taken care of with the same list of gift ideas. Since it is the thought that counts (really), your job is not to shop for something your giftees need -- chances are they are capable of buying that themselves.Your job instead is to come up with something that says, "I like you, and I thought you would enjoy this."

Here are some quick ideas for impossible-to-buy-for giftees and/or can't-afford-to-buy-anything gifters.

DIY gift certificates - If you have a computer (or a pen) you can create a gift certificate for personal services -- a gift of time, which is a precious commodity for anyone on your list. Think about what your giftee would like help with, and think about what your skills are. For example:
  • Photography
  • Dog-walking
  • Errands
  • Handyman help
  • Personal training
  • Tutoring
  • Closet organizing
  • A date for a picnic, a hike, or a fun adventure you know the giftee would enjoy
Lottery tickets - Your measly $10 gift might make your friend a millionaire! See if you can come up with a clever presentation...for example, tape each lottery ticket to a wooden skewer and tuck the sticks into a potted poinsettia plant, or use the tickets to frame a picture of your giftee's dream car or fantasy vacation destination.

Re-gifting - Re-gifting is OK in my book...if you get a gift you're not going to use, this can be viewed as a form of recycling and a wise cost-cutting measure. Proceed with caution, though -- the gift should be (a) unused and (b) appropriate. Please. Double-check for hidden notes or gift cards from the original gift-giver, and be certain that your giftee was not involved in the original transaction.

Homemade gifts - Yes, time is tight, but if you're not shopping you might have time to put together something homemade. Again, think about your skill sets, and don't be afraid to stretch a little. Quick (but thoughtful) ideas (find info online) might include hot cocoa mix, painted ornaments, homemade liqueur, a set of refrigerator magnets made from vintage earrings or buttons, a jar of your special marinade...?

Cash - Cash on its own is kind of a tacky gift for a friend or loved one -- currency needs a card or some sort of dressing to avoid seeming like a tip or payoff. If it's given with a sense of humor, then it's even more fun. Tape a bunch of one-dollar bills end-to-end, roll them up, and stuff them in an empty Kleenex box (to be unreeled -- great drama). Or plop it in a funny coffee mug. Or peeking out of a stuffed toy. Then you've got a gift that's memorable AND useful.

Funny gifts - If your giftee has a good sense of humor, you might be able to come up with a humorous gift that will (a) mean a lot and (b) not cost much. Could be a goofy re-gift, could be a funny book of certificates, could be the moose head that hung in your fraternity house. Only you will know what might work...

It's the thought that counts. So keep thinking!
~

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Getting a Leg Up on Christmas Stockings


Our family’s Christmas morning tradition is to empty out our stockings first thing. It’s so fun to start the day with that tumble of small gifts – kind of a warm-up for the real present-opening to come.

But the initial stuffing of that stocking full of goodies doesn't always happen easily. The truth is that some people are overwhelmed by the task of having to find enough presents to fill something so big, so empty, and so foot-shaped.

For those people, here are Gift Girl’s easy tips for successful stocking-stuffing:
  • The stocking must be full. Bulging, even, with some goodies peeking out of the top.
  •  
  • A stocking is not (usually) the place to give your best gift(s). Those deserve a package and moment of their own.
  •  
  • Watch out: the cost of gathering a bunch of little gifts can add up quickly – which means filling a stocking can get pricey. You can keep costs down by adding bulk with larger inexpensive items (socks, candy, books).
  •  
  • Stocking gifts have to be smallish (to fit), but if they are too tiny they’ll get lost. Put gift cards and very small items in a box or little bag (which is conveniently another way to add bulk).
  •    
  • Even people who don't like to shop can find perfectly good stocking stuffers at drug stores, grocery stores, office supply stores and hardware stores. You might even already have some new items around the house that could work.
  •  
  • In the days before December 25, it's a good idea to keep a separate bag for each stocking you will be filling -- then you can get a quick visual on how much stuff you've accumulated (or not).
  •  
  • Christmas stocking gifts are technically from Santa, remember. He’s probably not going to give you an IOU for a foot massage or a souvenir from last summer’s family vacation.
  •  
  • Planning ahead is nice, but don’t stress out about Christmas stocking gifts. Just make sure the stocking is full and the gifts are thoughtful and/or useful.

Some stocking stuffer ideas?
  • Gift cards for small amounts (coffee, smoothies, lunch spots) 
  • Lottery tickets 
  • Exotic or hard-to-find food items
  • Favorite candy
  • Puzzles 
  • Pens
  • Art supplies
  • Gloves
  • Small books
  • Socks
  • Tools
  • Baseball cards
  • Refrigerator magnets
  • Toothbrush
  • Playing cards
  • Reading glasses
  • Flashlight
  • Yo-yo
  • Cosmetics
  • Cooking tools
  • Garden seeds
  • Notecards
  • Ear buds
  • Desk toys
  • Lotion
  • Shower gel
  • Post-it notes in fun shapes and colors
  • Rubber band ball
  • Chico Bags
  • Cash

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The (White) Elephant in the Room


A friend of mine has been invited to a White Elephant Party, to which party-goers are asked to bring gifts that are "random, strange and under $10." To complicate matters further, it's a work party. And, of course, she doesn't know exactly who will receive her gift (so anything monogrammed is out). A tough task, to be sure, so it's time for SB Gift Girl to dust off the old blog and get back to work.

Think about it: gift exchanges (particularly the kind where people can swipe each other's gifts) are more about event entertainment than any mutual sharing of yearned-for loot. This is a time to give gifts that are a little wild...things that will stand out and get people talking (or better yet, laughing).

Here are some good ideas for low-budget holiday gift exchange parties:
  • Something that is very silly, holidayesque and can be immediately used or worn is great -- the goofier the better. There are some very offbeat Santa hats out there -- with lights, zebra stripes, unusual designs (a jester's hat done in Santa colors!) and/or sound effects. Light-up jewelry works here too.
  • True White Elephants can be hilarious at parties like this -- especially if they are tacky and/or bizarre. By definition, a "white elephant" is something of dubious or limited value. For a White Elephant gift exchange, it could be something you already own, or something horrid you received at another W.E. party, or an item picked up at a thrift store or garage sale. Think: garden gnomes, framed kitten art, a Bavarian tuba band's record album...it's amazing to see what people will fight over. Word of advice: if you're going to go over the top, go way over the top -- or people might not get the joke. If you're not sure, attach a real gift card to make your item even more exchange-worthy.
  • Candy can be dandy if it's BIG or weird: Cost Plus sells yard-long licorice and huge tubes of gumballs -- cheap, fun, and hard to miss. Or you can get an assortment of unusual candies (include some bacon chocolate or Tabasco-flavored sweets!).
  • Alcohol is a little risky (because not everyone partakes), and is only worth giving (in this situation) if it is something people can't buy for themselves. If you make your own limoncello or kahlua or bottle your own beer, that's a good gift -- especially if it's cleverly packaged and clearly labeled as your own. Yes, homemade jam is delicious, but it probably won't generate the excitement we're hoping for here. Unless you are a locally renowned blue-ribbon winner, preserve your preserves for a different party.
  • A hand-made gift can be OK, particularly if you made it (or know who did)...and if it's well done. A knit scarf is always a good bet (one size fits all). Objets d'art are a little riskier, but if it's something you love, go for it (and realize it might end up being re-gifted, so don't be offended if it doesn't appear in your co-worker's cubicle).
  • Consider what the party-goers/gift-exchangers all share in common. If a lot of folks at the party participate in the office football pool, maybe you could get a trinket from a beloved (or bedeviled) team. If this is a book club event, slip a book store gift card between the covers of a book you love -- or a bodice-ripper you all wouldn't be caught dead reading. Have fun with it!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Perfectly Charming: the Charm Bracelet

The charm bracelet has been called “a feminine autobiography on a chain.” I would agree – and go further to call it a living keepsake … totemic bling …a conversation starter … and a really good group gift.

Just a few years ago (or so it seems), the families from my son’s kindergarten class coordinated to give the teacher a silver charm bracelet at the end of the school year. Each student contributed a charm that symbolized:

(a) something distinctive about the gifter's personality or interests (an obsession with sharks, perhaps) or

(b) something the gifter identified with the giftee (hey! She wears shoes!) and/or

(c) a moment or experience they shared together (a field trip to the pumpkin patch, a study unit on Johnny Appleseed, whatever).

The gift was popular, personal, inclusive, and didn’t cost a lot. A home run.

A charm bracelet makes a good group gift for many milestone events -- think birthdays, retirements, engagement parties or graduations. When I turned 40, my friends put together a bracelet that is a perfect little chain-full of memories – it reminds me of my friends, of that specific birthday, and of the fun times we’ve shared. I don’t wear it often, but it is a totem of my history that I absolutely treasure.

You can find sterling silver charms at fine jewelry stores, cheesy tourist traps, and lots of places in between. There are potentially good sources online at TomsCharms.com, CharmFactory.com and SilverFantasy.com. EBay is always a possibility too.

In a 2004 NPR interview with "Charmed Bracelets" author Tracey Zabar, we are reminded that "'To charm' also means to attract, and these bracelets do exactly that. They draw the eye to one's wrist, where a compelling tale unfolds. And if modern-day charms don't cast spells in the ancient sense, they do contain a powerful force: memory, in the form of personal history."

~

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Kiss for Every Year

Here's a simple and sentimental gift to help someone enjoy sweet memories when they celebrate a special birthday or anniversary: a Kiss for every year.

This gift is easy and inexpensive, but a very nice gesture. Here's how it works:

1. Count out one Hershey's Kiss for every year being celebrated -- plus one to grow on. For someone turning 80 years old, for example, count out 81 Kisses.

2. Using a Sharpie pen, label the bottom of each Kiss with a year in the celebrant's life. If the couple was married in 1960, label the first Kiss "1960," the second "1961," etc...on up through the current year.

3. Mix up the labeled Kisses and put them in a pretty (reusable) jar, box or vase. If the Kisses don't fill the container, use mylar, tinsel or Easter grass to fill things up and add to the sparkle.

After I put together a collection of Kisses for my grandfather's 85th birthday, he made a point of reading the year on each piece of candy before he ate it -- and remembered something special from that year in his life.

Sweet!

~

Friday, January 8, 2010

Be Prepared Part II: Monthly Files

Being organized is all relative -- I am generally under the comfortable illusion that I'm pretty on top of things, but to be honest a lot of my organization consists of knowing which thing is in what pile of papers...or in what room. I get by.

I did, however, set up a very easy, very effective organization system for gifting a few years ago -- it took me just a few minutes and cost about two bucks. My kind of project!

This is all you have to do:
  1. If you have a file drawer with space to spare (and promise that you can access it regularly without hurting yourself), add 12 file folders, labeled January-December. If file space is nonexistent, buy one of those accordion folders with a slot for each month.

  2. Check the file at the beginning of each month to remind yourself of how organized you are, with the bonus possibility of taking care of some birthday cards or gift ideas while you're at it.
So simple!

This new system works in three ways:
  1. Say you are shopping for a birthday card for your friend with a February birthday and in the process happen to find a perfect card for your aunt with a birthday in May. Just buy the dang May card and file it away in -- you guessed it -- the May folder. This will save you aggravation in the spring (when that perfect card is completely sold out). When you check your May file at the beginning of the month, you'll be delighted to discover that you stashed away something great (and forgot about it, which is likely for most of us).

  2. The files can be used as gift idea reminders. If your sister-in-law mentions that she collects heart-shaped jewelry or you learn that your nephew adores the University of Texas, just jot down a note and slip it into her/his birthday month file...then luxuriate in the knowledge that you are free to let these little factoids go for now. Ahh.

  3. If you buy a gift in advance for someone whose birthday (or wedding or bat mitzvah or whatever) is not in the immediate future, store the gift on your gift shelf (see below) and pop a reminder note in the appropriate month file.

It's not about being super-organized...it's more about accepting the fact that you're likely to forget things unless you have a place (besides your brain, which is busy enough at the moment) to remember them.

~

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Be Prepared: the Gift Shelf

Here's a handy tip for anyone who will be giving a gift in the next 12 months: the gift shelf.

It can technically be a drawer or a cupboard, but the point of the gift shelf is to (a) keep a stash of ready-to-give presents for use as needed and (b) have a designated place for presents you have pre-purchased for someone specific.

This is a place to store:
  • Potential gifts you bought on sale - Go for that buy-one-get-two-free deal if the item is potentially giftable!

  • Presents you bought while on vacation - Please: no straight souvenirs (gold-plated buffalo chip, anyone?) or "My friend went to blah blah and all I got was this lousy tee shirt" shirts! But if you find some great indigenous arts and crafts, it's cool to stock up. Go for usable items (scarves, bowls, serving utensils, jewelry, etc.) as opposed to objets d'art (unless you are sure your giftee will love the statuette or other chotchke, it will inevitably fall into the dust catcher category). On the other hand, if your friend collects pencil sharpeners or snow globes or sugar spoons from around the world, go for it -- and keep your goods on your gift shelf.

  • Presents you purchased in advance for someone specific - I hid my husband's birthday present so well from him (and myself) last year that he didn't get the gift until three weeks after his birthday...really should have used the gift shelf...

  • Regiftable items - Gifts you received but don't want or need...bear in mind that it's a good idea to put a Post-It note on the item to remind you who gave it to you in the first place.
What's on my gift shelf? Bottles of wine, cute kitchen towels, knit scarves, Chico bags, books, makeup bags, traveler coffee mugs, Bananagrams, vases, CDs, candles, garden chimes and some crystal bells. There is no guarantee that any of these will be appropriate gifts for my next gift-giving opportunity, but my shelf is a good place to start if I am looking for a birthday present or hostess gift.

The truth is, there is no denying that Christmas or Hanukkah will come around again...and chances are very good that you will still be on speaking terms with your friends and family members when their birthdays roll around (which they will). The gift shelf will help you get a head start on great gifts!

~

Friday, January 1, 2010

Re-Gift Tags -- Giving Holiday Cards a New Purpose


Happy new year to you! I don't do resolutions, but have pledged to continue to post SB Gift Girl ideas and tips regularly throughout the new year, so please check in often (and tell your friends!).

A fresh new year means out with the old and in with the new. At the moment, our recycling bins runneth over...but before you pitch the lovely holiday cards your friends and associates spent 44 cents a pop to mail to you, think ahead to Hanukkah or Christmas 2010 -- those colorful cards can easily be repurposed for use as gift tags for next year's holiday gifts.
 
Making gift tags is easy -- use scissors (cut out a shape traced using a small glass as a template) or pony up for a special die cut punch at a crafts shop (about $15 at Michael's Arts & Crafts). Cut a small hole and add ribbon or twine as a tie. Ta dah!

Re-gift tags make a nice giftlet for friends in the first few weeks of December, or can be used yourself to label holiday gifts for friends and family. Christmas or Hanukkah might seem a like long way away now, but they are on the calendar for 2010 (I checked), so it can't hurt to do a little pre-planning. If you do it now, you'll be thanking yourself (and me) come next December.
 
If you're not motivated to create gift tags but want to repurpose your 2009 holiday cards, SB Gift Girl will gladly and gratefully recycle them on your behalf. Please send your old cards to SB Gift Girl (e-mail SBGiftGirl@gmail.com and I will send you my address).

Here's to a perfect 2010!