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'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!