Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 10: Magazine Subscriptions

**Read the whole (ongoing) series here:  The Twelve Weeks of Christmas (and then you’ll figure out why I can’t read calendars and do math).

So, Christmas is like…. tomorrow.  Ok, not really, but it’s so soon, that’s it now getting to the point where most anything you do would need to be filed under the “last-minute” category (and I’m talking about myself here too, as doing a 100% handmade Christmas is hard — more on that in January).

If you’re still stuck on what to get some of your loved ones, panic not.  My recommendation: magazine subscriptions.

I sense your hesitation.  Listen, I know we’re all computerized, iPhone, iPad, iLife people, but for a straphanger like myself — or anyone for that matter who ever has to wait in line or on a plane and has no WiFi or cell service — magazines are perfect.  And for every interest, hobby, lifestyle, and religion, there is a magazine.  Because not all grocery stores, bookstores and newsstands can carry every single magazine, this is another way to introduce someone to a magazine that they may not have heard of otherwise (we’ll get to the “how” part in a minute).

Just last Christmas, Josh and I got my sister-in-law a subscription to Print, a graphic design magazine.  She’s studying design in school right now, so we thought this would be a perfect gift for her so she could stay up-to-date on the latest trends and tips, as graphic design is a very “hot” field right now.  It’s important to note that I have only ever seen this magazine once in stores (at a Barnes & Noble in Norcross, GA).  Otherwise it’s very difficult to find, and I only heard of it in the first place because I did a Google search for “best graphic design magazine.”

Obviously, the Google route for me yielded great results, but for some, this may be a bit daunting, especially if your particular search terms are broad, e.g., “cooking,” “news,” “fitness.”  For those folks, I recommend actually checking out a magazine subscription website.  There are quite a few to choose from, and they also help save time and money by dividing the magazines into different categories and offering a percentage off of the list price.

Here are a few:

Amazon.com

Magazines.com

MagazinePriceSearch.com

The last link is a new one for me, but I really like what this website offers.  You do not buy the magazines directly from MagazinePriceSearch.com; instead, they scour the web for the best deals (and also have magazines grouped into categories), then they re-direct you to the original website to make your purchase.

I offer magazine subscriptions as a last minute gift idea, but in reality it sometimes takes 6-10 weeks for some companies to process these orders (Why?  I have no idea).  In this case, the magazine subscription website will usually give you a card to print off and give to the recipient.  This is perhaps not the most thrilling thing to open on Christmas morning, so I suggest getting a copy off of a newsstand (if it’s available), and putting that in a box with it (it’s all about presentation:)

And in case you’re still pooh-poohing the idea of magazine subscriptions, here are a few I have found that I think would be especially fun as gifts:

La Cucina Italiana

La Cucina Italiana

From Magazines.com: “La Cucina Italiana magazine is the ultimate authority on Italian food and cooking. La Cucina     Italiana magazine provides step-by-step recipes, ingredient guides, wine pairings and chef features.”

Yum.

Real Simple

Real Sinple

From Magazines.com: “The editors of Real Simple magazine strive to get readers to do what needs to be done, so that they have time to do what they enjoy. Each issue of Real Simple magazine includes solutions for improvements inside and outside of the home, healthy habits that promote a better lifestyle, useful recipes and ideas for entertaining. You’ll find product reviews on everything from food items to cleaning products and clothing. First published in 2000.”

Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone

From Magazines.com: “Rolling Stone magazine combines relentless mainstream entertainment coverage and unapologetic political views in each issue. Regular topics covered include entertainment reviews, celebrity stories and photos. Annual special issues include music festival preview, the best of rock, fall fashion, 10 bands to watch and year in review. The magazine is also famous for its provocative cover photos of musicians, celebrities and politicians. First published in 1967.

Yoga Journal

Yoga Journal

From Magazine.com: “Yoga Journal was launched in 1975 by members of the California Yoga Teachers Association. The current circulation of Yoga Journal is at 1 million. This magazine will provide all of the basics of yoga including step-by-step instruction on poses, meditation, and breathing from the experts. Read about all of the benefits that yoga offers for your mind, body, and soul. Learn about conferences, books, and videos that offer additional information on yoga and enjoy extensive vacation travel guides. Articles also feature experts, pioneers and celebrities who practice yoga, as well as information on products and healthy eating.”

National Geographic

Is a description really necessary?  It’s National Geographic magazine… it’s a-MA-zing!

Popular Mechanics

Popular Mechanics

From Magazines.com (again): “Popular Mechanics magazine presents practical advice on how breakthroughs in science and technology impact everyday lives. Each issue informs readers with how-to articles on automotive, home and outdoor topics. Popular Mechanics also provides reviews and comparison tests of the latest equipment and products. First published in 1902. ”

I know this one has sentimental value for Josh.  Perhaps the burly menfolk in your life will feel the same way (and ladies, too).

Yeah, I could go on and on…
Hope these ideas were helpful!  I know that if I received a subscription of most any of these, I’d be grateful (I’ve got my eye on you, Yoga Journal).

Happy Last Minute Shopping!

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Other cool stuffses:

Cheap Holiday Travel

Online Shopping Tips and Tricks

Happy Hour

This video of a bear waving

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Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 6 (continued): Cyber Monday

***”Twelve Weeks of Christmas?  Is this some evil ploy driven by corporate greed to get even more money out of me and my vulnerable, consumer-driven wallet?”  No, not exactly…. this is just a blog!  But if you want to check out the other parts in this ongoing, 12-part series, which are not particularly evil and only mildly consumer-driven, check it out right here.  You won’t be sorry.

***ALSO, check out previous parts in week 6, “Black Friday Shopping Tips” and “Small Business Saturday.”  Kind of like a series within a series… a miniseries?  No, that doesn’t work… sounds like something on the Lifetime channel.  Anyways, check it out!

Ok y’all, I’ve asked you to put on your “focus pants” before– today I need you to turn on your listening ears (and whatever other metaphoric accessories will help you pay attention).  Today we’re talking about…

Cyber Monday!

My thoughts exactly. (Though I'm not sure why the heart has eyes and a smile. Creepy.)

Now, about ten, fifteen years ago, back in the age of chat rooms and “the-internet-is-still-a-novelty” this would have sounded like a very naughty thing, indeed.  So, dirty jokes aside, Cyber Monday is my favorite shopping holiday!

I love the internet (did I mention that a couple…3 dozen times?).  I love shopping!  I love getting a good deal (“duh” to the fifth power).  When all three of these things merge in a sweet, sweet union — in a weird kind of polygamist who’s-the-real-bride-and-groom thing — I am one happy lady!

(Quick, not boring) History Lesson:  Cyber Monday began as an official shopping holiday in 2005, after online retailers noticed an upsurge of online shopping during the weekend (and week) after Thanksgiving.  Wanting to capitalize on this, shop.org, the National Retail Federation’s digital edition, declared the Monday after Thanksgiving “Cyber Monday,” thus encouraging online retailers to reduce prices or offer a percentage off their purchase, free shipping, free gifts, et al.  Needless to say, the holiday took off and has only grown over the past years.

History lesson aside, Cyber Monday is a day to get some of the best deals imaginable, but careful planning is key for success.  So… guess what?  I made a list!  (I know what you’re thinking:  I never do that :)  )  Well, kind of a list, kind of a step-by-step, ya know… it’ll all be clear very soon.  And soon = NOW:

1.  Review your Christmas list, specifically what you have left to buy.

I know… Black Friday and Small Business Saturday haven’t even gotten here yet!  However, for some items on your list, it will be clear that you won’t find those things on either of these days (or you’ve already looked at the websites I recommended and know that you won’t find what you need on Black Friday).  Small Business Saturday comes with hidden surprises, so wait until after that before you make any solid decisions, but you should still have some idea of what you’re going to need/want online.

(Oh, and if you’re at a loss for online resources, look no further than this post.)

2.  After you’ve figured out what you may need to purchase online, comparison shop to find the best prices.

Bookmark these websites, save the links in an e-mail to yourself, whatever.  Obviously, the price you see today may be reduced on Monday, but it will usually be relative to its original price on the website.  If you have an extra minute and you feel pretty strongly about a particular website (for example, my go-to’s are Amazon and Overstock), go ahead and save yourself some time in the future and set up an account with them (this is a free account by the way, I’m not saying to open up a credit card account with them — Danger, Will Robinson!).

3.  Sign-up for e-mails, Facebook friend them or subscribe to their Tweets (or all three).

By registering for an account, you will probably already get their e-mails, but some companies give special deals to their Twitter followers or Facebook friends, so it’s worth the short-term hassle if it means you’ll get an incredible coupon or free shipping.  Needless to say, after Cyber Monday, you can unsubscribe (until next year, of course).

4.  Log in to your account with these websites, and add the necessary items to your cart (but don’t buy them yet!).

Most websites will save the items you added to your cart, and then when Cyber Monday rolls around, you have a much easier job!  You’ve already comparison shopped, so based on the price drops for the big day, you can remove or add more items to your cart.

5.  Check out CyberMonday.com

Here’s the link: http://www.cybermonday.com/   It’s basically what it sound like: a website dedicated to my fave shopping holiday, and sometimes it divulge leaked promos or other offers that will be available.

6.  Get up early!

This is important, especially if you have to work that day (though the National Retail Federation says that 50% of people who work at a desk with a computer will use it for shopping on Cyber Monday, so I’m not necessarily encouraging you to shop online while at work, but getting up extra early won’t hurt!).  Again, if you already have your virtual shopping cart full, it’s just a matter of double-checking with their Cyber Monday deals (sometimes you have to spend x number of dollars to get free shipping), then entering your credit card information, and wa-bam!  Done.

Another reason to get up early:  Online stores, though they are online, i.e. part of the world wide web, can CRASH or SELL OUT of the items you are wanting.  Eek!  So, get that worm early, early birds (there’s a proverb in there somewhere).

7.  Check out big box retailers’ websites as well.

Traditionally, that’s what Black Friday is for, but in case you were pining away for something and weren’t able to get it on Black Friday, you can still try to find it on their website (walmart.com, target.com, bestbuy.com, ya know).  These big box websites often surprise with some lovely Cyber Monday deals, so check them out!

8.  Etsy.com

I know, I know…. I talk about Etsy a lot, but I also talk about my husband a lot and it turns out, I like him… this is also how I feel about Etsy :) (though to a slightly lesser degree).

I know I mentioned this website in my Online Shopping Tips and Tricks post, so you may already be two steps ahead of me, but I can’t mention online shopping without giving Etsy a little love (and no, they don’t pay me to say this… but they could.  Etsy advertising people?  Are you listening? :) )

Since Etsy is an online marketplace comprised of various individuals who have virtual storefronts selling a variety of things, you won’t find any site-wide deals.  However, my tip (that has actually worked for me before) is to contact a seller directly.  Once you find an item or items that you want to buy, contact the seller (via the contact methods given) and ask about their Cyber Monday deals… or ask if they plan to participate in Small Business Saturday.  It doesn’t hurt to ask, and if you start a dialogue with them, sometimes you can open up the possibilities of haggling (quite possibly one of my favorite words in the English language).  Explain to them that you really want such-and-such item, but you plan on setting aside all online transactions for Cyber Monday in hopes that there’ll be some discounts or other perks.  Of course, the seller could go all p’shaw on you and say they don’t participate in such things (awww…..), but at least you’ve asked, and it never hurts to ask.

Maybe the online sellers will already have some Cyber Monday deals in place… or maybe they haven’t even thought of it yet and this will be the springboard for them to consider implementing this into their business plan!

9.  Don’t get spastic with the plastic!

(Can you believe I just made that up?  Will wonders never cease?)  :)

But seriously, remember that your debit or credit card is connected to a bank account (or a soon-to-arrive-in-your-mailbox bill).  It’s not Monopoly money (but oh, how I wish it was!).  It’s one thing to go to a store and swipe a card or hand over cash for your purchases;  it’s another to enter in a few numbers and click-click-click.  Don’t discount the gravity of what you’re doing, however user-friendly it may be.  It’s so easy to get into the mindset of the click-click-click, especially when you’re not dealing with tangible things like cash or a paper receipt.  Have fun, get great deals (I mean, how could you not?), but be SMART.

10.  Number Ten

I didn’t really have a number ten, but I was feeling sort of off balance with a mere nine tips.  I’m sure you understand.

Question time:  Do you plan to participate in Black Friday, Small Business, Saturday or Cyber Monday?  All three?  Just one?  None of the above?  Or are you going the Courtney route this year and giving all handmade, re-purposed, or thrifted gifts (if so, good luck — it’s no easy task)???  Are you going to start using the catchphrase “Don’t get spastic with the plastic,” especially considering I spent 3.75 seconds thinking it up?

Let me know in comment form below!

***To check out my Black Friday Shopping Tips, go here.

***To read my Small Business Saturday spiel, go here.

***To check out the other parts of “The Twelve Weeks of Christmas,” go here.

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Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 6 (Continued): Small Business Saturday

*** “Twelve weeks of Christmas?” you say, with an incredulous tone.  That’s a lot of Christmas… or is it just enough?!  You decide: here

Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday, which falls on November 26th this year, is a an initiative of American Express, the credit card well known for supporting brick-and-mortar mom-and-pops.  It’s part of the busiest-shopping-weekend-of-the-year triumvirate, which includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  However, unlike these other two shopping holidays, Small Business Saturday doesn’t support the big box retailers; it supports the little guys!

Ok, for real y’all, just the name of this special day gives me warm fuzzies.  I love supporting small business!  However, that whole penny pinching quest of mine can get in the way of this more often than not.  However, having a specific day dedicated to this makes it even easier, and hopefully, the specified day encourages small businesses to have their own sales, sharing in the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

Here’s where you come in!  To get the word out about Small Business Saturday, first check out their website here.

No really, click on that link now.  It will open in another window and you can come back to me in a minute.

Ok, good.  If you clicked on the link, you probably noticed the whole Facebook sharing thing.  If not, there’s a direct link here.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it (and c’mon, it’s easy!) is to social-media-nudge the mess out of this!  Share it on Facebook, Twitter, E-mail, in conversations with friends and family… anyone. Get the word out!

Small Business Saturday is still a relatively new holiday (ok, it’s only two years old), so not everyone knows about it.  It’s our job, as penny pinching advocates, to promote this holiday and increase its awareness.  (I know… misuse of the word “holiday,” but that’s what the American Express website calls it, so move on, language purists.)

The more people that know about it means more people will partake in it, which means more small businesses will feel encouraged to drop their prices, take a percentage off, et al, if even for one day.

And of course, the last component of your mission:  SHOP on Small Business Saturday.  Even if a particular (small) business is not in the American Express OPEN Retail Index, patronize it anyway.  When you’re checking out and they say “thank you,” (and hopefully they do), tell them you’re just partaking in Small Business Saturday!  Hopefully they’ll ask you (or look it up) if they don’t know what this means, and you can explain to them (or Google can).  When it comes to Small Business Saturday, the more the merrier!

Well… looks like you’ve got work to do, dear GPP readers and accidentally-stumbled-here-via-search-engine folks!

In summary:

1.  Check out http://www.smallbusinesssaturday.com/.

2.  “Like” them on Facebook and share the link:

3.  Tweet it!

4.  Bring it up in random conversation… with whoever you randomly converse with!

5.  Put it in your calendar.

6.  Shop small on November 26th, 2011.  It’s as easy as getting coffee from that little cafe you’ve been meaning to go to… instead of Starbucks.

Happy (small) Shopping!!!

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***To read the previous posts in this ongoing, twelve part series, go here.  Only 5 weeks left!

Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 6: Black Friday Shopping Tips

This picture has NOTHING to do with Black Friday shopping, so don’t waste your time trying to find an intelligent correlation. Instead, spend your time appreciating the beauty of this picture (and Josh’s flower drawing skills). This is from when Nola had her “lady parts” removed a couple of years ago. We couldn’t resist decorating her cone, since she was forced to wear it anyway. Isn’t she the cutest little post-op puppy ever!?! (I also posted this picture because I decided every post needs a picture, whether related to it or not.)

**Check out the previous parts in this twelve part series here.

***Sorry for the late post, folks.  To say I have been busy today is an understatement:  I have been on (and off) hold with the gas company for the last 2.5 hours today, and in case you’re wondering, if the previous tenant of the unit you are living in passes away without paying his gas bill for two years, that might result in you having your gas turned off, even if you have paid your bill.  The moral of the story is keep good records!  The only reason they’re turning my gas back on today is because I have a bill from my previous residence proving I lived there and not here with the previous tenant.  Seriously.  Crazy times.  I’m exhausted. 

Ok, ridiculous stories aside, I am so EXCITED!  Why?  Well, aside from being able to use my oven and stove again (very soon), this is a very exciting week in the world of penny pinching!

No, not Thanksgiving… though I like that, too.

Over the course of the next week, you can take advantage of….   (drumroll)

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Small Business Saturday!!!

(Oooh…. Aaaah…..)

Oh boy, oh boy!  Right?!  Today I’ll address the crazy (and slightly intimidating) magic  that is Black Friday; I’ll leave Tuesday and Wednesday for the rest.  Don’t worry, you’ll be fully prepared for bargain hunting nirvana.  I’ll make sure of it.  :)

Black Friday:  It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and it’s considered the “official” first day of Christmas shopping (though if you’re smart GPP readers, you’ve been doing the Christmas shopping thing for a while now).  The term first came into use in 1966, and it refers to this specific day when retailers turn a profit or are “in the black” (as opposed to “the red”).

Typically, retailers open their stores at 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m., though some will open as early as 3:00 a.m. or 4:00 a.m..  Very recently, some retailers have even pushed it back to midnight.   As in, while you are eating your Thanksgiving dinner, stores are getting ready for soon-to-arrive customers.

This opening at midnight stuff has been met with much frustration, and one Target employee even started a petition against this plan, garnering over 190,000 signatures.  It gets worse:  Wal-Mart is opening their doors at 10:00 p.m., with most employees being requested to arrive at 8:00.  Gross.

Clearly, I’m not the biggest advocate of the midnight sales, and I still believe you can get AMAZING deals by just going early in the morning.

That said, here a few tips from a veteran Black Friday shopper, i.e.,  ME! 

1.        Pre-Black Friday sales:

As someone who has worked in retail, I know that at some stores, Black Friday sales actually begin the Monday or Tuesday before.  Seriously.  One such retailer that has always done this in the past is the J. Crew Factory store.  Random tip, I know… but you’re welcome all the same.  :)  This means if you don’t feel you’ll have the necessary game face ready for Friday… or if you are working or otherwise unavailable, you can still get some great deals RIGHT NOW.  It’s totally possible.  (In fact, my mother and I usually go Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving, where she does the majority of her Christmas shopping.  She refuses to be a part of Black Friday and “all those crazy people” as she says.  I guess she forgets that I am “one of those crazy people.”)

2.        Get up early!!!

This really does make a difference as a lot of retailers, particularly department stores, have “doorbusters” or “early bird” specials that are only available before 9:00 or 10:00.  The crowd can be a bit crazy, but it will totally be worth it if you get a great deal (genuine leather Etienne Aigner boots for $40?  Ok!).

3.       Eat breakfast.

Many irrational decisions can be made when you’re hungry.  Don’t let it happen to you (more on this in a future post scheduled for December).

4.        Stay hydrated.

This is in the same vein as #3, but seriously, very important.  Piggybacking on this concept, go ahead and bring your own water bottle, too.  You may think you can just buy something somewhere if you’re really thirsty, but I promise, everyone else will think that as well, and while Black Friday is a big day for retail, it’s also a GREAT day for the restaurant business (read: a day for CROWDS/LINES everywhere).

5.        Pack lightly and dress even more lightly.

Nothing is more frustrating than carrying a too-heavy purse when you’re on a serious Black Friday shopping mission.  Just pack what you need, i.e., wallet, sales fliers, water bottle, a snack, and a first aid kit (just kidding… or am I?).  The “dress lightly” part:  Perhaps equal in frustration is having to carry around a coat or scarf while also trying to carry shopping bags and push through the crowds.  Wear something where you think you’ll be comfortable both inside and outside (hopefully, you’ll be inside most of the day and it won’t matter beyond the trip you have in walking to your car).

6.        Check out Black Friday deals BEFORE Black Friday.

Thanksgiving day is THE day to buy a newspaper if you want a tangible copy of the sales fliers, but if you’re wanting to plan even earlier – perhaps before you slip into a turkey induced coma – there are a few websites that feature the “leaked” deals, so you could know as early as NOW!  Here they are:

The Black Friday

BlackFriday.info

BlackFriday.us

Black Friday @ Gottadeal.com

Yeah, sensationalized is an understatement…

 7.       Make a list.

If you don’t have a battle plan going into Black Friday, you could fall victim to over-spending (eesh!) or overwhelm-edness.  With the crowds and the general state of frenzy, it can be easy to just say “This is too much – I don’t need to shop this badly.”  But… don’t do that, silly!  Because… again, this is both the busiest shopping day of the year AND the best if you’re looking for great deals.  For real.  It’s not just mass hysteria  (though it is that, too).  Make a list, know what you’re looking for and where you’re looking for it, stay tough, and make me proud :)

———————————————————-

Hope these tips help!  Yes, Black Friday is a CRAZY day, but if you come prepared to do battle (I’m only sort of kidding in my tone), you’ll be fine (and maybe even slightly surprised to discover it’s not even as crazy as I’m making it out to be).

Good luck.

And, as always, please pass along any other tips you may have for Black Friday shopping in comment form below!

Coming up this week…

Tuesday:   Cyber Monday

Wednesday:  Small Business Saturday

Stay Tuned!

Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Part 5: Personalized Gifts and Photo Gifts

***”Twelve weeks of what?”  Check out my previous posts here to learn what this madness is about.  And by madness, I mean goodness.

With this series, I have attempted to offer you tips and tricks to get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to buying Christmas presents.  Personalized gifts and photo gifts are one of my favorite ways to do this! ( And I’m not just talking about monogrammed towels and photo mugs, though those are great too.)  :)

It may take a little imagination, but if you think outside the box in regards to this category, you can really come up with some great gifts that will be cherished by the recipient for years to come!   (Because that’s what we want… not more contributions to future garage sales….right?)

Keep in mind – you can probably make a lot of these things if you’re feeling particularly crafty.  However, it doesn’t hurt to window shop and get some inspiration.  So whether you’re browsing or buying, here are some suggestions that I’m a big fan of:

Personalized return address stamps

   Yeah, I know, most folks do e-billing and e-mails and e-life, but that doesn’t mean snail mail is dead.  And it never hurts to get in touch with our inner Emily Post and write a thank you note every once in a while.  If you do still cling to mailing in your checks to pay bills (“Hello mother!”), this is a faster way to get through that less than pleasant process.  The best (and cheapest) way to find these is through Etsy.com.  Here are some of favorite designs found on Etsy (all under $30):

Yeah, I could keep going , but I’ll move on…

Personalized Beer Mugs  Need I say more?  These aren’t just for groomsmen! ($13.26)

In the same vein, I love personalized flask sets! ($15.95)

Photo Puzzle:  I’ll admit this one is a stretch (cheese factor).  However, if you’re like me, you like a good holiday scavenger hunt, and this would be a perfect way to reveal a clue !  (You can always do word docs instead of pics)  ($10.95)

Photo Posters:  I’m not a big fan of the poster part of this, however this is a great way to get a large reproduction of a photo at a cheaper price for the purposes of framing.  On this particular website, Discount Photogifts, you can get up to a 30″ X 40″ poster for $37.50 or as small as a 10″ X 13″ for $7.


Silhouette Gifts:  I think these are timeless and charming (and talk about personalized).  Here a re a few examples:

Remember:  You can always try your hand at making these!

Photo coasters:  You can use the same method from the DIY Tile Coaster Tutorial, using pictures of your own for the images.  As mentioned in the tutorial, these would cost a mere  to make versus $19.99  (which I just saw on Shutterfly’s website).  Just to remind you, here are the tile coasters from a few weeks ago :)

Aren’t they just asking for a wedding photo… or a picture of a toddler covered in spaghetti sauce… or something… ?

Of course, there are MANY personalized and photo gift options out there, some slightly tacky, some less GPP-friendly, some fantastic!  So I’ve pasted a few of the websites below, just to give you an idea.  Many of these I have used, others I have not but have heard great things.  These websites can be searched with a price range in mind (you know I like that) so there are options to fit all budgets:

1.  Shutterfly

2.  Snapfish

3.  Wal-Mart

4.  Personal Creations.com

5.  Zazzle

6.  Photogifts.com

7.  Target

8.  Ritz Pix

And of course, I love me a drug store… always full of surprises!

1.  CVS  

2.  Walgreen’s  

3.  Rite-Aid

4.  Duane Reade

etc….

Whew… that’s a lot of link action.  Remember: if it doesn’t fit your budget, figure out a way to make it!  These links are as good for buying as they are for window shopping and getting inspiration.

Question time:  Have you given a personalized or photo gift that you were particularly proud of?  Did you make it?  If not, what website/store did you use/buy it from?  

Please pass on any other ideas you may have for gifts like these!

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Check out the previous posts in this series, “The Twelve Weeks of Christmas”:

Week One:  Online Shopping Tips and Tricks

Week Two:  DIY gift tutorial — How to Make a Bowl out of an Old Vinyl Record

Addendum to “How to Make a Bowl out of an Old Vinyl Record

Week Three: DIY gift tutorial — How to Make Coasters out of Tiles

Week Four:  Operation Christmas Child

Early Christmas Shopping (Twelve Weeks of Christmas Preview)

Have you started your holiday shopping yet?

Today is September 26th, which means we are three months away from Christmas!   This may seem like a light year away, especially when you break it down:  that’s 13 weeks or 91 days away; that’s Halloween and then Thanksgiving; that’s the ENTIRE season of Fall; that’s one semester or two quarters of school.  It seems so far away…

However, if you are like me, you are already brainstorming about Christmas gifts, and not for what I want — though I have already set my sights on one thing in particular in case Santa is reading this — but rather what I want to give to other people, i.e., loved ones, charitable causes, et al.

Planning early helps me to avoid the last minute Christmas shopping trips (super stressful!) and rather, stretch out the gift acquisition over the course of 13 weeks.  I say gift acquisition all italicized-like because I do not just buy gifts — I also try to MAKE THEM. And not just things like the macaroni angel ornament you made in elementary school, though those were undoubtedly charming in their time.  Gifts that make the recipient go “You made this?  Really??”

So before the gift acquisition phase can commence (that sounds so sci-fi/fantasy!), here are some tips and tricks to help you find/make the best gifts without incurring ANY additional credit card debt — No really!

In this picture I was probably thinking about making lists, thus the happy expression.

  1.         List all your family to whom you will actually be giving gifts.  This list will typically include mom(s), dad(s), your spouse/life partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, children, in-laws, maybe grandparents?  If your extended family is like my extended family, we usually draw names and the name you get is the person to whom you give a gift, with a monetary limit of usually $35-50.  This may seem weird but really turns out to be a lot more fun in the long run (See!  I come from a long line of penny pinchers!)
  2.        List all of your friends to whom you will be giving gifts.
  3.        List all of your acquaintances to whom you will be giving gifts.  This may have caused some of you to do a double-take, but think about it: Do you have a relationship with any particular person in your life that provides you a consistent service?  Examples could include: your mail man/woman, your exterminator (if you own a house and actually have conversations with your exterminator, like my mother), your hairdresser/barber, your children’s dance/karate/music/whatever-kids-are-doing-nowadays instructors and classroom teachers, and potentially more.  Because I live in an apartment and do not have children, I don’t have a lot of relationships, if any at all, with a lot of the typical “service providers.”  If you do, you should definitely considering giving them a little something.  This does not have to be anything big, but considering most of these people are grossly underpaid – and I speak as a dance instructor and the daughter of a teacher – it’s definitely a nice gesture that is ALWAYS appreciated.  More on this in a future blog.
  4.        After you have made your three lists, go through each name and figure out what you might want to give them.  You do not have to decide it all in one sitting, but it’s good to have a general idea, especially for members of your immediate family and closest friends, as these people will probably get the biggest gifts and therefore the most gift acquisition attention (that’s right, I brought it back).  Don’t necessarily limit yourself by budget, because there is almost always a way to find what you are looking for in your price range (though if are actor-style poor, you probably can’t get everyone in your immediate family a 42” flat screen TV, but I feel like that goes without saying). 
  5.        From this list of gift ideas, figure out which of these things you could realistically make.  Before you pooh-pooh the possibility of making something, Google it.  The affordable options to hand-making – without need of expensive tools– might surprise you, especially if you keep reading this blog for the next 12 weeks. (Hint.)
  6.       From this list of gift ideas, figure out which of these things you couldn’t possibly make, e.g., a computer (the exceptions are rare enough that they are not worth mentioning).
  7.        Plan when to purchase/make these items. 

In the case of electronics, I think it is wisest to wait until Black Friday week.  I say the week and not just the day because stores will often have similar sales during Thanksgiving week and not just the following day.  However, if you know you are not going to feel up to braving Black Friday, your best bet for good deals on electronics would be online shopping.  (Future blog  comin’ at ‘cha!)

In the case of everything else, unless it is a baked good (which always make good gifts for extended family and people on your “acquaintances” list), you can buy these things in advance, which leads me to number

8.       Buy at least ONE ITEM A WEEK from now until Christmas.  This is the most valuable and time tested advice I can offer.  I am never broke by the time I get to Christmas, I have never accrued (additional) credit card debt, and I have never had the excuse of not having enough money to get my loved ones what I want.  Christmas comes on the same day every year; it is not a ninja holiday like Easter, i.e., it doesn’t sneak up on you in the dead of night and say “Here I am!”  (“What?  But it’s like February, right?”).

9.       Save a few items to buy for the week of Christmas.  This is more of a girly, sentimental thing and not really necessary, but I really love going Christmas shopping when it is actually Christmas time!  I love the decorations, the music, the chill in the air, ya know.  And because I have paced myself, Christmas shopping is neither stressful nor depressing, and I don’t have to wander aimlessly, trying to get ideas because I already know what I want (and I’ve already gotten most of what I wanted previously).

10.   If you have items that you plan to make (and I really hope you do because these are the best!) start making those sooner rather than later.  When I make things for people, I tend to not subscribe to this philosophy as much as I should, and I nearly always regret it.  Lesson learned, don’t procrastinate!

11.   Refer to #8.  No really.  Best advice ever and I just gave it to you for free (and that’s a good deal).

(Most bloggers will only give you a list of ten tips/tricks, but I just blew your face off with eleven.  Right?!)

For those still resisting handmade gifts, I hear your hesitation and I understand — I used to feel the same way!  However, over the course of the next twelve weeks, I hope to change your mind with my first ever series (“Wait, she can’t do a series yet!  She just started this blog?!?!  Who does she think she is?  Miss Interwebs?!”)   . . . AND the series will be entitled:

“The Twelve Weeks of Christmas”   (because what else was I gonna call it?)

Each week I will offer one tutorial on a handmade gift (yippee!) as well as tips/tricks for getting good deals, online shopping, etc.

For my loyal tens of subscribers — in 8 different states and 3 different countries – wha??– DON’T WORRY.  This will not be like when your local department store puts their Christmas decorations on sale in July, because that’s just wrong; this will not be a non-stop Christmas fest and the series won’t be more than one post a week so . . . ya know . . . relax.

And if you’re Jewish and don’t do the Christmas thing, just insert the word Channukah every time you read the word Christmas, and then multiply times eight (haha).

Stay tuned and SUBSCRIBE! —>