Shopping Tips

4 Steps to Stress-Free Gift Giving

Posted by on Dec 2, 2012

© mao-in-photo –

December is arguably the busiest shopping month of the year, with shopping centers and malls historically reporting the most traffic this month. It’s no wonder: on average we will spend about $750 purchasing gifts and cards for our family, friends, coworkers and pets this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a lot of shopping; it’s going to be a busy month! Therefore, it’s important to keep track of where, how and on whom that money is spent.

To help track of holiday purchases—and gift purchases year ‘round—I created a Gift Tracker to record dates, names, gift ideas and a budget for everyone on your list. Click to download the Gift Tracker 2012 in Word or a PDF version. The tracker is only part of the story, however. Use the tracker in conjunction with the overall Gift Giving for Busy People system.

When I was developing my POPS (Plan, Organize, Prioritize, Schedule) plan for personal success, I knew it could have applicability to the gift giving side of life. Nearly everything I do for holidays, home decorating and even entertaining follows that basic outline. So why not gift giving? The one adjustment I make when applying POPS to gift giving is to make it personal.

Thus, here are the four simple steps to streamlining and simplifying your gift giving, whether it’s the holidays or any day:


Creating a gift giving plan gives you a bird’s eye view of your gift giving needs, and lets you budget accordingly.

  • Create a big picture view of all birthdays, anniversaries, known occasions and holiday gifts. The holidays are a heavy gift giving season, but look for groupings or clusters in the rest of the year. Maybe you have six birthdays and an anniversary in April. That’s a signal you will need to budget more for those times of the year.
  • Create an annual budget, paying particular attention to winter holidays.
  • Use a gift tracker to write down everyone you need or want to select a gift for, a price point for the gift and any ideas or things to remember.


Look at your gift giving behaviors. Are you typically a last-minute shopper, picking up some knick knack on the way to the office party for the grab bag? Or do you plan ahead? Even if you do plan and purchase ahead of time, is there a frenzy every time you need to wrap a gift? Once you identify what causes stress in your gift giving continuum, think about ways to make that task less stressful. Being organized might be the answer! Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Use a gift drawer so you’re never caught without a gift. What is a gift drawer, you ask? Read on.
  • Designate supplies just for gift wrapping, and keep them handy.  Read more.


Perhaps the biggest stressor in gift giving is “what” to buy or make to give to your recipient.

In Gift Giving for Busy People, I go into great detail with a series of questions designed to help you arrive at the perfect gift for your recipient. For now, try this exercise. Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking through a shopping mall with your recipient. What is she drawn to? Notice the stores, the items and the colors and see if any themes emerge. Or, would he even be caught dead in the mall? Where would he rather be? What would he rather be doing? What gift ideas come from those answers?

It is necessary to step into your recipient’s shoes for a moment to determine what is important to him or her. This includes being aware of your recipient’s social conscience and lifestyle; for example, you would not want to give a leather purse to a vegan. The reason this works is, people respond best when their values are supported. Challenge their values and they will withdraw or become defensive. This is true in any interpersonal exchange, whether it’s a business meeting, a family dinner, or a gift exchange. A gift giver should always keep in mind the recipient’s values, rather than his or her own.

Any gift you select may be personalized even more and made very special indeed. Do this by including a personal, handwritten note explaining your feelings behind the gift. For these gifts, we’re talking about symbolism and sentiment to move the gift beyond the realm of the generic and into perfection.  For example, a husband presenting his wife with a clock on their first wedding anniversary might say, “May this gift remind you that no matter how quickly time may pass, my love will always be there for you.” A personal sentiment is free and it transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary and meaningful. Read more.


  • Plan shopping trips at holiday time. Literally block off time after work or on a weekend (eek!) to shop for gifts.
  • Looking at your gift tracker, look for groupings of stores; any time several gifts can be purchased at one store or at several stores in one shopping center, it saves time. (And gas!)
  • Use technology to your advantage to comparison buy or simply buy online and ship directly to your recipient.
  • Sign up on your favorite retailers’ social media pages, or sign up for promotional emails. Both are a great source of exclusive information on sales, as well as coupons.
  • Combine tasks by shopping where you are. Read more.
  • Save time by shopping when you are. Read more.

If you still need help selecting holiday gifts, check out my Holiday Gift Guide 2012 on Pinterest! Happy giving!!

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Black Friday Shopping Tips

Posted by on Nov 22, 2012


© SVLuma –

With 147 million people expected to shop on Black Friday and over the weekend, it’s going to be a madhouse out there! Be prepared with a shopping plan (including a budget), a prioritized list of stores and these tips:

Do make a list of the people you’re buying for, the specific items you’re purchasing and your budget.

Do your research ahead of time and comparison shop online before heading out the stores, especially for big ticket items.

Do sign up for email reminders, mobile alerts and sneak peeks on your favorite retailers’ websites and social media channels. More than 80 percent retailers are reaching customers with special deals through these channels.

Do find out what time your targeted stores are opening. Major discount retailers are opening Thursday night; many more open at midnight or in the wee hours of Friday morning.

Don’t buy anything just because “it’s a good deal.” Everything should have a purpose and/or a recipient.

Do wear comfy shoes and take water and snacks with you.

Don’t assume items may be returned. Find out what the store’s return policies are.

Do keep original receipts for all items.

Do set aside space in your home to store gifts, such as a closet or a deep drawer.

Don’t forget to shop online; online retailers are also running Black Friday specials, many of which include free shipping.

Do shop for you! These may be some of the best prices of the year, so if there’s something you’ve been needing for your own home or closet, now might be the perfect time to make that purchase.

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Holiday Shopping Tips

Posted by on Nov 15, 2011

Today is National Clean Out Your Pantry Day! It’s the perfect time to clear out the expired, dried out and simply unidentifiable things in your pantry and the fridge. With Thanksgiving just 9 days away, we’ll need the extra storage space to lay in holiday staples and to get a jump on grocery shopping for turkey day.

Yesterday I was chatting with my produce guy at the local supermarket and he congratulated me for getting an early start on some Thanksgiving Day essentials. He said that last year the store ran out of many items, including carrots and sweet potatoes. I personally know they ran out of pie crust and pumpkin days before Thanksgiving!

So this year it’s essential to get started now on that holiday grocery list. Thankfully, most stores already have Thanksgiving staples on sale. Here are a few tips to help make your way through the aisles – and hopefully eliminate the need for return trips!1. Make your list based on actual recipes, not what’s in your head. Sure, you may remember that pumpkin pie has pumpkin in it, but does it use condensed milk or evaporated milk?

2. Divide your list into perishable items and non-perishable items, or things with a longer life. Shop for the non-perishable, long life items now to get the best selection. Things like refrigerated pie crusts, canned pumpkin, nuts, frozen veggies, spices and root veggies all fall into this category. Then, schedule time next week Monday or Tuesday to purchase those perishable items like a fresh turkey and fresh herbs.

3. Decide what items you may purchase in generic or store brands, and what items must be your favorite brand. My local store is stocking more and more store brand items and squeezing out national brands. Prices may be a bit lower, and some things are totally comparable. Others, like nuts and veggies, are not the quality I prefer. For ingredients that are the “star” of a dish, I have chosen not to compromise the taste and quality. I may spend a little more on pecans for my pecan pie, but I know I will not be disappointed to serve it to my friends. I’ll go for what’s less expensive for supporting role ingredients.

4. Buy a carton of whipping cream. It lasts for weeks and you never know when you’ll need it.

5. Just in case you forget something, check with your store to see if it will be open on Thanksgiving Day. This way, you’re not scrounging the shelves of a convenience store looking for those crispy fried onions …. (Yes, that was experience speaking.) Photo © Matty Symons –

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Holidays Are Coming Soon!

Posted by on Aug 18, 2010

I hope you are enjoying the summer! Where I live, it’s consistently well over 100 degrees these days, but the thought of a nice, cool fall keeps me going.Think it’s too early to start thinking about Halloween? Think again! Shop for home accessories in citrus brights like orange, lemon and lime to marry with your Halloween-themed accessories. For example, the other day I was shopping at Target and I saw a great orange shower curtain for only $9.99. It’s likely a seasonal item that will be long gone by October, so why not think about your Halloween décor for the bath now?

Buying now also gives you time to embellish solid-colored items with stamps, stickers, or ribbon. Add a few stripes of black grosgrain ribbon (use iron-on tape for a smooth look) to that orange shower curtain and voila! Instant holiday décor.

The best part is, a lot of great merchandise is on sale now! Shop the summer-end sales for holiday staples like tea lights and votive candles in red, orange and white. Or, pick up white star-shaped plates (marketed for the 4th of July) that could easily translate into hors d’oeuvre plates for a Christmas party. Recently I purchased a large, red metal star for 50 percent off. It was part of an “ Americana ” summer collection, but my plan is to spray paint it in brushed silver or gold and display it on the front door in lieu of a wreath this Christmas.

Some retailers even have last year’s fall and winter items on final mark-down, so snap up those bargains when you find them! As always, ensure that you have room to store your fabulous finds, and a way to keep track of recent purchases. If possible, pack new items with the boxed items you already have in storage. (This is one reason I like plastic bins with snap-on lids rather than a taped-up box. Much easier to open and toss in something.) If your holiday decorations are not easy accessible, make a note of where you stashed the new purchases in your daily planner on October 1 so you’re sure to remember.

Holiday Hints will be back daily beginning October 1, with all new decorating ideas, stories, recipes, crafts and more! I’m busy putting together some creative and easy projects for you!

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Plan your Easter menu

Posted by on Apr 2, 2009

With only ten days to go before Easter Sunday, it’s time to nail down your holiday entertaining plans. Here’s a checklist to get you started:

Meal planning

-Create shopping list-Invite guests

-Order any special items, such as a honey baked ham

-Plan table decorations and favors

Gifts and cards

-Shop for Easter basket trimmings

-Send cards and e-cards

-Send gift baskets to relatives

-Put together Easter baskets


-Dye eggs

-Make cookies and treats

As always, write each task in your daily planner so you are to complete it on time.

The essential task for the next few days is to plan your Easter menu and shopping list. (Or, if you are purchasing a complete meal from a local restaurant or grocery store, order it now!) Are you hosting your extended family? Attending a family potluck? Now is the time to figure out what you’ll make, and what you’ll need. Whether you prefer ham, lamb or tofu, review your favorite recipes or find some new ones online or in a specialty magazine.

To get the Easter POPS Planning Guide, see the Planning Guide page of this site. It provides spaces to write down the cookbook and page number of the recipes you’ll use. Or, if your recipes are on cards, collect them in an envelope and attach it to the planning guide. I’ve also included a shopping list to fill in as you review your recipes. Check them off as you pre-purchase these items.Over the next few days, Holiday Hints will bring advice, ideas and tips for tackling table decorations, easy but sophisticated recipes and natural egg dyes to complete your Easter preparations.

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