The Guide to Proper Regifting

The act of re-gifting—passing on as new a gift someone else gave you—is controversial but only because of those who do a noticeably bad job of it. After all, if every act of re-gifting was carried out flawlessly no one would have the occasion to find it distasteful. And that brings me to the first Rule of Re-gifting:

1. Never admit to re-gifting. If your friends know you’re a regifter, you’ll find yourself in the unpleasant situation of explaining why re-gifting is different from not caring. Worse, they will be suspicious of the gifts you give them. It’s best to keep re-gifting completely to yourself.

2. Designate a location. Keep re-gifts in a convenient, albeit secret, place in a special box or cupboard with extra wrapping paper and ribbon. Some people shop for gifts in department stores. Never underestimate the utility of a gift stash that allows you to shop at home.

3. Have a heart. Any gift made especially for you or given to you by a parent, child or close relative cannot be re-gifted. Even if it’s not ideal, consider its sentimental value. Don’t even think of re-gifting. It just wouldn’t be right. 

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Many Happy Returns

What to do with three extra coffee grinders and charming needlepoint “Puppies in a Basket” throw pillow—gifts received and much appreciated, but not quite right in your mid-century modern pad?

Here are eight general tips to help make sure that all of your returns are happy.

1. Find the receipt. If this return is for a gift you received, and if at all possible, get the gift receipt from the gift giver. Things will go more smoothly if you can.

2. Do not dawdle. Return the unwanted item ASAP. Wait too long, and that lovely $75.99 deluxe mahjong set may be marked down to $7.99. And that’s what you’ll get in return.

3. Return the item in its original packaging. It should look exactly the way you received it. Points deducted for any signs you actually wore the sweater.

4. Make the choice. You may get a choice between a greatly reduced value in cash, or the full value in store credit. Take the credit.

5. Take the right card. If it’s a gift you bought (chartreuse? what were you thinking?!) make sure you have the original credit card you used for the purchase

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Full Compliance with Seasonal Law

I am always amazed this time of year to learn how few people are aware of something known as seasonal law, although I can understand it. After all, the period of time over which the law presides is measured in hours. It’s easy to miss.

Today, I need to remind you that the Law of Decadent Treats went into effect at 12:01 this morning and will remain in full force until 12:00 midnight Sunday, Dec. 25.

While it may be tempting to ignore this mandate, I wouldn’t. Law enforcement officers lurk in the most unusual places. Strict adherence is highly advisable, to wit:

During the 72 hours ending at midnight on Christmas Day, delightful decadent treats are to be freely created, consumed and enjoyed without interference or judgmental looks from others.

With this in mind, together with my desire that all of my readers and their families stay legal, I have a bevy of recipes you can whip up in your kitchen starting right now, all of which I guarantee are fully compliant with the law and will keep you out of trouble.

Or something like that.

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How to Use Wool Dryer Balls and Why You Should

A recent post, Fabric Softener Products are the Problem Not the Solution, struck a chord with thousands of readers. I know because you send me messages and letters, which I love—even those of you who are not 100% satisfied making the switch from problematic laundry softeners to what I find are amazing wool dryer balls. But first, let’s review the problem:

The trouble with fabric softeners. The medical website, WebMD.com, reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may cause skin problems. Fabric softeners are very allergenic and can cause eczema, which appears as dry, itchy skin.

Dryer sheets contain volatile organic compounds like acetaldehyde and butane, which can cause respiratory irritation. Fabric softener chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds, have been linked to asthma. Acetone, also used in dryer sheets, can cause nervous system effects like headaches or dizziness.

Why wool dryer balls. These things look like overgrown tennis balls, made of 100% wool yarn, that overtime becomes “felted,” making them especially durable and not at all prone to unraveling. One set of wool dryer balls will last what seems like forever, softening thousands of loads of laundry—no batteries, refills, repairs or reconditioning required. It’s one [purchase] and done!

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The Clean Hands Effect

Knowing that we’re heading into the cold and flu season, I picked up a recent issue of the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter to get up to speed on how we can prevent illness in our homes and offices this winter. In that issue a reader asked, “What’s the single most important way to prevent illness?”

The answer: Wash your hands often— before eating; before and after handling food, particularly raw meat or fish;  before putting on contact lenses or treating a wound; after using the toilet; after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose (particularly when you have a cold); after changing a diaper; after playing with a pet or cleaning a litter box; and after gardening or any other task that leaves the hands grimy.

Germs are everywhere. In fact the Berkeley people refer to them as “resident flora.” And nowhere are harmful germs passed around faster than in a school classroom. I picked that up from Miss Dare, one of my elementary school teachers. Nowadays, I’m sure we’d call her a clean freak, but then we thought of her as a walking bar of Lifebuoy soap. Remember that?

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Burn Down the House? I’ll P.A.S.S.

It’s been a few years since that day when I turned a stove burner on High, but I didn’t realize greasy chicken stock had boiled over earlier in the day, filling the catch pan under the cook top.

I turned my back for a few seconds to find a utensil. When I turned back, small flames were shooting from the burner. My quick thinking told me to smother a grease fire, so I grabbed a pot lid to do that, but it wasn’t airtight and soon the flames were double the size and spreading.

My heart was pounding, the smoke alarm was screaming and I was in full-on panic mode. Flames were reaching toward the adjacent wood cabinets. It happened so fast! I didn’t have time to run to the pantry to search for baking soda. I had a rip-roaring fire on my hands and I was in slow motion thinking about how sad it would be to be homeless for Christmas. That’s when I locked eyeballs with the fire extinguisher that had been sitting on the counter for so long it blended into the décor.

I’d never engaged a fire extinguisher. I read the instructions once but that’s about it. Not knowing what to expect, I grabbed that thing, jerked out this red plastic ring (it came out easily), pointed the nozzle and pulled the trigger. It put out the fire with one mighty blast of fine yellow powder so strong and powerful it nearly knocked me off my feet.

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Credit Cards and Credit Scores: It’s Complicated

Opening a credit-card account these days is ridiculously simple. But not so with closing an account. For sure the bank doesn’t want to lose a good customer. But it’s more than that. Closing accounts can mess with your FICO score, big time. You need to be strategic.

Dear Mary: I am going to be terminating my checking, savings, investment and credit-card accounts with a bank that backs social issues I strongly oppose. How can I do this without adversely affecting my credit rating? Valerie

Dear Valerie: Of the types of accounts you mention, only credit-card accounts could negatively affect your FICO credit score, if closed. Closing checking, savings or even investment accounts would not affect your credit score because none of those are credit related.

To understand how much closing a credit-card account will negatively affect your FICO score, you need to understand something called “utilization rate,” which contributes heavily in determining your FICO score. This will help you devise a plan to close the accounts strategically—spreading your closures over a period of 6 months to a year.

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The Messenger

I’m so excited. Just one week from today, our kids and family will arrive. They’ll be home for Christmas! We’ll be together for three wonderful days and I just can’t wait.

The house is mostly decorated, guest rooms are ready. I have a few more items to tick off my gift and to-do lists, but generally we’re looking good on this end.

While the holiday season is not all about gifts, it would be foolish to suggest that gifts don’t play an important role in our celebrations. Even if haven’t yet begun to think about the gifts you’ll give those you love a week from now, don’t panic. It’s not too late! Stores will be open crazy hours for you the next eight days. And even though today, Dec. 16, is the last day for Amazon FREE shipping, Amazon has a shipping schedule for you late shoppers that guarantees you’ll get items before Dec. 25. Hint: Sign up for 30-day free trial unlimited Prime Shipping, use it starting immediately and then cancel anytime.

Or you can forget about shipping altogether because it’s not too late to make gifts—no particular skills or craftiness required. Ideas HEREHERE and HERE.

The simple act of gift-giving has become complicated. I blame that on the consumer credit industry. Think about it: You can be completely broke but still spend thousands of dollars on Christmas gifts—and believe it is not only your right, but that you are obligated to do so. (Please don’t do that!) It’s so easy to fall into the trap that says we have to spend a lot to be socially acceptable.

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