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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.

31 Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Kids, Young Professionals, College Students, Moms and Dads, Too

Gift-giving is surely on everyone’s mind as we head into these last days before Christmas. It’s a wonderful holiday tradition—one in which I participate fully because it brings me so much joy.

Earlier this week, I opened my email box to find a really nice messages from several readers seeking help with gift suggestions. One is in a quandary regarding appropriate gifts for his administrative staff—a group of sharp, young professionals both male and female. He wants to acknowledge each with an appropriate gift—something that won’t be so dorky it shows up in next Spring’s garage sale or worse, the trash. And he also wants to stay away from any gift that could be seen as too personal. His budget it about $30 per gift.

Of course I was excited to accept the challenge (I do have that shopping gene) and went right to work, contacting several of the sharpest, smartest young professionals I know, asking for their opinions, suggestions and help. Together we came up with suggestions of gifts that each of them would thoroughly enjoy receiving from a supervisor, boss—or anyone, for that matter.

While I was in gift-guide mode, I came up with great ideas for young children— moms and dads, too, just in case you’re behind the eight ball and need quick, realiable suggestions. It’s not too late, but you have no time to waste.

My Shopping Addiction Rehab Program

Shopping is my thing. I love the thrill of the hunt, that feeling of discovery and the joy of a bargain. I find it satisfying in ways I can’t fully describe. I want to experience the feeling as often as possible. Shopper’s high is no joke. It’s real, it’s palpable and it’s addictive.

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Shopping got me into a lot of trouble. In just 12 years I ran up more than $100,000 in consumer debt—most of it on credit cards. Eventually all of it came crashing down and nearly took me with it. Thankfully, that crisis became the catalyst to turn my life around.

It took 13 years to repay all of the debt. I learned a lot about myself in the process but mostly that the satisfaction I got from shopping was short lived. It was fake because it vanished in less time than it took me to get the stuff to the car. But that just set me up to do it again and again because the small bursts of  joy I got from shopping were worth the pain that always followed. Crazy I know, but absolutely true.

I could so easily go back to my old ways, and that’s scary. So, what keeps me on the straight and narrow? It’s you! You’re my shopping addiction rehab program. Paying off that monstrous debt and these past 25 years of writing, researching and communicating with you on a daily basis have become the best maintenance program I could hope for. And the best part? I get to use my shopping skills nearly every day, now in a constructive way.

A few days ago I got an email from Jeannine who asked simply, “What is the best inexpensive Bluetooth speaker?” Just like that, I flew into shopping mode—that thing I love to do because it brings me uncanny satisfaction. But here’s the deal: I’m not shopping for myself. I’m not spending my money or creating a bit of debt. I’m researching for Jeannine and that frees me from all of the personal negative stuff. I get to experience the joys of shopping that I love so much without any of the remorse or regret, guilt or shame. That’s authentic, lasting satisfaction. I love my job.

Stuff Grandparents Need

As people age, certain activities of normal day-to-day life can become challenging, not that I know anything about this from personal experience or anything. I’ve only heard, got it?

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Take ordinary floor cleaning for example, known to many as “mopping.” Or how about your basic can opening. Both can become challenging for grandparents and other seniors, so I’ve been told.

I’m pretty excited to let you know about some solutions to these and other similar dilemmas and when I say solutions, I’m also referring to gift ideas. Do not assume that your grandparents would be anything but overjoyed  with any of the following.

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A Homemade Christmas Gift You’d Actually Love to Receive

Gifting friends, family, co-workers teachers and others with a jar of your own signature hand and body lotion this Christmas will definitely put you on the map. It’s that good.

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Not particularly crafty? No worries. If you can assemble, empty, stir and mix well, you’ve got what it takes to make dozens of these gifts start to finish in a single evening. And the best part? About $3.50 per gift, depending on where you buy the ingredients and containers.

Here’s the routine: Purchase the specific ingredients, mix them together, divide between your choice of small containers, apply a label or gift tag, embellish with a ribbon and there you go. Done and in no time flat.

To make this lovely hand and body lotion you’ll need:

Chromebook Laptops Better Than Ever—Cheaper, Too!

Only a few months ago, I told you about what was happening in the world of Chromebook—a laptop computer that runs Chrome OS as its operating system and is designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet. That in fact, Chromebooks had just (and for the first time in the U.S.) outsold Apple’s range of Macs.

111716image1Chromebooks have become so popular, manufacturers are competing like crazy to expand functionality while at the same time lower the price. You know who wins that game, right? Consumers—and just in time for Christmas!

If you go online or walk into a store’s electronics department to purchase a Chromebook, prepare to be hit with a serious case of FUD—fear, uncertainty and doubt. That’s because there are hundreds of Chromebooks from which to choose; from dozens of manufacturers with hundreds of options. But not to worry. I do not expect you to slog through all of this technical stuff to figure out your best inexpensive option. It’s my job to do the hard work so you won’t have to!

20 Best Learning Toys for the Kids

Learning toys do more than sit there and entertain—they stimulate and teach kids important skills like critical thinking, problem solving, logic and even coding. Learning toys—open-ended games, kits, toys and crafts—make for great Christmas gifts.

To help you get past the shock of realizing Christmas is fewer than six weeks away, here’s my list of the best learning toys. I love them because they’re fun but at the same time stimulate learning through creativity and mind-challenging play. I think the kids in your life are going to love them, too. Enjoy!

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1. Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker.  This early learning center for babies who are not yet walking, is just adorable. It’s a clever toy that encourages and teaches a baby how to move from sitting to standing position and then walking, all the while encouraging interactive play. The learning walker has 70 sing-along song onboard, sound effects, and fun phrases. Meant for babies and toddlers from 9 months to 3 years. About $25.

2. Chat and Count Smartphone. There’s some kind of magnetic attraction between babies and mobile phones. Have you noticed this? Now you can separate little ones from your phone without stifling their curiosity by giving them their own smartphone! This adorable “phone” from the folks at LeapFrog mimicks the real thing with more than 15 phone activities, a music button to sing along to tunes about counting and phone manners. Skills to learn: numbers, pretend play, social interaction and conversational skills, as well. Ages 18 months to 3 years. About $12.

3. Pretend & Play Teaching Cash Register. This working register encourages imaginative play while teaching measurements, basic math and early money skills. Kids will easily learn currency denomination and have fun handling life-size money and this working cash register. Features a solar calculator, pretend credit card, play bills in various denominations as well as plastic coins and more. This realistic toy will give children endless hours of fun pretending, playing and developing math skills! Ages 3 and up. About $28.

4. Little Apps Tablet. This kid-size toy tablet keeps little ones busily learning for hours on end with its color-changing screen, letter buttons and piano keyboard. Includes 12 learning activites with progressive learning levels. Thankfully, it also features volume control and automatic shut-off to conserve on battery life. And if that’s not enough, check out just how adorable it is! Ages 2 years to 5 years. About $15.

Gift Baskets for the “Tremendous” Cooks on Your Gift List

If the idea of gift baskets for the cooks on your Christmas list piques your interest, you’re going to love this gift-guide, which continues to be very popular having posted last year to rave reviews and many notes of praise.

It is the late humorist and master of salesmanship, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, who said one of my favorite quotes of all time: “You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read.” 

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While he didn’t specify, I’m nearly certain Mr. Jones was talking about cookbooks. Reading cookbooks has changed me. Not only have they made me a better cook, learning how to do it and falling in love with the activity has impacted our household finances, tremendously.

Little by little, as I have become a better cook, we naturally eat at home more. The more I read, the more I cook; the more I cook the better cook I become and the more often we eat at home. It’s a beautiful thing!

The hubs and I have reached the point that eating out has become more of a “Do we have to?!” than a “We get to.” We eat at home, gladly, at least 99 percent of the time.