The Season of Returns

The sweater didn’t fit right, the color was all wrong and you already have a singing bass on a plaque. For whatever reason, if you need to return a gift you should know a few things first.

According to the National Retail Federation, 62 percent of retailers have ID requirements to make a return. Your information is likely stored on The Retail Equation, a service that tracks how often you bring stuff back and identifies habitual returners.

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The retail exchange has said return fraud and “renting” (buying an item to wear and return) costs the retail industry billions each year. In an effort to stop that practice, they’re tracking you, and all of your returns at their participating stores, in a database.

Return items too frequently, and you may lose your right to bring back your purchases anywhere.  Read more

Hosting a Holiday Event? Start Here

Now that we’ve entered the mother of all holiday seasons—stop! Whether you volunteered to host a holiday party—or someone volunteered for you—help is here. Virtual help, that is. From invitations to gifts, you’re covered with the latest ideas, trends and advice online.

Holday Party

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PUNCHBOWL. Before you get started on your party planning, you owe it to yourself to visit The ultimate party-planning organization tool, at Punchbowl you can create online invitations, save the date announcements, a to-do list, a gift-registry, an RSVP manager and more.

This interactive planning site is great not only if you’re hosting the event, but it’s helpful for guests, too. The host can create polls to see which date works best for each guest and who could potentially contribute something to the party, like food for a potluck. Read more

Replace Commercial with Consumables

Consumable gifts, as opposed to durable gifts, are meant to be used up—not stashed in a closet for the next yard sale. And that is what makes consumable gifts such a great idea.

It’s hard to go wrong giving a delicious, consumable gift.

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No storage. Consumable gifts, because they are quickly eaten or used up, do not carry expectations that this gift must be displayed, used, adored and or maintained for the recipient’s lifetime. I hate feeling obligated in that way, and I will bet you do, too.

One size fits all. You do not have to wonder if your gift of homemade fudge will fit the recipient. Everyone loves a gift from an experienced cook.

Non-perceived value. There is something off-putting about trying to figure out if you are spending enough money to meet the recipient’s expectations by hitting some invisible spending target. That can zap all the joy from giving. With a consumable gift you will not worry about that—and neither will your recipient. Read more

Let the Singing Begin

It was an unusual interview. The woman explained she was writing an article for a national magazine on clever ways to put more joy into the holidays.

So I proceeded to pitch to her one marvelous holiday cost-cutting idea after another. And one after another, my ideas landed with a thud. She didn’t like them at all. That’s when she made a comment that effectively brought the interview to a screeching halt.

She called me a grinch.


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Now she didn’t actually come right out and say, “You Grinch!” She suggested my ideas would take all the fun and joy out of the season. She assured me it was nothing personal but still, she called me a grinch. Read more

How Much for Gifts?

Dear Mary,

What percentage of our monthly income should or can be allotted to Christmas gift giving? Michele, Florida

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Dear Michele,

Because gifts are a non-essential expense, I can’t give you a number. You can do this by first determining how much you intend to spend on Christmas. Let’s say it’s $600. Divide by the number of paychecks you will be getting between now and then. If it’s only a few, you’ll need to save a big chunk from each check. But if you’re thinking of Christmas 2013, you have the entire year to save. If you get paid say, twice each month, then as little as $25 from each paycheck will reach the goal of $600.

Read more

The Courage to Change Holiday Gift-Giving

There is no way I can list all of the various family situations and dynamics that come into play around the holidays. But a common family angst springs out of the matter of gift-giving.

We are faced with unreasonable expectations, guilt and hurt feelings. The solution? Courage. Courage to give as you want to give, not out of guilt or expectation; courage to spend what you are able, not what others say you must. Courage to get creative and to try something new.

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My family has a tradition that has been going on for more than thirty-five years. When our boys were toddlers, we and our best friends—who have three children about the same ages as our boys, decided to have a family Christmas party early in December. We had such a great time we decided to make it an annual event.  Read more

A Compromise to Benefit All

Dear Mary,

Every year, my husband and I spend most of the holiday season arguing over how much to spend on the kids for Christmas. My husband makes good money, so I see no problem with splurging on our three girls. However, he thinks they should be given one nice gift so they’ll appreciate it more.

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In the past, I’ve smiled while watching their faces light up on Christmas morning, while my husband sits there shaking his head in disgust. I don’t want to spend another holiday arguing. What can we do to compromise? Julie, Texas

Dear Julie,

When our boys were young I was driven, like you, to turn Christmas into an extravaganza with mountains of gifts to fulfill their dreams. And my husband, like yours, was less than enthusiastic. I wanted more than anything to create magical childhood memories that last a lifetime. Sadly, my efforts backfired. More was never enough and none of us were truly satisfied. Read more

Cranberries: More than Relish

Did you know that there are 440 cranberries in one pound? 4,400 cranberries in one gallon of juice? 440,000 cranberries in a 100-pound barrel? And that Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries each year? For sure they are delicious, but who knew there were so many other ways you can use fresh cranberries.


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1 Centerpiece. Start with some Styrofoam balls, any size. Cut a bunch of wood toothpicks in half. Stick a pick into the ball so that about 1/2-inch is sticking out. Push a cranberry onto the toothpick until it touches the foam ball. Repeat until the ball is covered, placing the cranberries close enough so the white ball does not show through. Set your cranberry balls on candle holders of various heights or pile them into a large bowl.

2 Glitter. In a medium bowl stir together 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon pasteurized egg white (or one raw egg white) until blended but not whipped. Coat raw cranberries with this mixture. Spread granulated sugar on a baking sheet and roll the cranberries in it until they are covered. Dry at room temperature for 2 hours. Use as garnish for desserts or eat them plain. Sugared cranberries almost sparkle, they are so pretty. Read more