Give the Legacy of a Life History

If you’re looking for a unique gift—one that will have a great deal of meaning for both you and your recipient—I have an idea. It’s called “Journal in a Jar.”

The idea is to assemble in a glass canning jar (or a box or other creative container) everything your recipient needs to write the story of his or her life: journal and pens, or fancy computer paper and a notebook. Possibly the most fun element of this gift is the year’s worth of specific questions that will act as daily idea starters for your recipient’s journal writing.

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Questions like: Why was your name chosen for you? What was happening in the world when you were born? What is your personal secret to happiness? You can include as many questions or prompts as you like, however 365 insures a very complete journal that touches on all areas of a person’s life.  Read more

Husband’s Family Overspends on Christmas

Dear Mary,

My husband’s family spends lavishly every Christmas and it always makes me feel pressured to reciprocate. For example, last Christmas, they bought my four-year-old daughter a $300 DVD player. And they gave me a $150 gift certificate to my favorite salon. While their generosity is greatly appreciated, my husband and I can’t afford to break the bank Christmas shopping. Plus, I’m worried they’re sending my daughter the wrong message about the meaning of Christmas. How do I make it a nice Christmas for everyone without looking like a cheapskate? Shannon, Indiana

Christmas Gift

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Dear Shannon,

Could it be you’re putting pressure on yourself to be the Family Christmas Magician? You have my permission to turn in your resignation. You can’t control what other people do. What your daughter learns about the real meaning of Christmas she’ll learn from you and your husband, and not just from what you say. She learns from your attitudes and actions, too. Teach her that the gifts we give express what’s in our hearts. We shouldn’t give to get approval or to get something equal in return. Read more

Getting a Holiday Head Start

If you are or ever have been plagued with consumer debt, I can nearly guarantee that revolving expenses related to Christmas have contributed greatly to that miserable situation.

The problem? Procrastination. Face it, when it comes to Christmas, the longer you wait, the more you’ll spend.


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Everyone procrastinates in some area. Why do we do it?

We feel overwhelmed. The holiday expectations we place on ourselves, plus those that come from our families, the community, and even the church, can be so great that we feel paralyzed. Read more

Creative Ways to Shop, Save and Give

I love getting feedback from readers about past columns. Whether it’s an email to me at Mary[at] or a comment posted on my blog at, I thoroughly enjoy reading the follow-up responses and tips. For example, Carol sent me this great idea for my lemon bounty.


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GOT LEMONS? MAKE LIMONCELLO. I loved reading the Everyday Cheapskate column on Mary’s lemon bounty. I wanted to suggest for anyone who has an excess of lemons—make Limoncello. This is an Italian lemon liqueur that also uses the lemon’s peels, and it is delicious. I made it last year for Christmas gifts, and had the most fun shopping swap meets and yard sales to find really beautiful and unusual bottles. I even researched recipes using limoncello and attached them to the bottles. It takes a few weeks to make, but it’s easy and the end result is beautiful. With all the juicing, peeling and cooking, there’s not a smidgen of waste. Carol, email Read more

How to Help Mom from Overspending

Dear Mary,

My mother is a widow who lives on a tight budget. The last few Christmases, she’s been blowing a lot of money on gifts for my husband, me and the kids. By February, she’ll usually ask me for a little help to cover her bills. I know she feels Christmas is the one time she can really spoil us, but I’m worried she may be digging herself into a money pit. What can I do? Janice, California

Christmas Gift

Dear Janice,

I think your mom and I have something in common. We are people-pleasers. It’s easy for us to go overboard trying to get approval. Take her out to lunch and tell her you understand that things are tight since your dad is gone and it makes you uncomfortable when she spends a lot on you.  Read more

Let’s Celebrate Christmas in July

Recently, I bought Christmas stocking-stuffers. I did it because my brain told me I’d stumbled upon some things that were on sale and quite perfect for my kids. But I didn’t enjoy it. I’m an emotional shopper, and right now I’m all about summer. I have no desire to think about Christmas. I like to wait until about Dec. 15, then do it all in a couple days when everything is all Christmasy and I’m in the holiday mood.


Here’s the problem: I’ve done that Dec. 15 thing, and I did it for more years than I like to recall. It always started out fun but then turned quickly into shopping panic, where I needed to buy something, anything, to cross another name off the list. Read more

Holiday Gifts From Summer’s Bounty

If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you know we’re celebrating Christmas in July. And I’ve got a great idea for turning summer’s bounty into gifts for the holidays.

Given how easy it is to grow basil, this year I’m making gifts of pesto—specifically Pesto alla Genovese (peh-sto geh-no-VEH-zeh).


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Whether you grow it or buy it, basil is the main ingredient in this gourmet food item that is sure to please just about everyone on your gift list.  Read more