Picking Presents

It’s no secret that I’ve become remiss in my blogging.  Instead of discussing how busy I’ve been in 2010, I’ll just jump in with my informal 2010 gift giving guide.

If money is tight for you this year like it is for me, you know how important creativity is in picking the perfect presents.  Yesterday I hit a road block.  I just couldn’t think of what to get a particular person on my list.  I did an informal poll and a few friends really inspired me.

Sara reminded me that the best gifts are usually things that people feel too guilty to buy themselves.  She suggested luxury items like cashmere lined gloves or decadent chocolates.  These gifts fit the bill of quality versus quantity.  Katie took a different approach and suggested that I infuse my gifts with fun.  Adults need to play too, so why not gift a toy or stuffed animal sure to make their inner-kid smile.  Ruby’s idea of a gift basket combines the first two ideas in a sort of catch-all present.  A great gift basket usually has a theme and a focal point–one main present and several accompanying items or accessories that tie into the theme.  If you’re an early and organized shopper, this is a great option because you’ve got the time to find just the right pieces.  If you’re an indecisive or late shopper, you too can cobble together a cohesive basket.

After sleeping on it, I awoke refreshed and ready to start shopping again.  I knew my creativity was back when I ran into a coworker this morning and was able to help her out of her holiday gift buying funk.  She said, “You should go write a book about this,” so naturally my response was to hop on this blog.

Teresa’s dilemma was trying to find a gift for a person that has everything.  We all have a few of those people in our lives.  My favorite solution is to gift something handmade.  I once spent a whole afternoon crafting just two ornaments.  I bought the pre-fab paper mache ornaments from Michael’s, painted them, and then decoupaged them.  On one I pasted an image of James Dean and some of his famous quotes.  On the other I printed lines from the recipients favorite Greek tragedy, dipped the paper in tea, and crumpled up the paper to make it look like it came from an aged playbill.  The whole project cost me less than $10, but the ornaments were incredibly well received and the love with which they were made was priceless.

If you’re not crafty, don’t worry!  My other standby is edible gifts.  Scout out hometown shops or farmers markets for specialty food items like honey, handmade candy, whole bean coffee, or beer.  One of my favorite gifts I ever gave was a carefully selected group of cheeses for my brother.  (It was also the most pungent gift ever opened!)

The holidays can be stressful, so I say avoid box stores as much as possible and escape to places that always offer comfort.  My favorite bakery in town happens to sell delicious preserves.  Just around the corner there’s a wine tasting room with killer flat-rate shipping.  Might I suggest Etsy to those of you non-converts?  From the comfort of your own home you can buy amazing handmade crafts, small-batch edible goods, and vintage finds.  Individual sellers in a vast online marketplace can be overwhelming, but for me it’s not any worse than braving the parking lot at the mall!  Even with the cost of shopping*, I always feel like I’ve come out ahead, and most sellers will gift wrap and enclose a note to your recipient free of charge.

Hopefully I’ve helped and gotten you out of your own gift giving rut.  Happy Holidays from your Girl Friday!

*My pal Darrien Segal is offering free shipping to her first twenty customers!!

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Flower Power

It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, and maybe that means a sickening amount of expensive chocolates, ugly heart jewelry, and overpriced flowers for most people–but it doesn’t have to mean that for you! I’ve been scouring the web for some simple and inexpensive ideas for the craft challenged.  I came up with a few things that I think are relatively painless.

Giving flowers or receiving flowers feels so luxurious, but sometimes they involve a lot of hassle.  If you order flowers from a local shop or even online they can be quite pricey, but with just a little effort you can cut the cost and have something gorgeous!

Buy flowers at the supermarket, farmers market, or even Costco.  Apartment Therapy provides great advice on how to pick the best of the inexpensive bunch.  I love flowers that have great staying power like roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums. Don’t go overboard with complicated floral arrangements.  Less is more.  Try picking one type of flower in one color, or one type of flower in complementary colors.

Once you’ve got your flowers, don’t stop there.  It’s all about the presentation, baby!  This short video from Domino Magazine demonstrates how to arrange a French spiral bouquet.  If you prefer a simpler arrangement, the video is still great at showing how to cut the flowers down to size and the importance of removing excess greenery and thorns.  Other options besides more traditional vases are repurposing water glasses, jars, and pitchers.  I also like this idea of decorating a tin can–it’s simple and a much greener solution than going out and buying something new.

Remember, flowers are always appreciated, but not when it takes the person you’re giving them to half the night to arrange them!

Posted in get crafty | 1 Comment

Know Your Surroundings

Since the new year, I’ve been making a concerted effort to prepare lunch at home on a daily basis and avoid eating out.  My friend Tash pointed out, however, that if you’re willing to look for a deal, it’s not hard to find a wallet friendly lunch.  I thought about it all week and tried to figure out the hidden deals that are available within walking distance of my own office.  I have found that if I leave my immediate area I am much more likely to spend more money.  In some strange way it makes the inconvenience of losing my parking space and dealing with traffic worth it.

The best deals are often the ones closest to us.  Perhaps we overlook them because they aren’t trendy or are known for less than stellar service.  Just a few buildings away from me is a cafe where you can get a number of items for less than five dollars.  The lines can be long if you don’t get there at twelve on the dot, and depending on what you order, you may spend more time waiting than eating, but the price point can’t be beat.  On Thursday, I ordered one of my favorites–grilled chicken served in a pita with tzatziki sauce and hummus served with a choice of brown rice, french fries, or salad.  I also got a diet coke, and my total came in at $5.77.  Another standby favorite is Wendy’s chili for less than $2.  It may be a bit high in sodium, but it’s not bad for the price and considering it’s from a fast food joint.  It’s high in protein and fiber, plus the long lines move swiftly and the food is easy to transport away from the food court to a nice sunny bench overlooking the water.

Work day lunch hours are not known for being gourmet, but remember that even a Lean Cuisine microwave meal can be all the more palatable if you take a walk, read your new book, or chat with a coworker you don’t get to see often.  All of those things are free.  Get out of the office, find your hidden deals, and utilize them when you’re in a pinch…like those days you oversleep and packing a lunch is so not possible.

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It pays to shop

Part of playing the savvy shopping game is knowing when you’ve spotted a good deal.  Don’t be lured in with offers for things you don’t need in the first place, because that defeats the whole purpose of cutting back on spending.

I’m always amazed by commercials on TV about how much you can save by shopping at Store X.  The lady walks out of the store with tons of bags in her hands–like she really needed new luggage, a down comforter, and a leather jacket all on the same day.  Remember, you’re only saving money if you get a discount on items that are already accounted for in your budget and if you can afford them without getting into debt.

There are some offers though that you really shouldn’t refuse!  If you are already planning on purchasing an item, whether it’s a gift for you or someone else, do some research ahead of time.  You can save by doing a quick search of coupons online, and there are even incentives offered by your credit card company.  Did you know that if you visit Visa.com you can find a ton of deals for online retailers? Also, it doesn’t hurt to sign up for newsletters if there are savings you can actually use.  This Christmas while shopping for a friend, I signed up for the Celestefrittata newsletter and I got 10% off my first purchase.  I had already decided on the item I wanted to get her and it was an added bonus to get the discount.

Some people are annoyed by online retailers mailing lists.  I can see your point–I get my hopes up when I hear the you’ve got mail chime on my iPhone go off, only to discover that BevMo is trying to hawk wine at me.  But without putting your email down on those mailing lists, you’ll miss out on cool giveaways and special deals.  I think Celestfrittata’s Owl Post raffle is worth it, don’t you?

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Cheap and Chic

Girl Friday is good at spotting a deal.   Join the Superheroine of Small Offices Everywhere as she takes her witty commentary beyond the office and into the shops!

Edited on January 23, 2009:  Ok, so this project never really got off the ground in 2008.  But since my 2009 resolution is to be a great saver, this blog is back in action, baby!

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