We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: Regifting Etiquette

As tempting as it is to regift, make sure you read these rules of engagement first. © jaylopez/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

Last week, we had our office holiday gift exchange and while the cute scarf and glove set that I received was great in theory (and very thoughtful of course), I really don’t need it.

Besides that, I have quite a few other miscellaneous gift items that I’ve accumulated over the last year or so, still in boxes and taking up space. Some of the things are doubles that the kids got from their birthday parties but that didn’t come with a receipt to return or exchange.

I’m thinking of the money I could save and how easy it would be just to find a new home for these things by recycling them as holiday gifts. But how much of a faux pas is regifting these days? Would you do it?

–Regift or Buy New

Suzanne: There’s actually nothing wrong with regifting as long as you follow the same rules that apply to buying a “new” gift to begin with. Most importantly, make sure that the gift is a good match for its recipient. In other words, don’t regift just for the sake of regifting and to unload something you don’t want.

Sure you would like to free up some closet space, but if your child’s bus driver comes equipped with her own hat and gloves, then maybe a coffee and donuts gift card is really the better bet. Then again, if your friend’s child is a year younger than your own, and doesn’t already have the full collection of Thomas the Train cars that your son does, then why not pass along the doubles from that birthday party that you can only return without a receipt for pennies on a dollar.

Amanda: My name is Amanda and I am a regifter. (And to my friends and family who read this — clearly I didn’t regift to you, nor did I ever regift something you gave me or my family. Just so we are clear.)

I say go for it.

Look, money is tight all around these days. If you have something of value you can’t use, it makes perfect sense to pass it along to someone else who can. It doesn’t matter how you received the item in question (unless you’ve stolen it), it’s yours to do with what you like.

Like Suzanne says though, make sure the gift is a good fit for the person and not just a square peg you are trying to fit into a round hole. Particularly with gifts for children, double check the suggested age, being aware of little pieces and other hazards that aren’t appropriate for little little ones.

To save yourself some embarrassment, make sure what you are regifting is free of any tell-tale signs — a card tucked into the corner of the box or slight tears on the package from old tape for example. And never regift something you’ve already used. Also, make sure that the people you are regifting from and to will never find out.

I know the thought of regifting makes many cringe, but I think as long as the intention is pure — to give something to someone that they will truly like and not to just unload something we don’t want anymore — it’s perfectly fine.

It’s tempting to regift and in some cases, it makes a lot of sense. Do you do it? How often? What rules do you follow?

***************

For double doses of advice, all you have to do is send just one e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

The Stuff Legendary Gifts Are Made Of

Holiday memories come in all shapes and sizes. ©We Are Both Right

Childhood memories fascinate me.

I love to ask my children what their first permanent memories are — things like the earliest point in time they can remember, what they were wearing or who they were with. My daughter’s is from last year’s vacation in California. My son’s earliest memory is playing with plastic dinosaurs in his room.

So no sooner than the first Christmas decorations appeared and pushed the Halloween candy into the clearance aisle, I was inspired to poll everyone I know about their most memorable holiday gift as a child.

The best reaction I got was from my husband. In less than a second he was telling me about a blue hockey helmet with a white cage that he went to the store a few days before Christmas to pick up with his dad. He brain-dumped so much detail on me about that Christmas that I felt giddy for him.

It made me recall the Christmas when I (or maybe it was my brother) got a magic kit. Even though I can’t remember whose name was on the tag, I have vivid memories of playing with the retractable wand and pulling a rabbit from a top hat. Also memorable is the year I got an electric Brother typewriter with the correct tape built in! Geeky, but oh so prophetic for this writer.

Still, the holiday that stands out most in my mind is the year that my brother was born just three weeks before Christmas. Now before you jump to any sappy conclusions, my kid brother is merely an accessory to this memory. (Sorry T., I know you thought I was about to publicly make up for my wrongs.) Anyway, that was the only year that my extended family let my mom off the hook for the huge family dinner that she usually prepared for 30 every Christmas Eve.

Instead, we celebrated a quiet evening at home with just our immediate family. We were lucky enough to have Santa stop by for his (her) cameo that evening, although I don’t remember any of the gifts he brought.

What I do remember is the gift I received from my maternal grandmother that year. It was a mushroom crate — the wooden, woven kind, held together with wire. There were two in fact — one for me and one for my sister — each with red gingham fabric sewn to fit inside the crate and draped over the sides to make a doll cradle. When I placed my favorite doll inside, it hugged her as snugly as my newborn brother in my mom’s arms.

The simple things.

For his own reasons, my nine-year-old also remembers his sister’s first Christmas. He was five and the unexpected jealousy following the ending of his only-child reign had just about worn off.

His big gift under the tree that year was an Xbox 360 (can you say parental guilt?). But the part he forgets (phew!) is that when we plugged it in that day, we quickly discovered that it had been used and broken, and then repackaged. My little guy (and his deflated dad) didn’t get to play with it until a big box store made good on Santa’s damages.

I wonder if it’s “the thing” he’ll tell his family about one day in so much detail that they feel like they were there with him. Or maybe that memory is yet to be made.

How about you — any big holiday surprises from childhood that still make you smile?

It didn’t take Amanda long to remember that special gift she wished for… and got!

All I Wanted for Christmas

bicycle for christmas

This isn't the bike I got that Christmas, but I bet there is a kid out there who is wishing for it very much! ©Schwinn

“A big blue bike with a basket and a bell.” If you had asked me when I was seven years old what I wanted to Christmas, that is the response you would have gotten. Even now, some (gulp) thirty-odd years later I can still remember the mantra — the cadence, the intonation, my fervency of delivery.

“A big blue bike with a basket and a bell.”

And that Christmas morning (ahem, night) when I came down the stairs, there it was. A shiny, sparkly blue Schwinn with a banana seat (this was the mid-’80s remember), basket and bell, just like I had wanted. Oh, I was so proud and so happy. And when I got to take it outside and actually ride it? Woo hoo!

Why that particular present out of all the gifts I have received over the years sticks with me more than anything, I’m not sure. I certainly asked for enough things and was lucky and fortunate enough to receive them (who else got a Cabbage Patch Kid?), but it’s that bike that always springs to my mind first when I start to reminisce about special gifts given to me throughout the years.

I’ll be curious to see what it is that my kids remember most about their Christmases when they get older and which gifts will stand out in their minds the most. Santa’s no slouch when he visits our house, and despite my grumbling every year that everything costs way too much and they have too much junk and we need to simplify already, there always seems to be a huge pile under the tree every year. I worry that maybe by giving them so many things and nearly everything they ask for (sorry C., no Air Swimmer for you), it waters down the specialness of it all.

I wonder too, will it be the gifts they longed for that their brains will conjure up fond memories of receiving or the ones they were totally not expecting? Or will their most treasured gifts be something altogether different — the moments that made the holidays special? Like last year when Santa came Christmas Eve afternoon while we were out ice skating because Daddy had to leave early for work on Christmas Day, or the year the big guy in red tracked us down in a Miami hotel room on Christmas morning after we had spent the day before riding a bicycle built for four under palm trees?

Honestly? I hope it’s a mix of both.

What was your favorite Christmas gift given to you as a child?

Suzanne has a few fond memories of Christmas gifts and also wonders what her kids will look back on the most.

Our Two Cents: Less Gifts, More Cheer

Try these tips for trimming the holiday gift list without looking like Scrooge. ©Christy Thompson/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

In the last few years, my holiday gift list has multiplied exponentially. There are lots of little nieces and nephews to buy for now, and my siblings still insist on exchanging with each other and me.

I would be happy to not get a thing while trimming the list wherever possible. Any advice on how to scale back without coming across as Scrooge?

–Santa’s on a Budget

Amanda: I’m a big fan of the round robin method. Suzanne and I have done it with our group of friends from college and their kids and I’ve done it with my family. The important part of the round robin is that in order for it to work correctly, you need to set some parameters — how much will be spent per person (and people have to promise they will stick to that amount!), whether or not the children are a part of it (or maybe you have one round robin for the kids and one for the adults), will it be a secret process, etc.

In the gift exchanges I’ve done, every person buys for one other person. So if there are five members of your family, you buy five gifts (and will receive five in return). Deciding who gets to buy for who is part of the fun and there are many ways you can figure that out. I’ve employed a few:

  • Alphabetical — Anna buys for Craig who buys for Jennifer who buys for Sam who buys for Anna
  • Age — 2-year-old “buys” for 7-year-old who “buys” for 15-year-old who buys for 26-year-old who buys for 2-year-old
  • Random — pulling names from a hat or stocking
  • Use an online site like Elfster to handle the gift assignments

To really add to the fun, consider introducing a theme — maybe the gifts have to be a book or something that starts with the first letter of the person you are buying for.

Suzanne: Here’s how we did it in my family a few years back. My sister and I agreed that there was no need to exchange gifts among the adults when we each had a niece and nephew to buy for. So we focused on the kids and left it at that. My brother who is seven years younger than me and doesn’t have children wasn’t quite on board. Of course, I was still buying gifts for him and his wife since they didn’t have any little ones, which meant that he felt the need to reciprocate for me and my husband — in addition to buying gifts for my son and daughter. I think we finally got it straightened out last year and everyone is happy now.

Another idea for forgoing gifts is the tradition we started with my husband’s brother and sister-in-law. Instead of waiting for them to catch up to us with children (we just made it even this year) we agreed to pick a date between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to go to a really nice steakhouse — just the four of us — and enjoy a night of good food and conversation instead of exchanging token gifts.

So you might consider something along those lines to help in trimming your holiday gift list. And if all else fails, be brave and take the initiative to skip the gifts for a year even if there’s not a consensus. They’re bound to follow your lead next year.

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Has the gift-giving spun out of control at your holiday celebrations or is your thinking that more is better? How do you and your family handle gift exchanges?

Looking for advice two times over? Just drop us a note at advice@wearebothright and we will serve it right up.

Our Two Cents: Holiday Shopping on a Tight Budget

holiday shopping on a budget

There's still time to get creative when holiday shopping on a budget. ©Kym McLeod /stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

I’m already thinking (and fretting) about Christmas shopping for the kids because our budget is tighter than ever this year.

My husband’s been out of work since the summer, so we’re just getting by with the basics. Still, I can’t imagine not being able to make the holidays special for our kids (ages 3, 4 and 7).

Obviously, there will be fewer presents under the tree this year, but I still want all three of them to have a memorable Christmas and at least get some of what is on their wish lists.

Any tips on how to do that on a budget?

–Christmas on a Shoestring

Suzanne: Seeing how far we can stretch a dollar is almost a prerequisite for parenting in this economy, so where Amanda and I leave off, I’m sure our readers will pick up with tips of their own.

For starters, I’ve found that a lot of planning goes a long way. I can say from experience that last minute shopping is what really does me (and my budget) in. This year, I took about ten minutes to brainstorm one day and jot down some ideas and how much each item would cost. I have my target range, and as I’ve been spotting sales and finding coupon matches for additional savings, I’ve been pouncing on the opportunity to cross another thing off the list.

My latest find is the Dora motorized toothbrush I scored as a stocking stuffer for my daughter (while she was sitting in the shopping cart in front of me) when it was on sale and before my coupon expired next week. And even though it’s just a toothbrush, it’s something she’s been wanting and will be excited to get — even though it’s a run-of-the-mill item I would have to buy for her anyway. And that can be another strategy that might work for you. If there’s an outfit or shoes your child really, really wants, maybe you can justify it as a Christmas gift and something that meets a basic need at the same time. This also works with gifts like “A Day with Mom” coupon where each child is promised a special day just with you doing their favorite thing (riding go-karts, ice skating or going to the movies — which means that it does triple duty, first as a Christmas present that doesn’t have to be paid for upfront, secondly as a special treat to look forward to over the winter, and also as a chance to do something that might otherwise not be in the budget).

Another favorite holiday shopping strategy I’ve been on top of this year (and again it requires some advance planning to accumulate items over time) is taking all of the $10 cash coupons that come in the mail from stores like Kohl’s and Bobs, and finding gift items in those stores — basically for free. I love crossing something off my list and writing a budget-friendly $1.97 price tag next to it. Just sign up for e-mails at any of those store’s web sites, and like the Facebook fan pages of shops on your hit list so that you can get deluged with special e-mail sales, coupons, and online codes that you can apply strategically as the holidays approach.

Of course, there’s more to life than shopping. So budget or no budget, the most important thing we can teach our children is the real meaning of the holidays we celebrate. Try to take some time in the weeks leading up to Christmas (or even on the holiday itself if you want to fill the time with something meaningful rather than focusing on what is or isn’t under the tree) and go with the family to a Ronald McDonald House or community center where you can all brighten the day of people who would want nothing more than to feel a little holiday spirit themselves. Have the kids bring a holiday book and read it to younger children or seniors. It might just be the most memorable holiday tradition of all.

Amanda: Suzanne’s got some great tips, some I already employ and some I’m going to have to start doing. Toothbrushes for everyone!

My big thing about shopping, aside from scouring the sales and using coupons is to see where I can get money back. It’s not a lot but it goes a long way, especially during the holiday time when I’m spending more than I normally would (even if it’s a little more). So whenever I use a credit card, I make sure it’s one that gives me cash back in some form. I always shop through sites like Upromise and ebates that give money back on every purchase (the former deposits the money in a 529 account for your kids, the latter sends you a check every quarter).

Keep track of what you spend too. If you shell out $19.99 for product A at store B and then a week later it’s $5 less, head over to their customer service desk and see if they’ll give you an adjustment. And don’t be afraid to ask if a store will honor competitors coupons and prices too.

Many stores now are offering layaway, a program that lets you pay off an item upfront for a small charge — usually around $5. If your child wants a toy that costs $30 and you just don’t have that to spend right now, you can give the store $6 a week for about a month — a lot easier on your weekly budget.

Good luck! I hope the new year brings you happiness and prosperity!

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What are your best tips for holiday shopping on a budget? We’d love to hear your advice, and if there’s an area where you could use double the help, let us know at advice@wearebothright.com.

Note to Santa: Try Online Holiday Shopping, You’ll Like It

I for one will be sleeping soundly through the shopping frenzy this Black Friday, snuggled under my down comforter with visions of the UPS driver in my head.

Maybe once the turkey coma has worn off, I might log on while still in my PJs and browse the sales on the web. But I’m not worried if I don’t get to it then, since there’s always Cyber Monday, and the progressively better deals that pop up as the holidays near. Because for me, online holiday shopping is the civilized and only route to filling my family’s Christmas stockings with cheer.

ugaldew/stock.xchng

I didn’t always feel that way. Up until last year I did most of my Christmas shopping on-site in stores, thinking that the holiday spirit would elude me if I wasn’t inspired by the buzz of the crowd and visual overload of giant ornaments dangling from above. I even fought through the mall-induced hot flashes (or maybe it was the Abercrombie models) that had me convinced I was going through early menopause.

The freestanding Toys”R”Us, Target, and Macy’s near home were my go-to stores. And when it was time to round up the kids’ gifts, my husband and I would drop them off at my parent’s house while we swept through the toy store checking off their lists. Then, we’d hide it all under a tarp in the back of our minivan and smuggle it into the garage, and ultimately the attic.

Now my slippers and a fleece jacket get me in the mood, as I work by the glow of my computer monitor to ferret out deals, combine coupon codes, and track my acquisitions on a Google docs list (triple password-protected and written in French to ward off any eight-year-old hackers that might be lurking).

The best part about online holiday shopping is that I can avoid the now-or-never high-pressured experience of shopping with children in tow. No more long lines with retractable stanchions that are irresistible to three-year-old hands. And forget getting in and out of the car (and carseats) in the cold to go into multiple stores. Instead, I arrive home after work and a pile of brown boxes are waiting at my doorstep. Hurl them up into the attic, and no one (including my husband) is the wiser.

Shopping has definitely become easier (and chock full of new options) with the whole world wide web at my fingertips. Last year, the elusive Yo Gabba Gabba t-shirt and underwear my daughter had to have — only available at Bell’s in Florida — was mine in two clicks. Riding high the same night, I applied an e-mail coupon my husband got from the NBA Store online to score a bunch of online-only deals for the jersey, sneakers, and banner our son had on his wish list. Not to mention the seven-foot Kevin Garnett growth chart I spied on clearance, which turned out to be one of his favorite gifts.

I even discovered the joy of worry-free packaging, where you save a few dollars if you opt for toys shipped in plain brown boxes instead of the packaging you usually see on store shelves. The ultimate bonus: no industrial strength twists ties every two inches along the arms and legs of a doll your two-year-old can’t wait to get her hands on. I don’t know who was more excited on Christmas morning, me or her!

So it’s online holiday shopping for me all the way this year — or as far as free shipping can take me.

What’s your plan for holiday shopping?

Ghost of Christmas Presents – Mall Holiday Shopping

When my now-husband T. and I were dating, we spent an inordinate amount of our time at shopping malls. We would eat, we would wander — sometimes we would even shop (and, I must add shamefully, spend money without a worry nor care nor child).

These days I try to avoid the mall as much as possible — with three kids it has become less of a fun hangout spot where I might pick up a cute sweater and more of a “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”  were I might lose my marbles.

© RobinUtrac/stock.xchng

© RobinUtrac/stock.xchng

Still, for me, when it comes to picking out Christmas gifts for my loved ones, it’s at the mall or other brick-and-mortar stores where you’ll find me. I know lots of holiday shopping can be done online, but for all my lack of enthusiasm about trying to find a parking spot and the lines and the pushing, I much prefer physically heading out of the house to do my purchasing than sitting in front of my computer to do it.

I think its the idea of holiday shopping at a store that I like so much. The romantic notion of a day spent in and out of stores, dedicating quality time to choosing gifts I know my family and friends will love. (Why yes, I am humming Christmas carols while I type this.)

I like being part of a crowd, especially as it gets closer to Christmas. (When I was in high school and college, my friends and I would purposefully go shopping on Christmas Eve, even if we didn’t have anything to buy just to soak up the atmosphere).  I like the festive decorations and music. I like watching the kids take pictures with Santa Claus. And even though some  of my fellow gatherers are cranky and annoying, there’s a definite undercurrent at the store that you don’t feel when you are clicking the mouse — a building excitement that we are all sharing in together.

Plus, I like being able to pick something up and feeling it in my hands. I like wandering around with lots of different bags from lots of different stores and bustling through the throngs as I figure out what I need to get next. I like rifling through my coupons, trying to figure out where I will get the best buy. And when I’m undecided on a gift, for me, nothing beats browsing (obviously that’s one I do without the children). The best part is when I get home and I sort through the parcels, happily reviewing my conquests.

Now don’t get me wrong, I agree, online shopping is way more convenient. And if you can get free shipping (and I only shop online when I get free shipping), it can be less expensive than driving yourself to the local Target or Kohl’s. But it isn’t the same.

Not when Santa is handing out candy canes.