Homemade and DIY Gift Ideas

Handmade gifts are great—and inexpensive—ways to show people you care. And this holiday season, we have just the ideas you need to let out your inner creativity. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Food Gifts

Nothing says loving like something in the oven, goes the old saying, and we couldn’t agree more. From cookies and cakes, to candy and chocolate, you’re sure to make someone’s holiday bright and tasty with the gift of treats.

Get Crafty

Crafts make for some of the best—and unexpectedly useful—gifts imaginable. Here are some simple, inexpensive ideas for you to choose from.

For the foodie in your life: Take an old wine bottle, paint it with non-toxic paint, fill it with olive oil and, presto, you have a lovely and useful gift. Not much of a painter? Don’t worry. You don’t need to create anything elaborate. A simple flower or nice design is all you need to let someone know you care.

Handy with a needle and thread? Then we’ve got just the idea for you. Get some cloth napkins and add a monogram to each one with cross-stitch, embroidery, needlepoint, or embellish with buttons, appliques, or stencils.

Live wreaths also make great gifts, and are easy to make. All you need is some evergreen boughs, assorted greenery and wire. In just a few hours you’ll have several wreaths.

You could also go with this holiday classic: The gift basket. Just get a nice basket, some ribbon and fill the basket with an assortment of whatever you think the recipient would like. Popular items include bundle handmade soaps and herbal cachets, potpourri, jellies, organic candies and treats.

Virtual Gift Ideas

These days, virtual goods are a part of everyday life. As the world moves to a digital model for delivery and consumption of products, so does the appetite and ability for virtual gifts. And why not? They’re easy to purchase, can be delivered instantaneously and are every bit as good as physical gifts (unless you’re expecting Santa Claus to bring you a new car for Christmas.) Here are some virtual gift ideas that will do the trick this holiday season.

Video rental stores? A thing of the past. And while services such as Redbox offer cheap movie rentals, nothing can replace the convenience of streaming a movie on-demand. Netflix offers users the opportunity to stream movies and TV shows, receive DVDs by mail or both. And of course, they offer gift subscriptions. Netflix is a great gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.

For the person who loves to shop by mail, a gift from Amazon.com is high on the wish list. They offer gift certificates that can be printed or e-mailed. Gifting specific items and having them delivered (either physically or virtually) is an easy process from beginning to end. iTunes gift cards are also a great way to give the gift of digital products including music, movies, television, ringtones and even books. What will Apple think of next?!

Online discount websites such as Groupon and Living Social can help you gift any number of great deals at 50% or more off retail price. Just sign up, buy and designate that the purchase is being sent as a gift. The recipient will be pleased to see your gift in their inbox and appreciate your thoughtfulness.

If the person on your holiday shopping list loves to stay in touch through cards, an annual subscription to Hallmark’s e-card service allows users to send as many e-cards as they want for the low price of $12.00. While it might seem like a novelty to old-school folks, the convenience and ease of e-cards can’t be matched and sending as little as three e-cards will match the money you’d be plunking down in stores.

If you’ve got a specific store, brand or service in mind, check the business’ website. Chances are they will offer a way to give a gift digitally. And you can sit back from the comfort of your computer or mobile device and cross another person off your holiday shopping list.

Buying a gift for someone you know little or nothing about

Sometimes the situation arises in which you’re tasked with getting a gift for someone that you know next to nothing about. Hopefully it’s not your significant other, but it could be a mother- or father-in-law or just a new acquaintance that you’re hoping to woo. Here are some tips to picking out the right gift when you’ve got little idea of what to actually get the recipient.

If you’re looking for the easiest solution, you cannot go wrong with a gift card. Some people think that gift cards are a cop-out. They’re not. Giving a gift card says that you’re thoughtful enough to not make assumptions about what the person may or may not like. The end result is that you’re not sticking the recipient with a gift they don’t want or need. Gift cards are fun to redeem and often times help defray or cover the costs of something the recipient would actually like to have.

Your other option is to do some investigation about the person you’re buying the gift for. Think of yourself as a detective of sorts and your job is to listen for little clues and hints about the person’s personality and what type of things they’re interested in.

Asking around can go a long way. Friends and co-workers know these people the best. Try to find out what their interests are and base your gift selection on that information. You can also observe their environment as well as engage them in conversation. You can glean a lot from casually asking questions without the recipient even knowing you’re sizing them up for a gift.

Social media often is a good source of gift ideas. Check Twitter and Facebook as well as public wish lists on sites such as Amazon.com. Chances are you can find some good gift ideas or gift-giving intelligence there. If worse comes to worse, you can always whip out your wallet and pull out some old-fashioned dollar bills to plunk down. Cash is king after all. And who doesn’t love the gift of money?!

Happy holidays and happy gift hunting!

Decorating your house for Christmas

For many, decorating their home for Christmas is a tradition that is anticipated every year. And then you have the Scrooges in the neighborhood who seem to have no interest in decorating at all. Bah humbug. While you can go the traditional route for decorating, here are five decorating tips that will save you time, money and aggravation.

Consider getting an artificial tree – Sure real trees are nice, but consider this: With an artificial tree there are no needles to pick up, no watering to be done and no tree to load in/out of house.

Stick with a tree branch – Cut off a branch (preferably from a tree of you own) with a few arms. Get a roll of cotton and cut into strips. Wrap each branch arm and decorate. Put the finished product in a tree stand or jar and then decorate.

Start a tradition of special ornaments – Add a new ornament every year and keep an inventory in a scrap book with a picture and description. If you have children, have them hand-design their own special ornaments every Christmas.

Safety first – Check that smoke alarms are functioning correctly and install new batteries. Minimize your risk of fire by keeping the Christmas tree away from the fireplace and use low-heat lights when decorating the tree.

Christmas cards from yesteryear – Instead of tossing Christmas cards you receive each year, save them in a small storage tub. Decorate the house with cards from previous Christmases and soon you’ll have a house full of holiday memories.

And here’s a bonus suggestion: When wrapping presents, keep it simple. Recycle gift bags or design your own using a simple lunch bag. Punch two holes in the top of the bag and thread a ribbon through it. Hand stamp the bag with a Christmas stamp from a local craft store. It’s economical and a much more meaningful holiday keepsake.  And whatever you do, don’t wait until the last second to wrap Christmas gifts!

Top 10 gifts the woman in your life will love

For guys, figuring out what women want is a lifelong process. Trying to decipher what they might want as a holiday gift is harder than trying to decipher an ancient language. Whereas guys want “stuff,” women often are happier with gifts that are event- or experience-based. Here are 10 gift ideas for the woman in your life. And if none of these gift ideas work, don’t blame us!

Adopt a pet (after careful consideration) – If the woman in your life is a pet lover and has been nagging you about adopting a furry friend, why not make this the year you finally give in? Go to a local shelter and save an animal’s life. Having a pet is an enriching experience and frankly doesn’t add that much more responsibility to your life. But do not adopt in haste; only if you’ve previously discussed that a pet is in the cards.

Plane tickets – Ooooh, ooooh. There’s no better gift than plane tickets to an exotic destination. Actually, an ordinary destination will do, but the idea of getting away from it all is really appealing to women and makes a great holiday gift.

Jewels/jewelry – Ah yes, diamonds are a girl’s best friend, aren’t they?! Well, you’ll come out looking like the hero if you get the lady in your life some nice jewelry. A necklace or bracelet would be great. You’ll be getting the bare minimum if you opt for earrings … unless you get really nice earrings.

A huge diamond – Hey big spender. You want to make her month? How about her year? A really ginormous diamond will send the message loud and clear: “I’m willing to spend a LOT of money on you!”

Massage/spa day – Now this is a great gift to get the woman in your life; especially if she loves to be pampered. Plus you’ll be getting her out of your hair for the day, which means you can watch as much UFC and drink as much beer as you like and not have to hear about it.

Weekend getaway – If you want to come off like a knight in shining armor, plan a getaway weekend for you and your woman. Plan on hitting at least one upscale restaurant and lots of shopping. Bring your iPad or iPod to keep yourself amused while she’s off buying stuff.

Wine tour – Reserve a spot for two at a local winery and participate in a wine tasting. Bonus points if you can find a nearby location to have a romantic dinner after the tour.

Bath or Spa Set – Pampering is in! And you’ll be in her good graces if you gift her a basket full of bath and body goods. Handpick them yourself, but make sure you go for some good stuff so she can bathe in luxury!

Merry Maids gift certificate – If you think women really enjoy cleaning, think again. OK, maybe those who are obsessive-compulsive get some satisfaction out of it. But a gift certificate to a maid service? Now you’re talking!

Endless shopping day – Take the woman in your life on a day-long shopping spree including lunch at a half-decent eatery. You may have to reach deep into the wallet on this one, but it makes for a great holiday gift just the same.

Top 10 gifts the man in your life will love

Buying gifts for the man in your life should really be a no-brainer. Men are predictable creatures and they tend to prefer material goods over experiences (e.g., an HDTV versus a vacation getaway). Here are 10 holiday gift ideas that should please most if not all of the guys on your gift-giving list this year.

1) Sports gear of his favorite team – Guys just love sports. They love watching sports on TV. They love listening to sports talk radio. They love talking sports with their buddies. They even love to wear sports gear. Plunking down for an authentic jersey can set you back a bill, but it will make your man very happy.

2) Sporting event tickets – If you really want to make your man’s day, gift him with a pair of sporting event tickets! If you’re not into professional sports, you can graciously suggest he take his best bro to the game. That way you can stay home and enjoy a glass of wine and have a night all to yourself.

3) Tablet – Chances are your guy will go gaga if you give him a tablet. While the iPad is the top choice, there are some cheaper alternatives out there, such as the newly-released Kindle Fire. Whatever tablet you get, just know you run the risk that he will begin to pay more attention to the gadget and less attention to you.

4) A new HDTV set – He’s probably already got an HDTV. But he doesn’t have the latest and greatest HDTV. If you give him the gift of television this holiday season, consider throwing in installation as well, so he doesn’t have to wrack his brain with frustration trying to put the new set on the wall.

5) Satellite radio – This is a great gift for music fans as well as those who spend a lot of time commuting. Music channels on Sirius are commercial-free, which is great for when you’re on the road. And you can now listen to satellite radio online and on mobile devices, which means it’s pretty much always available.

6) Beer – The way to win a man’s heart is to buy him beer. Lots of it. You can get a party ball of Budweiser or you can be really cool and score a case of his favorite craft beer or mix and match a bunch of limited edition and seasonal brews. Book a tour at his favorite brewery and he’ll be forever in your debt.

7) Premium liquor – If your man is not a fan of beer, chances are he probably would enjoy a bottle of adult spirits. You know his tastes the best, but don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from your local shop on what would make a great gift.

8) Magazine subscriptions – It’s the gift that keeps giving year round. Popular titles your man might enjoy include ESPN, Rolling Stone, Spin, Wired, Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair.

9) Shaving kit – Unless the man in your life is growing a weird beard, he will need shaving supplies. A really nice shaving kit is a great gift for staying groomed year round and day in and day out.

10) Nice clothes – Look through his closet. When’s the last time he bought any new clothes for himself? It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Get him some new shirts, a nice pair of shoes or some trousers.  He may not think it’s a great gift at first, but when he gets compliments on his good looks, he’ll be thinking of you.

Bonus gift idea: Underwear – See #10. When’s the last time your man bought himself some new underwear? Stay away from the novelty underwear and get him some nice skivvies. Chances are he’ll want to show them off for you at some point. Happy holidays!

How to prepare for a successful Black Friday

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is when people seem to lose all reason and voluntarily get up wickedly early, camp out in front of department stores and wait hours on end for the privilege of hunting for bargains. While it’s true that some great deals can be had, Black Friday does raise the question of whether such feverish consumerism is warranted for such an event. But Black Friday seems like an unstoppable annual event— for the time being anyway. (That said the Internet and Cyber Monday might be altering the Black Friday landscape some.)

Here are some helpful tips to make sure you score nothing but great deals and bargains on Black Friday.

Make sure you bookmark websites that aggregate all Black Friday ads such as Black Friday Ads and Black Friday Info. Visit periodically or just grab the RSS feed from Black Friday websites to stay informed of the latest deals.

Sign up for e-mail or text alerts from your favorite stores/vendors. This way the deals come to you, instead of you going out and trying to track down the deals yourself. Mobile apps also can help you find the deals you want. Black Friday apps such as Black Friday Ads, Black Friday by Fat Wallet and TGI Black Friday can help you connect with the must-have items on your list quickly.

Speaking of lists, make a shopping list and stick with it. It might be tempting to do some impulse shopping while you’re out there on Black Friday. Do not get suckered into going down this road. Have a list of items that you want and maybe list a few alternatives. But do not go off list, otherwise you’re going to end up with a great deal that you didn’t really want or need.

Anticipating deals is definitely one road to take. Retailers are starting to realize that if they offer great deals in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, they can increase their profit margin. And that means you can score the stuff you want at a good sale price. So keep an eye on pre-Black Friday sales and act accordingly.

And with the Internet and Amazon playing a prevalent role in how we shop in these modern times, shopping online and avoiding the madness of Black Friday entirely seems like a wise choice.

More and more retailers are going out of their way to put a lot of the same deals online because they just want to sell, sell, sell. And if you wait for Cyber Monday, you might be able to score the same deals, or even better ones, than what you’d find on Black Friday.

Happy shopping!

Five great gadgets for the guy/girl in your life

If the love of your life is really into gadgets, they may be expecting you to gift them with something really awesome this holiday season. While some gadgets can be expensive, a good gadget is both reasonably priced (not more than a few hundred at most) and has a strong value proposition for the recipient. In other words, get them something really cool!

Five great gadgets for women

iPod Touch or iPhone 4S – She may not know it now, but once she has the iPhone 4S or iPod Touch in hand, she won’t want to give the device back. Sleek, stylish and totally functional.

Kindle – If the woman in your life loves to read, but isn’t the most gadget-oriented person in the world, the Kindle may be the perfect gift. The ease of use is excellent and with roll out of the Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire, using an e-reader has become second nature.

Roku – The Roku is a really inexpensive gadget (starts at $59.99) and allows streaming of all sorts of TV shows, movies and web content. Works with NetFlix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and hundreds of other content networks. If she likes TV, she will love Roku!

Car remote start – She may wonder at first why she’d need such a thing, but a remote car start installation can help a woman feel safe when she’s driving alone and warm up the car during the winter!

Keurig Coffee Maker – Ah, the Keurig Coffee Maker is a thing of beauty, especially in the morning. Quickly prepare your coffee and get on the road. No messy leftovers, no grinds to dispose of. Just pure coffee.

Five great gadgets for guys

iPhone 4S – When it comes to the iPhone 4S, the device is not gender specific. Both sexes can appreciate the incredible functionality and ability to surf the Web, connect on social media, check e-mail and so much more. All with this amazing little phone.  You can now get the iPhone 3GS for free (with a two-year contract).

Boxee – Chances are the man in your life loves gadgets, electronics and sports. And with the media horizon opening up with digital and on-demand content, Boxee makes the perfect gift for the guy obsessed with consuming online media.

GPS – Sure, he won’t ask for directions. But he won’t need to if he has a new GPS. Save yourself the trouble of getting stuck in the car, being lost and having your stubborn spouse trying to figure out how to get to the destination on his own.  Get him a GPS this holiday season!

3D TV – If your man loves television, we mean really, really loves television and you’ve got some cash to plunk down, consider getting him a 3D TV. It’s not clear if the technology will become mainstream, but for the time being it’s a fun novelty.

Turntable – Does the man in your life still have his old records? Did he used to be in a band or once was a wild rock and roller? Get him a turntable. Stand-alone units that offer conversion to digital files start at around $100 or you can find one at a garage sale if you get lucky. Or check with insound.com if you’re looking for something beyond the basics.

Christmas commercials from yesteryear

During the holidays, marketing departments and advertising agencies unleash a barrage of ads designed to make us want to buy, buy buy! By cleverly manipulating the holiday spirit, commercials can influence us to believe that by consuming goods, we’re somehow more fulfilled during the holiday season. This is, of course, all rubbish. However, there have been some good holiday-themed commercials throughout the year. Here are a few of the all-time greats.

Alka-Seltzer – It’s a pretty bold claim to make that Alka-Seltzer is “the other holiday tradition” (eating being the primary tradition), but this 15-second spot is pretty clever.

They also used the same premise in this New Year’s Eve commercial.

Coke – I’d Like to Teach the World Sing –Peace, love and harmony was the theme of this classic holiday commercial from the 1970s. Funny thing is Coca-Cola probably has enough money to buy the world a home.

ET Atari – This early ‘80s commercial features none other than E.T. himself in an advert for his videogame on the Atari 2600 system. Check out the primitive pixilation on the game.

Budweiser  Clydesdales – It’s not really clear what a bunch of Clydesdale horses pulling a wagon in the snow has to do with beer, let alone Christmas. Yet for some reason, this commercial remains memorable.

Toys “R” Us – This ‘70s flashback is brought to you by the toy store, Toys “R” Us, which seem to think a family of giraffes going on a shopping spree during a snow storm will help you equate their brand with Christmas.

 

Children’s gift ideas: What the kids want for Christmas this year

Kids love Christmas. And they love getting gifts! And while going out Christmas shopping for your children can be a chore (it’s really best if you do your shopping online) somewhere deep down inside, most parents relish picking out the perfect gifts for their little loved ones. Here are some great gift ideas for the kids starting with the wee ones and all the way through the tween years.

For the just born through the first two years, it’s hard to go wrong with Baby Einstein products. While there is some controversy over whether or not watching television has a negative impact on infants, Baby Einstein also makes a variety of tools that encourage exploration and learning.

For the pre-schoolers, Magna-tiles are an educational toy that stimulate the mind and help kids explore and discover. They’re good for kids as young as three and up to age nine. LeapPad is also suitable for the same age range and is a learning tablet designed just for kids. Just be warned, once kids pick up the LeapPad, they may not want to put it down.

Legos have stood the test of time and continue to fascinate kids of all ages, including adults who never really grew up! Legos have also become increasingly sophisticated and cool toys. Kids just cannot seem to get enough of Legos and if you want to see your child’s face light up on Christmas morning, give them some Legos!

Video games rank high on many kids’ wishlist. There are age-appropriate games for all sorts of age ranges and across a variety of platforms including Wii, Xbox and Playstation. Then there are the portable Nintendo DS and 3DS. Hopefully your family already has at least one of these gaming systems, so all you’ll need to do is pick up the latest game(s) this holiday season.

If your kids are fashionistas (and some of them are), getting new clothes for the holidays can be a make-or-break proposition. Get them something too functional and they’re likely to get bummed out. But get the hip brand that all the other cool kids have and they’ll go nuts. Next time you go out shopping with the kids, let them wander around their department and they’ll give you plenty of ideas on what things they think are awesome!

Musical instruments can always be a great gift around the holidays, especially if a child seems pretty committed to pursuing music or is ready for an instrument upgrade.

Lastly, if your child is in the tween years or beyond, chances are they’ll want, er, NEED the latest and greatest mobile phone to keep in touch with all their friends.

If you don’t have kids, but instead have furry friends, some new Nylabones for the dogs or some catnip for the kitties would likely be well received.