Last Minute Christmas Shopping Tips and Tricks

LastMinuteHERO

Christmas is six days away and you still haven’t finished buying gifts for your loved ones? Knowing when and where to shop will help save you time and money in these last days of the Christmas shopping season. So, before you go into panic mode, check out these last minute shopping tips. You’ll find everything you need with plenty of time to spare, and nobody on your list will know you procrastinated…..again.

Shop Online: If you want to avoid the crowds and long lines, go online to purchase your gifts. Just be ready to pay higher shipping fees if you want it in the next few days. Also, keep your eyes open for deals! Many retailers have offered lower prices online this year versus shopping in stores.

Become a Night Owl/Early Bird: To avoid long lines and the crazy last minute shoppers like yourself, one tactic is to become a night owl. Many retailers are open longer in the week before Christmas. If that is hard for you, try getting there right when the mall opens. I did this last weekend, and it was much more relaxing trying to finish up my Christmas shopping. There were hardly any lines and I didn’t have to say excuse me every five seconds just to get across the store.

Baked Goods: Did you bake more cookies than necessary this year and are unsure what to do with all of them? Well I have the perfect answer for you. Give them away as Christmas gifts! Those diets aren’t starting until after the new year anyway, right? Christmas doesn’t have to be all about buying the most expensive gifts, it’s the thought that counts. Your guests will be just as excited to receive baked goods from you as they would if you went out and bought a gift from the store!

Give a Gift Card: Almost every retailer offers gift cards now, so forget the idea that plastic is an impersonal gift. After all, who wouldn’t want to go on a shopping spree at one of their favorite stores? To dress it up a little, add a personal touch, such as a coffee mug filled with their favorite candy or a gift card to a book store tucked into their favorite novel.

Wait Until the Weekend After Christmas: You’ve waited this long, why not wait just a few more days! The sales after Christmas are usually the best deals of the year as stores are trying to prepare for spring inventory. Check out this list of things you should wait and buy after Christmas to help you save a few extra dollars this holiday season!

Get Creative: If you have some time to spare, get in the spirit of DIY (do it yourself). Not sure where to start? Pinterest is what I like to call the “creativity hub” as it offers a number of do-it-yourself project ideas along with instructions on how to create the perfect gift for your friend, family member or colleague at little or no cost to you.

Regift: Just to throw it out there, I don’t necessarily recommend this but… it’s an option. Do you have any brand-new items sitting around the house? Perhaps you’ve received a few gifts in the past on special occasions that you have no use for? These items are perfect to regift. Before you dust them off, be sure you’re aware of who gave the gifts to you so they don’t end up in the hands of the original purchasers. That would be a nightmare.

If you are going to be at the mall this weekend, prepare yourself now for long lines at checkout, no parking spots and large crowds! Don’t say I didn’t warn you ;) With these tips, I wish you the best of luck in your last minute Christmas shopping adventures! Merry Christmas everyone!
Until next week,

Jessica M.

Watch-It-Wednesday: My Top 10 Favorite Christmas Movies

Capture

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and one of my favorite ways to get into the holiday spirit is turning on the fire place, kicking my feet up and watching my favorite Christmas movie! Below is a list of my all time favorite Christmas movies! If you haven’t seen them, I definitely suggest you squeeze a few of them in before December 25th! Enjoy!

1. Elf (2003)
This is by far my favorite Christmas movie! I could honestly watch this once a week and not get sick of it. After inadvertently wreaking havoc on the elf community due to his ungainly size, a man raised as an elf at the North Pole is sent to the U.S. in search of his true identity.

2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
This is an oldie but a goodie! The Griswold family’s plans for a big family Christmas predictably turn into a big disaster.

3. The Santa Clause (1994)
When a man inadvertently kills Santa on Christmas Eve, he finds himself magically recruited to take his place.

4. Home Alone (1990)
This is definitely another classic but one of my all time favorite movies! An 8-year-old boy who is accidentally left behind while his family flies to France for Christmas must defend his home against idiotic burglars.

5. The Polar Express (2004)
This is the story of a young hero boy on Christmas Eve who boards on a powerful magical train that’s headed to the North Pole and Santa Claus’s home. What unfolds is an an adventure which follows a doubting boy, who takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole; during this ride, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery which shows him that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.

6. Jingle All The Way (1996)
A father decides to dream the impossible; to get a Turbo Man action figure for his son just before Christmas. If only he knew the price he’d pay for that Turbo Man!

7. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Inside a snowflake exists the magical land of Whoville. In Whoville, live the Whos, an almost mutated sort of munchkinlike people. All the Whos love Christmas, yet just outside of their beloved Whoville lives the Grinch. The Grinch is a nasty creature that hates Christmas, and plots to steal it away from the Whos which he equally abhors. Yet a small child, Cindy Lou Who, decides to try befriend the Grinch

8. The Holiday (2006)
Two women troubled with guy-problems swap homes in each other’s countries, where they each meet a local guy and fall in love.

9. A Christmas Story (1983)
Christmas is approaching and 9 year-old Ralphie wants only one thing: a Red Ryder Range Shot 200 BB gun. When he mentions it at the dinner table, his mother’s immediate reaction is that he’ll put his eye out. He then decides on a perfect theme for his teacher but her reaction is like his. He fantasizes about what it would be like to be Red Ryder and catch the bad guys. When the big day arrives he gets lots of present under the tree including a lovely gift from his aunt that his mother just adores. But what about the BB gun?

10. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. One day he stumbles into Christmas Town, and is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween — but alas, they can’t get it quite right.

Did your favorite Christmas movie make my top 10 list? Share with us below!

Happy Holidays Everyone,

Jessica M.

Holiday Fraud Fighting

Today we have a guest post from Cait Klein at Nerdwallet! NerdWallet is a personal finance website that is focused on helping people lead better lives through financial education and empowerment. When it comes to credit cards, insurance, loans or expenses like hospital costs, consumers make almost all their decisions in the dark. NerdWallet is changing that by building accessible online tools and providing research and experts that can’t be found anywhere else, all to balance consumer finance in favor of the consumer. They call it putting knowledge in your wallet.


No fraud

The holidays are a time of family, friends and fun, but for an unfortunate few, it’s also a season marred by fraud and even theft. Here are some tips to help you protect yourself while shopping online and at the store.

Online Safety Tips

  1. Shop smart: If you plan on making purchases online, only use secure websites with URLs prefaced with https://,  rather than http://. Think of the extra “s” as standing for safety.
  2. Bolster passwords: If it’s been a while since you last changed your passwords, now’s the time. Avoid using the same one across multiple sites so that if one gets hacked, others won’t fall as well. Make passwords a mixture of upper- and lowercase letters and numbers, along with symbols. For example MeRRyXmaS!* is a much safer password than MerryChristmas.
  3. Log out when done: After completing an online transaction, make sure to log out of the website and close the browsing tab instead of hopping directly over to another site. It may be tempting to keep multiple sites open at once to speed movement between them, but avoid creating this browser mall. For each purchase, open a new browser to ensure security.
  4. Watch for porch poachers: As online purchases are shipped, keep track of when the orders are set to reach your door. You can track packages online to make sure they don’t sit on a porch or step for hours, presenting a tempting target for thieves. Try to be home to accept deliveries, or ask a neighbor to grab them.
  5. Beware of identity theft: Personal information about tens of millions of people in the U.S. has been exposed by data breaches, mostly involving big retail chains like Target, Home Depot and T.J. Maxx. While taking precautions such as changing passwords can help you avoid becoming a victim, keep an eye on your accounts for any suspicious activity. Most bank, debit and credit card accounts can be monitored online and with smartphones as well as through mailed monthly statements. Financial services providers like Community 1st Credit Union often offer online and mobile apps to help you keep an eye on things. If you think one of your accounts has been compromised, report it to the account provider first, then file an identity theft report  with the Federal Trade Commission.
  6. Shop smart: If an online deal sounds like a holiday hoax, chances are it is. Be skeptical about closeouts, super discounts and terms that seem too good to be true.

In-Store Safety Tips

  1. Shop in numbers: The more the merrier—as well as safer. Shop with a friend or family member to help you avoid in-store predators. If you’re lugging more bags than you can easily carry, it can attract a thief who could grab a sack or slip something out of one unnoticed.
  2. Hide and lock: Keep purchases hidden from view in your vehicle’s trunk or covered cargo space, and remember to lock the doors. Bring along a blanket or extra jacket to toss over any purchases you must leave on a seat.
  3. Watch out: Heading to and from the parking lot, keep an eye out for sketchy characters hanging around, and keep your purse or wallet tucked inside a jacket. Danger isn’t everywhere, of course, but it’s better to be safe than sorry — and it never hurts to be alert to your surroundings.

Simple precautions like these can help keep you safe this holiday season, both online and in stores.

Cait Klein, NerdWallet

Ugly Sweater Christmas Party on a Budget

Sweater

Well the most wonderful time of the year is here! Christmas lights are shining, snow is falling and ugly sweaters are EVERYWHERE. If you are in need of an ugly sweater or need tips to host a budget friendly party this holiday season, you came to the right place!

Finding an Ugly Sweater. Ugly sweaters have become increasingly popular over the years and each Christmas they seem to get more and more absurd. If you are a crafty individual, check out Pinterest for some new and unique ideas! For those of you who are constantly on the go and don’t have time to create one yourself, check your local thrift stores, Ragstock, or head on over to The Sweater Store online!

Hosting a Party. Hosting a party around the holidays is a great way to reconnect with friends and family. Why not spice it up a bit and host an ugly sweater party? Ugly Sweater parties allow us to remove ourselves from societal norms for a day.  We get to let loose, take down all of the guards and just be…well… ridiculous. If money is tight this holiday season, try some of these fun tips to keep your party on a budget:

  1. Use social media to send invitations.
  2. Have your guests bring a side dish and their drink of choice to save you time in the kitchen and money!
  3. Create a photo booth area in your home for guests to take pictures! Use silly items you have lying around the house or check out the dollar store for some tacky photo booth props!
  4. Decorate your home! The tackier the better! Deck the halls with Christmas lights, tinsel, bows, paper snowflakes and wrapping paper. You can find tons of fun decor lying around your house or at your local dollar store.
  5. Play holiday music! Don’t bother spending hours creating a playlist or purchasing music from iTunes! Instead, use Pandora and create a new Holiday station! Best of all, it’s Free!
  6. Have some fun games for your guests to play! My favorites include Heads Up, Catch Phrase, Scattergories or even just a plain old deck of cards! Use this as a back up plan incase the conversations start to dwindle!

Vote for the “Ugliest” Sweater. Have some awards ready for the best (or worst) sweaters. Check out some of my recommendations below:

  • All Around Ugliest
  • Most Original
  • Best Matched Couple
  • Loudest
  • Most Outrageous
  • Scariest
  • Most Shameful
  • Most Festive

Prior to the party, print off some ballots so your guests can vote on their favorite sweaters at the end of the night! If you are looking to give away prizes to the winners, purchase a few gift cards ranging anywhere from $5-$20 or check the dollar store for some tacky yet hilarious prizes!

With all of these ideas you are now ready to throw the most outrageously festive party you and your friends have ever been to. Enjoy!

Happy Holidays Everyone,

Jessica M.

Watch-It-Wednesday: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The year-long wait came to an end last week with the premiere of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. I finally got to see it last night and I thought it was really good, despite what the critics say. I was curious how they were going to split the last book into two movies, but they did it, and even though it wasn’t my favorite out of the three movies, I still really enjoyed it.

Following her rescue from the devastating Quarter Quell, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) awakes in the complex beneath the supposedly destroyed District 13. Her home, District 12, has been reduced to rubble, and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is now the brainwashed captive of President Snow. She meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol.

This movie was very different from the first two because it didn’t take place in the hunger games. It’s dark, emotional, and builds-up to what should be an incredible ending next year. Although I don’t think they should have split the last book into two movies, it ended just the right way and left you anxious to see the last movie. Jennifer Lawrence plays the character of Katniss perfectly once again, and the entire cast around her did their very best as well.

If you haven’t seen the movie, check out the trailer here!

What were your thoughts on the movie? Share with us in a comment below!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Jessica M.

Must Read Tips for Black Friday Shoppers

Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, is just 3 days away and once again retailers are offering holiday deals in an attempt to get more shoppers into their stores. Several of the biggest retailers are opening earlier than last year in hopes to one-up their competition. Stay ahead of the game by checking out some of these helpful Black Friday Shopping Tips!

1. Check Newspaper Ads
Make sure to check your local Thanksgiving Day newspaper because it will be full of ads and coupons. You can also get a head start by searching the official 2014 Black Friday shopping websites for ads and deals from your favorite stores! It will  help you organize your day to maximize savings, since many stores offer special discounts (early bird sales and doorstoppers) that are time specific.

2. Black Friday Apps
There are now tons of phone apps designed to make shopping for the best deals on Black Friday easier. There are apps that will help you find the best place to park at the mall, help you find the best route to stores, alert you when the stores that you need to go to have coupons and special deals, and help you compare prices while you shop. Click here for some of the best Black Friday apps!

3. Do Your Research
If you are hoping to scoop up a deal on a big-ticket item during Black Friday sales, go ahead and get your research out of the way ASAP. A bad product is a bad deal no matter how cheap it is and being knowledgeable about the products you want to buy will help you avoid being sucker-punched with loud advertising for poor products.

4. Compare Prices
Utilize price-comparison Internet shopping sites such as PriceGrabber.com to assist you in comparing product prices. Compare the “options” included with the product. Some retailers will low-ball the advertised price on a stripped down product, and then you will be charged extra for the necessary parts that will make the product perform as expected.

5. Have a Plan….and a Budget!
Don’t go Black Friday shopping unless you have a list of the items you need, the places you want to go, and how much you want to spend. Before you decide to wait hours in the freezing cold weather, sit down and create a shopping budget! If you dive into Black Friday without any price limits, then the point of super low sale prices doesn’t really matter all that much, does it? Plus, having a list of the items you already need will cut back on time and help you avoid purchasing those unnecessary items that are only hurting your wallet.

6. Wait Until Cyber Monday
As much fun as it is to see all the crazy people on Black Friday, I have slowly pushed away from the chaos. If you hate the crowds wait until Cyber Monday to do your shopping. Here are 5 reasons why Cyber Monday is better than Black Friday:

  1. It’s easier and faster.
  2. If you are going to be busy or are traveling on Thanksgiving/ Black Friday and missing the in-store sales, Cyber Monday gives you another opportunity to take advantage of the deals.
  3. You can easily compare prices online.
  4. You can shop in your pj’s or from work! Best of all you have a virtual cart to carry all of your items!
  5. Great deals, especially on clothing, and there is usually no shipping costs!

So what is your preference? Black Friday, Cyber Monday or do you just like to avoid all of it?

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

Thanksgiving is all about abundance, and I like to keep it that way—without breaking the bank that is. So I’ve carefully come up with recipes and tips for preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. The entire meal will please your appetite and will keep your wallet happy too. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

  1. Turkey: Turkey is usually about 40 percent of the cost of the meal. Save money by buying a store-brand frozen turkey (with a coupon) instead of a fresh turkey. Be sure to allow enough time to thaw the bird: one day in the fridge for every five pounds. Then do some research on how to prepare it and spice it up with flavor! Here is a super easy recipe for you first time turkey bakers out there!
  2. Stuffing: Although it is probably more fun to make stuffing from scratch, I think it’s easier to just buy it at the store and prepare it. My all time favorite stuffing is the Pepperidge Sage and Onion which you can buy from any grocery store. Instead of adding water though, I like to add chicken brother to give it a little more flavor.
  3. Mashed Potatoes and Gravy: If you are crunched on time, there is nothing wrong with making boxed potatoes. These are cheap and can be made in just minutes. But, if you are looking for the real deal, check out this simple yet delicious recipe! Don’t forget the gravy!
  4. Green Bean Casserole: It’s the dish everyone’s expecting on the holidays, but it’s so easy to make, you can serve it any day. What makes this green bean casserole so good?  A secret ingredient – cream of mushroom soup. Check it out here!
  5. Corn: You can buy corn on the cob, canned corn or frozen corn. Whatever you decide, it’s easy and quick to prepare! Just add a little butter, salt and pepper to give it some flavor and there you have it!
  6. Dinner Rolls: Buy them in the package or make your own. Whatever the case, these are always great to add to your Thanksgiving dinner!
  7. Deviled Eggs: These are one of my absolute favorite appetizers at Thanksgiving time. For those of you who are unsure how to make deviled eggs, click here for the recipe! I always like to add a little more mayo to mine to make them softer and sweeter.
  8. Pumpkin Pie: What’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? I have yet to make my own pumpkin pie but I found a simple recipe online for you guys! Check it out here! Just don’t forget to double up on the whipped cream!
  9. Veggies: Veggies and dip are a good appetizer for everyone to snack on. Buy your favorite veggies (carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, cherry tomatoes), chop them up and spread them out on a platter for everyone to enjoy!
  10. Cheese and Crackers: This is another great option for you and your guests to snack on before and during the main meal!

 

Tips:

  1. Make It a Potluck: Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. People are happy to pitch in and bring a dish or two, and potlucks are trendy right now. Not only will it save you time and stress, but it will save you quite a bit of money as well!
  2. Make a list and stick to it!: Without a plan for what you’re going to serve for Thanksgiving dinner, you are likely to spend more money than you would with a set menu. Make a list and stick to your list in the grocery store. You’ll save both time and money!
  3. Use Coupons!  There’s a reason millions of people use coupons – simply put, they’re free money. After you’ve made up your menu, look through your local Sunday paper and clip coupons for any of the items on your list. For those of you who don’t get the paper, you can go online to coupons.com or mycoupons.com to get coupons for your favorite Thanksgiving items!

 

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

Giving Back This Holiday Season

Whenever the holidays roll around, I get this overwhelming urge to give back. I am a strong believer in supporting charities and giving back to my community year-round. But there’s something about these winter months that makes me want to give a little more.

Just remember that your caring acts can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Want to give back but unsure where to go? From now until December 15, 2014 if you drop off a non-perishable food or toiletry item at Community 1st Credit Union in Cedar Rapids, you will be helping out the less fortunate members of our community.

Items to donate:
Canned meats, canned vegetables, canned fruit, soup, cereal, pasta, baby foods/formula, diapers/wipes, laundry detergent, new bath towels, pillows or twin sheets, Ziploc bags, shampoo/conditioner, deodorant, and paper products.

All of these items will be donated to Waypoint Services. Waypoint provides shelter and support for women and families in crisis due to homelessness, poverty, and domestic violence. It also provides quality, affordable child care.

For more ways to help give back this holiday season, check out this article here!

I hope some of those ideas inspire you to give back this season and spread the holiday cheer far and wide.

 

How will you give back during the holidays?

 

Happy holidays!

Jessica M.

Preparing Your Car for Winter Road Conditions

Well, it’s official. The first “real” snowfall of the year is in the forecast. Depressing, I know! If you haven’t already, now is the time to prep your car for winter road conditions. We all know the chances of getting stranded on the highway or in a ditch become way higher once the snow starts falling. The problem is in the extreme cold weather we experienced last year, getting stuck in your car for an hour or so can be a dangerous situation. To better help you prepare for the winter conditions, here are some things that you should do/ keep in your car for the next couple of months:

Preparing Your Car:

  • Take your car to a mechanic and get the following things checked: antifreeze level, battery, oil, thermostat, heater, brakes and defroster.
  • Check to make sure your tires have adequate tread. If the treads are worn, replace them. Better yet, exchange them for a set of snow tires, which have treads that provide better traction and are equipped to handle extreme winter driving conditions.
  • Keep the gas tank at least half full throughout the winter. This will reduce condensation, making your vehicle easier to start on cold mornings.

Packing Your Car:

  • Blanket: In Iowa, weather can be unpredictable. Temperatures can drop quickly and you’ll need a good blanket to stay warm. Keep an extra pair of gloves and a hat in your trunk as well in case of an emergency.
  • Snow Shovel & Ice Scraper:  Keep a folding snow shovel and ice scraper in your kit in case you need to dig your car out of a ditch or snow bank.
  • Flashlight: Be sure to keep a small but bright flash light in your glove box in case you get stranded at night. You will also want to make sure you have fresh new batteries in your kit as well.
  • Cell Phone Car Charger:  Put an extra cell phone charger in your glove box! Too often do we become overconfident on the roads knowing we are only a phone call away from help…BUT what if it dies? Then what do you do?
  • Emergency Contact Numbers:  If you are relying on your cell phone to be the storage unit for all your emergency info, just think what would happen if your phone dies or if you got in a car accident and your phone is damaged. Just to be safe, write down all of your emergency contact info on a piece of paper and store them in both your glove box and your wallet.
  • Important Documents: Proof of insurance, vehicle registration and owner’s manual. Easy enough right?
  • Non Perishable Snacks: Keep plenty of bottled water and nonperishable, nutritious food items, like energy or protein bars, in your kit to keep you hydrated in case you are stranded or have to wait a long time for assistance. Check expiration dates periodically and replace these items as needed.
  • Sand or Kitty Litter: If you find yourself stuck in snowy slush, non-clumping cat litter can be a lifesaver (or at least a timesaver). Pour it in the path of your wheels to help get traction.
  • Jumper Cable
  • First Aid Kit

Always check the weather forecast before commuting or venturing out on a long drive this winter. Weather and road conditions are often very unpredictable here in Iowa. As important as it is to have your car tuned and have a winter survival kit in your trunk, it’s equally imperative to know how to protect yourself while driving in the snow and ice. Follow these tips and you will feel safer and more prepared this winter!

Stay Warm,

Jessica M.

Why You Should Get Your Holiday Shopping Done Now!

The cold weather is officially here, meaning the holidays are right around the corner! Have you started your holiday shopping yet? Don’t get stuck buying your gifts at the last minute. In fact, you could save money by doing your shopping early!

1. You will avoid breaking your bank all at once. Spending in smaller amounts over time is more manageable. Plus, it doesn’t feel like your wallet is taking such a big hit.

2. It gives you more time to find a thoughtful gift. Shopping early gives you more time to think about what the person you are buying for might really want or need. Instead of rushing around last minute, and coming out with a gift that you feel less-than-pleased with, shop early and find something that you know the person will love!

3. Less stress! Shopping early gives you less stress during the holidays, therefore, more time to actually enjoy yourself! Also, you can avoid getting caught in the holiday chaos. Avoid becoming a mad-person running around the mall in gift-hunt mode.

4. You can save money! If you shop early, that means more time to compare prices and look for sales so that you can get the best deals. If you shop last minute, chances are you will take what you can get. If you are a busy persona and have a hard time making it to the mall, wait until Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving)! Tons of deals online and usually no shipping costs!

5. You can avoid hideous gift-wrapping. Whenever I am crunched for time during the holidays, my gift-wrapping comes last on my list of priorities. I’m not going to lie, there have been times I used newspaper as my gift wrap because I was running late and didn’t have time to stop at the store to pick some up. It’s the thought that counts right? ;)

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

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