Holiday Gift Ideas for The Hard-To-Buy-For

Picture it: the twinkling lights blinking off fresh snow, a heady evergreen-and-sugar-cookie scent in the air, a table laden with delicious treats…and no gifts under the Christmas tree due to poor planning.  Uh-oh!

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Disappointed kids on Christmas do not a merry day make.

 

Though the winter holidays are typically a time of great joy, this busy time of year is not without its trials and tribulations. Whether it is perfectly planning a five course meal with family or friends or remembering to buy gifts for said cherished ones, there are certain holiday stressors everyone is affected by. Luckily for you, we’re here to guide you with suggestions of gift ideas for the trickiest of cases, so no one in your circle gets forgotten.

Got a gadget-obsessed great uncle but you’re kind of a Luddite? A friend’s daughter who is obsessed with some trendy toy you’ve never heard of? Help is on the way! Spanning price ranges and generations, we’ve got you covered.

For Preteens Who “Just Hate Everything”:

Groovy Coloring Books

We were all in that stage once: you’re 11 and everything is the worst and no one understands me. Well, they might not know it yet but they need to chill out. And what better way to relax with a coloring book! You may have heard that coloring books are making a big comeback – and are totally not just for little kids anymore. Now, there are numerous options for the hip preteens in your life, including our favorite: Oodles of Doodles: Over 200 Pictures to Complete and Create. This coloring book inspires creativity with a few drawings here and there, encouraging the artist to finish the page themselves. Another great one is the Creative Haven Fanciful Faces Coloring Book, a crowd favorite which has detailed outlines of psychedelic portraits.

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For older kids (and preteens with great taste in music) there’s also the Indie Rock Coloring Book which has illustrations dedicated to some of the most popular indie musicians, such as Iron and Wine or Hot Chip. Bonus? A portion of the proceeds goes to music-related charities, so you’re (in a good way!) double-gifting.

Alternate Ideas: Emily + Meritt Animal Headphones, Gameband Minecraft, Classic Chuck Taylors

For Your Best Friend’s Young Kid:

A Gaming Toothbrush

We’ve all noticed how into gaming and technology kids are these days, but this gift combines those things…with hygiene. Confused? So were we! But the Grush Gaming Toothbrush is a genius way to get kids to enjoy brushing their teeth, helping them visualize their brushing in a fun, healthy way. Instead of getting your BFF’s baby a game that will rot their brain or something noisy like drums that will rot your friend’s brain, this interactive toothbrush is giving them the best of both worlds.

 

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Grush works by displaying a personalized game on a handheld device and guiding the child with the moves to perfectly brush each quadrant of the mouth for 30 seconds. The results can even be sent to the parent, helping them track their child’s progress.

Don’t be worried about seeming like a weirdo getting a kid a toothbrush; kids really do like the darndest things. For instance, at the age of 8 one of my favorite gifts was a suction-cup magnifying mirror. (Note: the staff of SmartPerks doesn’t recommend buying this for your niece or nephew, no matter how weird they are.)

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Monster Hoodie, $39 at BustedTees

Alternate Ideas: Monster Hoodie, FurReal Friends, Imaginext Ultra T-Rex

 

For Gadget Heads:

Futuristic Wireless Device

The Amazon Echo is a wireless speaker and voice command device brought to you by Amazon. Voiced by “Alexa,” consider the Echo a pseudo-assistant. As it’s designed around your voice, think of Echo like a tabletop version of the iPhone’s Siri – but more advanced. It can make to do lists, set your alarms, give real-time info like traffic and weather, and of course also play music from a variety of sources. Amazon Echo

At $179.99, it is definitely a splurge, and maybe more of a gift for a family or a super special friend, but any tech-y person would be ecstatic to get this gadget they might not have bought themselves. Functional but fun, tiny but mighty, the Amazon Echo would be welcome in any savvy smart home.

Alternate Ideas:  UP4 by Jawbone, Perfect Drink App-Controlled Smart Bartending, Tile Dongle

For Your Uncle (or adult brother, boyfriend, husband or dad):

A Gift-of-the-Month Club

Sure, you’ve thought of a gift-of-the-month club before for a special man in your life, but then decided it wasn’t personal enough. That’s all changed. No matter how specific the interests of your male loved one are, there’s a gift-of-the-month club for them.

Do you have a forgetful, quirky male relative always wearing socks so holey they seem biblical? Check out Sock Club, which delivers American made socks directly to your door.

Know an adorkable dude who refuses to grow up? Look into LootCrate, which has an assortment of gamer-related gifts.

Sophisticated cigar connoisseur, always looking for the next trend? SmartPerks has an awesome discount with Cigars International! Just use promo code SA4360 to send your loved one four new cigars a month!

Are there some big foodies in your family? There are gift-of-the-month clubs for hot sauce, a variety of meats and cheeses, and even alcohol! Our favorite is the long standby Club W, which personalizes your wine delivery based on your tastes.

There are plenty more exotic ones, so look around! Get creative. Everyone likes a fun, free surprise each month. Gift-of-the-month clubs fulfill that without you even having to run to the store.

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The Great Deal Company’s Stainless Steel Bar Set, only $39.99

Alternate Ideas: Smart Control Remote, Whiskey StonesStainless Steel Bar Set

 

 

For the Picky Mother-in-Law:

You’ve screwed up one too many times with your persnickety MIL. The baking supplies you happily gifted her last year were met with a snarky comment about how she already owns five whisks; what does she need with another? And so it’s gone for years.

But not this year. This year, you’ll get her something the whole family will appreciate; a one-two punch of a gift. Organize a time all of your extended family can get together, and hire a professional photographer to take family photographs. That’s not it. Also, have them each write a letter or note (kids can draw pictures) of what this matriarch means to them. Then, gather all of the photos in a personalized scrapbook/photo album with the notes and drawings. Sit back, relax, and smugly watch as your MIL is blown away by the thoughtfulness of this gift. It’s personal, sweet and endearing. She’ll never look at you the same way again! Warning: you’ll be setting a high standard for all future gifts, but worry about that next year.

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Bluetooth Activity Tracker, $49.99 from the Great Deal Company

Alternate Ideas: Bluetooth Activity Tracker, Crafting Classes, Restaurant Gift Cards

The holidays are the happiest time of the year. Hopefully, with our gift suggestions, even your hardest-to-please loved ones will share in your joy. Have more ideas? Shout them out in the comments!

Blogger Katie U, a Smart Perks employee, would like all of these gifts herself, especially the cheese-of-the-month box.

 

How To Survive Hosting a Big Family Thanksgiving

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Practically everyone I know looks forward to Thanksgiving.

It’s one of the few times you can get together with family or friends to catch up on each others’ lives and reminisce, and of course watch a little football.

But, let’s be honest the main attraction is the feast… turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes & gravy, pumpkin pie topped with real whipped cream… oh, yeah!

Slice of pumpkin pie served on antique china. Bacground of assorted pumpkins and what is left of the baked pie.

Sure, you may have to loosen up your belt a bit (or change into your lounge pants) after indulging in all the glorious food, but you can always diet for days afterward to cancel out all the calories you’ve consumed. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

My family has been hosting this holiday for years. At first it seemed a little daunting and stressful, but now that we’ve got it down to a science, we actually enjoy it. Besides, everyone contributes something towards the meal. We’re just responsible for the turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy.

Of course, we need to take care of all the preparations, too ― shopping for groceries and other essentials, thawing the turkey (I buy frozen because it’s cheaper), cleaning the house, setting the tables and getting up at the crack of dawn to stuff the bird and throw it in the oven. Fortunately, my husband and kids pitch in and somehow it all comes together in the end.
If this is your first time hosting and you have no clue what to do, don’t sweat it. I’ve got some tricks to help make your turkey day a success.

  • Plan ahead. This is a must! I decide on the menu weeks in advance and ask each guest to bring something, like a side dish, salad, rolls or dessert, oh and a bottle of wine (you can never have too much wine).
  • From there, I make a list of the things I need to buy and shop around for the best deals. Stores generally offer discounts on turkeys, breadcrumbs for stuffing, and other popular Thanksgiving fare days or even weeks before the holiday.
  • Thaw the turkey. If you do get a frozen turkey, you’ll want to purchase it a week or more in advance. The reason being it takes about 5 days to thaw a 20-24 lb. turkey in your fridge. The folks at Jennie-O have some tips on how to properly thaw a frozen turkey.
  • Make sure there’s enough tableware. We tend to have a big crowd every year (25-28 people), so I usually end up borrowing extra plates, glasses, silverware, serving bowls, and platters from a relative or friend. I don’t worry about them matching. Everyone will be so busy eating they’re not going to notice (or care)! Besides, mixing different patterns and colors make your presentation a little more interesting and avant-garde.
  • Tidy up the house. I de-clutter and clean the house, at least the rooms my guests will see, in stages. Otherwise, it can be too overwhelming. I do the dusting and vacuuming a day or two before the event so everything stays clean. A word of advice ― recruit family members to lend a hand, even if you have to bribe them!
  • Set the table the day before. It gives you one less thing to do on Thanksgiving Day. I cover them with nice tablecloths (if I need extra, I’ll borrow one or two from my mom or sister-in-law), and place napkins and silverware at each place setting. I also make sure I have salt & pepper shakers at each table.
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    Photo by Good Housekeeping.

    As for the centerpieces, I create my own with candles, miniature gourds & pumpkins, and different colored leaves. Need some inspiration? Check out these do-it-yourself centerpieces on Pinterest.

  • Timing is key. This is where it gets tricky. You have to figure out how long it’s going to take to prepare everything (turkey, potatoes, gravy, sides, etc.) so the whole meal is done at the same time. It helps to do what you can ahead of time and have your guests bring pre-cooked or pre-made items so all you need to do is heat them up in the oven or microwave, or keep them chilled until you’re ready to eat.
  • Start with the turkey as it takes the longest. Usually the packaging includes cooking instructions. If not, you can look them up online at www.allrecipes.com. It also depends on whether or not your turkey is stuffed. Some people prefer to have the stuffing outside of the bird, but our family has always cooked the stuffing inside the turkey. Either way be sure to remove those little bags of giblets (heart, liver, neck, etc.) from the turkey before you pop it in the oven. In fact, you may want to cook up some of those little gizzards and add them to your stuffing to make it more flavorful. Here’s a recipe for classic giblet stuffing from Better Homes & Gardens.centerpieces country living
  • Make it casual. We have our guests arrive early in the afternoon for “social hour” with wine and cider, and some light appetizers (crackers & cheese, veggies & dip, etc.) before dinner. The main meal is served buffet style ― it’s less formal and more manageable. My husband carves the turkey and everybody dishes up their own plates then finds a place at the table.
  • Take time to enjoy the meal and each others’ company. In fact, we don’t start clearing the table until everyone is finished. Most of the time we’re all so stuffed after the meal we wait an hour or two to have dessert, giving us time to relax, catch up on the game, or take a stroll around the neighborhood.
  • Ask for help. I find that people (in my case it’s the women) are always willing to help out, whether it’s setting out the food, clearing the table, or doing the dishes. We talk and laugh a lot in the process so we don’t mind being stuck in the kitchen while the others are sacked out on the sofa.

Finally, don’t panic! I decided a long time ago not to fret over things like lumpy gravy or mismatched silverware. After all, it’s dinner with your relatives or friends, not the royal family!

Here’s to a happy and stress-free Thanksgiving!

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Click here for Free Thanksgiving Chalkboard Printables.

Blogger Catherine B, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys a good Riesling with her turkey.

Holiday Cards: Adding More Joy to Your World, Less Humbug to Your Holidays

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Ebeneezer Scrooge has finally gotten hold of me in the last couple years.

At least when it comes to Christmas cards. Or Valentine’s, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving. I have been single-handedly doing my part to keep the greeting card industry and United States Postal Service afloat for over two decades now. Chew on this. According to the Greeting Card Association, 1.6 billion cards were sent out last holiday season. The cost of a first class stamp is .49¢. So assuming no over-sized cards, which require additional postage, that’s $735,000,000 in postage alone.

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This year I was seriously considering humbugging it and making the switch to email cards. Or a text message. (shudder, chortle, snort). I kid. I will NEVER send Season’s Greetings via a text message.

However, I’m a “reach-out and touch someone” kinda gal. I don’t want anyone to stare into a cavernous, empty mailbox and hear the echo of “Hellllllooooooo in there”, a la Charlie Brown. Call me Mary Sunshine, but I want to make people smile. I want my friends, neighbors, coworkers, the people I’ve fallen out of touch with over the years, to know that I still think of them warmly and wish them the best.

Besides, despite all the time and money associated with sending holiday cards, sending them makes ME feel good. I enjoy the tradition. I also love going to the mailbox and seeing some brightly colored envelopes, with a return address from someone I miss. 12185008_1255686671124168_2853116667187239140_oAlthough I have to admit, through the joys of social networking, my three dogs have more friends, and receive way more cards than I do. True story!

Don’t get me wrong, if I don’t get a card from you, I won’t feel snubbed. I understand the pressures of life and the need to put first things first. No one can get every single thing done that they want to do. But making cards is something I enjoy.

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So right about now, this time of year, you’ll probably find me spending at least a Saturday afternoon or two, sitting in my craft room, listening to Christmas tunes and making cards.

Making my own cards gives me a chance to play, get glitter on my face, exhale and most importantly put some of myself into my cards. 337661_327967827229395_574144619_oI don’t make all my cards, but maybe a couple dozen for close friends and family. Like this one, that I made for my cousins to remind them of the Christmases we spent together growing up.

I know that not everyone hoards craft supplies year-round. Not everyone has separate boxes stacked on separate shelves in their craft cupboard, one for craft papers and stickers, another for rubber stamps and ink pads, or 4 wooden dowels that hold about a dozen or more spools of festive ribbon each. My husband will be the first to tell you how expensive craft supplies are. Well, you should never pay full price for craft supplies.

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If you have a Gmail account, Google has gone through the trouble to sort your emails for you. That means you have one whole tab just for Promotions. Virtually EVERY single company you sign up for emails with offers a first time subscriber discount or coupon to use either online or in the store.

After that, whenever you need a coupon or coupon code, you simply click on your Promotions tab, and I promise you will find an email with a discount, usually percent off coupons, for one item or your entire purchase and/or free shipping. You’ll also get advance notice of sales. And, you don’t have to see them until you need them with the Promotions tab. This works for Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Crafts Direct, JoAnn Fabrics. If you still get a newspaper, Michael’s has a flier every week containing coupons for 20-50% off one item, and a percent off your entire purchase. During Black Friday, they’ll even give you a percentage off sale prices.

One of my favorite Smart Perks partners, Expressionery, has an email sign-up incentive of $10 off your first $30 purchase with free shipping. You’ll also find additional discounts at http://www.smartperks.com. Expressionery is a great source for self-inking address stamps. So much easier than labeling! You can really power through your stacks of envelopes in minutes. Colorful Images is my go-to source for personalized shipping and gift labels. They always have a great discount available online.

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Tiny Prints and Snapfish are my go to online sources for holiday photo cards. Being as my husband and I don’t have children, but have three dogs, our dogs are usually the highlight of our cards. In fact, I actually got a complaint last year for sending a photo card with a photo of just my husband and I. Some years I’ll have such a hard time choosing from my favorite photos, I’ll have to order more than one card. I go for natural poses for the holiday cards, just catching the pups doing what they do, being their goofy selves.

While I’ve received discounts from both Tiny Prints and Snapfish, both online and in my mailbox already this year, I typically wait to do my ordering of photo cards until Black Friday. peanutsstamps-1441218230778-23546992-ver1-0-900-675-153806You’ll not only get the best prices of the season, but you’ll receive your cards back in plenty of time to get them in the mail.  If you want to ensure your cards arrive on time, try to get them to the post office no later than the end of the second week of December, or earlier if you’re mailing cards outside the U.S.

Well, I’d better get busy…those cards aren’t going to make themselves.When it stops being enjoyable for me and turns into a chore, that’s when I know it’s time to scale back. But in the meantime, whether you send cards or not, whether you celebrate the holidays or not, whichever holiday you celebrate, I hope you take time to pause and enjoy the season and create your own traditions.

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Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee, can’t wait to watch Elf a half dozen times. Smiling is her favorite, too.