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Holidays and Special Occasions :Cheaper, Better, Faster- Tips and Tricks to Save You Time and Money Every Day

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Baby shower—food gifts
Here’s an idea for a unique way to welcome the baby and help the new parents in
a big way. Instead of the usual baby gifts, invite the guests to bring a prepared
dish, casserole, dessert, and so on, completely prepared and frozen for the guest
of honor’s freezer. Request that each dish have the recipe attached to it, which
can be put into a small photo album during the shower. You’ll be able to present
the expectant parents with a unique cookbook along with a freezer full of food.
It’s fun and inexpensive and will give your friends precious time to spend with
the new baby instead of in the kitchen.
Birthdays—cake candleholders
Use creamy mint patties as birthday cake candleholders. Just make a hole in the
center of each patty and fit the candles in. Place candles and patty on top of the
Birthdays—cake writing like a pro
Use a toothpick to sketch letters onto a frosted cake before you try to write
“Happy Birthday” or another message with icing. If you make a mistake, smooth
the top and start again. When you’re happy with your lettering, simply pipe icing
along the sketched lines.
Birthdays—child’s dress-up party
Collect dress-up clothes, old shoes, sweaters, and jewelry from friends, relatives,
thrift shops, and garage sales. Launder and disinfect everything. Let the girls get
all gussied up as they play dress-up at the birthday party. Follow with a fashion
show just before refreshments. Allow the little guests to take their outfits home
as party favors.
Birthdays—party favor photos
Take a picture of your birthday party child with each guest, holding the gift that
guest brought. Have double prints made, one for your child and one to include
with a thank-you note. This way, you have a record of who gave what, and each
guest has a memento of the party.
Birthdays—party snack shack
Set up a snack stand with hot dogs, popcorn, soda, peanuts, and candy. Give
each guest play money to buy treats.
Birthdays—teen girl pampering
For a teenage girl’s birthday, make up a fancy coupon redeemable by her and her
best friend for an afternoon of pampering at the local beauty school. The coupon
can include a haircut or trim, braiding, hot-oil treatment for hands, pedicure,
manicure, and so on. Total cost for an afternoon of pampering will be very
affordable and should be paid for ahead of time.
Birthdays—teen party
Take the birthday party group to the mall, armed with a camera. The assignment:
The group sticks together, and each party guest “shops” until they find the gift
they’d buy for the birthday girl or boy if money were no problem. But instead of
purchasing it, the group snaps a photo of the gift, the “giver,” and the guest of
honor. When every gift has been properly photographed, continue the party with
pizza, soda, ice cream, and other planned events. Download the photos to your
computer and assemble a photo album on one of the many photo websites.
Christmas—adopt a needy family
Adopt a needy family for the holidays. Make a special shopping trip or have a
gift-making session when each member of your family buys or creates a present
for the person in the adopted family who is closest in age.
Christmas—after, catch the sales for every holiday
Be sure to take advantage of post-Christmas sales. While you’re picking up
deeply discounted wrapping paper and other items, look for red candies and
paper goods that will work for Valentine’s Day, green items to help celebrate St.
Patrick’s Day, and red, white, and blue items for Independence Day.
Christmas—after, donate living tree
Buy a living tree to use for the holidays, and then donate it to a local park or
forest once the Christmas season is over. First call your state or local parks and
forestry commission to find out where the tree could be planted after the
holidays. Other organizations that might enjoy a new tree to add to their
landscape are libraries, churches, and schools.
Christmas—after, make list of holiday supplies
After the holidays, make a list of the items you won’t need to buy next year, such
as bows, wrapping paper, ornament hooks, greeting cards, and the like. Attach it
to your Christmas card list. The reminder is then easy to find once the holiday
season rolls around.
Christmas—after, make pine needle pillow
After the tree is undecorated and ready to be thrown out, strip off the needles
while wearing gloves. Then put the needles into a pillow slip and cover it with a
pretty pillow cover. The scent will last all year and will keep the spirit and
anticipation of Christmas alive.
Christmas—after, make plans for next year
Get the family together during the week after Christmas. Review your holiday
plan and the goals you met. Ask everyone what they liked best and least about
the holidays and what they would like to do differently next year. Take notes.
Christmas—after, postpone party for a week later
Rather than overschedule, host a party the week after Christmas when the house
still looks great and you don’t feel as rushed.
Christmas—after, recycle bows and make like new
Don’t throw away those wrinkled gift bows. You can reuse them by placing the
bows in the dryer along with a damp washcloth. Set the machine on “fluff” cycle
for 2 minutes. The bows will come out looking like new.
Christmas—after, recycle cards for charity
Once the season is over, don’t throw out the cards you received. If you don’t
plan to use them yourself to make postcards or gift tags, send them to St. Jude’s
Ranch for Children, a residence for abused children. The kids at St. Jude’s make
new cards out of your old ones and sell the cards to support the ranch. For more
information or to place an order for cards, call 877-977-7572. Send your cards to
St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, Recycled Card Program, 100 St. Jude’s Street,
Boulder City, Nevada 89005.
Christmas—after, recycle packaging for packing
As you unwrap gifts this year, save discarded paper, ribbon, and packing
material to use as packing material next year.
Christmas—after, save piece of tree for Yule log
Save a piece of the Christmas tree trunk to burn as next year’s Yule log. Tell the
family the legend behind the Yule log. Long ago, people brought home the
largest log they could find, usually ash in England and birch in Scotland. They
decorated it with a sprig of holly, placed it in the fireplace, and lit it with a piece
of the log saved from the previous year. It was hoped that it would burn
throughout the 12 days of Christmas. In many households, the lady of the house
kept the kindling piece under her pillow. It was thought this provided year-round
protection against fire. If you don’t have a fireplace, bring home a festive cake
called a Buche de Noel that’s in the shape of a Yule log. Share the cake on
Christmas Eve with the whole family—or take on a challenge and make a Buche
de Noel yourself!
Christmas—after, Twelfth Night celebration
Give your family a post-Christmas treat by celebrating Twelfth Night on January
6. Also known as the Feast of Epiphany, this Victorian tradition celebrates the
day when the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem with their gifts for the Christ
child. Children are given three gifts from the Magi before a gala dinner.
Afterward, a Twelfth Night cake decorated with figures of kings is served. The
child who receives the piece containing the silver coin baked into the cake
becomes “king” or “queen” of the family for the whole year!
Christmas—attend a church recital
Go to a recital at a local church. Many choirs perform Handel’s Messiah and
other seasonal favorites.
Christmas—attend a parade
Take the family to see a small-town Christmas parade.
Christmas—attend a school pageant
Attend a Christmas pageant at your local elementary school, even if you do not
have children in the school.
Caroling spreads cheer throughout your neighborhood. Take a thermos of hot
cocoa to keep everyone warm.
Christmas—Christmas Eve
Before going to bed on Christmas Eve, turn out all the lights and light lots of
candles. Read Luke 2 from the Bible to your family, then join hands and sing
“Silent Night.”
Christmas—decorate a senior’s home
Brighten an elderly neighbor’s day by helping her decorate her home for the
upcoming holiday.
Christmas—decorate children’s rooms
Instead of decorating the outside of your home, decorate each child’s room and
get them excited about the holidays. Help your children make red and green
paper chains from construction paper to hang all over the room. Not only is this
activity less time-consuming than attempting a big exterior display, it may also
establish a special tradition your children won’t forget. Plus you won’t have to
say “time for bed!” twice when your child can nestle among the enchanting
lights of her very own bedside boughs.
Christmas—decorating, apples and evergreens
Pile red apples on a bed of evergreens, and tuck in some tiny Christmas balls.
Christmas—decorating, banister
Wind strands of tiny white Christmas lights and greens around and up the
banister. Add large plaid bows.
Christmas—decorating, bedroom doors
Wrap your child’s bedroom door with gift paper to transform it into a giant
Christmas—decorating, candles
Using candles is a simple and natural way to decorate for Christmas. If all you
have are pine-tree greenery and candles, you have all you need. Use candles
lavishly, and light them as often as possible. Nothing will turn your home into a
softer, more beautiful place faster than candles. Just make sure you never leave
candles lit while unattended!
Christmas—decorating, candy
Fill a glass container with holiday candy and top with a lid or a circle of gift
wrapping or foil. Tie with a ribbon and set on a table.
Christmas—decorating, car
Attach a wreath and big red bow to the front grill of the family car. Hang a fun
ornament from the rearview mirror.
Christmas—decorating, card display on window
Display all your holiday cards so they add to your home’s decor. Cut a piece of
string just a bit longer than the length of a front window and attach the string to
each side at the top of the window. Hang the cards from the string by folding
them over the string so the front of the cards face out. Once full, the string will
drape ever so slightly to give a beautiful valance effect across the top of the
Christmas—decorating, card display with ribbon streamers
Tape, tie, or staple Christmas cards to ribbon streamers to hang for display.
Christmas—decorating, centerpiece with ivy
Create a simple centerpiece. Trail greens or ivy down the center of the table, then
add fresh fruit or holly for color and craft-store pearls for sparkle.
Christmas—decorating, centerpiece with ornaments
For an instant table dress-up, heap shiny Christmas balls of all sizes in an elegant
glass bowl. Place near candles and allow the light to bounce off all the shiny
surfaces of the centerpiece.
Christmas—decorating, centerpieces with filled bowls
Use crystal or cut-glass bowls of different sizes to make a holiday arrangement.
Fill one bowl with Christmas balls—either place them upside down to hide the
hangers, or tie a small bow on each. (This is a great way to use damaged
ornaments.) In another bowl, combine fresh fruit with evergreens. In a third
bowl, add holiday-scented handmade or purchased potpourri. Place votive
candles in the smaller bowls.
Christmas—decorating, cranberry balls
Cover small Styrofoam balls with white glue and attach fresh cranberries. Allow
to dry, attach a ribbon, and hang the balls on the tree.
Christmas—decorating, cranberry garlands
String garlands of cranberries on thin wire or heavy nylon thread or fishing line,
because the berries can become quite heavy.
Christmas—decorating, doghouse
Put Christmas lights and a small wreath on the doghouse.
Christmas—decorating, doormats
Paint a bright red “bow” on a doormat. Add a painted tag with your family’s
Christmas—decorating, doors
Decorate doors with Christmas trees cut from white foam-core board. Pin, tape,
or glue on bright ornaments and garlands of beads.
Christmas—decorating, doorway
Drape a long rope of greens (tied together with narrow-gauge wire) over the
front door. Attach a red velvet or satin bow in the middle and weave matching
ribbon through the garland like a streamer. As a finishing touch, place a
poinsettia plant on each side of the doorway.
Christmas—decorating, gift tree
Create a gift tree. You’ll need 30 to 50 (depending on the size of your tree) small
boxes of all sizes and shapes (empty Jell-O boxes are perfect), wrapping paper,
and coordinating curling ribbon. Wrap each box with paper and curling ribbon.
Tie the “gifts” to the tree, starting with the small ones at the top and ending with
the larger ones toward the bottom. You can use different patterns of wrapping
paper or wrap every gift in the same paper and ribbon. This is especially
dramatic with gold or silver foil packages and small white lights.
Christmas—decorating, golden accents
Gold, one of the gifts the wise men carried to Bethlehem, is a symbol of
generosity. For a truly glittering Christmas, recycle miniature pumpkins and
squash from Halloween and Thanksgiving by spraying them with gold paint.
Place them throughout the house or use them in centerpieces, garlands, and
topiaries. Gild walnuts, pinecones, bay leaves, dried flowers, apples,
pomegranates, pineapples, lemons, and grapes. Wear gloves, a dust mask, and
glasses or goggles when spraying.
Christmas—decorating, greenery kept fresh
Evergreen garlands and wreaths generally last about 3 weeks. To keep them
fresh, mist with water regularly.
Christmas—decorating, guest bath
Decorate the guest bath by wrapping a tissue box like a gift.
Christmas—decorating, guests welcome
Keep one room sparkling clean just for visitors, and don’t let anyone in it before
you have guests.
Christmas—decorating, luminaries in bags
Line your walkways, drive, or other areas on your property with luminaries
made from small paper bags filled with 2 inches of sand and a votive candle in
the center.
Christmas—decorating, luminaries in punched tin
Make punched-tin luminaries that can be kept from year to year. Rinse out an
opened tin can and pinch all rough edges flat and smooth. Fill the can with water
and freeze. When the ice is solid, remove the can from the freezer. Using a
permanent marker, draw designs around the sides of the can, making sure the
design does not come within 1-inch of the bottom. Place the can on its side on a
towel so it won’t slip. With a nail and hammer, punch holes along the design
lines you’ve drawn. Leave about ½ inch or so between each punch. Then allow
the ice to melt and drain. Place a votive candle in each can and line your
sidewalk. Light your luminaries every night during the holidays.
Christmas—decorating, mantel
To make a gorgeous, yet inexpensive, holiday display for your fireplace mantel,
lay sprays of evergreens across the top, thread a string of white lights on green
wire through them, and nestle some of your collectibles, ornaments, or pinecones
amid the greens.
Christmas—decorating, miniature live tree
Decorate a tiny live tree with fruit ornaments and ribbon, and set it on the
kitchen table or countertop.
Christmas—decorating, mirrors for an extra glow
Hang extra mirrors around the house during the holidays to add to the glow and
multiply the special effects of your decorations.
Christmas—decorating, mirrors with tinsel garland
Wrap a tinsel garland around the bedroom or bathroom mirror.
Christmas—decorating, mistletoe
Hang mistletoe in every single door of your house.
Christmas—decorating, outdoor broom people
If you’re fresh out of oversize Santas for the yard and have no snow for
snowmen, make a family of “broom people” to warm the hearts of passersby.
Stick the broom handles into the lawn. Cut white circles for eyes from felt or
white cardboard, and draw black dots in the center for the pupils. Glue these
“eyes” to the bristle part of the brooms. Top with real hats and earmuffs; tie
scarves around the handles. Let your imagination go wild, not your pocketbook.
Christmas—decorating, outdoor light ties
Tie outdoor lights to trees and posts with strips cut from the legs of old
Christmas—decorating, photo display
Display some great family Christmas pictures from years past in a special photo
album or in a location where your family and guests can enjoy them.
Christmas—decorating, pinecones
Fill a basket with large pinecones interspersed with clusters of delicate baby’s
breath, then thread tiny white lights throughout, hiding the wires under the
Christmas—decorating, place mats
Make special holiday place mats with your kids. All you need is a box of
crayons and light-colored vinyl place mats. Help the kids draw holiday designs
and write their names on the place mats. After the holidays, simply wipe the
mats clean with a good all-purpose liquid cleaner. Some traces of color may
remain, so make sure you don’t use your very best place mats.
Christmas—decorating, plants with twinkle lights
Put white twinkle lights on your large houseplants.
Christmas—decorating, refurbish what you have
Instead of buying new decorations, have your kids help refurbish old ones. Give
life to a wreath by adding fresh ribbon. Glue glitter on faded ornaments. Or go
back to old standards like popcorn-and-cranberry garlands and constructionpaper
Christmas—decorating, serving tray decoupage
Decoupage a serving tray with last year’s Christmas cards (they’re probably
sitting somewhere in a drawer), and set it on your coffee table.
Christmas—decorating, snowflake made from a berry basket
Cut the bottom out of a plastic berry basket, trim into the shape of a snowflake,
coat with glue, and dip into glitter.
Christmas—decorating, soaps
Make holiday soaps with appropriately shaped candy molds. Melt a bar of soap
in the top of a double boiler (20 to 30 minutes at medium heat) until it’s soft
enough to pack into the molds. Spoon soap into molds, freeze for 20 minutes,
and pop out.
Christmas—decorating, Spanish moss
Cover the mantel or a wide windowsill with a bed of Spanish moss. Tuck in ivy,
holly, pinecones, and a few gilded nuts and fruit.
Christmas—decorating, tablecloth
Sew small brass jingle bells along the hem of a tablecloth.
Christmas—decorating, table napkins
Dress up your napkins by tying each with a ribbon and a small bell.
Christmas—decorating, window art
Let your kids turn one of your windows into a holiday canvas. Mix powdered
tempera paints (available at an art supply store or crafts store) with clear
dishwashing liquid until they acquire the creamy consistency of house paint. If
you have premixed tempera paints, stir in a bit of the dish soap. Use individual
plastic containers (margarine tubs are perfect) to mix and separate the colors.
Cover the window sash with masking tape and spread newspaper on the
surrounding floor. Then let the window artists take it away. If you are using a
large picture window, help the kids design a mural. Dad and Mom can get into
the act by painting the hard-to-reach sky. Windows with individual panes offer a
great opportunity for a Christmas montage of a snowflake, a bell, candy cane,
Christmas tree—one design per pane. When it’s dry, the paint will come off
easily—just wipe with a dry paper towel.
Christmas—decorating, window frames
Surround window frames with greens and strings of outdoor lights.
Christmas—decorating, wreath from backyard greenery
Make a wreath from greenery you find in your own backyard and let the children
decorate it.
Christmas—decorating, wreath with gumdrops
Make a gumdrop wreath. Either buy a Styrofoam wreath or cut one out of a
piece of Styrofoam. Use toothpicks or stiff wire to attach red, white, and green
gumdrops to the wreath, or use multicolor ones to resemble Christmas tree
lights. Top off the wreath with a big bow.
Christmas—decorating, wreath with popcorn and cranberries
Bend medium-gauge wire into the shape of a heart or wreath, then thread with
popcorn or cranberries. Top with a bow.
Christmas—digital year in review
A digital record makes a very special holiday greeting or gift. Put together a
movie with highlights of the past year. You might include birthday celebrations,
summer vacation footage, sporting events, a school play, and other special
moments from throughout the year. A festive way to end the video might be to
gather the family and sing, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” A movie like this
will bring joy to faraway family members long after Christmas has come and
Christmas—dinner by candlelight
Buy a big candle for the dinner table. Light it every night at dinner during the
Christmas—dinner by tree light
One night a week during your family’s holiday season, eat dinner by the light of
the Christmas tree.
Christmas—do for others
Actions speak louder than words, so go caroling at a retirement home as a
family; make sandwiches for the homeless; or take toys, clothes, and canned
goods to a charity. Or take a nondriver to the grocery store, the mall, a holiday
service, or local Christmas program. Involve the kids in the entire process so
they understand, and doing good deeds becomes second nature.
Christmas—emergency cleanup
Try this “5-Minute Emergency Cleanup for Unexpected Guests.” Put all the
clutter from the floor and tabletops into a large box or basket. Hide the basket or
box. As you circle the room collecting clutter, use a rag to wipe up any crumbs
or obvious dust. Pick up newspapers and magazines and neatly stack them on the
coffee table. Spray some pine-or cinnamon-scented room freshener. Pick up any
towels on the bathroom floor. Hang some, throw the rest in the tub, and close the
shower curtain. Wipe the sink. Pull out a special basket (prepared ahead of time
and stashed under the sink) with a couple of pretty holiday towels and guest
soaps tucked in it, and place the basket on the vanity. Turn off a few lights (to
hide the dust) and sit in the glow of the Christmas tree.
Christmas—empty nester blues
Feeling a little blue because your nest is empty this year? Invite a family with
young children to a tree-trimming party.
Christmas—gather one day later
If you find it nearly impossible to gather together all of your married children
and their families on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, consider a new tradition
of spending the day after Christmas together. This will give you an additional
day to prepare, and because this day is typically free of other intrusions, you’ll
be able to spend a more relaxed time together.
Christmas—gently used toys for children with none
Every Christmas Eve, have your children leave some of their old toys near the
fireplace for Santa to take to children who don’t have any toys. Once the kids are
asleep, hide the toys and then deliver them to a worthy charity later.
Christmas—goodies for local heroes
Take a basket of holiday goodies to your local fire or police station.
Christmas—jingling shoes
Tie jingle bells to everyone’s sneakers.
Christmas—learn it in many languages
Teach the family to say “Merry Christmas” in another language each year.
Christmas—miniature trees
Make miniature Christmas trees for a great holiday family activity. Glue the
wide ends of sugar ice cream cones to a large sheet of cardboard. Spread green
icing over the cones, and then decorate them with assorted candies such as
M&Ms, gumdrops, and Life Savers. Let the kids come up with new decorating
ideas for the “family forest.”
Christmas—movie night with friends
Invite friends over to watch classic Christmas movies like Frosty the Snowman,
A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-
Nosed Reindeer, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and others.
Refreshments can be as simple as eggnog and Christmas cookies.
Christmas—neighborhood story
Instead of sending holiday cards to your neighbors, start a new tradition:
Organize the Bentley Street Christmas Book (use the name of your street or
neighborhood). Begin a story (fictional) in a notebook, attach a routing slip with
the name of each family on your street, and then send it around the
neighborhood with directions for every family to add a sentence or paragraph.
When the story comes back to your family, add an appropriate ending. Edit as
necessary, print out the story on your computer, and assemble it into a simple
book, one for each family who contributed. Have a neighborhood get-together
and read the crazy tale. This will bond your neighbors and promote goodwill all
through the year.
Christmas—photo testing
Taking family photos? Do some trial runs first with an instant or digital camera.
Wear different clothes and makeup colors to see which you like best.
Christmas—photo tradition
Every year, take a holiday photo of the family in the same pose in the same spot.
Christmas—reading at bedtime
Instead of reading the usual bedtime stories, during the month of December read
to your children about Christmas customs in other countries, and include other
wonderful holiday stories available at your local library.
Christmas—reading Christmas cards
Reserve opening the day’s Christmas cards until dinnertime. Read the messages
aloud and remind the kids how the family knows these people.
Christmas—reading party
Carve out a quiet hour or two for a storytelling party with the entire family. Read
classic Christmas stories aloud.
Christmas—Santa boot prints
Little ones will believe Santa was actually in their home if you make boot prints
with baking soda. Just dampen the bottom of a pair of boots, dip them into
baking soda, and make tracks leading from the chimney to the tree and then to
the cookies and milk. Make sure the cookies and milk are properly consumed.
The baking soda will vacuum up easily.
Christmas—Santa booth photos
If the Santa booth allows you to take your own photographs (most do, but be
sure to inquire ahead of time), take your camera when your kids visit with the
old gent. Instead of ordering duplicates of the photo, take it to a quick-print shop
and have colored photocopy enlargements made for about $1 each.
Christmas—Santa visit success
If you take your kids to see Santa, here’s a way to save time and aggravation
shuffling in long lines like cattle: Stay away from overcrowded malls. Instead,
check smaller department stores or neighborhood centers. Santa Claus will
probably be visiting in a less hectic atmosphere.
Christmas—saying thanks candle
Buy a large white candle (3 by 8 inches is ideal). Starting at the top, carefully
carve 25 evenly spaced “stripes” around the candle with the point of a knife. At a
designated time each day (dinnertime or bedtime), starting on December 1, light
the candle and decide on something you are thankful for as a family. Allow the
candle to burn down one stripe each night until Christmas.
Christmas—see the neighborhood lights
Take a nighttime walk in your neighborhood to enjoy the holiday lights. It’s fun
to see decorations up close and personal.
Christmas—socializing reality check
Be realistic about how much you can do. You don’t have to see everyone
between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, for example. Save some get-togethers
until after the holidays, and you’ll have something to look forward to.
Christmas—vacation starter
On the last day of school before Christmas vacation, tie red and green balloons
to the mailbox to welcome your children home.
Christmas—“We missed you” photo
Photograph your family for the friends and family members who can’t attend
your special event or holiday gathering. Download the photos to your computer
and have copies printed. Mail them along with a note describing the event to
those who are missed.
Christmas cards—send personal notes throughout the year
If you have a very long Christmas card list and feel rushed to write the personal
notes you love so much, divide your list over four or five holidays such as
Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Explain that
this is your annual greeting. To keep your records straight, color code every
name in your address book to denote on which holiday you wrote the note.
Christmas cards—send postcards instead
Send postcards instead of traditional Christmas cards. They are cheaper to mail
and can be made by the clever sender by recycling last year’s cards.
Christmas games—board games
Get out the board games and have an ongoing family tournament during
Christmas games—jigsaw puzzle
Start a giant jigsaw puzzle at the beginning of your season. The goal is that it be
finished by Christmas Day. Keep it out on a table in a well-lit area so everyone
can work on it whenever they want.
Christmas games—“Pin the Red Nose on Rudolph”
Make a “Pin the Red Nose on Rudolph” game board. Draw Rudolph’s head on a
big poster board and cut red noses out of construction paper. Use loops of tape to
attach the nose.
Christmas gifts—cookie cutters
A simple cookie cutter in a holiday shape of a star, tree, or gingerbread man can
make a great little gift. Lay the cookie cutter in the middle of a piece of clear
cellophane. Fill the center of the cookie cutter with tiny candies such as jelly
beans. Gather the cellophane and wrap with a bow.
Christmas gifts—cookies for kids’ groups
Bake Christmas cookies for your child’s team or group. To save time, make the
slice-and-bake variety and decorate with ready-made frosting.
Christmas gifts—emergency
Be prepared for surprise guests and keep some gender-generic gifts (candy or
comics for kids, candles or calendars for adults) wrapped and at the ready. Use
color-coded wrap, stickers, or ribbon to help select the right gift for the age of
the recipient.
Christmas gifts—for college students
Send a Christmas basket to a college student on the first of December. Include
holiday music, decorations for the dorm room, Christmas cards, stamps, and red
and green pens.
Christmas gift tags—backup
Just in case the tag falls off packages under the tree or while in transit, write the
name of the recipient on the back or bottom of the wrapped gift.
Christmas gift tags—cookie cutters as patterns
Using holiday-shaped cookie cutters as patterns, cut tags from file folders or
other heavy card stock. Decorate with stickers, markers, or rubber stamps.
Christmas gift tags—skip the gift tags
Use a marking pen that writes on glossy surfaces to write directly on gift
wrapping. Sharpie is a popular brand; check stationery and art supply stores.
Now you can skip gift tags entirely.
Christmas gift tags—with free color paper scraps
Call or stop by a local print shop and ask for any scraps of colored paper they are
discarding. Around the holidays you’ll end up with lots of green and red scraps.
Cut the green paper in the shape of holly leaves, add tiny red berries cut from the
red scraps, and you have beautiful gift tags. Make blue stars and yellow bells.
The possibilities are endless.
Christmas gift tags—with photos
Instead of writing the recipient’s name on the tag, attach a childhood photo. It’s
fun for the kids to try to match the grown-ups to the pictures.
Christmas gift wrapping—color-code dots for snoopers
When wrapping gifts, outsmart kids who are prone to snooping. Instead of using
name tags, put a color-coded self-stick dot on each package so only you know
who it’s for.
Christmas gift wrapping—large gifts
A car, or even a bicycle, can be “wrapped” by tying an oversized gift tag to a
piece of string. Leave the tag under the tree and run the string to where the gift
Christmas gift wrapping—newspaper comics
Don’t buy gift wrapping. Start saving the comics from the Sunday papers in the
summer and by Christmas you’ll have a good supply. You can also use foreign
newspapers or fashion ads.
Christmas gift wrapping—penny accents
Wrap a box in brown paper, then hot-glue rows of pennies to the outside in a
symmetrical design, randomly or in the shape of a Christmas tree. Tie with a
copper-colored or white ribbon.
Christmas gift wrapping—scented packages
Just before you seal up a box for shipping, sprinkle in some pine-scented
potpourri. When the carton is opened, the whole room will smell like Christmas.
Christmas gift wrapping—shoelace ties
Use new, colored, or patterned shoelaces to tie up small packages. Add jingle
bells for that special touch. (Note: Packages with any string on the outside are
not suitable for shipping.)
Christmas gift wrapping—special area
Set up a gift-wrapping area. Drape a card table with a large tablecloth that hangs
to the floor. Hide wrapping supplies under the table for quick retrieval.
Christmas gift wrapping—velvet gift sacks
Sew little pouches of red or green velvet, then put small gifts inside and tie with
a holiday ribbon.
Christmas gift wrapping—wall art
For the price of wrapping paper and ribbon, you can decorate your entire home
in a truly spectacular way. Gift wrap all of the framed paintings on your walls.
The effect is stunning. Tip: Wrap only the fronts and sides to use less paper.
Christmas parties—back-to-back to save time
If you’re having two holiday parties or get-togethers at your home, schedule
them back-to-back. Serve an identical (or at least similar) menu. It takes the
same amount of time to make a double batch. Bonus: All your serving pieces
will be out and your house will be clean.
Christmas parties—cookie decorating
Plan a cookie decorating event with your kids. Hint: Bake the cookies early in
the day. At party time, set out various toppings and frostings. If you’ve invited
friends, let each child take home a batch of goodies.
Christmas parties—cookie favors
Copy your favorite cookie recipes on cards, then wrap colorful cellophane
around a couple of freshly baked samples, insert a recipe card, and tie everything
with a bright red ribbon. Give one to each guest as a favor.
Christmas parties—cutting costs
To cut back on entertaining costs, hold a joint party with a friend or relative. You
can split the labor and the expense. Or have a caroling party and just serve
cookies and hot drinks.
Christmas parties—food organizing
Organize your refrigerator for easy access to the food you’ll be using most. Put
all the appetizer or salad supplies together in a container or on a tray, labeled and
ready to use.
Christmas parties—for singles
Getting together with a group of friends who are also single is a great way to
celebrate Christmas. How about hosting a party and having everyone pitch in to
bake cookies, prepare cards, and wrap gifts? Some activities are a lot more fun to
do in a group than alone. The evening could end with an ornament swap.
Christmas parties—progressive
Instead of everyone in your circle of friends hosting a separate holiday party,
make plans to have a progressive dinner. The dinner party moves from one house
to another, starting with hors d’oeuvres at the first stop, appetizer or soup at the
second, main course at the next, and dessert and coffee at the last. It’s an
enjoyable way to share the burden and the glory, and you get to see everyone’s
holiday decorations.
Christmas parties—seating arrangements
If you have so many in attendance at your Christmas dinner that you must have
two tables or more, have everyone get up and exchange places between dinner
and dessert.
Christmas stockings—filled with stockings
Don’t know how to fill the stockings hanging by the chimney with care? Fill
them with stockings! Everyone loves argyles, tube socks, running socks, or
knee-highs. Stockings filled with stockings are fun and practical.
Christmas stockings—New Year’s Day
Start a new tradition. Even though Santa fills all the stockings on Christmas Eve,
leave them hanging full and untouched until New Year’s Day. This helps to
relieve the feeling of overdose on Christmas morning and is a nice way to
celebrate the new year.
Christmas tree—decorating, base
Don’t forget to decorate the base of the tree. A pretty tablecloth; a yard of lace,
satin, or silk; an arrangement of potted plants; or even a collection of dolls and
stuffed animals can make your tree look unique.
Christmas tree—decorating, fast-food toys
All year, save the toys your kids receive with fast-food meals. Use the toys to
decorate a small artificial tree by tying them on with ribbons, but allow the kids
to take the toys off and play with them. This will help make your fancy tree with
fragile decorations a little less tempting.
Christmas tree—decorating, lighting tips
Use lots of lights. If your tree is loaded with your collection of different
ornaments, limit the lights to one color to help tie everything together. If the tree
is sparse, lights in a variety of colors and shapes will help fill things out.
Christmas tree—decorating, lights that sparkle
To make your tree sparkle, use lots of miniature lights. To figure out the
minimum number you need, multiply the tree’s width in feet by 8, then multiply
that figure by the tree’s height. For example, a 4-foot-wide tree that’s 5 feet tall
would require 160 lights (4 x 8 = 32 x 5 = 160).
Christmas tree—decorating, ornament alternatives
If you don’t have a huge collection of ornaments, fill out the tree with Christmas
cards, candy canes, ribbons, bows, tinsel, and snowflakes cut from paper doilies.
Tiny boxes covered with gift wrapping can look surprisingly elegant. Hang
gingerbread men, cinnamon sticks tied with bows, and seashells. To add glitter,
hang walnuts, pinecones, bay leaves, or blown eggs spray-painted gold or silver.
Christmas tree—decorating, ornaments made of cardboard
Make paper ornaments out of cardboard. Trace cookie-cutter shapes or draw
designs on the cardboard freehand. Color the shapes and cut them out. Punch a
hole at the top and pull ribbon or string through the hole.
Christmas tree—decorating, ornaments made of clay
Make clay ornaments. In a saucepan, stir together 2 cups baking soda and 1 cup
cornstarch, add 1¼ cups water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until
mixture is the consistency of moist mashed potatoes. Turn out on a plate and
cover with a damp cloth until cool enough to handle. Roll to ¼-inch thickness.
Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Use a drinking straw or toothpick to make holes
at the top of each ornament. Allow to dry and harden on a flat surface overnight.
Paint, decorate, then protect with a shiny glaze; you can use a clear acrylic spray
found at craft and home improvement stores.
Christmas tree—decorating, ornaments made of cookies
Any recipe for crisp rolled cookies can be used to create cute and edible tree
decorations. Simply roll and cut the cookie dough as usual, but before baking,
use a drinking straw to make a hole near the top of each cookie. Repeat if hole
closes during baking. When cookies have cooled, thread ribbon through the
Christmas tree—decorating, ornaments made of glue
Draw free-form stars and snowflakes in varying sizes on waxed paper with white
glue that dries hard (like Elmer’s White Glue). Sprinkle with glitter, covering the
glue completely. Allow to dry for 2 days. Then, starting at the points and
working in, carefully peel away the wax paper. Hook the stars and snowflakes
over the branches of the tree.
Christmas tree—decorating, ornaments made of paper
Cut out pictures from magazines, greeting cards, or wrapping paper and glue
them to circles of construction paper or cardboard. Attach loops of ribbon to
ornament backs, and hang them on the tree.
Christmas tree—decorating, ornaments made of pipe cleaners
Help very young children make Christmas ornaments out of red and green pipe
cleaners. Twist them into the shapes of candy canes, stars, and trees, and hang
them on the tree or decorate packages.
Christmas tree—decorating, ornaments made of tin
Hang “tin” ornaments cut from foil pie plates on a tree or bush near the house,
and watch them sparkle.
Christmas tree—decorating, popcorn garlands
String popcorn garlands with stale popcorn—it’s easier to handle.
Christmas tree—decorating, process
Attach strings of lights from the bottom up. Concentrate them on the bottom
two-thirds of the tree, and then gradually thin them out toward the top. Attach
lights first, garlands next, then ornaments.
Christmas tree—decorating, process for hanging ornaments
Work from the inside out when hanging ornaments. Put some large, shiny ones
on the innermost branches of your tree to reflect light and eliminate dark spots.
Hang your most attractive ornaments at eye level on the outermost branches.
Christmas tree—decorating, snowflakes made of paper
Let kids make paper snowflakes out of white or silver paper doilies. Fold each
into eights and cut designs into all three sides of the wedge. Each one will turn
out differently. Attach a ribbon loop to the back or just tuck the snowflakes into
the tree branches.
Christmas tree—decorating, stickers
Place star, tree, or other holiday stickers back-to-back along a wire or ribbon.
Wind these with the garland through the branches of the tree.
Christmas tree—decorating, trunk brightener
To brighten the center of the tree, wrap the trunk with foil or garlands of gold
Christmas tree—is it fresh?
Test a tree for freshness by running your hand gently over a branch. Needles
should bend, but stay on. Pick up the tree and thump the trunk. A few brown
needles may fall off, but the green ones should stay on.
Christmas tree—nontraditional
Instead of a traditional evergreen tree, bring a potted tree in from the garden or
terrace for the holidays or decorate any indoor plant or tree with small
ornaments. Small red ribbons on a Norfolk pine, masses of white lights on a
ficus, or colorful popcorn and cranberry garlands covering any plant can be very
Easter baskets
Tackle boxes, backpacks, bicycle baskets, school utility boxes, and even a bike
helmet can all be used as Easter “baskets.” It’s a fun way to give an otherwise
dull gift.
Formal wear—rent or borrow it
Rent, don’t buy, formal wear. Bridal gowns, evening gowns, and other formal
wear are usually high-priced—and worn once. So rent or, better yet, borrow. For
men, tuxedo rental prices vary tremendously, so check around.
Harvest—jack-o’-lanterns, cutting
When cutting a jack-o’-lantern, don’t cut the top of the pumpkin for a lid but
instead cut an opening around the bottom. No more reaching down inside!
Simply lift the pumpkin by its stem, and light the candle.
Harvest—jack-o’-lanterns, with flashlight
Using a flashlight in the bottom of a jack-o’-lantern is safer than using a candle.
Or line the bottom of the pumpkin with aluminum foil, and put a string of tiny
exterior Christmas-tree lights inside. Run the cord from a hole in the back of the
Harvest—personalized pumpkins
During pumpkin-growing season next summer, use a pen or other pointed tool to
scratch kids’ names into your pumpkins when they’re about softball size or
slightly larger. The name will heal over but leave scars as the pumpkins grow.
Because pumpkins grow so fast, kids can watch almost daily to see their names
appear in the skin.
New Year’s Day—make a family movie
Preserve holiday memories digitally every year on New Year’s Day. Do
impromptu interviews with family members about the past year and special
events, with the primary goal of capturing how your kids have grown and
matured in the past year. Close each movie with a shot of the entire family, taken
in the same spot year after year.
New Year’s Eve—forget the past
While sitting around the fire (great reason to turn off the television), take turns
writing down past events you’d like to forget and toss them into the fireplace.
New Year’s Eve—give thanks
On New Year’s Eve, ask each family member to light a candle and think about
the events of the past year for which they are most thankful.
Parties—beverages, iced in child’s pool
Fill an inflatable child’s pool with ice to hold canned drinks for a big group of
guests. Place balloons or flowers in the pool to decorate.
Parties—beverages, iced in fish tank
An impeccably clean, large fish tank filled with lots of shaved ice makes a fun
cooler for fruit juice bottles, cans of soda, or pitchers of punch.
Parties—beverages, punch bowl fun
Add these big, hilarious ice cubes to your party punch: Fill a new pair of surgical
gloves (nonpowdered) with water, and tie each one closed with rubber bands.
Place them in the freezer. When they are frozen, peel back the gloves and add
the frozen “hands” to the punch bowl.
Parties—beverages, punch bowl ice ring
Make an ice ring for your punch bowl with fruit juice or sherbet instead of water.
It looks pretty and it won’t water down the punch as it melts.
Parties—beverages, punch that’s not red!
Never serve red punch. It stains carpeting.
Parties—cheering crowd recording
Make a recording of the cheering crowd when you attend a sporting event. Then
next time a family member who’s done something terrific walks through the
door or the guest of honor arrives at a party, play the recording to help offer
Parties—coffee and dessert, not dinner
Instead of a full-fledged dinner party, host an adults-only coffee party, with each
couple contributing a dessert. This way everyone brings something really
special, and the emphasis is on being together.
Parties—decorating, centerpiece with frosted fruit
Frosted fruits are a delicious-looking centerpiece and are simple to make.
Simmer apple jelly with a little water, let cool, then brush over fruit. Roll the
fruit in granulated sugar to coat.
Parties—decorating, centerpiece with winter candles
Set white votive candles in a clear, glass bowl filled with coarse salt to make an
inexpensive “candles in the snow” centerpiece.
Parties—decorating, votive candles and mirrors
Increase the effectiveness of votive candles by placing them on squares of
mirrored glass.
Parties—face paint base
Zinc oxide ointment (available at drugstores) is a perfect makeup base for face
painting at parties because it is pure white and creates a kind of “canvas” once
applied and allowed to dry.
Parties—face paint recipe
Mix cold cream with cornstarch and water until you form a paste. Add food
coloring for the color you want. No cold cream handy? Substitute with a white
flour and vegetable shortening or corn syrup mix. Just eyeball it, then adjust
until you have the consistency of paint.
Parties—food, buffets for large groups
If you are having a large group in for a meal, consider a buffet. Just be sure to
choose dishes that can be served at room temperature and will still look good
after sitting out for an hour or so.
Parties—food, cake decorator
A clean, squeezable mustard bottle is great for decorating cakes. Just fill the
bottle with the color icing you want, screw on the top with the pointed tip, and
get to work on that cake.
Parties—food, cupcake freezer trick
Bake and freeze cupcakes ahead of time, making plenty if you need them for
several occasions in the near future. On the day you need to take them to your
event, frost the cupcakes while they’re still frozen and then pack them for the
trip. They will defrost just in time for the party and will have that just-baked
Parties—food, customize plain cake
To get the benefits of a custom-decorated cake at a highly reduced price, ask the
bakery to layer, fill, and frost the otherwise plain cake of your choice. You’ll end
up with a “blank canvas” cake you can bring home, decorate, and customize to
your heart’s content.
Parties—food, ice cream ready to go
Before a child’s party, scoop ice cream into paper cupcake liners and store the
treats in the freezer. Now you can serve the ice cream in its little cupcake paper
liner on the plate with a piece of cake, or roll the ice cream ball out onto the
plate and discard the paper. Serving will be quick and easy because the hard
work is done.
Parties—food, ready-made appetizers
Don’t be afraid to use prepared foods. Put a store-bought appetizer on your finest
china, garnish it with herbs, and no one will know the difference.
Parties—food, realistic recipes
Be realistic about the menu. Don’t choose recipes that are too elaborate or
require last-minute preparation. If you have time to cook only one really blowout
course, make it dessert because that’s the last impression everyone will take
Parties—food, spread out the goodies
When you’re hosting a party, arrange the appetizers, snacks, and beverages on
several tables. This keeps everybody circulating instead of gathered around the
food. You could also ask guests who seem a little shy to pass appetizers; doing
so helps to break the ice.
Parties—games, family crossword puzzle
You’ll have a fun game to play at your next family party when you create a
crossword puzzle using unique family information. For a child’s party, use
information about friends and classmates, and keep it appropriate for the age
Make original party invitations instead of buying cards at the store. Making them
as a craft project involves your child in planning his or her party. And it can be
as much fun to make invitations by hand as to receive them. You might be able
to get scraps of heavy colored paper stock from a local printer. Call ahead and
ask them to save usable scraps for you.
Parties—outdoor lighting with portable candles
Fill a kid’s wagon with sand and place candles in it for movable light at an
evening outdoor party.
Parties—remember the absent
When someone can’t be with you to celebrate a special occasion, have everyone
at the event hold up a poster that reads “We miss you!” Take a picture and mail
or email it to the absentee.
Parties—table, easy dessert display
Cakes, cookies, and other baked goods look elegant when served on a pedestal
plate. If you don’t have one, create your own by putting a dinner or cake plate on
top of a short, wide drinking glass or sturdy vase.
Parties—table, for unmatched dishes
If you don’t have adequate matching flatware and dishes for a large group—and
most people don’t—just mix and match. Tie everything together with matching
Parties—table, place card names
When preparing place cards for your next dinner party, write the guests’ names
on both sides of the cards so that those across the table can read them too.
Parties—table, place cards with photos
Put a small, framed photograph of each person at his or her place instead of
traditional place cards.
Parties—table, plate decorating
To celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or other big event, use a tube of cakedecorating
gel or your own icing in a clean, squeezable mustard bottle to write
your message, such as “Congratulations” or “Happy Birthday” around the edge
of the dessert plates. This works especially well when you don’t have an entire
cake to decorate, you are serving pie or ice cream, or you want to make a low-cal
dessert look more festive.
Parties—table, serving dishes
Use unusual serving dishes. Put crudités in brightly colored mugs or bread in a
shiny metal colander.
Parties—table, set the day before
Set the table the day before with everything, including platters to make sure it all
fits and looks attractive. Cover with a clean sheet to keep dust-free.
Thanksgiving—prepare for Christmas now
Before Thanksgiving, give all family members who’ll attend a ticket to write
down their current interests, hobbies, and Christmas gift requests. The rule is:
No Ticket, No Dinner. (Make sure they know this is all in fun.)
Valentine’s Day—easy heart-shaped cake
No special pan is required for this cake. Using your favorite recipe or box mix,
bake one round layer and one square layer, then cool and remove each from the
pans. On a large tray, platter, or aluminum-foil-covered cardboard, place the
square layer with its corners pointing up, down, right, and left so it looks like a
diamond. Slice the round layer in half. Place one half on each of the two
adjacent sides of the square layer. Frost and decorate as desired.
Wedding—bride’s feet saver
Buy a pair of white sneakers and decorate them with lace, pearls, and white satin
ribbon. At your wedding reception, go from your high heels to these comfy
shoes. Your feet will thank you.
Wedding—decorated cake at a good price
If you are planning a wedding, contact a cake-decorating class in your city.
Coordinate with them to get a cake at an amazing price.
Wedding—shower, for the mother-of-the-bride
Gifts for this nontraditional event might include a gift certificate to have her hair
done for the wedding; bubble bath and other soothing remedies; a lace
handkerchief for potential tears; frames for wedding pictures; a memory book to
record the details of the occasion; writing paper and stamps; lingerie; and some
books by her favorite authors for after the wedding.
Wedding—shower, to fill the newlyweds’pantry
Give the future bride and groom a “fill-their-cupboard” wedding shower. Each
guest copies a favorite recipe or dinner menu onto a recipe card, purchases the
nonperishable ingredients to prepare the dish or meal, and wraps them up as a
unique gift. Newlyweds will be thrilled to have their cupboards filled with the
ingredients and specific directions for how to make favorite tried-and-tested

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