Survive the Holidays in Style ...and under budget

These days every gift can be a gift just by presentation. Modern styles of gift bags, wrapping paper, and gift card holders offer a broad selection of themes to choose from and selecting one that reflects the personal style of the recipient shows off your efforts.

Family Features There is no doubt that many consumers may be feeling a budget crunch as the holiday season approaches, but this year with careful planning and some top notch tips from the experts, they can ensure themselves an efficient, economical, and memorable holiday season.

Though the season seems to begin earlier each year, getting a head start can help to not only get everything done on budget, but also to give you time closer to the holiday to focus on what is the most important, and what is truly worth celebrating.

How to get everything done on time ... and under budgetLast year, numerous holiday concierge services advertised their capabilities to distressed consumers looking for some relief. But just because some have had to outsource their holiday workload doesn't mean that you can't get it all done on time and without spending a small fortune. Here are some useful tips to stay on time and under budget this holiday season.

-Make a plan: Before you set out to cross off all of your holiday to-dos, sit down and map everything out with a handy calendar to set deadlines for yourself.

-Take a day off to just shop: Avoid crowds and alleviate stress by taking a day or two off just to get some holiday chores done.

-Just say no: You will undoubtedly be invited to numerous gatherings, but reserve the right to politely decline. Still feeling a little guilty? Send a small gift and holiday card with your regrets.

-Set and stick to a budget: Sounds easy, right? It does, but it is often easier said than done. Rather than arbitrarily setting a number, really examine all you have to do and set budgets for each area.

-Try to only use cash or debit card: The credit card is a great tool for the holidays. However, it also tends to make us less conscious of what we are actually spending. If you have made a budget based on what you have available, you are more likely to not go over it.

-Apply for rebates: In the busy time that is the holiday season rebates may seem like an insignificant annoyance, but they can add up. When you come home with a gift offering a rebate, fill it out immediately and send it away.

Conquering "the impossible" on your shopping listAfter surviving "Black Friday" crowds and navigating the intense shopping season that follows, there's often a person left on your list that you struggle to find the perfect present for. When you ask them what they would like, they respond with, "You don't have to get me anything," or "There's nothing that I need," and you're back to the drawing board, frustrated. No reason to fret this year thanks to these easy steps to ensuring a great gift for anyone on your list.

-Become a super sleuth: Pay extra attention throughout the year to discover items the hard to shop for recipient may need or want, as they become tight-lipped during the holidays in fear they will appear rude in asking directly for something they would like.

-Mirror their gifting behaviors: Take a close look at the type of presents the person gives, as it indicates what they feel constitutes a good gift. If Aunt Jane gave you a sweater last year, she may be indicating the importance of staying warm and may enjoy a nice set of hat and gloves this year.

-Give them an experience: Put yourself in the recipient's shoes and think of what types of experiences they may find relaxing, exciting or enriching. Educational gifts, such as cooking, crafting or dance classes, and relaxing activities such as a spa treatment or fine dining experience are popular choices.

-Create a beautiful gift presentation: Modern styles of gift bags, wrapping paper, and gift card holders offer a broad selection of themes to choose from and selecting one that reflects the personal style of the recipient shows off your efforts.

How to make your holiday guests feel right at homeThe holidays present an opportunity to reflect on the year's successes and reconnect with family. Whether you're hosting one guest for the night or Aunt Jane and Uncle Larry are occupying the guest room for the next two weeks, careful planning can prevent holiday mishaps.

-Speak with your houseguest in advance: Determine transportation needs, length of stay, intended activities and any dietary needs. Knowing your guest's expectations ahead of time will help you to anticipate their needs.

-Maintain a sense of order: The holidays create an array of social engagements, so providing your guests with access to your holiday calendar will help to keep them informed. Also, be sure to review any routines that your guests may need to be aware of, such as the time you need to get ready for work or children's bedtimes.

-Take a hint from the hotels: A welcome basket including often-forgotten toiletries such as soap, lotion, and a miniature sewing kit shows that the guest is not only welcome, but wanted in your home. Be sure to also have extra blankets, bedside lighting, an alarm clock, and a bottle of water available.

-Love is in the details: You can perk up a guest bedroom with fresh flowers or a seasonal potted plant. Include reading materials such as a book or magazine that you think your guest may enjoy.

-Finish it off with a note from the heart: The holidays offer the perfect opportunity to share heartfelt sentiments with friends and family. Finish off the welcome basket with a personalized note or holiday greeting card to express your excitement for the opportunity to share the holiday season with your guest.

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