Post-Christmas Wrap-up

Hope everyone had a great Christmas. I'm enjoying some great gifts, laughing at the crappy ones, and burning through the useful ones (cash) a bit quicker than I thought--I'm talking about those After Christmas sales. I've been quite busy, so I didn't do any post-Christmas shopping until today. A lot of people have already beat me to the punch: some shelves at Ikea and Target have already been picked clean by the time I got there. I wanted a chest of metal drawers from Ikea when it became $15, but alas, they were all gone. They've been on sale for a while. [Ed.--they magically appeared again on the next day when I went back for some specialty foods for New Year's. I'm quite happy about it--it will really help with my much-needed organization project.]

As usual, I tried to grab the most seasonally-irrelevant items as possible. The only Christmas-y item I bought was a box of fancy gift tags. I tend not to buy things to save for next Christmas because my aesthetic leanings may change over the year, and besides, it's easy to forget about my purchases and I may end up with 10 boxes of Christmas cards next year. If I do get anything Christmas-y, it's because they were fancy and deservedly pricey to begin with (like the said gift tags).

That said, here are some things that I believe are great deals for New Year's and beyond:

-wrapping paper--some are obviously holiday-themed, while others are not. I love Ikea's after-Christmas sales because I've always managed to snag good wrapping paper that I can use for other occasions such as birthdays and housewarmings. Today, I got a 6-pack of wrapping paper for $1.50. Only 2 of those rolls are outwardly Christmas-y. Each roll lasts quite a while, too.

-gift boxes and tissue paper--I love to stock up on these right now. When I have to go out and get boxes for, say, birthdays in the summer, boxes and wrapping paper tend to be more expensive. I've just covered the wrapping paper, so let's talk about the boxes. Plain boxes are great for all occassions, and at sale prices, you can afford to get boxes of all different sizes. Likewise with tissue paper--right now you can choose from lots of colors and patterns. Leftovers can be saved for next Christmas, when stores are so overwhelmed that boxes become scarce.

-objets d'art and household goods--the holiday season is a time for people to entertain. As a result, stores carry a glut of festive decorative items and dining service. In addition, some stores like Target package such things as boxed gift sets, which become half-priced the minute Christmas passes.

Some of the said wares are winter-themed, while others are simply pretty or have holiday colors such as red, gold, and silver. When the colors are by themselves, you can hardly tell that they're for winter holidays. Combo color schemes are not so forgiving. Red and white whispers candy cane, though you can probably get away with it, but red and green screams Christmas.

At Ikea, I picked up some red picture frames and a red heart-shaped pillow for $1 and $3, respectively. I've seen some warm-weather leaf-shaped plates on sale at Target, and there were also boxed gift sets of some nifty bookends. The bookends are awesome, but not worth my $10. I'll snag them if they fall to $3.74.

-gadgets--many novelty gadgets are packaged as Christmas gifts. Many of them are nifty, but not worth buying at full price. If you've been coveting them, now is a good time to move in.

When I was out Christmas shopping with my family a few days ago, I saw an 8-in-1 thingus that I could use for my car. It includes an air compressor (for tires), blinking lights, tire gauge, and a vacuum cleaner. I could imagine that the vacuum isn't all that strong, but it could work out OK for my car. I wasn't willing to pay $20 for it, but somehow I knew that the price is going to drop in a few days. There were only a few boxes left, so I knew I had to move in ASAP after Christmas. Sure enough, it was a popular item. I had to go to 2 Targets to hunt it down today, but I got it at half-price.

-storage containers--sure, some of them are in Christmas colors, but if they're only going to be stowed away, who cares as long as they're they're sturdy and inexpensive?

-host/hostess gifts--candles, potpourri, and chocolates galore, all at half price or even less. Again, it's best to avoid anything overtly holiday-ish. There are plenty of delightful scents other than Pleasant Pine or Pumpkin Spice. Something like ylang-ylang or French vanilla is good all year round, and really cheap too. Candles and potpourri will keep for ages.

Be careful when it comes to food. Fancy boxes of chocolates can be had for 30% off or more as we speak, and they're are perfect as host/hostess gifts for New Year's visits or dinners in the next month or two, but there's a danger that they'll get old, dry, and discolored beyond that.

-bath and beauty sets--cosmetics, bath products, perfumes, colognes: these are great all year round, and stores have too much of it on their shelves right now. Bad for them, good for us.

Besides snapping up reduced-price essentials, another thing to do after the holidays is to gather up all the holiday stuff for use next year. Put all the leftover (or newly purchased) wrapping paper, Christmas cards, ribbons, and bows in the same place, preferrably with the wrapping paper and cards you use for other occasions so that you won't forget about them. It's just good to use them up and not let things go to waste. On one hand, it's not cool for people to get the same card year after year, but on another hand, do people even remember? If you're concerned about this, send the "old" cards to new friends and acquaintances that haven't gotten them before, or give them to family members who need to send Christmas cards next year.

Hope everyone will have a fun and successful New Year!


Happy Holidays!

I remember that when I was a kid, I couldn't wait until Christmas is here. As an adult, I feel stressed by the holiday bustle, particularly because it coincides with final exams. On top of that, I get a bit put off by the hypercommercialism. What do I want for Christmas? Why, nothing I didn't already want before and after Christmas every year. There's always something that I want, there's always something that everyone else wants. Christmas is just an excuse or opportunity (whichever way you choose to see it) to throw caution to the wind and buy all the things we've been coveting.

I hope that no one is falling into that trap.

Despite my cynical views on Christmas, I do feel the warm and fuzzies of the holiday spirit. It is a time to treat yourself if you've been working hard all year and didn't have a chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It is a time to show your friends and family that you care about them--if not with gifts, then with words of kindness. It is a time for reflection--what was good, what was bad, and what we can do to rectify the bad. What ultimately triumphs over materialism is the sense of community. Instead of thinking about what I'm going to get for Christmas, I cherish the opportunity to talk to or meet with friends and family that I haven't seen in a long time. Christmas is the one time in the year when I have time and they have time. In a world where we have to check our schedules to see if we have time to meet with our friends, having a universal set of days off is certainly a blessing.

Since Christmas is only days away, my room has transformed into Santa's Little Workshop, where gifts are wrapped and made. Through the holiday rush, I feel a strange sense of ease as I look back at this tumultuous year. There were many lows, but I also had a lot of personal growth and much to be thankful for. I'm going to enjoy a lot of face time with my friends and family who helped me get through it all; IM, email, and cell phones will never channel the joy garnered through personal interactions.

Thank you for reading and leaving encouraging comments, especially when I was having a rough time. It's been a pleasure writing for you this year. I wish you and yours a very happy holiday, and best wishes for the New Year. Have fun, stay safe, and I'll see you (figuratively speaking) in 2007!


Vegas Adventure: The Shopping

Even though there were a number of snags in my Vegas trip (caused both by my own unpreparedness and the expensive restaurant's disappointing service), I had a great time. It's always fun chatting it up with the girls, and even more fun when we show each other the fruits of our retail endeavors.

Since my carpool group isn't that big into gambling, and walking around isn't much fun, we had to come up with things to do. Not surprisingly, I suggested shopping. I knew there were great outlets in the Vegas area, but since I was busy with finals, I didn't have time to look into it. Fortunately, my dear roommate did the homework and found a couple of outlets to hit.

On our way to Vegas, we stopped by the fashion outlet mall in Primm, which is on the California-Nevada border. That place was great--I did the bulk of my shopping there. When we got there, we thought we'd spend an hour or so there. Instead, we ended up staying there for a couple of hours until the stores closed. I got some clothes for family, stocked up on Bath and Body Works stuff for future b-day gifts, got a Pottery Barn picture album set for another aunt, $7 Fossil cuff links for a cousin, just to name a few. Being singularly focused on getting Christmas gifts, I didn't get anything for myself there. As a bonus, many things I purchased ended up being cheaper than the marked price. My friends did pretty well too. They all got some great gifts, and one of them scored big on work clothes. She had a hard time finding things that looked good, fitted right, and priced well until she found the outlet. We all agreed that the Primm outlets is a must-visit attraction the next time we go to Vegas.

The next day, we were already in Vegas, so we went to the Las Vegas Outlet Center just outside of town. I didn't think the stores there were as good, but there were a few stores with lots of goodies. I found gifts for the hardest-to-shop-for members of my family, and I even bought gifts on behalf of my parents because (I hate to say this, but) they're a bit clueless about what's cool for teens. Even though it was completely unexpected, I ended up spending money on myself. I bought 3 things:

The pair of Vans was the first thing I bought. I wore flats to go shopping in the morning, but walking was painful because the shoes were stiff and my feet were swollen and calloused from breaking in new shoes the night before. I went into Vans to buy things for family when I saw a few pairs of shoes on the $9.99 table. Whaddaya know? The green/white checkered pair was the last pair of its kind, and it was in my size. They were really comfortable. As soon as I walked out the store with them, I decided to wear them. My feet felt much relieved, and off I went to buy things from other stores.

One of my last stops was the Adidas store, where I found a gift for my sister and a couple of things for myself. I've been looking for a zip-up hoodie for a long time, and while $23 isn't cheap, the price was very reasonable and it's hard to find something lower and of the same quality. The bag is a "want" more than a "need," but it was just so "me." I really dig the metallic green trim, and isn't the heart-shaped reflector cute? I love the Stella McCartney line of Adidas products because it embodies the perfect fusion of form and function, but it's always been too expensive for me. At $10 instead of $80, this bag was affordable and perfect for my needs. I overheard a salesperson tell a customer that the Stella McCartney sale starts Monday. Bummers...I couldn't take advantage of it, but I got a good deal nonetheless. I started using it right away in place of my little quilted bag because the shoulder strap made things much easier. I call this a bucket bag because the bottom is round. Round is good because it increases the capacity; I was able to put in a bottle of water later.

One thing I learned is that outlet stores of the same brand are not created equal. For instance, the Fossil outlet at Primm had way more and better stuff than the one in Las Vegas proper.

An interesting observation: I didn't expect to buy anything from the Coach outlet, but I wanted to check it out. I was surprised by how many people were in there pawing at stuff as if they were free. On the contrary, everything was quite expensive in there, though I liked one of the pouchettes. The patchwork purse, however, is something to avoid. It may look cool in a weird sort of way right now, but it'll be so out by next year.

Good thing my friend's little hybrid SUV had lots of room in the trunk to fit both our travelling bags and all our purchases. Everything was piled high, but they fit. Our guy friends (including the groom) shook their heads when they heard we went shopping that first night and again the next day. Oh well, they've got their gambling, we've got our shopping. Works for me.


Vegas Adventure: The Planning (or lack thereof)

Last night was the first time I got a good night's sleep in weeks. Sure, there was this one night when I slept for 9 hours before taking my exam, but my dreams were basically reviews of what 15 U.S.C. 1114(1) and 1125(a), (c), and (d) covered. It's been a hectic few weeks, and I'm so glad that I finally have time to do nothing today.

Everyone knows that the best thing to do before a trip is to plan--being prepared will save a lot of money and prevent the type of chaos that would ruin a good time. The friends I went with did a great job with planning, but sadly, I did not. I was too consumed with memorizing stuff for exams, and when it was all over, I had a few hours to go out with a friend who visits once a year. I literally didn't do my packing until 30 minutes before heading out the door. The result--a "what I did right" slash "don't let this happen to you" post. It doesn't matter where you're travelling to--these notes apply to a lot of different situations.

1) What to wear--that was easy part since I'm pretty good at packing light. If you're heading somewhere for a particular purpose and know you won't have much time to plan to put outfits together, focus on the big event itself. Then, think of the other activities you'll be partaking. The average itinerary consists of a formal/business event, a dressed-down-but-still-sophisticated social gathering, and some casual schlepping-around downtime. Once you've gotten your activities mapped out, pick out pieces that can be recycled, layered, and reassembled for the different occasions; it helps to start with one versatile piece and work around it. See if your dress-up pieces can be dressed down, and vice versa. Don't forget to check the weather report; if you're on a strict budget, it doesn't help if you have to go out and buy clothes just to stay warm. When it's time to pack, it might be a good idea to wear the bulkier pieces and stuff the smaller pieces inside the bag.

For me, my friend's wedding ceremony was the main focus, so I figured out what to wear way ahead of the time (off-the-shoulder sweater, a chiffon skirt with crazy stuff hanging off of it, high-heeled sandals, a coat, small quilted purse). I didn't think of what to wear for the other events until the night before and the morning of the trip. For travelling time, I wore the high heels, a flattering pair of jeans, long-sleeve tee, a graphic tee, a short-sleeve hoodie, scarf, and a yellow down jacket. My jeans was my staple piece. I could wear the wedding ceremony sweater and have another casual outfit. For my sophisticated social outfit, I chose a lacy halter. I also threw in a lounging outfit for sleeping. Just in case I needed it, I included a pair of tights (which I ended up not needing). After packing whatever I wasn't wearing, my duffle still had plenty of room. All the outfits worked as expected, so I was very happy.

2) Shoes/accessories--this is where I get a B-.

I wore the dressy sandals for travelling because they were bulky, but I packed away a pair of ballet flats for casual walking around. Ballet flats seem like a good choice because they're nice and compact, but they'll be good only if they are soft and pliable. I was dumb and decided to bring a cute pair of flats with a stiff upper. After spending a day breaking in my sandals, my calloused toes were not happy to be rubbing against the stiff upper of the flats...totally didn't expect this to happen, though I should have. I happened upon a cheap and comfortable pair of Vans slip-ons while shopping and started wearing them right after paying. I didn't buy shoes for the sake of replacing my flats, but I know some people have to pay full price for comfortable shoes they forgot to bring for the trip. That's just not good for budget travelling. Next time, I'll opt for more comfortable flats.

I also made the stupid mistake of not bringing a tote bag for casual downtime. A tote bag is nice because it folds up easily and doesn't take up much room, but it holds a lot of stuff. All I had was my little quilted purse, which holds my essentials but nothing more. While I was shopping, I found a cute Stella McCartney for Adidas bag, which was roomier. I also started using it right after I bought it. Again, I didn't run out to buy a bag just because I didn't bring one. It just happened to work out that way. Still, it's nice to remember to bring a tote in the future.

With jewelry, keep it to a minimum and bring a small pouch so that you won't lose your baubles when you're not wearing them.

3) Toiletries--yes, hotels have shampoos, lotions, and soap, but supplies are limited. If you're travelling with other people, and all of you planned on relying on the hotel stock, one of you is bound to be out of luck. So, bring your own travel-sized body wash, toothpaste, and lotion. Don't forget your toothbrush and towel. In most big cities, getting toiletries is not a problem (CVS bailed me out this time), but if you're in the mountains and it's snowing (which happened to me a couple of years ago), it can be a big problem.

4) Food--my friends brought a lot of snacks and water (plus a gallon for refill) for the trip, and one even brought enough crackers and energy bars for breakfast. I was going to bring my box of Triscuits and a gallon of water, but in my ill-advised haste of packing, I forgot them. Boo to me. Eating out for breakfast can add up, so bringing donuts and energy bars for breakfast is a good idea. If you don't want to lug them on the road, they're cheap enough to buy at any market at the destination...unless you're going to be in the middle of nowhere.

5) Cash--this is where I got into big, big trouble this time. I don't like the idea of walking around with a lot of cash on me, but when you're going out for dinner and drinks with a big group, you're going to need it. Inevitably, someone will not have enough cash and will have to put it on their credit card. If only 1 or 2 people do it, that's usually OK, but restaurants are not going to be happy to deal with more than 2 credit cards (and probably not allow it).

Even though the dates were set long ago, my friend's wedding ceremony and dinner were planned in a rather last-minute fashion, so I didn't know how much I was going to spend until, well, the last minute. Instead of going to a buffet as originally planned (where I thought I could use my credit card), we ended up going to a very expensive sushi restaurant. I started off the day with (what I thought was) a lot of cash, but that amount was reduced by lunch and a drink. I forgot that I needed to help pay for the bride's and groom's dinner on top of my own dinner and drink. I ended up borrowing $10 from my friend to cover dinner. But wait, my mistakes didn't end there--I got cash-back at CVS and then realized I may have overdrafted. I forgot to transfer more money to my checking account before leaving for the trip. It was a good thing that the Vegas drug stores had a cap on how much people can get for cash back, since enough people are in the same predicament that the stores might run out of money.

What's the bottom line? A couple of things--know your account balances and know where the nearest bank ATMs are. This could only be done if you looked them up ahead of time. I knew how much was in my checking account, but I was too lazy to transfer the money, thinking that I wouldn't spend that much. I missed overdrafting by a hair. That was really stupid of me--if I had only taken a few minutes worth of time to take care of it, I wouldn't have subjected myself to worries of a big overdraft fee. Another thing you should know where your bank's ATMs are. I've seen some B of A ATMs at the outlets and in Caesar's Palace, but I don't know where other banks have their ATMs. I shake my head with pity every time I see someone use one of those standalone ATM's that charge an arm and a leg per transaction.

6) Cell-phone charger--finally, we close with something I did right. You never know when your phone might die, even if you're not out of town for long.

Almost at the Finish Line

I can't believe that Christmas is almost here! Just got back from Vegas, where I did almost no gambling but lots of eating and shopping. I went outlet shopping with the girls and we all found great deals for Christmas presents.

My Christmas budget was pretty ambitious: this year I wanted a $150 ceiling on gifts for family AND friends. I finished less than half my shopping last week and was starting to get worried, but I took care of business at Vegas. As of now, I only need to get gifts for 2 more people. As it turns out, my budget was a bit too ambitious and unrealistic. It's hard to get great gifts at $5 per person--not impossible to do, just really difficult. So far I've spent roughly $178 (including tax) on gifts for 20 people, which isn't too bad. At the end the total should come out to roughly $200 this year for 22 people. Yes, it's quite a bit of money, but I see Christmas as an opportunity for me to say Thanks to my friends and family for their love and support. I could never put a price on what everyone has done for me; a token of appreciation and some heartfelt words is the least I can do.

More on my Vegas adventure soon...


Some gifts can wait

Ah, finally, a real break. I've been outlining for almost 11 hours straight, with very brief breaks for lunch and snacks. I just had the most delicious dinner cooked in less than 15 minutes (thanks to those easy-to-deal-with chicken fillets that I just stocked up on and some delish salad dressing as marinade), and I'm ready to get back to work. Just thought I'd pop in with a quick post pertaining to Christmas shopping, well, before Christmas.

If you're stressed about not having finished your Christmas shopping yet for everyone on your long list of names, breathe, then prioritize. Since there are so many get-togethers during the holiday season, there's bound to be some people that you won't be meeting up with until after Christmas. As Stacie pointed out a few posts back, a lot of money could be saved by shopping at after-Christmas sales. So, if you're already busy and don't have much time, focus on people that you'll be exchanging gifts with either on or before Christmas Day. Get the rest of the gifts after Christmas. Usually I'd rather get all my shopping done before Christmas, but this year I'm just way too busy to do that. Now it seems like having unfinished business is a good idea.

I'll be taking my finals this coming week, then I'm heading to Vegas right after that. Since I'll be there for a wedding and don't want to get all partied out before the big event, I'll be spending a lot of downtime doing Christmas shopping with my girls. We'll be hitting the many outlets in and around Vegas--"shop, drink, and be merry" sounds good to me. I'll be posting again when I get back!


Law of Sales

Ah, I wish this post was really about going to sales, but no. I'm going off topic again. Remember how I said I decided to save some money by not buying a statutory supplement for my commercial law class? That's because the materials I need are available online. Clicking and cut-and-paste is so much better than flipping through pages.

Here's a look at why I'm been slacking-slash-blogging. If you had to look at these all day (and I do mean that literally), wouldn't you start to lose your mind too?

Crunch-time Stock-up

For those of you who are still in school, you may either be in the middle of final exams or about to start. Oh, what to do about food? Eating out gets expensive, and even though fast food is served quickly, it takes time to go out and get it, then time to get home. If you're studying on campus, there may be no choice but to buy food, but if you're going to be stuck at home all day, it's just quicker and cheaper to heat something up.

Right before my car broke down, I made a trip to the market to stock up on frozen foods. The money I spent on all that food would have been just enough for 2-3 fast food meals. I wound up with enough food for more than a week. It's also important to eat healthy, because getting sick or tired in the middle of exam sucks. Hence, getting a combination of healthy and quick-to-work-with materials is better than relying on TV dinners or fast food alone.

Here's what I think are good to get stocked up on before doing battle with the textbooks:
-cereal--if you really need to eat breakfast for lunch or dinner, or a snack, there's nothing quicker.
-eggs--fried or scrambled eggs for a fast source of protein. Egg sandwich w/lunch meat is pretty yummy.
-pasta/rice/Top Ramen--keeps you full and very easy to make in a jiffy. With rice, the ricecooker does almost all the work
-canned soups--won't fill you up, but warm soup helps during cold winter nights and goes well with sandwiches.
-frozen boneless chicken fillets--it's on the expensive side (I got a huge bag for $9), but right now time is money so I'm willing to invest. Brush on some BBQ sauce or add some salt/pepper, and either bake or pan-fry. Ready to eat in 10-15 minutes depending on method of cooking, and you can make enough at a time to feed you for a few days.
-a few frozen dinners/pizzas--in case you're really on the run. If you have access to a refrigerator/freezer, you won't have to eat out.
-frozen veggies--I got 3 packages of these for a dollar each. They make a healthy addition to every meal, including Top Ramen.
-tofu--another quick source of protein, and also easy to make, though I hate eating it by itself. For a quick dish, I usually cook tofu cubes with canned corn, green onions, and black pepper for flavoring. It's enough to last through several meals.
-canned tuna or lunch meats--I don't like cold cuts when it's cold, but a sandwich is a fast meal. Even better with warm soup. You can also save money by taking it to school with you.

I may add to the list for future reference as they come to mind, but in the meantime, good luck with finals!

[Ed.--a few more things that came to mind after the original publication date:
-flour tortillas--very versatile. There are great uses beyond the standard tacos and burritos. Quesadillas make a great snack; cold cuts can be used to make wraps/rolls.
-boxes of Mac and Cheese--I don't recommend stockpiling tons of it, since I tend to get sick of eating Mac and Cheese really quickly, but it's something I'd get to stock up.]


This is why I scrimp and save

I don't go to the movies, I don't buy movies and music, and I don't eat out much unless I'm out with friends, so shopping is my entertainment. Still, I only buy cheap stuff once in a while. Even though I have enough money in my bank account for bigger purchases, I never do it. That's because life is unpredictable, and this is one of those times where I'm glad I'm a tightwad.

Throughout law school, I've had a fair share of misfortune, especially around Finals. Health problems took a huge bite out of my account balance, and then there's car trouble. Without fail, car problems always occurred around Finals. For the past few years, the problems were fairly minor and relatively inexpensive to fix. Yesterday, however, my car's transmission decided to blow out. I was lucky that the car didn't die until it got home. My dad tried to coax the car back to the family home so that he can fix it himself, but the car said "you can't make me." Towing it back home would have been expensive, and it would have taken a long time and lots of effort for my dad to fix it. After weighing the costs and benefits, we decided to have it towed to a local shop.

Since I have to put aside money for my bar courses, I can't afford to have the repairs done. Fortunately, my dad said he would pay for all it, even though I offered to pay half. As much as I like to be financially independent and not rely on anyone, as I've done for my undergrad years, sometimes I just have to accept help. Obviously I don't have enough money to deal with this crisis, but I did save up enough to make Christmas special for him this year.

Looking back, one mistake I made this year is underborrowing for school. I know that it's a good idea to borrow as little as you can, but it's good to borrow enough for an emergency budget. I didn't expect major car trouble like this, as my car ran pretty well and my dad can fix the problems, but since I already owe so much money, a couple thousand more of debt wouldn't have made that much of a difference. It's better to borrow a little more rather than less, but of course, don't borrow more than what you actually need (including that emergency fund).

If you're a student who is in a similar situation, see if can borrow more for the next semester to cover for these unexpected situations. One good thing about borrowing this late is that you won't be accruing interest for times when you didn't need to use that money. If you have a work-study allotment that you ended up not using, maybe it's possible to convert it into a loan. Whether and how you can do these things may vary by school. Sometimes schools don't allow you to borrow more if you've already maxed out the limit they've set for your financial aid package; since I underborrowed, I haven't exceeded my limit. That said, don't borrow more money if you can avoid it. This should be a recourse strictly for times when big and bad things happen due to no fault of your own. The rates are way better than a non-educational loan, or worse yet, a credit card debt.


Away for now, and not for vacation (sadly)

My final exams are next week, so now I seriously have to cram. I said I would talk about how I replaced the lining for one of my bags, but that will just have to wait. I will get to it though.

In anticipation of the hiatus, I've done some frontloading today. There will be no major posts again until December 18 at the earliest. I might post something short again this week, but definitely nothing next week. In the meantime, enjoy reading the wonderful blogs linked on the right.

Good luck finishing your holiday shopping! Bargain-hunter style, I hope =)

Regifting is not a dirty word...if done right

I know that regifting may be considered a "how dare you!" concept by some. Sure, you hate what you got, but the person probably meant well and you should be thankful for his/her kindness. I do appreciate the gesture, and I don't like to regift, but it's economically and environmentally sound. If you can't use it, why waste it? It's just going to sit around taking up valuable space, or worse yet, contributing to dangerous methane buildup at the local landfill. It's best to give it to someone else who can and wants to use it.

That said, there are some ground rules to regifting:

1) Don't give it away if you think it's junk. Seriously.

2) Give it to someone whom you know will and can appreciate it. This includes fit when it comes to clothing. Don't try to palm stuff off on people--it'll do more harm than good for all parties involved. You don't want people to hate you, not just for the lousy gift, but for wasting money/time/thought on a nice gift for you.

3) If you can't keep track of where things came from, don't regift. It's the equivalent of a slap in the face for the recipient, and there's nothing more embarrassing than "didn't I get this for you last year?" In the event that you get yourself stuck in this situation (which I hope will never happen), smile and say, "yes, you did. That's why I got one for you--you said liked it too and wanted it for yourself, so now we have matching [fill in blank here]."

4) Generally speaking, don't give it away if you've already used it. The only exception is when the item is still in pristine condition after a single use. In my book, pristine means almost perfect, never washed or otherwise cleaned (but still remains clean). The single very light use of a handbag, sweater/coat (as long as something was worn underneath), or an electrical item (running for a very, very short amount of time for testing) would fit the bill.

Corollary: unless you know the person is into vintage things, don't ever give anything second-hand from a flea market or a thrift store.

5) If an original box/package is involved and you've opened it, try to restore to the original condition as best as you can. Glue may work better than tape for this purpose. If you can't restore it to the point where no one can tell, don't bother giving it away.

6) Make sure that the person you got the thingus from and the person who will receive the thingus will not be at the same situs at the time gifts are exchanged. Better yet, make sure that those two parties do not know each other.

7) If the thingus has been sitting around for a few years, make sure it's still usable. By usable, I mean fully functional, not technologically defunct, and not out of style.

8) Make sure no dates are printed on the box/packaging, and that the box/packaging does not show its age through natural decay (fading, yellowing, etc.).

If you got something you don't want to keep this year, make sure you make a note of who it's from when you get home. That'll definitely minimize the risk of regifting-related embarrassment next year.

Turkey Curry in a Hurry

Still dealing with leftover turkey? Read the comments on the last turkey post for more reader suggestions. I found another yummy use for turkey--throw it in a curry sauce! I got the inspiration when Japanese curry cubes at the local market went on sale. This is especially good for turkey meat that seems dry. Other than all the salt and whatnot in the curry sauce, the rest of the ingredients are pretty good for you. It's a fancy meal without the fancy price tag, all done in less than 10 minutes.

What you need:
-a box of curry that can be divided into cubes--about $2 at most Asian markets. Each cube makes one serving of sauce. A brand call "House" is my favorite, particularly the "Vermont" apple curry.
-a little bit of olive oil
-frozen veggies (I prefer a "garden mix" or "Italian mix" instead of the standard corn/peas/carrots combo, even though it's slightly more expensive)--about $1.50 at most markets
-rice or pasta--around $1

The how-to:
-cut or shred turkey meat into bite-size pieces
-boil the frozen veggies, drain
-saute turkey on low-medium heat
-if on medium heat, turn it down to low
-add about a cup of water
-add in a cube of curry to dissolve, add more water or boil off to achieve desired consistency
-throw in the boiled veggies
-serve over pasta or rice

Given my need to push on with studying, that's probably what I'll have for dinner tonight.


Sample Sale Fridays: The Holiday Edition

It's been months since I went sample sale shopping at the Fashion District showrooms. I'm supposed to be outlining like crazy for finals, but if I didn't get some shopping out of the way, I'm going to be so stressed out when I have to shop after exams are over. Ideally I would have started my day earlier, but I was sick again today. Shopping with the sniffles was a borderline miserable experience, but I got gifts for 5 people with just $25. All of them are good stuff, since I'm not going to go through the trouble of sample sale shopping only to go home with something I could have bought at the mall.

The biggest problem for me are the teenaged boys in my family. I'm on a completely different planet from them, that's for sure. I've lost touch with what teenage boys consider to be cool. In my opinion, it's best to keep to general categories rather than pinning yourself down to a specific item. It helps to know what the guys are into--bands, cars, skateboarding, snowboarding, travelling, etc.

I know that a lot of people say buying clothes for guys are bad, but I think my instincts have been pretty good. With guys, I think accessories (particularly messenger bags) or t-shirts/sweaters are a safe bet. I avoid pants because it requires knowing the exact waist size, height, and fit, which is way too complicated. If you insist, bigger is probably better for young men. Graphic tees are really practical, and unless you pick shirts with some outrageous slogans, they'll be worn if they're clean. Generally speaking, home in on styles and graphics that reflect the person's lifestyle. Someone who appreciates heavy metal and wears all black probably won't be happy with a preppy polo. Likewise, a shirt with "pimp" prominently emblazoned will go unused by a shy guy. If you're unsure about the guy's personality, go for something generic or tongue-in-cheek funny...who doesn't like a sense of humor? If you're gifting family members, stay away from double entendres and profanities lest you draw their parents' ire.

Last year I got the boys some mini duffles from the Yak Pak specials so that they can carry games, etc. with them on road trips, so this year I wanted to do something different. Today I had the luck of finding a showroom that sold graphic tees at 3 for $10. The shirts are definitely cool, and one of them is distressed so that it has a soft, worn-in feel. Too bad the sizes were limited to the smaller end, because otherwise I would have grabbed some for 2 male cousins and a couple of guy friends.

As for my brother, who is a pretty big guy living in a much colder place, I found a $10 sweater with a slogan that totally fits with who he is. It would have been pretty expensive at some hip store, but it's $10 because it was a slashed sample (more on that later). But since he's my bro and the sweater is black, he probably won't notice my repair job, and even if he does, it doesn't really matter. He knows I don't have money and I'm trying to do the best I can.

I also bought a few things not worth mentioning, including $6 worth of necessaries (in the true sense of the word) for myself. There were lots of cute clothes, but I steered cleared of them because a) I didn't need them, b) I already have too much clothes as it is, and c) my money is needed in other places. I'm back to being disciplined, but I let myself have some cheap candy every now and then. As for self-indulgence, I spent $5 for a treat of shiny shiny:

I just can't get enough of Tarina Tarantino's jewelry, and this is the only way I can afford them. They are 3 separate bracelets, but really cute when worn together.

Finally, a few notes concerning Christmas shopping in general, and doing your Christmas shopping at sample sales:

-Don't expect or even attempt to get everything on one trip. It may be impossible to do so, and setting yourself up to complete that monumental task in such a short time is going to stress you out. Yes, Christmas is only weeks away, but take it one day at a time. Do as much as you can on one trip, and once you've crossed off names on that gift list, you'll feel better about tackling the rest. With the large array online shopping and brick-and-mortar stores available, you'll be sure to finish your holiday shopping at some point.

-If you're in LA, a number of showrooms at the Marts will be open for the next 2 Fridays. The people who work there aren't thrilled, and some aren't shy about expressing their discontent out loud, but it's great for us shoppers. This usually happens around Christmas time. Having gotten half of my shopping done, I can go back for a few hours next week and try to get a little shopping done in between studying.

-Bring a big bag! Or several big bags, depending on your expected haul.

-On this particular trip, I noticed that a number of samples were purposefully slashed so that they can't be resold at retail price. I can see why they do it, but I think it's rather wasteful (isn't a "sample" stamp inside a piece of clothing enough?). If you're buying things for the purpose of giving them away, check carefully. Usually the rips are covered with tape, so they're easy to spot, but it's not always the case. Case in point: I bought a $3 pair of lounge pants that had a rip at a rather prominent place, but I wouldn't have found if it wasn't pointed out to me. If you are set on mending then gifting, make sure the damage is at an inconspicuous location, and stick with dark colors so that your repairs won't be noticeable. With light colors, you run the risk of having thread that won't quite match. With the aforementioned lounge pants, the shade of pink of my thread doesn't match quite right; it doesn't matter much since I'm only going to wear them at home, but it's certainly a big problem if they went to someone else. One rep at a showroom suggested that I use fabric glue. I have no idea how it works, but if you do, please let me know.

-Stay focused on shopping for others. There are lots of good deals for yourself, but if you get lured away by those siren calls, you may end up spending too much time at one spot and not able to hit others before they close or run out of good stuff. Besides, you'll be out a lot of money real soon. Sample sales like these are cash-only, so preserving cash is a big deal.

-You can also read more holiday shopping tips by looking at posts from December 2005, when I had a readership of 5 people.

Next time I'll talk about a sensitive topic: regifting.