Is it really possible that it’s the beginning of November and Chanukah is just a few short weeks away? While some people may be focusing on their Thanksgiving menu, which may now feature potato latkes instead of sweet potatoes and sufganiyot in place of pumpkin pie given the quirks of this year’s calendar, others are hard at work scaring up Chanukah presents for the whole clan way earlier than usual.
In the bad news department, if you are first thinking about Chanukah presents now, you are definitely behind schedule. Having grown up hearing my father utter the words “buy when you see, not when you need” over and over again, I am on the lookout for Chanukah and birthday gifts all year round and when I find those perfect items, I buy them – if the price is right, sometimes months in advance. It really is worth laying out money for gifts weeks before you need them because when you wake up one morning and realize that your mom’s birthday is in just two weeks and you can’t find anything appropriate, you will find yourself spending endless hours combing stores and websites in search of the right gift and may find yourself frustrated, empty handed or both. So when you find that coffee mug, scarf or necklace that screams “Mom!” make sure you grab it. Keep your loved ones in mind all year long when you hit those sale and clearance racks, enabling you to score great stuff at rock bottom prices, a surefire way to make both the recipient and your wallet smile. A word to the wise: make sure you remember where you stashed those gifts so that you don’t forget you have them or, worse yet, spend hours looking for them when you need them.
In the good news department, fear not: there are oodles of sales heading your way in the next few weeks and with Black Friday sales starting earlier and earlier every year there are plenty of bargains to be had right now. Know exactly what you want for that special someone? Google, google, google so you know how much you can expect to pay for that gift, then scour those flyers and advertisements that show up in your mail and inbox and see if the sale price is cheaper than the usual one. Don’t forget that you may need to add shipping and sales tax when shopping online!
Is it worth shopping on Black Friday? This year, given that the biggest shopping day of the year actually falls out on the second day of Chanukah, it depends on timing. If you need your gifts for the first night of Chanukah, then obviously hitting the stores at 5:00 a.m. on Friday morning isn’t going to work, but if you have some flexibility, you might want to consider shopping the Black Friday sales, as long as you don’t mind shopping in the pre-dawn hours with throngs of obsessed shoppers. Be prepared for the advertised items to be out of stock, lots of pushing, flaring tempers as people argue over the last of a particular item and very, very long lines. To be honest, you couldn’t pay me enough to walk into a store on Black Friday, but for some it is like the Superbowl of shopping and an event they wouldn’t miss for the world. Like shopping from the comfort of your own home? Start surfing. There are plenty of deals in cyberspace on Black Friday as well.
Take advantage of photo labs and sites to make some really unique gifts. These days it seems like there is nothing you can’t make into a photo gift: t-shirts, mugs, cell phone cases, ties, blankets, jigsaw puzzles, mouse pads, calendars, clocks, umbrellas – the sky’s the limit. Don’t overlook photo books, which allow you to preserve memorable moments for posterity and make great gifts. Check out Snapfish, Shutterfly and Artscow, all of which routinely offer sales on their product lines, as well as the photo departments at major stores including Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens, among others.
For a gift that keeps on giving, consider magazine and newspaper subscriptions (including The Jewish Press), which will hopefully be appreciated for months to come. Websites like Amazon.com, MagazineDealsNow.com and MagazineDiscountCenter.com all offer a variety of magazines at very attractive prices.
Just about anyone who cooks will appreciate a cookbook, but consider making a specialty cookbook of your own. Be it a collection of smoothie recipes, or an anthology of family favorites, it isn’t hard to put together a book that will become a kitchen staple. Want a homemade feel for your cookbook? Photocopy handwritten recipes and attach them to pages of a blank journal using photo corners and throw in a few nostalgic photographs. Looking for something more modern? Spend some time bonding with your word processor and print them in cool fonts on colored or patterned paper before sliding them into page protectors and into a binder.
Other gifts from your kitchen? Make infused vodka by combining a liter of vodka with the flavoring of your choice. Try a few vanilla beans, a combination of vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks, a few pieces of fruit diced into small pieces, a fistful or two of fresh herbs or several handfuls of fresh berries. Add the flavoring to the vodka, cover tightly and let stand several days to a week before pouring into decorative bottles to be given as gifts.
Got little kids? Some of the best gifts I ever made involved my children’s hands and assorted bottles of paint that I already had in the house. Buy an inexpensive box frame and pull out the cardboard insert that is meant to hold the picture in place. Dip each of your kids’ hands into a different color paint and have each one place their handprint on the front of the cardboard insert, forever capturing those adorable, chubby hands. If you have a baby who perpetually puts his hands in his mouth, skip the hands and use his feet instead. Feeling adventurous? Try handprints on aprons, t-shirts and tote bags. I promise you the grandparents will love them.
Go to the penny pinching pros by signing up for money saving e-mails from sites like DansDeals.com, KosherOnABudget.com, KollelBudget.com and OrensMoneySaver.com, which all deliver daily deals to your inbox. Don’t forget sites like JDeals, Kosher Kouponz and Groupon which are treasure troves of goodies just waiting to be harvested.
There aren’t too many people out there who wouldn’t appreciate a restaurant gift certificate no matter what the occasion. Check out GreatKosherDeals.com for a listing of eateries all over the New York area as well as other major cities in the United States and Canada that offer discounted gift certificates, some featuring as much as 25 to 30 percent off face value. Your lucky recipient will never know that you didn’t pay full price and you can rest assured that your secret is safe with me!
Finally, start preparing now for next Chanukah. If you happen to be in a store and you see that perfect gift for your mom, your son or your niece, buy it know and stash it in a corner of your closet. Come next December 16, the first night of Chanukah 2014, you’ll be glad you did.
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