5
Feb

a simple plan for researching renovations

A Practical Guide To Remodeling

Residential remodeling is quite a consistent task that a majority of homeowners undertake. So that your house looks attractive, then you have to remodel it. Residential renovation is a solution to make your home habitable once again. If you feel that your home is overcrowded, then one of the ways to make people comfortable is to remodel the house. The other reason for renovation might be about the looks of the home. Renovation is not easy, in that, you have to know what is necessary to complete the project. In case you only need to paint the home, then you will need to get new paint, hardwood floors or new carpeting. If it is the exterior, then new paint and windows will be useful.

To make the home utilize energy in an effective manner is another objective of residential remodeling. A majority of remodeling projects concentrate on the kitchens and bathrooms. So that your house looks attractive, there is a way the remodeling should be done. You should deliberate about how your house can look nice and the possible design you can incorporate. Home design is not an easy task, and you might need to consult experts who can assist you come up with something. While looking for a home designer, make sure that the design is within your budget. For solid work at the end, there should be a good understanding with the home remodeling professional. After you have decided on the home design that you like, make sure that you stick to it.

When it comes to implementation, you must plan and analyze the home design with your contractor so that they can propose any ideas. The other important part that has to be handled includes the materials to be used for the renovation. It will be an excellent idea first to consider those materials that are of top priority so that the project can commence. Construction schedule and processes should be provided by the contractor before the project begins. There are various experts that are involved in coming up with the design as well as the implementation, and all these people must link up if the project is to be successful.

You will certainly be dealing with various people, and it will be nice to take note of any major matters and then communicate to all those involved. Make rules for your renovation project between you and your renovation contractor and set a communication plan that will ensure the project goes on well. The main contact individual should be the job-site supervisor. All the important stuff can be placed in another location so that space can be made for the project.

17
Jan

44 Top Gifts for Entrepreneurs

44 Top Gifts for Entrepreneurs

You can’t give the entrepreneur in your life the gift of time this holiday. But you can give one of these cool, techie gadgets.
44 Top Gifts for Entrepreneurs

Image credit: Shutterstock

You can’t give the entrepreneur in your life the gift of time this holiday. But there are at least 44 gifts out there that can make life easier for him or her.

As Christmas and Hanukkah draw closer, consider picking up one of these items for that ambitious, driven entrepreneur on your list:

1. A5+ powered speaker

These premium “bookshelf speakers” guarantee high-quality music, podcasts and even white noise with an unobtrusive and chic design. They’re the speakers that don’t look like speakers and won’t interrupt your interior decor.

2. Airmega

Need another option for an air purifier? Go smart with Airmega, a powerful, stylish and effective option that will keep homes and home offices clean. Plus, they blend in effortlessly to any room.

3. ALALA

Fashion meets customization with ALALA, a boutique online experience where you can specify materials, cuts and styles, making you the designer of couture.

4. Beddit sleep tracker

Don’t just sleep better, sleep smarter. It’s easy when you can track your sleep hygiene and know exactly when you’re getting the best REM-fueled sleep. Beddit is the smart bed for which you’ve been searching.

5. Behmor wifi coffee machine

Every entrepreneur needs to customize his or her caffeine. With the Behmor, controlled via wifi if you prefer, you get the perfect cup every time.

6. Casper mattress

Casper isn’t just a mattress — the package includes pillows, sheets and bedding personalized for the recipient’s needs and desires. Quality sleep is a must for any entrepreneur and this is the gift that keeps on giving.

7. Dyson air purifier

Get cleaner, healthier air without ruining the aesthetics of a room. The Dyson offers a sleek, white design that’s a work of art in itself (all while keeping allergens at bay).

8. E02 by Electric Objects

Can’t decide which painting to hang in your office? Get the E02 and have access to more than 20,000 masterpieces that can constantly stream on a screen. Find one image you like; then you can choose the best to feature for as long as you like.

9. Electrolux EFLS617STT

Many entrepreneurs have polished an investor pitch or business plan while simultaneously tackling loads of laundry. With an Electrolux just a few steps from your home office, you get smart front-loading boost technology to keep the home front running smoothly.

10. Emio smart Christmas music light

Gift smarter this holiday season with smart lights that last longer and come complete with musical accompaniment. Hey, even entrepreneurs can get into the holiday spirit.

11. Exploride

There’s no need to wait for the future of driving technology when you can turn any car into a smart car and zip around to client and investor meetings. Right now, pre-orders are available so make sure to get onto the list.

12. Fossil Q watch

Get both style and high tech functionality with the Fossil Q. It’s for Android, and the smartwatch promises more than 24 hours of constant battery life.

13. Gaiam balance ball with pump

Don’t dismiss this product until you’ve tried it out during a 20-hour day. The balance ball helps you keep a straighter spine when sitting. It also gives you a natural core workout you don’t even notice.

14. Grillbot

Love grilling but can’t stand the mess and time required to clean up after the party? Grillbot is your automatic grill cleaner that goes to work for you, so you can sit back and embrace that food coma (or get back to those investor pitches).

15. HP ENVY 34c 34-inch media display

This relatively small monitor packs a big punch, with its high quality and features. Get the display with Bang and Olufsen for even more kick.

16. iRobot Braava

Have tile, wood or linoleum in your home office? The Braava is the mopping sister of the Roomba and does a good job of cleaning and polishing solid surfaces.

17. iRobot Roomba

Available in a variety of models, colors and styles for every need and budget, the Roomba is the famous electronic maid and picker-upper that helps keep (home) offices sparkling.

18. iStock account

Gift an iStock account and never worry about low quality, impossible-to-find copyright-free image curation again.

19. Jack Erwin

Choose a designer who specializes in men’s wear from the boardroom to the beach. Quality craftsmanship is what makes Jack Erwin stand out.

20. Jawbone activity tracker

This very affordable (under $20) watch keeps track of your activity and tells you to move when it’s been too long. A necessity for any home office worker.

21. Kevo 2

Smart locks are an easy integration of home automation and help keep home offices secure. They connect with Bluetooth and promise peace of mind both when entrepreneurs are home or away.

22. Lavish home sun lamp

Enjoy a stunning design with this sun lamp that’s easy on the eyes while making home offices look updated and giving entrepreneurs some much-needed quality light and Vitamin D.

23. Lima

Can’t decide which cloud storage option to gift? Lima gives you plenty of terabytes at home, at the office or on the go. Check out Google Drive’s fierce competitor.

24. Logitech base charging station

This smart charging stand gives you beautiful design and customization options for your iPad. Plus, you can use it while it charges, so you can stay on the go.

25. Miracle-Gro Bounty Elite aeroGarden

Think you don’t have a green thumb? Think again with the Bounty Elite, the largest AeroGarden available, with nine plant and herb pods in gorgeous stainless steel that makes kitchen agriculture easy. It also helps entrepreneurs eat locally and avoid takeout overdrive.

26. Moen Motionsense faucet

Whether the office is at home or you have a kitchenette in a commercial space, touchless faucets help keep kitchens cleaner. Touchless faucets also keep hands away from bacteria.

27. Nadaam

Nothing says Christmas like cashmere and Nadaam kicks this luxury up a notch to make entrepreneurs comfortable no matter what the situation.

28. Nest Cam

Sync your Nest system to the cam and get more security, customization and automation in your home or office. You can talk, see in the dark and get phone alerts.

29. Ninja BlendMAX duo

Once you go Ninja, you’ll never blend, crush or pulse the same again. This model comes with two travel-sized bottles to grab and go, making those morning smoothies even faster and easier to enjoy as you rush out for a client meeting.

30. Parachute

Top of the line bedding is an accoutrement to a high-quality mattress. Send your entrepreneur into 2017 well rested.

31. Petmate Replendish

Don’t worry about Fluffy or Fido going without water while you hunker over reports. This infinity water dish keeps water fresh and full.

32. Philips Hue Go

Go smart and colorful with these LED personal lighting systems from Philips. Wireless and personally sized, with a price tag under $100, the lighting systems are a great stand-alone gift or stocking stuffer for entrepreneurs looking to save on home office lighting costs.

33. Raden travel carrier

Ultra light, good-looking and compliant with FAA guidelines, this bag means entrepreneurs have never looked better at the airport. This bag is a must for all those business trips.

34. Ray super remote

This touchscreen universal remote lets you automate just about every electronic in your home. The name says it all. There’s no better way to take a break from the daily grind than with a flawlessly synced system.

35. Ring security camera

Choose from a variety of ring security cameras that connect to your doorbell so you can see who’s calling, whether you’re home or away. It syncs to your mobile device and allows for a voice function, too. That allows you to talk remotely to whoever is at the door.

36. Roku 4

This ultimate streaming media player, in a small, unassuming box, offers thousands of options for entertainment. Get your favorite shows streaming and make commands with the intuitive voice control system.

37. Sleep Number mattress

What’s your number? Sleep Number is a famous customizable mattress available with the latest technology to help you get better sleep.

38. Spyder iPhone battery case

Give your iPhone an upgrade with the world’s best and longest-lasting battery case. It’s the perfect complement to that new iPhone you’re gifting, too!

39. SWICH charger

Charge your devices anywhere and everywhere with the SWICH wireless charging stand. Qi technology promises a fully charged smartphone or tablet all day long.

40. Swopper chair

Design your own and experience what ergonomics can do for the office life. Each chair is unique and crafted, to give you a neutral spine and pain relief.

41. The Cube

A mobile mini projector, this device is dubbed “the first big screen that fits in your pocket.” Take your big league entertainment anywhere, including your next pitch session.

42. Tile

It happens. Entrepreneurs get so busy that they can misplace a wallet. With the Tile app, that will never happen again, meaning you save time, money and headaches.

43. Traeger

These smokers and grillers made a name for themselves based on quality, traditionalism and style. If you know an entrepreneur who cooks to relax, this is the ideal gift.

44. YETI

Founded by brothers, YETI offers a variety of products ideal for the outdoor entrepreneur. You’ve never seen coolers like this. It’s the ultimate gift for the entrepreneur who needs some “me time.”

It’s the season of giving, and with more entrepreneurs than ever to shop for, your list may need some adjustments. Entrepreneurs are a lot like everyone else, only they do have a few unique needs and desires that come with the territory.

So, whether you go smart and modern or classic in your gift-giving, envision yourself in their shoes with the help of this list and choose a gift your favorite entrepreneur will love.

17
Jan

7 Ways to Navigate the Office Gift-Giving Minefield

7 Ways to Navigate the Office Gift-Giving Minefield

Exchanging gifts with co-workers is a pleasant custom that many people find very stressful.
7 Ways to Navigate the Office Gift-Giving Minefield

Image credit: Shutterstock

The holidays are abundant with cheer, even at the office, where holiday potlucks and after-hour parties flavor the air with festivities. The holidays can also be filled with stress and confusion, especially when it comes to giving gifts at the office.

Perhaps you have questions about whether you should or should not give gifts to your co-workers, colleagues and clients, along with the ubiquitous money collections. To navigate smoothly through the holiday gift-giving season, here are some tips to follow.

1. Make gift giving optional.

Most everyone enjoys participating in an office gift exchange but some people may choose to opt out. Never make it mandatory to participate. Set a spending limit, usually $10 or less. Create an event such as a luncheon or an afternoon social where gifts can be exchanged, or hold your event after hours at someone’s home. If the gift exchange takes place over a meal or at a party, be sure everyone is invited, regardless of whether they want to bring a gift or not.

2. Tailor your gift.

Stay away from the proverbial coffee cup or key ring. Get creative. In other words, try to tailor your gift to the personality of the person. For example, if the person has children, choose a decorative picture frame to adorn their desk. If the person likes coffee, give a gift card to their favorite coffee shop. If you choose the name of someone you don’t know very well, you’re probably safe in giving a gift card to a popular restaurant, an office supply or home improvement store.

3. Choose appropriately.

Gag gifts and embarrassing items do not go over well in an office environment. What may be funny to you may be offensive to someone else. Also, stay away from gifts that are too intimate or personal, including bath gel, perfume or aftershave. If possible, include a gift receipt so the person can exchange the item if they prefer.

4. Avoid alcohol and tobacco products

The office is not the best place to give wine, liquor or cigars. Remember, stick to your spending limit, if there is one. Save these extravagant items for someone you know well and give during private parties or outside of work. A better choice may be handmade goodies or food baskets that can be shared with their family, friends or co-workers.

5. Make charitable donations optional

Many offices take up collections this time of year, whether for charitable causes or for a gift for the boss. It is best to allow people to privately make donations, without any pressure. What may be a worthy cause to you may not be important to someone else. Besides, others may have already donated to their favorite cause. If you’d rather not participate, simply say something like, “I appreciate your asking, but I’ve decided not to participate this year.” Your choice is personal, therefore you don’t have to explain your decision to anyone.

6. Don’t feel obligated to reciprocate.

There’s always a chance that someone may surprise you with a gift. Don’t worry; you’re not obligated to give a gift in return, although you may feel like doing so. Simply say, “thank you” then follow up with a holiday card or handwritten note that shows your appreciation. I tend to collect small gifts throughout the year for this very reason. If someone gives me an unexpected gift, I always have something to give in return.

7. Think outside the box.

If you want to give a gift to someone who has just about everything, you might want to choose a gift for their pet or their children. This is usually more thoughtful than giving a generic gift card or something they neither want or need.

Sometimes the best gifts aren’t gifts at all. A handwritten note telling someone how much they are appreciated is more meaningful and will be cherished for a long time.

17
Jan

Bonuses, Parties and Gifts: How Small Business Owners Can Navigate the Holiday Season

Bonuses, Parties and Gifts: How Small Business Owners Can Navigate the Holiday Season

These five steps will help you and your employees navigate the busy and often stressful times of the holiday season.
Bonuses, Parties and Gifts: How Small Business Owners Can Navigate the Holiday Season

Image credit: Anchiy | Getty Images

Pumpkin spice lattes are flowing and leaves are changing color, which can mean only one thing: This year’s holiday season is right around the corner. For small business owners who already juggle more than their fair share of responsibilities, it also means they’ll need to manage some unique situations that only arise in November and December.

The holiday season brings with it a unique set of stressors that can test even the most seasoned small business leader. Coping with requests for additional time off, payroll challenges of holiday compensation and the question of how to thank your staff during a peak season can be overwhelming.

Here are a few suggestions on how to conquer some of the most common holiday challenges:

1. Navigating holiday pay.

Private employers generally are not legally required to provide paid holidays to non-exempt employees. However, if you close for a holiday, exempt employees must receive their full salary as long as they work any part of the workweek. In some states, like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, certain employers may be required to provide premium pay to non-exempt employees who work on a holiday. Some things to keep in mind when considering how to treat holiday pay are applicable laws, your company’s resources, business needs and practices in previous years.

2. Determining holiday bonuses.

Holiday bonuses are a great way for employers to recognize and reward employee accomplishments. There are generally two types of bonuses: Discretionary and nondiscretionary. Most employers provide nondiscretionary bonuses, which are generally announced to employees in advance to encourage them to work more efficiently and/or to remain with the company. With this type of bonus, employees expect that if they meet certain criteria (such as attendance or productivity), they will get a bonus. By contrast, a discretionary bonus is not announced in advance and is not tied to meeting certain criteria. Remember that most bonuses must be factored into an employee’s regular rate of pay when determining overtime.

3. Creating time-off policies.

The holiday season is a popular time for employees to request vacation, so provide employees with instructions for requesting time off and clearly communicate how vacations will be granted (based on scheduling needs, seniority, first-come first-served or a combination of these factors). Some employers see a rise in unscheduled absences before and after a company holiday. To help address this, consider encouraging non-exempt employees to work the day before and after a holiday to receive holiday pay (unless the time off was scheduled in advance). Also, consider incentives to help limit unscheduled absences, such as an extra vacation day to employees who work during less desirable times or who meet certain attendance and punctuality benchmarks.

4. Planning a holiday party.

A holiday party can be a simple way to recognize employees’ efforts and boost morale going into the new year.  If you plan to host a holiday party, there are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Pay: If you plan to host the party during work hours, employees will likely be entitled to pay for time spent at the party. And if attendance is mandatory, regardless of where and when the party takes place, such time may also be considered hours worked.
  • Liability: Before the party, consider consulting legal counsel regarding the potential liability for serving alcohol at company events. If alcoholic beverages will be served, limit intake and ensure there is plenty of food as well as non-alcoholic beverages available. It’s always good to check with your insurance provider to determine what your coverage and liabilities may be during the party.
  • Conduct: Remind employees that you will enforce workplace rules, such as dress codes and anti-harassment policies, regardless of whether the party is held during work hours or on company premises.

5. Setting gift-giving standards.

During the holidays, vendors may give employees gifts, or employees may want to give clients gifts. Because gifts can raise concerns about conflicts of interest, consider establishing written guidelines around giving and receiving gifts. Many employers limit gifts to a nominal value and require employees to report gifts to the company.

Even if all of these challenges arise at the same time, sound preparation can see you through the busy season. Planning and communicating your expectations early will get your employees on the same page and set a standard that can pre-empt many problems. While the holiday season can be stressful, it also provides a great opportunity to acknowledge the hard work employees have done in the past year and to boost employee morale. So kick back. Enjoy that pumpkin latte.

17
Jan

7 Ways to Regift Sincerely and Without Getting Caught

7 Ways to Regift Sincerely and Without Getting Caught

A recycled gift, selected with great care and given with a generous heart, will be received with a smile — so long as only you know it’s recycled.
7 Ways to Regift Sincerely and Without Getting Caught

Image credit: Superb Images | Getty Images

In the old days, it was considered tacky , or even downright rude, to “regift” something that someone gave you. However, times have changed. We’re all trying to lower our shopping bills, save time and cut down on the holiday stress. That’s why regifting is becoming more acceptable…as long as you do it properly.

But before you give your colleague, client or co-worker that pencil sharpener or scented candle you’ve had since last year, make sure you follow these regifting guidelines.

1. Remove the evidence.

Several years ago I hosted a holiday party and my girlfriend gave me a crystal paperweight as a hostess gift. When I opened the card inside the bag, I discovered that the gift was originally given to her by one of her students. She had forgotten to remove the card and put a new card inside. If you’re going to regift, be sure to dig deep inside the package and remove all evidence that the gift was given to you, including cards and notes.

2. Keep all the seals intact

If you suspect that you won’t like or use a gift, don’t bother opening it. You don’t want to break the seals. Besides, it might be difficult to make a gift look brand new if you take it out the box and inspect it. And for heaven’s sake, don’t use it and then put it back in the box and regift it. Certain items like makeup, lotions or anything that is consumable in some form, should not be opened, sampled and then given to someone else. If you’re not especially fond of that bath gel, discard it or ask a friend if they would like to have it.

3. Don’t regift in the same social circles.

If a co-worker gives you a gift that you don’t want or can’t use, don’t give it to another co-worker. Give it to a cousin, a friend, or someone outside of work who doesn’t know the person who gave you the gift.

4. Don’t lie if you get busted.

It’s rare, but someone may be bold enough to confront you if they suspect that you gave them a pre-owned gift. In that case, honesty is the best policy if you get caught. Be upfront about it and say something like, “I thought the gift would go nicely in your office and you would enjoy using it.”

5. Pay attention to the expiration date.

Items including popcorn, coffee beans and mixed nuts don’t stay fresh forever. Be sure to check the label for an expiration date if you give a consumable product like a food gift basket. Giving someone an expired gift will leave the worst taste in their mouth.

6. Only regift it if it’s a good gift.

Never give a gift just to be giving something. Regifting should include a little forethought and consideration. In other words, tailor the gift to the recipient’s personality. If your co-worker likes to entertain, go ahead and give him those purple wineglasses. He will probably use and appreciate them. The person who loves to read will most likely enjoy that miniature book light. Unless that coffee cup is truly unique, you’re better off dumping or donating it. Most people have more coffee cups than they already want or need anyway.

7. Keep the gift if you don’t remember who gave it to you.

If you hold on to a gift long enough without using, you’re likely to forget who gave it to you. To avoid potential embarrassment, keep all your unwanted gifts on a “regifting” shelf or closet with a sticky note on each reminding you when you got it and from whom. This will eliminate any chance of giving it back to the same person who gave it to you in the first place.

A recycled gift selected with great care and given with a generous heart will be received with a smile that brings you joy.

17
Jan

4 Unique Business Holiday Gift Ideas That Outdo Fruitcake

4 Unique Business Holiday Gift Ideas That Outdo Fruitcake

Forget generic gifts for your professional colleagues and consider one of these gestures, which will be better received.
4 Unique Business Holiday Gift Ideas That Outdo Fruitcake

Image credit: Shutterstock

Homemade fruitcakes, company-embroidered memo pads, oversized sausage baskets, generic greeting cards with entirely too much glitter and Christmas socks: These are the gifts I remember from typical year-end, holiday seasons in business.

Without a doubt, we have all become much more creative in our holiday celebrations and gift-giving, when it comes to professional colleagues. There are still a bunch of great traditional ideas which, when executed properly, can provide an inexpensive and much more meaningful holiday memory than that coffee mug you are considering.

Give handwritten notes.

While your lobby or cubicle may boast holiday greeting cards hung in symmetric harmony, at the end of the season they will all be tossed out and forgotten. Instead of sending a generic greeting card this year, consider creating a unique handwritten greeting for those colleagues who are important to your business. Not sure what to say? Consider one of these approaches:

  • Thank you. For those who help you daily in your business (and are largely responsible for keeping the entire operation from burning to the ground), offer a genuine and sincere “thank you” for all the work they have contributed over the past year.
  • Hello. For those with whom you do not regularly correspond, reach out, say “hello” and offer a heartfelt wish of prosperity and success for the future. Also consider ending with a call to action, such as a promise to talk in person in the new year — just make sure to follow through.
  • Compliment. For anyone who has recently reached a goal or is currently working toward something personal in his or her life, give a sincere compliment and recognition for this person’s achievement or accolade, as well as a gesture of support and encouragement.
  • Inspiration. For everyone else, a simple handwritten message of gratitude and well wishes will demonstrate that he or she is important enough for you to have taken the time to pen a personal message.

In addition to being handwritten, these gestures require personalization and sincerity. Without both, it is just another generic greeting card.

Give time off.

The holidays can be hectic, especially with countless events, parties and socials leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Because of this, consider giving your employees a paid day off in the middle of the week, when stores and other activities are less busy. Your subordinates are probably distracted while multitasking personal and work-related year-end tasks, so the extra time will be appreciated by them and may even benefit the business.

No employees? Consider giving yourself a day off. If you have business partners, agree to swap days, allowing each of you to have a day away from the responsibilities of the office. Are you caught up on your shopping and and looking for something to do on a day off? The new episode in the Star Wars series, Rogue One, releases December 16. Just saying.

Give gift certificates for kids.

As a dad, a big challenge I have is finding (and affording) gifts that are meaningful for my kids while satiating my parenting inclinations (and guilt). Typically, the best gifts my kids receive are from godparents or relatives, who look at the task from an outside perspective (and are willing to give Pokemon versus chemistry sets).

While I may turn out to be the uncreative dad who still gives holiday sweaters, I am still happy the kids received something unique and memorable (with little effort from me).

If your colleague has children, consider a gift for his or her kids. Be careful and avoid gifts that are too personal or otherwise may offend your colleague (a Nerf gun for a family with strong views against guns, for instance). As an alternative, offer a gift recommendation with a gift certificate.

Give an experience.

We all get a little overwhelmed by work responsibilities and neglect important time for ourselves. When we do get time, it is usually at the end of a long week. Making entertainment decisions can be yet another burden our energy-depleted minds cannot handle.

Consider giving the important colleagues an experience, such as a pre-arranged dinner and movie, or tickets to an improv or comedy club or cooking lessons. If your colleague has kids, also consider providing a gift certificate for a trusted babysitter for the evening, so the adults can actually indulge in the adult experience. Not only will this gift avoid the accumulation of meaningless holiday clutter around the office, it will give the child’s parents something they will cherish much more — a memory.

In the end, all of these gifts require you to truly know and understand your colleagues. They require you to inquire and listen — leadership traits great leaders master anyway. More than just the actual gift, your gesture will demonstrate a personal and relatable characteristic that will endear you — much more than your Christmas socks.

17
Jan

Meaningful Gifts, Some With Low Price Tags

Meaningful Gifts, Some With Low Price Tags

This week in the Your Money column, I created an e-mail focus group of sorts to air a proposal I had for changing the way we give gifts.

Though I didn’t ask for specific gift ideas that might be less expensive but more meaningful, several people sent them anyway. There were enough good ones that I’m passing them along here.

ORNAMENTS Some families have declared a moratorium on adults giving gifts to other adults, in an effort to put a limit on the obligations each family member feels. Another strategy might be to still give those gifts, but to pick a specific category that doesn’t require great expense and still has great meaning.

Megan Holding, a college friend of mine who lives in Needham, Mass., and her siblings exchange Christmas ornaments each year. She, her family and her three sisters’ families are no longer all together for the holiday every year. “So I love that when we put up the tree, I know I have a bit of each of them on our tree and they each have a bit of us,” she said in an e-mail message.

WEBCAMS To spur on virtual gatherings, Angela Keller, a producer at Hotwire’s Travel Ticker newsletter in San Francisco, is considering asking everyone in her family to give webcams this year. “This will allow me to watch my nieces lose their first tooth in Minneapolis, gawk at my mom’s infamous Christmas lights and decorations in Fargo, N.D., and see my brother in his cap and gown after his college graduation in Bellingham, Wash., all while sitting on my couch in San Francisco,” she wrote.

Photo

DOLLAR STORES One part of Dana Treister’s birthday routine with her young grandchildren in Chicago each year could be easily adapted to the holidays. She takes them to a giant dollar store and allows them to select one item for each year that they’ve been alive. It teaches counting, choosing, critical thinking and is fun enough that the kids go at it for over an hour each time.

HOMEMADE GIFTS Some families stipulate that any gift is fair game, as long as it’s made by hand. A great list of ideas lives on the Get Rich Slowly blog.

A TWIST ON CHARITY In my column, I suggested the possibility of families picking a particular cause to support. Some people, however, would rather keep philanthropy private or don’t wish to compromise with the small amount that they’re able to give each year.

For them, a gift card to Charity Navigator, an encyclopedic directory and ranking site, allows them to direct funds to whatever cause they wish. Or give them chits to services like Kiva, DonorsChoose or ModestNeeds, where recipients can finance a specific entrepreneur in the developing world, public school class or needy individual.

SHORTCUTS Some families pass around lists of things each member wants, which necessitates another round of e-mail messages (minus the gift recipient) to claim particular items. You can eliminate most of this by registering for gifts on sites like TheThingsIWant or MyRegistry and then sending links to others who want to buy for you.

Before large gatherings, other groups simply assign one person to give to just one other family member. This is a fine idea, though if you can make an event (and an utterly hysterical short film) out of the process, as my neighbor George Motz did, all the better.

17
Jan

Leaner Holiday Gift Giving, Bountiful in Spirit

Leaner Holiday Gift Giving, Bountiful in Spirit

Of all years, this may be the one to stop the holiday gift madness — out of necessity for some of us or simply out of reason.

These next five weeks normally mark our season of overspending. Bound by some unnamed obligation to do right by everyone gathered round the table at the end of December, many of us march headlong into the stores to gather and wrap and pile the presents high.

The instinct to give is still pure, deep down there somewhere. But at a time when so many people have so much less than they did just a few months ago, there ought to be a way to ease the pressure on them and relieve the crushing social obligation that others feel to dole out to an ever-lengthening list of people.

You should be so lucky as to have such problems, since plenty of people have few surviving family or friends seeking them out during the holidays.

And in calling for an effort to make gift giving more meaningful than mandatory, I’m not suggesting that everybody has to — or should — spend less, though many families may have no choice this year. If you add philanthropy to your holiday gift routine, for instance, you may end up spending more.

So this is simply a reminder that there may be another way.

At the beginning of the week, I thought I had the right solution, a grand alternative that would allow everyone to start next year with at least one great present and a sense of spiritual uplift. But when I tried it out on an ad hoc Your Money focus group this week, it became clear just how hard it would be for some families to adopt new gift giving patterns.

I derived my big idea from a Web-based company called ECHOage, which two mothers started late last year to stop the madness around children’s birthday parties.

Instead of shopping for and wrapping a $10 or $20 trinket, guests send whatever they would have spent on the gift to ECHOage. The company, after taking a 15 percent service fee, splits the rest in half. The first part goes to a charity that the child chooses from the handful that ECHOage lists. The birthday boys and girls then receive a check for the rest, which they can then use to buy a single gift that is presumably more useful or meaningful than a dozen or two smaller ones.

Why not, I wondered, take the same approach to holiday gift giving? Everyone in the family puts their gift budget into a pot. A designated banker sets half aside and divides it by the number of gift recipients. Everybody takes their share and buys one special thing, though I might exempt small children.

Everybody wears or brings their gifts to the holiday gathering for appreciation. Then, over dessert, the family votes on how to distribute the rest of the money to a worthy cause (or several).

Photo

Credit Minh Uong/The New York Times

But my impromptu panel raised a number of objections to this approach. Several had doubts that some people, generous grandparents in particular, would stick to the rules. They love their families and feel as if they’ve earned the right to spend money on them without restraint. Giving your older relatives a hard time about ignoring the rules would kind of violate the spirit of the holiday. In fact, any rules might seem Scrooge-like.

A related concern was that people might actually take offense to an attempt to impose a new plan on everyone. Some families have been exchanging gifts the same way for decades and don’t take kindly to a new daughter-in-law suggesting that their traditions are too extravagant and wasteful for her tastes.

Other people I heard from felt strongly enough about their philanthropy that they want to make up their own minds about where to give, without any compromises. Then there are those who work for nonprofit groups for a living, who, in effect, give at the office every single day. Some of them might like to be spoiled for a change, with wrapping paper and ribbon and a few extravagant things, thank you very much.

Several others resented the relentless practicality of my approach, that it seemed almost transactional to them.

It could suck the joy out of the process for people who love to select the perfect gift for everyone. Or it could sap the spirit from those who like the surprise of not knowing what’s in the shiny boxes. (If you’re one of them, I’ve created a separate list of some of the most meaningful gift ideas people sent to me.)

It’s entirely possible that none of these problems would crop up in your circle of giving. But if you’re concerned enough that they might, you can simply start by asking people to change the way they give to you. Perhaps a spouse or parent could get your one special gift, while everyone else donates to a charity of your choosing.

The trick here is to ask carefully, so as not to make others feel greedy if they still want a big pile of gifts. Perhaps send an e-mail message around when everyone is exchanging wish lists that simply says that you’d get the most joy this year out of one special item and donations to a particular cause. It’s possible that no one else has thought of that, or is simply waiting for someone else to be brave enough to suggest a more meaningful way of giving.

And here’s one final idea: In the responses to my original proposal, I was touched by the number of people who suggested extending the Thanksgiving spirit through the end of the holiday season this year. Their recommended gift? A thank-you note.

This isn’t the usual sort of note, the obligatory one you dash off after the season is over. Instead, it’s a heartfelt look back at specific memories from the last year and the ways in which this person has touched your life in a positive way. It takes time, but it probably feels much better to spend your time this way than trolling the malls.

The nice part about this gift is its versatility, since it complements anything else you’d like to do on the gift front. You can paste it on top of a tower of gifts for a child or include it in an envelope with the one special gift your recipient has selected.

Or, it can simply stand alone if you have little money of your own or if the circumstances are right. “What did we get from our daughter last Christmas?” Ken Gallaher, of Bartlesville, Okla., the parent of a University of Michigan sophomore, said via e-mail this week. “A thank-you card, and a kid who is grateful for the chances she has and is making the most of them. What more could a parent ask?”

17
Jan

All I Want From Santa (See List)

All I Want From Santa (See List)

WHEN it comes to holiday gifting, everyone says it’s the thought that counts. But when Jeminah Buot and her family kept getting the same gifts over and over again — like four stainless steel water bottles one year — they decided maybe “the thought” wasn’t enough.

So last year, Ms. Buot and her family went to MyGiftList.com and created a wish list of gifts they wanted for Christmas. “It made it less stressful,” said Ms. Buot, 32, an accountant from Petaluma, Calif. “I did one for my husband and myself, and then for our one daughter.”

In addition to a bike for her daughter and several gift cards for the family, she put down an expensive camera for herself. “That was good because I got to put the exact one I wanted,” she said. “And I actually got it.”

Until recently, gift registries were the strict purview of marrying couples and mothers-to-be: people entering new phases of life with new needs, like bath towels and baby strollers. But the registries have started creeping into the annual gift-exchanging ritual known as the holidays. And it’s not just children; adults are composing their own Santa’s lists as a sort of pre-emptive strike on the ugly sweater.

Most of the online registries are free, including the Buots’ choice, MyGiftList.com, which allows users to compile lists from any online store. Christmas-specific registries abound, too, with names like Santa’s Big List, Santa’s Hideout and Checked Twice. Perhaps not surprisingly, retailers and department stores are getting in on the action. Stores like Crate & Barrel, a favorite for wedding and housewarming registries, have general “celebration” registries that people are using for holiday lists; Toys “R” Us offers children a virtual postcard to the North Pole, while Nordstrom advertises its registry as a way to help loved ones shop for the holidays with “minimal effort” and “maximum joy.”

Nancy Lee, the founder of MyRegistry.com, a site that lets people create wish lists for any occasion, said that the number of holiday lists on her site had more than doubled since last year, numbering in the tens of thousands. The site was originally founded as a baby and bridal registry, but “over the years we’ve found that every November there’s just been this increasing trend, year by year, of people opening up holiday gift registries,” she said.

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Credit The New York Times

“Registering for the holidays has been something that people have done, really, since the beginning of time,” she added. “That’s really what a Santa’s wish list is.”

At a time when Black Friday shoppers have been trampled and pepper-sprayed, gift registries offer an appealing convenience. But the registries don’t sit well with everyone. For some, it’s yet another sign of Christmas having been hijacked by retailers and turned into a commercial holiday.

Gabriella Ribeiro Truman, 36, who runs a marketing firm in Wayne, N.J., said she was disgusted when she received three gift lists this holiday season, calling them “selfish and superficial.” One woman, an acquaintance from work, registered for a Jonathan Adler coaster set, a panino maker and a manicure-pedicure gift certificate.

“These people feel entitled,” she said.

For Bryce Gruber, editor of The Luxury Spot, a lifestyle blog, the line was crossed when she received a mass e-mail from a casual friend, asking for folks to chip in on a vacation to Europe, which was billed as a honeymoon with her dog. It included an option, she said, to buy two glasses of Champagne a day, at 18 euros (about $24) a glass.

“I was obviously really annoyed,” said Ms. Gruber, who lives in New York. “I mean, we’re not really close friends, so I thought the fact that she assumed she was getting a gift to begin with was not appropriate.”

Indeed, holiday registries can test the limits of etiquette. Dana Holmes, the editor in chief of Gifts.com, a Web site devoted to gift recommendations, said that “wish lists should be saved for the kids and for the teenagers.”

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“Once you’re an adult,” Ms. Holmes added, “you should be willing to see what other people want to give you and see how they perceive you.”

Lee Igel, an associate professor at New York University, who teaches courses in consumer behavior, said that families using registries also ran the risk of making gift-giving feel transactional. “It’s really starting to pull away from the intent of gift-giving, which is that somebody goes out and they think about who you are and what you might like,” he said.

Still, Ms. Holmes isn’t opposed to them entirely. When used among people who agree to share them with one another, registries can be a useful starting point for ideas, she said. “The real key is to never share your wish list unless someone asks for it,” she said.

Ms. Lee from MyRegistry agrees, but only to a point. “Ultimately, the wish lists are a guideline,” she said. “And if somebody is averse to buying something off of a wish list then, by all means, you can deviate. But when you deviate, you need to know that your gift may be returned.”

For Ken and Jen Viola, both 28, tact was paramount. Newlyweds living on the Upper East Side, the couple had planned to hold several housewarming parties and created a gift list on MyRegistry. It has about 75 items, most under $25, including a candleholder shaped like a Chinese takeout carton and an outdoor grill that doubles as a planter.

But with Christmas approaching, as well as both their birthdays, they decided to let the registry cover all their celebrations.

“We’re just using the registry for ideas,” Ms. Viola said. “We have the expectation that we’re not going to get everything — or that we’re not going to get everything right away.”

17
Jan

An Economist Goes Christmas Shopping

An Economist Goes Christmas Shopping

“The Deadweight Loss of Christmas” is the sort of academic paper that makes ordinary people think economists are kind of crazy.

“I find that holiday gift giving destroys between one-third and one-tenth of the value of gifts,” proclaimed Joel Waldfogel, then an economics professor at Yale, in the 1993 paper. He estimated that ill-chosen gifts caused between $4 billion and $13 billion a year in economic waste; for comparison, he cited an estimate that put economic costs of the income tax at $50 billion.

This is the sort of provocation economists love: It rejects a beloved, sentimental tradition and devalues interpersonal interaction, while upholding the virtue of individual choice. After all, why should you shop for me, when I certainly know what I want better than you do? It’s no surprise that Mr. Waldfogel’s paper, “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas,” was published in The American Economic Review, one of the world’s top three economics journals.

But one thing I learned from growing up around economists is they do not always live up to their provocations. For example, my economist father, who taught me as a young child that voting is irrational because your odds of affecting the electoral outcome are infinitesimal, votes. And Mr. Waldfogel, who went on to write a book called “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays,” actually does buy presents at the holidays, at least for some people.

“When I know people well, I choose gifts for them,” Mr. Waldfogel told me. “I know my family well.”

That puts Mr. Waldfogel in line with most economists: Last year, members of the IGM Experts Panel at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business overwhelmingly defended gift-giving as an efficient way for people to show that they care about each other.

David Autor of M.I.T. pointed to “revealed preference”: If people give and receive so many gifts, it’s presumably because it makes them happy. Alberto Alesina of Harvard said choosing a gift “is a signal of intensity of search effort,” which is econo-speak for “it’s the thought that counts.”

Since it’s almost Christmas, I called up the economist I know best to get his perspective on gift giving: My father, an economics professor at Harvard. My dad says his approach to gifts is to try to buy something that the recipient didn’t know he or she wanted. And the Robert Barro record on this is instructive, because it is mixed.

Sometimes there are big hits: This Christmas he found a book of John Wesley sermons published in 1825, a perfect gift for his wife, Rachel, who is deeply interested in the history of Methodism, but most likely would not have found the item herself.

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Credit Oscar Bolton Green

On the other hand, let’s evaluate the box of fancy chocolates he and Rachel sent me for Christmas this year.

There are three ways to evaluate this gift. The first level of analysis is that I’m on a diet and certainly would not have bought the chocolate myself, which suggests this was an example of what Mr. Waldfogel warned us about: gift mismatch leading to deadweight loss.

The second level of analysis is that I’ve already eaten half the box, which demonstrates my revealed preference for chocolate, and shows my father achieved exactly what he set out to do: He identified an item I would not have bought for myself but apparently wanted.

The third level of analysis considers the fact that I now feel I should not have eaten the chocolates, or at least not so many of them in two days. Behavioral economists call this phenomenon “hyperbolic discounting”: we overrate the value of immediate pleasures compared to delayed ones, and may do things today (like eat half a box of truffles) that we would have said yesterday we wouldn’t do and will say tomorrow that we should not have done.

My father, who is not a behavioral economist, would surely reject this last analysis and say if I ate the chocolates, that must have been the rational thing for me to do; therefore, the chocolates were a great gift.

In fairness to Mr. Waldfogel, a lot of gift-giving occurs between people who don’t know each other as well as my dad and I do, and a key point of his paper was that not all gifts are created equal. He made his estimates by surveying Yale students about how much they valued the gifts they got at the holidays, compared with those gifts’ actual purchase prices. Friends and significant others were pretty good at giving gifts the recipients actually liked; it was aunts, uncles and grandparents who bought the least-loved items.

The real drag on the economy then isn’t gifts; it’s bad gifts. And Mr. Waldfogel cheers the rise of the gift card as a substitute for the bad gift: Something you can buy your niece or grandson when you have no idea what they actually like.

“What’s interesting about gift cards is that they are a lot like cash but have emerged as a way to give the choice to the recipient without the ickiness of cash,” he says. In other words, the deadweight loss problem he identified in 1993 may be on the wane because of a technological advance.

It’s true that Americans have taken to gift cards: CEB TowerGroup, a research firm that tracks gift card sales, says they grew at a more than 10 percent annual pace through much of the first decade of the century. According to CEB data, Americans will load $126 billion onto gift cards in 2014, or almost 1 percent of G.D.P.

But not all economists agree that this is a valuable technological advance.

“It seems clear to me that a gift certificate is inferior to money,” says my dad. Which means there is more chocolate in my future.

Correction: December 19, 2014
An earlier version of this article misstated the size of economic losses resulting from ill-chosen Christmas gifts as estimated in a paper by the economist Joel Waldfogel. The estimated losses were between $4 billion and $13 billion as of 1993. That implied a loss one-tenth to one-quarter the size of economic losses due to income tax, not “as large” as the income tax.