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Still need Christmas wrap? K-Mart is offering 90% off!

January 27, 2011

Yes, that’s is not a typo! I recently visited my local K-Mart and found (to my great happiness) that they still have Chistmas items out and have marked down their merchandise to 90% off the original prices.

Of course, there’s not much left. I tried two different K-Marts and one had just bits and pieces, but the other had a fair amount of nice quality wrapping paper in adorable styles.

Check it out this weekend, because at these prices, it surely won’t last long!

Susan McNeill is a wife, mother, author, entrepreneur and social activist. In addition to The Best Christmas Ever! Susan also writes the fashion blog Susan Said What?!, McNeill Designs’ corporate blog It’s how you play the game! and the official blog for the literacy organization Success Won’t Wait!

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Success for next Christmas? It’s all in the cards!

January 11, 2011

Christmas cards. Love them or hate them, the tradition of sending greetings to loved ones and friends has been a popular signal to the start of the holiday season since 1843, when Sir Henry Cole created holiday greetings as an attempt to get more people in the UK to use the public post system!

I personally love to send and receive cards at the holidays. My family is far flung and even with my (borderline) obsession for Facebook and Twitter, a Christmas card is often the only chance I get to connect with people I haven’t seen in a while (generally older relatives who are not technology-savvy).

For me, the easiest way to send cards is to have everything ready in advance. I purchased my cards for Christmas 2011 last week. As I was doing my holiday shopping before Christmas, I noted the stores that carried stunning cards that were not exactly “budget friendly.” Sure enough, when i made a beeline to these stores after the holiday, many boxes of these gorgeous cards were still on the shelves, at infinitely more affordable prices!

For this week of January, my task is to update my address book in preparation for next Christmas. If you are still using a physical address book, it’s time to switch! On a cold and snowy day like today, you can sit by a crackling fire and tackle the job of inputting all of your data (a steaming cup of Cinnamon Hazelnut Creme coffee from Pike Creek Coffee makes it more bearable for me!).

There are many, many database programs out there — I use something called ACT for both work and home use. Or, you can use your email program, which also allows you to input a physical addresses. The benefit is that you can create an email group and send out an e-card should budget or time make sending traditional cards impossible.

To get started, I save the cards I’ve received. In the hubbub of Christmas, I often don’t have time to really look at the cards we received, so after the holiday, it’s the perfect time to sort through them to see who has written a note, who has sent a photo of the kids, and who has put together a newsletter.

But, as I receive cards, I make sure to save the envelopes, so that I can double-check addresses, many of which have changed — especially this year! Then I get busy and update my online address book, so that come August (yes, August) I can address the envelopes.

Although many have adopted a mailing label approach to Christmas cards (and using a database program makes this a snap, no judgement here), I prefer to hand address the envelopes for a more personal look.

In August, while sitting by the pool, I industriously address all of my cards and even sign them (my friends used to laugh, but many have adopted this practice which makes for a fun — and funny — summer day). Then when October comes, I am ready to slide in the portrait of the kids (which I scheduled in September), in early November I purchase holiday stamps on a routine trip to the post office, and in December my husband  writes the annual newsletter. Voila! Cards are done and I can cross one item off of the to-do list!

Christmas Card Timeline (mark these on your calendar for the easiest holiday yet)

January: Purchase the perfect cards, update address book, or start an address book in the database program of your choice

August: Address envelopes, sign inside

September: Shop for holiday outfits for annual portrait, schedule portrait

October: Shoot annual portrait

November: Purchase holiday stamps

December: Write and print newsletter, send out cards, and feel like I accomplished something worthwhile!

Susan McNeill is a wife, mother, author, entrepreneur and social activist. In addition to The Best Christmas Ever! Susan also writes the fashion blog Susan Said What?!, McNeill Designs’ corporate blog It’s how you play the game! and the official blog for the literacy organization Success Won’t Wait!

The best storage solutions for Christmas decorations and collections

January 5, 2011

This is the week when I pack the Christmas decorations away (sigh). From years of experience I know that taking my time when putting things away makes next year so much more pleasant. One year, when my children were just toddlers, I took all the items that needed fixing and stuffed them away in a bin. Needless to say, I forgot all about them until the following year — and they didn’t get displayed or repaired until after the holiday. Never again!

Now, as I take the ornaments off of the tree, or take down the sleigh collection, I dust each item carefully and inspect it for any damage that might need repair. For example, this year a few nutcrackers lost parts and a couple of ornaments needed a bit of glue. Once this is done, I can wrap everything and put it away knowing that next year, when I am in a rush with a millions things to prepare for the holidays, unpacking and decorating will be a snap!

I’ve also gotten smarter about storage. As my Christmas collection has grown (and grown!) I’ve found that storage methods can save you a tremendous amount of time and frustration. First, it’s easy to store an artificial tree when you have a tree bag. I used to keep my artificial trees (I have two) in the original boxes which were unwieldy to say the least! The tree bag by Whitmor,  makes storing and transporting the tree simple. I found it at Target for only $19.99, plus Target is currently offering free shipping. No need to go out in the cold!

Next, I have several wreaths throughout the house. Until now, I simply stuffed them into garbage bags, stacked them up and hoped for the best. This year, I found the Whitmor wreath bag, as shown, which keeps wreaths looking fresh and uncrushed. Plus, the handle means easy transport. Again, this item is from Target and is a mere $12.99. Definitely worth the investment!

Finally, my other items – from snow globes, to nutcrackers, to ornaments – get wrapped in tissue or bubble wrap and packed away carefully in large plastic tubs. I found these Great Solutions 20-gallon totes, pictured, at The Home Depot for only $4.98 each! I’ve seen them in other stores for more than twice the price, so this one is a steal.

Although I would love to leave my beautiful Christmas decorations and collections up year round, sadly I know they have to go back into the basement. But with these great storage solutions, at least I know when I unpack them, my items will be safe and beautiful next year!

Susan McNeill is a wife, mother, author, entrepreneur and social activist. In addition to The Best Christmas Ever! Susan also writes the fashion blog Susan Said What?!, McNeill Designs’ corporate blog It’s how you play the game! and the official blog for the literacy organization Success Won’t Wait!

The after-Christmas shopping spree… time to save, save, save!

January 2, 2011

After Christmas is the perfect time stock up on supplies and necessities for next Christmas, all at bargain basement prices.

To maximize my shopping this week, I sit down with a list, which I save on my computer and amend from year to year.

Once I’ve purchased everything on my list, it gets safely stored away so that next year I won’t have to hunt for ornament hooks or run out at the last minute for more icicles.

Plus, I will be able to wrap presents as I purchase them – a huge bonus for anyone with a houseful of curious little ones!

My top needs this year:

• Wrapping paper
• Curling ribbon
• Tape
• Gift bags
• Tissue paper
• Icicles
• Ornaments
• Ornament hooks
• Craft supplies for new projects
• Christmas cards

All of these items are on sale at ridiculously low prices this week. A few of my favorites places to pick up Christmas bargains are:

Dollar Tree carries a great selection of gift bags, including bags with three dimensional applied artwork, marabou trimmed pieces, and even oversized bags for those large, awkwardly shaped gifts. Plus, solid colors like red, green, gold, purple and royal blue can be put to use for other holidays, birthdays and more. After Christmas, with bags priced at only .50, you can afford to stock up!

Walmart is always my go-to source for wrap. The rolls have enough square footage to complete loads of large presents, and the prices just can’t be beat. My local Walmart still has a huge selection of wrap, including cute kid-friendly patterns in unusual color combinations like penguins frolicking on pink and purple backgrounds, stunning foils, and red and green patterns for the traditionalist. Walmart also has a huge selection of icicles, ornaments, hooks, and even holiday food items like cocoa, flavored coffees and cookies.

The Christmas Tree Shoppe is a great place for curling ribbon (red and green are still in stock) and tissue paper. The tissue comes in loads of color combinations, some of which can be utilized for other holidays and events like birthdays, weddings and more.

For upcoming craft projects I shop at Michael’s and AC Moore, both of which are offering after Christmas clearance at prices up to 70% off! The glass ornament selection at Michael’s this year was amazing, and AC Moore always carries a wonderful range of greenery. And if you’re in the market for an artificial tree, now is the time to pick one up at tremendously discounted prices.

I always stop at my local drug stores like Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS because you just never know what you’ll find — from candles (often solid whites, burgundy, and hunter green, which I use year-round) to Christmas cards, to small stocking-stuffer novelties.

Finally, I like to patronize small mom & pop stores and local boutiques. I often come away with bargains on higher priced items like German nutcrackers, mercury glass ornaments, and charming snow globes. These are usually gifts that are carefully packed away, ready for next year.

Do you have a bargain you’d like to share? Please send me an email about any special sales and discounts and we’ll all be ready for the best Christmas ever!

Susan McNeill is a wife, mother, author, entrepreneur and social activist. In addition to The Best Christmas Ever! Susan also writes the fashion blog Susan Said What?!, McNeill Designs’ corporate blog It’s how you play the game! and the official blog for the literacy organization Success Won’t Wait!

Happy New Year… it’s time to plan for Christmas?!

January 1, 2011

Confused? Well, I officially begin my planning for Christmas each year on January 1. This is the day that I sit down and evaluate the holidays and how they could be easier, more economical, and more enjoyable for my entire family.

For example, did the new appetizers in the line up impress, or were the old standbys still the favorites? Which gifts drew “ahhs” of appreciation and which were received with a polite “thank you?” And finally, was I able to stay within my budget, or did last minute, unexpected items pop up to throw me out-of-whack?

From recipes, to gift giving, to decorating, crafting and more — stay tuned for detailed, useful information on how you too, can make this the best Christmas ever!

Susan McNeill is a wife, mother, author, entrepreneur and social activist. In addition to The Best Christmas Ever! Susan also writes the fashion blog Susan Said What?!, McNeill Designs’ corporate blog It’s how you play the game! and the official blog for the literacy organization Success Won’t Wait!

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