Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Menu Planning for First-Time Hosts

Novice holiday hosts often have a lot on their plates. Whether hosting family or friends or a combination of both, first-time hosts typically want to impress their guests while ensuring they get enough to eat and have an enjoyable evening. Since dinner is such a big part of holiday gatherings, hosts often place extra emphasis on what to serve, and that can be tricky when this is the first time they are hosting.

When planning the menu for your holiday soiree, consider the following tips.

Get a head count.
Though other factors will influence what to serve, the size of your guest list may ultimately dictate what to serve. For example, a small gathering of four to five people will likely rule out turkey, as even a small turkey will prove too much effort and produce too much extra food. On the same note, a small dish like lasagna might not be doable for a larger crowd, as it will force you to prepare multiple entrees, which means more time in the kitchen juggling the various cooking duties and less time with your guests. Once you have confirmed just how many guests you will be hosting, you can then choose a main course that suits the size of your guest list.

Decide which type of party you want to host.
The type of party you want to host also will influence what you serve. A formal gathering should include an appetizer, a main course and a dessert, including both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees. A less formal gathering gives hosts more leeway. For example, whereas a formal gathering may include soup as an appetizer, hosting a less formal gathering allows hosts to put out some snacks or bread for guests to whet their appetites before everyone sits down for the meal. The more formal the gathering, the more formal the menu. Hosts of less formal gatherings may even want to host a holiday pot luck buffet, inviting guests to bring a favorite dish or side dish while the hosts take care of the main course.

Ask guests if they have any dietary restrictions. Upon being invited to a holiday dinner, some invitees may let hosts know if they have any food allergies or medical conditions that restrict which foods they can eat. Solicit such information from all of your guests, and do your best to cater to each of your guests’ needs. Some guests might be on a gluten-free diet while others may need to limit their sodium intake. You might not be able to meet everyone’s demands. Let guests know if they should bring an appropriate snack if you cannot provide one for them.

Include traditional holiday fare. People have grown to expect certain things from holiday meals, be it sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving, brisket for Chanukah or holiday cookies or even eggnog at Christmas parties. When planning the menu, be sure to include at least one of these traditional items, even asking guests for suggestions. Such fare will give the party a genuine holiday feel, and guests will appreciate seeing some items on your dinner table they have enjoyed at their own holiday celebrations over the years.

Don’t overdo it. First-time hosts want to ensure everyone gets enough to eat, so it’s easy to overdo things and prepare too much food. This can be expensive, and guests may feel obligated to overeat so hosts don’t have to discard any of the food they worked so hard to prepare. Though it might once have been a holiday tradition to overeat, many men and women now prefer moderation, and hosts should keep that in mind when preparing their holiday meals.

Hosting a holiday dinner for the first time can be nerve-wracking. But there are a variety of steps first-timers can take when preparing their menus to come off looking like old pros.
- Metro Creative Connection

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Are Cash Gifts Tacky Or Ideal?

When faced with a gift list a mile long and no idea what to get certain individuals on that list, many holiday shoppers opt to give cash as a present. Cash gifts are easy, one-size-fits all and no one will request a receipt to return a cash gift. Still, some people are not quite sure if it is socially acceptable to give a gift of cash.

There are many pros and cons to giving cash as a gift. Once a person weighs the advantages and the disadvantages to giving cold hard cash as a gift, then he or she can decide if cash is an ideal present or one that’s best avoided.

ADVANTAGES  One of the advantages to giving cash is it eliminates waste. Unlike gifts that will never be used and simply take up space, cash will be used sooner or later. How often have you received a sweater you won’t wear or a trinket you won’t use? Sometimes people return these gifts, but very often they get relegated to a pile of belongings that will end up in the garbage or stashed in the back of a closet. Cash eliminates this waste by giving a person the opportunity to buy exactly what he or she wants.

Cash gifts may be ideal for older people to give because they have limited mobility and cannot get out to the store to shop for presents. And grandparents unaware of the latest trends can give cash in a card and instruct grandchildren to purchase something they like.

Some people overextend themselves during the holiday season, and a cash gift can soften the blow of holiday spending.

Cash is very portable, which can make it easier for those who travel for the holidays to avoid shipping costs or extra baggage fees to take gifts on airlines.
People are inundated with a lot of stuff already, and a cash gift might be just what the doctor ordered.

DISADVANTAGES  Cash gifts may be considered impersonal and lacking in creativity. It does not take much effort to stash a dollar amount inside of an envelope and present it, so gift recipients may question their relationships with gift givers who give cash.

For many people, the excitement of the holidays has a lot to do with seeing a giant pile of gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Gifting cash removes that excitement of presents under the tree. Although items can be purchased later on, the immediate gratification of tearing through boxes and bags simply is not there.

Some people find it awkward to receive cash because the value of the gift is right there in black and white. It puts both people on the spot and may create some uncomfortable moments if the value of a cash gift does not match up to what the cash recipient spent on the cash giver. When gifting standard gifts, many people are unaware of what the other spent and if the item was purchased on a discount. If you gift with cash, there is no hiding the value.

Another disadvantage is if a person gives cash and receives cash in return. Do the two gifts cancel each other out? What if the amounts are different? Dealing in cash alone can be awkward.

There are ways to make giving cash a little more acceptable. If you get creative when handing over the money, this may take away from the fact that cash does not make a very dramatic gift.

  Try pairing the cash with a wallet or purse to make the presentation a little more interesting.

Send the recipient on a scavenger hunt for the money, writing clues and hiding them around the house.

Create a money tree or wreath that displays the cash in an interesting way.

Fold bills into bows or tape together to make wrapping paper for a small token gift.

For children, roll up bills and put it into a crayon box or pencil case.

Fill up a large box with a lot of filler and hide the cash inside of a smaller box tucked inside.
- Metro Creative Connection

Tips for Early Bird Holiday Shoppers

Getting a head start on holiday shopping has its advantages. Holiday shoppers who begin their quests for the perfect gifts at the onset of the season or before the shopping season even begins often find the financial sting of holiday shopping is easier to manage when spread out over time, and starting early can save shoppers the hassle of navigating their ways through crowded stores and packed parking lots.

But even holiday shoppers who hit the stores extra early should do so with a plan in hand, which can help shoppers save money while still finding the right gifts.

Establish and stick to a budget. Just because you may be starting your holiday shopping early does not mean you should throw financial caution to the wind. Establish a budget so holiday shopping won’t find you facing significant debt, which is just as difficult to deal with in late fall as it is once the holidays have come and gone. If necessary, speak to family members before establishing your budget so you can all agree on holiday spending limits. Once you have established your holiday shopping budget, stick to it and avoid the temptation of overspending just because you’re starting early.

Take your time. Arguably the greatest luxury of getting a head start on holiday shopping is the ability to take your time so you don’t end up making expensive impulse purchases. Such purchases may be your only option if you wait until the last minute to start shopping, but starting early enables you to take your time and comparison shop so you can find the best deal. If you find a great gift in a store but want to find it for less money, shopping early allows you to shop around at another store or online to see if it’s more affordable elsewhere. Make the most of this extra time, and you’re liable to save a substantial amount of money over the course of the season.

Take advantage of early bird offers. Many online retailers want consumers to begin their holiday shopping early, so they offer incentives to shoppers who beat the holiday rush. Such retailers may waive shipping and handling charges or wrap gifts free of charge for shoppers who begin their holiday shopping early in the season. These offers typically disappear once the season hits full swing, so early bird shoppers should take advantage of such offers whenever possible.

Get creative. Starting early may allow some holiday shoppers to skip the process of shopping altogether. Creative men and women with unique skills such as woodworking or making pottery may be able to create their own holiday gifts. Homemade gifts will likely take more time to create, but starting early allows you to go at your own pace while still ensuring your special gift will be ready to go come the holidays.

- Metro Creative Connection

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Etiquette Of Exchanging Gifts With Coworkers

Many offices host a gift exchange during the holiday season. Professionalism should always be a top priority when gifting coworkers, and some men and women may want to brush up on gift-giving etiquette before exchanging gifts with fellow employees.

Long before any gifts are exchanged, research your firm’s policies on gift-giving. An employee handbook or a visit to the human resources department is a good place to start. When in doubt, inquire among more seasoned workers.

Many companies put dollar limits on gift values, while others have strict policies forbidding such exchanges, as it’s easy for gifts to create discomfort around the office or give the impression of favoritism.

Gift exchanges also depend on the relationship between employees and their supervisors. Close, friendly relationships may warrant gift exchanges, especially if everyone else is on board with the idea. Gifting a boss is not necessary, but employees who have a close working relationship with their supervisors may want to purchase a professional gift to indicate their appreciation of a supervisor’s support. These can include picture frames, gloves, scarves, books, and personal interest items. Steer clear of personal gifts or ones that can be taken the wrong way.

Inappropriate gifts should always be avoided. Decorative gifts that do not focus on any particular religion or holiday, inspirational books, calendars, plants, and publications that cater to a particular interest likely won’t raise anyone’s ire. However, self-help gifts, perfumes, lotions, or overly personal gifts may give recipients the wrong impression. While homemade foods were once popular gifts, many companies now discourage such gifts because they may trigger various food allergies.
Gift cards tend to be universally acceptable, but only when they do not exceed the agreed-upon spending limit. Grocery store gift cards can help employees offset some of the costs of entertaining, and gift cards to popular department stores may help offset holiday spending. Whenever any giving between coworkers takes place, care should be given to ensure all the gift values are equivalent. Coworkers who are especially close and want to give a more meaningful gift should exchange those gifts on their own time and not during office hours.

Tenure can also dictate gift-giving. Employees who have been with their companies longer than their coworkers may receive a more personalized gift. Employees who receive gifts from their bosses should not feel obligated to reciprocate. Employees should also keep in mind that personal thank-you notes are courteous, professional and appreciated.

- Metro Creative Connection

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

‘Tis the Season for Shipping Gifts

Travel is a staple of the holiday season. Many men and women find themselves spending a significant amount of time in the air or on the road, whether traveling to visit family or embarking on a holiday getaway.

For those who must fly to their holiday destinations, travel can present certain obstacles, as baggage restrictions and fees have made it more difficult and more expensive to travel with gifts in tow. But savvy holiday shoppers need not worry about fitting all of those gifts into their overstuffed luggage. Shipping gifts is a far more convenient way to get all those precious presents from point A to point B, and it saves travelers money on airline baggage fees. When shipping gifts this holiday season, consider the following tips.

Use the right box. Boxes come in all shapes and sizes, and there are packing methods to ensure gifts arrive intact. The gift should not have much wiggle room inside the box, as the more the gift can move around the more likely it is to break. Gently shake the box before closing it, adding any padding if the gift is moving around too much, otherwise move the gift to a smaller box. A box also should not be too small, as it may break before reaching its destination.

Wrap each individual item. When shipping holiday gifts, it's often most convenient to include several items in one large box. When doing so, wrap each item separately in air-filled wrapping or newspaper. This reduces the risk of items breaking during shipping.

Line the interior of the box with a garbage bag. A garbage bag lining along the inside of the box can help to prevent potential water damage from rain, snow or other leaky packages.

Tightly tape the box. Once items are inside the box, be sure to use professional packing tape. Though there are cheaper alternatives available, professional packing tape is far more likely to hold up as the item travels from your home to its ultimate destination. Low quality tape could split or tear, resulting in a situation where boxes break open and items fall out.

Pay attention when reusing boxes. Reusing boxes is a great way to benefit the environment when shipping holiday gifts, but carefully examine the box before shipping it. Old labels and bar codes should be removed so packages ultimately end up in the correct destination. In addition, check any boxes for wear and tear before reusing them. Avoid using any boxes with previous water damage or tears.

Double check addresses.
Before shipping items, double check the address, making sure the name, address and ZIP code are correct. Confirm the information with the recipient as well. Be sure to write the address and full ZIP code in the method the shipping company requires to ensure prompt delivery.

Include an extra mailing label inside the box. Inclement weather is common come the holiday season, and some packages may fall victim to the elements. In such situations, shipping labels can be compromised, and some shipping companies have admitted they will open the box to look for a backup label if the exterior label has been soiled. Include an extra mailing label inside the box as a backup plan.

- Metro Creative Connection