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Awright, I've had a request to post a deal and some black-friday info, so here goes. . .

First off, the deal. Free office-supply bits for a limited time. Print out the coupon here and take it over to your local Staples store. They have a new line of products under the label "M". It's reasonably priced stuff that looks fairly nice. Check out the line at www.mbystaples.com. At our local store, the M stuff was mostly collected together on an end-cap.

And a lot of it is under the price of the $5 coupon. For example, our local Staples had some nice little hardcover journals for$4.99 or three-packs of cardboard-cover journals for the same price. Mind you, a lot of these coupons don't work unless you're over the threshold, so grab one of the little 99-cent M-branded tear-off notepads just to make sure.

Also, if you don't have one of those discount cards for Staples or Office Depot, get one and flash it every time you buy from 'em. If you do, you'll find yourself getting a gift certificate from 'em from time to time. Staples is like Toys-R-Us for grownups, and getting a gift certificate from 'em is better than Christmas.

And speaking of which. . .

Next up is Black Friday, which is the friday immediately following Thanksgiving (11/28 this year). This is the "official" start of the Xmas season and retailers usually have some nice loss-leader deals for you. One of the best BF sites is www.blackfriday.info. It collects together all of the sale items (both officially released by stores or leaked) so you can see if there's anything you have to have. Most stores are more than happy to have their BF ads posted, but a couple (okay, just Wal Mart) are notorious for sending out lawyergrams to anyone who leaks.

As for BF strategies this year, I really don't have much advice to give. This year there aren't any shocking new videogame consoles or high-definition technologies that everyone must have NOW. That, coupled with the down economy, should make for a fairly sedate affair. While there'll be some people who'll queue up at 3AM just out of habit, there should be plenty of deals that can be easily had.

Actually my two favorite BF haunts are Radio Shack and Sears. Radio Shacks are small and plentiful, so there usually aren't many people there, and it's fairly easy to get a couple of gadgets (like these adorable things that are gonna be buy-one-get-one on BF). Sears is great because they have such an absurd amount of stuff on sale that it's almost impossible not to find a deal on something. Sears is especially good if you have a dad who's a tool fetishist, as they always release a couple of frightfully useful Craftsman gizmos that make good gifts.

Also, Sears' stuff tends towards the practical, so the fanatical shoppers will be strangling each other over Nintendo Wii's elsewhere while you're grabbing a great deal on an air compressor :)

Finally, Sears is really enormous and has checkouts scattered about everywhere so it's not difficult to move around.

I avoid Best Buy because their deals tend to be absurdly good loss-leaders sold in very limited quantities (like this year's dual-core 64-bit Toshiba laptop for \$380) which generate a lot of publicity but are nigh-impossible to get.

So my advice is year is the following. . .

- Dig through the deals on that website I posted. Mark a few "that'd be nice to have" or "that'd be a nice gift for [insert name here]"

- Unless there's something you must get or else you'll die, get up at a reasonable time.

- Check out as many stores as you can. If you go somewhere and it's mobbed, pass it by.

Also I'm gonna post a final piece of advice that's not easy to do but will guarantee to remove at least half of your holiday stress. It was actually an idea put forth by a religious group (Dobson's I think, those godless people waging a war on Christmas and capitalism), but I'm not averse to grabbing an idea when I can.

And it is the following. . .

Christmas is for kids
(insert Hanukkah, Festivus, Humanlight, Kwanzaa, etc for your holiday of choice)

What that basically means is that if you're over 18, you should not expect to receive gifts. And if you're giving gifts, restrict them to those under 18. We presented this to our families a couple of years ago, and it went over brilliantly (my brother was especially relieved that we would no longer need to go through the annual ritual of trading gift-cards with each other). If you're over 18 years old, you shouldn't expect anything but a card from me, and I'll expect no more from you.

Because let's face it. If you're an adult and you have a full-time job and you really need something, you're just gonna go out and buy it. I honestly can't think of a single thing right now that I'm hoping a member of my family will buy me for the holidays. Couple that with the sense of angst you get when you receive a truly wrong gift (like the giant box of espresso pods my mother-in-law bought that didn't fit my espresso machine), and a gift-free holiday really does eliminate much of the stress.

I get some gifts for my kid and my nephews (both very easy audiences), and I expect my family to do the same.

If you think this is a good idea but your family will freak, then do it. I guarantee they think the same way you do about it. If you're over 30 and you're still giving and receiving gifts from other 30+ year old members of your family, then you're doing it out of routine and everyone probably wants it to stop but doesn't know how to broach the subject.

Regarding gifts (I hope you assumed some people will disagree :P), I give (and get from) gifts to only my closest family and fiancee who I know well enough to know the kind of things-they-would-get-if-they-wouldn't-be-living-busy-lifes. I like to go around the town, go to an antique shop to find some old city map for my mother, book about wines for my girl and so on.

Gifts like socks or 'usable' gifts are something I VERY rarely give or receive, and unwrapping presents is really happy moment, cause I know that they will give me something I'll be really happy about.

I also like buying presents for family at Christmas. Admittedly it might just be the family routine, but I prefer to regard it as a tradition [smile].

For most people I know it's the traditional family get-together and meals at Christmas that are the real stress makers. It's not so bad for my family, but I know a young married couple who have a few divorced parents, leading to many family groups who all want to see them on Christmas Day.

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