Holiday Rescue

Shortcuts to help you survive the season

By Alison Neumer Lara

Between buying gifts, planning parties, navigating Triangle crowds at the mall and writing cards, the holidays can bring more stress than smiles.

Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Fake it!

Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic, aka “The Shopping Bags” on Fine Living Network, and eBay’s style guru Constance White, off the following 10 seasonal shortcuts:


1. Call in the pros…for free!

“The perception is that you have to be rich, but there are personal shoppers in almost every major department store,” White says.

Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue offer complimentary personal shopping services.
No minimum purchase is required.

Don’t be shy: Call in your list and budget and
let someone else dream up the perfect gift.


2. Get bottle ready.

Buy a case of wine or champagne to keep
on hand for hostess and last-minute gifts.

Also, be sure to ask for the case discount.
Easy and a bargain? Can’t beat that!


3. Ditch the dishes.

Renting dinnerware — plates, glasses and flatware — for a small party at home isn’t as extravagant as it sounds.

The best part, of course: You don’t have to ruin your manicure. Party suppliers drop off the dishes and pick up the dirty ones.

“It’s usually a manageable price,” Wallner says. Figure on spending about $12
per person, less for a cocktail party with just glasses and small plates.

Often, rental companies can handle orders as small as 10 people and as huge
as 10,000.


4. Go for a one-shot deal.

Instead of buying individual gifts for family members, give a group outing, such as tickets to the theater or a sports event, Wallner suggests.

“If you’re still stuck, go with a theme,” she says. Try books for everyone or store gift certificates.


5. Save a tree.

Artificial Christmas trees are not the tacky plastic wrecks you might remember.

Realistic-looking pine or fir versions are available, and many come with lights and decorations already attached.

If you opt for such a tree, pick something with neutral lighting. “White with blue may be hot now, but it may be out of vogue next year,” Matisic warns.


6. Think monochromatic.

"You don’t have to make a huge change to your home to have a huge decorating impact,” White says.

Deck your halls in one color for a dramatic, sophisticated look that transforms a room with fewer items.

Try red candles, red ornaments and red poinsettias. Then, throw in a few inexpensive red pillows and napkins.


7. Cheat.

Food doesn’t always have to be homemade, especially if it looks like it is.

“People think they need to be a domestic goddess this time of year,” Matisic says. “But you don’t have to win any contests.”

For example, instead of scraping your fingers on a box grater, fry up potato latkes using a store-bought mix.


8. Embrace technology.

Electronic holiday cards can be personalized with a family photo. E-mail is a quick and inexpensive option for those a little behind on correspondence. Also, whittle down the number of recipients.

“Keep the cards from last year and see who should be off the list,” Wallner suggests.

9. Wrap the easy way.

Often retailers have special holiday bags, boxes and tissue paper on hand. And many even offer gift-wrap services.

Matisic says some store packaging is even pretty enough to stand on its own.

“Just tie a little shiny ribbon on top when you’re really pressed for time,” she says.

Another time saver: If you call ahead to buy an item, go ahead and have it gift-wrapped before you get there.


10. Take help where you can get it.

This is obvious, but as mistress of ceremonies, it’s often tough to let some of your hostess responsibilities go.

Delegate tasks to guests and family members. Ask everyone to bring their favorite dish. Or, if people offer to help you do the dishes, let them.

Your friends and relatives will be happy to participate, and you’ll be more relaxed.

The bottom line, white says: “Drop the guilt.”