Thursday, November 17, 2011

Optimize Your Seasonal Spending

All it takes is a look at the news to know this holiday season will be a struggle for many.  If you’re budget is feeling the pinch, save yourself time, money, and (possible) disappointment, with focused preparation before heading out to shop. 

First, establish your spending limit and then break that total down, budgeting for each purchase.  Next, prepare lists:  a list of those for whom you are shopping; a list of stores you plan to visit; and a list of items needed for home decoration and entertainment.  On your gift-recipient list allow room to record pertinent sizes, preferred colours, favourite games, authors, past-times, or other personal details you’ll need while shopping.  On the list of stores, leave room to record any items of interest you find, noting prices, warranties and special offers.  Then shop around.  Details you record will aide comparison before making the actual purchases, ensuring you get the best deals.

Also before buying, ask each merchant about their policies on returns, refunds and exchanges.  Quite often, sale items cannot be refunded or returned.  Exchanges are generally allowed but, when it’s a popular sale item, odds of the preferred colour or size being available diminishes quickly with each passing day.  Another option to consider, particularly when shipping packages, is a gift receipt.  These generally exclude price but contain all other the pertinent  information for the recipient to affect an exchange or return in their own hometown, saving both of you time and more shipping charges if amendments are required.

Pay attention to packaging, too.  Some retailers will only make refunds, returns, or exchanges on items in their original package.  Occasionally, merchandise is so securely enclosed they don’t allow for in-store inspection. Even if the merchant provides a display model, you can’t be certain of the sealed-product’s functioning and wholeness.  To avoid holiday let-down, it’s best to open and fully inspect the item when you get home and prior to repackaging, wrapping and/or shipping.

In this tough economy, it pays to make the most of your time and money.  By preparing, you’ll save both and keep frustration to a minimum, and that’s a good start to imbuing any holiday season with peace and joy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Holiday Spirits

If I told you I’m thinking about holiday liqueurs, you might conclude fall has been gruelling.  It has been, actually, but that’s beside the point.  The real reason I’m considering holiday liqueurs is because I plan on making them, and most require 4-6 weeks to develop.  If I start the six-week liqueurs now, they’ll be ready to bottle the week prior to Christmas.  By then, we’ll probably need a tipple or two.

This is one crazy-hectic season!  So, why am I making liqueurs?  Really, they don’t take much time – only a half an hour (or less) to mix the ingredients and store the mixture.  Some require occasional turning or shaking, but most just sit in a cool, dark place, quietly maturing.  Though time isn’t our deciding factor, I definitely appreciate the ease of preparing this holiday treat.

For us, budget dictates this type of spending.  We don’t drink much alcohol, and don’t stock a bar.  However, come the holidays, we like to offer a range of beverages, both alcoholic and non-, and liqueurs can be one of the most expensive ingredients.  They are also one of the most versatile, adding pizzazz to cocktails, but they’re also good served alone, on the rocks, mixed with sodas, creams, milk or in drinks like coffee or hot chocolate.

Each recipe I have uses some sort of spirit:  whisky, vodka, gin or brandy.  While there’s still a significant cost involved, the results are thriftier than buying similar name-brand liqueurs.  Flavour can be compromised by using poor quality ingredients, but even when using finer spirits and whole ingredients like vanilla bean, the liqueurs ultimately cost less than an equivalent quantity of name-brands.   With one 750-ml bottle of whiskey, the recipe I use produces more than 1500 ml of coffee liqueur.  Over time, I’ve adjusted the recipes to suit our tastes; it’s as easy as adding a little more or less water and/or sugar.
If your budget is groaning at the mere thought of the holiday season, but you’d still like to offer your guests some holiday “cheer,” consider making your own liqueurs.  Here’s a few recipes from my repetoire:
  1. Coffee liqueur with vanilla bean (sits for 4 weeks)
  2. Coffee liqueur with vanilla extract (sits for 6 weeks)
  3. Cherry Bounce (“bounced” every day for 3 months – sorry, too late for this holiday season)
  4. Orange Liqueur (shaken once a day for 1st week, then once a week for 3 more weeks.)
  5. Plum (Christmas) Liqueur (turned everyday; ready when clear – approx. 4-6 weeks)
  6. Irish Cream (keep refrigerated; will not keep long; make ahead to allow bubbles to settle.)
If these recipes interest you, post a comment sharing ways you plan to save money this holiday season, and then send me an email ( with “Holiday Spirits” in the subject line and noting your choice of recipe(s) in the body of the email.  I’ll include your recipes in the body of my reply.