Surviving the Holidays

There's so much to do at this time of year - shopping, mailing cards and gifts, cooking, baking, decorating, and more. And when you're in a rush, it's easy to get flustered. Check out these 20 quick tips from the Federal Citizen Information Center to help you shop, cook, and decorate for the holiday season.

Avoid Overspending

  • Start shopping as early as you can, so you will have enough time to compare prices.
  • Homemade gifts or gifts "in kind" are free or low - cost alternatives to store bought items. For example, offer to baby sit a friend's children on a Saturday night. It costs you nothing, strengthens your friendship, and your friend saves money by not having to pay a sitter.
  • Since it provides a visual reference, paying cash may help you avoid overspending. You will be less tempted to make a big purchase if you see how many bills it will consume from your wallet!


  • Pick pockets look forward to the holidays as much as everyone else. Stow cash and credit cards in zippered compartments and always keep one hand free.
  • Stow your purchases out of sight in the car. Leaving them in the back seat may tempt a thief.
  • If you purchase gift cards, caution the recipient that the value may start to shrink if he or she waits too long to use it. At a minimum, you will lose $1.00 per month once the card is one year old.
  • Bank issued gift cards that you can use in any store are convenient, but in addition to reducing the value over time, banks may charge fees to reactivate gift cards that have gone unused for six months or more.
  • Know how long you have to return an item. Apparel merchants, department and discount stores, and catalog merchants often allow returns as long as 90 days after purchase. Electronics and appliance chains might give you only 7 days.
  • If you plan to do a lot of your holiday shopping online, exercise caution. On less expensive items, the shipping charges can cost almost as much as the item itself.
  • Document the dates of your online purchases. Read and print out any email messages you receive from the merchant after you place your order. They contain important details such as your order number, when the item will arrive, and your options if the item you want is not available.
  • Be aware of what children's and consumer products have been recalled recently. At the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's website, you can sign up to receive recall notices via email.


  • The Postal Service website can help you address that letter to Santa, as well as buy holiday stamps.
  • Want to send a package across the country, to an armed forces member, or to someone overseas? To ensure that it arrives in time, visit the Postal Service's website to view shipping deadlines.
  • Be sure to wrap your packages securely. For example, put tape all the way around boxes that have a lid.
  • If you are flying and carrying gifts with you, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends you leave them unwrapped. TSA may have to unwrap gifts to screen them more closely.


  • When thawing turkey in the refrigerator, allow one day for every 5 pounds of weight.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) operates a meat and poultry hotline, in case you have any questions about cooking temperatures and times.
  • Exercise caution when transporting food to family gatherings. Keep cold foods cold (40 degrees or below) and hot foods hot with appropriate packaging for the trip.
  • Visit for help with cooking for kids and for groups. You can also view regional recipes and ones from famous Americans.


  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has advice on how to decorate your home safely. For example, artificial snow spray can irritate your lungs and strings of lights should be examined each year for fraying or other damage.
  • "Test" trees before buying to make sure they are fresh, not dry.
  • Avoid tree trimmings that look like candy. A small child may mistake it for the real thing.

After The Rush

  • Don't let your trash "advertise" the great presents you got. Boxes from computers, TVs and video game systems let a thief know what valuables you have in your home. Collapsing and folding boxes will help conceal what new gadgets you have received.
  • If you will be away for the holidays, protect your home by placing your lights on timers and having the Post Office hold your mail.
  • Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace. A flash fire could result since it ignites quickly and burns intensely.

For additional information, please visit the following areas:

Source: Federal Information Center (

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Last Editorial Review: 11/28/2005