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Holiday Help: Budgeting, Shopping & Traveling – Part 2 of a 4 Part Series

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If by now, early October, you don’t yet have a list of persons you’re planning to give gifts to this holiday season, take a moment and read our Holiday Help: Getting Started – Part 1 of a 4 Part Series.

In that post, I ask a number of questions to help determine your Christmas 2016 ‘who, where and when’ .  Gifting can quickly get complicated in our mobile, merged, multi-generation families and a bit of upfront planning and discussion can make the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of gifting much easier to handle.

As we proceed to budgeting, shopping and traveling recognize and accept this:  your plans are just plans. Even if your Getting Started list is perfect and fully discussed, there are hundreds of variables that will impact your acquisition of those gifts and the travel to your celebratory locations.  Here are a just a few:  weather that hampers travel, unexpected financial emergencies, unanticipated illness or injury (even the simplest of illness, injury at the wrong time can become an issue), the ability of online retailers and delivery services to meet your expectations and more.

So, why do we plan and budget?  Because without a plan, your sanity, relationships, stress level and financial control are all a free-for-all;  a plan, even with the undesired need to adjust it is healthier for all involved and puts you in the driver’s seat.

Starting with the who’s on your gift list, quickly brainstorm what you’d like to give that individual and an estimated cost.  Do the same with the travel.  If you need help with estimating the cost, use online tools but recognize some online pricing is designed to lure you into an immediate purchase.  Resist that temptation until you completed your budgeting.  Force yourself to put a gift and dollar value next to everyone person’s name on your list. Next tally up your spending based on those quick estimates.

If the total amount to be spent is within your budget, great.  All you’ll need to do is stick to your plan when you shop.  But for most of us, we tend to be more generous than we can wisely afford.  If this is true of your list and estimate, start by sharpening your pencil, do a bit more research on options and pricing, and possibly re-think another gift.

As you’re looking for ways to reduce your spending ask yourself whether there persons on your list that spend time together that could be given a great group gift?  We tend to think of individual gifts but many times a group gift is enjoyed more.

Now you need to get those gifts.  so start by planning your shopping.  Get the items within your budget that might have limited availability first.  Then plot your acquisition strategy to maximize your time, mileage and patience.  Before driving 35 minutes to the mall make sure you’ve identified all the mall gifts that need to be obtained.  While online shopping tends to be easier than the old fashioned brick and mortar store, you might benefit a stroll through a few of them.  I often find inspiration and new trends when I’m in a physical store and it always helps me to get into a festive holiday mood.  Observing brick and mortar pricing and selections can also help refine your list and budget. Use your judgement to determine if the current day’s price is likely to be the best price or will there be a sale?  If so, will that item still be available?

Determine if your ‘acquisition’ style is to spend a full day shopping and getting it all done or if you’re a slow and steady style shopper picking up one thing here another here and comparing both to online options. And as always do investigate and evaluate the retailer’s return policy.

Don’t forget about the ever popular Small Business Saturday which this year is Saturday, November 26, 2016.  SBS is the first Saturday after Thanksgiving and has been named and promoted by American Express since 2010.  We all know that Black Friday is the crazy early morning, late night shopping spree that historically follows Thanksgiving. Also online shoppers will hit the keyboards and tablets heavy on the Monday following Small Business Saturday know as Cyber Monday.  Pay attention to a store’s pre-Thanksgiving prices and specials.  Big Box and online retailers will start to reveal their deep discounts on a handful of items to get your attention (and business) 7-10 days before Thanksgiving.  At the same time Independent retailers  will reach out to you via emails, post cards, radio ads, event marketing to get a slice of your attention (and business).  Use your leverage as the buyer to get the best price from an independent retailer – ask if a particular item will be discounted after Thanksgiving and if so do they have a sufficient number or are they willing to discount the item in advance?  At Gifts To Go, we’re hosting a Holiday Open House with several discounts for same day purchases.  We also hold two week long sales on our popular Willow Tree items of 20% and will honor that discount during our Holiday Open House as well.

Start planning that holiday travel now as well.  Especially if you’re traveling by air, train or bus or renting a car as it will feel as though the entire country is traveling with you.  Seats will quickly become scarce and expected them to be pricey.

Finally, if you’re cooking or entertaining, get your menus planned and shopping lists created as the grocers will also be competing for your business and a plan will let you take advantage of great sales especially on non-perishables.

As with any well organized project, a good plan guides your actions and better equips you for those pesky adjustments that will most assuredly happen along the way to your envisioned holiday celebration.

By next month, you’ll have acquired a number of gifts and be ready to focus on shipping and gift presentation.  Here’s to a great plan!






Holiday Help: Getting Started – Part 1 of a 4 Part Series

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Holiday Help: Getting Started  –             Part 1 of a 4 Part Series

This is the time when we cling to the last glimmer of summer. The kids are back in school. The big box stores have, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise available.  But why do ‘they’ rush the holidays so much?  It’s time to start thinking about the holiday season you think.  Why can’t Thanksgiving goodies not appear on shelves until October 31st? Why can’t the Christmas and Hanukkah season kick off on Black Friday?  After all there is the better part of four months to do all that needs to be done to make the holidays special and create memories.   Why rush life away?  Why all the commercialism? Why be a pawn of some number crunching merchandiser tucked away in a big box home office?

Being relatively new to retail sales, I initially held firm to the thought that the end of one fall holiday signaled and actually permitted the next fall holiday to appear on shelves. During my first few years, I had a new shop in an developing area and witnessed people came in starting the last week in August ‘to just look’.  They indicated they’d ‘be back.’  Didn’t see them until the New Year.

I slowly came to realize that ‘just looking’ in August is code for ‘I-want-to-get-my-holiday-gift-giving-shopping-done-but-I’m-not-admitting-that-to-anyone-yet’ and their lives really did get so busy where they didn’t have time to come back until the Christmas wrapping papers had been recycled.

The truth is both retailers and consumers have pushed and pulled one another to the current reality where you can (and should) do your fourth quarter shopping by early September.

The 100 days will fly by and be filled with lots of “to-do’s” including those that get added to your list at the last minute by other people.  Gifts To Go has developed a four part approach to helping you stay sane by pacing yourself looking at the entire holiday season and developing your personal plan of attack. We’ll publish one of the four parts each month now through early December.

The series posts will appear as follows:

  • September 2016 – Holiday Help: Getting Started
  • October 2016 -Holiday Help:  Budgeting, Shopping and Traveling
  • November 2016 –   Holiday Help: Shipping and Packing
  • December 2016 – Holiday Help:  Gift Wrapping and Presentation

And now, let’s get started .   This month’s task is to sit quietly with a pen/paper or iPad and think through each of the bullet points we raise below. Once you have your responses sit with your significant other (and anyone else with the clout to alter your plans) to combine your thoughts and resolve any differences.  Here goes:

  • To whom will you be giving gifts?  Immediate family/household? Extended family within an hour’s drive?  Extended family living more than an hour away? Friends? Kids’ friends? Co-workers? Teachers? Service providers such as hair stylists, delivery persons, landscapers, drivers?

It’s too early to be overly-concerned about what those gifts will be, you want to determine who gets gifts first and then work on Budgeting and Shopping in Part Two.

  • Where will you be spending the holidays (consider Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukkah)? Will your significant other and other immediate family members be with you? Will you be the host? Will you be traveling? Will you need a pet-sitter? Do you need extra chairs for the dining room table?  Do you have sufficient place settings? Will you want to repaint the living room?  If you’re not at home, will you be staying with friends or family or hotel? Will inclement weather possibly affect your plans?  Do you have a celebratory back up plan if so?

It’s important to iron out the ‘where’ and ‘who’ question with everyone who might have an opinion that could impact you (spouse, college aged children, in-laws, close friends).  Don’t wait for them to start the conversation with you.  We recommend getting this one settled early as we’ve seen too many holiday plans turned upside down and budgets blown when a sister and her new husband decide at the last minute they were joining you at your home.

  • Will you participate in multiple celebrations?  In different locales?  Are you aware of all the people involved in each festivity?  When will each occur? Will you need a ‘divide and conquer’ plan where you and your significant other are in different locations on the holiday due to family/friends in different areas? Will you then celebrate again when you reunite?

When you’re comfortable you have identified and resolved the ‘who, where and when’ questions, start to tackle the ‘what’ question before we take your holiday planning one step further next month by establishing a budget and creating the to-do lists.




Yes, I Call Gifts To Go Home

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Yes, I Call Gifts To Go Home

Today a frequent shopper/shipper asked me if I felt that I spent my life at the shop.

Yes, I spend six days each week working at the little gift shop and post office that we’re growing.  While that might sound overwhelming to some, I have always enjoyed my work and now that I’m nurturing this growing retail infant, I rarely see it as work.  I see it as coaching, championing, feeding, housekeeping and assessing.  Sometimes I see it as frustrating or trying but that happens when you nurture something.

However, I am not without some sense  of the trendy concept of work-life balance.  The members of my family living in Arizona reside in the same house that I do; I look forward to seeing them every night and every morning and if possible anytime throughout the day.

In terms of family representing the concept of home,  my mom helped me get this gift shop post office started and I often look at the post office space and see her, talk to her and spend a few moments being grateful that I was her daughter and that even though I was reluctant to start a gift shop she prodded me along the way.

My husband drives many miles each day to go to a job where he then drives throughout the state.  One of the primary reasons he does this is so that we have health insurance.  He works with me every Saturday, does my banking, delivers gift baskets and picks up my supplies throughout the state. He hangs my flags, fixes my signs and much more.

My brother is my straightforward, fully honest gift basket design evaluator.  If he likes it, it’s good.  If he doesn’t like it, it needs to be scrapped and he doesn’t waste any time letting me know that.

I am humbled to have them all and chances are I spend more time with my family than most who proclaim  ‘work-life balance’  success.  Clearly our heart-strings are shorter than those of many families I know.

Yet, I often need to prodded.  I tend to be the frog put into a cold pot of water that stays in the pot for far too long as the temperature of the water increases.  Perhaps the day will come when I’m the frog in the gift shop water that I haven’t noticed is growing warmer and warmer.  Until that time, I’ll be loving my job at Gifts To Go and  grateful to my family for helping me ‘live’ here.

Caped Crusader Hits The Streets…And The Envelopes

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BatmanBat Sheet

Another USPS stamp that evokes a favorite childhood memory.  I recall jumping off the school bus and racing into the house to watch the fabulous Batman and Robin on my grandma’s color TV with my uncle.  It was a daily after school ritual.  Eventually led to my uncle and me making plaster of Paris molds of the caped crusaders in grandma’s laundry room.  A delightful time for me but I recall it didn’t end so well for him as there was residual plaster  problems in the laundry room.

I believe I’ve seen only one of the modern day Batman movies as I never moved from the after school TV show  to either comic books or the ComicCon era.  Nonetheless I’m captivated with the newest USPS stamp release and thought it worthy of a bit of blogging attention.

The following text is taken from and speaks to the sheet details. “For 75 years, Batman has protected Gotham City from the forces of evil. Since his debut, he has become one of the most iconic super heroes in history. This year, the U.S. Postal Service® chronicles the evolution of the character, from his origins to present day.

This new issuance showcases eight unique designs in a sheet of 20 stamps. Four versions of the iconic DC Comics super hero are depicted from four eras of comic book history. In addition, there are four incarnations of the Bat-Signal.

The first row of stamps features Batman with his fists clenched. This muscular, determined Caped Crusader has spent the Modern Age of Comics defending Gotham City from its most notorious villains.  The second row of stamps displays Batman dramatically staring up at the Bat-Signal. By the Bronze Age of Comics, artists had encased the super hero’s spare black bat emblem with a yellow oval. The insignia became the crime fighter’s trademark.
The third row of stamps shows Batman swooping into the frame with his cape flying behind him. The image, from the Silver Age of Comics, accentuates the super hero’s signature glowing white eyes and utility belt. The bottom row of stamps highlights Batman as first envisioned by creator Bob Kane during the Golden Age of Comics. The super hero’s black cape and cowl and gray suit formed his iconic visual identity.

A column on the left side of the sheet includes four different circular stamps. Each is affixed with a different Bat-Signal, the spotlight Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon sent into the night sky to summon Batman.

The background illustration features a silhouette of Batman standing on a bridge with the skyline of Gotham City looming above him. The flip side of the sheet features two illustrations of Batman and text about the history of the character.

Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamp sheet. ”

My favorite portion of the sheet is the left hand selvage side that shows a shadowy Batman in the central Gotham City, watching and protecting.  And, the four different circular Bat-Signals are cool additions to the sheet but I do caution all purchasers to be sure to avoid discarding these simple, round stamps as they appear at first to be paper-art stamps that child might use rather than true Forever stamps but they are in fact Forever stamps.


Press Release: New West Valley Writer’s Group Forming

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NEWS from Gifts To Go


SURPRISE, Arizona (May 19, 2014) West Valley residents and writers, John L Ketchum and Pauline Mounsey, are forming a new west valley writers group. The group’s purpose is to form a team to provide editing and constructive feedback on member’s written work.

In addition, the group will create an educational forum for members to share knowledge of all aspects of writing, publishing and selling.

“We’re looking to create a casual, informed group of writers who help each other navigate the process regardless of their experience”, said John L Ketchum. “We all bring individual expertise to a writers’ workshop,” Pauline Mounsey added, “and we all have something to share with others. I consider myself a facilitator, rather than an instructor, for helping participants share knowledge with each other.”

The writers group will meet twice a month on Saturday afternoon at Gifts To Go located on the Bell Mar Plaza at the intersection of Bell Road and Avenue of the Arts, Suite 128, Surprise, Arizona. Prior to each meeting, the members will meet for lunch at the 5&Diner Delux next door to Gifts To Go. The next meeting is Saturday, June 14.

Persons interested in finding out more should call John Ketchum at 623-466-6227 or Pauline Mounsey at 480-225 1585.

Small Business Week 2014 & All The Tiny Businesses

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Today, Day Two of Small Business Week 2014, brings to mind that while I consider Gifts To Go a ‘micro’ business in that I’m the owner and THE employee, there are a few slightly more micro small businesses in operation.

Gifts To Go prides itself on promoting local authors and local artists and frequently describes them as smaller businesses than itself. I tend to think of authors and artists writing or creating art feverishly in their basements, dens, spare bedrooms or kitchen tables. I’m sure they are not always working at frantic speed as I’m sure there are writer’s cramp moments, toss it out the window moments and hours of product and self introspection.

I’ve been reading this week’s material from multiple ‘expert’ sources on promoting small, shopping small and the value of the backbone of the US economy. I agree with it and am glad to be a part of it. But it strikes me there are some unsung players in the small business realm.

Consider the Etsy store owner. Maybe she makes jewelry or greeting cards or organic dog treats – regardless of product type she’s working the small business dream and hopefully making a profit as she does. Likewise give some thought to the teen, trying to save money for college, who doesn’t drive or cannot afford insurance to drive a car, who walks dogs before and after school in his neighborhood. Again a wee sized business contributing to the US economy.

So, to the volumes of written material this week, I’d add a shout out to those like the Etsy store owner and teen dog walker, those who embody the spirit of entrepreneurship in the tiniest of business settings. A strong American economy depends on all organization sizes. National Small Business Week implores us to shop small and shop local — and I add a request that you look beyond the small shop doors. An internet purchase from an Etsy store or hiring the kid next door to wash your windows will have a similar positive economic impact.

Don’t need anything you could purchase from a small retailer in-store or online? Don’t despair. Instead of shopping, give them an even greater boost – refer the great small businesses to your family and friends. Do it publicly with a review on their Facebook page or write their name and address on a piece of paper to share with your neighbor. Be active this week in supporting the locally owned businesses; we’ll all appreciate your endorsements.

Speaking of being neighborly, I’m reaching out to my neighbors near Avenue of the Arts and Bell Road in Surprise to invite the Etsy store owners and Ebay’ers to drop their USPS packages off anytime Monday-Saturday from 9am – 5pm. My small business values your business.

Hoorah For Made In The USA!

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Multi Curve Fork 2749Multi Curve Spoon 2749IMG_20140206_155006

Am so happy to have found another couple of great gift related companies that manufacture their products in the USA!  Have just added Forked Up Art as a new supplier and am pleased to share the company owner’s, Judson Jennings, story below. This passage is taken from the company’s website. 

“Founder Judson Jennings started Forked Up Art because he couldn’t find a job in college during the 2010 Recession. “When the economy went down, all of the full time welders came back into part-time positions, and all open welding positions disappeared”. While living with his In-Laws, Judson took a bag of flatware that his mother-in-law was throwing out and created his first figurine. “All my friends thought it was cool so I started making more, and they started selling”. Using as a selling tool, Judson welded his pieces in the household workshop and bent/shipped them in the basement kitchen. On March 4th of 2010, various bloggers picked up on the “iPhone Holder” piece and took it all the way to This blew away all other sales statistics, and the newly formed “Forked Up Art” was amazed at the sales potential it had. After filling all those orders in miraculous time, Judson took his concept to Art Festivals and Craft Fairs throughout the western United States.  While working a booth at a local Farmers Market, Judson got his first call from a store wanting to carry his product at wholesale. He inquired about wholesale pricing, and decided to go for it. He saw the potential for his company to grow into a wholesaling company, and has taken his “Forked Up Concept” to wholesale show around the country. He now sells to over 1000 retailers nation wide.  Forked Up Art is dedicated to being the “Fork Authority of the World”, now creating pieces for the yard as well as the table, lamps and chandeliers, and jewelry made out of forks and spoons. “If it’s done with forks and spoons, we want to be the ones doing it”.

At Gifts To Go we believe each Forked Up Art piece will quietly serve many purposes in your life and home over many years.  In the week preceding Valentine’s Day, we’re proudly showcasing the “Multi Curve” pieces presenting jewelry gift boxes.  We’ve wrapped the gift boxes with our new Stone WrapTreeless wrapping paper.  The displayed patterns are April and Pink Damask.  We buy our gift wrap from Nashville Wraps, another great US company.  They describe the paper as follows: “Stone Wrap® Treeless Gift Wrap is made from 75% Limestone – 25% Polyethylene. The limestone is a by product of mining which would normally be discarded. Instead it is salvaged and made into this material without water or bleach. This luxurious gift wrap is waterproof and recyclable. It has a high quality matte finish, smooth surface and the ease of folding and cutting are unlike any other.”  And, Stone Wrap Treeless paper is made in the USA.  We stock twelve different patterns for customer purchase and for our gift wrapping service.

Speaking of gift wrapping service we’re wrapping Willow Tree angels and figurines now through Valentine’s Day for free! 

All our Forked Up Art pieces are available for purchase at