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211 Shopping Days Until Christmas: Are You Ready?

211 Shopping Days Until Christmas: Are You Ready?

Gift

    We haven’t even crossed the six month mark for Christmas this year, but here I am, talking about gift-giving. I haven’t lost it, though: along with Christmas, I’ve already got my gift giving for Father’s Day, various birthdays and a few weddings planned for. How many hours each year do you spend shuffling around for birthday presents or holiday gifts? What about cards? Or even trying to remember to call someone on their happy day? How much time — and money — do you think you can save with just a few lifehacks?

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    But why worry about it in May or June? Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t bear the thought of even thinking about tinsel in January, or even February. I’ve got no excuse for not getting my plans out of the way in March or April, but I always seem to wind up getting this whole gift giving thing out of the way around Memorial Day — mostly because I’ll take a look through the sales papers and start thinking about who wants what for birthdays and holidays. And if I’m going to sit down and plan Christmas in May, why not get the next year’s worth of gift-giving entirely out of the way?

    18 Days Until Father’s Day

    The biggest change you can make is deciding who you’re planning to give gifts to this year, and how much you plan to spend. Oh, and for what holidays?

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    1. Start with family: Who’s birthdays are you spending what on? Are you doing a family gift exchange for Christmas or Hanukkah? Is anyone getting married or having a baby?
    2. Next up are friends: Do you really want to send a Christmas card to that kid you haven’t seen since 2nd grade? Do any of your friends have kids you plan to give gifts to, as well?
    3. Don’t forget work: Do members of your office ask you to contribute for birthdays and such? Or do you run your own business and plan to send out holiday cards to your business contacts?
    4. And what about your significant other? Do you celebrate an anniversary? Or Valentine’s Day?

    Don’t be surprised if you find yourself adding to this list over the course of the next year, and changing it year after year. I’ll guarantee, though, you’ll be surprised by how many gifts you buy each year. And you may decide it’s time to cut down — especially if you’ve been trying to budget. There’s no shame in cutting a few people off your list — or giving them something smaller than you might have in the past.

    Once you’ve got a list of who you routinely give gifts to, you can start budgeting how much time and money you spend on the effort. I’ve got everything in a spreadsheet with the following columns:

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    • Name of the Recipient
    • Date
    • Price Range
    • Gift Ideas

    It’s a pretty simple system. For date, I use whenever I plan to give the gift — December 25 or a birthday, for example — and I generally keep my spreadsheet sorted so that I can see what’s coming up. I tend to highlight names after I buy a gift, and then change the color of the highlight once I’ve actually given the gift.

    263 Days Until Valentine’s Day

    But what’s so great about this system? For one thing, I save plenty of money because I can buy gifts far in advance — I’ve already started shopping for the holidays. I also can spread out my buying to when it’s more convenient to my budget, and I can hit up sales throughout the year. And for gifts that are time intensive, such as knitting someone a sweater, I have a much better idea of when I need to start — especially if I have several gifts I need to give at the same time.

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    Since I’ve started this gift-giving system, I’ve managed to avoid missing a number of birthdays, as well. I check my list at the beginning of the month and make plans on what I’m mailing off based on that list. I’ve also been better equipped for taking care of time sensitive gifts — like taking a friend out to dinner. Not only do I know to make room for that meal in the month’s budget, but I remember to make reservations as well.

    An Unknown Number of Days Until Your Grandmother’s Birthday

    There are a couple of spots where your plan for the year’s gifts must be flexible. A friend might get married on very short notice or your cousin might have a baby that you didn’t take into account on your spreadsheet. Personally, I’ve made a practice of keeping a few gifts on hand that may not be perfectly personal but will still let someone know that I was thinking of them on their happy day. I also keep a variety of cards on hand for the same purpose — and I routinely make my own, as well.

    Another problem I’ve run into is with books, movies and games: not only do I run a risk of someone receiving whatever I plan to get them long before I hand over a nicely wrapped present, but there’s the fact that buying such a gift and then mailing it off can be far more expensive then letting Amazon do the hard work. For friends and family that I want to give books to, I try not to buy their gifts quite so far in advance anymore. Instead, I make a note on my spreadsheet to order it when their birthday or other event is getting closer.

    Overall, though, planning out my gift-giving is one of the greatest lifehacks I’ve managed to implement in my way of doing things: I’ve saved a pretty significant sum of money in the past couple of years and worried a whole lot less about snubbing Grandma by forgetting to get her a gift — or even give her a phone call.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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