The Holiday Shopping Guide for Hard Times

Whether you’re unemployed, underemployed or self-employed -- or if you just haven’t gotten a raise in a while -- you’re probably feeling the effects of this economic downturn in one way or another. And yet the holidays are the holidays; you can’t just buy crappy gifts and tell people you’re broke. Well, you can, but wouldn’t you rather get great gifts that seem a lot more expensive than they are? Herewith, Andrea Woroch, a consumer-savings advisor for Kinoli, Inc. (owner of several money-saving websites, including freeshipping.org and giftcardgranny.com), reveals her top tips for shopping smart this holiday season.

1. Shop Online
Internet shopping over the holidays is expected to reach an all-time high as more consumers trust e-retailers and look to the Web to avoid massive crowds. The Internet also makes it easy to compare prices and find online coupons from sites like PromoCodes.us for additional savings.  Merchants are aware that e-commerce is on the rise, and are putting a lot of effort into it. Look for more online deals this season than ever before.

2. Download Apps
Smartphones can turn you into a smarter shopper. Before heading out to shop, download the following apps to help you detect deals and score discounts more easily:

  • Barcode scanning app RedLaser instantly provides price comparisons at online retailers and nearby stores           
  • CouponSherpa searches for digital coupons at stores near you
  • SalesLocator tells you what’s currently on sale in local stores

3. Socialize
Follow retailers on Twitter, like them on Facebook or check into their stores on FourSquare to stay on top of the latest deals and discounts. Many brands also release special offers exclusively to their social media fans.

4. Use Discount Gift Cards
Buy other shoppers’ unwanted gift cards for less than face value (some can be had at half price) from sites like GiftCardGranny.com. You can find discount gift cards for almost everything, from restaurants and department stores to travel services and movie theaters. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

5. Research Prices
Knowing how much a product costs before shopping any sale will help you determine the best values. Without this knowledge you could fall for a misleading promotion that really isn't much of a deal at all! So do your homework and compare prices. Try Google Shopping online or its smartphone app.

6. Price Match
Stores like Walmart and Best Buy have been offering price match guarantees for a long time. Sears and Home Depot are taking it a step further: The retailers will price match and offer an additional 10 percent off! You also want to watch out for price drops after you buy. Walmart recently announced that they will give credit to any shopper who found a better deal on a recent purchase from their store with a gift card worth the difference.

7. Buy from Flash Sale Sites
Flash sale sites typically offer high-end products at a huge discount. Gilt.com, for example, sells designer clothing for both sexes, as well as home and foodie items and travel discounts. If you have champagne taste on a beer budget, these sites can help satiate your designer craving without breaking the bank. However, it's easy to get caught up in the hype and urgency, and end up overspending on products you wouldn't otherwise buy. Patrons of these sites should have a list of what they really want and apply tunnel vision when searching for deals.

8. Join the Club
Shopping clubs are a trend this year, with retailers like Toys R Us and Kohl's offering benefits for shoppers who join their exclusive programs. The danger: Shoppers often have to spend a certain amount in order to get worthwhile rewards, which may turn into overspending.  However, if you regularly shop with a retailer offering one of these programs, go for it!

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/pierredesvarre

The Ultimate Game-day Gear … for Tailgating

It’s football season, and you know what that means. You should be in game shape … for the All-tailgating Team! While steroid nation is knocking the snot out of itself inside the stadium, real men are bulking up their party muscles in the parking lot. But like the pros on the field, the bros behind the wheels need the right equipment to score the biggest compliments on their hungry man’s football feast. So here’s your season ticket to the all-star gear that will be a big hit with your boys.



The RoadTrip Party Grill
You’ll keep your food -- and your crew -- fired up in the most adverse game conditions with this compact)

Instant Canopy
Unless you’re a UCLA or Honolulu U fan, it’s best to be ready for the bad weather. So put a lid on cursing the sleet and snow with this portable protection against the elements. Are you a stats guy? This 12-foot by 12-foot canopy sets up in less than three minutes, giving you 9 feet of clearance and 144 square feet of cover. It also travels well, since you can fold it up and pull it around in a wheeled carry bag -- just like the one your mom uses!
Price:
$189.99

Collapsible Table
Now that you’ve got something to sear your meat and a shelter to devour it in, you’ll need a surface on which to serve it up. Say hello to the Micro Table! It’ll be a much more polite conversation than the screaming matches you usually have with those bulky oversized folding tables. This 15-inch by 11-inch table surface with expandable 4-inch to 6-inch legs (perfect mouth-level entry point if you’re strafing the food from a lawn chair) is both flame- and heat-resistant, plus it folds up faster than Michele Bachmann in a serious debate.
Price:
$32.95

Outdoor Heater
Here’s a heater that’s so damn good they call it “Mister.” Yes, this Mr. Heater–brand portable heater is a cordless propane heat-blower that lets you bring hot air (not the kind that’s emanating from your mouth) to the parking lot. The 35,000-BTU-per-hour unit heats you and the boys up for approximately eight hours -- without a generator or extension cords to trip you up. The battery actually charges while it’s keeping your kishkas toasty!
Price: $159.99


Tailgator Gas-powered Blender
 Making blended drinks may not sound macho, but doing it with this gas-powered blender puts a locker room full of hair on your private parts. This baby whips up drinks wherever you can buy gas, and it does it in less than 15 seconds.
Price: $289.99


The Cruzin’ Cooler
Forget about lugging a heavy cooler all over the lot. This one brings you to the party. The invention of the century, this 500-watt electric scooter only weighs 74 pounds and can haul your up-to-250-pound tuchus around at 12 mph while holding 24 cans packed in 8 pounds of ice. It has disc brakes and aluminum construction, and it can be used for hauling meat. (Hauling vegetables is officially confined to beauty salon parking lots.)
Price:
$599


All-weather TV
If you’re really serious about tailgating, catch the pregame show on this 32-inch LCD outdoor TV, which is able to withstand temps from minus 24 F to 122 F. (You, of course, will succumb to frostbite or heat stroke, but the show will go on!) The all-weather aluminum enclosure keeps this baby safe from snow, wind and rain. But be warned: It will short out from repeated exposure to Star Jones.
Price:
$3,295


Photo: @iStockphoto.com/sjlocke

Best and Worst New MLB Uniforms

In the upside-down world of baseball -- seriously, who’da thunk that future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols would be striking out more than George Costanza in a singles bar? -- everything new is old again. Several different teams are sporting new uni’s this season, and most are reaching back into their historical closets for their new look.

Since all things baseball must be analyzed to death, we give you our early-season scorecard detailing which teams have hit home runs and which have struck out with their new/old uniforms. Three cheers for forced sports metaphors!

Kansas City Royals
The Royals have always stressed elegance and simplicity to achieve their regal look. This year’s models offer subtle tweaks that reinforce their status as the world champs of understatement.  The refined script brandishing the Royals’ name remains the same on the snow-white home uniforms, but the “Kansas City” lettering on the road jerseys has been retooled to more closely match the home lettering.  There’s also a cool All-Star patch on the right sleeves of both the home and away jerseys because the team will be hosting the game on July 10. Sadly, that’s as close as the Royals will get to having actual all-stars on the team.

Let’s face it: Tradition can’t hit.

Score:

Triple
 

Cleveland Indians
The Tribe has returned to the losing ways that inspired the hilarious 1989 movie Major League. While that might not be good news, a revival of more simplistic uniforms of that -- and other -- crappy periods in Indians’ history has fans cheering.   The big changes? A creme-colored alternate home uni with simple, red-block “Indians” lettering across the chest, paired with a bright red cap that recalls the uniforms of the crappy Indians of the ’60s.   There’s also an alternate road uniform with the word “Cleveland” in block letters across the chest. That one comes with a blue cap, emulating the crappy Indians of 1901.  

Still … they’re well-dressed, traditional cellar dwellers.  

Score:

Double
 

Toronto Blue Jays
Compared to what looked like prison-issued, beer-league uniforms for the last decade, the Jays could have switched to hospital gowns and scored an upgrade. But they’ve done much better than that.   Happily, the Blue Jays have returned to the uniforms of their back-to-back championship era of 1992 and 1993 with royal-blue hats and the old split-lettering that was displayed on the chests of such great World Series heroes as Joe Carter and Paul Molitor.  

For the moment, the Jays are playing like those guys. But their talent isn’t as sharp as their threads and should yield diminishing returns as the season wears on and the Canadian exchange rate kicks in.  

Score:

Home Run

 

New York Mets
This team was built on tradition. They chose their original colors to honor the history of New York baseball: blue for the Brooklyn Dodgers, orange for the New York Giants, and pinstripes as a salute to the crosstown Yankees.  More recently, they benched tradition and looked like a different team almost every time they took the field. They ditched the pinstripes and broke out black jerseys and a bunch of different hats. 

In their 50th year, the Mets have adopted the role of a grown-up wondering what he was thinking with that high school hair and fashion non-sensibility, and returned to their original colors and design.

Here’s hoping they hide their high school photos.

Score:

Home Run

 

Miami Marlins
With a new city name, stadium and team colors, it’s a fresh start for the fish. Unfortunately, their new uniforms reek. It’s as if somebody broke into Don Johnson’s closet and sewed together all of his scariest stuff; the resulting array of outfits is better suited for a Florida fruit factory than a baseball field.  They’ve got white jerseys with orange caps; black jerseys with black caps; and orange jerseys with blue, white and teal lettering, fish flying all over the front of their shirts and an “M” on the cap about the size of a McDonald’s sign. 

The team needed a reboot, but this mess is like a reboot in the butt.

Score:

Yer OUT!

The 10 Worst Mother’s Day Gifts Ever

It’s Mother’s Day, that time of year when you let Mom know how much you appreciate everything she’s done for you. But sometimes those expressions of love get lost in translation, like when you somehow convince yourself one of the following gifts will result in smiles and hugs … and not the kind of blowback you haven’t seen since you flunked biology. If you’re looking to rub your maternal unit the wrong way this year, go ahead and wrap one of these babies up. But let’s face it: It’s gonna be tough telling the guys at the office you’ve been grounded.

  1. A Kitchen Appliance. This woman has spent years cramming food down your gob. A kitchen tool will seem less like a “Thank you” and more like a, “Hey, Ma! Can you whip me up another meatloaf?”
  2. Bathroom Accoutrements. The idea of brightening up the commode with a gold-plated toilet brush or beautiful new soap dish is all well and good, but she’s gonna look at it and think one thing: crap.
  3. Lingerie. Unless you have a special relationship with Mom that would bring prosecution in all 50 states, this creepy notion will bring the holiday to a screaming halt … and probably lead to your needing to register with local authorities.
  4. A Gift Certificate. “Dear Mom, I just couldn’t be bothered to put any effort into thinking about what you might want, so here’s this.”
  5. A Pet. Your mom is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of taking care of you. She’s thinking pedis and mah-jongg -- not starting from scratch raising a brand-new helpless creature.
  6. Fruit of the Month Club. Not exclusively a bad Mother’s Day gift. This is the kind of monumentally awful gift that can ruin any occasion.
  7. A Fancy Vacuum Cleaner. “It’s time for you to take life a little easier, Ma. Use this!” Well, that might be a functionally sound concept. But for a woman who just spent half her life cleaning up after you, this idea sucks.
  8. Lunch at Any Restaurant With Laminated Menus. While Hooters and IHOP are time-honored institutions, they won’t exactly scream “special occasion.” Any screaming you hear will likely be X-rated and directed at you if you choose to take her to one of these joints.
  9. Automotive Supplies. Nothing says I really am an unsentimental, self-involved son like a brand-new set of white walls!
  10. A Gym Membership. Your mother passes as many health clubs as you do every day. So if she hasn’t signed up for anything yet, she’s not looking for a reminder from you that she needs to get in shape. Stick with chocolates on her special day. You can tell her she’s fat tomorrow.

Celebrity Winners of the Best Facial Hair Awards

While the celebrities strut their stuff on various red carpets this month, we thought we’d hand out a few awards of our own. Welcome to the very first Best Facial Hair Awards. The envelope, please!

The Mountain Man Beard Award: Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal’s mountain man beard might be long and bushy, but he keeps it combed, expertly trimmed and healthy-looking. When dealing with facial hair at this length, maintenance is key to avoiding an overgrown and unkempt nest full of woodland creatures.

Best Eyebrows on an Agent Award: Saif Ali Khan


There’s nothing worse than a man with barely-there eyebrows. But most Bollywood stars suffer from the opposite problem – overly large or bushy eyebrows. Saif Ali Khan's Agent Vinod looks right - an Indian James Bond, impeccably dressed and styled.

Best Funny Man Mustache Award: Eddie Murphy

While Tower Heist won’t win the Oscar for Best Picture, Murphy’s finely trimmed chevron mustache deserves an award for the way its angular shape balances out his oval face.

 

Best Hair Ball Award: Questlove

If you’re going to sport a voluminous afro) lead and grow a full beard to help balance out the look and avoid looking like you’re wearing a hair helmet. His beard emphasizes his strong jawline, anchoring his incredible hairstyle and bringing the entire look together.

 

Best Eyebrows on a Solo Artist Award: Drake

There’s nothing worse than a man with over-plucked, barely-there eyebrows. Drake’s thick but tidy brows properly frame his eyes, without looking overdone or overgrown. Gentlemen, don’t forget: There should be two.

 

Best Mustache on a Muppet Award: Swedish Chef

You might not understand what the Swedish Chef has to say, but his mustache is perfectly clear. The Chef’s ’stache strikes a delicate balance between his bulbous nose, gaping mouth and wild eyebrows. If you have large features, dainty facial hair will only serve to make things look larger.

 

Best Breakup Beard: Russell Brand

Breaking up is hard to do, but funnyman Russell Brand does it in style. His recent split from pop star Katy Perry has left him with a dastardly, pirate-worthy beard that gives him a brooding look -- an appropriate style for a recent divorcé, if you ask us.

 

Best Performance by a Goatee and Mustache Duo: Kanye West

Kanye West keeps his mustache short, expertly trimmed and narrow to avoid adding weight between his nose and lip. Instead, he turns the focus to his goatee, which emphasizes his strong chin and jawline.

 

Best Rock ’n’ Roll Beard Award: Lenny Kravitz

When you’re a rock ’n’ roll icon).

 

Best Smooth(ish) Stubble Award: John Legend

When you’re a smooth soul singer, you need facial hair that will complement your gentlemanly style while upping your game. John Legend’s perfect short stubble adds a dash of roughness to his boyish face -- but not enough to scare off the ladies.

 
And our awards for most dubious facial hair styles go to …
 

The Trying-too-hard Stubble Award: Adam Levine

Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine has perfected the art of the stubble -- and that’s the problem. It’s almost too perfect. Stubble is meant to look accidental, to sport an air of, “I woke up looking this good.” Levine’s stubble is so evenly trimmed and shaped that it appears overworked. He could use a lesson from Lenny Kravitz.

 

Most Awkward-looking Beard Award: Robert Pattinson

When teenage girls proclaim their undying (undead?) love for you at every turn, sometimes you need to don a disguise just to get a little peace. Nothing can change your look quicker than a beard. Unfortunately, Edward’s -- I mean, Robert’s -- beard looks awkward on his boyish face and drains away his usual good looks. A perfect disguise, indeed!

All Images: Getty Images