167 Tips and Resources: Cheap (and Surprisingly Good) Wine! Free (and Surprisingly Thoughtful) Christmas Gifts!

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Also, tips on getting both your cable bill and holiday shopping under control, and a resource for locating that ever-elusive perfect place to raise your kids—safe, affordable, good schools, the works.
4 tips for keeping holiday spending under control. Shopping with a list is good, but it’s also essential to keep a list of what you’ve already bought. Why? If you don’t, here’s what could happen:

Tricia Richards, 46, of South Abington Township, Pa., says she’s forgotten purchases in the past and fears she’s guilty of it again this year.

“Of course, I’ve lost track of some things I’ve bought already,” says Richards, a self-employed public relations person. “My biggest overbuying surprise has been the stocking stuffers and Advent calendar items. When something costs just a few bucks, it’s so easy to rationalize another purchase.”

4 recommended cheap red wines. Including Dancing Bull Zinfandel by Rancho Zabaco, which starts at a mere $6 a bottle, described as:

An intense California blended wine that consistently appears on wine critics’ and consumer product review sites’ best buy lists. This wine pairs well with a wide range of food, from most types of cheese to moderately seasoned fowl and red meat (sometimes even bar-b-que).

4 steps to reduce your cable bill. This should probably be your first move, as it’s the most painless. Ask yourself:

Are you actually watching your channels? What channels do you actually tune into on a regular basis? If you’re paying for channels that you almost never watch, eliminate those extra channels from your bill. It’s silly to spend $15 a month on a cable channel that you watch for a couple hours every few months – you might as well just buy the movie on DVD at that point.

4 pieces of advice for planning a wedding—from an economist. Acceptance of this truth goes a long way:

One party will be more willing to work on the wedding than the other. Contract in advance for a method of disagreement resolution, not just on the details of the wedding. Get ready for the fact that one person cares less about the wedding than the other and realize this is not the same as caring less about the marriage.

4 ways to stop gorging on gratification. If you make a game of it, this one can be fun (or torture, but in a productive way):

Multiweek buying fast. The idea is to see how long you can go without spending any money beyond necessities.

5 offbeat ways to try to sell a house. Here’s a fascinating one—and one to try if you’re selling, or to mount a defense for if you’re house hunting—recommended by a real estate agent:

During open houses, Ms. Wells will often have chocolate-covered strawberries on hand.

“As stupid as it sounds, it really helps,” she says, mainly because it keeps people from running out the door.

5 reviews for “of-the-the-month” gifts. What may seem like a no-brainer of a gift idea may prove to be of no use whatsoever. For instance, the kitchen gadget of the month:

The gadgets themselves were flimsy disappointments: A cheap “Bakeware Buddy” plastic-slicer, an Oxo wire cheese cutter that appeared well-made but did not exactly fill a gaping hole in my cabinet, and, worst of all, two plastic 23-pound-turkey brining bags, at once incredibly specific and incredibly useless.

6 stupid things customers do when they have a service problem. For instance, don’t take anything a company says to you personally, in a good or, more likely, bad way. Why?

The more dispassionate your case can be stated, the better your chances of success. Take a few deep breaths and wait before responding to an e-mail. If you’re writing (a good idea, as I’ve already mentioned) then ask a friend to review your email before clicking the “send” button.

7 guidelines for a non-consumer Christmas. Invite the Grinch over for a 4 a.m. play date on Christmas morning. Or consider trying things such as a gift swap with other parents:

“You could do a gift swap where people get together, bring the toys that aren’t being used, and swap,” Katy [Wolk-Stanley of thenonconsumeradvocate.com] says. “You’d have to make it an evening without kids, which has its own benefits!”

8 ways to fix holiday spending problems. When the problem is you’re inclined to do a little self-gifting in the course of buying for others, the solution is:

Just…don’t. … If you didn’t need it and/or plan to buy it, it’s not saving – it’s spending.

8 tips for careful car buying. Rather than focusing solely on the monthly payment, do what you can to limit the loan term. Here’s why:

Most cars depreciate on a daily basis, so don’t drag it out. Limit your loan to 48 months or less. You can do that by saving up and making a larger down payment. This will also help reduce what you spend on interest. If you have to stretch the loan out to afford the monthly payment, you are probably spending too much on the vehicle.

8 timeless tips for resisting the upsell. Most importantly, do your research and figure out what you want ahead of time, so you’re armed with info that’ll help you sidestep anyone from talking you into something you don’t want:

Many people go to a restaurant because they are hungry or walk into Best Buy because they would like a new TV. The more prudent buyers know that they actually want a nice rib-eye steak because of its flavor, or that they want a LED TV from Samsung for Christmas.

10 great Christmas gifts that won’t cost you a dime. Here’s one for those who are young (and likely, unemployed) to give to folks who are sorely in need:

Gadget training. If you have less tech-savvy people on your Christmas list (i.e., anyone over the age of 15), give them something they desperately need — training for their gadgets. Show them all of the features of their cell phone, how to record their favorite shows on their DVR, etc.

10 things not to buy for Christmas. One example is linens, and not only because they’re totally boring gifts, but because it’s better to:

Wait for “white sales” in January before buying sheets, blankets, towels and more. The tradition of department stores discounting linens in January started back in the 19th century. Now, even some catalog retailers follow suit, offering deals in their issues that come out at the beginning of the year. Look for discounts ranging from 10% to 60%.

10 overused words on LinkedIn. No matter how “motivated,” “innovative,” “dynamic,” and “entrepreneurial” of a “team player” and a “problem solver” you are, take it easy on certain words and phrases, which are overused to the point that they make readers’ eyes glaze over. Here’s the full overused list:

1. Extensive experience
2. Innovative
3. Motivated
4. Results-oriented
5. Dynamic
6. Proven track record
7. Team player
8. Fast-paced
9. Problem solver
10. Entrepreneurial

20 things that will be more expensive in 2011. You knew about health insurance and college tuition, which are always more expensive every year. But chocolate and coffee and fast food dollar menus?! Here’s why you’re likely to pay more for some sweets:

There is a veritable chocolate crisis going on in the world, and that has as much to do with global finance as it does to do with weather. Cocoa is at a 30-year high and demand is only growing. Expect to see fancier presentations even of basic chocolate — meaning smaller boxes for bigger prices.

50 most affordable and family-friendly places to raise your kids. BusinessWeek’s list focuses on towns and small cities with good schools, low crime rates, and a reasonable cost of living. Everyone of these communities also hands out jobs immediately to new residents (kidding—don’t send angry letters to local chamber of commerce, or to me). Here’s a town on the list that I love, though I don’t live anywhere near it, in Montana:

A small city in Big Sky country, Bozeman is a mix of ranchers and artists, skiers and hunters. Bozeman has amazing outdoor recreation opportunities within spitting distance, from mountain biking to hiking to soaking in Bozeman Hot Springs. With quality schools and the campus of Montana State University in town, Bozeman has become a destination for tourism and a great place to settle down and raise a family.

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