Tag Archives: gift certificate

His & Hers Gift Guide – What They’ll Actually Use


This time of year, I’ve been getting a lot of searches that link to this post from last year: Top 5 Gifts for the Hard to Buy For Person Who Has Everything. I want to offer up some more gift ideas this year. But I don’t want to give away my surprises of what I’ll be gifting.

Instead, I thought I’d create a different kind of list.

Part One – His

If you read last year’s post, you’ll know that my shopping for my husband is very difficult. He usually just buys what he wants when he wants it. And no matter how much thought I put into them, the gifts I get him end up in a drawer or on the shelf in the closet. So, instead, the HIS GIFT LIST will include items that Rob has either bought himself or has been given, but that he uses all the time.

Part Two – Hers

Here you will get a my Christmas Wish List. No, this is not a post to get what I want for Christmas. Besides, probably only one person I’m exchanging with actually reads this blog. And I’m pretty certain my mom is done with her Christmas shopping already. ūüėČ Instead, it’s just a list of things, that if offered to me this holiday season {or any old time}, that I would not turn down! It’s meant to give you ideas for women you may know like me.

Let’s start with the guys, since they seem to be the hardest to shop for, right? For additional ideas, please read Running with Racheal’s post from last year.

Great Gifts for Guys

{aka items Rob uses ALL THE TIME}

  • Smartphone – His iPhone is the one gift that Rob thanks me for throughout the year. He doesn’t know now, how in the world he ever lived without it. The thing is, it was a surprise a couple of years ago. He didn’t even know he’d want one. Because of the never-ending thank yous, it’s the gift that keeps on giving!
  • iPhone Wallet – Rob bought this for himself within the last year and it’s made his life so much simpler. When getting ready for work in the morning, he no longer has to go in search of his wallet and his phone. It’s all together now. He found his on eBay and there are several styles. His is pictured below. He gets compliments all of the time. They are cheap, too!
  • Extra iPhone Chargers – Rob found these cheap online, too. I never strayed away from my one charger that came with my iPhone. But once we got extra, it made life so much easier! I can’t tell you how nice it is to have one in my car, one to keep in my suitcase or carry-on, purse, one for the office and the living room. Rob keeps one at work, too. It was handy when we left one behind on vacation to have extras on hand. Only downfall: When we finally upgrade to iPhone 5 or later, we’ll have to buy all new ones. But no matter, these were seriously cheap.
  • Flashlight(s) – Laugh all you want, but whenever we need a flashlight we can’t find one. This year, a friend of ours put flashlights in our golf tournament goodie bags. Of course, they were meant to keep in our golf bags to look for lost balls. But since we are too lazy to look for them are such good golfers, we use them around the house. Now, if we had about 5 more of those…
  • Lounge Pants – I don’t know about you, but we live in comfy pants over the weekend. That is, until we leave the house, of course. We’ve received lounge/sleepwear pants for Christmas a couple of times and now I don’t know what we’d do without them. They come in many styles. Rob’s collection includes Guinness and ESPN lounge pants, among others.
  • Packer/Wolverine Gear – You can never have enough gear to cheer on your team. Just make sure it is the size, style and fit that your recipient likes. I’m just sayin’, when I get him this kind of stuff, it always gets used!
  • Hammock – Once upon a time, Rob bought a hammock from Hammocks.com. And on any beautiful day in the spring, summer and fall, I come home to him reading, relaxing or napping in that thing. The dogs join sometimes, too! We bought our friends, who invite us up to their cabin every year, one as a thank you gift. It’s a priceless gift, really. It may be hard to think about when it’s so cold, but that’s why they are on sale today! We recommend the Quilted Island Bay with metal stand. Rob’s tip: Get coupons and promo codes when shopping online by typing in “Hammocks.com Coupon” instead of just “Hammocks.com” to save extra dough!
  • Dinner out – Rob nearly always takes me out to dinner, so it’s a special treat when I buy. Sometimes, I’ll make my own little certificate stating such {as I explained in this post} or what restaurant I’m planning on taking him, like I did for his birthday one year.


Great Gifts for Gals

{aka gifts I would Graciously and Gratefully accept}

  • Socks – Not kidding here. As it grew colder this fall and I had to put the sandals away, I found that many of my socks were either missing a sibling or developed a hole. I’ve thrown away quite a few. I like fun, funky socks, but they can be hard to rotate within the wardrobe and Rob isn’t a fan. So even just comfortable black socks will do!
  • Turtleneck Sweaters – Are these out of style? I’m having such a hard time finding nice ones! I’m a freeze baby. So in the winter, I like warm sweaters. When I’m trying to overcome Pirate Eyes in the early, black a.m. of winter, I don’t want to have to think about my outfit before work. I want to put on a warm turtleneck sweater and dress it up with a scarf. DONE. Solid colors are best… and timeless.
  • Alligator Clips – This is the name Rob gave to a hair clip I used to rely on all of the time. I’ve lost it since our trip to California this fall and just feel LOST. I am all about low maintenance when it comes to my hair and rarely use a hair dryer. I used to twist it and put it up with my alligator clip when wet. Later in the evening or the next morning, I can wear it down without having to do very much with it! We’ve search stores everywhere for more, but just found them online under other names – beak clip, Japanese clip, concorde clip. There are lots of colors and styles to choose from!

Beak Clip

  • Opolo Mountain Zinfandel – This is one of our favorite wines, but it’s not really priced for everyday. So it’s a treat when we get it!
  • Davis Family Vineyards Pinot NoirGuy Davis knows his Pinot. I never actually liked Pinot Noir until I tasted his at his tasting room on a trip to the Russian River Valley. You can’t find it in stores, so you’ll have to order some. Might as well get a case while you’re add it. Your life will be transformed.
  • Davis Family Vineyards Wine Club Membership – Hell, why not just join the club? I did join the Davis Family Vineyards Friends and Family Club after that trip, but canceled when we needed to buckle down to buy our house. I should just get back in this club and swear never to buy a cheap bottle again and savor every drop of this wine. Quality over quantity, right?
  • Other Wine Goodies – I love this post by grapefriend, with some unique wine-related finds. In particular, I’m intrigued by the wine2go flask and the rewined carmenere candle.
  • Champagne – I love me some bubbly. But it’s extra special to receive a bottle of real champagne!
  • St. Germain – This elderflower liqueur is one of my all-time favorites. I haven’t met a cocktail I didn’t like when it’s made with it.
  • High Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil – At one point, we bought a Groupon to join an olive oil club. Each month for three months, we got high quality, expeller pressed Italian olive oils! We didn’t continue because it took us all year to use them. The third bottle is almost empty, so we’re in the market for more. I also love this idea of adopting an olive tree and receiving the olive oil produced from it.
  • Cheese of the Month Club – Um. I’m from Wisconsin. I’m a Francophile. No brainer.
  • Fruit of the Month Club – I’ve always wanted this! Fresh fruit delivered to my door every month, yes please! I’ve been eyeing the Arizona Orange Company for two years now…
  • CSA Share – I absolutely adored my CSA box in the summer! But it just proved to be too much food, even split with a friend. They had solo shares this year, but were more basic and sold out right away. If you want to give someone a CSA share, make sure the pick-up location and window is doable for them.
  • Donation to a Cause I Support/Admire – Like a Pet Rescue or Shelter, such as Homeward Bound, where I found Sophie almost 9 years ago and the Carver-Scott County Humane Society, where we found Shamrock this year. When friends of ours refused to let us pitch in for the timeshare and rental car when they invited us to join them in Hawaii, we donated to the Marine Mammal Center in support of the endangered Monk Seals on the island of Kaua’i. We were lucky enough to see them there.
  • Packer Gear – Can never have enough!
  • Packer Tickets – Hey, I am getting higher up on the waiting list; but if anyone can spare a pair, we’ll take ’em! {We support our team during winning AND losing seasons!}
  • Gourmet Coffee – I’m always willing to try a new brew.
  • Tickets to Evita – I love musicals and Evita will be in Minneapolis this year. I loved the music in the movie and have never seen it performed live.
  • Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake – Laugh if you must. I had a roommate with whom we bought these for each other’s birthdays! The Bonus is that the two of us shared it, so we both got to pick away at it All. Week. Long. It’s been years since I’ve had one, though, so maybe my tastes have changed. Wouldn’t hurt to find out!
  • Gift Certificates – I know some people think that these are impersonal, but I love them. They say to me, “I know you like to shop here, so pick out what you want!” or “We really loved this place and thought you might like it, too.” I also like to save them to use as fitness or weight loss rewards. Here are some great places for which to receive gift cards:
    • Sul Lago – Our favorite restaurant “South of the River.” The very first time we visited, we saw about a dozen or so people come in to order gift certificates at the bar!
    • Restaurants – We like to dine out, so any place we haven’t tried, under our Restaurant Impressions Wishlist will do. Otherwise, we always like to try other people’s favorites, so recommendations are welcome.
    • Kohl’s – I don’t buy clothes very often, but when I do it’s because I need something. Kohl’s is close and familiar. I like to save gift cards here as rewards to myself. I’ve found a lot of good deals on workout gear here, too!
    • Barnes & Noble – I don’t have a Kindle or Nook. I still read real books. But I really think B&N gift certificates are good for travel guidebooks. We love to travel. If you know someone is traveling somewhere, buy them the most current guidebook. Or, they can walk right into a store and flip through guidebooks to see which ones suit them best.
    • Spa – I don’t know any girl who wouldn’t appreciate a spa day or to choose their own spa treatment. Just a pedicure can do wonders.
    • Movies – We don’t go to the movies often, but when we do, we ask ourselves why we don’t do it more!
    • Car Washes & Oil Changes – Okay, this one sounds really impersonal. But truthfully, I hate spending money on this kind of stuff myself. So having a card to just use whenever it is needed would be so wonderful.
    • Amazon Gift Card – Well, because you can use it for ANYTHING!

All I truly need for Christmas is health, love, spending time with family and reconnecting with old friends.

However, sometimes we just fret over that perfect gift for a loved one. So I hope these his and hers lists inspire you with ideas for the rest of your shopping this year. Or sit down and make out your own list. You might just come up with something for someone else!

What is a gift you wouldn’t turn down?

Did this post give you any ideas for someone else?


Top 5 Gifts for that Hard to Buy for Person Who Has Everything


Yes, we all have at least one of them on our gift lists. That person that you rack your brains over every year to find them a gift that they’ll actually like and use. If you’re lucky, you might find one that they’ll adore.

Gifts for that Hard to Buy for Person Who Has Everything

Believe it or not, my husband is hard to shop for when it comes to gifts. He thanks me politely and then the gift ends up on the shelf in a closet or in a drawer for an indeterminate amount of time before it disappears. That is so frustrating! The problem is that {as Racheal mentioned here}, when men want something, they tend to just buy it for themselves. It turns out, my attempt to be creative usually backfires on me.

A couple of years ago, I finally found the perfect gift – one that he loves and that keeps on giving:

an iPhone

It worked out perfectly because I am the one that handles our cell phone account. Plus, it was something he never knew he wanted. To this day, he still thanks me for this gift.

However, unless you are buying for your spouse or adult child, you probably aren’t going to buy anyone else an iPhone.

Instead, I’m thinking of those people that you may not know as well or those people who seem to have everything, or people like grandparents who are older and don’t want/need more stuff. With this list, I sincerely hope you find that aha! gift for that seemingly impossible person to buy for on your holiday list. If nothing else, maybe this list will spark an idea for something perfect!

Here are some items I’ve come up with over the years and are in no particular order:

1) Gift Card

  • I know some people who hate giving these. They feel that they are impersonal.
  • However, I love receiving them! I often wait to use them as weight loss or NSV rewards!
  • They are perfect for teenagers!
  • Think iTunes, sporting good stores for athletes, craft stores for the crafty, a unique store online that you found, an electronics store for the techie. Or just think about where your gift recipient often goes.
  • I know teachers who say they love getting $5 Caribou Coffee and Target gift cards that they can actually use.
  • And you’d know I’d accept a gift certificate to any restaurant just to try it out. {The first time we went to Sul Lago, there had to be over a dozen people who came in to get gift certificates. And this was before Thanksgiving!}
  • Not sure which gift card to get?
    • Many grocery and other stores have stands with all different types of gift cards in many denominations. Check out the stand to be inspired with ideas.
    • Do a search on line. Just Google: X {Gift Recipient hobby} + gift card.
  • This is what makes the gift certificates personal:
    • “I know you love to do this/these types of things! So pick out something you really want!” or
    • “I know you love this place and will use this!” or
    • “I thought of you because I love this place and thought you’d like to try it out.”

2) A Photo Canvas {or other photo gift}

  • My friend Stacy swears by the photo canvas deals on Groupon and other daily deal sites. You send in or upload a photo and they convert your photo to canvas. Your favorite photograph becomes a work of art you can hang on the wall. With all the traveling I love to do, I plan to pick out favorite from a trip to canvas-ize.
  • Grandparents love photo memories. A photo book or calendar you either create yourself or online will do the trick. {Note: I am NOT a scrapbooker, so I love using websites like Snapfish.}
  • If you are in to giving ornaments, consider a photo ornament.¬† I know people who give their children an ornament each year with the year printed on it so that by the time they leave home, they’ve got not only their own collection of ornaments, but also memories. A photo that depicts that year for someone or a memory of the two of you is a great idea.

3) Subscription boxes

  • I know, I’m addicted to these right now. But, really, but who wouldn’t want one?
  • If you love or want to learn more about wine, would you turn down a Wine Club gift subscription? I didn’t think so.
  • Two of my current favorite subscription boxes are:
    • Birchbox – Beauty, grooming and lifestyle products for women and men! Check out my latest box and review here.
    • Love with Food – Gourmet Food Samples. Each month your box ships, a meal is donated to a hungry child. Check out my latest box and review here.
  • Need a gift for a pet or pet parent? Check out BarkBox – my pooches LOVE IT! Latest box and review here.
  • Or how about a magazine subscription? There are so many unique ones out there now. Do a search online. Just Google: X {Gift Recipient hobby} + magazine.
  • There are also gift subscriptions for olive oil. We’ve done this before and have found exceptional quality!
  • And this Wisconsin girl would never turn down the gift of a Cheese of the Month Club!

4) Experiences

  • This is my favorite category! I’m talking things like:
    • Plays or concert tickets.
    • Cooking Classes – Twin Cities peeps: I’d recommend Saga Hill, Kitchen Window and Local D’Lish.
    • Spa Day – I don’t think I know of one woman who wouldn’t want this.
    • Or any experience that makes you think of your recipient! Like the Beer Trolley Tour I’m taking my husband on this weekend as part of his birthday box!

5) Your Time

  • This is one of the best and most cherished gifts you can give.
  • People who love you, but don’t really don’t need more stuff would love to spend more time with you!
  • Get tickets to a play or concert that you both love.
  • Take them to a movie, a trip to their favorite restaurant or do something together that you know they love to do, but don’t get to do that often.
  • Buy tickets for the event, or just create your own coupon that states something like:¬†“Coupon good for: A Trip to Izzy’s Ice Cream”. I suggest putting an expiration date on it so that they will redeem it ASAP. (Although you don’t have to adhere to that expiration, of course.)

What’s the most unique gift you’ve given?

What ways have you given experiences or times to loved ones?

Happy Holidays~

The Power of the “Groupon”


I use the term Groupon rather loosely.

In fact, I use it to describe all dining deals that we buy and use, just like one calls a tissue Kleenex, whether it is that brand or not. So my apologies in advance to all of these Deal Sites that are just as worthy.

Not sure what a Groupon is?

Well, where have you been?! These are deals posted daily that allow you to get half-price or more off of gift certificates to restaurants, salons, gyms, spas, services, etc. For example, restaurant XYZ may have an offer where you can buy a $50 gift certificate to their restaurant for only $25. And boy do these gift certificates hold a ton of power!

What’s the catch? Well, you generally can’t combine them with any other offers, specials or promotions. However, the purpose is to bring you into their restaurant by a specific date. {The promotional value almost always has an expiration date, although the value that you paid for the certificate never expires.}

We love these deals! And while I’ve read some arguments on how they can do more harm than good for businesses, I think it is up to the restaurant to decide where they want to spend their advertising dollars. Because that is what the deal truly is – advertising. People become more aware of these businesses whether they buy the deal or not. For example, I received an email announcing a deal for the Amsterdam Bar and Hall. However, I forgot about it after I got busy doing something else and never decided to buy it. Still, I had never heard of this new establishment before and it intrigued me. So the next time we were in downtown St. Paul, we decided to check it out. And we did. The advertising worked.

That’s Power #1 of the Groupon: Introducing me to new places.

Power #2: Getting me there sooner than later. There are several establishments on our restaurant bucket list that we’d really like to try soon. However, our list of Groupons is extensive and we want to use those up before they expire. Sorry, La Belle Vie, while we do have a grand desire to try you out,¬† you are on the back burner for now. By buying a Groupon, I’ve essentially already invested in a meal there and I’ve committed to them for redemption!

Power #3: Exposing me to different neighborhoods. Living in a south of the river suburb of the Twin Cities makes it easy to frequent the same nearby places when we want to grab a quick bite. But a Groupon often draws us to other parts of the Twin Cities which we may have never visited otherwise. We are quite the fans of Northeast Minneapolis now! We even have a few places in St. Paul where we’ve become “regulars”.

Do you really buy that many of these, Carrie?

And how do you keep track of them all?

Why, yes. Yes, we do. We have over 30 pending right now. And yes, we use them all before they expire. I do want to offer you some key tips on how to decide which ones to buy {and when to pass}, how to organize and use them before the  promotional period expires and how to use them to splurge a little. {The following tips refer specifically to dining deals, but you can use similar techniques for spa, fitness, household and other deals as well.}

There are so many! Which ones do I buy?

First, sign up to receive the daily deals in your inbox. A list of deal sites in the Twin Cities can be found here. You can set up a “junk” email address, if you’d like. I have an email address that I use when I sign up for newsletters, deals, offers, and when I buy something online. That way, they don’t clutter my regular inbox. However, I do check this email once or twice a day.

If the deal appeals to you, click on it and study the following:

  • Location – Would you be willing to drive to this location?
  • Expiration Date – Check your calendar. Do you have time to get to this location before the expiration date?
  • Menu – Go to the restaurant’s website. Check out the menu. Does anything appeal to you? If not, there is no reason to buy it! A deal has no value if it’s not something you’ll use. {For example, I won’t buy deals from Italian restaurants that only offer spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan and fettucine alfredo. They don’t impress me.}
  • Have you been there before? If not, just buy ONE deal. Nothing’s worse than finding out that a place wasn’t as you had expected and then being stuck with another gift certificate to use there. On the flip side, ff you’ve been there and love the place, only buy as many as you can fit into your schedule before the expiration date.
  • Look at the fine print and exclusions:
    • Most deals state that you can’t use them in conjunction with any other offer or promotion. That’s normal and makes sense for the restaurant’s benefit. However, if you love to go to a place for their happy hour and aren’t excited about anything else on their regular menu, the deal may not be worth it to you.
    • Does the deal exclude alcohol or particular dishes? Some do. When a $50 gift certificate is good for food only, it’s sometimes hard to get to that amount when it’s just my husband and me. To be sure, go back to the menu and check the pricing to make sure you’d be able to spend enough to cover the gift certificate.
    • Some deals are only good Sunday through Thursday. If you can’t get to the other side of town on a weeknight, don’t buy it!
    • Check when the restaurant is open. Sundays and Mondays are the days of the week many restaurants are closed. Make sure that the restaurant is open on the day and during the hours you are planning to visit. Keep in mind that some restaurants serve only brunch on Sundays, too.
    • Is there a minimum purchase? While I don’t see this much with many of the daily deals such as¬†Groupon¬†or¬†Living Social, it is quite common on Restaurant.com. For example, you might need to spend $35 or $50 in order to use your $25 gift certificate. Again, analyze the menu.

Keep your deals organized!

Some people keep track of their deals on their phone with apps for each deal site. I need all of my Groupons in one place. We print out each deal as soon as they become available and put them in an accordion file:

Deals filed by month to use the ones expiring first!

We keep our file o’ deals locked in my car. That way, if for some reason we don’t do our homework and we find a place is closed {we learned this the hard way!} or we want to pop over somewhere else, we can just thumb through our trusty accordion file to see what we have available.

Use your deals before they expire!¬† {They aren’t deals otherwise.}

  • I keep a spreadsheet. Yes, I’m geeky like that. My spreadsheet includes the name, location, dollar amount, exclusions and expiration date. I keep them sorted by expiration date. However, if I want to use one in a particular city, I can sort that way, too.
  • Use those that expire soonest first. {Both the spreadsheet and file accordion file help with this!}
  • Schedule them on your calendar! We like to put the date we’d tentatively like to visit, but include the expiration date in case we need to change. Some prefer instead to put a reminder on the calendar about a month or two before they are about to expire. Again, remember to watch for holidays when the deal may not be valid and days that the restaurant may not be open.

There are some fun ways to use your dining deals!

  • Dining deals can make your night out seem much less expensive, especially when giving a new place a try.
  • If you normally would order a sandwich, you might want to use your deal to order some higher priced options such as steak or seafood.
  • You could use it to add an appetizer or try a more expensive bottle of wine. My sweet spot for restaurant wines is between $30 – $45. However, when my friend Ceci and I dined at Solera, we got a $65 bottle of Spanish wine when our server’s description had us drooling. We had a $25 gift certificate and since we are fellow wine lovers, splurged in the right place. We found one of our favorite restaurant wines ever! That bottle and that night out is unforgettable.

And of course, always tip on the pre-discounted total of your bill. Your server isn’t working any less for you and gratuity is not included. We try to leave our tips in cash whenever possible.

Dining deals can be worth it if you devise a system for buying and organizing them. Organization is key. In fact, we have at least two¬†Groupons¬†per week “scheduled” in our calendar through the end of July. I’m a geek. I know. But it’s fun. And it works.

What do you love about Groupons and other dining deals?

How do you use them?