Category: Tips

Twenty Favorite White Elephant Gift Swap Ideas Under $20 That You’d Want to Receive!

One of my favorite fun games at holidays parties is the white elephant gift swap.  However, in the past few years my friends and I have gravitated towards gifts that people would actually WANT rather than gifts that people don’t want since I hate spending money on a gag gift that would get thrown away when the night is over.

I was just discussing gift ideas with a friend and I thought I’d blog them since I always seem to scramble for gift ideas when I’m in a time crunch!

White Elephant gifts you'd actually want!
White Elephant gifts you’d actually want!

Gift Ideas


If you’re going to a party with girlfriends, makeup is always a hit.  Though makeup can get expensive really fast, here are a few ideas that are budget friendly.

Too Faced Beauty Blogger Darlings

Tocca Handcream Trio

Nail Polish


There are tons of great budget friendly kitchen items that are also gift friendly too.  Here are a few of the ones I’ve tried in the past.

Cutting board

Cast Iron Skillet


Tea towels

Wine Charms

Cake Pedestal

Food and Drink

Sharing a favorite gourmet food or drink item is usually a hit.

A box of your favorite tea and a tea ball (my favorite is Genmaicha!)

Gourmet hot chocolate

Travel Mug


Here’s some ideas if kids are involved as well.

Puzzles (big kids and for little kids)

Board or Card Games (a fun party one)

Puzzle Games (one of my faves)

Hand or Finger Puppets

Odds and Ends

Here’s a few ideas of things that didn’t fit anywhere else!

Mini Speakers


Christmas Ornament

Bracelet or Earrings

Where to Shop

While you can always shop online, if you’re just buying 1 small thing shipping costs can add up quickly.  I find that going to places like TJ Maxx or Marshall’s is a good place to find budget friendly gifts.

There are also a number of retailers who have a list of items that ship free without any minimum purchase. Here’s links to each one:

Sephora – everything on this page ships free with the code HOLIDAYSHIP

Pottery Barn Kids Ornaments – all ornaments ship free

Nordstrom – all purchases ship free

Crate and Barrel – everything on this page ships free

Target – everything ships free if you have a Target RED card


Getting Deals with Amex Sync

One of the great benefits of being an American Express card holder is that they have a ton of great member benefits like the Amex Sync program.  By connecting your American Express to your social media account such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or TripAdvisor, you can access special discounts at stores like, Neiman Marcus or Forever 21.

Amex has released some great promos recently such as an offer for a $50 statement credit when you make a $200 purchase at Neiman Marcus, or a $25 statement credit when you make a $75 purchase at Amazon.

With Facebook, to sign up you visit the Amex Link Like Love app and click on the appropriate offer.

American Express Sync - Facebook Offers
American Express Sync – Example Facebook Offers

With Twitter, you sign up by tweeting the appropriate hashtag such as #AmexAmazon. Typically within a few minutes, you’ll receive a response tweet from @AmexSync saying that you’re signed up for the offer and they’ll include a link to the offer terms and conditions.

American Express Sync - Twitter Offers
American Express Sync – Twitter Offers

After you make your purchase, you will receive an email thanking you for participating in the offer and that your purchase is being reviewed to make sure it meets the requirements for participating in the offer.  Amex says these statement credits will appear on your statement within 90 days of purchase but in my experience they are credited sooner than that.

I love that American Express is coming up with new ways to keep members engaged with their products and making each card earn its spot in my wallet.  I personally have the Costco True Earnings card and Blue Cash Everyday card. These cards are great for everyday spending (I earn 3% back on gas, 2% back on restaurants/travel and 1% on everything else on the Costco card, and 3% back on groceries, 2% back on gas/department stores and 1% on everything else on the Blue Cash Everyday card).

Have you sync’ed your American Express card?  What offers have you taken advantage of?

Btw – American Express is not an advertiser on this site. I’m simply an extremely happy customer!

Vacation Essentials with a Baby

Packing for a vacation with baby is never easy.  I’d like to share what we learned from going on our trip to Mexico.  I am hoping this post will help other parents embarking on their first beach/pool/hot weather vacation!

Sun Protection

If you’re going to be out in the sun, you need to protect baby’s delicate skin!  Our pediatrician did not recommend any sunscreen for babies under 6 months old so please check with your baby’s doctor for their recommendation.

We consulted the EWG Sunscreen Guide which rates sunscreens on effectiveness and toxicity of ingredients.  We chose the BabyGanics Cover-Up Baby Sunscreen, SPF 50+ which is very highly rated on the EWG Sunscreen Guide and is fairly inexpensive.  It has a hazard score of 2 which is considered a low hazard item.  The best score is 0, and worst score is 10.  Be aware that the commonly sold size is 6 oz so you won’t be able to bring this in a carry-on bag.

BabyGanics Cover Up Baby Sunscreen (Approx $9-10 at Amazon or Target)

We also brought along a hat with a strap since our little one tends to rip hats off her head.

Bug Protection and Treatment

Since we were attending an evening wedding, we had issues with mosquitos the night of the wedding.  I got absolutely eaten ALIVE!  I think the problem was that I was sitting in front of the wedding lights which were attracting tons of bugs.  In the first 5 minutes sitting at the dinner table, I got about 10 bites on my legs and feet!  A friend got bitten so many times her ankles swelled up dramatically!  Thankfully, my little one did not get a single bite.  Also thankfully, one of the other moms was prepared with an organic bugspray that was safe for babies.  My friend with the swollen ankles quickly ran to the hotel convenience store to get some anti-itch cream.  Fortunately, they had something.  Unfortunately, we didn’t recognize any of the ingredients.  I really wish we had brought our own supply of hydrocortizone that our doctors have told us is safe for breastfeeding and for babies.  I took the risk and used a bit of the topical gel on my bites but I am just glad I didn’t have to decide whether or not to use that questionable gel on my daughter.  Next time, I’ll be packing the hydrocortizone that I know is safe for her.

Pool Essentials — Toys & Diapers

A friend brought along their baby spring float toy and this thing is a lifesaver for playing with babies in the pool!  Since our 1 year old doesn’t know how to swim yet and can’t use a regular donut pool float, this made it really easy for her to sit and enjoy the pool while mom and dad splashed around her.  Without this, we would have to always have 1 arm around baby.  By using the pool float, we could stay within arms reach, but still have our hands free.  This is one reason why we love hanging out with other parents — we always seem to learn something new from them!

Baby Spring Float ($13.95)

To hang out in the pool, you’ll also need a supply of swim diapers.  Swim diapers will contain your baby’s poops, but not pee… so don’t put them on until you’re ready to jump in the water!  You may have a warm accident otherwise 🙂  We use Pampers disposable diapers though there are lots of great reusable swim diaper options as well.  The nice thing about the Pampers ones that we use is that the sides tear away.  I think several of the reusable options also have this feature.  Friends have told me that they recommend the Charlie Banana brand.

Charlie Banana Reusable Swim Diaper ($11.98) – How cute is this heart on the tush?!

Food and Snacks

Our little one is eating table foods now, though we still like to give her puree pouches since she still can’t chew crunchy veggies very well yet.  For breakfast, she ate eggs and banana off my plate.  For lunch and dinner, she would eat cut up chicken and beef and puree pouches.  All of that was available from the resort.  We also brought puffs and dried fruit bars with us.  She really enjoys Happy Baby Organic puffs and Ella’s Kitchen Nibbly Fingers Bars.  There was no problem bringing any of that with us into Mexico.  The other baby we shared with seemed to enjoy these as well.

In Case of Emergency

One thing that I truly hope no parent experiences is a medical issue while on vacation.  Not only are you worried about your little one, you are now faced with dealing with it without your regular pediatrician and perhaps in a foreign country with medical professionals speaking a different language.  A friend gave me this tip long ago that I hope that you’ll find useful as well–bring baby tylenol and a thermometer with you on all your trips!  You don’t want to be trying to find a store that sells this in the middle of the night when your baby has a fever.  Also, don’t forget to bring the information that lists the proper dosage amount!  Our pediatrician provides us a leaflet that lists dosage amount of tylenol by the weight of the baby.  I keep a copy of this on my phone, though I should really keep a printed copy tucked in with the bottle of tylenol as well.

Did I miss anything from my vacation essentials list?  I’d love to hear your opinions!

Shutterfly Photo Book Reviews and Tips

I wanted to shift gears a little bit and do a post on photo books, even though they are only tangentially related to shopping.

In the past few years, my husband and I have been fortunate enough to be able to take 1 big vacation each year… and sometimes more than 1.  Among other places, we have been to England, Italy, France, Peru and India together!  We love traveling together and we always take lots of pictures to remember the amazing things we’ve seen and experienced.

Once I come home, I try to assemble a photo book in order to tell the story of our trip.

Over the years, I’ve created 15+ photo books for vacations, our wedding and for our baby’s birth.  I still have to do one of her first year!  That is a big project that I haven’t had a chance to tackle yet 🙂

My Photobook Library
My Photobook Library – All but 2 are Shutterfly books

The company that I used for most of my photo books, is Shutterfly.  I love the finished product and their software is top notch.  There are several choices of sizes and cover materials but I usually stick with either the 8×8 size or 8×11 and hardcover.  I’ve also ordered a softcover book before, and recently got a 12×12 book as well.

Cover Choices and Quality

Shutterfly offers several choices for hard covers: glossy, matte, padded, cloth, leather and premium.  I’ve only ever ordered the glossy hard cover and the cloth hard cover.  They also offer a softcover matte book which I’ve also ordered in the past.  Hardcover glossy is their standard finish–hardcover matte is an additional $5.00.

Shutterfly Hardcover Photobook Glossy Cover
Shutterfly Hardcover Photobook Glossy Cover

The glossy cover has a full bleed (meaning, the photo reaches the edges and wraps around so that there is no border).  You can also choose to write something on the spine of the book and place photos on the back.  There are many design choices for the covers and you can choose any number of photos in the various templates.

Shutterfly Cloth Hard Cover Photobook
Shutterfly Cloth Hard Cover Photobook

The cloth hardcover book has a die cut window where a photo is displayed.  Keep in mind this is not a die cut into the first page of your book.  The photo is actually mounted between the cover and the endsheet.  You can see in the below photo.

Cloth Hardcover Window Photobook Interior
Cloth Hardcover Window Photobook Interior

Both styles of covers have a nice textured endsheet pasted between the cover and the first page of your book which is a bit glossier than this endsheet.  The backcover also features the same endsheet material.

Softcover books do not have any endsheet as they are bound a little differently.

Page and Photo Quality

Shutterfly only has 1 weight for pages, but they are nice and thick.  The pages are glossy and colors look vibrant on the page.  Photos have always printed out nice and clear in the book as long as the original image uploaded was of high enough quality.

Shutterfly Hardcover and Page weights
Photobook pages
Photobook Pages
Photobook Pages

A new offering is layflat pages.  I haven’t had the chance to order this type of book yet.  The photos above show the standard pages which do not layflat.  Layflat pages is available as a premium upsell when you order your book.  The additional cost for my book was $25.00.

Software and Design Choices

The design software is Shutterfly’s strongest suit.  There are 2 modes you can choose from: Custom Path and Simple Path.  I always choose custom since I want to be able to decide where my photos go and what the pages look like.  To be honest, I’ve never done Simple path — this is where Shutterfly lays out all your photos in the book for you.

In Custom Path, first choose a theme for your book such as “travel” or “baby” or “family fun”.  This will establish the look and feel for the design elements.  You can then storyboard your book, meaning decide how many & which photos you want on each page and the software will auto-layout the page.  There are many templates for each page, grouped by the # of photos each template supports.  For instance, if you wanted 2 photos on a page, there are templates for showing 1 dominant photo and 1 smaller one, or 2 square photos, or 1 horizontal and 1 vertical, etc.

At this point, I usually make sure I’m happy with the layout, background and any embellishments that Shutterfly has added for me such as borders, stickers and other design elements.

The software allows you complete control over the # of photos per page, where they are located, how big each photo is, where each text box is, how big the text is, etc.  It’s extremely flexible.

Shutterfly automatically inserts a logo on the last page of your book.  You don’t have any choice in the matter.  (It’s the same with all the Shutterfly cards as well).  It would be nice if you could opt out of the logo, but I think almost all photobook companies insert their logo somewhere in the book.

Shutterfly logo page
Shutterfly logo page

Shipping & Customer Service

The book comes packaged in a clear bag within a bright orange cardboard mailer which protects the book well.  I’ve never had any issues with dinged corners so far.  They typically include a coupon for your next order as well.

Shipping and customer service are probably where I’d like to see Shutterfly improve.  Shipping seems to be done through “UPS Mail Innovations” which is a UPS + USPS program.  UPS delivers to my local post office and USPS delivers “the last mile” to my house.  It is extremely, extremely slow.  Add to this that production of the book takes 2-3 days.  From time of order until time to receipt of the last book I made, it was 8 business days.  I’ve experienced up to 11 days in the past!  Yikes!

I sent mail to customer service a few years ago letting them know how I was dissatisfied with how slow the delivery was (and that it missed their promise date) and all I got was a form letter telling me where to find their shipping guidelines.  Nothing annoys me more than receiving a canned response that doesn’t even address my problem.  I hope that they have improved in this regard since that time, but I haven’t had any complaints since then.

Promotions and Pricing

Shutterfly always has a sale.  This both makes me very happy and infuriates me!  It seems like there are always promotions so you never should pay retail.  You can enter in all of the special codes to your heart’s content and it will apply the deals that work for the items in your cart.  You are generally able to stack 1 “dollar off code” (e.g. $10 off your purchase) with 1 “percent off” code (e.g. 30% off photo books).  The shipping coupon (usually free shipping with purchase of $30 or more) is calculated after all discounts have been taken.  There are often free items being offered, with just shipping being charged so when you’re making an order, it is worth checking to see what you can get for a nominal increase in shipping costs.


I’ve been a happy customer of Shutterfly for 5+ years now.  They have outlasted several competitors which they’ve acquired.  After trying other photobook companies, I think Shutterfly’s software makes it easy to create a book to your specifications while still keeping it easy to use.

3.1 Phillip Lim for Target is a huge hit!

The 3.1 Phillip Lim for Target collection launched today and it was a huge hit!  The handbags and accessories sold out very quickly online and I heard that the bags were the first to get cleared out at stores as well.

This video shows how crazy it all got so I’m glad I did my shopping online.  I was refreshing the page over and over waiting for the bags to show up on the site and around 1AM PST, they finally all showed up!

I ordered several styles and I am eagerly awaiting their arrival next week.  Based on my experience last night, I have a few tips for shopping the next big Target designer collaboration.

  1. The collection will launch sometime after midnight online.  Don’t expect the items to instantly show up at midnight!
  2. Check Twitter for the official hashtag.  A few links to items were posted on Twitter before I could find them on the Target site by clicking through the category page (e.g. Handbags).
  3. Target imposed limits on how many items each person was allowed to purchase.  In this case, it was 5 items from the line and 3 of the same item.  So if you’re planning to purchase many items, you’ll need to split your orders up.
  4. Make sure your credit card information on file is correct to help speed up checkout since items can disappear from your cart at any time!

Did you score anything in store or online?  I’ll be sharing photos of what I got next week!