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Great gifts for outdoor enthusiasts

Best holiday shoppers make lists, stick to a budget

The holidays are almost here, and shopping is on many of our to-do lists. The average person expects to spend $749 on holiday-related items this season, up $9 from 2011, according to the National Retail Federation.

Before venturing into the stores or going online, there are many things to consider, including staying within your budget and staying safe.

"Take advantage of sales to make planned purchases, but leave other items on the shelf," said Jessica Cecere, regional president for nonprofit consumer credit counseling agency CredAbility, West Palm Beach, Fla.

"Don't let the thought of getting a 'deal' cloud your judgment. Impulse purchases can create holiday debt that you will pay for well into the new year and beyond," Cecere said.

Tips for shoppers

Make a list and stick to it. Having a list of the people you need to buy for and a budget for each person is a great way to make sure you don't overspend. Jot down ideas ahead of time.

Plan your shopping before you leave the house. Use newspaper circulars and the Internet to plan your trip. Take a look at sale ads for Black Friday, at websites such as www.theblackfriday.com and www.bfads.net .

Shop before the big sales and avoid the Black Friday crowds. Many stores will refund the price difference if the item goes on sale within a few days of purchase, but this policy may not apply to all Black Friday specials.

Get a jump-start by shopping online now. There may be sale prices or free shipping offers, and there's still plenty of time. Deals for "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving, can be found at www.cybermonday.com .

Compare prices by using sites such as www.pricegrabber.comwww.bizrate.com and www.nextag.com . Look for coupons to save on in-store and online purchases at sites such as www.couponcabin.com or www.dealcatcher.com .

Don't window shop. This leads to spending more than you planned.

Don't take along credit cards. Studies have shown that people who use credit cards to buy gifts spend an average of 30 percent more than people who use cash.

Don't make impulse purchases. Do your homework and make sure something really is a deal before making the purchase.

Keep receipts. Make sure you know the return policy for all of your purchases.

Don't make unnecessary purchases. Talk to friends about not exchanging gifts or setting a limit on spending. Many families draw names in order to have one person to purchase for, or limit gifts just to the children.

Be safety conscious

In addition to being cautious with your budget, you want to be safe while shopping.

Here are some of the best safety tips from Consumer Reports, law enforcement agencies and other sources.

Don't carry a large purse. Some experts recommend a small purse with a long strap that goes across the opposite shoulder. This enables you to keep your hands free and also keep the purse close to your body. Keep your purse closed.

Keep your wallet in a front pocket. If you dine at the food court, don't sling your purse on the back of your chair. Don't put it on the floor. Men, keep your wallet in a front pocket.

Shop with a friend. There's usually safety in numbers.

Park near the store's entrance and be aware of your surroundings. If you must shop at night, ask mall security to escort you to your car.

Instead of making one big shopping trip and making repeated trips to the car to store purchases in the trunk, break up your shopping into smaller trips. This is less stressful than an all-day pilgrimage.

Safety experts advise against carrying a lot of cash and recommend using credit cards or check cards.

This conflicts with the money-saving tips above. Use common sense. Don't flash a huge wad of cash. Be discreet.

Carry only the necessities, such as your ID and the credit cards you will need. Don't ever carry anything with your Social Security number on it.

When leaving the store, be alert. Look around. Don't stop to talk to anyone. If someone appears to be following you, go back to the store and ask that security be contacted.

Area fighters boxing to benefit vets

Enjoy the holidays without blowing your budget

The holiday sales have landed in your inbox, mailbox and newspapers. Whether it's holiday travel discounts or deals on the must-have toy, temptation lurks everywhere and it will only heighten as we get deeper into November.

Black Friday is no longer a post-turkey day highlight. It's right there with the pumpkins and scarecrows. With so much pulling at you, it can be challenging to make it a festive rather than frustrating season. To keep the stress level low and the smiles wide, adhere to some fast and true strategies this time of the year, said Patricia Stallworth of Johns Creek, Ga. Stallworth is a certified financial planner and author of "Minding Your Money." She also hosts the squeezeyourmoney.com blog.

She shared seven strategies to enjoying the holidays without blowing your budget:

1.  Start with a clearly defined budget. The holidays can impact several parts of your budget, from food to gifts to possibly even travel, so come up with a total budget in each of the categories. If you are really concerned, set up envelopes for each category like food, gifts, etc. Put the allotted cash in each envelope and stop spending when it is empty.

2.  Develop a plan. Keeping your budget in mind, plan your activities, gift lists, and other forms of celebration -- from menus for entertaining to stamps for cards. Use your plan to create shopping lists for each category.

3.  Get creative. Ask your family to draw names so you can cut down on the number of gifts you need to buy. Make gifts like cookies or craft items, and give "your time" gifts, like washing the car, cleaning and babysitting.

4.  Always shop with your list. The decorations and sale signs are tempting so don’t let them distract you from your appointed mission. Also, consider layaway programs.

5.  Get back to the real meaning of the holiday season. The holiday’s are all about families. Instead of spending all of your time in the malls or online, plan low-cost activities that the whole family can participate in.

6.  Give to charity. Giving to charity warms you twice. Once when you give it and again at tax time when you deduct it.

7.  Start a savings plan for next year. While it’s still fresh in your mind, add up all of the extras you needed for the holidays, divide that amount by 12, and start a 12 month savings plan for next year so you can enjoy the holidays without worrying about busting your budget.

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Thinking about getting a bunny for Easter? You may want to think twice

  • Still think buying an Easter bunny for your child is the right choice? Remember these tips:
  • Do your research. Rabbits are a lot more work than most people expect and temperaments vary by breed.
  • Plan to be in it for the long run. According to the Columbus House Rabbit Society, rabbits can live to be 12 years old.
  • Spay and neuter your rabbit. It makes him or her less aggressive and eliminates behavioral problems that arise with rabbit puberty.
  • Rabbits are considered exotic animals, so regular vets might not know much about them. Take your rabbit to an exotic animal vet immediately after you buy it to make sure it's healthy and to learn how to care for it.
  • Dietary indiscretion is the biggest problem Brauer sees in rabbits. Feeding rabbits brightly colored vegetables and treats found at pet stores can cause health problems. Green vegetables and pellets are best.
  • Rabbit treats should rarely be carrots. Rabbits love bread, Cheerios and oats, too. They're also healthier for them.
  • Rabbits have sensitive digestive systems. If baby rabbits eat lettuce, they can get life-threatening diarrhea.
  • Rabbits require different diets for each stage of their lives. Talk to your vet to decide what is best for your bunny.

It's Easter morning, and children everywhere are squealing with delight at what they've found in their Easter baskets.

Rabbits. And they're not the chocolate kind.

It seems like a classic holiday scenario, but becoming the owner of a live rabbit requires more research and preparation than expected to make the situation healthy for everyone involved — from child to parent to bunny.

Dan Brauer, an exotic animal veterinarian at the South Dayton Veterinary clinic, says that parents usually don't put the necessary thought into buying rabbits for their children.

"They go to a pet shop and see this cute bunny and buy it on impulse for their kid," Brauer says. "They buy the bare minimum and soon the rabbits come down with health problems — these problems are preventable, but people don't want to invest in it."

The health issues range from respiratory diseases to gastrointestinal diseases to warbles — maggots that burrow tunnels under outdoor rabbits' skin and can grow up to two centimeters long. The vet bills grow at a similarly astonishing rate. Brauer says they sometimes amount to hundreds of dollars.

"I do have clients come in and say, 'I never thought I'd pay this much in doctor bills,'?" he says.

Jill Gannon, owner of Glory Acres Rabbit Tree in Eaton, says she stopped selling rabbits at Easter 10 years ago.

"I don't typically sell rabbits for Easter because when people do that, it's an impulse buy and they call me back after a month or so asking if I want the rabbit back," she says.

While Gannon says rabbits are not as time-consuming as dogs, they still require proper daily care. Owners need to prepare to spend time every few days cleaning the cage or the animal will begin to smell. Daily feeding and handling also is required.

Gannon thinks keeping rabbits indoors is much safer because the animals are sensitive to temperature changes and the elements. When keeping rabbits inside, however, she recommends caging the animal instead of letting it roam free throughout the house.

"I don't recommend rabbits having full run of the house because then you have the issue of chewing on things," Gannon says. "Females especially are very territorial – they think they own the whole house and then they start nipping because they're protecting their space."

This temperamental behavior is why Brauer cautions parents against buying Easter bunnies. He says rabbits "aren't always the easiest to handle for little kids. They don't bite very often, but they kick and scratch and get nervous because of how kids pick them up. Then the kids don't want to take care of them anymore and they start to smell bad."

Gannon holds similar viewpoints on the matter.

"Rabbits, when they've had enough, they've had enough — very few rabbits I've ever seen will lay in your lap for hours and hours," she says. "I think that's a misconception people have."

She compares rabbit personalities to dog personalities — they vary by breed. Researching typical temperaments before you buy can eliminate any surprises hopping up unexpectedly.

Rabbits suffer because of these surprises they spring on uninformed owners. According to the Humane Society of the United States, rabbits are the third most common animal brought to shelters in the United States and are not adopted often enough. Because of this, many rabbits are euthanized.

Brian Weltge, executive director of the Humane Society of Greater Dayton, says the society has a waiting list of people wanting to turn in rabbits.

"It's not a huge influx, but we do see a lot more action with bunnies in the Easter time frame — either people interested in them or turning them in," he says. "And rabbits do not find homes as quickly as dogs and cats."

Because the Humane Society of Greater Dayton limits its rabbit intake, it keeps its supply of rabbits relatively low and allows the society to send homeless rabbits to pet stores instead of euthanizing them. This, however, still leaves many rabbits without homes. Brauer says he takes in unwanted Easter bunnies and finds new homes for them, too.

Because of these issues, the Columbus House Rabbit Society started a "Make Mine Chocolate!" campaign to encourage a better understanding of rabbits as pets. They distribute educational literature and sell pins that look like chocolate rabbits to draw attention to the Easter issue.

When it comes to rabbits as pets, knowledge seems to be key. And despite the Easter issue, owning a rabbit can be a rewarding experience.

"They can be incredible pets," Weltge says . "I just think people don't do enough research in looking into what it's going to take to care for a rabbit. Like many other animals, young bunnies are very cute ... but as they become older reality sets in."

Let your kids express their creative side with Easter egg decorating

Decorating eggs for Easter is an annual rite of spring. But more than that, you're making memories that will last a lifetime.

 

It's a good time to think outside the box of prepackaged egg decorating kits.

So clear the table, spread out the newspaper and raid your craft cabinet. With a little help from some area artists, let's get creative:

Alice Tavani, an art teacher with Centerville schools, offers these suggestions:

• Brush watered-down glue on the egg and dab it with crumpled tissue paper. "The tissue paper bleeds and leaves a neat texture," she said.

• Scrub an old toothbrush in watercolor or poster paints, aim it at the egg, then strum your thumb over the bristles. "The paint will splatter a fine mist like spray paint on the eggs. Have fun layering different colors," she said.

Debbie MacPherson, events coordinator for Michael's crafts on Springboro Pike in Miamisburg, has a number of quick, easy egg-decorating tricks:

• Rubber bands: Wrap the egg in rubbers bands before dying. For multiple colors, dip the egg in a light color and, when dry, remove some of the rubber bands and repeat with a darker color.

• Bubble wrap: Coat bubble wrap with acrylic paint, then roll the egg over it. (Note: Do not eat eggs colored with acrylic paint — these ones are just for show.)

• Aluminum foil: Crumple and uncrumple a sheet of aluminum foil. Coat the foil with acrylic paint, then set the egg in the center of the foil and loosely wrap it. Gently press the foil against the egg, then remove the egg and let it dry.

• Sponge painted eggs: Place hard-boiled or blown eggs in egg cups. Partially fill paper cups with different colors of tempra paints. Clip a piece of sponge to a clothespin and dip into paper cups, using the clothespin as a handle. Lightly dab the sponge over the top half of the egg. Let dry. Turn egg over and repeat procedure. Let the egg dry completely. If using blown eggs, spray with acrylic spray for a permanent finish.

Jane Black, director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center, liked to decorate and use plastic eggs for hiding when her kids were small.

"I would assign a group of colors for each kid and glue on everything imaginable – plastic snakes, pom poms, pieces of old costume jewelry, etc. I would also write things on them in colored glue. Bonus: the colored glue is fun to peel off!"

As an easy decorating technique for young children, Black suggests using a crayon to draw designs or words on eggs, and then dip the eggs in the dye.

The crayon wax can remain on the egg, or adults can place the egg in a 200-degree oven for a few minutes, then wipe off the wax with a paper towel.

For older children, MacPherson suggests drizzling rubber cement over an egg, then dipping the egg in dye. For more than one color, dip the egg in a light-colored dye and allow it dry completely. Then drizzle with rubber cement and dip it in a darker color dye. When dry, peel off the cement.

MacPherson also suggests these alternatives to store-bought egg dyes:

• Crepe paper dye: Soak crepe paper in hot water in individual bowls or cups for each color. Add eggs and allow them to sit in water until the desired color is achieved. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow to dry. Polish with a small amount of cooking oil and soft cloth.

• Food coloring dye: For each color, measure one-quarter teaspoon food coloring in a small bowl. Add three-quarters of a cup of hot water and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to each color. Add eggs and allow them to sit until they are the desired color. Remove with a slotted spoon. Polish dry eggs with a small amount of cooking oil and soft cloth.

Contact this writer at carol.rini@gmail.com.

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