TIME Food & Drink

9 Surprising Ways to Save on Wine for the Holidays

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Here are some of the best bargains

When it comes to wine, the best plan for holiday entertaining is to buy it by the case. Wine stores typically offer a 10 percent discount—sometimes more—when you buy 12 bottles (some stores also allow you to mix and match, so you don’t have to buy 12 bottles of the same wine). Here are some of the best bargains from my recent tastings; a case discount will make them even more wallet-friendly.

2012 Alamos Chardonnay ($9)
There are surprisingly deep flavors in this full-bodied, inexpensive Chardonnay—and some darkly spicy notes, too.

2013 Veramonte Chardonnay ($10)
A touch of smoky oak gives some depth to the juicy tropical fruit flavors of this Chilean Chardonnay.

2013 Bellingham Citrus Grove Chenin Blanc ($13)
Crisp tangerine-pineapple fruit defines this South African Chenin, which also has a nice savory edge.

2013 Nine Hats Riesling ($15)
Lime marmalade flavors matched with stony mineral notes make this lightly off-dry Washington Riesling surprisingly complex for the price.

2012 Paul Mas Estate Marsanne ($15)
The white Rhône variety Marsanne makes full-bodied wines typically with peach and pear notes; this Languedoc version uses a little oak aging to add a toasty note on the finish.

2013 Raventós I Blanc Silencis ($15)
The renowned Spanish sparkling wine producer also makes a tart, lemony white from the local Xarel-lo grape; a wine that will make you think of summer while in the dead of winter.

2013 Cara Nord Blanc ($16)
A blend of Macabeo, Chardonnay and Albarino from a high-altitude vineyard in Spain’s Conca de Barberá region—fresh grapefruity flavors, a touch of salinity and yet some appealing richness as well.

2013 Boschendal Chardonnay ($16)
A peachy, zippy South African Chardonnay made entirely in stainless steel; on the refreshing side of the Chardonnay spectrum.

2013 Martínsancho Verdejo ($17)
Juicy and zesty, this white from north-central Spain’s Rueda region comes from a family that’s been making wine for centuries.

This article originally appeared on Food & Wine.

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MONEY

5 Ways Scammers are Targeting Last-Minute Holiday Shoppers

The baddies perpetrating these crimes ought to get coal in their stockings. But if you're not careful, they might get your money instead.

In the final days before Christmas, holiday scams are haunting shoppers once again. As you finish buying the last of your presents, watch out for these Scrooge-like schemes:

1. Feast of the phishers

Email scams in particular have been making headlines this season. They even earned a spot on the Better Business Bureau’s list of holiday scams to avoid.

“Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or break into your computer,” the BBB warns. “Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS, Federal Express or major retailers with links to package tracking information.”

Also, be wary of any communications received from charities to which you’ve never given money.

To outwit these scammers, don’t open any emails from senders you don’t recognize, and definitely don’t click on any links or download any attachments in these messages.

And if you get an email from a particular retailer and you haven’t recently made a purchase (or signed up for the mailing list), assume that it’s a phishing attempt and don’t click through just in case.

2. $0 gift cards

Gift cards may seem like the perfect gift, but they can also be the perfect scam.

Sometimes, cards that are sold online from sites other than those of major retailers can turn out to contain little or no money.

But gift card scams abound in stores as well. Sophisticated criminals copy gift card information right off cards on the rack, wait for a shopper to activate the card and then swoop in and steal the funds.

For the safest possible purchase, buy gift cards directly from the source. And when buying in-store, remember to check that the scratch-off activation code on the back is untouched before purchase if the card was openly on display.

3. The doggie double-cross

You may be shopping for more than clothes and electronics this season. If you’re hoping to add a four-legged family member, you’ll need to be careful here as well.

In the so-called puppy scam, unknowing prospective pet owners locate a supposed breeder online and wire money for a dog they hope to adopt, but are ultimately left without a furry friend.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends avoiding such scams by adopting Christmas puppies from a shelter, animal rescue group or breeder to whom you’ve been referred by someone you trust.

4. Package pilfering

Ordering some of your gifts online?

The downside of convenience is that the pile of packages that arrives on your doorstep may be tempting to some unsavory sorts. Already people across the country—from Texas to New Jersey—have reported boxes being stolen.

To prevent becoming a victim of box burglars, you could require signature on delivery for anything you order for yourself and ask anyone you expect to be sending you things to do the same. You can ask the shipper to hold your goods at its local outpost, where you can then pick it up.

5. The wallet grab

Criminals may be getting savvier with their online schemes, but the traditional pickpocketing and smash-and-grab techniques still exist.

Crowded malls filled with frantic, distracted eleventh hour shoppers are a pickpocket’s dream come true.

So, as obvious as it may sound, make sure you take precautionary measures, such as holding your purse and/or wallet close to the front of your body, keeping all bags zipped and removing any purchases from plain sight in your car.

Courtney Jespersen writes for NerdWallet DealFinder, a website that helps shoppers find the best deals on popular products.

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TIME Culture

Christmas Cards Were America’s First Social Media

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Before we posted our family Christmas photo on Facebook, we mailed images of our idealized selves and lives to the people we loved

My great-grandmother, who was born in the 1880s, passed away when I was about 11 years old. Looking back, it is fairly obvious now that she was a hoarder on a colossal scale, but since this predated reality television, we tended just to say she was a packrat. As we cleaned out her house in rural Missouri, there was something special waiting: two boxes brimming with postcards. These were not of the “wish you were here” variety depicting washed-out hotel swimming pools and palm-tree-lined boulevards. These were older, more elaborate—variously embossed, gilded, tinseled, and extravagantly colored. They were greetings for birthdays and anniversaries, tokens of affection and romantic overture, and happy returns for every holiday on the calendar. Christmas, especially.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my great-grandmother’s collection would give me a window into the desires—and anxieties—of a world I would only later come to understand and appreciate as I pursued my doctorate in American history. Until I embarked on that journey, the cards often sat in the back of closets or under piles of other accumulated stuff. Still, every so often, I’d take them out, dust them off, and wonder at them anew. Once my long nights of historical study began, I returned to them more and more often, until they finally set me on a path of becoming a scholar of American holidays and culture, including the phenomenon of holiday postcards.

It turns out there was a good reason my ancestor had piles and piles of these rectangular cardboard artifacts. For a few years in the early 20th century, postcards were a massive phenomenon. Billions of postcards flowed through the mail, and billions more were bought and put into albums and boxes. And amid that prodigious output, holiday postcards were one of the most popular types, with Christmas reigning supreme, just as it had in my inherited collection.

The practice of sending Christmas cards pre-dated the broader postcard craze by several decades, largely thanks to the efforts of Louis Prang. Prang was a savvy printing entrepreneur who kept adding products and lithographic techniques to his ever-expanding business, including the introduction of Christmas greeting cards (perhaps at his wife’s suggestion) in 1875. By the 1880s he was publishing more than 5 million holiday cards each year. And once postcards fell out of favor, greeting card companies like American Greetings and Hallmark rushed in to fill the void. But for a few short years between 1907 and 1910, Christmas postcards created a visual conversation between Americans that was unique because it was also very public. They were in many ways a forerunner of today’s impulse to post selfies and holiday pictures on social media. Unlike a greeting card or letter that hides its contents within an envelope, a postcard was always on display—from the rack in the drugstore where it might be purchased to its final destination. And those billions of snowy landscapes and bag-toting Santas churning through the mail system—the Rural Free Delivery system in particular—revealed much of what was on people’s minds at the height of the Progressive Era.

Take mistletoe, for example. Mistletoe had long been part of the Christmas tradition, with young men using sprigs of the plant to claim the right to demand or steal a kiss. Yet this was an era when women were asking serious questions about their rights and questioning the assumed passivity of their lives in everything from courtship and marriage to education and work. This is why so many postcards feature a woman who has taken control of mistletoe, deciding when and where it will be hung, and when she will choose to be under it and for whom. Sure, the rowdy, sprig-wielding young man still shows up in Christmas postcards, but now he must contend with the “New Woman” who uses mistletoe as part of her new right to take the initiative.

Rural landscapes are another good example. On the surface, nothing seems particularly unusual about a Christmas greeting that features a little snow-covered house in the countryside. That sort of mythologized ideal has been around since before the Civil War, when Currier and Ives capitalized on rural nostalgia with their inexpensive prints. Still, rural and small-town America was far from a contented place in the first decade of the 20th century. Farm children seemed to be fleeing to cities in droves, with 1910 marking the last census of a majority-rural American population.

One reason billions of Christmas postcards circulated with nary a cityscape to be seen is that rural Americans were circulating an idealized vision of themselves. When times seemed tough, all those picture-perfect fields, barns, fences, and country homes became a way to create an alternative narrative—one that was beautiful, healthy, and prosperous. One could argue this instinct shares significant DNA with the practice of staging family photographs for Christmas cards, or for today’s Facebook postings. There is something comforting and empowering about controlling the visual elements of a holiday greeting to your friends and family. Those visuals are not just representing you but a perfected version of you, and your world.

These were also the years when the United States saw the peak of European immigration, particularly immigrants from Southern and Eastern European nations like Russia, Lithuania, Italy, and Greece. Partly as a reaction to this inflow, and its surrounding anxieties, people were eager to emphasize their longstanding roots in the country, as if to say “we came here generations ago, not yesterday.” Manifestations of this urge to claim native roots pop up in the period’s genealogical societies, colonial revival movements, and yes, holidays. An “Old Fashioned Christmas” is a phrase that appears with increasing regularity through the first two decades of the 20th century. It is also a repeated theme in Christmas postcards with plenty of “ye olden time” imagery of colonial homesteads, spinning wheels, lanterns, rocking chairs, muskets, and horse-drawn coaches.

The postcard fad ended when the best postcards—which were printed in Germany using superior lithographic techniques—were priced out of the market by a newly passed tariff in 1909. By 1910, interest was waning as American firms failed to produce postcards of equal quality. World War I put the final nail in the coffin. Yet whereas Halloween or Thanksgiving greeting cards never took off the way their postcard predecessors had, Christmas cards have remained an American tradition, if now dressed up in an envelope. Always a mirror of the times, popular Christmas card styles included Art Deco in the 1920s and patriotic cards during World War II.

Looking back, however, there was something distinctive about the old postcards. They put it all out there—hopes, dreams, worries, excitement, wonder, fear, pride, and more—for store clerks and mailmen, nosy neighbors and family members to see and read.

Certainly I wonder how my great-grandmother’s network of cousins, friends, and her future husband (who sent her plenty of courting postcards, including a few mistletoes of his own) picked the cards they sent. What appealed to them and why? As a kid my answer would have been “because they look cool,” but as a cultural historian I now look deeper for what might like beneath the surface. Like so many others who gravitated to postcards with an almost forceful passion, she was a young rural girl from a long line of rural Americans who saw the world changing quickly. Postcards were a way of dealing with those changes, some welcome I’m sure, and many not. Still, I do agree with my younger self … they were and remain pretty darn cool.

Daniel Gifford is the manager of Museum Advisory Committees at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. His first book, American Holiday Postcards 1905-1915: Imagery and Context, was published by McFarland Press in 2013. He wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a partnership of the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME advice

7 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

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Keep calm, carry on, and let go

It’s that time of year again. Between the endless parties and obligations, visiting with friends and family (and sometimes avoiding certain friends and family), not to mention navigating decadent table spreads and endless office baked goods, it’s no wonder we sometimes dread the holiday season. Rest assured, there is a way you can manage the inevitable holiday stress and glide to a new year with balance, poise, and at least most of your sanity in tact.

The key thing for managing holiday stress is to realize that we often can’t change the situations around us, but that we can change how we interact and respond in these situations. Which means, proper stress management starts with you…

1. Take care of yourself.

Know your limits. Make sure to get enough sleep, drink water, balance your eating (which of course includes a cookie or two!) and most important, keep your sense of humor handy. This is supposed to be a joyful season, full of good times and many laughs. Sometimes that means laughing at yourself.

2. Say no.

Thank you so much for the invitation, but we have another engagement.”

Now isn’t that a nice way of saying no? It’s likely that you won’t be able to–or want to–attend every party or engagement that you’re invited to, so here’s a chance to prioritize which ones you’d like to attend and politely decline (with appropriate notice) the rest.

MORE Merry Stress-mess: How to Not Go Crazy During the Holidays

3. Keep calm, carry on, and let go.

You’ve likely seen these “Keep Calm, Carry On” signs everywhere. As simple as they might seem, they’re such a good reminder. One of the best tactics for holiday stress management is to learn what you can control and let go of the rest. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the holidays overwhelm you. Keep calm in the moment by taking a deep breath, thinking before you speak, and remembering that whatever’s stressing you right this moment is not likely going to matter in one hour, or even one year. Keep your focus on the joy of the season and have fun.

4. Have a little grace.

As women, we put so much focus on small details and often lose track of the overall picture. I can bet you a nicely frosted gingerbread cookie that no one’s going to be focusing on those little details half as much as you are. Let go of control and have grace with yourself. Everyone forgets to serve a dish, or perfectly wrap some gift. Repeat mantra from above: “Keep calm, carry on.

5. Accept help.

Just like you don’t have to control everything, you don’t have to do it on your own. Let someone bring a dish to the dinner party, and then let your friends help you do the dishes when they meal’s over.

6. Get rid of useless worry.

There’s a difference between worry and planning. Trust that you’ll handle situations that might come up and focus on what’s truly in your control. Perhaps you could mentally walk through a situation that could be stressful and practice your response. Plan ahead what you can to minimize stress.

The last step for stress management ends with you…

MORE How to Prepare for the Holiday Vacation

7. Choose.

Everyone finds themselves in situations that aren’t preferable. Cue the awkward family dinner or significant other’s office Christmas party. In those uncomfortable moments, you choose your memories. How much fun you have is entirely up to you. You can focus on all the reasons why you’d rather be at home with some spiked eggnog in pajamas, or you can be present in the moment and make the choice to put forth an effort and find the good in your current situation.

So when you start to feel overwhelmed by too much family pressure or obligation, all the little details or overwhelming stress of presents and parties, remember that this is the season of joy. Trust that you can and will navigate holiday stress by taking care of yourself, setting and knowing your boundaries, and choosing how you respond.

This article originally appeared on Levo.com

TIME advice

The Dos and Don’ts of Giving Gifts at Work

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As long as your gifts stay professional and thoughtful, they'll be good to go

Should you or shouldn’t you? That’s the real question going through everyone’s mind at work, and we’re talking about gifts here, not whether or not you should have another cocktail at your holiday party. And if you decide to give your boss, coworker, guy friend, assistant, or book lover a gift, here are some tips so you do it the right way.

Do: Make a list, and check it twice.

Unless you’re working for a small start-up, chances are you probably don’t know everyone in your company; especially those who are in different departments. Even at work, purchasing a gift is a personal gesture. Don’t feel obligated to buy the girl in finance whose name you barely know a holiday gift. Consider getting gifts for people within your department that you interact with on a daily basis, people who you make small talk with in your cube area, and those co-workers-turned-friends who you vent to about office frustrations during after work happy hours. Many companies prohibit buying gifts for your boss or department head because it’s seen as trying to buy your way into a promotion. Depending on your work environment and relationship with your supervisor, feel free to purchase a gift for your boss, but make sure it’s on the less extravagant side.

Don’t: Exchange gifts in front of other coworkers who didn’t make your list.

Remember that girl in your 2nd grade class who only handed out Valentine’s Day cards and candy to select students? Don’t be her. While distributing your gifts, avoid broadcasting it in front of other coworkers that didn’t make your list. Although you only made purchases for a select few, you still want to keep the sense of inclusivity in your workplace and you don’t want to be labeled as the “clicky” girl in the office. Consider coming into work early and leaving gifts on people’s desks, or putting them in their office mailboxes if they’re small enough. You can also organize a holiday lunch or after work gathering to exchange gifts in a comfortable setting.

MORE How to Win and Have Fun at the Holiday Party

Do: Stick to a budget.

Before you go gift shopping for your coworkers, make sure that you set a reasonable budget. Your budget will not only steer you away from buying excessively expensive gifts for your colleagues, but it will also keep your finances in order so you won’t go broke and have to eat PB & J sandwiches for lunch for the first half of the New Year. Try setting a $10 budget for gifts. You’d be surprised what you can find; especially in that $1 isle in near the entrance of Target. Small and cheap gifts make for great stocking stuffers.

Don’t: Spend more money than you can afford.

Let’s face it; many of us aren’t on Oprah’s level, yet. Don’t feel obligated to go out and buy something that isn’t within your means just for shock factor among your coworkers. Chances are after buying gifts for your loved ones your bank account has taken a toll. You don’t want your coworkers to expect you to be the person to buy lavish gifts every year. Just because you’re not working with Oprah’s bank account doesn’t mean you can’t be in the Oprah-spirt; so for now, “You get a stationary set! You get a stationary set! Everyone gets stationary sets!”

Do: Buy a gift that shows thought.

Getting thoughtful gifts goes a long way. Take into consideration the things that your coworkers would truly appreciate. Making a small donation to a charity that they support is a great way to pay it forward by giving back. Also, keep in mind things that your coworkers need. Have a coworker who’s always complaining about how frigid the office is? Buy him or her stylish scarf. Have another coworker who’s always getting caught out in the lunch time rain showers. Buy them an umbrella. The options are endless.

Don’t: Purchase a gift that’s too personal.

Although you might look at some of your coworkers as friends, beware of buying gifts that are too intimate. Any Valentine’s Day-esk gifts are off limits; that includes perfume, flowers, and undergarments *clutches pearls*. Also, be sure to stay away from gifts that make your colleagues feel like they need to work on changing their looks. Gift certificates for hair salons suggest that they need a new style. Body wash and lotions might make them question their hygiene. Even though you’re purchasing a gift for someone else, it’s a clear reflection of who you are and what you think of others.

MORE How to Use the Holidays to Advance Your Career

Do: Include a gift receipt.

Although we might think our gift idea is epic, there are instances where someone has already beaten you to the punch and the person already has the item, it doesn’t fit, or they’re simply not feeling your gift. Make sure that you include a gift receipt so that you give the person the option of returning what you purchased.

Don’t: Be negligent of other people’s beliefs.

Although you might be in the holiday spirit and want to spread some cheer throughout your office, keep in mind that others don’t celebrate certain holidays. Avoid making your coworkers who choose not to celebrate these holidays uncomfortable or obligated to join in on the gift giving.

This article originally appeared on Levo.com

MONEY holiday shopping

11 Clever Stocking Stuffers They’ll Never Know Cost Almost Nothing

If you’ve ever struggled to get a good gift at the last minute and, like most Americans, ended up spending way too much as a consequence, do not fear. Here’s a list of $25-and-under presents that will impress with their (read: your) savvy—without putting a big dent in your wallet.

  • Citrus spritzer ($5)

    Citrus Spritzer
    Citrus Spritzer

    Whether the goal is keeping guacamole from browning, adding an even mist of lime juice to some (chili!) popcorn, or simply wowing guests, the Quirky Citrus Spritzer is pretty much the coolest gadget you can get someone for $5. Expert tip? Increase juice flow by rolling the fruit in question on a table for a minute before inserting the device—and spritzing to your heart’s content.

  • “Drinks are on me” coasters ($6)

    Set Of Four 'Drinks Are On Me' Coasters
    Set Of Four 'Drinks Are On Me' Coasters Karin Åkesson

    Get these charming furniture-protecting coasters from illustrator Karin Akesson for the pun enthusiasts in your life (or that friend who always picks the most literal responses in Cards Against Humanity). Or anyone, really: Who doesn’t love a good double entendre?

  • Clothespin clip-on reading light ($7)

    Clothespin Reading Light
    Clothespin Reading Light MoMA

    Like any unsung hero, this ordinary-looking clothespin doesn’t seem like much at first glance. But pin it to the corner of a book and it transforms into the (drumroll…) Clothespin Clip Light—casting extra light across text while holding pages in place. It’s a sweet stocking stuffer for bookworms and lovers of modern/contemporary art alike… and worst-case scenario, it can be used to hang laundry.

  • Tetris Jenga ($12)

    Jenga Tetris Game
    Jenga Tetris Game Hasbro

    If you thought Truth or Dare Jenga was bold, give Tetris Jenga a spin. This new take on the game has six different shapes that look like the ones you used to flip around on your Ti-84 instead of paying attention in math class. It’s a lot harder to pull a piece out, but destroying the tower is the whole point anyway, right?

  • Tablet “hands” prop ($16)

    TwoHands E-reader prop
    TwoHands E-reader prop Felix

    In the catalog of first-world problems, having to hold your iPad while you use it might be at the top of the list. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t an issue people want solved, and luckily for us, TwoHands E-reader prop is here to help. TwoHands not only props up your tablet so you can read or watch movies hands-free, but its cute little hands will make you smile.

  • Folding cutting board ($16)

    Folding Cutting Board
    MoMA

    Unless you’ve got knife skills like a ninja (or Jamie Oliver), it’s hard to keep all those darn veggie bits on the chopping board and off of the floor. MoMA’s Folding Cutting Board solves that problem with bendable sides that transform into a little chute to help keep chopped food in check and transfer pieces from one place to another neatly. It’s the perfect gift for friends or family members with culinary inclinations but a low tolerance for clean-up.

  • Personalized “magic” mug ($17)

    Walgreen's Magic Mug
    Walgreen's Magic Mug Walgreen's

    This Collage Magic Mug from Walgreens lets you add text and up to 15 custom photos to a mug—with a fun extra twist: Those images appear only when the cup is filled with a hot beverage. Whether you lean more sentimental or silly, a personalized gift like this is likely to mean more than the typical holiday present. One playful idea? Photoshop images of you and other friends so it appears you’re “trapped” in the mug.

  • Smartphone gloves ($20)

    Agloves smartphone gloves
    Joe Coca

    Unless you live in a naturally perfect climate, you might be familiar with the winter misery of trying to type on your smartphone with the useless icicles you once called fingers, as freezing sleet and wind whips around you. Enter Agloves smartphone gloves. Yes, there are even cheaper versions out there, but deep discounts come at the expense of quality and touch-screen responsiveness. These sleek puppies give you the equivalent of BMW performance at Hyundai prices.

  • Foodie Survival Kit ($20)

    Restoration Hardware Foodie Survival Kit
    Restoration Hardware Foodie Survival Kit Restoration Hardware

    For foodies and flavor junkies who can’t tolerate a bland meal, this emergency Mobile Foodie Survival kit is a game-changer, especially while on the road (or camping). With 13 organic spices, your gift recipient can heat up a too-tame Tikka Masala or add herbal fragrance to a mopey pasta Alfredo. Plus, buying the kit supports a good cause: It’s assembled by disabled adults through non-profit Brooklyn Community Services.

  • 10-in-1 bartender tool ($22)

    Restoration Hardware Bar10DER
    Restoration Hardware

    We’re not going to say they’re the best part of December, but holiday cocktails are a delight, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. Hopefully those on your gift list understand the truth, because you won’t find a better gift than this Bar10der tool from Restoration Hardware. Whether one needs to muddle some rosemary, zest an orange, or strain ice, the 10 devices that pop out of this tool have got the cocktail game covered.

  • Dining Table Tennis ($24)

    Dining Table Tennis
    Dining Table Tennis Restoration Hardware

    Here’s a scenario: It’s day two of your family’s holiday celebration. Cookies have been eaten, presents opened, and Netflix queues depleted. Everyone’s trapped together and there’s nothing left to distract from food comas (and bickering relatives). Enter Dining Table Tennis, a kit with all you need to turn your dining room table into a ping pong battlefield. It burns more calories than Scrabble and gives your loved ones something fun to do—even after all the wine is gone.

MONEY Holidays

Who Do You Tip Around the Holidays?

The mailman, the haircutter, and the doorman: Who do you tip? What do you give? MONEY's George Mannes asks people in New York about their annual tipping tradition.

TIME psychology

How to Eat Healthy: 5 Easy New Tips From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You know you should eat healthier. But it’s not easy. Temptation is all around and willpower, well, isn’t.

The solution is in making better choices. Psychology. But most of the answers we hear aren’t legit.

So I called a guy who knows the real deal: Brian Wansink.

He leads food psychology research at Cornell University and the White House chose him to revise US dietary guidelines.

He has a great website and is author of two smart books on the subject of tricking yourself into eating better:

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

I posted about his work before but this time I wanted answers straight from the man himself. And, man, did he ever deliver.

What you’re going to learn in this post:

  • The easy thing to do while shopping that prevents you from buying junk food.
  • How to not fall for the tricks and traps of restaurants.
  • The 2 secrets to not snacking too much at the office.
  • How to stay disciplined at events and holiday gatherings — without making the host feel bad.
  • How superheroes can help you make better food choices.

Yeah, I said superheroes can help you eat better. Seriously. In fact, let’s start there…

Ask “What Would Batman Eat?”

Cookies calling your name? Ask yourself “What would Batman eat?”

Brian’s research showed this got kids to pick apple slices over french fries. Here’s Brian:

We found we could get kids to choose the healthier food much more often if we simply asked what their favorite superhero or their favorite princess would do. Even if they responded “french fries”, half the time they took the apple slices. It simply causes an interruption in their thinking that causes them to pause, hit the reset button inside their head and think again.

Sound crazy? Research really does show that thinking about fictional characters we love can help us make better decisions.

In fact, thinking about superheroes can even make you physically stronger. (I’ll be asking “What would Batman lift?” at the gym tomorrow.)

But some of you might be thinking, “He said that works for kids, Eric.”

Doesn’t matter. It’ll work for you too. Here’s Brian:

The same thing works for adults. If you’re faced with a decision like, “Should I eat dessert?” think of an admired person in your life. Say to yourself, “What would my cool friend Steve do?” You’ll find that about a third of the time it will be easier for you to make healthier decisions.

Ladies, feel free to envision Wonder Woman — unless you’re more the Catwoman type. (Hey, I don’t judge.)

(For plenty more awesome tips from Brian’s books click here.)

Okay, so you’re thinking about Batman when you eat. (I’ll bet you look dashing in a cape.) But the food war is often won or lost at the supermarket.

So what can you do to make sure you’re buying the right food in the first place?

Chew Gum While You Shop

Crazy, right? Believe it or not, a stick of gum in your mouth prevents junk food from entering your shopping cart. Here’s Brian:

We found that when people popped sugarless gum in their mouth it made them less hungry. It soothed cravings and some people even reduced how many snack foods they bought by about 90%.

Here’s the important thing to remember: not all gum is created equal. Go for sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Other kinds can actually increase appetite. Here’s Brian:

But one of the things we also found is that it can’t be sugared gum or even flavored gum because that can work in the opposite direction. The stuff that works best is sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Those are the two craving killers.

(For more on how the magic of gum can change your life — including make you smarter — click here.)

With superheroes on your mind and gum in your mouth you’re well on your way. But what about when you’re in a restaurant?

Now you need to think like a real estate agent: location, location, location.

Navigating The Treacherous World Of Restaurants

Watch where you sit. Did you choose a booth? You’re 80% more likely to order dessert and 80% less likely to order salad.

Sitting by the TV? You’re much more likely to order BBQ. Sitting closer to the bar? Guess who’s going to be drinking more than they thought?

Where are you safe? Head for a window seat. Here’s Brian:

People who sat in booths were about 80% more likely to order dessert than people sitting in a normal table and you’re about 80% less likely to order salad. People sitting near windows were much more likely to order salads. People sitting at tall tables were almost two to three times as likely to order chicken or fish. If you’re sitting within ten feet of a TV set you’re much, much more likely to order barbecue than not. If you are seated at a table close to the bar, on average, your table’s going to be ordering three more beers than the table that’s farther from the bar.

And those menus aren’t haphazardly thrown together. They are often marvels of psychological trickery.

Anything highlighted, in a box or a different font is going to catch your eye and you’ll be more likely to order it.

Be careful when reading the descriptions. Clever names and appealing adjectives make you 28% more likely to pick something. Here’s Brian:

Anything that’s in the corners or in a box or highlighted or in a different font or has an icon next to it has a huge leg up in its likelihood of being chosen. The description of a menu item has a tremendous impact not only on whether we’re going to order the item but also on how much we’re going to like it. In our research we found a real difference between calling something “Succulent Italian Seafood Fillet” instead of just “seafood fillet.” People are about 28% more likely to take it. And they’re also willing to pay about fifteen to twenty percent more for it.

So how do you find something that’s healthy and tasty? Ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” Here’s Brian:

If you want to get something a little bit healthier ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” You don’t want to say “What are your healthiest things?” because all she’s going to do is point at salads.

(For more of Brian’s advice on how to eat smart at restaurants, click here.)

So you’re good in the supermarket and at restaurants. But what about all that eating you do at work?

How To Stop Snacking At The Office

Keep two words in mind: distance and happiness.

As we’ve talked about before, distance is a big, big deal. You eat less when food is farther away and more when it’s closer. Here’s Brian:

People ate half as much if we simply moved the candy dish off their desk and placed it six feet away.

Simple barriers have the same effect.

As Dan Ariely said in my interview with him, when Google’s New York office put M&M’s in containers people ate 3 million less of them in one month:

Here’s an experiment that Google did recently. The M&Ms in their New York office used to be in baskets. So instead they put them in bowls with lids. The lid doesn’t require a lot of effort to lift but it reduced the number of M&Ms consumed in their New York office by 3 million a month.

So that’s distance. What about happiness? It’s important to understand the psychology of workplace eating.

When you aren’t having fun at work you often tell yourself you deserve to eat more because you’re working hard.

If you enjoy your job more (or have fun going out to eat with colleagues at lunch) you’ll find this happens less. Here’s Brian:

You see food as a reward you deserve because you’re doing something you don’t want to do. “I’ve been working all day so I deserve a snack” or “I deserve more to eat tonight at dinner.”

(For more on how to be happier at work, click here.)

And now we come to the most sinister and dangerous of all the scenarios: get-togethers, dinner parties and holiday gatherings.

Say “no” to food and you could insult the host… and that often turns into an excuse to binge. What to do? Brian has answers.

How To Avoid Gorging At Events And Holiday Gatherings

Here are the two tricks:

  1. Only eat the food the host prepared themselves. No chips, pretzels or stuff out of a box or bag.
  2. Take a tiny amount of what they prepared — but make sure to ask for seconds. You don’t eat much, but the host knows you liked it.

Here’s Brian:

Our research found that people ate 11% of their calories at Thanksgiving before they even eat dinner. The peanuts, the Chex Mix and stuff like that. One of the biggest reasons that people say they overeat at Thanksgiving is they don’t want to offend their host. So the easiest way to not offend your host and eat 10% less is just don’t eat the stuff that she bought at the store. And the second thing is that nobody remembers how much you take of something but they do remember whether you asked for seconds. So just take a little bit the first time but make sure you ask for seconds and that she hears you. All she’s going to remember is that you really appreciated what she made and asked for more.

(For more tips on how to handle eating at gatherings, click here.)

Armed with these tips you should be ready for anything. Let’s round them up and get more insight from Brian.

Sum Up

Brian’s great tips for healthy eating are:

  1. Ask “What would Batman do?” (Fill in the name of anyone you admire… though Batman is an excellent choice, in my utterly biased opinion.)
  2. Chew sugarless bubble gum or mint gum while you shop for groceries.
  3. At restaurants, be careful where you sit and watch out for menu tricks. Ask the server for popular lighter options.
  4. Enjoying your work and distance from food can prevent you from overeating at the office.
  5. At get-togethers only eat what your host actually prepared. Eat a small amount but ask for seconds.

Research shows we have a crazy relationship with food sometimes. But you can overcome a lot of this with simple deceit and trickery.

What makes this so much fun is that the person you need to trick is you.

Brian and I talked for a while so there are a number of other great tips that I’ll be including in my weekly email (including the one sentence that helps people stop overeating immediately.) Join now to learn more.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 145,000 readers and get my free weekly email update here.

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MONEY deals

Free Shipping Day Deals: Better Than Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

shipping box with confetti and styrofoam peanuts coming out of it
Sverre Haugland—Getty Images

Thursday, December 18, is Free Shipping Day, when more than 1,000 retailers are offering free shipping on all orders—and sometimes an extra 50% off on top of that.

Let’s be honest: Free shipping isn’t all that hard to come by. E-retailers are well aware of how exorbitant (or, for that matter, any) shipping costs are likely to cause online shoppers to abandon their virtual shopping carts before completing transactions, so nearly all merchants offer some form of free shipping—typically, when a minimum purchase threshold of $50 or $75 is met.

On Free Shipping Day, however, participating retailers agree to offer free shipping with no minimum purchase required, and the event is held one week before Christmas so that orders can be delivered by December 24. Still, let’s have another reality check: Many Free Shipping Day participants have offered free, no-minimum-purchase shipping on plenty of other days in the holiday season. Target has been doing this for two months, and stores such as REI are offering free, no-minimum shipping guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve on orders placed as late as 10 a.m. on December 23.

The point is that free shipping, while nice and all, is hardly the most unique and dazzling deal in today’s promotion-heavy marketplace. And free shipping alone shouldn’t make you pull the trigger on any old purchase.

The best deals for online shoppers combine free shipping with substantial discounts. Many retailers are pairing up across-the-board markdowns with Free Shipping Day promotions, and they’re presenting them as amazing, can’t-pass-up bargains. But are they? Below, we’re listing some seemingly impressive Free Shipping Day deals, and we’re comparing them with what these same retailers were offering on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other times during the holidays. Indeed, many are truly good deals—on par or better with what we’ve seen on other big sales days—but others just aren’t that special.

Here’s just a sample of today’s offers. As you’ll see, before biting on any Free Shipping Day deal, it’s wise to do some clicking around to investigate whether the promotions you see today are the same, better, or worse than what these retailers were offering days or weeks ago—and may offer again tomorrow.

Abercrombie & Fitch: Use code 15588 for 50% off everything plus free shipping—the same exact deal the retailer offered on Cyber Monday. Abercrombie offered across-the-board sales of “only” 40% off on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

American Eagle: Use code HOLIDAZE for 40% off everything and free shipping on all orders—the same exact offer promoted on Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday.

Children’s Place: Use code 25OFFER3 for free shipping on all orders, plus an extra 25% off sitewide—on top of sales marking down all merchandise by 40% to 60%; on Black Friday, by contrast, Children’s Place offered free shipping and a flat 50% off all merchandise.

Hollister: 50% off everything in store and online (use code: 35588), plus free shipping on all orders; Hollister also knocked 50% off everything on Black Friday, but shipping cost extra for customers who didn’t meet a minimum purchase threshold.

Lane Bryant: Free shipping and 50% off select merchandise such as pants, jeans, skirts, shoes, and boots (use code: SNOWMANLB), compared with free shipping and 50% off absolutely everything on Cyber Monday.

Levi’s: 30% off everything (through December 21) and free shipping (on December 18 only); occasionally, the Levi’s site is known for discounting all purchases by 40% off, but only on orders of $250 or more.

Sports Authority: Customers get 15% off nearly all merchandise and free two-day shipping for orders placed on Free Shipping Day; from time to time earlier in the season, this sports retailer has offered 25% off and free (standard) shipping on all orders.

Tommy Hilfiger: Use code TOMMY100 for free shipping on all orders and $30 off if you spend $100 or more; it’s not nearly as good a deal as the Cyber Monday deal of 50% off your entire purchase.

TIME Holidays

10 Super Last-Minute Holiday Gifts That No One Will Know Were Last Minute

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Getty Images

From a relaxing trip to the spa to a thrilling skydiving adventure, gift ideas for everybody on your list 

If you procrastinated on your holiday shopping or simply just forgot Christmas was a thing, don’t panic. We’ve got you covered with 10 ideas for gifts that a) do not require setting foot in a store and b) do not require paying any kind of expedited delivery fees.

Boom. Nobody will know you almost forgot to get them something this year.

1. Healthy snack box subscription: For a health food enthusiast or for that one person who’s always trying to eat healthier, send a monthly box of edible goodies. (Love With Food: $36 for three months; NatureBox: $40 for two months)

2. Netflix, Hulu or Spotify subscription: For that person in your life who is always mooching off your TV and music streaming services, just get them their own account. (Netflix: $47.94 for six months; Hulu Plus: $47.94 for six months; Spotify Premium: $59.94 for six months)

3. Museum membership: Great for an art, culture or history enthusiast who is always meaning to go to their favorite museum more often. (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City: $110 for one year individual membership; The Field Museum in Chicago: $85 for one year individual membership; Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles: $85 for one year individual membership)

4. Beauty product subscription box: For the woman (or man!) in your life who still hasn’t found the beauty products that work best for her (or him), give a monthly delivery of different serums, pomades, polishes and colognes to try. (Birchbox: $30 for three months for women / $60 for three months for men; Goodebox: $54 for three months)

5. Maid service: This might sound boring, but think about how great a gift this really is: allowing someone to start off the new year with a super-clean house that they didn’t have to clean themselves. (Molly Maid: Gift cards available starting at $100)

6. Charity gift card: Instead of giving someone a physical gift, it can be a great idea to donate to a cause in their name. If you’re unsure what cause they’re most passionate about, try giving a charity gift card. You can send it electronically, and then they can choose from a list of participating organizations. (CharityChoice: Gift cards available starting at $2)

7. A trip to the spa: For those people who really need to relax — but would never think to buy themselves a massage or facial. (Spafinder: Gift cards available starting at $25)

8. Skydiving: For the daredevil who’s always up for anything, or for the friend who always talks about wanting to skydive but hasn’t quite mustered the courage before. Find a skydiving center in your area and make sure to ask about holiday discounts. (Skydive Philadelphia: $149 Christmas special; Skydive Chicago: Gift cards available starting at $25)

9. Personal stylist: For the friend who recently started a new job and needs help finding appropriate attire — or who could simply use a hand finding more flattering clothing. Personal stylists from sites like Stitch Fix will mail five items they think you’ll like and you only pay for keep. (Stitch Fix: Gift Cards available starting at $20)

10. Taylor Swift’s 1989: As we all know, Taylor Swift’s newest album (or any of her music, for that matter) isn’t available on Spotify. So go ahead and purchase an electronic version as a gift for that friend who’s been meaning to listen to it — or for those other friends who insist they hate Taylor Swift, so you can try to change their minds. (iTunes: $12.99; Google Play: $12.49)

Want more ideas? Try last year’s gift guide.

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