TIME Saving & Spending

The Secret to Getting a Ridiculously Cheap Thanksgiving Flight

Aerial view of airplane
Stephan Zirwes—Brand X/Getty Images

Every travel agency is saying something different, but there are some tips that aren't up for debate

For years, travel search engines have scoured through their dense databases to determine the best day to book your Thanksgiving flights. This year, like every year, there’s a lot of mixed messages on what to do if you’ve procrastinated on booking tickets. Here’s what the big players are advising for cheap domestic U.S. air tickets:

  • Kayak: Book in early November, about two to four weeks before Thanksgiving.
  • Skyscanner: Two weeks prior to Thanksgiving.
  • Orbitz: This Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday. If not then, then before Nov. 18.
  • Cheapair: It depends on way too many things.

So what’s the takeaway? It’s better to be safe and book flights now, but you if you’re a risk taker, you can wait until the beginning of November to book your flights. But try not to wait until the week of Thanksgiving. It’s also important to weigh the risks of an unexpected fare hike in light of what your benefits of waiting actually are. These hyped “savings” are usually only about 5 to 10% less than the average fare, which amounts to $15 to $30 if your ticket costs $300.

In fact, since airline fares are notoriously difficult to understand, often the better question to ask is what not to do when you’re booking Thanksgiving flights.

Here are a few tips that travel search engines all agree on:

Don’t book a departure flight on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 26), or a return flight on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 30).

Airfares increase as flights get fuller, and the Wednesday and Sunday flanking the Thanksgiving holiday are when the most people are traveling. A simple airfare search shows just how much more expensive it is to book travel on one of these days. In some cases, fares are up to twice as high.

If you have to book for Wednesday or Sunday, then book your tickets as early as possible.

If you’re locked into a Wednesday departure flight, aim for a Friday or Tuesday return flight, which is around 25% cheaper than returning on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, according to an analysis by Cheapair.

Booking a return flight on Sunday results in the most dramatic airfare spike, and there’s not really much you can do to save money other than to book your departure flight on Thanksgiving Day. But the tradeoff of sacrificing a chunk of your holiday is a discount of only about 10%, so it may make more sense to pick a different day—even if it’s Wednesday. In general, having a Sunday return flight means you’re stuck with a sky-high ticket price.

Consider booking a departure flight or return flight on Thanksgiving Day—or both.

If you depart and return on Thanksgiving Day, your fare may be up to 30% cheaper than the average price, according to Kayak. And even if you only depart (and not return) on Thanksgiving, those savings are particularly meaningful when applied to longer, more expensive flights. For example, flying the JFK-LAX route departing on Thanksgiving instead of the day before can save you nearly $100.

Don’t book flights in groups.

If you’re booking as a family and there are only a few flights left in the lowest fare category, it’s possible the airline will bump the entire party up to the next fare category, according to Cheapair. That doesn’t mean you can’t travel as a family, though: you just might have to book each person’s ticket individually.

Check other smaller airports nearby.

There’s often regional and even international airports near the ORDs, JFKs and LAXs of major U.S. cities. If you’re in Chicago, for example, consider Chicago Midway Airport instead of O’Hare; if you’re in Los Angeles, consider Long Beach Airport instead of LAX. Both are cheaper airports than their neighboring giants, according to Cheapflights.com, which ranked the nation’s 101 most affordable airports.

Check smaller airlines.

The five biggest U.S. airlines—American, United, Delta, Southwest and JetBlue—all increased their base fares slightly despite lower fuel prices and a worldwide fear of Ebola. While the effect on consumers is not yet clear, it’s also worth checking out smaller airlines like Spirit, Frontier and Virgin.

Read next: The Old Advice on When to Buy Flights Is Wrong (And So Is the New Advice)

MONEY Shopping

How Opening on Thanksgiving Day Can Actually Hurt Store Sales

Eager shoppers crowd the entrance as they pour into the Macy's Herald Square flagship store, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, in New York
Eager shoppers crowd the entrance as they pour into the Macy's Herald Square flagship store, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, in New York. John Minchillo—AP

The decision announced this week by Macy's and some malls to open doors to shoppers during the dinner hours on Thanksgiving seemed inevitable. But it doesn't necessarily make sense.

Macy’s was blamed for the death of Thanksgiving when the retailer announced last year that it was opening up for shopping on the holiday—at 8 p.m. If Thanksgiving’s obituary was written in 2013 because Macy’s opened at 8 p.m., what does the retailer’s decision to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving 2014 mean about how we as a culture value the holiday? Perhaps it’s the equivalent of spitting on Thanksgiving’s gravestone.

Of course, it’s not just Macy’s that’s opening on Thanksgiving, and doing so earlier and earlier each year. Entire malls in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere have announced 6 p.m. Thanksgiving openings, and it seems like the majority of stores that aren’t opening at 6 p.m. plan on opening a mere two hours later. Surely more retailers will match Macy’s 6 p.m. start; last year Toys R Us and Walmart launched “Black Friday” sales in stores at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively. (Best Buy went with 6 p.m. too.)

Macy’s confirmed its 6 p.m. opening begrudgingly, almost apologetically, this week after a letter from company executives to employees was leaked to the media. A Macy’s spokesperson explained via statement to the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune that the move was based on “significant, sustained customer interest,” and that last year’s Thanksgiving hours were supposedly a big hit with Macy’s workers. “We also heard last year from many associates who appreciated the opportunity to work on Thanksgiving so they could have time off on Black Friday.”

Retailers essentially gave the same explanation last year for why they were opening on Thanksgiving Day. Macy’s 2013 press release stated that its 8 p.m. Thanksgiving opening came as a “response to interest from customers who prefer to start their shopping early.” It also noted that stores would only open “after families across the country have finished their holiday meals and celebrations.” Presumably, those meals and celebrations will have to end earlier this Thanksgiving for anyone wanting to start their shopping when the doors open. Likewise, a J.C. Penney spokesperson told the Dallas Morning News last year that it was only opening on Thanksgiving (at 8 p.m.) because “our stores saw a lot of frustrated customers tap our doors wanting to shop,” the year before, when locations opened a few hours after many competitors.

Everyone Else Is Doing It

The overall message retailers are trying to send is: We’re not opening on Thanksgiving to be greedy or anything. We’re doing it simply to make our customers happy. Another way to translate the message: Don’t blame the stores for ruining Thanksgiving, blame the shoppers who want to go to the stores on a national holiday.

The reality is that these retailers are opening on Thanksgiving mainly for the same reason that kids often cite as the excuse for why they did something stupid: Everyone else is doing it. Macy’s and the rest of the mall stalwarts feel forced to open earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving because that’s what the competition is doing—and by not opening on Thanksgiving, a store is essentially conceding some chunk of sales to the competition. The battle for holiday sales and when stores should open is even more muddled by the fact that consumers can shop to their heart’s content no matter what the day, 24/7/365, because e-retail never closes.

What’s interesting is that there’s a good argument to be made that Thanksgiving store hours don’t actually boost a retailer’s overall holiday sales. Rather, sales on the holiday simply displace sales that would otherwise have been rung up on Black Friday or later in the season. After an underwhelming back-to-school period for retailers, Craig Johnson, president of the retail consulting firm Custom Growth Partners, predicted to the Wall Street Journal in late September, “With the soft sales outlook, we do anticipate a few earlier openings” on Thanksgiving. “However, there is a law of diminishing returns,” he warned, and stores that open on Thanksgiving “risk cannibalizing” sales that they would have made at another time.

The End of Black Friday?

In light of that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Black Friday sales flopped last year when more stores expanded or introduced Thanksgiving hours, and that some say the Black Friday phenomenon is facing extinction. After all, when stores are open at 6 p.m. or even earlier on Thanksgiving Day, the idea of getting excited by the prospect of shopping at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. on Friday seems more absurd than ever.

Let’s also not forget that Thanksgiving store hours turn off many would-be customers. Last year, countless petitions were launched pleading with retailers to pull back on Thanksgiving hours, which critics say ruin the holiday for more than just the retail employees being forced to work.

For what’s is worth, Lehigh Valley Live recently asked readers to vote on how early stores should open on Thanksgiving. At last check, around 4% responded “as early as they can.” On the other hand, 82% voted “They shouldn’t. It’s a holiday.”

TIME Gadgets

Buying Guide: Apple’s Holiday Gadgets Lineup

For a company that’s made a lot of money by selling the concept of simplicity, Apple’s holiday lineup features an almost overwhelming number of gadgets. Here’s a look at the main product lines, along with some buying advice for each category.

Computers

MacBook Air Laptops ($899+)

MacBook Air
Apple

When it comes to Apple’s portable computer lineup, you’ve got the less expensive, more portable MacBook Air line or the more expensive, more powerful MacBook Pro line.

There are two base models to choose from in the MacBook Air line: an 11-incher starting at $899 and a 13-incher starting at $999. They were last updated in April of 2014.

The 11-inch model is — surprise — the more portable of the two, weighing in around 2.4 pounds. However, for $100 extra, the 13-inch model gives you a higher-resolution screen, three additional hours of battery life (9 for the 11-inch, 12 for the 13-inch), and an SD memory card slot.

Product Page [Apple.com]

MacBook Pro Laptops ($1299+)

MacBook Pro
Apple

The more potent of Apple’s portables, the MacBook Pro line consists of 13- and 15-inch models with super high-resolution “Retina” screens and a top-of-the-line model with a starting price (before custom configuration) of $2499. The line was last updated in late July of 2014.

They’re still plenty portable: Each model measures less than three quarters of an inch thick, with the 13-incher weighing just shy of 3.5 pounds and the 15-incher weighing just shy of 4.5 pounds.

Making the leap from the base 13-inch model to the base 15-inch model commands a $700 price premium, but nets you a better processor, double the RAM, double the storage, and higher-resolution screen with a better graphics chip. You lose an hour of battery life with the 15-inch model (eight hours versus nine hours for the 13-incher), and there are a couple upgraded 13-inch models to choose from ($1499 and $1799) before you get to the first 15-inch model.

Note that there’s also an aging non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro that’s still for sale with a $1099 starting price. It’s not touted on Apple’s main MacBook Pro page, however, and hasn’t been updated for quite a while. It’s been rumored that it’s being killed off entirely. You can do better with $1099.

Product Page [Apple.com]

iMac All-in-Ones ($1099+)

iMac
Apple

Apple’s all-in-one desktop line comes in 21.5-inch models starting at $1099 and 27-inch models starting at $1799. They were last updated in late September of 2013, with the entry-level model added in mid-June of 2014. The Retina 5K model was added in mid-October 2014 with a $2499 starting price.

The entry-level $1099 jobber tends to steer you into taking a good, hard look at the next step up; a $1299 21.5-inch model which, for $200, gets you a much better processor (2.7GHz quad-core versus a 1.4GHz dual-core), double the storage space, higher-end RAM, and a better graphics chip.

Stepping up to the baseline 27-inch model (starts at $1799), gets you a super high-resolution screen (2560 x 1440), a better processor and a better graphics chip. You’re paying mostly for the enormous 27-inch screen. It’s a really nice screen — I use one for work on occasion — but the rest of the system’s innards aren’t mind-blowing by any means. You can do some custom upgrades to increase the mind-blowingness, of course.

Find another $700 in your couch cushions, and you can step up to the all-new Retina iMac, which starts at $2499 and sports an insanely high-resolution screen (5120 x 2880). Apple blew right past “4K” and is calling this “5K” instead. Aside from the screen technology, this model starts out with a quad-core Intel processor, a faster graphics chip and a faster one-terabyte hybrid (solid-state + standard storage) hard drive.

Product Page (iMac) | Product Page (Retina 5K iMac) [Apple.com]

Mac Mini ($499+)

Mac Mini
Apple

The diminutive Mac Mini desktop is still kicking, with a $499 starting price (d0wn from $599) and the continued understanding that you’ll need to bring your own monitor, keyboard and mouse. There’s a $699 model that gets you almost double the processing speed, double the storage, double the RAM and a better graphics chip. Tough choice, to be honest.

Product Page [Apple.com]

Mac Pro ($2,999+)

Mac Pro
Apple

The Mac Pro comes in quad- and six-core configurations, starting at more than many people’s monthly mortgage payments. If you’re buying this as a gift for someone, you are incredibly generous, well-off or both. Either way: congratulations on all your success!

You should check with this person to see what he or she actually wants out of a Mac Pro. This isn’t a great “surprise” gift, in other words. At the most basic, however, an extra $1000 jumps you from four to six processing cores, and gets you more RAM and a better graphics chip.

Product Page [Apple.com]

iPhones

You have four iPhone models to choose from, running the price gamut from free with a two-year contract to $499 with a two-year contract.

iPhones
From left to right: iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C Apple

iPhone 6 Plus ($299+)

Starting on the left-hand side of the above image, the iPhone 6 Plus is Apple’s biggest phone to date. With a 5.5-inch screen, it straddles the tablet-phone chasm with a starting price of $299 with a two-year contract. Going this big (and expensive) gets you a higher-resolution screen than the iPhone 6, optical image stabilization, and longer battery life.

iPhone 6 ($199+)

Apple’s flagship phone until (probably) late 2015, the iPhone 6 attempts to summon Goldilocks with a not-too-big, not-too-small 4.7-inch screen. Apple promises up to 14 hours of 3G talk time or up to 10 hours of web surfing. Like all iPhones, an extra $100 for each trim level gets you more storage, though where previous lines doubled the storage for every $100 you spent, the 6 and 6 Plus jump you from 16 gigabytes to 64 gigabytes this time around. Another $100 pops things up to 128 gigabytes.

iPhone 5S ($99+)

Last year’s flagship model, the iPhone 5S sports a four-inch screen, fingerprint sensor, decent processor and 8-10 hours of continuous-use battery life. It’s still a fine phone, with a good camera and a 32-gigabyte storage option that costs an extra $50.

iPhone 5C (Free)

On the low end, the iPhone 5C is free with a two-year contract, comes in five colors and is available with eight gigabytes of storage. For all intents and purposes, this is a late-2012 iPhone 5 gussied up and re-released in late 2013. An extra $100 gets you more processing power and double the storage in an iPhone 5S, but if you don’t care about that and you don’t care about the fingerprint reader, this one’s a solid choice as a free phone.

Product Page [Apple.com]

iPads

You have five iPad models to choose from. Starting prices range from $249 to $499.

iPads
From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad Mini 3, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini Apple

iPad Air 2 ($499+)

The first version of the iPad Air was thinner than a pencil at 0.29 inches. Thanks to a new anti-reflective screen, the iPad Air 2 is thinner than that at 0.24 inches — an 18% reduction — and slightly lighter (like, 0.04 pounds lighter). There’s a souped-up iPhone 6/6 Plus processor onboard, too (the A8X), which Apple says is 40% faster than previous efforts.

Battery life remains 10 hours, as before, and the rear camera has been bumped from five to eight megapixels and can capture time-lapse and slow-motion videos. The front camera has been improved, as well, and wireless connections have been bolstered to provide faster data access.

The newest iPad Air rounds things out by adding the TouchID fingerprint sensor that debuted with the iPhone 5S, so you can unlock the tablet and log into apps and sites without typing passcodes. It’ll be available in gold, silver and gray, and there’s a new 128-gigabyte storage option available starting at $699.

iPad Air

Late November 2013’s iPad Air is sticking around, though this time with a $399 starting price (down from $499). This is still a more-than-fine full-size iPad. Spending the extra $100 on the iPad Air 2 gets you something marginally thinner and marginally lighter, with a better rear-facing camera, the fingerprint sensor and a beefed up processor. If none of these are super important to you, the iPad Air is now a comparatively good deal.

iPad Mini 3

The iPad Mini 3 is almost pound-for-pound a shrunken-down iPad Air, all the way down to the $399 starting price. You do get the fingerprint sensor, so there’s that. There’s also a 128-gigabyte option (the iPad Air tops out at 32 gigabytes). It’s smaller and lighter, too, of course (although not thinner) with a starting weight of 0.73 pounds.

iPad Mini 2

If you’re interested in a small iPad, the iPad Mini 2 looks like a really good bet, actually. It’s very similar to the iPad Mini 3, but doesn’t feature the gold color option, the 128-gigabyte storage option or the fingerprint reader. Just about everything else is there, minus $100 off the starting price.

iPad Mini

The iPad Mini is sticking around, with a starting price of $249. If ever you were to try to scrounge up an extra $50, this is the time to do it. Stepping up to the iPad Mini 2 gets you a much better screen and a much better processor. If the price was $199, it’d be a much harder decision. This thing’s already two years old, though.

Product Page [Apple.com]

iPods and Apple TV ($49+)

iPod Shuffle ($49)

iPod Shuffle
Apple

This is one of the cheapest Apple gadgets to own. A handful of sawbucks will get you a wearable music player good for 15 hours of playback that can hold hundreds of songs (up to around 500 if you really compress them, but bank on a couple hundred at least). Keep in mind that you’ll need a computer to transfer songs: This little guy has no wireless connection.

Product Page [Apple.com]

iPod Nano ($149)

iPod Nano
Apple

The iPod Nano is a good option if you’re looking for a pocketable gadget that can be used for working out, watching video, looking at photos and listening to music. Like the iPod Shuffle, you’ll need to use a computer to load stuff onto it, but it does feature a Bluetooth connection you can use to sync it to your car’s audio system or wireless headphones. And there’s Nike+ integration if you want to track your workouts.

Product Page [Apple.com]

iPod Touch ($199+)

iPod Touch
Apple

Buying an iPod Touch is basically like buying a phone-less iPhone 4S, specs-wise. It’s a great option for kids who aren’t ready for a full-fledged cell phone (and the monthly bill it entails), but who want access to apps and a decent camera and fun stuff like that. Best of all, you don’t need a computer to load content onto it; just a Wi-Fi network.

Product Page [Apple.com]

Apple TV ($99)

 TV
Apple

Hooking an Apple TV box up to your TV serves two main purposes. One: You can use it to stream music and video from popular services like Netflix and other providers. Second: You can use its AirPlay feature to sling content from your iPhone, iPad, MacBook and other Apple gadgets, expanding it for viewing on the biggest screen in your house. Your TV is the biggest screen in your house, right? Right?!

Product Page [Apple.com]

TIME Companies

Amazon to Add 80,000 Seasonal Jobs During the Holidays

That's a 14% increase over last year

Amazon has announced plans to add 80,000 seasonal jobs across the U.S. to help meet the growing customer demand for orders during the holidays.

That’s a 14% increase over the 70,000 seasonal jobs the company created last year, CNET reports, which was already a 40% increase over the previous year. The e-commerce giant currently has 50 fulfillment centers and plans to have more than 15 sortation centers by the end of the year.

Mike Roth, vice president of Amazon’s North America operations, said the company expects many of the new hires to transition into full-time regular employees, as has been the case this year with 10,000 seasonal jobs.

TIME halloween

A Halloween Miracle

In which I am tricked into enjoying a holiday that has never felt like a treat

This feels weirdly unpatriotic and definitely fun-killing, but I’m just going to admit it: I hate Halloween.

Why hate Halloween?

Four reasons:

1. I’m pretty sure it’s a fake holiday.

2. My children’s candy consumption, questionable during the rest of the year, becomes impossible to monitor and possibly life-threatening for 48 hours.

3. Random people wearing masks ring my doorbell in the dark when no one is home but me and our big dopey dogs, who may as well be wearing signs that say (with apologies to W.B. Yeats), “There are no strangers only friends I haven’t met and I know I love you already so please scratch my belly.”

4. The decorations. Oh, the decorations! For years I’ve wanted to opt out of Halloween, the way you can opt out of the vision-care plan at work, because the sight of all those decorations hurts me, both aesthetically and psychically. And every year it gets more out of hand. All I can say is, it’s a good thing Edward Gorey died before he had to see fake orange spider webbing coating every privet hedge in suburban America.

Did you know that, according to the National Retail Federation, Americans are projected to spend $7.4 billion on Halloween this year? Including $350 million on costumes for pets? I’m just guessing, but I suspect my dogs would rather I donate their costume money to a pet-rescue organization. Oh, never mind. What the dogs and I definitely agree on is that the decoration situation is a problem, particularly when measured by my patented decoration-to-holiday-significance ratio.

Let me explain. Every holiday has a unique decoration-to-significance ratio. Take Christmas, for example. Very significant to many people, and lots and lots of decorations. So basically a ratio of 1:1. Thanksgiving: very significant to lots of people, not many decorations. So 1:20, give or take. Fourth of July: significant, not a lot of decorations. Ratio: 3:50.

Halloween? What are we celebrating on Halloween? Can anybody tell me? Type “What does Halloween celebrate?” into Google and you’re confronted with “the triduum of Allhallowtide,” “the devil” and “the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain.” So basically nobody knows, not even the Internet. Hence my fake-holiday suspicion, and calculation that Halloween’s decoration-to-significance ratio is 37,000:1. Which means that when my neighbor with the generator-powered blow-up jack-o’-lantern thingy with black cats rotating inside fires up his yearly tribute to the holiday he can’t explain, I just want to close my eyes and get on the next flight to Aruba.

But this year I was given a Halloween miracle. Our oldest son’s university scheduled Family Weekend to begin on–wait for it–Oct. 31. Perfect! For a moment, I was elated that I didn’t need to go all the way to Aruba to skip Halloween. But … but … but: we also have a child who is 7, i.e., in his prime trick-or-treating years. And although there was a time, back in the pre-helicopter-parenting age, when Family Weekend was merely Parents’ Weekend, now that it’s been rebranded, the entire nuclear unit must attend or risk getting reported to the family-values police. But what sort of institute of higher learning schedules Family Weekend on Halloween? Maybe it’s an ivory-tower machination so multilayered and clever that people of average intelligence like me can’t possibly understand it. Regardless, I just can’t picture our little guy attending the Friday-night dinner and lecture in his Tron costume.

Am I exaggerating to say that this felt just like Sophie’s Choice? Maybe a bit. But making the right decision, pitting Tron against his older brother, with sentiments of I-now-hate-Halloween-even-more clouding my brain, seemed impossible.

And then I remembered when our college sophomore, our oldest, was 7. That Halloween I rushed home from the office to help him change into his costume, then watched him proudly march in the elementary-school parade. It was one of the highlights of the school year. I made vegetarian chili for my friend Sharene’s annual post-trick-or-treating party, which featured a giant backyard maze made from tall wooden stakes and endless rolls of thick black plastic that took weeks to assemble. When it got dark, the kids would lose themselves in the maze, whooping with delight. It was magic.

The maze is now just a memory, and most of the kids who raced through it are in college. Including my oldest, suddenly so grown up and full of wisdom that he advised us to skip Family Weekend for the sake of his 7-year-old brother. He knows that our trick-or-treating days are numbered. And as much as I truly, truly hate Halloween–the fake orange spider webbing and generator-powered decorations and strangers who ring the doorbell even after I’ve turned off the front porch light–I suppose I know it too.

TIME Internet

11 Halloween Costumes for People Who Spend Too Much Time on the Internet

Beryl Lipton douses Matt Lee during the ice bucket challenge at Boston's Copley Square on August 7, 2014 to raise funds and awareness for ALS.
Elise Amendola—AP

From the Apparently Kid to the Ice Bucket Challenge to some guy on Tinder

Halloween is almost two weeks away, which means time is running out to create the perfect costume. (Yes, you could always buy one, but homemade costumes are so much more fun and clever.) If you’re anything like us, you spend most of your time hiding behind a screen, entrenched in the weird world of the Internet — so why not use Halloween as an opportunity to celebrate the web’s biggest trends?

Here, ideas for 11 costumes that will help you take your web-savviness off of the screen and into the real world.

1. The Apparently Kid

Five-year-old Noah Ritter became a massive internet sensation thanks to his scene-stealing appearance on a local news segment. With appearances on Ellen, a mention on The Colbert Report and even a commercial deal, he won the Internet and our hearts.

What you need: A large TV microphone, a striped polo shirt, a can-do attitude. Make sure to punctuate all your sentences with the word “apparently”

2. The “Sexy Felon”

Jeremy Meeks Stockton Police Department

This summer, the Internet collectively swooned over the mugshot of convicted felon Jeremy Meeks. He was just so dreamy that nobody seemed to care too much that the California resident was considered “one of the most violent criminals in the Stockton area.”

What you need: Perfect bone structure (or makeup to create the illusion), an orange jumpsuit, eyeliner to draw a teardrop on your face and tattoos on your neck, a sultry gaze

3. Potato salad

Remember that time the wonderful people of the Internet came together to raise $55,000 for some guy on Kickstarter who just wanted to make some potato salad? Yeah.

What you need: White pants, white shirt, a picture of potato salad to tape to yourself, money to tape to yourself (optional)

4. Some guy on Tinder

This will be the best way for you to score a date at that Halloween party.

What you need: A stuffed tiger, poster board and markers to make a portable Tinder placard, a weird pick-up line

5. The Ice Bucket Challenge

Beryl Lipton douses Matt Lee during the ice bucket challenge at Boston's Copley Square on August 7, 2014 to raise funds and awareness for ALS.
Elise Amendola—AP

This viral phenomenon truly dominated the Internet for weeks, so you might encounter other people who’ve turned this into a costume too. Step up your game by requesting ice water at the party and then make a scene by dumping it all over yourself.

What you need: A bucket to wear upside down on your head, ice cube trays to tape to yourself

6. The Snapchat ghost

A modern twist on a classic costume. To really commit here, you’ll need to dash away from all conversations in 10 seconds (or fewer).

What you need: A white sheet, scissors to cut some eye holes, large yellow poster board to tape to your back

7. Obama’s tan suit

President Obama Makes Statement In The Briefing Room Of White House
Alex Wong—Getty Images

Everybody online seemed to have really strong feelings about the tan suit Obama wore during an address about the terrorist group ISIS. Like, they didn’t seem particularly concerned about ISIS, but they were super concerned about Obama’s suit.

What you need: A tan suit

8. A Flappy Bird

Since the creator of this game seems to have taken about five minutes to make it, there’s no reason you should spend any more than that making your costume.

What you need: A picture of a Flappy Bird, a printer, tape

Note: If you plan to tag-team Halloween this year, here are some options that work for a group:

9. Pumpkin spice

Pumpkin Spice Latte
Michael Phillips—Getty Images

You’ll need to convince five friends to dress up as each one of the Spice Girls: Posh Spice, Baby Spice, Scary Spice, Ginger Spice and Sporty Spice. Then you get to be the long-lost sixth member: Pumpkin Spice. Get it?

How many people: 6

What you need: Platform shoes, a mini skirt, a pumpkin to wear on your head (or a picture of a pumpkin to tape to your shirt)

10. Sharknado 2

Gather your friends, attach some sharks to yourselves and swarm around everybody. Boom — you’re the real life version of everybody’s favorite campy disaster sequel.

How many people: 2 (or as many as you want, really)

What you need: Stuffed sharks to attach to your body, black clothing

11. John Oliver destroying things

The host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight started a tradition of taking buzzy topics or concepts and then just totally shutting them down — and these clips continually took the Internet by storm. For this costume, one person gets to be John, and everyone else gets to be one of the things he has taken down. (Think Columbus Day, native advertising, the Obama administration’s drone policy, pumpkin spice lattes, the sexism of Miss America, etc.)

How many people: 3 or more

What you need: A suit and rectangular glasses for John Oliver, a whole bunch of creativity for everything else

TIME Music

Idina Menzel Doesn’t Understand Why Her Christmas Album Is Out in October

Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel Robin Wong

The Broadway star talks "Let It Go," Love Actually and her new Christmas album, which she says is out way too early

Winter must really be Idina Menzel’s season. Last year she taught the world how to “Let It Go” as the voice of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, and on Oct. 14, she’s releasing Holiday Wishes, a Christmas album covering classics from “All I Want For Christmas Is You” to “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” The Broadway veteran, who’s currently starring in the musical If/Then, tells TIME about her holiday plans.

TIME: Have you always wanted to make a Christmas album?
Idina Menzel: My parents split up on Thanksgiving, so holidays can be hard for me. I’ve always felt that Christmas albums were a sensitive thing. To sing happy music in peoples’ faces is sometimes not always the way to go. I wanted to make sure I did something that covered everyone’s experience during the holidays.

The album is mostly Christmas songs, though you’re Jewish.
Most of them were songs that I’ve always wanted to sing. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a song Whitney Houston sang back in the ‘80s. Her version is incredible. I’ve always loved that song. If Barbra Streisand can make a Christmas album, I can.

What are your holiday traditions?
I celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. I do like to decorate a tree. I do collect ornaments. I’m excited that my son probably won’t take them and throw them on the ground and break them. Now he’s 5, so he might understand the importance of a good ornament. That’s something I’m looking forward to doing with him, and buying a couple new ones that represent the year. Just decorating a tree with him. And putting on music — not my own. God, I couldn’t listen to myself, that’d make me crazy.

Some of these songs, like “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” have pretty iconic versions. Were you nervous about finding your own spin on them?
I was, actually, because I grew up listening to Mariah’s version. But the thing is, Walter Afanaseiff is my producer — he wrote that song with her. It was fun for me to say, “Let’s do your song.” There was an arrangement he always had in his head that he didn’t do that he thought would be really cool.

That song is also featured in Love Actually, which is a polarizing holiday movie.
Not to me! I love it.

So for the record, you’re Team Love Actually?
Definitely Team Love Actually.

That’s a bold choice. How do you defend it to people who don’t like it?
I don’t know why they don’t like it! All these movies are so honest, and they’re a little bit more idiosyncratic. They’re not perfect, I don’t think. I just love the actors. That hits the nail on the head for me.

Do you have thoughts about when it’s okay to start playing Christmas music ?
I have very strong feelings. The album comes out October 14. I think that’s ridiculous! I don’t understand. I’ve been asking the label to tell me why. Apparently that’s when people start buying stuff for Christmas. Okay, that’s cool, but I’m barely into Halloween with my son! I completely understand if people aren’t ready for it until Thanksgiving. That’s when Christmas comes alive for me. My record label will hate me for saying that, but it’s the truth!

What will you be for Halloween?
I’m one of those curmudgeons that’s never into Halloween. Maybe because I’m in a show right now, currently eight shows a week — the last thing I feel like doing is that. But because I have a child, it’s fun. He’s going to be Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. I’ve got his costume all made from scratch. I feel like I can get into it with him. I don’t need to put on a costume.

That’s fair.
I sound like the Grinch of Halloween!

You could always go as your Wicked character Elphaba — no one would guess it was you.
No one would think I’d be so stupid as to put that makeup back on my face, right? That’s funny.

Can you believe we’re coming up on one year since Frozen?
It’s just a remarkable thing. Usually you do a project and it has its moment. This just feels like it keeps going. Every day there’s some parent or friend with a video of their daughter singing. We just worked on a short for Frozen. I’m always asked to perform the song.

There are so many covers, remixes and parodies of “Let It Go.” Which one is the most memorable?
There are so many I wouldn’t even pick a favorite.

Not even the awesome dance remix?
The club version! Don’t you love it? I love that. When it first became successful I was like, “This has to have a club version — and a gay club version.” It’s the anthems of all anthems.

A version of this story appears in the Oct. 27 issue of TIME, on stands Friday.

TIME Holidays

John Oliver Asks: How Is Columbus Day Still a Thing?

Plus, some recommendations for alternative holidays

It’s entirely possible that you forgot — or that your city celebrates Indigenous People’s Day instead — but today is Columbus Day. This got the writers at John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week Tonight asking themselves a question: Why is this holiday still a thing?

The segment makes a pretty solid case against this national holiday — and then offers some ideas for other Italian people we could honor instead. Frank Sinatra? Mario Batali? Al Pacino? None of them killed any indigenous people. That we know of.

MORE: John Oliver Thinks You’re Ridiculous for Loving Pumpkin Spice Lattes

MORE: Bummed About Having to Work on Columbus Day? Read This

Read next: Bummed About Having to Work on Columbus Day? Read This

MONEY Benefits

Bummed About Having to Work on Columbus Day? Read This

empty train of commuters
Ronnie Kaufman/Larry Hirshowitz—Getty Images

Why is Columbus Day a paid holiday for some workers, but just another work day for others? And does the way decisions are made about who gets what days off make a lick of sense?

If you’re working on Monday, you’re in good—though perhaps bitter—company. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), there are six annual days that are almost universally embraced in the U.S. as paid holidays, meaning that at least 90% of businesses and organizations give workers the day off. These days are New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Columbus Day, you’ll notice, is not among them.

Columbus Day belongs in a category that might be considered second-tier holidays, in which a sizable portion of employees get the day off, but the majority of us are expected to work like normal. Of all these days, Columbus Day gets the least respect. Whereas slightly more than one third of organizations are closed on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and President’s Day, and 22% are shuttered on Veterans Day, only 14% are closed on Columbus Day. And the idea that Columbus Day should be a paid day off at all is on the wane: In 2011, for instance, SHRM data indicated that 16% of organizations were closed in honor of the holiday.

So who gets Columbus Day off, and why? All of the days mentioned above, Columbus Day included, are considered official federal holidays, meaning that non-essential federal workers have the day off, and no mail will be delivered. Government contractors tend to follow the lead of the feds, at least partially for purely practical reasons. “If the job depends on being able to reach out to government sources and they’re not working, it’s just not cost-effective to stay open,” said Lisa Orndorff, a human resources business partner at SHRM.

Beyond the federal level, however, there is little consensus on Columbus Day. As of 2013, 23 states (plus D.C.) give their workers the day off as a paid holiday—meaning that state employees in the majority of the land go to work as usual. There’s no real standard for whether schools should be open or closed on Columbus Day either. In parts of the country where schools are closed, many parents face the frustration of scrambling to arrange childcare because they’re expected to work.

The fact that businesses, school districts, and state governments are divided about how to categorize Columbus Day is a pretty good indication that we as a nation are not sure how we’re supposed to feel about the day—or, for that matter, about Christopher Columbus and his historic “discovery” in general. Critics say that because Native Americans were here long before Columbus sailed to the Americas, he didn’t really “discover” anything in 1492. What’s more, Columbus’s arrival in the Americas is widely blamed for launching a centuries-long era of exploitation and genocide.

With that in mind, this year Minneapolis and, more recently, Seattle officially redesignated Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day, following in the footsteps of Berkeley, Calif., which did the same way back in 1992. Meanwhile Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii do not recognize Columbus Day at all, and since 1990 South Dakota has been celebrating Native Americans Day rather than Columbus Day on the second Monday of October.

The Great Recession brought with it new justification to cancel Columbus Day observances. “When the economy started taking a dip, businesses began looking at ways to scale back on paid vacation days, and Columbus Day was one of them,” said SHRM’s Orndorff. Considering the controversy surrounding the day, it’s understandable why it was one of the first targets among governments and businesses trying to save money. For instance, rather than risk angering Italian Americans by declaring Columbus Day dead for political reasons, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blamed a budget crunch for striking the day from the calendar of paid holidays for state employees as of 2009. That same year, Baltimore and Philadelphia canceled their Columbus Day parades, though the traditions have since been brought back—typically with the help of increased private funding.

To avoid agitating employees by shorting them of paid vacation days, some states and localities play games with the calendar. State workers in Tennessee, for instance, generally get a day off for Columbus Day, but the day they get off is actually the Friday after Thanksgiving. Federal workers, mind you, aren’t guaranteed that Friday off, even though two-thirds of businesses and organizations nationally are closed on “Black Friday” so employees can enjoy a four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Retail workers, of course, are expected to work on both Black Friday and Columbus Day, though the latter is not the monster sales day it once was—because fewer people can go shopping nowadays since they no longer have the day off!

Among the other quirks in paid vacation calendars around the country, the New York Stock Exchange is open on Columbus Day and Veterans Day, but closed on Good Friday. (There are many theories as to why this is so.) Massachusetts and Maine are the only states to close schools and government offices to celebrate Patriots’ Day in April, while most workers in Utah have July 24 off in honor of Pioneer Day. Every fourth year, plenty of workers (including all federal employees) in the Washington, D.C., area get a bonus paid day off on Inauguration Day.

Overall, it’s a balancing act for employers when it comes to deciding when and how many paid holidays companies should provide. “They want to keep morale up and still maintain the business,” explained SHRM’s Orndorff. In the grand scheme, granting days off is a cheap and easy way to make workers happy. “It’s a fairly inexpensive benefit; there’s nothing to administer, so the costs are minimal.”

Even so, Orndorff cautioned, “One thing’s pretty certain: Companies won’t be adding paid holidays.”

Read next: How Indigenous Peoples Day Came to Be

MONEY Shopping

The Creepy New Way Macy’s Tempts You to Make Impulse Purchases

A view of a Macy's flagship store in New York.
A view of a Macy's flagship store in New York. Bebeto Matthews—AP

Macy's is outfitting stores with the ability to detect shoppers' exact locations—and then make ads and coupons magically appear on smartphones so they'll buy the merchandise in front of them.

The Shopkick app was born as a combo rewards program and location-based coupon dispenser, in which users accumulated points (or “kicks”) for doing things such as activating the app inside stores, scanning barcodes of specific items, or merely walking inside a participating retailer location. The app works with tons of national retailers, including Best Buy, Sports Authority, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s and was a hot topic in the news a couple of years ago, when Target made Shopkick available for use in all of its stores around the country.

From the get-go, retail experts anticipated a time when such technology would be fine-tuned and pushed to the next level. Instead of the app displaying basic coupons and deals the moment the customer walks through the doors, more precise location-based offers and promotions would appear based on where the shopper is standing inside the store.

During the upcoming holiday shopping season, this futuristic vision of retailer marketing will arrive in a big way at Macy’s. The Washington Post reports that over the next few weeks, Macy’s is installing 4,000 special devices inside nearly 800 stores, with the purpose of detecting the exact location of shoppers—and then sending them special tempting offers accordingly.

The devices, developed by Apple, are called iBeacons, and some people have already described them as “creepy.” Macy’s began testing how Shopkick and iBeacons would work together during the 2013 holiday season. Apparently, the retailer was happy enough with the experiment to roll out the technology to all of its U.S. stores.

How exactly will the tech play out in a real-world situation? Say you’re “in the housewares department standing next to our display of KitchenAid mixers,” Macys.com president Kent Anderson explained. “The ability to transmit to you information — a video about the quality of this product, the accessories that we have as part of our assortment that you may not see there — rich content that may, and should, help us close the sale, is where we potentially see the beacon technology going in our stores.”

Presumably, if the mixer was on sale or part of some other promotion, that information would also appear on the smartphones of those using the Shopkick app. Macy’s says that “more personalized” offers—based perhaps on one’s history of purchasing or browsing in stores and online—could pop up as soon as next spring, though that may depend on how the new program plays out during the upcoming season and how welcoming (or not) shoppers are to the retailer using even more of their personal data.

Macy’s maintains that it will proceed cautiously concerning how often specific location-based ads and promotions will be sent to shoppers in stores. Going to that well too often could prove to be, quite literally, a turn-off in that shoppers could wind up turning off the app. “There is the opportunity to overload them” with special deals, Anderson said, “and I think that the balance has to be found.”

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