Q: Stores started getting ready for the holidays early this year. I noticed displays in many stores starting in September. I usually wait until later in the season to buy gifts, but sometimes don't find anything good to give.
Should I start looking for presents now, or I should I wait until Black Friday?
A: You should start looking now, but you don't have to commit yourself to buying anything right away.
Many stores have started stocking earlier in part because it allows for more flexible financing options for families with many gifts to buy. It also gives us all more time to start looking ahead.
If you find the perfect present and don't know if it will be available later, buy it. Otherwise, wait and see if you can find it for a better price.
If you like to shop online, there's also Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving). It removes the stress of shopping in crowded stores.
Thinking ahead will ease your annual December stress. — Doug
Q: My husband and I received an invite to our family's Christmas celebration, but this year there's one big difference. The invitation asked the guests to bring cash to attend the party.
They even wrote down the amounts they expect! It's listed by number of people, by children or adults.
There used to be more of a culture of hosting dinner parties. It's sad to see how much things have changed, and I'm offended by the cash grab. When we invite our family members out, we always pick up the check.
How can I express my irritation?
A: There's no getting around it. Hosting a party is expensive. In the last decades, there have been a lot of social changes about dinner parties especially, and the rules are being renegotiated.
Cultural changes can be very irritating on both ends — for those who are used to an old system, and for those who are trying to make change based on issues with the old model.
Your hosts may be frustrated with how things have gone in the past. There's also an implicit social contract for guests, and their expectations may not have been met.
Bringing up your frustration directly is very likely to get emotionally charged. However, there may be a way to change the tone of the situation.
Ask your host privately if they might prefer you to bring something for dinner instead of cash. Offer to bring a side dish or a dessert, which will alleviate some of the hosting burden. But make sure the food comes ready to serve, because the kitchen will probably be backed up.
In the future, there may not be anyone in your extended family who is up to hosting everybody. The logistics of hosting are complicated and numerous: planning, scheduling, finding a space to fit everyone, cooking, cleaning (before and after!), entertaining guests and finally, paying for the whole thing.
It's often better to find a way to make things work rather than throwing roadblocks. At the end of the day, you have a powerful tool for communicating your displeasure: Just decline the invite.
But first, ask yourself one question: Is it worth it?
On the other hand, you have a great topic to bring up if the party is lacking for conversation. You can guarantee that everyone will have something to say! — Emma, Doug's granddaughter
Doug Mayberry makes the most of life in a Southern California retirement community. Contact him at [email protected] Emma, Doug's granddaughter, helps write this column. To find out more about Doug Mayberry and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.