budget

5 Tips For Jumpstarting Holiday Gift Shopping

by Jamie Sanford on September 9, 2013

Thanks to Alexandra Franzen for the prompt.

I officially started my holiday shopping last week. Yes, I have 4 gifts purchased already.

A few years ago, I realized that I was absolutely killing myself with stress around the holidays, trying to find gifts at the last minute, resorting to gift cards way too often. I started shopping early and I haven’t looked back since. To help you get started, use this list of what to do before you start!

1. Make a budget!

I wrote about my holiday gift tracker spreadsheet in 2011, and I have not changed it since. It’s so easy to use (available to download in the post), and really keeps me on track, especially when buying multiple gifts for a single person.

2. Start noticing the little things about your friends and family.

Your friends and family probably drop hints about their likes and interests all the time. Make notes in your phone or datebook when you pick up on this, it will make for a starting point to finding the perfect gift.

3. Maximize opportunities for savings.

If you haven’t already, join flash sale sites and start trolling for gifts. No shame in saving some money! You will have to work hard to not start shopping for yourself though, believe me. Look to the right column on this page for links to invitations to all of my preferred flash sale websites. Black Friday may also be another opportunity for something special – last year, I purchased amazing Lorac palettes online from Ulta, for $11 each! I will have a Black Friday shopping guide up on the site closer to the date.

4. Don’t forget about host/hostess gifts!

You will inevitably have a few events to attend where a gift for your host or hostess will be appropriate. Shopping early for non-perishables is an easy way to avoid the stress of having to stop and find something on the way to the event (and don’t try and tell me you haven’t done that before). Now is the time to shop for giftworthy bottles of wine or champagne, which you can generally get a discount on when buying in bulk. You can also check out a lovely selection of gift baskets on Amazon, which provide a lot of options for contents and price. Buy a few of these with some gift bows (like these ones that have fiber optics!), and stick one on before you leave.

5. Enjoy the process. Have fun!

Unfortunately, I see more often than not that people see their holiday shopping as a chore, and not as the joyous experience it is meant to be. The holiday season is meant to be lovely and fun, and a time to get together with your friends and family, and drink egg nog and have a wonderful time. Gifts are traditional, and they should also provide a joyful experience for all involved. I promise you, starting your shopping now will definitely make the process more enjoyable. No one ever likes being rushed, and you KNOW you will be holiday shopping each year, so take the time to think about it early, save yourself the drama, and all will be delighted.

If you have early holiday shopping tips, please leave them in the comments!

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Just Jump Into Podcasting – Here’s How

by Jamie Sanford on July 16, 2013

This is one in a series of posts pulled from Chris Brogan’s “100 blog topics I hope YOU write.” (#18)

I have already written a post on podcasting on a budget, but this is the even more basic version. If you aren’t sure about creating a show yet, this should help get you started.

Just try it out.

You will need 3 things.

1. Microphone (most computers, especially laptops, have these built in nowadays)
2. Recording program (Mac users should go with Garageband from what I’ve heard. I use Audacity, which is free and super easy to use.)
3. Headphones/Earbuds (to avoid feedback issues)

And of course, something to talk about.

Open Audacity (or Garageband), press record, and go. I promise that it will be awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it, it isn’t so bad. Good luck!

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Podcasting on a Budget

by Jamie Sanford on June 14, 2013

This is one in a series of posts pulled from Chris Brogan’s “100 blog topics I hope YOU write.” (#96)

My current setup for podcast recording.

I started officially podcasting with The Jamie and David Show (completely NSFW) in 2009. We fell off the wagon for quite a while but have been doing shows about once a month for a while now. We’ve been through a few different methods of recording, but this is the current setup. I am not making any money from the show, so this is my budget version of podcasting.

To create the podcast, you will need the following:

1. Computer. I am assuming that everyone has access to a computer and the Internet. (Here’s some info on recording podcasts with a mobile device if you’re into that – I haven’t worked that out just yet.)

2. Software. I have always used Audacity to edit and assemble my podcasts. It’s free and really user friendly. Here’s a list of some other pieces of software for podcasting. I also use MP3 Skype Recorder (also free), since David and I do not currently live in the same place so Skype is a necessity. It’s also been great for recording interviews for the show.

3. Hardware. Other than the computer, there are some things you need, at the very least a microphone and headphones. If your computer has an onboard mic, feel free to start with that. However, if you’re going to be using Skype or another program to record with more than one person, a set of headphones is  necessary to avoid feedback issues. Even earbuds will be fine for this.

My version:

I started out in podcasting with the earbuds I had with the attached mic from my iPhone.  This was a workable solution but the sound left something to be desired. I did some research and purchased a Blue Yeti microphone (currently $79.99 on Amazon). An even less expensive option is the Blue Snowball ($58.68 for the white version on Amazon), which I had also used successfully at my previous workplace. I admit to choosing the Yeti in part because it just looks amazing. (Warning though – if you have this in your carry-on when flying, you are SO getting searched, because it definitely looks like an incendiary device in the x-ray machine. I speak from experience.)

After doing some reading about sound issues, I also purchased this Nady Pop Filter ($17.56 on Amazon), which has been an amazing improvement for the money. I cannot listen to our old episodes now without feeling like I’m being tortured. I’m thrilled with the results that have some from spending less than $100 to improve the sound. I don’t imagine I will ever need to replace these items.

To share the podcast, you will need the following:

1. Hosting Location. You need somewhere to host the file you’ve created, and a good place to start would be Blogger. You can get a free blog, and easily post files and have an RSS Feed created for you. Tumblr + Dropbox would also work, as described here by Adam Wilcox.

2. RSS Feed. Feedburner will let you enter in the RSS feed info and it will convert it to work as a podcast feed. In my opinion, everyone should be using Feedburner for their podcast feed, because the stats are good, and if you ever change hosting locations, you will not lose subscribers when you update the information.

3. iTunes Submission. It is free to submit your podcast to iTunes, so why not? Here’s a great instructional page from the fine people at iTunes on creating and submitting your show.

My version:

I started out our show at Mevio, but that went downhill and we lost all of our data and subscribers. I learned the hard way about not using Feedburner. After some Twitter chat, I moved our show hosting to Libsyn, and started hosting our show notes on a Tumblr blog. I chose Tumblr for this particular show because of the existing audience for our content and ease in sharing.

Libsyn is not free. The cheapest plan is $5 a month for 50MB of file adding. I currently have the slightly higher $15 version as our shows are rarely under 50MB. Libsyn really did all of the work with creating our new show feed, and that was the clincher in choosing to move our show there. It’s super simple to add episodes and so I will stick with them for now. However, the free methods are totally fine as well.

Extras:

1. Music. Some podcasts have music constantly playing in the background, which isn’t for everyone. Some, like mine, have music at the beginning and the end. You can certainly Google “royalty-free music” to try and find something to use, but I highly recommend Jamendo. Searching for what you want is very easy, and there are a lot of free options for downloadable tracks. Remember to give credit to the artist in your show notes!

That’s my guide for podcasting on a budget. Please leave your own ideas and tips in the comments!

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