Tag Archives: gifts

Money saving tips for gift giving

On the SantaRosaMom.com forums, a question was asked regarding what the normal amount is for gift giving at the holidays.  Is it $50 per child?  Is it $500?  More?  The answer varies for each family.

I feel so fortunate that we are able to afford gifts this year for the kids to open on Christmas morning.  But there’ve been some years when I saved all year long and still had barely enough to make Christmas special.  Or so I thought.  It seems some of our poorest years were actually our most special as more meaning was put behind family and all we are blessed with rather than what we received off our Christmas lists.

With the economy the way it is, I know there are plenty of families in tight spots as the holidays loom.  It can make the season of giving seem pretty unfriendly.  But there are ways to get around this. Here are six ideas to help you save a few dollars and ensure a very merry holiday season.

1. Go small
My sisters and I would usually tear through the larger gifts at Christmas, but truly savor the ones placed in our stockings.  These were gifts that we never asked for, but took the most thought because our parents picked them out just for us.  Years later, we still look forward to our stocking gifts most of all.  I’ll never forget our very loud reaction the one year my mother insinuated we might be too old for this tradition.  As a result, I’m in my 30’s and still receive a stocking full of fun trinkets that include everything from decorative socks to wind-up toys.  My suggestion is to buy one big gift, or even just rely on relatives for the big gifts, and focus on the stocking.

2. Utilize Craigslist
One of the moms on the forums suggested this avenue as a way to save money, and what she has done herself in years when pennies needed to be pinched.  Some of those larger items your child wants can actually be bought in good second-hand condition without having to pay full retail price.  I’ve seen Power Wheels for $150 or less, toys for under $20, videos and DVDs, bikes, play kitchens, games, and more.  You can even find some quality clothes online from kids who have outgrown them faster than they can wear them out.  Why pay tons of money on something that is still new to them?

3. Skip the baby gifts
Truth be told, babies have no idea what day it is or even what they want for the holidays.  They aren’t even old enough to unwrap presents.  So why spend a fortune on gifts for them on a retail-driven holiday?  Use this time to purchase anything you actually need for your baby – like onesies, clothes, bottles, baby food or even just diapers – and let the relatives spoil your child rotten.  Trust me, it does not make you a bad parent, it makes you a smart one.

4. Toy swap
I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find other families who are looking to save a few pennies this season.  So why not trade toys?  Have your child gather up all their toys they don’t need anymore and host a toy swap party with a few of your mom friends.  You’ll rid yourself of all those toys you’re tired of looking at, and gain some new-to-your-child presents that cost nothing more than a little effort.

5. Make your gifts
Show off your baking skills and save a few dollars by baking cookies, bread, or something else equally delicious for your friends and family this year.  Need some ideas?  Check out some of these submissions for BiteClub’s Cookie Contest with some delicious tried and true recipes by locals all over Sonoma County.  Or get crafty and create a unique one-of-a-kind gift for those you love.  They won’t have anything like it, and they’ll appreciate the thought and care you took to create something just for them.

6. Holiday Service
Just this morning, my son and I sat at the stoplight on our way to school.  On the sidewalk was the old homeless man and his dog we see almost every single day.  Outside, it was colder than freezing.  Judging by the early hour they were standing there, they’d probably spent the night in this cold.  “Should we give him something?” my son asked, and I nodded as I handed him a couple dollars.  We pulled up to him and opened the window, and my son handed him the money.  “Happy holidays,” the man said.  “Rusty and I thank you.”  As we drove away, my son told me how warm he felt inside from this small gesture.  Imagine how wonderful a gift that would be for your child – to feel what it’s like to give to someone less fortunate than them.  Give them the gift of a warm heart by adopting someone from the Giving Tree, offering time serving food at a shelter, donating food or clothing, or even just visiting some forgotten souls at the convalescent hospital.  Trust me, this may just end up being their favorite gift of the season.

What have you done in the past (or are doing now) to save money on holiday gifts?

Best gifts for teens

The most difficult group of people to buy gifts for? Teens. They’ve moved beyond the latest Elmo toys and those cute outfits we love to see them in, and have now developed a taste in style that is as separate from ours as they can get. Needless to say, this makes gift buying for them extremely difficult. Having several teens on my own gift-giving list this year (and knowing firsthand how horrendous the teen gift-buying experience can be), I’ve compiled a smorgasbord of items that your teen may actually crack a smile over….and utter something more than their usual grunt.

1. Video Games
These are a terribly personal gift, and it’s best if you know what titles your teen is asking for before buying, as well as what the games are about if you’re concerned about content. But if you’re looking to surprise your teen, here are a few titles topping the lists this year (with help from our game blogger, Eric Wittmershaus).
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” – A massive, open-world role-playing game full of magic, elves and dragons.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” – Cutthroat mulitplayer that puts players in the role of various manly men fighting World War III against a Russia run by a group of ultranationalist terrorists
“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” – The latest, and possibly greatest, chapter of the Zelda series that has Link tormented by dreams, and scouring the dreamy world of Skyloft for his princess Zelda.
“L.A. Noire” – Detective story set in a stunning re-creation of post-World War II Los Angeles.
“FIFA 12” – Sports gamers will appreciate the improvements in this latest version of the soccer game that features improved gameplay, competitive scenarios, and more.
For more video game titles, check out Eric’s blog at gamewit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

2. iGifts
The iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone are topping the lists for technology this year, according to a Nielson survey. And truthfully, you can’t go wrong with these gifts. Not only do the offer tons of uses beyond just listening to music or scouring the internet, they offer plenty of other gift ideas to go with them – accessories, headphones, protective covers, iTunes gift cards… Your whole family will be set on what to get your teen. Thank you Steve Jobs.

3. eReaders
Teens still enjoy a good book, but eReaders give them the ease of being able to dive into a novel without lugging around something bulky and heavy. Those who enjoy reading several titles at once will especially love the ease a good eReader gives them. Topping the charts is the Kindle 3, followed closely by the Nook Simple Touch Reader. The eReader we recommend with the best memory options (though low battery life) would be the Nook Tablet.

4. Clothing
Tread lightly if you plan on buying your teen fashions. Many teens have a very specific (read: picky) sense of style, and will turn their nose up at most of the things you deem “cute”. If you don’t have a specific sense of what your teen likes to wear, it’s best just to take your kid pre-shopping and let them pick out what you’ll be wrapping up in terms of clothing. Or, just keep the receipts for a few inevitable returns.

5. Livescribe Pulse Smartpen
Possibly the coolest thing this self-described geek has ever seen, it’s a way to make note taking easier. The pen records audio and handwritten notes to make studying and organization so much easier. Drool…. Buy it at Amazon

6. Polaroid 300 Instant Camera
Sure, now everything is digital. But what about the retro coolness of the Polaroid camera? Photo buffs will go gaga over the vintage aspect of shaking out their instant photo for a new spin on picture taking. Comes in black and red at HSN.com.

Still strapped for ideas? Here are a few more:

Preppy teens:
Make-up
Hair accessories
Watch
Jewelry
Perfume or cologne
Locker accessories
Leather-bound journal

Sporty teens:
Carrying bags
Team wear
Athletic shoes
Heart monitor
MP3 player
Snow Goggle Camera

Geektastic teens:
Computer
Portable speakers
Eclectic alarm clocks
Gaming Chair
Gadget charging station
Laptop messenger bag
Gaming accessories

New Driver:
Personalized license plate
License plate cover
Fun bumper stickers
Antenna characters
Floor mats
Seat covers
Car speakers
GPS/Garmin

Teen Room decor:
Lava lamp
Beanbag
Room fridge
Glow in the dark decals
Random art
Wall clock
Artistic lamp

And more:
Headphones
Subscription to online streaming site like Hulu, Pandora, Netflix, or Spotify.
Retro style record players
Artist carrying case
Origami kit
Karaoke machine

Teen Stocking stuffers:
Cash
Personalized luggage tags
Keychain
Chocolate
Uniquely styled USB Flash Drives
Earbuds
Room freshener
Fingerless gloves

FIVE ways to avoid the gimmies during the holidays

My son was recently looking at the calendar, counting out the days we had left until Christmas.

“I just can’t wait for it to get here!” he exclaimed.  At the same time, I was going over the mental list I had going on repeat, listing every single item I need to buy now that we are officially in the holiday season. I paused in my checklist and turned to him.

“Really? What are you going to get ME?” I asked him. He took on a deer-in-the-headlights look.

“Uh…” he stammered, quickly switching the subject to something else.

It’s only natural that kids focus most on the “getting” than the “giving” in the holiday seasons. Let’s face it, the holidays are geared around the younger generation with the ongoing commercials of must-have toys and the giant catalogs of goodies from the big box stores in every Sunday paper, as well as all the loudest and brightest merchandise at their eye level in the stores.

Kids want, want, want. And what do we do? Give, give give.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not bad parents for supplying our kids with the things they wish for. And kids are not bad for constantly wanting more no matter how much they have. Regardless of how downhill our economy is, we’re fortunate to be able to offer our kids more than we probably had growing up, and definitely more than many in other economic scenarios. However, we’d be doing them a disservice if we didn’t also use this time to instill in our kids a virtue of gratitude – especially as the holidays approach. Here are FIVE tips I have to encourage a spirit of thanks in your household – shifting the focus from receiving to giving – starting with this holiday season.

1. Model Gratitude
Just as important as it is for our kids to say “please” and “thank you” for everything they ask for and receive, they should be hearing it from us – their parents. Modeling the behavior we wish our kids to follow speaks much louder than any verbal instruction we could give them, and is an important key in teaching gratitude. Whether big or small, never fail to offer heartfelt thanks for anything that is given to you. Thank the waiter for their service when you go out to eat.  Thank the barista when you grab a cup of coffee.  And be sure to offer your child at least one sincere “thank you” per day, being specific about what they did and how it made you feel. You’ll not only teach HOW to say thank you, you will also be encouraging kind acts from everyone in the family as they feel more appreciated.

2. Grateful Lists
Create time out of each day for the whole family to gather together (dinnertime, for example), and take turns to list three things each person is grateful for that day. Hot chocolate. Warm blankets. Smiles from friends. A favorite stuffed animal. A kind word from a teacher. Doing well on a test. Focusing on all the good things in life every single day serves as a reminder about how fortunate everyone in your family really is. Plus, it may even invite more good things to come your way.

3. Donate.
Whether your time, your belongings, or your money, giving to those in need should be a habit for every family. There are always those in worse situations who could benefit from the kindness of what you have to give. Encourage your child’s help when going through clothes and toys to give away, taking time to discuss who might receive them and how it might help them or make them feel when they receive them. Choose a heart from one of Volunteer Now’s Giving Trees (see volunteernow.org for locations) and have your child help choose and wrap the gift. You can even bring the whole family for an evening of bagging food at the Redwood Empire Food Bank (see refb.org for available times).

4. Thank you notes
It was required of us when we were kids, and it should be required of our kids as well. For every gift a child receives, they should write a note to the person who gives it them. How involved these notes are depends on the age of the child and their concept of understanding. But eventually, a kid should write a note that offers three things – an offering of thanks for the gift, how they will be able to use that gift, and why they appreciate the person who gave it to them.

5. Just say no.
It’s one of the hardest words, but possibly the most important. Don’t succumb to giving your child everything they ask for, or fulfilling all their requests on their gift lists. Let them have the opportunity to earn the things they want by themselves. This teaches them the value of a dollar, as well as appreciating the effort put into each gift they do receive. And it is also a way to be kinder to your pocketbook.

What are some ways you help your kids focus more on giving during the holiday season?

Best and worst end-of-year gifts

Kids are gearing up for the end of the year, eagerly anticipating the start of summer vacation. And if you’re like me, you’ve been racking your brain for what to give the people who have meant the most to your child throughout the school year. First on the list is their teacher. But on that same list are their daycare providers, bus driver, crossing guard, sports coach, librarian….

What do you give the people that have been shaping your child’s life all school year long?

1. A simple thank you note. The best way to say thank you is to, well, say thank you. A handwritten card by your child (and maybe a little note from you as well) can go a long way in letting your child’s teacher know they’re appreciated.

2. Make a Scrapbook. This is fantastic for a coach or a teacher. Each child takes a page with their photo on it, and then writes a favorite memory of the year or season on it.

3. Your time. At the end of the year, teachers, librarians, and daycare providers are busy taking down the room so that it’s ready to be prepped for the next year. As you can imagine, this takes a lot of work. And an offer to help out might be much appreciated.

4. A gift card. It sounds impersonal, but it’s the perfect way for the person you’re thanking to be able to get what they need or want. A nice dinner out, a day at the spa, coffee… And for teachers who are most likely using their own money in the classroom, a gift card to the local bookstore or school supply shop will be highly appreciated.

5. Gift basket of school supplies. Along with the mention above, teachers can never have too much help in stocking up their classroom. Pens, dry erase supplies, Kleenex, paper, scissors, tape refills, paper clips, staples…. The list goes on and on. This would be a fantastic gift from just your child, or even a whole classroom.

6. Photos. If you’ve been taking pictures all year long, burn them onto a CD and give them to your teacher or coach. You can also print them out and make a photo album or collage. You can include them on a digital frame. Or you can create a book from them using the programs with Snapfish, Shutterfly, or other programs that allows you to bind them in a hardcover book. You can even create a calendar for the following year so that when your teacher has a new class, she’ll also have memories to share of her old class.

7. Growing a thank you. A potted plant can last long past the summertime. And it doesn’t just have to be flowers. It can be a start for a tomato plant, some fresh herbs, or even some seeds so that your child’s teacher or bus driver can plant their own garden. Even a gift card to the local Seed Bank can be a wonderful gift.

8. Movie Night In. Tie a ribbon around a package of microwave popcorn, a box of candy, and a gift card to the movie store. To make it extra fun, put it all in a pail with a couple glass bottles of soda. Who wouldn’t enjoy an excuse to stay in?

9. Recipe Book. Have each child in the class write out their favorite recipe on an index card and then tie it with a ribbon to a new apron. Or photo copy each recipe and bind it together in a book.

10. And don’t forget to have your child include their address in the thank you card with a few extra stamps. They may just receive a summertime pen pal from their teacher, crossing guard, bus driver, daycare provider, librarian, coach, or anyone else who has made a huge difference in their life this school year. And through the years, teachers don’t forget their students. Proof – I just heard from my 1st grade teacher who hasn’t seen me in over 20 years!

Of course, while those we are thanking would never tell you this, there are a few gifts that you should avoid giving if you can.

Coffee cups. I guarantee each teacher receives several each year. Multiply that now by every year the teacher is in the classroom. That’s a lot of coffee cups.

Ornaments. Unless you know your teacher is an avid collector of all things Christmas, there comes a point when their tree just can’t take anymore.

Gifts that are TOO personal. Skip the Victoria’s Secret gift certificate or the fishnet stockings. I’m not saying teachers don’t need lingerie too, but it probably shouldn’t come from their student.

Anything that says “World’s Best Teacher” on it (or anything else teacher related). They might just be the world’s best teacher. They don’t need 20 plaques that say it all over their home or classroom that were given to them by numerous students. Same goes for Chicken Soup for a Teacher’s Soul. I know the stories are tear-jerking. I also know that each teacher has probably been gifted this more than once.

Religious gifts. Saying thank you while saving their soul might not feel like much of a thank you, especially if they don’t share your faith. Just saying.

Baked goods. Some might appreciate it, but most just end up in the teacher’s lounge. Just like us, teachers are watching their waist lines too. And let’s face it, even if you are the best baker in the county there are plenty of others who are not. After years of braving mediocre homemade goodies, the teacher may just decide they can’t chance it even on your prize winning banana bread.

Scented gifts. Candles, lotions, body soaps… They might smell lovely to you, but they also might induce an allergic reaction in your teacher. Not only that, some of the lesser expensive scented gifts smell AWFUL. Best to skip it in favor of a gift card to your favorite bath shop.

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Are you a teacher, daycare provider, librarian, coach, principal, teacher’s aide, bus driver…? What was the best end of year/season gift you have ever received? And are you brave enough to share the worst (I’ll totally accept anonymous comments if you’ll dish!)?

Boycotting Valentine's Day

I told Mr. W that we’re to not exchange Valentine’s gifts this year. None. It’s not that I don’t love a good present. Truth is, one of my favorite things is to unwrap a surprise treat, no matter what it is, and especially when it’s meant as a token of love. But this year, last minute, I decided against it. And the biggest reason is because it was starting to feel more like a forced gift rather than a token of love. We were even making gift requests to each other. I needed my oil changed and had been eyeing a pair of silver hoop earrings. He really wanted a gift card to Ace Hardware. We each had a $40 limit. And it was starting to feel like this was just another Christmas gift rather than a loving gesture of our feelings for each other. So I put my foot down last minute and said that this year there would be no gifts.

But I’m not against Valentine’s Day. I actually love the idea that there is a holiday that has been set aside strictly to unleash those romantic gestures of love to the one who makes your palms get all sweaty and your heart race faster. It’s when guys, who statistically aren’t prone to be romantic on a day-to-day basis, are bringing flowers to their wives, getting all dressed up for dates, showering them with cards that tell how much they love them, giving them boxes of chocolates, and maybe presenting something sparkly they can wear proudly the rest of the year. For couples that generally don’t see a lot of romance the rest of the year, it’s when a little of that passion that brought them together in the first place is reintroduced – even for just one day.

But there are negative feelings involved with the holiday too. Men feel put out, bitter because they are being forced to shower their girl with gifts, flowers, and cheesy cards all because it’s become expected of them – and there isn’t so much of a demand on women to reciprocate. Relationship expert Marc Rudov is even calling for a national boycott from men of the “NOmance” holiday. “There’s nothing romantic about coercing men to oblige female entitlement,” Rudov said. “Valentine’s Day artificially and unilaterally caters to women. It’s the media’s annual male-bashing fest.”  And one blogger over at CafeStir has written a whole article on why married people should skip Valentine’s Day altogether. “Valentine’s is the day we are supposed to prove our love to the person we’re smitten with. Well, if you are married, don’t you think that the act of getting married and sharing your everyday life with your husband is proof enough?”Mr. W and I are not lacking in romance. While I admit there were a lot more gifts for no reason and bouquets of flowers (from both sides – yes, women can give flowers to men) in the beginning of the relationship, there are actually even better gestures of love that we give to each other now. On days that I stay over, he brings me coffee in bed in the morning, and we pore over the newspaper together before greeting the day. I make him breakfast, and he washes the dishes afterwards. We fold each other’s laundry. He washes my car. He teaches my son how to mow the lawn, how to build a greenhouse for our vegetable garden, and plays ball with him in the yard. We give each other weekly 10 minute squeezes to relieve the pressure a grueling work week can bring. He makes dinner almost every night when I’m there, plating the food as if it were a Michelin restaurant and I were the food critic he wished to impress. We talk every single night, wrapping up the day with a phonecall to rehash our days and just say goodnight. We send each other occasional “I’m thinking of you” texts.

The truth is, we don’t need Valentine’s Day to keep romance in our relationship.

I still believe in the holiday, and am actually against any boycott that is being implied by a so-called relationship expert. But what if couples worked on their relationship throughout the whole entire year rather than putting so much stress and pressure on one day in February? What if small gestures of love were given every day, rather than a big gesture on just one day? What if husbands brought their wives flowers every week or did the dishes after eating dinner? What if wives made their husband’s lunch before they went off to work or asked about their husband’s day with actual intent to listen? What if husbands and wives set aside a time every single day to just sit and talk with no interruptions and nothing on the agenda? Would divorce rates go down? Would happiness go up?

Would anything change?

At any rate, while I have put my foot down towards V-Day gifts, we’re still celebrating. We’ll get each other a nice card, and then go out to lunch together where I will pay for his meal, and he will pay for mine. And then we will go back to our own homes and spend Valentine’s Day with our own children. And that, to me, is the perfect way to celebrate a day set aside for love.

What are your thoughts on Valentine’s Day? Are you doing anything special?

The Richest Christmas

This year will be our fourth out on our own. But it seems like it was only a couple months ago that we were making the jump from a single family living with my parents, gaining our bearings after the divorce. Back then, it seemed so fresh and so new. And while we’ve gotten used to this space we call our own, the novelty of having our own home wearing off, I still find times that I marvel that we’re still surviving on our own.

Four Christmases ago, I think I felt the richest I had felt in a long time. In the corner of our living room was the Charlie Brown Christmas tree we had bought on sale at Kmart, the pre-lit branches of the artificial tree decorated with some ornaments we had bought, but mostly with ones we had made. To us, it was gorgeous. Underneath, the boxes of wrapped presents grew slowly, but surely. It was never a large amount, but it was proof that we could create our own Christmas. I admit that we had a little help from some generous souls. One family we were close to handed me a couple large bills to ensure that I could buy gifts for the kids. And another family opened up their trailer so that I could find some toys to give to my kids, and any other kids I knew who were in need. I filled my car, the blessings overflowing as I shared one family’s generosity with several families I knew who were hurting that year. I think my kids would have been happy with one gift from me, but thanks to all the help from those around, they ran downstairs to see our little pile of gifts grow to a mountain of presents they never had expected.

It was this little Christmas that reminded me of another Christmas years earlier, when the kids’ father and I were still married. It had been a really hard year for us that year. We had suffered a major hardship, and weren’t handling it well. We were ending that year out of work, out of money, and out of hope. But our innocent children knew no better. To them, every day was a reason to be happy. And despite the meagerness of our surroundings, they wouldn’t believe otherwise – that there was any reason why they should feel sorry for themselves. And on Christmas morning, my three year old daughter woke up to the gifts I had laid out the night before – humble trinkets and small toys I had found here and there for a grand total of $30 – and she turned her wide eyes up to me.

“I didn’t think we were going to get gifts this year!” And it took all I had not to burst into tears.

She knew she hadn’t been bad. She knew that, by Santa’s rules, she would be on the “good list” – just as deserving of presents as any other child. But it was suddenly brought to my attention that she knew more than we gave her credit for – that things were tight, and that we were going without at times to make ends meet. And she knew that would affect gifts that year. And yet, that was ok, because there was still so much to enjoy about the year.

In the years past, the kids and I have focused on different things to make our holiday season special. We take a night out to travel the town, in search of a house with the best Christmas lights and holiday display. We bake cookies, several batches at a time, to give out to family and friends, filling our kitchen with the heavenly smells of gingersnaps and our mouths with the decadent taste of snickerdoodles. Some years we catch a showing of the Nutcracker ballet, our personal favorite being the one that the Sebastopol Ballet puts on each year. Soup has become a winter tradition, warming our insides while the winter rages on outside. Every year there is at least one winter drive up to the snow.  And we regularly snuggle up on the couch to take in a movie, pulling out all our holiday favorites. And in these times, I do believe this is the best present of all – the memories we are making every holiday season.

The holidays aren’t just about giving gifts. They aren’t just about finding that number one toy of the year, or buying that expensive video game. It’s not about how many boxes are under the tree, or how much in debt the holiday list put you this year. Sure, kids want presents. But what are they going to remember? The time that was spent with them over the season – the traditions that were instilled in them that they will one day be passing on to their own family.

This year, don’t forget the gift of your time.

As for us, I’m thankful for each and every year we have lived on our own as a small family unit. This will be our final year doing this – next year Mr. W and I are combining our households, mixing our families and creating an all new and exciting adventure together. But for four years, we did it on our own, and had some of the richest Christmases we have ever experienced.

10 holiday toys topping your kids’ lists

While still popular, Zhu Zhus have been pushed out of the running for the #1 toy that is topping your child’s wish list.  So which toy has taken its place?  A farting dump truck.  But never fear, annoying adorable tiny animals still make the list – several times.  Read on for more hints on the toys that kids are asking for this year.

Stinky the Garbage Truck: This one has become the #1 “IT” toy of the season, as many of you parents already know. It reacts to sound and light, has over 100 phrases, an addiction for small cars and garbage, and a stinky habit of breaking wind. Of course he’s a hit with the toddlers. $49.99 +/-

Sing-A-Ma-Jigs: One Sing-a-ma-Jig, and you have a joyful noise. Add another, and you have a melodic duet. Add a couple more, and you have a chorus of Sing-a’s who will harmonize with each other in perfect pitch. (Want some fun? Sing-a-ma-jig yourself with the Facebook app for some musical fun). $9.49 +/-

Justin Bieber Singing Doll:  I’m so sorry parents. He is not going away. And it’s only fitting that the latest heart-throb of tweens and toddlers is now a doll. Well, not yet, but he will be hitting stores come December 1st. And if you have a kid who’s been Bieberized, you better go pre-order the Biebs (like at Amazon.com) before the doll is sold out and you have a hysterical, broken-hearted Bieb-fan to contend with. $53.15 +/-

Squinkies Surprise Bake Shop: 9 little, tiny squinkie animals, and a super sweet bake shop disguised as a cupcake – plus all the furnishings for them to kick back on as they chat about this sweet little world they got going on here. Yup, sign me up. $19.99 +/-

FurReal Friends Frenzies: Like Zhu Zhu, but so not. First off, the animals aren’t hamsters (though I admit, they really do look somewhat like hamsters). And they zoom around their play yard at giggle inducing speeds. Kids will love the zippiness of the non-hamsters. Parents will love that they remain in the play yard and not under their feet on the floor. It’s win-win. $26.49 +/-

Hot Wheels R/C Stealth Rides: These hot rides are a little smaller than the palm of your hand. But once you’re done playing with it, they flatten to fit into a case that can slide into your pocket (get it? It’s pretty stealth…). Not only that, but the case actually acts as the remote control. $36.99 +/-

Disney Princess & Me: Disney might be offing the princess, but that doesn’t mean the princess has left the store shelves. And judging by the continued popularity, little girls will be asking for this on their holiday list. In characters like Belle, Ariel, Cinderella and more, plus cheaper than the American Girl Doll, you can buy your child their favorite princess and know that it will be a favorite gift. $49.99 +/-

Calico Critters Country Cottage Playset: When I was younger, these cute little animals were called Sylvanian Families. Now they’re considered Calico Critters, but hold the same preciousness they did back then. There are multiple types of animal families (bears, rabbits, even mice), and this little cottage has a ton of adorable add-ons (sold separately) to create even more tiny gifts for your munchkin to squeal over. $49.99 +/-

Iron Man Walking R/C Robot: Shoot missiles at sis, chase the cat across the dining room floor, and intimidate opponents through flashing lights and mighty phrases. Have an Iron Man fan in the house? Then this one is a must-have gift. $40.78 +/-


Loopz: The dance game that will get your whole family up and groovin’ to the music. Through flashing lights and music, Loopz tests how hot your rhythm is with seven different challenging games that can be played with one to four players. Plus, it makes for an awesome light show in your living room. $43.99 +/-

Check out some of our favorite toy stores in the area:

The Toy Shop – 201 W Napa St Ste 1, Sonoma
A Child’s Dream – 1037 Santa Rosa Plz, Santa Rosa
Toyworks – various locations in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, including 2724 Santa Rosa Ave, Santa Rosa
HobbyTown Petaluma – 171 N Mcdowell Blvd, Petaluma
Kaleidoscope Toys – 9078 Windsor Rd, Windsor and 2421 Magowan Dr, Santa Rosa
Toys R Us – 2705 Santa Rosa Ave, Santa Rosa
Toys West – 151 Petaluma Blvd S Ste 105, Petaluma
K B Toy Outlet – 2200 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma

What toys are your kids asking for this year?