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This is my favorite time of year! I especially like helpful ideas for savings and hassle-free shopping; what suggestions do you have for saving me time and money? — Harriet Holiday

Dear Ms. Holiday: Like you, I'm always delighted to discover better methods for "Holiday" shopping and, in turn, to gift them to readers. Today features some great tips, compliment of Reader's Digest.

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Ellen Phillips

Let someone else do your shopping. Lots of stores employ free professional shoppers, including higher-end stores like Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom. However, we can utilize their assistance at mall stalwarts such as Pottery Barn, Macy's and others. Call ahead for an appointment and take your shopping list with you. (Local independent stores happily offer suggestions as their personal touch.)

Deliver gifts. In fact, some stores offer free setup and delivery on items such as bikes, grills, and furniture; even though chain stores may charge for the service, the fee is probably well worth the money convenience-wise to save time. (Always ask an independent retailer whether it will match the price found at a chain store, which usually is cheaper.) If local stores don't offer this service, check online at Postmates.com or download the free app to see if setup and/or delivery is available in your area. The type the store name onto the search bar, click on the store, and enter the item you wish to buy. If assembly help is needed, post an ad on Taskrabbit.com and describe what you need; as bids arrive, weigh these responses as to job, helper, and location.

Get free gift wrapping. In my teenhood, I wrapped Christmas presents to make a little extra money (back then, probably a nickel an hour). This was, of course, when all stores offered free wrapping that's, unfortunately, not as prevalent these days. However, some stores do still offer the service, or at least offer free boxes and maybe paper and ribbon. Keep your eyes peeled for gift wrapping tables in malls and shopping centers; for example, here's a shout-out to the Kids on the Block wrappers at Hamilton Place Mall. These volunteers (me included) beautifully giftwrap packages from all the stores in the mall in the hopes that shoppers will leave a generous donation to this worthwhile charity.

Make a budget. Be sure to budget before heading to the stores and, even more importantly, stick to it. Avoid those special-interest offers from retailers since we may not be able to come with up with the funds by the deadline. If this were to occur, consumers would be compelled to pay back the interest that has been silently accruing during the so-called "interest-free" period,

Forego the stress of shopping for family members. Instead, share special moments and experiences. Treat loved ones to a holiday show, for example, or breakfast at a fancy hotel.

Don't worry about that massive pile of holiday cards to be mailed. Rather, ask yourself, "Which are the 10 most important ones?" Send those and put the rest on the back burner. Or just send an e-card to everyone on your list (which Ellen Etiquette would never do).

And, finally, those of us who get overwhelmed or frantically shopping for a last-minute gift, take note. Step up to the department store perfume counter, peruse the testers and dab on a lemony fragrance. According to researchers at Ohio State University, lemon scents instantly boost your mood. Another way to let your nose lead to a calmer holiday experience is to have on hand essential oils, such as lavender, orange, and cinnamon. Breathe deeply ... ahhh.

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

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