Diablog: 10 Holiday Survival Tips

Hey, it's holiday gift-giving season! Or as I like to call it, Yuletide. I've already dug out the stocking mom made with the train in felt and sequins. What are you putting in it this year?

I'll never tell. Anyway, 'tis the season for holiday survival tips. I'm not talking about what to buy—the magazine's December gift guide is pretty definitive in that regard—but about what happens after the gift is given. Some of our readers are on the verge of making one or two little mistakes that may come back to haunt them later.

Like the Ghost of Stupidity Past. May I help?

Certainly. Take this list and read it. Do your James Earl Jones impression.

Listen everybody, I'm going down a whole octave. This is text so you'll just have to imagine it. Ahem. (1) Save all packaging and boxes. Well, we knew that was coming.

Keep it all, including the box, the exterior carton if there was one, the packing materials, all the little documents. Don't throw them out until the warranty has expired and/or the product has become disposable. With products built to last, like maybe a Linn turntable, that means never.

Do I detect a hint? If you think I'm going to ante up for a Linn turntable this year, you're insane. (2) When opening large or intricately packed products, leave bread crumbs. What is that supposed to mean?

That means take a marker and number every styrofoam wedge and cardboard object that emerges from the box in the order in which you unpacked it. If all those pieces have to go back, you'll know the way home. It wouldn't hurt to make the occasional note like "bottom front left" or "remote and power cord go here." If you have to pack up that flat-panel set again during the warranty period, you'll be glad you did this.

Compulsive yet compulsory. (3) Save both store and credit-card receipts. Aw, go suck an eggnog. How old do you think I am?

There might be one or two impetuous free spirits out there. And if Santa seems to be working through Amazon, keep all the stuff you'll need if a gift shipped to you has to go back, especially the packing slip, even if it doesn't reveal the price or precisely resemble a receipt. Next:

(4) Keep on top of rebates. You go, girl, or whatever you are.

Yeah, rebates are a scam. Why do you think they're offered in lieu of simpler drops in pricing?

Because the rebaters assume a certain percentage of rebatees will fall behind in their rebate-seeking. That makes beating the system practically a moral obligation.

So download the rebate form if you ordered the product online—do so right when you order it. Read the instructions like a jailhouse lawyer. Follow them precisely. You'll probably have to provide the original barcode among other things. File without delay—rebates always come with expiration dates. Keep copies of everything, and I mean everything, including the instructions and the barcode. To prompt yourself to follow up, pin the copies to a bulletin board or leave them around someplace where they'll annoy you. You may have to call or write and, cough cough, remind the rebaters that you're owed payment. If the fine print says expect payment in 30 days, call after 30 days. Remember, these people are looking for an excuse, any excuse, to avoid paying you.

I love it when you get worked up like this. (5) If you don't have an electronic junk drawer, start one.

Don't toss out those unwanted cables, speaker spikes, earbuds, belt clips, or other extraneous accessories—you may want them later. For extra credit organize your junk drawer into categories with gallon-size zip-lock bags.

If nothing else, you'll have the satisfaction of posthumously creeping out your heirs. (6) Label power adapters.

Anyone who owns a lot of electronic stuff knows how wall warts and other accessories proliferate like mushrooms after a spring rain. After awhile they all start to look alike. Rather than wonder which plug fits into what and whether the number of volts is correct, just stick an adhesive label on the thing. Use bright colored labels for high-priority items. And toss the less-used ones into the junk drawer where you can find them. Why torture yourself?

(7) Put manuals and other product documents in a file. What do you expect me to do, devote a different folder to every manufacturer?

You needn't go that far. But one folder is hardly enough for everything. At least break the alphabet into a half-dozen groups. I use a different folder for each letter of the alphabet. Manuals from Samsung, Sanyo, and Sony get mixed up, but I never have to spend more than 15 seconds locating one.

(8) Prepare to mentor the recipient.

When appropriate. Like when a parent gives a tech toy to a small child, or you give your elderly mom a cell phone. You needn't memorize the manual, but cherrypick it for obvious stuff like how many hours the first charge should take. Put yourself in command of the situation. You also might want to download a second copy of the manual in case mom calls you for tech support.

You'll know you're overdoing it if the recipient gives you a dirty look. (9) Write serial number on manual.

Do it now while it's easy. If you call tech support, you'll need this information. Don't wait till you have to crawl behind the rack or whatever.

And finally: (10) Be nice to the customer support people. Oh, do I have to?

Yes. They have hard jobs and they're not exactly overpaid. No matter how bummed out you are, don't use that as an excuse to abuse another human being, especially at this time of year. It's in your best interest to be pleasant and reasonable. It's also the right thing to do. Happy holidays!

Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater. For links to the latest edition, visit www.quietriverpress.com.