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Home for the Holidays: Tips for a Season That’s Merry and Bright

Holiday decor ideas, online shopping tips, and healthy and affordable recipes. Plus, how AAA can help you save this holiday season.

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Bright ideas for holiday home decor

Who has the best holiday lights in your neighborhood? You do.

Or at least you could with these helpful tips from industry experts.

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Game plan

A good plan helps you avoid surprises – and you certainly don’t want surprises on top of a ladder in the freezing cold. Measure the roofline, windows, trees and other areas where you plan to hang lights, and remember to buy extension cords that will reach the power outlets, too.

Light right

Only use lights certified for outdoor use and follow the instructions so you don’t overload any circuits, said Chris Wukovits, an insurance manager for AAA Northeast. LED lights use significantly less power than traditional incandescent bulbs, plus you can safely link more strands together in a series. Never use lights with frayed or damaged cords. Faulty wires could cause a fire. Holiday lights cause about 160 building fires annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Work smart

Test the lights while you’re on the ground and attach the light clips while you’re at it. Do not nail the cables to your house. That could damage the cords and possibly start a fire. Wrap all the connections in electrical tape to keep important pieces dry.

Ladder luck

Never reach for anything from a ladder, said Greg Regan, owner of Long Island Holiday Lights Installations, based in Bay Shore, N.Y. If something is out of reach, get down and move the ladder. Only use a ladder that is tall enough for the job and can support the weight of you and your tools. Don’t stand on the top two rungs.

Do it your way

Your budget dictates how many lights you hang, but even the simplest design can generate oohs and aahs. Choose a focal poin like your front door or columns and decorate them with C-9- sized bulbs, Regan said. Stick to one style, or spruce it up with a few different colors. But remember, what goes up must come down. Be extra cautious when removing lights on cold, icy days in January, and don’t be afraid to call in a professional if you don’t think you can install or remove lights on your own.

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Online shopping tips

Cyber criminals want to be the Grinch in your Whoville this holiday season.

These scammers, with hearts that are obviously two sizes too small, want to steal credit card information, Social Security numbers and more from the millions of Americans who plan to shop online this month.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help keep your identity and other sensitive financial information safe from these crooks when you buy online. It won’t make any hearts grow, but this advice from the experts at Experian could prevent your bank accounts and credit scores from shrinking due to fraud.

1. Only shop on websites with “https” in the address field. The “s” in this acronym means the website is secure and communications on it are encrypted.

2. You can’t be held accountable for more than $50 in fraudulent credit card purchases, according to federal law. Debit cards do not offer the same level of protection, so you may want to shop with a credit card.

3. If a deal seems too good to be true, it might be. Think twice before you click an email offering an exorbitant discount, especially if you don’t recognize the sender.

4. Don’t shop on public W i-Fi networks. These are more susceptible to identity thieves. Shop on your home network instead.

5. Make sure any apps you shop on are downloaded from a reputable source like the Apple App Store or Google Play.

6. Shop on websites that ask for the three or four-digit Card Verification Value code onthe back of your card. This is an extra line of defense for you and the business because it verifies you actually have the card in front of you.

7. Download software updates on your phone or computer when prompted. These often include important security patches.

8. Sign up for identity theft protection services. These programs will monitor activity on your credit reports and help you investigate and resolve fraud.

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Helpful helpings

For many, the holiday season evokes the spirit of giving to those in the community who are less fortunate – in addition to your friends and family – by donating to your local food pantry.

Food pantries typically ask for nonperishable canned goods, dry pasta and beans, oatmeal and peanut butter. Here’s how some staple pantry items can be used to create easy and affordable meals.

Applesauce 

It’s a long-held secret of vegetarians that applesauce can be used instead of eggs or butter when baking. The creamy snack works well as a substitute for eggs in a pancake recipe from TasteOfHome.com. Combine pancake mix with applesauce and a touch of cinnamon to balance out the flavor.

Black beans 

Canned or bagged beans are versatile. For a light, protein-filled lunch, try Southwestern beans on toast. A Chatelaine.com recipe combines vegetable broth, black beans, chili powder and cumin to create a yummy topping for toast – along with melted cheddar cheese. Add a Tex-Mex salad of vegetables drizzled with lime juice, honey and ginger for a side.

Canned tuna 

This low-calorie, high-protein option can be used several ways including to make a tuna burger in a recipe from the Genius Kitchen. Roll tuna, egg, breadcrumbs and parsley together to form patties, then saute them for four to five minutes on each side. The result? A quick and healthy dinner with the addition of steamed veggies or a fresh salad.

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Holiday savings

Save this holiday season on everything from flowers to shows with AAA’s holiday gift guide.

Visit AAA.com/HolidaySavings to learn more. 

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