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Last minute gifts that cost nothing but time

8 good deeds you can perform for friends and neighbors

Published: December 20, 2013 08:00 AM

Days are numbered for procrastinators who haven’t yet started their holiday shopping. But you don’t have to venture into the mall if you don’t want to. Instead of buying a token gift, give your friend or neighbor something that costs you little and benefits them a lot—time. Buy a nice card and insert an IOU offering to walk their dog, do some yard work or home repairs, or drive them to an appointment. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Clear the snow
Maybe you have a snow blower and your neighbor doesn’t. If you’ve already bundled up to clear your own driveway, why not do theirs as well? In Consumer Report’s snow blower tests we measure removal speed, throwing distance, surface cleaning and plow pile removal. The best snow blowers in our tests get excellent marks on all tasks, including the two-stage Cub Cadet 31AH57S, $1,500, and Cub Cadet 930SWE 31AH95SU, $1,600. Even if you clear snow the old-fashioned way, with a shovel, it’ll be appreciated. Who knows, you might even find their daily newspaper under the white stuff.

Help with home repairs
Everyone has a loose towel rod or a picture that needs hanging. Ask your gift recipient to make a short list of small repairs and pledge to spend an afternoon fixing them. At Consumer Reports, we test drills for all skill levels. Our top general use drill/driver is the Hitachi DS18DSAL, $170, followed closed by models from Makita, Ridgid, DeWalt and Panasonic. For lighter tasks, try the Hitachi DS14DSFL, $140.

Make a meal
For a single working Mom or a family with children in lots of after-school activities, a homemade meal delivered to the door is a good thing. And thanks to Chinet, you don’t even have to ask for your dish back. In the supermarket, look for Chinet’s paper bakeware, which in our tests proved to be a tough baking dish that can be used in a regular oven and then migrate to a microwave oven.

Clean the house
Some people prefer to clean before company arrives and others like to clean up after they leave. Offer to expend some elbow grease vacuuming or dusting, or washing floors or bathrooms. In our tests of vacuum cleaners, many got excellent scores for bare floors, including the top-rated Kenmore Progressive 21714 canister, $400, and the Kirby Sentria, $1,350. But it’s the carpet and pet hair tests that separate the best from the rest. For cleaning the kitchen or the bathroom, our all-purpose cleaner of choice is PineSol Original, which was the only one in our tests that didn’t leave streaks on the mirror.

Do the laundry
With all the wrinkle-free fabrics these days, steam irons don’t get the workout they once did. But after the holidays there may be tablecloths or napkins to wash, iron, and put away. In our tests of steam irons, the Panasonic NI-W950A, $220, topped all others due to its prodigious steaming rate. It was excellent on all ironing tasks, including linen tablecloths. For laundry, our top laundry detergent is Tide Ultra plus Bleach Vivid White + Bright HE.

Walk the dog
The beauty of taking care of your neighbor’s dog from time to time is you can enjoy the companionship without the vet bills. Many working families have pets that, by necessity, are cooped up in the house all day. That’s where you come in, especially if you have a flexible schedule. There’s nothing like being greeted at the door by a happy pup.

Drive to an appointment
Next time your neighbor has to go to the eye doctor or dentist, offer to drive. That way if they have an eye-blurring exam or need pain killers for that dental work, they’ll get safe passage home. Take a book or enjoy the guilty pleasure of reading the celebrity magazines in the doctor’s offices. Win-win.

Mow the lawn
Once spring arrives, this seasonal chore will be necessary again. For your neighbor, it’ll be like Christmas in April. Our top mowers are champs at mulching and mowing and we also rate how they handle. Models from Honda and Toro top the list of self-propelled mowers and our top push mower is from Cub Cadet. For larger lawns, we liked tractors from Snapper and John Deere.

--Mary H.J. Farrell

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