Tips from Real Life 101

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Archive for the ‘Living’ Category

How to Write a Proper Thank-You Note

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Whether you’re thanking family friends for their hospitality at their lake home one weekend, or simply thanking Grandma for a birthday present, writing a thank-you note is an important and polite gesture. Unfortunately, those fill-in-the-blank cards are only appropriate until about age seven, and technological advances have lead us to believe that shooting a quick email will suffice. Writing a genuine thank-you note is still in vogue and much more respectful than a call or email. Follow our easy steps to write a genuine thank-you.

  • Send notes in a timely manner. Various occasions have differing guidelines, but the best bet is to send a thank-you card as soon as you have time to sit down and write one.
  • Use appropriate stationary. You don’t have to buy any fancy or expensive note cards, but ripping a piece of paper out of your notebook is unacceptable. Simply designed cards are perfect and allow you to set your own tone through wording. We love this simple and sophisticated folded card from Paper Source:
  • Greet the gift-giver. The beginning of your thank you note should be addressed to the individual(s) who signed the card. Elders should be referred to by their formal titles (e.g. Mr. and Mrs. Jones), unless they have previously given you permission to call them otherwise.
  •  Express your gratitude. Simply thank the individual for his or her gift, and be sure to express this gratitude in the politest way possible. Don’t directly mention money, but rather thank the individual for his or her generosity. You can also give an example of how you plan to use the item or cash to your advantage (again, discretion and overall courtesy is key!).
  • Show interest in the individual. Don’t write a novel about your relationship with the individual, but politely mention how great it was to see them recently or how you hope to cross paths soon.


Here’s a quick example of a thank-you note one may send after receiving money for graduation:


Dear Aunt Michelle,

Thank you very much for your generous gift! Your kindness is certainly appreciated, and will surely be a huge help when I purchase a bedspread for my new dorm room. It was fantastic seeing you at Lauren’s birthday party last weekend, and I hope to see you when I am home for Thanksgiving break. I hope things are well; you are in my thoughts! Thanks again for your gift.

With Love,


Thank-you notes don’t need to be lengthy, but simply show appreciation and thanks for someone’s kindness. 

Written by Real Life 101, Inc.

December 29, 2011 at 11:45 am

Posted in Living, Uncategorized

Don’t Forget: Packing for College

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Of course you remembered your clothes, a desk lamp, (extra-long) sheets, and all the other dorm room essentials that you use every day. However, there are some necessary and easily forgotten items that you should be sure find a place in your dorm to make a comfortable transition from home to campus.

Sleep Essentials: You may be used to your quiet bedroom and hours of luxurious and uninterrupted sleep. Cut to the dorm room, where not only do you share the room with another person, but you share the building with hundreds of other students.

  • If your noisy neighbors keep you from getting a restful night of sleep, purchase a sleeping mask and earplugs.

H20 Essentials: I remember chatting with fellow out-of-state student at orientation who asked if I had tasted the tap water in our college town. Confused, I of course went home and tried the tap water…and it tasted like dirt! A water filter can clean any questionable contaminants and tastes out of tap water.

  • A Brita filter is inexpensive and can be easily found at Target or Wal-Mart. Pour your filtered water into a reusable water bottle and you can save tons of cash instead of buying water bottles.

Rain Essentials: One item I completely forgot to pack when I went off to college was my favorite pair of rain boots! On that first rainy day I was one of the only students running to class in my flip-flops and t-shirt, drenched head to toe. With few exceptions, no matter where you go to school you’re going to run into a rainy day.

  • Be sure to pack rain boots, an umbrella, and a rain jacket to keep dry!

Laundry Essentials: It’s easy to remember detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets. However, if you plan on using the washing machines in the dorms, you’ll need a few rolls of quarters to put those other laundry necessities to use!

While we suggest making some extra room for these items, it’s important to remember that college dorm rooms are very tiny. A few things to leave a home when you’re packing for college:

High School T-shirts: You’ll receive an absurd amount of free t-shirts in college, and your “Class of 2011” senior shirt will end up getting stuffed in the back of your drawer.

  • Leave the old t-shirts at home, or send them to a company that specializes in making t-shirt quilts that you can use on your bed.

 Extra Pillows: After pledging a sorority, purchasing a koala Pillow Pet I just had to have, and the Peep pillow my grandma insisted on sending to me for Easter, I had trouble finding a place to sleep amongst the unnecessary pillows all over my bed.

  • Although adorable, leave the decorative pillows at home; these pillows will end up taking up what little floor space you have left.

Fancy Formals: Sports teams, clubs, sororities, and fraternities often throw date nights and formals.

  • However, long Prom dresses aren’t college-appropriate and you’ll be more apt to wear short cocktail dresses to these types of events.

Written by Real Life 101, Inc.

August 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Common Etiquette Mistakes

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The Real Life 101 team agrees that proper etiquette is an important aspect of every day life. We asked our etiquette expert, Jennifer Indyk, to share some of the most common mistakes she sees.   Here were her thoughts:

Many people make introductions in the wrong order:

  • The person of greater authority is mentioned first: “Mrs. President, may I present Mr. Vice President.”
  • Introductions should be done immediately and by whomever knows both parties.
  • When being introduced, offer right hand immediately for a handshake, make eye contact, smile and say something like “It’s nice to meet you” or “How do you do?”

It is a mistake to not leave your phone number on a voice mail message because you just know the other person has it.

Do not show up late to an appointment.  Be on time; arriving late shows a lack of respect.

At the table, it is important to understand which place setting is yours.

  • Your glassware will be on your right and your bread plate on your left.
  • Your fork will be on your left and spoon on the right.

Use cutlery with care.

  • Hold cutlery with fingers; not fists.
  • Do not gesture with your cutlery.
  • Once you pick up a piece of cutlery, it should never touch the table again.

Napkin use:

  • Do not tuck the napkin into shirt.
  • The napkin goes on your lap as soon as you sit down.
  • Dab the corners of your mouth with the napkin.

It is a mistake to pass the salt or pepper alone.

  • Always pass the two together, even if someone requests you to pass only one.
  • Just place both in front of the person requesting them.

Buttering Bread:

  • Do not take the butter directly from the dish and place it on your bread.
  • Rather, place a pat of butter on your bread plate first; then spread it on the bread.
  • Bread is to be torn, not cut.  Tear off a piece of a roll, butter and then eat, one piece at a time.

Do not put anything on table; this includes a cell phone or PDA.

Always pass food to the right.

Do not push away or stack your dishes.

Never blow on liquid to cool it.

Elbows are not permitted on the table when there is food on the table.

Remember these guidelines to avoid confusion and embarrassment when it really matters.

Tipping Etiquette 101

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One of my favorite restaurants suggests in bold letters at the bottom of their menu “18% gratuity is appropriate and recommended.” With restaurants suggesting how much to tip before you even place an order, appropriate tipping etiquette may be confusing. When do you leave a generous tip? Is it ever acceptable to leave no tip at all? We’ve created a little cheat sheet of the modern guidelines when it comes to gratuities and tipping etiquette.
Restaurant Dining: Tipping used to show an individual’s appreciation for exceptional service. Restaurants now factor in tips as a way to lower wages, and therefore it is customary to leave:

  • 15% gratuity for average service.
  • 20% is recommended for exceptional service. 
  • 10% gratuity is appropriate for less-than-mediocre service. 

It is never appropriate to leave a nickel or dime out of spite, and the manager should be confronted privately if the service does not deserve even 10% gratuity.
Tip Jars: Many small establishments, such as coffee bars and ice cream shops, have a tip jar next to the register. Because these tips are shared between all employees, it is not necessary or expected to leave a tip.

  • Frequent patrons should drop in a few bucks from time to time. 
  •  This guideline can be applied to bar service as well. 

Private Parties: It is not recommended to tip servers or bartenders at private parties, unless the server has provided extraordinary service.

  • Etiquette experts suggest a small tip of appreciation in special circumstances, such as help when you spill on your shirtfront.

There are a few other situations when it is customary to leave a small tip:

  • Valet parker: $2-$5
  • Doorman: $5 for hailing a cab (more generous tips are recommended around the holidays for doormen you encounter regularly)
  • Coat check clerk: $1-$2
  • Hairdressers, barbers, manicurists, etc.: 10% of total bill (more is recommended during the holiday season)
  • Taxi driver: 15% of total bill
  • Skycaps at airport: $1-$2 per bag
  • Grocery loaders: $1-$3 depending on the number of grocery bags

Sources: How to be a Gentleman, John Bridges
Essential Manners, Peter Post

Save that Shirt! Stain Removal Tips

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If you have ever spilled on your favorite shirt, you know the disappointment that ensues when you take the shirt out of the washing machine and a huge stain still remains. However, there are steps you can take to treat a stain before washing to aid the removal and make certain that you will wear your favorite shirt once again!

  • Treat stains as soon as possible! The longer a stain sets, the harder the stain will be to remove.
  • Don’t immediately run to the bathroom and start scrubbing with a bar of soap; basic soap and rubbing will only drive the stain further into the fabric.
  • If you are rinsing a stain, stick to cold water since warm water can also make certain stains permanent.
  • Gently blot with a sponge when treating stains since scrubbing or vigorously rubbing could also set the stain.
  • Check all garment instructions and tags before you bleach, launder, or treat any article of clothing.
  • Keep a Tide-To-Go pen in your purse or car to pretreat any stains that might occur when you are out and about.

Here are a few remedies for common stains:

Beer or Soda: Mix liquid detergent and white vinegar and apply to the stain.

Berries/grape juice: Mix liquid detergent and 5% diluted ammonia and apply to the stain.

Blood (dry): Mix liquid detergent and 5% diluted ammonia and apply to the stain.

Butter: Butter is a protein so try using acetone on the stained item. Do not use warm water on these stains, and check the laundered item before throwing it into the dryer; you may need to treat the stain again, and heat from the dryer may set the stain permanently.

Coffee: Mix liquid detergent and white vinegar and apply to the stain.

Grass: Pretreat the stained area with detergent, and then bleach the stain. BE SURE to read garment instructions fully to be sure the item can be bleached.

Ink: Try acetone then detergent on ink stains. If the ink is stubborn, you can also try paint remover.

Nail Polish: Acetone is a key ingredient in nail-polish remover, so it’s no wonder acetone is the stain-remover of choice if you happen to spill nail polish on your clothes!

Wine: Mix liquid detergent and 5% diluted ammonia and apply to the stain.

Handy iPhone Apps for College Students

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Here at Real Life 101, we’re absolutely addicted to our iPhones. But with so many apps out there, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. We’ve complied a list of some of our favorite, and most useful, iPhone apps for college students.

PosiMotion’s G-Park: If you brought your car to school, you may have already spent an afternoon wandering through parking lots trying to remember where you parked. With this $0.99 app, you can park anywhere, click the “Park Me!” button, and later hit the “Where Did I Park?” button to find your car! An excellent buy for students on large campuses.

Pandora: A classic favorite, this app provides free streaming music. Pick just about any genre or artist, and Pandora creates a specialized station just for you! The classical station is excellent for those nights in the library, and Top Hits is our choice for those long treks across campus. Pandora is available for Blackberry and Android too!

Pizza Finder: Pizza is the perfect meal for just about any occasion: a long all-nighter in the library, getting ready for a night on the town, or late night munchies after a night on the town. This FREE app uses your location to provide a list of restaurants and phone numbers to access that cheesy pizza you’ve been craving, instantly!

MyFitnessPal: If you’re worried about the Freshman 15, never fear with this FREE app. MyFitnessPal gives you the option to set a goal weight, and record your caloric intake and exercise habits. The app lists thousands of food options, and you’ll be able to find nutrition facts for just about any meal (we just looked up the calories in a Chik-fil-A chicken sandwich… Yikes). This app will be available soon for Blackberry too.

Fandango: This convenient, FREE app uses your location to list theatres and movie times in your area. An easy way to plan the perfect date night! Fandango can be used with Blackberry and Android.

Kik: If you or a friend is planning to study abroad, you might want to consider downloading this FREE app. Using text messaging when you’re out of the country can be very expensive, but if you are dying to tell your best friend about that crazy night in Barcelona, consider sending them a message using Kik! Kik uses your data plan to send messages rather than your texting plan, so messages can be cheaper, or even free, to send from anywhere! Kik is also available for Android.

HeyTell: iPhones give you access to connect with your friends in a wide variety of mediums: texting, calling, even FaceTime! And now, this FREE app allows you to use your phone like a walkie-talkie to send instant voice messages to your pals. An easy and time-effective way to plan a time to meet your friend down the hall for dinner, or drop a quick hello to a friend from home! HeyTell can also be used with Android phones.

The BEST Party Guest

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Lucky you!  You’ve been invited to a party.  Consider these traits of an ideal party guest before you attend your next celebration.

The best party guest…

1.  … always responds in a timely fashion.

RSVP means “Répondez S‘il Vous Plaît” in French, which translates to “Respond Please” in English.   If there is an RSVP line on the invitation, you must respond.  Your host is planning food and drink, and in many cases will be committed to certain payment deadlines with caterers or bartenders.  Usually these deadlines are at least one week in advance, so make sure you give him/her the courtesy of a response before then.  Even if caterers are not involved, the host will need to do the shopping and seating planning, so the rule still applies.

Regrets only means you should reply only if you are unable to attend.  Again, the decline of the invitation should be at least one week prior to the event if possible.

Note:  Sometimes we truly don’t know if we can attend close to the deadline.  In this case, speak with the host and let him/her know what the situation is.  For example, “I’d love to attend, but I may need to be in New York for work.  I should know for sure by Wednesday, and I will get back to you then if that’s acceptable.”

2.  … does what he says he will do.

If you have responded favorably, do not cancel at the last minute because you do not want to go.  While sometimes conflicts arise, do your best to find an alternative rather than canceling.   It is terribly rude to no-show, or even to call and cancel, especially less than 24 hours before the celebration.  Granted, we don’t feel like attending sometimes, but usually if we just go, we end up having a great time.

3.  … asks if he can bring something.

If you are attending a dinner party, the host may ask you to bring a bottle of wine or a side dish of some kind.  Try to match your contribution to the flavor of the party, and if possible, confirm your contribution with the host beforehand.

Note: If you are asked to bring a food item, place it in a nice serving dish, and have it assembled entirely before you arrive.

For instance, if you have something like a salad that needs to be assembled at the last minute, bring along a set of tongs, and place the lettuce in the serving bowl with each topping in plastic bags to combine at the last moment.  This way, you will require nothing of the host.  If your appetizer needs to bake, call ahead and make sure the host has space in his/her oven.  If so, bring the item in the pan needed to bake it as well as the serving dish used to serve the item.

If you have an item that requires more prep work than these examples, find something else to bring.  There is nothing more annoying than a guest who needs a serving dish or wants to make their dish in your kitchen needing pans, ingredients, time, oven space, burners, and so on.

Remember: The host has asked you to bring something in order to take some time and stress off of his/her hands, and it is your job to contribute to the party and make his/her life easier. 

One last note: When the party is over, if the host hasn’t used the bottle of wine or the remainder of your dish, do not just grab what you brought and take it home (especially with wine).  Rather, ASK if the host would like to keep the remainder of the items. 

4.  … is on time.

It is important to consider the type of party you are attending when determining your arrival time.

If it is a dinner party, the host/hostess has planned the timing of the food, and you must arrive on time to the function.  On time means within 5-10 minutes of the time on the invitation; anything later is incredibly rude.

If it is an open house, you can most likely come and go between the times listed on the invitation, but do arrive within an hour of when the event is scheduled to conclude.


5.  … brings a host/hostess gift.

If you are asked to bring an item, you do not need to bring an additional gift, but it is always a nice gesture if you choose to do so.

The same rule applies to gifts as to side dishes.  Do not bring anything that will require effort on behalf of the host.  So, for example, do not bring flowers that are not already in a planter or in a vase.  If you do, the host has to go searching for the right vase and is taken away from the guests.

Here are a few gift ideas:

  • Send or deliver a bouquet of flowers the day before the party.  This way the host can plan how they will fit into the décor of the party.
  • Bring a decorative candle, votive candles, tea towels, hand soaps, cocktail napkins, serving utensils, or cocktail stirrers.  A favorite CD or board game can also be a fun offering.
  • Bring something edible (and pre-packaged) such as chocolates, pretzels, flavored salts, quality olive oil, baked goods, mixes in a jar, a bottle of wine, or some sort of alcohol.
  • Bring a small, indoor, potted plant that is easy to care for.  Herbs can also be a unique idea.
  • Get something personalized.  While this takes some advanced planning, everyone loves items with their name or monogram on it.  Examples would be note paper, soaps, hand towels, picture frames, and return-address stamps or stickers.

Make sure you attach a small card or label to the item with some kind words and your name.

6.  … compliments the host/hostess.

Rest assured, this party has taken a great deal of planning and effort.  Find something nice to say, and compliment the host/hostess during the evening.  Consider the home décor, party décor, food and drink, personal style, or anything else you can find.  Make sure you are genuine with your comments, and make the host/hostess feel appreciated for all the work he/she has done.

7.  … asks if he can help the host/hostess.

If you are at a dinner party, ask if there’s anything you can do to help in the kitchen or at the bar.  It is also nice to ask if you can assist with clearing the table, or cleaning up the kitchen after.  If the host/hostess declines your offer, respect the wishes, and re join the party.


8.  … minds his conversational p’s and q’s.

Take note of how the conversation is flowing.  Choose appropriate topics of conversation avoiding politics, sex, and religion; financial topics should also be treated with care.  Contribute to the conversation, but keep others in mind, and avoid rambling, monopolizing the conversation, or interrupting others.   Do ask questions (a great conversation starter), and make sure to listen to the answers.  Finally, try to be positive with whatever you say avoiding gossip or talking about others in a negative manner.


9.  … drinks responsibly. 

Keep your alcohol consumption in check.  Take note of the pace of others at the party, and make sure you are not ahead of it.  It’s okay to have fun and take part in libations, but do not get sloppy – or drive – when you should not.

10.  … is thankful.

Make sure to thank the host/hostess for their hospitality as you leave the party.  It is also nice to handwrite a brief “thank you” within a few days of the gathering.  In the note, show your appreciation for the invitation and their hospitality, comment on the party itself (décor, food, drink, fun etc.), and speak of the next time you will see the person.  If it was a small affair, or if you are particularly good friends with the host/hostess, it is also thoughtful to call and say what a wonderful time you had.

Written by Real Life 101, Inc.

December 14, 2010 at 11:33 am