It may seem a bit early to be writing about Christmas shopping, but I have to be honest, I’ve nearly finished mine. I love the Holidays, but while I may dream of wafting around a beautifully decorated mall, easily choosing present after present and ticking names off my list, that image used to be a long way away from reality for me. I’ve learned through bitter experience that shopping early is the only way. I can’t bear the thought of struggling for a parking space, fighting my way through the crowds and being caught in the last minute rush.
Of course, it is easier when you have either budgeted for holiday gift expenditure or are going through a period of financial serenity. Otherwise the temptation is to wait until the last possible moment. It’s true, holiday shopping can take a huge bite out of anyone’s budget. Then there are all those tempting sales. From Black Friday onwards we are assailed by advertising and media images of idealistic holiday seasons. These almost always seem to be populated by fashion icons sipping champagne in full view of a designer Christmas tree with gifts spilling out from under the pine boughs. It’s easy to be lured into buying stuff for yourself that you do not really need and things for others that you really can’t afford. It’s enough to turn the season of goodwill into the season of stress, and give you nightmares as you dread the arrival of your January credit card bill. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Over the years I have learned many things that can help you survive holiday shopping with your budget and sanity intact. In fact, you might even find yourself enjoying it.
Before we start, we need to clear up one thing. Those Hallmark Christmases, the chocolate box advertisements, the glossy ads in Vogue and other magazines? They are not real. They have been manufactured in the brain of a marketing executive and are designed to make you buy stuff. I’ve never met anyone who has that kind of Christmas – even my wealthier friends who can afford to buy absolutely anything they want to don’t. Stop trying to duplicate something that isn’t real in the first place. The holidays are not meant to be a test of your worth as a person on any level – they are meant to be fun. Now let’s go shopping, but first, here are some top tips.
Make a list of the people to whom you give gifts.
Set a realistic budget and make notes of any gift ideas you have for each person staying within the budget. Don’t forget about any birthdays that fall within the holiday season as well as gifts/tips for those who provide a service to you. If you need any new clothes or shoes for holiday parties, you need to include those in the budget too, so there will be no nasty bills in the mail in January.
Remember that a gift doesn’t have to be extravagant to be meaningful. Homemade cookies or a something handcrafted can be the most touching of gifts. So if you are feeling the pinch financially, do not feel obliged to buy large or expensive presents. Think about ways you can be creative instead – or if you are pressed for time or inspiration, visit Christmas craft fairs for handcrafted gifts and ornaments that make beautiful presents.
Consider giving the same gift to more than one person.
This year I found some gorgeous Bobbi Brown makeup pallets that would suit just about anyone. Several women on my gift list are receiving those. I also found some fabulous Crabtree and Evelyn gift sets containing specialty teas and cookies. Six other people will be receiving those – including some couples on our Christmas list. By the way, all of these gifts were wrapped for free in the store so all I have to do is fill out the gift tags.
Buy a couple of emergency cards or gifts.
Every year I choose something to have on hand just in case I receive a gift from someone I have not bought for or (heaven forbid) forget someone. This year I have two really nice sets of cheese knives tucked away, along with a couple of nice bottles of wine and champagne in gift boxes. I also have some spare boxes of chocolates and a couple of $30 gift cards ‘just in case’. Basically, there is something for everyone – and if I don’t use them all at Christmas, they will come in handy another time.
Shop online as much as possible.
Provided you are careful to use reputable retailers and keep your personal information safe, online shopping is a lifesaver. You don’t have to carry heavy parcels or fight the crowds, and some companies will even wrap and ship your gift directly to the recipient – a boon if you live a long way from friends and family.
Plan a day out Christmas shopping.
Make it a weekday if you can, even if you have to take a day off work. Take your list and beat the lineups by getting an early start just after the shops open. If there are some people on your list you really do not know what to buy, allow yourself a half hour of ‘power browsing’ to get ideas. If inspiration has not struck by then, just get on with your list. You will think of something – don’t let one or two difficult to buy for people sabotage your shopping. As you do your shopping, take advantage of any free wrapping services that your stores might offer.
Don’t leave anything to the last minute.
I have inspiration for even the hardest to buy for. Everyone has to eat and most folks love holiday treats, so food gifts or hampers are always a good idea. Failing that a good bottle of wine or champagne works for most anyone as well (just be sure you are not giving them to someone who does not drink for personal or religious reasons). Ornaments or flowers work well too. And no one dislikes receiving a gift card either – so that is always an idea if you are absolutely stuck for what to buy.
It really isn’t as difficult it seems to make giving the pleasure it is meant to be. With these simple tips you can transform your holiday shopping experience. With any luck, you’ll have everything wrapped and ready long before Black Friday rolls around, leaving you plenty of time to actually enjoy the holidays!