Whether you are a year-round shopper or a procrastinator, shopping for gifts is now a priority for many who exchange this time of year. Children, friends, parents, neighbors, siblings, extended family, teachers, bus drivers, the dog walker, your hair dresser, etc. may all tentatively be on the list of people you need to buy gifts. This may be a daunting task if your list is longer than your budget, but with some creativity, attention to detail, a good plan, and a vow to rework your shopping style by next year, things will work itself out. For the seasoned shoppers out there, please feel free to add your own tips, ideas, and bona fide success stories. For the rest of you, although you may want to skip reading today's blog because it's "not your thing" or "I hate shopping, especially for gifts", just humor me and get to the end of the blog. It should be rather painless and may even net you some good ideas as you move begrudgingly into the gift-giving season. Even if your spouse or parent does the bulk (all?) of the holiday shopping, who is giving to him/her? At this time of year, young, old, or in-between, gift giving, not receiving, should be the goal. Money is tight, financial futures still may look bleak, but part of what makes the holidays magical is the exchange of a thoughtful gift with someone you love.
Where do we begin? At the beginning, of course! Who do you need to shop? Make a list of every person you think you need to buy a gift. Once finished, reread the list critically. Are there people you can cross off? Many friends/neighbors and acquaintances would possibly be relieved to mutually agree to forgo gift exchanges this year so they could concentrate on keeping their budget in tact as well. Perhaps calling them this week to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving (it is next week, people!) would be a lovely gesture and mention something to the effect that you value their friendship/place in your life, but in lieu of a gift exchange you'd like to have them over for pre- or post- holiday shopping hot cocoa. It's a great way to entertain without serving a meal, it helps to get rid of the ever-present Christmas cookies, and it shows those people you still care about them without having to spend copious amounts of money on them.
Once your list is streamlined it is time to gather bits of information. If you are buying clothes do you have the sizes? What are the interests of the people you are buying gifts? Definitely fix a budget before you set out to shop and stick to it. Many people believe in filling an envelope with the person's name on it and when the money is gone that person is "finished".
Some people ask for lists so they can choose a pre-approved gift from that person's wish list. I see the benefits of this and have utilized this option, but I much prefer going my own route. I am a person who enjoys shopping, but if you do not, the list option is a good one. Shopping from my own "list", however, usually gives me endless options of getting more reasonable items that will surprise and delight the recipient. This is a completely personal decision for the shopper.
Where do you shop? Nowadays ordering gifts online is a wonderful way to go. There are countless stores to connect with all personalities you are buying gifts. Always check for coupons by going to your search engine (i.e. google.com) and type in the store's name and the word coupons. Many times the larger retailers will offer some discounts on price or shipping or sometimes both. Try it now or after Thanksgiving when cyber-retailers offer cyber-Monday deals (akin to Black Friday at brick and mortar stores). Even some cyber retailers will offer the same deals on Black Friday as their stores do without the lines. Check out the clearance and sales sections of your favorite online stores. A lot of times the coupons you get online work on those items, too. Try to shop the cyber stores that offer free shipping. This year LL Bean is offering free shipping for any purchase, and Amazon, my personal favorite for obvious reasons (please use my link if you'd be shopping there anyway) will give free shipping with purchases over $25. Each store has their own minimum purchase so be aware before you buy. Still, other stores will allow you to have the item shipped to your local store for free. Investigate all of your options, it doesn't take too long.
If you are going to a "real" store, arm yourself with all the tools you need for success: coupons, circulars, comfortable shoes, and a good attitude. Waiting this long may net you incredible deals, but stores are crowded and sales people are wearing thin at being treated like crud. Shoot them a winning smile, ask them how they are, and wish them a happy holiday season. Coupons are a necessity when you shop at stores that issue them. Never pay full retail, use as many coupons as allowed per transaction, and, if they are sticklers for one coupon per transaction, check out as many times as you have to to make each coupon work for you. There is no shame in this; it is worth it to save as much as you can! Just keep smiling and do not apologize. Retailers like Bed, Bath, & Beyond have a fantastic policy regarding their coupons. Every retailer could and should follow suit.
Don't forget to shop garden centers for plants, trees, and/or tools as they make excellent gifts. These stores also sell holiday trim, lights, and collectibles. Retailers like WalMart and Target are popular for a reason - they typically offer the customer the lowest prices - I, for one, cannot pass that up. Shopping for a man? Try your local hardware store. Not Lowe's or Home Depot necessarily, although they are good sources, but the local Mom & Pop shop that carries everything. Shopping for the hard-to-buy? Many people just have too much stuff. Offer them an experience - theater/concert tickets, sporting event tickets, museum passes, hot-air balloon ride, a ride on your motorcycle and lunch, a ride in your vintage car and a picnic, a ride in your mini-van and a movie (Harry Potter anyone?!). Are you talented in creative ways? If you bake enroll your loved one in your own "Dessert of the Month" Club. For 3, 6, or even 12 months offer one dessert per month delivered to the recipient. Perhaps you are handy in the garage. Offer 2 free oil changes and then follow through making the appointments to come over and do them. Photography your thing? Offer to take a family or couple portrait, do a landscape, or whatever your specialty is, and frame it for your person. Writer? Write each person on your list a lengthy letter about why you care about them and what makes them special to you. I did this after the birth of my first son for his first Christmas. There wasn't a dry eye at our Christmas dinner table. Words, in that case, meant more than something in a box.
This blog is long... and unfinished. I have myriad suggestions and will blog about them continuously in the days and weeks leading up to the holidays. If you have your own ideas, post them below. If you think I'm a loon, post that, too! Whatever your responsibility during the gift-giving season, I hope you take time to enjoy the people who mean the most to you and not fixate on how many gifts.
Tomorrow, the highly anticipated blog about "The Gift Journal" Stay tuned for that, other blogs about "gifts", and much more to prepare for the upcoming holiday season.