Taking the Bite out of Christmas Shopping

 

Sarah’s making her list and checking it twice.

 Hello! It’s after Halloween and I’m meeting my brother for lunch to start planning the holidays, so it’s totally okay to start writing about Christmas, right? CHRISTMAS.

Actually, I do think it’s a good idea to start planning your Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa shopping early: it sucks to still be running around the week of, shouldering your way through crowded stores and then trying to get everything wrapped. Plus it’s a good way to run through your budget. 

You want to enjoy the holidays with friends and family (and lots of Christmas movies and cookies and cocoa). So why not get your work done early?

This is what I do to save money:

  • Find all the gift cards in the house. Gift cards are a perennially popular gift, but if you’re like me, you’re lazy. I figure if I haven’t spent my lingering gift cards by November, they’re destined to go toward Christmas gifts. Put the cards in your wallet, plan your shopping around those stores, and you have free money to spend! Plus: if your friends bought you cards for these stores, it’s likely they like them, too. Go get them loot!
  • Sell/donate your stuff. My parents were smart: they’d have us clean out our rooms right before the holidays. Beej and I naturally assumed that the more stuff we got rid of, the more gifts Santa would bring us! Now I use this opportunity to gather up all the books I’m done with–novels, cookbooks, graphic novels–and sell them to our local Powell’s bookstore for store credit, which I then use for gifts. In addition to books, Powell’s has all kinds of toys and gifts (especially Powell’s Books for Home and Garden) Don’t worry if you don’t live in Portland–you can sell your books online, too! This could also work for videogames, sports equipment, comics, etc. Look and see what you can live without, and find out what stores near you are buying! Make sure to donate whatever you can’t sell.

So now you’ve got some extra cash and your house is cleaner. My next set of advice is pretty basic and obvious, but it does work.

This is what I do to strategize my holiday shopping:

  • Write out a list of everyone you’re buying a gift for: spouse/partner, kids, family members, friends.
  • Then, write down a list of all the people who’ve done you a service throughout the year: your mail carrier, hairdresser, kids’ teachers, etc. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s thoughtful and appreciated if you can offer a tip or a small gift to the people who help you out all year.
  • Finally, write down a list of people you’ll give token gifts or goodies to: neighbors, work colleagues, etc. These cranberry-orange slice-and-bake cookies are my go-to goodie (easy, freezable, no cookie cutters), but if you don’t bake, you could make homemade cocoa mix or put together a selection of tea bags. Again, not strictly necessary, but nice if you can swing it. Now for the hard part:
  • Write a monetary value next to everyone’s name (pro tip: baking is cheap). This is also a good time to brainstorm which store to shop at for each person.
  • Add it all up. Laugh, cry, stare in shock. Revise your list accordingly.

It’s incredibly scary how quickly everything can add up, and the pressure to spend more than you can afford is intense–it’s the American way. Seeing your budget in black-and-white and giving yourself time to think of thoughtful gifts can really help with this!

Another strategy I use: if I know I’m going to buy a particular gift, I can follow the sales online and try to get the lowest prices. It’s kind of like playing chicken, but it’s another way you can save money on the holidays by planning ahead.

Okay, I’m stepping off my tinsel-festooned soap box. What are your holiday shopping tips?

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