Have you ever noticed that just before Christmas people seem to do more? At the office, co-workers scramble to finish projects before taking time off of work. Parents are trying to figure out what to do with kids that are out of school. Everyone is making plans to visit family and friends, and it seems like there is no end to all the neighbors and acquaintances dropping off yet another flyer for a Christmas open house.
Meanwhile at your place, you’re cooking and decorating and shoveling your driveway all the while thinking, whenever am I going to find the time to do my holiday shopping?
Did the above make you feel exhausted? I feel exhausted just writing about it! Well, fear not! I am about to share with you my dirty little Christmas secret. And no, it does not involve doing naughty things with Santa Claus.
I don’t do most of my holiday shopping during the holidays.
“Shut the front door!” you’re thinking. “B can’t possibly be one of those incredibly anal-retentive people that shop for Christmas during the rest of the year!” But I’m here to tell you that I totally am. And if you didn’t figure that out beforehand, well then you don’t really know me at all!
Don’t get me wrong; I love to shop during the holidays. It’s fun checking people off of a list as you scour the mall, latté in hand. The music, the lights, the décor- it makes me feel like I’m part of something special. Sure, it’s crowded, but I still can’t help but feel people are friendlier during this time of year. How often can you say that?
But in reality, shopping just at Christmas time isn’t always feasible. It’s hard enough finding the time to go clothes shopping when you have a busy schedule! That busy schedule triples around the holidays and so does the amount of shopping you have to do!
Think about it: you shop for a ton of gifts, you’re mailing out cards, you’re shelling out extra money for gas to travel and go shopping, you’re buying more food for visiting relatives and potluck dinners. By the time January hits, your credit card bill will be enough to give you a coronary.
Shopping for Christmas year-round can make you less rushed and more organized once the holiday season hits. It also gives you a better idea of how much money you’re spending. As a freelance writer, you don’t always get a steady paycheck, so shopping throughout the year for people means I’m spreading out the money I spend so my bank account doesn’t get hit suffer as much come December. Better yet, it allows me to keep track of the all the gifts I’m buying so I can be more careful with my money, which also comes in handy when I get a little too Christmas happy after hitting up the eggnog.
Just because you didn’t start your shopping really early like I did doesn’t mean you should lose hope! As the holidays approach, there is a way to stay organized when it comes to your Christmas shopping and it involves just one simple thing.
Make a list!
I know it sounds dorky, but hear me out. You don’t want to be at the mall, standing at the cash as the cashier tells you your credit card has been declined, just as you realize that you forgot to get Grandma a present.
Planning your shopping trip ahead of time is a lot easier than you might think, and it may spare you the hysterical feeling that sets in when you see how crowded the stores are. Here’s how I go about doing it.
Make It Enjoyable.
Sit down and get yourself into a Christmas mood! Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some carols, or be a giant nerd like me and use red and green pens. Whatever. But you need to set aside approximately half an hour of time and it shouldn’t be right before you go out shopping. It also shouldn’t be on Christmas Eve.
Channel Your Inner Santa.
Make a list of people to whom you usually give gifts. This should be a no-brainer. Now think of all the people who gave you a gift last year. Was there someone you accidentally left off of your list, or a co-worker who surprised you by leaving a little something on your desk last year? Make a note if you want to include them. Finally, think about all the interactions you’ve had with friends or family members last year. Have you been hanging out with someone more, or grown closer to that cousin you never used to see? You may want to consider giving them a small token of friendship. Is there anyone in your circle of friends and family that have experience a death in the family, or had a prolonged illness, or another similarly difficult situation this past year? They also might appreciate something close to the holidays.
Don’t feel guilty! There is no hard and fast rule for deciding who goes on your list. Maybe you and your bestie have a rule never to buy each other anything, or you’re just really sick and tired of buying Great Uncle Sam a necktie every year. Either way, this decision is totally yours and it’s up to you to be realistic about how many (or how few) people are on your list.
Check Your Wallet.
Think about the gifts you bought last year. How much did you spend per person? Was it too much? Did you end up feeling stingy? Was there a special circumstance where you missed your mom’s birthday and ended up buying her a crystal vase to make it up to her? Jot down a number next to each person’s name. Remember, you’re not putting a price tag on your friendship with someone- this exercise is more about getting an idea of how much you’re going to be spending. I have found doing this step earlier in the year incredibly helpful as it gives me an idea of how much I have to save for Christmas and makes me think about starting to scout for good deals on certain items. Be forgiving- this budget doesn’t have to be set in stone. It’s just a good idea to be aware of your limits before you go shopping.
Be a Super Sleuth.
Here’s where it gets really fun! Go down your list, and start jotting down gift ideas next to each person’s name. Maybe your friend has already dropped a hint about Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook, or you and your cousin have a standing arrangement to get each other joke gifts. Think about the hobbies, needs, or wants of each of the people you’re buying gifts for.
Get creative. Instead of the usual gift card to the bookstore, get your favorite bookworm some hot chocolate mix and a reading shawl so she can curl up with one of her new reads. (Are you reading this, J?) Don’t rule out things like gift cards, magazine subscriptions or charitable contributions where appropriate.
It may also be helpful to consider the needs of the person to whom you are giving a gift. If a friend has moved it may be a good idea to ask a few carefully worded questions to find out what they might need for their house. A well-traveled uncle may appreciate a new set of luggage tags, or a new address book complete with up-to-date addresses of family members. Try to remember events throughout the year- like that time when your mother lost her leather-driving gloves, or that movie your brother went to see that he thought was awesome. Search for online stores for people’s wishlists, or ask partners or siblings for suggestions. Sometimes when you’re particularly clueless, it helps to do a little detective work in order to find a gift that’s truly meaningful.
Now you’re all set to start your Christmas shopping. Just make sure you tuck your list in your wallet or Filofax when you go, or send it in an email to yourself to keep track of it on your phone. Make notes as you about where you spotted certain items so you comparison shop, or jot down other ideas as you find inspiration in the stores.
And don’t worry about getting every item on your list- after all, there’s always next year!