It’s That Time of Year: Christmas Shopping 101

It's That Time of Year: Christmas Shopping 101

Last year, I made a huge mistake. It was our first year in our new house, and I started the Christmas shopping season off by purchasing a new 10-foot pre-lit tree for our great room. Then, I sat on my laurels, enjoying the beauty of that mammoth evergreen until mid-December… before realizing I had nothing to put underneath it but underwear and socks for my husband and two children. So what did I do? I overcompensated, of course. I started buying everything under the sun, knowing that I needed big gifts to go under that big tree.

The result? I never even considered a Christmas shopping budget, spent far too much money, and ended up buying gifts that now – 11 months later – my kids haven’t even touched.

This year, I’m going back to the basics. For years, I’d followed 5 simple rules for Christmas shopping that consistently left me under-budget, under-stressed, and pretty darn pleased with my purchases. So not only am I sharing these shopping tips with you, I’m putting pen to paper (or, in this case, fingertips to keyboard) in hopes of holding myself accountable this holiday season.

Rule #1: Set Your Budget Early

This was my single biggest faux pas of last year. When I bought those first few gifts, I hadn’t even considered what our family’s holiday shopping budget would be. Needless to say, by the time I did set a budget it was too late: the first few gifts under the tree broke the bank, and I found myself thinking, “Why stop now?”

Setting your budget before you buy a single gift is the most important step you can take this year to make sure Rudolph’s nose – and not your bank account – is the only thing in the red this holiday season.

Rule #2: Make A List

Sure, you have to buy gifts for your parents, your kids, your spouse. But do you really need to go Christmas shopping for all of your siblings? For each of your 12 nieces and nephews? For your kids’ kindergarten teacher, dance teacher, soccer coach, assistant soccer coach, swim instructor, and the mail man?

C’mon, you know the answer.

It’s easy to get swept up in the spirit of giving and go over board. And it’s nice to be able to show the people who are important to you and your family just how much you care. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend $50 on a gift for someone you see only a handful of times each year.

This year, my solution is $5 gift cards to places like Starbucks and Target. Sure, $5 might not be an extravagant amount, but it does let people know that you’re thinking about them and that they are important to you. Pair that with a beautiful Christmas card, and for many of those secondary players in your life, you’re all set.

Rule #3: Now Check That List Twice

Now that you’ve set your budget and decided on who you’re shopping for, it’s time to hit the stores! But not so fast. Not only do you need to make a list of the gifts you’d like family and friends to purchase for you, you need to get an idea of what those family and friends would like to receive. 

You can also make this list yourself, but if you’ve waited until now to start compiling the wants and needs of your family and friends, you’ve waited too long. I start making a list of what my husband, kids, and other close family or friends might appreciate during the summer months; I take note of what they post on social media, what they talk about needing or wanting, as well as the things they oooh and aaaah over when we go shopping together. By the fall, I’ve compiled a pretty long list for each person, and have a variety of gifts – with a variety of price tags – from which to choose.

Rule #4: Check Online First

Before I hit the stores, I always check online first. It’s how I made sure I was getting the best deal possible on my son’s first big boy bike, but maintaining my budget isn’t the only reason to follow this step. It’s also helpful to read customer reviews, especially when you’re deciding between two similar versions of a product; that’s how I learned that the Huffy bike I was eyeing had gotten poor reviews, while the Schwinn model knocked it out of the park. When you shop online first, you may also discover web-exclusive deals, or find downloadable coupons to help you save money if you choose to go to a brick-and-mortar store.

And remember that shopping from online retailers isn’t your only option when it comes to Christmas shopping on the web. You can also check out sites like Craigslist or Facebook for gently used or re-gifted merchandise in your area, which will help you stay even further under budget. I used this method to find a brand-new-in-box Kodak camera for a close family friend for less than half of the retail price!

Rule #5: Institute A Cut-off Date

I cannot repeat this enough: don’t continue shopping right up to Christmas Eve! Stores know that shoppers become increasingly desperate the closer it gets to the Big Day, so they incrementally jack up prices between Black Friday and Christmas Eve. If you haven’t found exactly what you’re looking for by about a week before Christmas, it’s unlikely you’re going to find it during those last 7 days – at least for a price you’re willing to pay.

My husband’s extended family always exchanges gifts of New Year’s Eve. It didn’t start out as a tradition – merely a fact of life when everyone got married and had hectic Christmas Day’s of their own – but it’s become one. Why? Because we know we can hit the stores and get MORE for LESS if we shop on December 26th and 27th.

Another reason to stop shopping a few days before Christmas Day? It’ll give you ample time to wrap your presents and then simply relax!

Libby Balke

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

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