Kicking off a Stress-Free Holiday Shopping Season

It looks like every year the holiday shopping season starts out just a little bit earlier than the previous year. I was quite surprised when I went to my grocery store the day after Halloween and in the spot where the pumpkin patch was, there stood Christmas trees! For Pete’s sake, it was Nov 1st and Christmas was still almost two months away – but that didn’t seem to daunt the store owner from trying to woo the shoppers by putting up a few fake trees and a huge banner next to it proclaiming “Get your fresh cut Christmas tree here!” So, it looks like the 2007 holiday shopping season is officially here. And you have only two choices - either get stressed out by it, or really enjoy it. What’s it gonna be?

If you chose to really enjoy it, way to go! If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em, right? Here are a few pointers to get rid of any lingering stress to make it a season of fun, joy, cheer, giving and receiving, without quite breaking the bank.

If you have a Christmas fund, take stock of it now. If not, start one ASAP.
If you learnt from your mistakes from last year, and the years before, and already have a Christmas fund, kudos to you! Whether it is a jar stashed under your bed or an online account, take stock of how much you have saved. If you have not started your Christmas fund yet, it’s still not too late. Start one NOW. There are any number of ways to save for your Christmas fund – raid your coin stash and cash it in at Coin Star, have a garage sale to get rid of all those gifts from previous years that are collecting dust in the basement, replace your lunch outings with brown bag sandwiches, cut your grocery budget by 10%, use (more) coupons, etc. Every dollar that you can stash away now, will reduce the stress and the resentment later. Think of it as paying forward for all the gifts *you* will receive :)

Make a budget of how much you are willing to spend.
Be honest and practical with your estimation. Remember that you will likely exceed that estimate, so be sure to leave some wiggle room. Do not make the estimate based on “what will people think of me” but rather “what can I/we afford”. Don’t worry about looking cheap – there are some great tips below for finding great gifts and still stay within your budget. With some advance planning (which I am sure you have got started on already as you read this post) and some hard work (don’t worry, you don’t have to leave your couch), you can make this Mission Impossible possible with as much finesse as Tom Cruise (Eww… I don’t know why I used that example, I don’t even like him anymore, but since I can’t think of anything else, the example stays. Moving on…)

Make a list of the expenses
Obviously high on that list will be gifts. In addition, there may be expenses associated with parties that you plan to throw. Or travel expenses to meet your family/friends or just getaway. Maybe you plan to attend someone’s party and need a nice outfit. Or you may be able to pull off a great attire by mixing and matching something in your wardrobe, but need a new coat to add the getup a new flare. Maybe you need a baby sitter (or a pet sitter). Think of all the things that could lead to inflated expenditure and add it to the list.

Break down your list and fill in the details
When it comes to gifts, make a list of all the people you need to give gifts to. Next to each name, jot down a few possible gift options and dollar amounts. If traveling, try and finalize the dates so you can book your airfare/hotel early and save some money. If throwing a party, sketch out some of the details like the number of people, place settings, stockable groceries etc.

***Start hunting for bargains***
This is THE most important step! At this point you probably have a good idea of what you want. Maybe there are still a few things that are hazy, but don’t worry about it. Every body’s list has that one person that is the difficult to shop for and every travel plan has a few details that just can’t be ironed out. Put them on the back burner for now, and focus on checking off as many of the other items as you can. Put technology on your side! Here is a great primer for using RSS feeds to track and save on items you are looking for. Bookmark this list of popular deal sites and check out the sites in the list to populate your RSS reader. And bookmark this list of price comparison sites to make doubly sure that you are getting the best possible deals! If you are buying books, make sure you check to investigate the prices. Use this list of travel sites to find the best deals on travel. Add fare alerts on several different sites like orbitz, expedia, Travelocity, airfare watchdog, southwest airlines etc. so the deals come to you! And finally, when you find great deals, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

Stay away from temptation to indulge yourself
With all this shopping and deal hunting, it is very likely that you will find at least a few items that you would like to buy for yourself. Don’t give in to the temptation! Instead drop hints for people around you that you found a great deal on something that you would really like to have as a Christmas gift. If the request is reasonable, they will be glad you just made it easy for them to buy your gift :) Oh, yeah, when you buy gifts ahead of time, leave room for some swapping so you can accommodate a few last-minute hints that come your way :)

Use your credit card!
I know a lot of you will scoff at this, but a credit card is a great way to keep track of exactly how much you are spending! Additionally, if you are going to be doing most of your shopping online anyway, you may not have a choice in the matter. Just make sure that the credit card has some reward points or cash back for the money you spend and you pay off the balance in full as soon as the statement arrives with money from your Christmas fund. (If your Christmas fund is not fully funded yet, make sure you have a strict deadline for paying back your credit cards in full within a month or two at most! And as soon as the cards are paid off, start saving for your next year's Christmas fund so you can skip this step next year!)

With such a well-planned agenda, you will be way ahead of everybody else with your holiday shopping. When Christmas finally arrives, you can enjoy decking the tree and putting out gifts knowing full well that you got the best possible presents for the people you love while not getting yourself into debt in the process.

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Karen and Chris said...

As co-authors of Save Our Sanity: The Christmas Calm Manual, your suggestions align very much with our own tips.
Our readers have also found it useful to take the earlier step that our book includes. We help frazzled people(women especially) to look at their perspectives, attitudes and expectations, identify what's not working and take action to make their own Christmas as joyous as it is for their loved ones!
Your readers may be interested in getting our Tips for Christmas Calm at our site

Jessica said...

Hi Ispf,

You're right, the Christmas shopping season begins early November and shoppers would do that every bit to attract customers.

Maintaining a Christmas fund is a cool idea; I usually maintain a Christmas club account. For credit cards, I usually prefer those which have price protection at least if i have to go for one specifically for Christmas shopping and celebrations and a cash-back one too.

The most important thing is to prepare a budget keeping in mind one's affordability and then sticking to the budget. Here's how one can do it:



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