Christmas Shopping Strategies

Shopping seems easy enough; go into a store, find something your friend would like, and buy it… That works most of the time but shopping at Christmas can be a joyous occasion or it can be a nightmare! Employing a few tried and true shopping strategies can make shopping easier during the holidays. Doing these simple things can help you “up your gift giving game!”

1) Keep a Perpetual Want/like List
I keep a list in Evernote (but any note program will do) and it specifies people and their want/like details. These details range from clothes size, to show size to color preferences to hobbies and other likes and dislikes. I started this list for my kids awhile ago and I expanded it to include others. It makes it easier to remember what someone wants and likes and what will be a great gift for them.

2) Never Shop when Tired or Hungry… (or with kids)
You don’t make your best decisions when you are tired or hungry (or hangry…) so avoid shopping when you are tired or hungry or both. If you can’t stop for food, grab a granola bar or protein bar and forge ahead. I would say grab a latte but I don’t drink coffee šŸ™‚ I also don’t like to shop with my kids because they get bored and then aren’t helpful. Yes, I could make it a treasure hunt – “find me 3 different kinds of chocolate Grandma would like,” but that would last for about 7 minutes flat! I like to shop with a list and I like to shop alone. Then I don’t have to worry about others getting bored or tired or hungry.

3) Shop When You Travel
I love to shop when I travel. Not only are there different stores than the ones we have in the Bay Area but you can easily slip away from the strip malls and find local specialty shops. I love wandering into a local shop and seeing what I can find – like blueberry syrup or blueberry wine in Maine. I was stuck once on a business trip to Hawaii (I know, cry me a river, there are worse places to be “stuck” for business than Hawaii) and the first morning while I was out running I realized I hadn’t brought anything but business clothes. No flip flops. No bathing suit. Zilch. I am a minimalist traveler, figuring I can always get what I need on the road, and this trip was a testament to that philosophy. I looked for a local Ross or TJ Maxx and I found one a few miles away — too long for a quick walk, so I used my Call a Cab app (before Uber existed) to make my way there. I only had a half hour before the bus came to take us to our dinner destination, so I had to be laser focused. Swim suit, coverup and sandals or flip flops. I also found purse and two sun dresses. This little local shopping foray was a good lesson for me – even thought Ross is a chain store with many locations, they contain different types of merchandise, and most interestingly, local type goods that you aren’t likely to find at their other stores. Although that was a fruitful shopping trip to Ross, while I was traveling, I prefer to visit unique stores, and find one of a kind things.

4) Use Award Points
A lot of rewards programs (like the ones with credit card, airlines, or hotels) now have the option of buying gift cards and merchandise rather than just a flight or a night’s stay. If you have accumulated a lot of points that you find difficult to use for flights or hotel stays, this may be a great option to give gifts and use up your rewards points. My mom has done this for years and it makes it very easy to give people gift cards to stores they love so they can get exactly what they want or need. You can also use reward points with some merchants for making donations to charities (American Express comes to mind for this type of use of reward points).

5) Ask for Help
Store clerks used to know all about their merchandise and really be able to help you. Some stores and their sales clerks are still like that — they know the specifics of their merchandise and are familiar with their price points. Now they cynic in me is just saying – no it isn’t the Home Depot type helper I am referring to, it is more like the Orchard Supply Hardware helper who always knows where the exact item is that I need. The more specific you can be, the better able a sales clerk is to help you. Say, I’m looking for a gift for my brother, who needs nothing and wants nothing. 40 something. Travels a lot… and see what they come up with. If you don’t see your size or the color you are looking for, always ask. Sales clerks want to help; it’s in their interest to help you and they want to make a sale.

6) Amazon is Your Friend
I think you can find just about anything on Amazon.com. Recently I went looking for car parts. I needed a new hood ornament as kids had ripped off the one that was on my car. Surprisingly there were several merchants who had the exact part I needed, for a whopping, $36. Yay! On Thanksgiving, as I was loading pies in to the Tupperware carrier, I realized I only had one pie divider. I thought, “Oh, I really could use another one, I should go onto eBay and see if I can find one.” I didn’t even bother looking on eBay – who needs to bid on it and watch an auction incessantly? After my hood ornament experience I thought I should start with Amazon. I went to Amazon and found one immediately, at a decent price. And I did a search for the orange 1 Cup Tupperware measuring cup I have been missing and found it too. Once it arrived, the shade was slightly different than the rest of my measuring cups but that’s not a huge deal. It took less than 10 minutes for me to search and find both of those items and order them. Less than a week later, both items were tucked safely away in my kitchen. (And my hood ornament was installed). You really can find anything on Amazon!

7) Shop throughout the year
OK, don’t hate me, I’m already done with my Christmas shopping. The secret to this is that I shop throughout the year and only get a few things between Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I’m out shopping if I see something that would be a perfect gift for a friend or family member, I buy it then, as there is no need to wait until Christmas. Like when I spotted an amber necklace at my friend’s “friend sale,” which was her moving/garage sale for friends only, I thought, “Oh, Heather would like this…” and I went ahead and got it. I have a few close friends where we find gifts for each other and we do this throughout the year and don’t wait for birthdays or holidays to give each other gifts. In any event, the “shopping for gifts” part can be done throughout the year. Why wait and fight everyone and their brother in the mall for the perfect gift? I made the mistake of going to Target (just to grocery shop) on Sunday at 5 pm, thinking it would be quiet then, Wrong. The parking lot was full, and this was only the first weekend of December. The checker said the store was open until midnight. Ugh! Aisles full of carts, cranky kids, and crankier parents. Yikes. I definitely want to avoid that mess! So, take my advice and shop throughout the year šŸ™‚

What is your favorite shopping strategy to avoid the crowds and crankiness that can happen with shopping in December?

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