Monday, November 07, 2005

Holiday Shopping on a Budget

Holidays are a time to celebrate the people in your life, the ones who make the good times better and the bad times bearable. And what better way to show your appreciation than with thoughtful and carefully handpicked gifts? Only, how expensive do gifts have to be in order to be meaningful and appreciative? I am sure everyone knows the answer to that is "not much" but there's a difference between knowing and doing. At least in my case. Every year I start with the same resolution of not spending too much but the first sight of the cozy cashmere socks that I know mom would love or the gorgeous YSL palette that my sister has been wanting and all my resolutions go out the window. After all what's money compared to the sparkling joy in the eyes of some of my favorite people in the world? But maybe, just maybe, there's a way to evoke the same emotion without breaking the bank in the process.

My idea of Christmas shopping typically consists of a long list of names and me, walking around vaguely through the glitzy aisles of dressed-up department stores. No wonder I get carried away with all the gingerbread cookie smells and christmas carols piped through the overhead stereos and before you know it I have spent too much. Not this year. This year I am determined to do better. And since I am going to be on vacation from day before Thanksgiving through mid-Dec it's even more important that I start my planning early this year. Here are some tips for others like me who never seem to be able to stick to their shopping budget to get them through this holiday season:

1. Make a spending plan. Create a list with 2 columns - 1 for names and 1 for the amount you will spend on each person. Just making a list of names isn't enough. This serves two purposes. You can total it all up to see how well this stacks up against your family budget and make adjustments accordingly, and b) you can start figuring out what kind of gifts you can afford within the listed limit. e.g. if you put $50 against "Cousin - Sarah" you know that cousin Sarah is not getting the $100 pashmina wrap so instead of wasting time in that section of the store you can move on to another area where you are much more likely to find something for her.

2. Bake your own cookies. Cookies are my no-brainer gift. When I can't think of anything or am caught short of a gift I give people a tin of cookies. That generally means stocking up ahead of time with extras and they can be anything from $3 - $20 each. So why not bake some? A lot of stores sell really cute empty cookie tins. You can wash and dry them and arrange some of your famous iced gingerbread cookies (or whatever else you are famous for) or fill a cellophane bag with them and tie a pretty ribbon. Most people probably won't notice that they are homemade rather than storebought or won't care. And a few will actually be touched by your thoughtfulness more than if you had bought something off the shelf.

3. Think homemade in other areas too. Give homemade spice mixes or flavored oils and vinegars as gifts. I have an Indian friend who always makes these amazing authentic Indian spice mixes that she puts in little tin jars, wraps in colorful pieces of sheer fabric and hands out as holiday gifts. They don't cost more than $3-$5 each and look & smell so good we practically beg her for more. Flavored oils and vinegars are really easy to make too. Steep herbs, berries, dried mushrooms, peppers in olive oil or white vinegar for about a week at room temperature. At the end of the week strain, bottle in cute glass bottles, add a recipe card with the ingredients list and it's ready to gift. If cooking isn't your thing make scented candles and bath salts (epsom salt, food coloring and a few drops of essential oil are all you need) for a spa kit or wooden spoons or disney note cards or whatever it is that you are good at. You are only limited by your imagination and, possibly, time.

4. Hit the dollar store. I have found some pretty usable stuff like kitchen gloves, books, pens/pencils, journals, craft items, picture frames, crayons. A great gift maybe a cocktail shaker ($19.99) from Crate & Barrel and a book on cocktails ($1) from the Dollar Store. I once found these really pretty china cups. There were only 3 left and I didn't buy because of the odd number. Looking back, 2 of those and a tin of gourmet tea from Whole Foods would have made a fabulous gift for my tea-loving uncle & aunt for $10-15 bucks. If you know the recipient's taste it's easy to bundle meaningful gifts from relatively inexpensive items. Coloring books, crayons and pencils make great gifts for little kids.

5. Get creative. Now that my little nephew is crawling his parents have almost no time for going out. I am not near enough to babysit but remembering how much they used to love going to the movies I bought some m/w popcorn bags, movie size candy and a booklet of 10 movie rental coupons ($40 value, $20 with Discover double points). Under $30 total. I don't think I have ever given my sister a gift that cost less than $30 before or one that will probably be appreciated quite so well.

6. Shop early. If you wait too long you'll be rushed and tempted to pick the first thing that catches your eye. By shopping early you can not only shop stress-free but take advantage of comparison shopping thereby making your dollar stretch more. You may even be able to save something from one gift that you may want to use for another later. The best time for shopping, according to a study from JupiterSearch, is between Oct 1 - Dec 1.


At 11/08/2005 11:44 AM, Blogger Caitlin said...

good ideas. I'm definitely starting to think along these lines myself. the spendy months have started.

At 11/11/2005 10:28 AM, Blogger mmb said...

Now if I can only follow my own advice. :)

At 11/21/2005 1:38 AM, Anonymous pfadvice said...

I've found for my family and friends giving gifts of time together works the best...part of that is due to living in a foreign country. I'm not sure if it saves me money overall, but it does spread the cost out so it isn't all concentrated at the end of the year.

At 11/21/2005 6:46 AM, Blogger Meredith said...

I like your idea about pairing dollar store items with a luxury or gourmet product from another store. I find so many darling things at Dollar Tree, but they're not always enough on their own.

At 11/23/2005 5:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People won't notice your cookies are homemade?! Sure, they will! Homemade cookies are far superior to store-bought, as well as showing that you were willing to take the time and trouble to make something for the recipient with your own fair hands.


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