Stress Free Holiday Shopping: Make A List, Shop All Year, Start Now

Pile of wrapped giftsI love buying presents for other people. It’s essentially an excuse to shop but with a legitimate purpose. However, indiscriminate gift shopping doesn’t get me very far unless I am targeted and organized. Given that now is the perfect time to start so that you’re well-prepared for the holidays, I’m going to give you an insider’s look at my shopping strategy:

I start with a list of everyone I’m going to give something to, no matter how small. When you make this list, it’s going to be a mite terrifying if you’ve done it properly. I have a small family and only exchange gifts with a few friends, but there are still over 20 people on the list. I also review the list periodically to keep it fresh in my mind. This occasional review is especially helpful if you have people to buy for that you don’t see very often, since it can help jog your memory when you’re out shopping. If you see something that makes you think of a person on your list, either buy it or write it down so you can buy something like that later.

Here’s a key part of my strategy: while you’re doing your regular shopping, looking at catalogs, browsing online stores, or going to garage sales, you can keep one eye out for things you want and one eye out for gifts. Pick up things here and there, and by Christmas, you will have most of your shopping done. Plus, you’ll have items that made you think of the giftee, not just stuff that you ran around grabbing randomly on the 20th of December before the mall closed.

There are two steps that are crucial here, however. One: Put all the gifts in the same place. Get a box or a basket or a closet or SOMETHING, and put everything you buy for the purpose of gifting in this box or basket or closet. I have a terrible habit of just leaving gift purchases around, and then I either can’t find them or the intended recipient comes over for dinner and sees their Christmas present in the pile of things I’ve cleared off the table. Or I forget that it was meant as a gift in the first place. Oops. If you put everything away, you won’t lose it before the holidays and it won’t be broken, forgotten, dirtied, or seen.

Two: update your gift list with the presents you have bought. On more than one occasion, I have had a person on my list who I didn’t buy any presents for by Christmas, and I rush out to buy them something. Then, when I am wrapping presents, I discover something I bought for them in September. I have a terrible memory, so writing down who gets what also helps when I have a present that could be for either member of a couple, any of my cousins, or one of my neighbors.

I always have a good time when it actually gets to be December and I get to pull out the big box of gifts I put together to see all the great stuff I got for everybody. And it feels even better to know that I get to stay home and drink cocoa and watch bad movies while the malls are packed with people who aren’t me. Shopping all year allows you to spread out the financial impact of buying gifts, while simultaneously giving you more time to find a great present for each person, instead of something picked up in a hurry.

Readers, what do you think? Do you like to buy presents ahead of time or is shopping around Christmas more fun than chore?

  • Trish

    I have to shop early myself because my list is so long. I make my list in May start buying in June so the majority is done before December. There’s so much to do with work, baking and decorating I don’t have time to fight the crowds. I also usually sponsor a senior or a family for Christmas so these gifts have to be purchased whenever I get the information on wishes or needs. This year however has been very tough financially so unfortunately I will have to cut out the extra giving. Its 87 days til Christmas and I’m counting it down!

    • Kira Botkin

      You are well organized! Hopefully all that extra planning will make it easier to shop frugally this year, we all have slimmer pockets!

  • Heather

    I do not shop terribly early because I want people to be able to return/exchange as needed. And warranties are from the date of purchase, not the date of gifting, so anything electronic is losing time. I’ve also had the misfortune of buying early and getting something that, in the meantime, the recipient has either received or purchased.

    I’ve taken to waiting until closer to the last minute and giving either something experiential (tickets to an event, for example) or something homemade. (Well, depending on how intricate, it might need to be started earlier.)

  • Olivia

    I’m all but done except for the requested gift cards. We have family all over and like to mail stuff around Thanksgiving.