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Holiday Shopping Philosophy & 10 tips on how to shop for the holidays without going bananas

Posted on: December 9, 2011

This guest blog was written by Michelle – part of the Service Team.

This holiday season I’m proud of myself. I didn’t get overwhelmed by the pressure to buy lavish gifts for everyone I know.

I made an effort to buy from small local stores and spend less time in lines and waiting to get in and out of parking lots.

After a year of moving several family members, including cleaning out my childhood home, I realized that we all have too much stuff. This gave me a fresh perspective on what people use and what ends up in the back of a closet. I started by making a list of the people in my immediate family, in laws, siblings, etc. I did not focus on very specific gifts, but did ask for wish lists from everyone to give me a guideline of what they wanted. As usual I received only a few lists and started there. I also thought of what my family members asked to borrow from me this year. Not that I mind, but obviously it is something they may need and might like to have their own!

Avoid malls and tourist areas with crowded parking lots
Avoid malls and tourist areas with crowded parking lots

My goal was to avoid the mall (with all of it’s parking woes) and our touristy overpriced downtown boutiques. We have an outlet center with some small businesses mixed in just down the road from my house. I began at the kitchen shop, where I crossed off a few things on the list. Much to my surprise, I found gifts for quite a few people there, totaling under $100. I can’t mention them here as it might ruin the surprise in a few weeks! I moved from store to store, checking sales on certain things like gloves and thermal underwear, returning to one of the first stops to get the best deal and value. I asked how long things were on sale so that I didn’t feel rushed to BUY NOW! After about 2 hours, I managed to cross off 75% of the people & items off my list. I returned home victorious!

To avoid overspending on one person, I tallied the cost for each person. I ordered several items online (with free shipping) that I couldn’t find locally. Since it was early December, I did not let myself worry about what was left. I knew in my journeys I would be inspired for those last people and gifts. I attended an international festival that had many booths with items for sale. I felt good that some of the money I spent might go directly to people in that country rather than a big retailer. It was really fun to shop there and people were receptive to questions. The next week, while I was at the grocery store, I spotted a gift card center and finished off my shopping. It may not have been shopping local, but it saved me some time and ensured that my family would like what they got.

The added bonus is that I live in a town that does not charge the optional 1% Vermont tax. That means not only did I avoid crowds, I saved 1% more on almost all of my purchases.
 So here are my 10 tips on how to shop for the holidays without going bananas:

  1. Shop at places that are easy to get in and out of and where finding parking is easy. Don’t forget the grocery store, most of us have to go there anyhow!
  2. Shop in the evening, lunchtimes or take a weekday off to avoid crowds. Don’t get stuck at the mall on Saturday afternoon, everyone else is there too!
  3. Limit who you give gifts to. Cards with family photos are as thoughtful as something that might just fill up a closet. Don’t forget to write on the back of the photos, dates, names, etc!
  4. Start early on paper. Did someone ask to borrow something from you this year? Do you think they might want their own?
  5. Keep track of how much you spend on each person; you’d be surprised how fast it adds up.
  6. Use boxes to wrap gifts so you don’t feel like it doesn’t look like enough stuff. Plus it makes your wrapped corners look really nice! Even better, use a reusable gift bag and limit 1 bag per person.
  7. Gift certificates may not be instant gratification for the recipient, but at least you know that they can buy what they didn’t get over the holiday season. Make sure it is to a place in their area and try to support small businesses if at all possible. Most gift cards can be ordered online! Grocery store gift cards are great for those on a fixed budget!
  8. Treats like homemade Chex Mix or cookies can be a great last minute gift for those people that come out of the woodwork. My bachelor & foodie friends loved it last year. Buy the inexpensive reusable/recyclable containers so you don’t have to get it back. Holiday tins are cute, but are not very reusable and cost almost as much as the ingredients.
  9. Keep an open mind. The years I tried to focus on very specific and sometimes imaginary gifts were the years I went nuts searching for the perfect item I had envisioned.
  10. Remember that being there for people all year is more important than meeting a quota at the holidays!

So there you have it, Michelle’s tips and 2011 holiday shopping philosophy. Send it along to your friends and family. Stay sane, warm and avoid a financial holiday hangover in 2012!


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