Christmas Shopping: Planning to Save Time & Money

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by Robin

This post is re-published from last year, but is worth revisiting because it's so darn helpful!
(We had about 5 readers back then, including Ed and I, so chances are you missed it.)

It's that time of year again.  The shelves have been cleared of the Halloween candies.  The stores are loudly proclaiming: it's time to start buying a bunch of crap for the people you love!

Aside from the omnipresent buy-buy-buy message this time of year, I do truly enjoy getting gifts for the people I love.  The anticipation of the expression of surprise or joy on their face just fills me with tingles.  When my gift falls short of this, I feel a bit down, but with enough planning and forethought, this usually doesn't happen.

I can't lay total claim to my Christmas Shopping Strategy.  Someone else beat me to it.

Basically, I make a list and I check it twice.

More specifically I make a chart in Word or Google Docs and we plan.  This thinking ahead approach leads us to buying gifts that fit the person, fit our budget and fit our busy schedules.

We've got a few more tips than that, here's how we get through the holiday shopping stress-free:

Step 1 - Make a list.

This step is obvious, I know, but essential.

If your list is incomplete you will get caught short.  It's embarrassing when someone you weren't expecting to gives you a gift and you've got a whole lot of nothing for them.

I learned a great trick from a neighbour (when we gave them a gift they weren't expecting).  It's a smart idea to have on hand a couple of bottles of nice wine in a pretty gift bag to give to those unexpected gifters (unless your surprise gifter is a kid you coach or something - that will take you on the fast train to trouble).

So, back to the list.  Each year I open the list from the year before.  I just did this now, and I felt relief, there are always people that slip my mind and by opening last year's list I remember.

Here're some folks to consider:
  • people who help you out: babysitter, housekeeper, neighbours, co-workers
  • people who help your children: teachers, volunteer group leaders, 
  • your extended/step family: especially those members that you see only at Christmas gatherings (it can avoid awkwardness to have something for them in your pocket that you can pull out at the right time, if needed)
  • people who gave you something last year - and then you felt awkward.  (My best tip here is to add them to your Christmas list right after it happens so you are reminded when you open the file next year.)
  • friends (where appropriate)
  • family
  • your kids (I debated adding them to the list, it seemed too obvious.  Has anyone's children, in the history of time and space, ever let them forget what they wanted for Christmas?)

Step 2 - Stop & Think.  Make a Plan.

Let your list simmer on your brain's back-burner for awhile.  Keep your eyes and ears open to what they would like.

At our place, we make a three column chart like this.  (Mrs. Claus was kind enough to share hers with us): 

Mrs Claus’ Christmas List 2011: 
Gift Idea
Leopard print thong, size XXL 

Charitable donation to OXFAM or Lottery Tix

DDR 3 for Xbox – include dance mat

gift certificate for a hoof-icure
Southern Getaway tix (Ice Hotel?) with Cupid
Telescope or some other nerdy, science thing

Southern Getaway tix (Ice Hotel?) with Vixen
Cookbook: Reindeer 101, Joy of Cooking or anything by Michael Pollan.

Game of Thrones Season 1 DVD

Blended Scotch – he says he can tell the difference, but he can’t.

Elf employees (27)
Movie passes (redeem Santa’s Air Miles to get them)

Clearly you can see why Santa chooses the gifts for children: 
Mrs. Claus's choices are terrible!

Step 3 - Focus Your Ideas & Shop Around.

This is where the savings can be found.  Once you've narrowed down your ideas you can comparison shop.  Watch the flyers.  Look around online.  Find the gift you have in mind at the best price.

I vastly prefer online shopping for every possible purchase, Christmas shopping in particular.

After a busy day at work it is the best feeling to walk up to the front door and see freshly delivered boxes there saying, "Put your feet up, hon, your Christmas shopping is done."  (After a long day I tend to hallucinate.)

Step 4 - Know When You're Done.

It feels good to check off the "Done" column and have a visual of how close you are.

It also can help to prevent those impulse purchases (you know, when you wait in line at the store and you see that random thing that you think would suit so-and-so.  You buy it and then find you've already got something for them when you went to wrap).

Recording in your chart also helps to remind you what you have left to pick up.

Step 5 - Save your list for next year!

Give your next-year-self a gift: save your list from this year - you'll be that much further ahead.

What are your tips for saving time and money on Christmas shopping?


  1. My biggest tip is gonna sound kinda Scroogey, but it's this: Don't.

    Of course I give Christmas gifts and I do shop. (I have kids!) But I've greatly narrowed my list. My parents and I agreed several years ago to just exchange small, fun things. I give them a photo calendar of the kids each year. I splurge on luxurious socks for my mom and (usually) a book for my dad. (And my mom gives me awesome socks in return. My daughter thinks we are hopelessly weird, but we love it!)

    I decided to give only from a spirit of wanting to give. So, I no longer give to avoid those awkward moments. If someone gives me something and I have nothing in return, I give the most heartfelt "thank you" and I let it go. It started at a time when I had almost no extra money--and I came to realize how much better it felt to give from a different place and to learn how to be OK with giving what I could.

    So for all those reasons, I love your step 4 the best! :-)

    1. I don't think you sound Scroogey at all, Rita! I've been advocating something similar in our families for years, it works for some, and not for others. We've come up with a few smaller gift-giving ideas over the years: drawing names, edible-only, etc. Your sock idea sounds sweet and perfect!

      You're right about just saying a sincere thank-you to those unexpected gifts. I know when I give one to someone who hasn't gotten me something I feel happiest when it fills them with joy and not guilt or obligation. Thanks for your awesome comment! :)

  2. So simple, yet profound! Thank you for posting this practical post!


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