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Make a List, Check it Twice: Sensible Holiday Shopping

Holiday shoppingWalk into any drug store, and you’ll be bombarded with holiday music insisting “‘Tis the season to be jolly…” and other calls for assorted cheer. And while the holidays offer plenty of opportunities for moments of merriment, fun and being jolly, they can also be a source of anxiety and financial stress for many Americans.

Consider me among those many Americans this year. I have eight nieces and nephews, a few young cousins, grandparents, godchildren, and my husband and two-year-old son on my list. Oh, and I’m having kid number two on December 27. Where to begin? I find it helpful to follow these 10 steps to stay on track while doing your holiday shopping.

  1. Make a list, check it twice. A big, scary don’t-leave-anyone-or-anything-out list. This includes the office Secret Santa gift, a few bottles of wine for the neighbors, gifts you donate to places of worship or charitable organizations, stocking stuffers, and the various friends and family members you’ll be sending gifts to. Then, take a deep breath.
2. Assess your finances. What is your budget? The last thing you want to do is spend freely today then realize in January it is going to take you six months to pay off a bunch of video games, expensive dolls, and extravagant Lego sets. Once you know what you’re comfortable spending, you can start to select gifts.

3. Missed Black Friday and Cyber Monday? There are great deals every day. Online retailers like Target and Amazon run deals throughout the season. My sister-in-law and I joined forces to take advantage of a buy two, get one free video game sale at Target for the various recipients on our lists. Be conscientious and check sites daily. Competition for customers is fierce, and there are deals to be had if you’re willing to put in the time.

4. Go straight to the source. If you’re looking for something online and can’t find it or think there may be a better deal to be had, call the retailer. My parents got a great deal and free shipping on a kid-sized table and chairs for my son’s playroom by calling the retailer to ask a few questions. The salesperson even offered them a discount.

5. Remember that not every gift has to be extravagant to be special. New readers might enjoy a set of books by a favorite author, while a creative child might like a new art kit. Rather than buying a brand new doll for a child on your list, buy some accessories for a doll they already have and love. For older kids who live nearby, consider an experience gift—take them ice skating, to the movies or zoo or to get a manicure and a pedicure.

6. Don’t be afraid of gift cards, but know your audience! I am an avid reader. An Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card to be used for downloading eBooks is always welcome. Same goes for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cards. My morning coffee is my financial weakness, so my husband stocks up on their yearly discount card offered at holiday time. He buys a ton of them and keeps me in discounted coffees for months. But if he (or anyone) were to send a Starbucks card? It would likely be immediately regifted. I can’t stand the stuff. Be a mindful gift card giver.

7. Stuff those stockings with practical stuff—gum, tooth brushes, lip balm, a favorite candy, mints, fun socks, a mini lint roller. Stores like Dollar Tree are a good place to pick up cheap stocking stuffers, as is the travel section in the drugstore or Target.

8. Be realistic with prices. When dealing with very small children (like my two-year-old son) remember that they don’t know the difference between a $5 item and a $500 item. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself (and your bank account) to buy a gift that will impress the other adults in the room. Get something perfectly suited to that kid that fits in your budget. My son is getting truck stickers, books, puzzles, and a kids cleaning set so he doesn’t keep running off with my adult-sized Swiffer and knocking it into the newly painted walls.

9. Speak up if you feel your list has gotten out of control. If you suddenly find you’re buying gifts for far too many people, have a polite conversation with those you’d like to end the gift-giving tradition with. If possible, suggest a casual get together after the holidays instead, exchanging desserts, or baking cookies together. Sure, there might be a few hurt feelings, but it is better to have a conversation than spend money you don’t have, to avoid embarrassment. Anyone who can’t understand or respect your need to cut your gift budget isn’t helping your bottom line.

10. Remember what it’s all about. Lastly, do take time to step back from the shopping and list making to enjoy the beauty of the season and the end of the year. Spend time with friends and family doing something you love.

Lauren J. Sternberg, Communications Manager, American Institute of CPAs.

Holiday shopping courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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