I have a friend whose holiday shopping is always completed by August. Not only has she finished buying presents for everyone on her list, but the gifts are tucked away in her closet, festively wrapped with posh embossed foil, purchased December 26 for 10 cents a roll. She’s weighed each box on her bathroom scale and attached little yellow stickums estimating the proper shipping fees.
Most people think she’s the most enterprising, well-organized planner in the universe.
I think there’s something wrong with her.
How is it, I used to wonder, that by mid-summer she knows what everyone on her list wants, while I don’t get a clue from family or friends until December 22? Then it dawned on me.
She doesn’t ask them.
Starting in January, my friend cruises the nearly empty malls in search of 90-percent-off sales, buying whatever she likes among the leftovers. While it appears this may be the secret of stress-free holiday shopping, where’s the fun?
There are really many ways to stay relatively sane and actually enjoy the season, for those of us who would rather shop closer to Christmas than Valentine’s Day or the Fourth of July.
It begins with a list. Whether its pencil on an envelope or To-Dos on an iPhone, take the time to craft a budget, with spending limits before you join the shopping aisle stampede.
You must get toughest with yourself by not wavering on your decisions for each and every person on your “nicer than naughty” list. Aimlessly wandering aisles that have morphed into a winter wonderland increases the threat of allowing yourself to be seduced into exceeding your budget by “just a little,” which can rapidly accelerate into “just a whole lot.”
This is particularly important for people with large families. As a mother of seven (attached to assorted wives and husbands) and grandmother of nine, I draw on experience.
While it’s touchy-feely to believe our families would be perfectly happy stringing freshly-popped corn on pine trees we cut down and dragged home from the forest, and exchanging homemade potholders wrapped in newspaper and baling twine, we have to face reality. In the land of real people, holiday presents are most frequently acquired in stores.
Many families with multiple relatives opt to draw names for holiday gifts, thus easing the financial burden of purchasing presents for each individual, as well as eliminating the dilemma of what to buy Great Aunt Hattie, who owns one of everything in the universe, or Cousin Minerva, a.k.a. “Astral,” who lives in a mountain cabin with 43 cats and a pygmy goat.
If you choose the search-and-shop route, you can still keep your schedule on track, your budget in place and your brain cells relatively unscathed.
Buying for the age group who still believe in Santa is the most fun and the simplest, since most of them can’t reach a computer keyboard and are still delighted with brightly colored mobiles, simple games and stuffed animals powered by imagination, not batteries.
The youngest munchkins appear to enjoy anything that squeaks, rattles, honks or floats in the bathtub. Years ago, a favorite of one of my grandchildren was a puzzle mat, comprised of a few big sections illustrating words, sounds, animals and the ocean. Dress-up costumes can also keep toddlers enthralled for an entire afternoon. Ditto puppets, which provide endless possibilities for make-believe.
Enjoy shopping for this age group. It’s the most fun and it won’t last very long.
And, while we’re at it, books are always winners. I don’t know any young child who doesn’t enjoy climbing up on a lap to listen to vintage Dr. Seuss.
Many of the “older” young set who are part of the 99.9 percent of American youngsters who play soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, hockey and/or tennis make gift-giving very simple. A kid can’t have too many shin guards.
Forget buying them clothes, however, unless they point out a very specific item from a very specific place. Teens and Tweens have a preconceived notion that their “elders” (over 18) shop exclusively in Fred Flintstone clothing stores, none of which sell navel and nose jewelry, stick-on tattoos or fuschia hair extensions.
Some jewelry is acceptable to teens, including currently popular silver bangels, chunky earrings and any kind of vintage jewelry. Flashy hair clips and funky watches are also considered “hot.”
Other popular picks for teens include movie passes, “cool” cell-phone holders or a pre-paid driver’s ed course. (Discuss this with parents first to avoid a holiday meltdown.)
Adult “kids” give thumbs up to receiving delicious deliveries of steaks, bakery goods, fruit, exotic chocolates or other yummies from speciality stores throughout the year. You can personalize your gift far better if you don’t go the catalog route, however. Many local gourmet food shops and caterers offer gift certificates for everything from hors d’oeuvres, to complete dinners and desserts — and you can leave the detail decisions to your gift recipient.
Gift certificates to favorite restaurants, coffee bars and bistros are also always welcome. As a rule of thumb, unless you are absolutely sure someone wants what you’re buying, a gift certificate from a place they regularly shop, or can’t afford to shop but love to look, is a wise choice.
Buying for spouses and significant others is a continuous challenge. If they tell you “anything you want to buy me will be fine,” don’t believe it, because you’ll only get your feelings hurt when they race back to the store to exchange the electric eyelash curler or combination log splitter/martini mixer for something more . . . useful.
Unless specific requests have been made, men should avoid purchasing crockpots, miracle dusters or easy-squeezy floor mops for any woman. Trust me, a trash compactor will not light up the eyes of even the most domestic diva on Christmas morning the way gold earrings or a silk robe under the tree will.
Here again, you can’t go wrong with a gift certificate for something your sweetest has always wanted but wouldn’t think of buying for herself. A month’s worth of spa treatments, books on tape for commuters and yoga are also proven picks. Of course, airline tickets to romantic places are a guaranteed solid-gold hit for both sexes. The trip may not last forever, but the memories will.
If your favorite man loves golf, tennis, bowling, marathon running or almost any other popular sport, a zillion popular accoutrements for each pastime are available to increase your shopping choices. Even if your guy doesn’t play something, you can still score a slam dunk by tucking tickets to his favorite sporting event in the toe of his stocking. Or, how about certificates for a hot air balloon ride? A day’s sport fishing? Lawn service for a month?
Guys also enjoy spa-related services, including professional massages, skin treatments and hair styling.
Yes, they do. Really.
Lest we forget, some of the best gifts in the world have no price. Even if your cash flow has slowed to a trickle, options abound for the hardest to please on your holiday list. For instance, mothers of young children would likely prefer a promise of a few hours of babysitting or running errands to an industrial sized bottle of cologne. Attaching an offer to a holiday card to grandparents or other senior friends promising to do yard work, paint or clean house is far more useful than adding another geegaw to their mantle.
Generally speaking, our elders rarely crave or need more hankies, scarves or bath salts, socks, ties or shaving lotion, but rest assured that tickets to a local concert, a movie theater, a year’s subscription to their newspaper, or gift certificates for dinner or coffee and donuts will not be stuck in a drawer and forgotten. Very likely most elders would prefer a gift of your time and attention to anything else you might think of giving them.
Personally, giving people money outright goes against my grain, unless it’s a tip for services by a doorman, mailman, etc. It’s just that I believe stuffing bills inside a holiday card somehow dilutes the spirit of the season. If you want to help bail someone out of financial straits, give them cash at a more appropriate occasion.
Some shoppers elect to “surf the Net” rather than stroll the aisles. Although on-line shopping may prevent wear and tear on your car and psyche, you must factor the added shipping charges into your budget. True, you can always tape a pine air freshener to your printer and hum a little Jingle Bells to keep yourself in the holiday mood while maneuvering your mouse for the best deals, but you’d miss out on the sights, sounds and bonhomie of the season — not to mention the unique offerings you’d find in our spiffy local shops and nowhere else.
Whichever path you choose in your search for The Perfect Gift For Everyone, remember to keep the spirit of the season uppermost in your mind. True, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain a peace-on-earth-goodwill-toward-men aura when you find yourself among normally civilized shoppers body slamming each other over the last “Rock Band 2” video game.
And never lose sight of the fact it really isn’t the cost or the brand or the size or the weight or the glitter of the gift that counts. Wherever it originates, just make sure it comes from your heart. -CL-