Friday, October 28, 2011

Ideas for A Stress Free Holiday Season

I know it seems early to most but I just ordered our first Christmas gift for 2011.  It was perfect timing this morning that Jones Design Company had a post about a book that I thought would be an ideal gift for my mother-in-law this year.  I was starting to get antsy about getting going on my xmas shopping.  So I quickly hopped over to Amazon, my go to place for everything, and ordered a copy.

Anyways I thought I would do a quick post on how I prepare for a less stressful holiday season.  I have learned a few tricks to keep me from going insane during this busy time of year.

Idea #1.  Try to get all the shopping for gifts done by Thanksgiving.  I did this for the first time 2 years ago and I will never go back.  There is nothing better than sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner knowing that for the next six weeks you can concentrate on your family and friends and not be worried about shopping.  It is amazing to never go into a crowded store during the holiday season and fight with the crowds over the last barbie or ben 10 or whatever.  I love being able to focus on the fun things like decorating the house, attending events, starting traditions with the kids.  I may miss a few holiday bargains, but the few items that I may save on are not worth the hassle to me.

Idea #2.  Use a spreadsheet to keep track of purchases. I know this sounds incredibly dorky - okay it is dorky -  but it makes shopping so much easier and keeps me on budget.  I had to start doing this once we had nephews and in-laws, 3 sets of teachers, and extended family, etc to get gifts for.  I would never be able to remember on my own what I had bought for each person and what I have left to get.  My spreadsheet keeps track of each person, the gift(s), whether or not it has arrived, if it was wrapped, and how much I spent.  There is nothing worse than buying the same item twice for the same person or forgetting to get a gift for someone.

I also like to keep track of my spending because it gets very easy to overspend when you are not paying attention.  Last year, we had decided to get our daughter a vintage barbie dream house with all the furniture and such.  If I had not kept my spreadsheet, I would have easily spent more than I intended because each individual item did not cost much but seeing all the items add up on my spreadsheet kept me in check.

This is a clip from last year's spreadsheet.

Idea #3.  Don't feel bad for getting the same gift for multiple people.  I know a lot of people who really go out of their way to get really thoughtful individualized gifts for the people on their lists.  This is fantastic, but it can take a lot of time and be hard to accomplish.  There are times, I think, when getting a number of people on your list the same item is perfectly acceptable.  One year we got all the grandparents a digital picture frame loaded with pictures of the kids.  They all liked them, and no one felt slighted that it was not unique to them.  I also get the kid's teachers the same thing usually gift cards or Yankee Candles.

However, I should say, that for kids I do buy individualized gifts.  There's nothing worse as a kid than opening your gift and finding it to be the same thing your sister just opened.  For adults, though, it is one way to simplify your shopping especially if you find a great gift that anyone would appreciate.

Idea #4.  Shop online as much as possible.  I find shopping in crowds very stressful.  I end up buying things I didn't really want and spending too much money just to get out of the store as quickly as possible.  I love shopping online.  Typically, I never run into items being sold out or unavailable unlike at a brick and mortar store.  Not only do I avoid all the crowds,  but I can easily compare prices and in most cases have the item shipped to my front door for free.  This is especially ideal since we have had kids because the package can come during the day and I can hide it before the curious monkeys get home from school.  Much easier than trying to sneak in the back door with your arms full of bags or forgetting something in the trunk of the car for 2 weeks.  It's no secret that I love Amazon.   I love their selection, I love their prices, I love the free shipping.  I would say that I get 90% of our gifts from Amazon.

You can even print a last minute gift card to Amazon from your computer.  This is really great when you have an unexpected visitor show up with a gift and you were not prepared.  Just excuse yourself, log in to your computer, quickly print one off and slip it in a card.  Then pretend like you had it all along.

Idea #5.  Agree to joint gift with your spouse.  As we have gotten older my husband and I find that there are fewer material things that we need or want and we much prefer to find an activity or couple item that we purchase together.  For instance one year we bought a piano.  A lot of our friends tend to do similar things like buying their own gifts or agreeing to after holiday shopping sprees.  I am hoping this year my dear generous loving husband will agree to a trip to Italy as a great joint xmas gift - - honey?

Idea #6.  Say "yes" less often.  Don't agree to make decorations for the neighborhood, bake treats for your kid's class and host a party for your husband's work friends all in the same week.  We all over-commit for various reasons but we have to learn to say "sorry, not this year".  Be selective and prioritize the activities that make the most sense for you and your family.  Maybe you can't do the holiday party at school but you can offer to do the Valentine's celebration.

Idea #7.  Simplify the present wrapping process.  I am just one of those people who does not enjoy spending hours wrapping gifts.  I have learned to take advantage of gift bags.  It takes 2 seconds to put an item in a bag, add some tissue and a nice tag versus the 10 minutes of sizing, cutting, taping to wrap one item  in paper wrapping.  For me this is a no brainer.

Since we usually have 3 main sets of family that we exchange gifts with I also like to assign each family a different kind of bag.  I will go to the Target and hit the gift bag aisle and pick out all kinds of sizes of bags in 3 different patterns.  Then when I start to wrap I put all of one family's gifts in the snowman pattern, then the next family gets the tree pattern and the last gets the angels.  It really makes it easy to find things under the tree.

Idea #8.  Set up a Wish List on Amazon.  I know - you think I work for Amazon but unfortunately I am getting zero compensation for being their best customer.  Anyhoo, they have 2 great tools to help you let others know things you may like as a gift.  I started using this a few years ago when our kids got to the point that they had so many toys that it was difficult to just say to a grandparent "oh he wants a lego" because inevitably they would get the one he already had or he would get the same thing from both grandparents.  The amazon wish list lets me add specific items and then if the item ends up being purchased from Amazon it will be removed from the list so no one  buys a duplicate.

This is a picture of an Amazon Wish List.

Even cooler is the Wish List Button that lets you add items to your Wish List from any website.

You install this on your toolbar and then you can add items from any website so that your gift givers only have to go to the one central gift list.  Say you want something from Pottery Barn you can use the button to add it to the Amazon list.  When the gift giver clicks on the item in the list it will take them to the Pottery Barn website.  Very cool.  Each item on your list also has a spot for comments next to it so you can let everyone know this toy is appropriate for child A and the next one is meant for child B and he needs it in red, size 12.  I have even added a comment that the item is cheaper at another store so the gift givers don't overpay at Amazon - although usually Amazon does have the best price.

The wish list has helped because now I don't have to keep track that I told Grandma to get the dinosaur and I told Grandpa to get a lego and Aunt Sally to get new underwear.  It also helps avoid the after holiday stress of returning duplicates.

I know some people are adverse to the whole make a list thing and they feel that asking for specific items takes away from the holiday spirit, but I have found that most of our relatives are grateful for the specific suggestions especially out-of-town relatives don't always have a good pulse on what the kids have or need.

I hope these ideas will be useful to some.  I would love to hear from anyone else on their best ways to cope with the holiday stress.

~ Gold Shoe Girl ~

1 comment:

  1. This is such a timely post for me! Even though it's still about two months until Christmas, I was just thinking this morning that I need to get started on my shopping. I like to get all my Christmas gifts bought before Dec. 1. Talk about taking off the stress!

    I also love your idea of buying the same gift for several people, if you can.

    Great tips!


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