Lots of us are dashing around, trying to affordably buy gifts to remind those we care about that we do care about them, even if our daily worries and too-busy work schedules force us to put them on the back burner sometimes.
Don't let guilt force you into spending more than you can afford, though. Savvy shopping can save you money and net you smiles from those who get your gifts. Here are some tips to remember before hitting the aisles:
1. Gather all the pertinent information you need to effectively shop. Who needs a gift? What are their preferences? Where do they shop?
2. When it comes to clothing, what are their sizes, favorite colors and most complementary styles? (It's not a good idea to get a caftan for someone who should be wearing straight lines.)
3. When it comes to household items, what is their color scheme and style of décor? It doesn’t make sense to give something frilly to someone whose home is ultracontemporary.
4. When it comes to recreational items, what do they already have? Is your gift meant to complement it, as in a game, attachment or accessory? My son gave me a couple of really specific suggestions for computer games and reiterated—twice—that they were for PC.
He reminded me—twice—that we no longer have an Xbox. I’ve heard plenty of stories from moms who have bought games during sales that were not for the right equipment, which created disappointment Christmas morning.
5. Check out advertised sales. That doesn’t mean just in the media; go to the actual store you think will have your desired items and see if it is promoting a sale. Ask the clerks—yes, many will tell you! Keep a log of where you’ve been and what was available there.
6. Go on the store websites and see if they’ll offer you a deal if you buy online—many do! You’ll save gas and time if you can order it through the Web; however, you may incur shipping costs, and it’ll be up to you to decide if the gas money saved is worth the mailing expense. Some websites will waive shipping costs on special days.
7. Check store websites for coupons and see if the coupons can be used in addition to any discounts. You may find you get a better deal holding off until after the holiday sale and using the coupon if it can’t be used on sale items.
8. Map out your route. Which stores are in the same proximity? You waste gas zigzagging around town if you don’t have a plan of what you’re buying and where.
9. Dress comfortably but not like a slob. If you dress for respect, you're more likely to get it from the clerks.
10. Keep your receipts and your shopping bags. Both will make it easier to return items if your gifts didn’t quite hit the mark.
11. Hide your purchases in your vehicle. I usually make sure I take the car with the trunk. And if I think someone’s watching to see where I parked, I either take the long way to my car, or head to a security guard and strike up a conversation until the person—or feeling—goes away.
A lot of thefts happen this time of year, and you don’t want someone to do their “shopping” in your vehicle because they liked what they saw in the window.
12. Don’t let yourself be distracted at the register by something that looks like a “great buy.” As my late mother used to say, “It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it!”
If you're in a position where your finances are strained, and many of us are, think about going the do-it-yourself route.
Homemade baked goods presented in a lovely box that you bought unpainted (4 bucks at my favorite discount stores) and dressed up with leftover paint, markers or decoupage is an inexpensive but thoughtful gift. I've used the same trick with inexpensive candles and makeup. Print photos of special events including the person you're gifting on regular letter paper, cut them out and decoupage them in a design on your bargain box after you've painted it.
Instant heirloom, and a very thoughtful gift.
And hokey as it may seem, it really is the thought that counts.