My Holiday Shopping Is Done – Use My Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday

Yes, once again I’ve crossed off every last person on my Christmas shopping list before Halloween. Mom, Dad, Grandma, brother Steve, brother Jason, kids, nieces, nephews, even bus drivers, schoolteachers and the mailman. I’ve stockpiled hostess gifts, stocking suffers and a few random presents for those surprise exchanges that pop up every holiday. Everything’s already wrapped and tagged. Come December, I’ll be relaxing in a hot bath with a good book while the rest of the world scrambles to amass ratchet sets, bezel set diamond studs and the latest Tickle Me Elmo.

Why not join me? Besides the smug satisfaction you’ll enjoy from getting your holiday shopping out of the way early, you’ll get to actually appreciate the parties, the cookie baking, the egg nog, the mistletoe–even the relatives–without guilt.

So how’d I do it already? With a little advanced planning. You can get your Christmas shopping done early too, if you follow my lead. Here are my secrets:

Nine Christmas shopping tips (Hanukkah shopping tips too) to make the holidays easier:

Make a list. A little advanced planning goes a long way. Just like you do when you go to the grocery store, make a list. This way you’ll stay focused and finish the task fast. Before you shop, write down who you need to buy for, what you plan to spend and any ideas you have in mind based on individual tastes, hobbies, etc. Think: Did they mention a great book they want to read? A piece of jewelry they particularly admire? A movie they want to see? An item of clothing they like? A tool they had to have? A play that looked interesting? If you’re stumped, look for gift finders online. Many popular web sites have special holiday gift collections broken down by gender, age, tastes, price, etc. If you want to give something truly memorable, think back to the truly memorable gifts you’ve received. My favorites have been a basket full of little things I love, like books, lotions, bath stuff, etc.; a subscription to the New York Times daily crossword puzzle online; a three-course dinner prepared with all my favorite foods, and a gorgeous black baroque pearl bracelet. Think back to gifts you’ve given that have been a hit. What were they? Who enjoyed them?

Shop online. This is the best tip of all. Once I got a computer, holiday shopping was no longer a chore I dreaded. It actually became a breeze. Doing your Christmas shopping online saves time, money (with gas prices being what they are) and legwork. Best of all you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas. I can breeze through my entire list in under an hour, I have most everything within a week, and it’s delivered right to my door. And don’t worry about security: Shopping online is safer than shopping in stores. Far more credit card numbers are stolen in your presence by waiters, clerks, etc. than are stolen by hackers and phishers.

Narrow your list of sites. Over the years I’ve narrowed down my holiday shopping web sites to a few great e-tailers I use over and over. Some let me save my information in a password protected format so I just log in and shop. Once my shopping cart is full, I don’t have to retype my name and address, or the addresses I ship to. One caveat: Don’t store credit card data. Even though it’s probably not going to happen, hackers can and do steal your information. Best to retype your credit card number each time to be on the safe side.

The best news about site loyalty is that many sites offer incentives to repeat buyers. One 20% coupon can go a long way toward shaving your holiday gift budget!

Use e-tailers that have something for most everyone. I have one online jewelry store I shop at over and over because they have something for most everyone on my list. Last year I shopped for all the women on my Christmas shopping list in one 20-minute sitting. I got a trendy gemstone ring for my niece; a classic pearl necklace for my goddaughter, an inexpensive but high-quality pearl bracelet for my sons’ teachers, a pearl pendant for my friend and a pearl jewelry set for my mother. Shopping in one place made it easy to manage my task. I printed my receipt at the end and had a great reference for what I bought and what I still needed to buy.

Search for sites that offer free shipping. Pretty self-explanatory. Shipping can add a lot of hidden and surprising costs to your holiday budget. There are plenty of sties that offer free shipping regularly, and still more that use free shipping to entice holiday shoppers. Search for free shipping coupons on Google or at great coupon sites like Sometimes you’ll find a money-saving code that wasn’t obvious on the site.

Search for sites that offer free gifts. This is my favorite tip. Free gifts with certain dollar amounts purchased can save you big bucks. For example, the site I work for offers free pearl stud earrings with purchases over $150. Buy a few presents and you’ve earned a high quality, free gift to give to someone else on your list or save for yourself.

Always check return policies. Generous return policies are a must for early holiday shoppers. This tip is especially important if you’re buying a gift in October that your recipient might want to return or exchange in January. You don’t want them to get burned if they only have 30 days to return an item. Look for 90 day return policies at least, and make a note of sites that don’t appear to have helpful customer service or easily accessible contact information. You don’t want to spend your money at sites that make it difficult for you to contact them after the sale.

Click the gift wrapping option. E-tailers that don’t gift-wrap get crossed off my list. Why? Gift-wrapping is time-consuming and expensive. Christmas wrapping paper is about three bucks or more a roll; bows can be a dollar each, and you’ve got tags and tape, not to mention the time involved to crease perfectly wrinkle-free corners or get the wrapping on that oblong-shaped doll just right. Plus, like me, your might not be very good at it. At $3-$5 per gift, which is what the sites I shop at typically charge, it pays to have items gift-wrapped. Shopping online saves you money on gas, why not put that toward wrapping? Just make sure to have gifts tagged if you’ve ordered multiple gifts for multiple people or you’ll have a lot of unwrapping and rewrapping to do.

For last minute stuff, such as miscellaneous stocking stuffers and office grab bag gifts, I grab items at places where I already shop regularly, like the grocery store. Poke around and you can find great books, gift cards, beer, candy, mugs, even office supplies, art supplies, puzzles and flowers. Another great idea is a magazine subscription. (With a monthly subscription, your gift will keep on giving 12 times a year.) Hey, you have to grocery shop regularly anyway. Why not grab what you need there rather than make a special trip? Then you can do like I do and not make one extra trip or spend more than an hour on your holiday shopping, including the gift wrapping.

Ready to take back the holidays from the retailers and celebrate what these special days are really about? I find it far more satisfying to celebrate my spirituality and spend time with family and friends rather than waste my valuable time at some overcrowded mall with crabby, stressed out shoppers. Why not join me this holiday?

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