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Strategizing the Shopping

If you’re like me, you began your
Christmas shopping a few months ago. Incredibly organized and on
top of my life? Nope – just trying to spread out the
financial pain a bit, make Christmas not such a shock to the
checkbook come December and January. (Oh, January – that
painful month when the big credit card bill comes in and all the
toys it bought are already broken.) So I’ve been buying
things when I see good sales, and squeezing a bit of shopping in
each week. Thankfully, my girls are too young to realize they could
tear my bedroom apart and find all their gifts; in our comfy, large
house, there’s surprisingly little private space and Mommy
and Daddy’s bedroom closet is simply known as the place to go
play with the cat. I’m so glad they don’t look up and
see those poorly-concealed Little People boxes above their heads.

Anyway, as I try to spread the spending out, I’ve got a
couple tricks up my sleeve to make all this a little easier.

First off, I keep a gift spiral. Yep,
that’s right, I write down every gift I give. And more
importantly, I write down every gift when I buy it so I don’t
dig through my “extra gifts” box nine months later and
say, “Hey! Look! I bought this really cool shirt for my
friend! Too bad it’s now February.” I passed this tip
on to a friend of mine who has gone me one better and brought my
horse-and-buggy spiral notebook into the modern age by creating a
gift spreadsheet. However you do it, if you keep track of all those
gifts you give out for birthdays and baby showers and teacher
appreciation days, you’ll never wonder, “Did I give
this book to him last year, or was that someone else?”

You’ll also notice, as the shopping goes on, and you make
notes, that you’ve suddenly got ten small items for your
child’s stocking, and it’s time to stop picking up
those little “filler” gifts and restrict your purchases
from now on to the deliberate, big gifts.

And as a final word on the gift spiral, I use it to keep track of
homemade gifts and how well they’re received. I write out
what I bake for the holiday season, and who gets what; that way,
when they say, “I loved what you made last year! I’d
like some more of it!” I know what they’re talking
about. Likewise, the sound of crickets chirping through my lack of
responses on other food items lets me know it’s not so much a
favorite. Ditto goes for other homemade gifts like ornaments, bath
salts, photo albums, or whatever.

On the subject of shopping for your kids, start a “wish
list” on their behalf and add to it whenever you think of
something. We sometimes find ourselves racking our brains, trying
to come up with suggestions for family members to give the girls
that the girls don’t really need. I keep a running list on my
computer all year long, and edit when the time gets close. To save
money, Brian and I go over the list right about this time of year,
pick a few items, and stick to that – no more impulse buying
or “little things” pick ups. The list is always subject
to change, such as when your daughter announces that it’s not
enough to get the Thomas trains – she must have the tracks as
well. But you can simply return something else you’ve already
bought to make room for the friggin’ tracks. For example.

As you shop, keep an envelope somewhere rather prominent that is
solely for holiday gift receipts. I found this helped me corral
Brian’s receipts without is feeling like I was
“cheating” and looking to see what he’d gotten
me. Everything simply gets shoved in the envelope, and I can pull a
receipt out for a return or exchange pretty easily. Then in January
I can file it all away.

If you’ve got your list, take time to do some Internet
surfing; I love Amazon, but their toy prices are sometimes twice
the cost of the same thing at Toys R Us. Factor in shipping and the
“nuisance factor” of having to schlep across town to
save five bucks on something. And here’s an early holiday
gift, from me to you: target="_blank">Want Not. It’s a great website that
daily posts coupon codes for pretty much everything under the sun.
She had a train table listed a few weeks ago for $55, shipping
included. I didn’t move fast enough, and it would’ve
cost me $120 total by the time I got there. Not such a bargain any
more, and I passed. But Want Not has coupons for toys, shoes,
electronics, everything. Definitely worth a daily read as you gear
up for the holidays.

And finally, starting early gives you time to stalk href="http://www.craigslist.com" target="_blank">Craig’s
. I daily check our local site for a few items
I’m hoping to pick up second-hand: a stupid train table,
certain dollhouse furniture, that sort of thing. You never know
when people will sell, so starting early increases the likelihood
you’ll get what you want at a much better price. One caveat
– keep in mind recalls as you shop second-hand. I won’t
buy any Thomas trains second-hand because they had about seventeen
different recalls in 2007 for lead paint. I also periodically haunt
our local children’s resale shop, prowling the toy section
for new arrivals. Some stores will actually let you sign up for
specific items, then call you when they get them in.

So hopefully this will help you save a little dough and a little
sanity this season. We all way overspend anyway, but that’s
another blog. For now, use these few simple suggestions to stay one
step ahead of your usual frenetic, harried holiday self. And spend
the time you save on a little Mommy Time.

I feel a pedicure coming on . . .


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