The Bliss of Forethought for Holiday Shopping

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The Bliss of Forethought for Holiday Shopping

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The best two words of organizing advice in the world? BE EARLY. They're also the best two words for controlling how much you spend on this year's holiday shopping.

  • When you're early, you have time to figure out exactly what to get everyone, without falling victim to every marketing pitch.
  • When you're early, the size or color or model you need is never out of stock. (You even have time to back-order what you want.)
  • When you're early, you can find the best values, whether by comparison shopping or by catching the best sales.
  • When you're early, you never pay extra for express shipping. Heck, you can afford to wait for the cheapest parcel-post rate.

You get the idea. But do you DO it?

[Waiting . . . waiting . . .]

Well, that's why we're talking about this in September!

So, assuming that you could use some tips to sharpen your game on this front, here are a few ideas on how to approach this year's holiday shopping -- to save money, sure, but also to save your sanity.

Calendar + Budget = Plan. I've mentioned before how my mom checks sales throughout the year, just in the course of her normal errands. While it's too late for this year's holidays to get the amazing deals she finds in, say, March, you still have 100 days until Christmas -- time enough to execute a good plan.

The two big parts of this plan are time (thus the calendar) and money (thus the budget). But here's the key: Don't focus on how much time and money you can spend this year. Instead, decide for yourself on a much lower amount of time and money that you will spend. Mark an early date on your calendar -- I suggest November 15 -- when you'll be done with your shopping, set aside a particular sum of money that you'll spend, and then start breaking down the weeks and the dollars, so that you know clearly how much you're going to spend on each of the people on your list, and by what date.

Speaking of which, give gifts only to children and your own spouse. My wife's family has done this for some years, and it's fantastic: the kids -- who get the biggest thrill from Christmas morning anyway -- receive gifts from their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The grownups each receive gifts from their spouses. And that's it. Why make it more complicated than that, especially when so many adults are so hard to buy for?

While you're at it, think hard about how much your kids need. Children form their expectations primarily off of the cues that parents show them, so if you establish expectations for a big consumer blowout every December . . . that's what they'll expect. That's what they'll ask for. That's what they'll whine for. Instead of going down that path, be savvy and set expectations appropriately.

Stay away from malls as much as possible. These places are designed for sensory overload, because that leads you to shop longer and spend more. So don't even play the game at all. If you must go to the mall, (a) avoid as much overstimulation as possible by getting there when it opens, (b) take a set-in-stone shopping list with you, and (c) pay cash for everything. That way, you'll limit your ability to make impulse purchases.

Wrap your presents early. It seems like a small thing, but do you want to be driving yourself crazy with this the night before a long car trip to spend the holidays with your family? No.

Finally, remember that YOU set the expectations for your life. Forget keeping up with the Joneses, which is a top reason that so many Americans are so deeply in debt. Forget about using money to demonstrate affection for your family members; instead, show your love the old-fashioned way -- through your words and deeds. In short: You're in charge of your life, so act like it, in your shopping habits and in everything else.

What are you doing to make 2010 the year that you get the jump on holiday shopping?

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Tim Walker

Tim is a writer, marketer, and social media pro in Austin. He joined CareOne's blogging team as a contributing writer for the Life Balance blog in 2009. As a blogger who has personally overcome debt challenges, he draws from his own experience to provide tips on living a balanced life and keeping fit. You can read more of his thoughts (on fitness and everything else) at his personal blog, What I've Learned So Far. Compensated CareOne Blogger

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  • Is it too early to talk about the holidays? Probably, but it's not a terrible idea if you have budgeting in mind.

  • But despite this "flawless" plan, everything fell apart in December. Here are five reasons why you shouldn't do your Christmas shopping early!

  • I know, school hasn't even started yet, but think about it, the holiday season is less than six months away. I sat down with my calendar and figured out how many paychecks I have until then and it isn't that many. I actually got a little nervous!

  • Once the holidays roll around, our lives will become even more stressful with shopping, crowded malls, social gatherings, and last-minute details. To help take the edge off, here are a few stress-relief tips that I use to get through the holidays:

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