How To Shop
For Christmas Gifts
Okay. Christmas is coming, fast. It's time to panic. After all, you don't want to relive last Christmas Eve. There you were, at ten to five in the evening, standing in a large department store, with two gifts still to buy and a distinct shortage of cash. 'Never again!' you said at the time. Remember?
Here is a rough guide on how to shop for Christmas gifts:
1. Decide how much you can really afford to spend. Now, take 10% off that figure for extras, like wrapping paper, ribbon, bows, tags etc. Then, divide the sum remaining by the number of people you will probably buy gifts for. Redistribute the money, so that you allocate more to close friends and relatives and less to distant ones. You now have a rough budget.
2. Identify whom, exactly, you are going to exchange gifts with. There are few things worse in life than receiving a Christmas gift from someone when you have not bought anything for them in return. The slight embarrassment of determining this important fact early on is much better than the bigger embarrassment later. Refine your budget accordingly.
3. You may agree with some friends and relatives that a gift exchange is not necessary. This might help both of you significantly. Perhaps they are less well-off than you are, or less mobile. Where such agreements are possible, refine your budget accordingly.
4. Try to agree some financial boundaries with all those who you do exchange gifts with. Again, put your embarrassment aside and agree with Aunt Flo' not to spend more than x on each other, an amount that both you and she can afford. Gain, and give, a strong commitment not to exceed the agreed amount, under any circumstances. Again, refine your budget accordingly.
5. Do ask indirectly, sometimes directly, what recipients would like to receive as gifts. Every year, millions of unwanted gifts are bought and given. Many end up in attics, charity shops or landfill sites. In return, do drop hints and tell friends and relatives directly what you would like in return. This process need not dilute the gift exchange experience. By allowing some scope for choice, it should enhance it.
6. Now, the hard work begins, especially for those who seem to have everything they need, and don't know what they'd like either. Well within the budget for that person, write down ideas over several days. Think about their lifestyle, hobbies and interests. Avoid cliché presents that might imply little real care about the recipient when you give it. Write down things that they will use every day.
7. Start your shopping early. Contrary to popular belief, September is not too early. Indeed, some seasoned gift-givers shop for Christmas gifts all year round and squirrel them away in hiding places until December. They even buy gifts for next Christmas in the preceding January sales and during summer special offers.
8. Shop around online, at least in the first instance. Without expending any shoe leather, this will enable you to establish price and availability. Visit product comparison sites first (like www.ehawker.co.uk), rather than the sites of likely, or your favourite, retailers. You might find that less well-known suppliers offer you better deals. If you do find good deals, go ahead and buy online! Did you really want to trudge around cold, damp shopping centres only to find higher prices and lower stock levels?
9. Do buy offline any Christmas-related items, including gifts, which require a multi-sensory approach to purchase. It's difficult to be prescriptive here, but you may need to judge first hand the smell of a real tree, the sound of a bell, the taste of a cheese or the feel of a fresh holly wreath. Also look in local shops for specialities not yet found on the Internet.
10. Well before the big day, wrap and hide your presents with care. You can now rest assured that you've bought your loved ones gifts that they will appreciate, at prices you can realistically afford, without any last-minute panic buying. Go ahead and give your gifts, when the time is right, with minimal risk of embarrassment or disappointment. Do not forget to send your bank manager a Christmas card too. He or she will be so pleased that you have spent wisely.
Happy Christmas, everybody!