Now that our fall sweets and stuffing holidays are behind us, we are thrown into shopping madness for December's mother of all gift-giving holidays. Whether you brave the retail masses in person or expertly navigate the world wide mall online, beware not to get sucked into the stressful tradition of looking for that perfect gift.
The worst part of the holiday gift-giving process for me has been wandering around aimlessly from store to store, passing display after display, wondering if the people on my list might like what I am looking at, and getting dizzier by the minute. This year, I will try approaching the process more strategically and hopefully I might just hit a few targets and survive, unscathed. Here is some holiday shopping advice I wish I was given years ago.
1) Thoughtful List - Create a master list that indicates all your gift recipients and what they enjoy. List their favorite hobbies, preferences or idiosyncracies. If someone on your list who loves to dine out enjoys sushi or eats vegetarian, a gift card to that type of restaurant makes your job that much easier. Is your niece still obsessed with gymnastics? Shop online stores for the latest gymnastics apparel or accessories. Keep this list handy all year so you can add new tidbits about each person, especially after having a chance to catch up with them at the family Thanksgiving reunion.
2) Cash is King - No one likes to stuff cards with cash because it doesn't show effort but a lovely branded gift card to their favorite store in cute packaging solves the issue. It is a practical gift for those who are traveling or who live far away. If you still feel like you want to show even more effort on your part, pair it with a gift-wrapped box of one dozen home-made cookies, cookie pops or truffles.
3) Entertain Them - You won't have to worry if you got the wrong color, size or style if you instead focus on the kind of fun that the gift recipient enjoys. Gift cards for the movies, XBox Live points and e-books are great for older kids. When buying toys for younger kids, if you want to avoid the long lines, toys are best purchased online as there are plenty of free shipping offers on minimum purchases. Consolidate your online shopping if possible in order to maximize these offers. For parents, you might opt to give a "date night" that includes dinner with babysitting.
4) Support the Local Buzz - For that favorite teacher or friends and family who live in the area, go local. Support your local restaurants, bakeries, delis and sandwich shops, salons or stores that have recently popped up around town. Even gift certificates for classes or worshops offered through the town Parks and Recreation office would be great. Maybe that friend or family member has always wanted to try yoga or learn how to paint or shoot photography like an expert. You might also know of local reps for direct to consumer companies who sell home goods, jewelry and the like. Check out Oswegatchie School's upcoming One Stop Shopping Night on Thursday, Dec. 6 from 5:00-8:00 pm. You will feel good knowing you have helped your local economy.
5) Get Digitally Creative - Everyone appreciates personalized gifts. Today there are more options than ever before. Use favorite family photos to create one-of-a-kind pillow, throw or tote bag keepsakes. If you recently traveled or celebrated a milestone occasion with a family member, put together a hard-cover photo book online. Sites like Shutterfly, Snapfish and any digital photo printing service at a local retailer have really simplified this process. Take it one step further if you are talented at producing your own video montages; combine photos with video footage and set it to music. Believe me, this is a gift like no other, especially for grandparents or family who live far away.
6) Make a Pact - Given the tough economic times, you may want to shorten your gift-giving list this year by making a pact with some friends and family members. Maybe you agree not to exchange gifts this year and instead pick a fun destination or activity to do together to celebrate. Maybe only the children receive gifts and the adults only participate in a limited value Yankee swap, a fun gift-giving game with guaranteed laughs. It's about showing that you care, not about the stuff, right?
And above all,
7) Don't Wait - Do not allow yourself to wait until the last minute to give any thought to the above options or you will risk falling into the pit of gift-shopping despair. If all else fails, you can always stuff cash into a fancier card that sings or lights up. And don't forget to come bearing sweets or a fancy distilled beverage of any kind. Both are guaranteed to elicit good times!