Saturday, January 4, 2014

Christmas January?

I love Christmas.  I love seeing people's faces when they open their gifts and no matter the size or cost of the gift, they are touched by it being something personal, useful, or unique.  It's nice receiving, but giving is so much better.  I wish I were independently wealthy or had enough time to make all the DIY gifts I learn about or dream up.  I never can give everyone I care about presents because of time and cost issues, but I do my best to stretch every dollar and effort.  I say all this to let you in on my Christmas secret - planning.

Every year at work we have a inter-departmental gift exchange.  It's only 5 of us, so it's not to pricey at the $10/ per person level to give everyone something.  We of course have the gift card givers, the homemade goodies creator, and the creative bag / box o'goodies creator (usually me!).  This year I was a little tame in my giving, but last year no one believed I stayed within the dollar limit.  I did - and here's how:

First, start your list early in the year of the core people who either choose or are obligated to give gifts to every year.  This should be the static-never changes unless they die or get fired-list.  You will of course have annual add-ons for special guests and friends / family you don't regularly get to see - but we'll address those gifts last.

For your core people, next to their name keep a list of their hobbies, favorite colors, unique things you've noticed about them.  For coworkers it can be as mundane as "she likes Dancing with the Stars and wears a lot of yellow" but for family, I'd expect more unique and personal detail.

Beneath each name should be some general categories of items:

  1. Personal (clothing, bath products, jewelry, music, food, household items, travel, etc.)
  2. Impersonal (calendars, useful office items, gift cards (ick!), artwork, comic items, tools of a trade, alcohol, etc.)
  3. Unique (Gadgets, DIY items, hobby related, etc.)

Now the three categories will cross paths at times - that's completely acceptable, but noting which category the most people fall into is vital. This is only tedious the first time, but if you save the list in your phone (or a pad of paper for you technophobes) you will have it for future.  Also, you can keep notes on what you've given in previous year so you don't give the same gift twice UNLESS it's on purpose (more on that in a second).

So now you know what general areas you're shopping for starting in January when after Christmas sales abound - get the pricey stuff when it's cheap!  This is a motto for the whole year.  Learning when certain items are generally cheaper annually is important.  Here is a link to a popular review of general categories and sales data in the United States.  Here is another from Lifehacker.

Throughout the year, check in for deals at certain places:

Big Box Stores (Costco, BJs, Sam's Club, etc.) are your friends.  You can get things in quantity that you can then break into individual gift baskets / bags.  In the spring and summer months, bath and body sets are common; look for exotic pen sets, comic box sets of office supplies, etc.; household items, jewelry and other large ticket items may get randomly marked down for a random holiday sale mid-year: Get them for Christmas!

Walmart, Target, etc. for whatever reason randomly put things in their one dollar, clearance and specials that at Christmas time will be at full markup or more.  Think ahead and know what things have an expiration date on them and buy accordingly.

World Market, Trader Joe's, Wegman's, and other International carrying markets are goldmines for the unique, exclusive, and well-priced find.  From a bottle of wine that is carried nowhere else to chocolates you can't get in US stores, you can often get these things for cheap or bulk.

Kohl's, J.C. Penney, Sears and other lower end department stores have to clear their merchandise quickly for the next season.  If you're buying clothing or household items, think ahead.  Buy a size larger for children (the seasons come back around every year, you know), get sets of household goods on sale when you might have only been able to swing one piece previously, and keep an eye out for nice name brands being marked down.

Macy's, Lord and Taylor's, Nordstrom's and other high end stores are harder to get a deal with unless you shop there frequently and get their discounts in your email, texts or mailbox.  In which case, learning to work their rewards systems will benefit you the most.

Michael's, A.C. Moore, Hobby Lobby and the like are stores you need to fall in love with for many reasons. Don't freak out if you're not a DIY person!  Maybe someone on your list is a baker, knitter, scrapbooker, etc. or loves to take photos that need framing - these stores are your playground for well priced goodies year-round with huge coupons and markdowns in the summer months.  You can also find other unique gift ideas and projects there, not to mention take classes to either share with someone as an early gift.  If you do have a DIY hankering, you can start projects now to give yourself plenty of time complete, polish and package them.  Use all those pinterest pins, instructables, and other awesome blog creative examples to give something priceless and irreplaceable.

So now you know where to shop and some of the timing, but if you don't put it on your calendar to ping you occasionally, you might forget to make this a part of your year.

Part two of this plan is the budget.  Assign a dollar amount annually to each person on your list so that you can create a bottom line for your Christmas gift giving.  Once you've done this, you can use a specific credit card for only these purchases and pay it off throughout the year or a special savings account or even a prepaid card loaded with your bottom line amount.  Once it's spent - it's spent!

You can do an amazing amount for very little with a bit of planning.  The joy of giving amazing presents during the holidays will be immense, but the hit on your wallet and energy levels can be controlled.