Take the Stress Out of Christmas Shopping

by Kevin Mercadante

Christmas is upon us once again, and in all the fun and festivities, there’s yet another dimension that most of us don’t like to think about – stress! Let’s be honest, stress takes a lot of the fun out of the holidays – and much of that stress comes from shopping. We want to be able to give good and thoughtful gifts when Christmas arrives, but it can be a real struggle just getting to that point..

With some advance planning – and some solid strategies – you can take some of the stress out of Christmas shopping, and reward yourself with a more relaxing holiday.

Set up a Christmas budget – and stick to it

Christmas shopping budget

A Christmas shopping budget can help reduce stress!

Spending money on buying a large number of gifts in a short space of time is a silent stress builder – that’s why we need to control how much we spend. One of the biggest Christmas nightmares is shopping without having a reliable idea of who you need to buy for and what you want to buy them. That could lead to yet another Christmas where spending has gone out of control.

Freewheeling when it comes to gift buying never has a happy ending. You will inevitably spend more than you think – confusion has a way of making it happen. As a control, you can set up a budget specifically for Christmas shopping.

Have a list of all of the people that you plan to buy gifts for. You should also attach a dollar limit as to how much you expect to spend on each. There may be some people, such as your spouse or children, where you will spend more. The limit may be lower for close friends and extended family, and lower still for coworkers. However you work it out, you need have a limit on how much you plan to spend.

The advantage of a budget is that it gives you guidelines to work within that will keep your spending reasonable. For example, if you need to buy a variety of gifts for 20 people, you could easily spend $1,000 if you have no budget. But let’s say that you decide that you’re going to spend $500 total; that will tell you immediately that you can spend an average of not more than $25 per person.

A budget won’t eliminate Christmas shopping, but it will put a ceiling on how much you spend. And when the bills come rolling in in January you’ll thank yourself for having it.

Don’t wait until the last minute

As the saying goes, time is money, and that applies to shopping just as much is does to business. Last-minute shopping can lead to panic buying – crowds, empty shelves, and a lack of gift ideas could combine to cause you to spend any amount of money just to get past the moment. We’ve all been there one time or another, and if you have you realize that the situation is to be avoided all costs.

Start doing your shopping now – as in right after you finish reading this article! Each day that you don’t, the noose gets a little bit tighter. The more time you spend shopping now, the less you’ll need to do in the last few days leading up to the holiday.

Also consider shopping online for any gifts where it’s practical. But once again, shopping online means you need to do it well before the holiday. Merchants need to be able to deliver merchandise to your home in a timely manner. As the holiday gets closer, shipping times get longer.

When in doubt, buy gift cards

I think we can all agree that gift cards are probably not the most thoughtful gifts. But they do have several advantages over more tangible gifts:

  • They require little effort on your part to buy them.
  • They don’t need to be gift wrapped – eliminating yet another source of stress.
  • They’re better than getting someone a gift that they don’t like.
  • You can buy them in fixed denominations – a budget makers dream.
  • There’s never a need to return a gift.

If you do buy gift cards, just be sure to buy the ones with the most general application. This will include Visa or American Express gift cards since they can be used in any store that accepts those cards. You can also buy gift cards for the local mall. Most malls offer gift cards that are good at any store in the mall, and while that’s not quite as good as a Visa gift card, it will give the gift recipient a lot more choice than a single store card.

Shop when everyone else isn’t

I’ve given this advice many times and in many places whenever the topic is shopping. One of the biggest sources of shopping stress is crowds. They mean fighting for parking spaces, difficulty navigating through stores, and long lines at the checkout stands. If you want to seriously cut down the stress of shopping this Christmas, your strategy should be to shop when everyone else isn’t.

Avoid shopping on Friday and Saturday nights, and even on Sundays as the holiday approaches. That’s when everyone else is out shopping, and that’s where the problems come in. I’m not getting into a discussion of Black Friday, but suffice it to say that I’m a certified homebody on that day – every year.

Instead, plan on doing your heaviest shopping early in the week, particularly at night. Monday and Tuesday evenings are the best. Not only are the crowds a lot thinner, but the stores are generally better stocked. This is because shipments typically come in to most stores on either Sunday night or Monday morning – in advance of the weeks shopping.

By avoiding the crowds, you give yourself time to shop, and time to think – and that’s one of the most important aspects of avoiding Christmas shopping stress.

What do you do to cut down on the stress of Christmas shopping?

Published or updated November 22, 2013.
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