Friday, November 14, 2008

Christmas Shopping Sanity

Ah, the holiday season is upon us. The crowds are massing, the retailers are salivating, children everywhere are making lists and looking winsome. 

And parents are breaking into a cold sweat. 

I feel that in our household, we've managed to bring some sanity to the marketing juggernaut that tries to pass for Christmas. Understand that I don't claim to have Christmas shopping completely mastered, but I do have a few tricks that help us gain a bit of breathing room. 

The key? I try to get all the shopping done by December 1. There are a few parts to this strategy: 

I keep my eye out at garage sales (especially for stocking stuffers) during the year
This is much, much easier for younger children than older children. Gracie has some costume jewelry, a tiara, and baby doll accessories ready to be wrapped, sitting in my closet right now. Total cost = about $3. For Joey, I have a Curious George puzzle, a dinosaur pop-up book, and some flashcards. I don't have anything put away for Adam and Luke, as it's much harder to sneak toys past them during the year. Gracie's gifts are pretty much complete, and Joey will get a small Lego set and action figure to round out his Christmas. 

I shop mostly online
Have I mentioned how much I hate crowds, and how I loathe plastic, made-in-China garbage? I like open-ended, aesthetically pleasing toys. I strongly dislike toys which encourage children to push a button for a specific result, or that make electronic noises, or that are connected to movie or television characters. Yes, my children do have some superhero action figures. Emphasis on some. Okay, going off on a tangent here. 

I shop online because I want to stay away from the Christmas crowds - I don't like pushing through people, I don't like standing in line, and I cannot get the shopping done for my children while they're with me. (And that's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Which leaves, uh, no time for shopping sans kids.) Hubby & I do quite a bit of shopping on Amazon (especially for Legos, and I love super saver shipping), and we also like the toys at Magic Cabin. If you're used to paying WalMart prices for toys, you'll be in for a bit of sticker shock at Magic Cabin. But that's a good thing, for three reasons - the toys at Magic Cabin and the like are much more durable, much more open-ended, and being more expensive, you will purchase fewer (which means less cleanup, a simpler lifestyle, and less clutter, right?) These are toys that don't fall apart after a few rounds of play, and being more open-ended, will be played with for a longer duration. Adam still plays with the wooden sword we purchased for him three years ago. Money well spent. Stepping off my soapbox.

We put away a bit every month into a dedicated savings account, all year long
That one's pretty self-explanatory. We know Christmas is coming, so we plan for it. It's not a surprise, it's not an emergency. Happens on December 25 every year. 

I keep a running list of gift ideas for the kids
I have two lists - a Word document in a folder on my desktop, and a folder full of bookmarks in my browser. When it comes time to shop, I don't have to start from scratch. 

I send my husband out to shop the big sales at 5am on The Day After/Black Friday
He actually likes it. It's sick, I know. Must be some kind of sadism from having worked retail. Anyway, we scope out the good deals (online - just google "Black Friday deals") and plan a strategy. He gets up early on the day after Thanksgiving and goes out hunting with his list. He's home by 8am, and goes back to bed. 

So by following those tips, we can breathe a bit (just a bit) during the holiday season (and I say holiday because the way retailers treat it, it lasts from All Saints to Christmas - so it's not just the Christmas season.) We can focus on a prayerful Advent, enjoy the company of family and friends, make room for family traditions, and reduce the manic machine that is a consumer Christmas. Whew. 

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