Organizing Theory & Artistry

Christmas Shopping Secrets is doing such a ridiculous amount of business right now that it was impossible to check out! I encountered this error for over 12 hours until I finally got through. After seeing this warning so often, however, I have decided that it should appear automatically on my personal voicemails and emails at the moment. Don't we all need a "high volume" warning this time of year?

One of the main reasons I haven’t been blogging lately is because I have been shopping.  Family budgets are a bit better this year so the holiday present exchange rules have been expanded.  While this is certainly great news, it means that we have to spend more time picking out gifts.  On top of that, there are 6 Briggs birthdays to celebrate between Thanksgiving and New Years.  As a further challenge, we “adopted” a little girl for Christmas through the Red Cross and are purchasing all of her Christmas gifts as well.  So there is a LOT of shopping to be done.

If you are going to do this much shopping and not have it result in a miserable, financial mess, you have to be organized about it.  It has taken me many Christmases of experience to figure out the system that works for us.  Below are some of my tips.

1.  Work the spreadsheet.  The only way I feel comfortable with all this spending is to diligently track it.  In addition to the standard financial accounting we do in Quicken, I create a spreadsheet for each year’s holiday spending where I track EVERYTHING related to Christmas.  My spreadsheet is ridiculously detailed.  I break out spending by person so we can keep things “fair.”  I also put down any travel or holiday entertainment expenses, charitable donations, holiday card expenses, postage, etc.

2.  All shopping is holiday shopping.  We also count any “bargain” purchases as Christmas gifts.  For our tracking purposes, there is no “regular” shopping for anything but routine groceries during the holidays.  So if we stock up on socks because they are on sale, they get wrapped up for Christmas and tracked just like any other present.  If we pick up after-Christmas bargains, they get added in too or carried over to the next year’s spreadsheet.  If we are spending money because of the holidays, it’s in there.  We have one bottom line number that we keep our eye on for our total spending.

3.  Realize that you are really going to flex your savings willpower.  Getting through the holidays without going into debt takes a LOT of effort.  There is no simple way to say that you will only spend $x and not go over.  It just doesn’t happen.  But what you can do is work hard to keep those expenses as low as possible while still enjoying yourself.

4.  Bargains are everywhere.  For children’s toys, buying used is a huge savings and, yes, I have given my own children used stuff for Christmas (see last year), and they didn’t mind one bit.  I don’t have the energy to watch every Black Friday sale but I do watch for free shipping or __% off your entire purchase specials.  This year I did better than usual picking up bargains.

5.  The best “savings” are usually the things you don’t buy in the first place.  The best “bargains” I have made occurred when, rather than immediately clicking “Buy” on my shopping cart, I slept on it and realized that I could do without certain things to stay in budget.  I put back over $100  this way.

6.  Be careful about buying things for yourself while shopping for others.  The danger of being the primary shopper for a family is that you find so many great things to buy for yourself.  I am officially done shopping for me at this point.  I hope my willpower holds ‘til Christmas.

7.  Know your priority deadlines and focus on those.  If you are shopping for charity, the deadlines are usually in the first week of December.  If you want a very specific toy or item, buy it now while it is still in stock.  If you need to ship anything, get it sent by December 15 or so to avoid expedited shipping costs.  December 20 is the last day for first class mailing of letters and cards for Christmas arrival.  Photos or photo gifts need to be ordered as early as possible as well.  The only gifts that can wait are those that don’t have to be shipped and where the recipient is not picky and a generally appreciative person (don’t we all wish there were more of those people)!

How is your shopping coming along?  What are your shopping secrets?  Please share in the comments.