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Friday, December 19, 2008

Five Tips For Holiday Shopping

If you still haven’t finished your shopping for the Holidays then shame on you…and me for that matter. However, for the professional procrastinator, I thought I would offer five tips for shopping close to the Holidays. Why? T’is the season.

  1. Take advantage of Free Shipping Day.
    Now, I know you might have missed out on this. I managed to sneak in under the wire. A lot of retailers recognize December 18th as “Free Shipping Day” as a way to entice shoppers to place their last minute orders online. This is recognized as the last day most can guarantee delivery by Christmas on standard shipping. Yule still have to pay for premium services if you wait until the 19th which is “Crap! I’m a Dumb Ass Day."
  2. Look for deals and coupons before buying.
    At my office, we just received a gift basket from Wine Country Gift Baskets. These kinds of gift baskets are typical in an office setting and I pondered the idea about maybe getting them for people on my list. I went to the website and was faced with an onslaught of goodies for pretty good prices. However, I did take advantage of free shipping. Now, the moral of this story is that you can get pretty caught up in a new site that looks great. If you take your finger off the buy trigger for five seconds, you may find yourself additional savings. I went to Google and typed “Wine Country Gift Baskets Coupons” and let Google do the work for me. I managed to get an additional 5% off my order by obtaining a coupon code from one of the sites I was given in the search results. In previous years, I’ve managed to save an additional 5-10% on orders by opening up a card with the retailer and then close it after the balance is paid off. These are specialty items from sites that I would probably not look to again. “I call these One Offs."
  3. Shop at odd hours
    I recently took a Saturday to do some Christmas Shopping and returned an item for credit. I spent 10 minutes in line at the return desk with a child who was becoming increasingly cranky. I managed to return that item and did nothing else. This was a Saturday at 2pm. Big mistake. Unfortunately, more and more people are shopping off peak hours creating a consistent flow of traffic in the stores. While, I dread shopping at Wal-Mart, I know that I can get in and out late at night. The only issue is the store is stocking shelves in this slow time and I have to travel out of my way to get around pallets that are blocking the isles. The move to online shopping is becoming a model of real store traffic. As conventions like “Free Shipping Day” and “Cyber Monday” become more widely accepted, traffic to websites can slow down your experience and cause crashes right when you least desire it. If you can stand to be in the stores among a sea of bargain hunters go ahead. Me, I’d rather not let my frustration with that shopper, who blocks the aisle and proceeds to stand there oblivious to anyone around them, carry over to the parking lot where I might overlook something like a car or pedestrian in my path.
  4. Homemade Gift Baskets
    I know it seems trite, but there are some pretty cool ideas out there. I mentioned that Country Wine Gift Basket website and while I suggest using them, a more thoughtful idea might be to create your own. If you have a hard to shop for person on your list, a gift card is fine, but the idea of getting a gift card is becoming increasingly lazy, in my opinion. Not to mention, a lot of gift cards nowadays carry hidden caveats like expiration of funds, fees, and the threat of the store being out of business before they can be redeemed. Also, with different family members buying me gift cards, I end up getting competing store cards and have to split up orders between retailers. The homemade gift basket is cheaper and more thoughtful, because you’ve taken the time to put work into it.
    1. Shop at a store like Marshalls or TJ Maxx and buy cheap but pretty baskets

    2. Go to a craft store or discount store and get wrapping supplies like cellophane and shredded paper or hay or whatever they call that stuff.

    3. Get your themed items. If the recipient is a movie fan, get some microwave popcorn, their favorite candy bars, and perhaps a gift card for movie rentals or tickets to their local theater, and a couple of other items that are indicative of their tastes. For a classier looking basket, get higher end chocolates like Ghirardelli or other premium brands and real popping corn instead of microwave….if they have the means in which to pop it. My wife went to Target and found several packs of coffees from Jack Daniels and Frangelico, all in the dollar section near the front of the store. Add a couple of nice looking coffee mugs, premium chocolates, and maybe a gift card to Starbucks.

    Be creative. You’ll save some cash and give them a lot for the effort.
  5. Give Yourself
    No, I don’t mean in terms of prostitution, I mean in terms of time. The economy is slumping, no one can afford high credit card payments. Now is the time to be in someone’s life. Take the time and help out. Maybe it’s something that they have either neglected or need assistance in doing like cleaning out the garage. Maybe it’s a home improvement project. A case of beer and a few days of work will increase the bond of your relationship….or completely destroy it in a drunken fight with power tools…who knows. Drink responsibly.

    Another example is my parents. They worst to buy for because they say they don’t need anything but their family. They always want a list from us but they never give us one in return. We fumble around the stores and get them gift cards, but they just pile up. We rack our brains to buy them gadgets and other items they might want and they just collect dust. But, as they get on in years, there are numerous projects around their house that appear incomplete or not even started. Hint around to what’s going on in someone’s life and find some time to help them. Take them to the store that they love but hate to drive to. Offer them a night away from the house at their favorite restaurant and pick up the tab. These are things you don’t have to try and buy at the last minute and there is no shipping dates to adhere by. This is a gift that can be redeemed throughout the coming year, especially if it is a nice weather project.

Whatever you finally decide to do with your holiday shopping, just remember to be mindful of your wallet and your identity. These are tough times and as much as we want to be generous with our loved ones, they will understand. Sometimes the best gifts are the ones that you can’t buy in a store or online. Sometimes, the littlest gift is something that they would never buy themselves but only mentioned in passing. Gift giving is 25% monetary, 25% presentation, and 50% thought. Don’t get caught up in the spirit of commercialism. Alternatively, a poor gift is something you think they need….a great gift is something you know they want. When in doubt, money always works, but if you agree to a budget or a set limit….it’s rather unimpressive.

Be safe and be well.

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