Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shopping Wisely

As I stated in my post yesterday, this year my goal was to make Christmas less stressful for me. Since I decided last Christmas that things needed to change, I had all year to think about how to successfully implement the changes. If you are just getting started this year don’t worry, just like Ebenezer Scrooge you too have the power to change the “Christmas Yet to Come” by changing today.

The very first thing I did to combat the financial stress is to set up a Christmas club. This has been a tremendous help and has allowed us to breathe easier and not use our “extra” December paycheck on Christmas presents. If you have not already set up a Christmas club I would really encourage you to do so for 2012. Even $10 - $20 per paycheck would give you a nice little cushion for presents.

The second thing that I did was to start my Christmas list in the summer. A number of bloggers usually write about “Christmas in July” or some other Christmas theme in the middle of summer. While I didn’t necessarily start buying in the summer, I did use this reminder to pull out my list and start thinking about what I would like to get people. By thinking about my Christmas list I’m able to pick up items for my family during craft shows and my “girl’s shopping weekends”.

In the spirit of full disclosure I’m going to be honest with you; my budget for Christmas gifts is fairly large. I expect to spend anywhere between $1,500 & $2,000 on Christmas presents for my kids and extended family. This works for us given the fact that we are a two income family, our kids are older and we have been blessed with the ability to live below our income - it certainly wasn't always this way.   I enjoy giving and don't expect other family members to spend equivalent amounts on me.  I also try to find ways to decrease our actual spend by getting gifts for free or on sale. Your budget needs to reflect your financial situation as well as your desire to give.  Here is a glimpse into some of what we are giving as presents this year and how I’ve gone about buying them.

Gifts I Was Able to Get for Free
  • White House Ornaments – (3) paid for with credit card rewards
  • Necklace from The Mercy House store – paid for with credit card rewards
  • Sports Illustrated Subscription – paid for with Swagbucks
  • M Magazine subscription – (2) paid for with Swagbucks
  • Gift cards to Hobby Lobby – paid for with a US Cellular phone rebate
  • Two pairs of jeans and two shirts – paid for with Kohl’s cash
  • Autographed sports picture – paid for with ING bonus cash
  • Pink perfume from VS – paid for with a $10 “certificate” I received when I bought some “unmentionables” for myself a few weeks ago. I made sure to shop their perfume when it was 50% off and basically just paid some tax.
  • Martini mix and chocolate covered cinnamon apples (from a Dove Chocolate party)
  • Tastefully Simple (hostess gifts from a Tastefully Simple party)
  • Stocking stuffers with my free $10 certificates from JC Penney’s & Kohl’s
 That’s about $500 worth of gifts that I was able to get for free. A word of caution, don’t rack up debt or buy something just to get free items. All the credits and rewards I used were from items we truly needed and we paid the credit card statement at the end of the month.

Another piece of advice, this was my first year using Swagbucks. If you are planning on using Swagbucks I would encourage you to do the $5 Amazon card as soon as you have enough points. The is the biggest bang for your Swagbucks but there is a limit of five per month so make sure you have plenty of time to rack them up. From now on I’ll be trading in my Swagbucks all year long and then using my Amazon gift cards next year.
Discounted Gifts
  • Play tickets – 6 (including one for myself) bought using my employer’s discount. My employer supports a local performing arts center so we are usually offered discounts on certain plays. See if your employers offers similar discounts
  •  National Geographic for Kids using a discount site (sorry - I can’t remember which site I used)
  • Mixbook items using certificate from Groupon
 For the rest of my shopping I looked for sales and used coupons. Be sure and take advantage of sites such as Retail Me Not for discount codes. I have been pleasantly surprised by savings I’m able to generate from there. You can also sign up for sites like Ebates where you can earn rebates if you do a lot of Internet shopping.

Using Your Shopping Time Wisely

Time is not my friend. Plus due to some back issues I really can’t shop for more than a couple hours at a time, at least if I want to be able to walk the next day. Using my shopping time wisely is imperative. Here are some of the various ways that I’ve gotten my items picked up with relatively little effort.
  • The Internet is your friend. Some stores (like Wal-mart) allow you to shop online and have the products available to pick up in the store with no additional shipping charges. I often buy gift cards over the Internet since a number of stores will ship them for free saving me a trip out. If the site does charge for shipping, consider re-loading an existing card. I buy my father-in-law a movie theater gift card every year. This year I took an old card that I had received, reloaded it with my desired amount (which I also received a discount on) and am giving that to him. He won’t know that I didn’t get it fresh from the theater, I saved myself a trip out and I didn’t have to pay any shipping. Get creative with your Internet shopping. 
  • Be purposeful in your shopping. I have done four mini shopping trips this year. The first trip was during Thanksgiving week when I had some time to myself. I decided to browse some stores (something I rarely do) by myself and pick up a few gift certificates. It was very relaxing and I found some awesome deals at Hobby Lobby! I also went out on Black Friday with my daughter, took a vacation day to shop with my husband (we went out for lunch and had a blast) and took my son to pick out his own clothes as a gift. Having a list of what I needed as well as planning my routes to save gas & time has helped me to quickly and efficiently finish my shopping. 
  • Ask others to pick up gifts if they are going to a specific store. My daughter and nieces take their dance lessons at the same place. I rarely need to go to the dance studio anymore but my sister-in-law is there twice a week. I ordered a special dance bag for my daughter, gave my sister-in-law the money and she’s picking it up for me. It’s not any additional work for her but saves me from making a special trip out.
Those are some of my secrets.  Do you have any shopping tips to share?

You might also like:

Getting Through the Holidays Without Stressing Out
Specific Tips for De-Stressing the Holiday Season
Saving for Christmas

 The above links are affiliate links.


  1. Give YOU my shopping list? Lol!!

    Right after Thanksgiving, everyone is required to 'make a wish list'. We also do 3 Wise Men/Santa gifts & then give each other a small gift. My gift to my kids has always been a book. This year I'm excited to give them their books, as I have found the perfect ones for each of them.

    This year I also bought quite a few gifts using Groupon. An electric guitar with accessories, a magazine subscription, Candles & Perfume from a local shop & personalized necklaces from another. All cheap, cheap, cheap using Groupon coupons.

    Thanks for the reminder about the using Swagbucks to get the Amazon cards I forgot about that.

  2. I like giving books as Christmas gifts too. It is fun really looking for the right book that will touch them. Usually I throw those in as a stocking stuffer along with the socks and underwear - got to have something fun :) I debated buying Belle a Kindle using my Amazon certificates but decided against it. She goes through so many books that my bank account couldn't keep up! She's in high school so she has access to a great library. Plus all she has talked about all year long is a straightener that she wanted. To expensive for me to just buy but I thought it would make a nice present.