It was about two decades ago, while Christmas shopping, I became so over whelmed I set an armful of gifts on the fragrance counter of a major department store and left the mall, empty handed.
What I realized that day was: more than HALF of the loot I was about to buy was for me! In every store, at every turn there was a table of something-stacked-high ...ON SALE. Not one of those items was essential to my life, BUT ...it was my size, my color, and ON SALE. My (bad) thinking was “since I am spending all this money on others, what’s a few extra shekels on me?” Over the course of weeks and years of this one-for-you-one-for-me shopping system I had spent too much money overall and over spent on me—for STUFF I DID NOT NEED.
MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING RULE/TIP (I have mostly stuck to this rule for nearly twenty years.) Here ‘tis:
Between Thanksgiving Day and my birthday—4 January (write it down)—I buy virtually nothing for me. During my shopping rounds I have become almost oblivious to anything I see that I might like. OH, I see stuff, lots of stuff, that I’d like. But there is scarcely a twinge of temptation to try it on (just to see how I’d look in the new Big Bang Theory DVD box set ...IT’S ON SALE!!!)
I shop faster, spend less, and don’t come home with pretty bags full of gifts—all for me. You IDIOT. You selfish bas----!
When I say I buy nothing for me, I do buy gas and groceries—but even Safeway et al have tempting seasonal goodies (mechanical Dickens villages ...I have a life-long Dickens adDICKtion.) But I do not buy: magazines, books (new or used), DVD’s out of the "8 movies for 5 dollars” bin, or items from my too-long Amazon.com “Wish List” while shopping for others on line. Even a book that’s fifteen cents still costs another four bucks for shipping.
I am certain this "rule" has saved me hundreds, probably thousands of dollars.
Exceptions-to the-rule: along with gas, groceries, and occasional meal out with friends, I noticed years ago that my favorite cologne always offered a holiday gift pack—reduced price plus one to three additional items for free. I can usually get through a full year on one supply.
I do plan ahead and buy ONE nice gift for myself that is a combination Christmas and birthday gift. I buy it just after my birthday—January 4th. Did you write it down?
MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING LIST
Two lists, actually. First list, the obvious and essential (1.) Must Gift List: spouse or significant other, kids (yours), mom & dad. THAT’S IT. Immediate family. If you are particularly close to a grown sibling they go on the TOP of the second list: (2.) Like-To Gift List: siblings, key co-workers or your staff, assistant, extended family (more about all of those folks next), neighbor, pastor, other important friends.
I can hear you already, “But I have to get gifts for …” Really? When did giving become a huge obligation? Think of all the people you are going to (or have already) bought gifts for (beyond your own immediate family.) Do they actually expect gift from you? How many of them do you expect a gift from? Likely very few. We waste a lot of time (and $$) thinking about, “Well, I should probably get a gift for (name of friend / coworker) 'cause if they give me something and I did’t get them...”
We shall all certainly go insane and in debt—thanks to those darn Wisemen and their boxes of smelly stuff (with shampoo and deodorant thrown in free with every holiday purchase.) EXPECTATION is the root of all disappointment.
Another Gifting Idea [Several friends with whom I have shared this, report it’s annual success.] For all who gather with extended family—nieces, nephews, aunts, siblings and siblings-in-law, multi-generations, etc., etc. Everyone exchanges names in the classic “Secret Santa” gift-go-round. When you gather everyone will receive one nice gift from some another member of the clan. NO ONE is expected or obliged to buy gifts for everyone. (You are still allowed to get a small special gift for a particularly close aunt, adult sibling or ...but you DO NOT HAVE TO. No one does.)
I was married for a while to a wonderful lady. She inherited my little family of four and I joined her just-a-bit-larger family. That first Christmas she and I spent weeks and a few thousand dollars shopping for everyone we knew would be there. That gift exchange took so long, opening one gift-at-a-time (as though each present was the long-lost Ark of the Covenant), that when we completed it we ate next year’s Thanksgiving dinner. It really did take hours. And though I got some nice stuff (not in my color), I expected none of it.
After dinner, I expressed gratefulness for being completely welcomed into this great family. I really did like them all. But “I must confess, I don’t think next year, we will be able to afford doing all this again.”
A modest proposal: “Next year, might we, along about Thanksgiving, exchange names amongst all of us. Then, if I draw, brother Eddy I will think hard and get one great gift just or him. Eddy might draw Gram, and she might get ...whoever. NOW: nuclear families can and will still exchange gifts with each other, but as an extended family, just one gift. The surprise of finding out who your Secret Santa is will be an added treat.
“My family moved to California long ago—only going back to Minnesota every three of four years. Yet every year since then, we exchanged gifts using this secret method—among more than thirty people. My brother and I knew that every year there would be a gift for each of us—under our Christmas tree in Pasadena, or San Jose, from a different cousin, uncle, of aunt. It never mattered what it was, it was from FAMILY.”
PAUSE, then ...“What do you think.” I was hesitant. They were silent. Thinking.
“Well,” My new mother-in-law was first to weigh in. “I would like to buy something for each of my Grand kids.”
“And you can DO THAT ...if you’d like. But we will each, including all the kids. have ONE name for whom we will buy one great gift. (We all know that a "great gift" is often not an expensive gift.) That way we spend less time trying to quickly grab something for everybody. So, if I get Uncle Lou next year, I'll do my homework and spend time and good greenbacks just on Lou.
Uncle Lou perked up, “Who can I bride to make sure McNair to gets my name?!”
This was a very new idea, but after less discussion than I expected, all agreed. The following Christmas was no less joyful, but dinner was hotter and much earlier than the year before.
THIS SAME SYSTEM - -
Can (and has been) easily be applied to workplace—a small department within a large organization or, in a small company, the entire company participating. Imagine the treat of being the one who draws the boss’s name or, more interesting, has the boos shopping for you.
The other option is for everyone to buy a nice (or fun) gift suited to both male and female coworkers and at the staff party, draw numbers for the order in which each will select a gift from the pile of pretty packages. (Next number can take a new gift or select from those already open.) Either way each person only buys ONE gift. (And, YES, you can still get a personal gift for a good friend or two with whom you have have a particularly good relationship.)
A final thought: NEVER shop with the thought in mind that anyone might be giving you a gift. Christmas is not a contest.
Throughout the year, I keep an eye out for odd little gifts for close friends and grab them as I discover them ...even in February at a garage. This includes used books online. I love used books, especially a “former library copy,” with marginal notes and other markings from previous visitors. Christmas shopping all year is especially fun when you know the hobbies and collecting habits of good friends. Occasionally I get a Bullwinkle surprise or Man from U.N.C.L.E. item from friends who know my collecting habits. (Also presidential campaign buttons and unusual hats.) Again the date to remember is January 4th.
Please share—in the comments section below—any tricks or personal practices you’ve devised to make the season of giving less stressful and less expensive, and still thoughtful. And read my friend Rose's system for exchanging gifts among a growing family.