Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How To Have a Stress Free Christmas

5 Tips to Shopping Without the Stress

This was originally posted on 12-12-2012, but I have updated it for the current holiday season. I still use these five tips each year.

Let's face it, the holidays are stressful. I know this more than anyone because I work at a retail store in a busy shopping mall, and have since I was 16. I've seen the stress from both a shopper and retailer's perspective, so I thought I would share some much needed tips to enjoy the season more and stress less.

1. Be prepared

My Gift List (items changed to keep the surprise and amuse me)

Preparedness is my key to a less stressful season, and frankly anything. I spend 40+ hours a week in a mall, so I do not want to spend a minute more time there than needed. I get my shopping done early, like before Black Friday early if I can. 

My preparation starts with a list the first week of November or so, but don't worry, you can still follow this method. Start by listing who you MUST buy gifts for and the approximate budget for each person. Make sure to total up the estimated funds to see if you are being realistic. Then fill in the desired gift for that person, starting with the easy ones. 

When you are all done look at any blank spaces and spend the next few days preshopping. This is looking online for good gift inspirations or stalking their Pinterest page for their latest loves. Ask their friend's and family for ideas. The goal is to have it all planned out BEFORE you buy. When the third week of November rolls around, I'm ready to purchase. This way if I can't find an item I was looking for, I have plenty of time to get a backup gift.

2. Switch to a Gift Exchange

Toss some names in a hat and pick your Pirate

Both The Captain and I come from large families and buying gifts can be expensive. A few years back his family tossed around the idea of a gift exchange. Instead of buying a gift for everyone, you pick one person from the group to buy for. Then you can choose to set a spending limit. This can be a minimum or a maximum, whatever the group agrees is fair. 

In The Captain's family we don't include the little ones in the exchange, they get gifts from everyone. We also adopted this tradition for my extended family. It has saved a ton of money and time. It also really makes everyone focus on finding that one quality gift that really fits the recipient. You will soon realize that a ton of gifts isn't really necessary for it to feel like Christmas. I guarantee you won't miss a thing.

3. Shop Nontraditional Sources

OK, so I work in a mall chain store. I really shouldn't be saying this, but it does help eliminate shopping stress. If I can't find it at my work or The Captain's work, I shop anywhere but the mall. Some great places are local shops. 

Have you been to the part of your town that is full of small local merchants and unique shops? You can find great one of a kind gifts, personalized items, and often at a great value. Is there a favorite place your gift getter likes to visit? Does it have a gift shop? How about blowing up a photo onto canvas of their favorite destination? Get creative. 

I also enlisted the help of my crafty friends. If they have the ability to make something cool then I'll see if I can buy some of their handy work. If your friends are lacking in the craftiness department, check out Etsy. It is awesome and I guarantee you will find a gift for everyone on your list. That brings us to…

4. Shop Online

I do a fair amount of online shopping (year round actually). It is a great way to avoid the crowds and craziness at the mall. It's so nice to have everything at your fingertips and knock out nearly an entire shopping list with just a few clicks. It can be overwhelming and a real stress inducer if you don't do it right. 

First, shop trust-worthy retailers. Don't be fooled by the too good to be true prices of an unheard of online retailer. Most likely you will pay for it in the shipping. I prefer Amazon because of the free two day shipping I get with Amazon Prime. If you don't have a Prime membership, now is the perfect time to get one or sign up for the 30 day free trial. 

You can still get free shipping without Amazon Prime too, but the rules have changed. If you spend $35 or more, you get free 5-8 day shipping. Make sure you choose items that ship from Amazon for this option. 

I also like because of the cheap shipping. Nothing makes me crankier than paying $10+ in shipping! Another thing to remember is pay attention to the estimated arrival date. You don't want to order it and have it not show up, or have to fork over serious cash to ship it express. Online shopping is often last minute shopping, that is where the stress comes in. If you can't get it on time, move on to another gift option.

5. Be nice

Gonna find out who's naughty or nice!
If you are nice to other shoppers and the people who work at the stores you are visiting, everything will be much easier. I know you have a ton of shopping to do, but so does everyone else. Remember that the employees are probably new and hired for the increase in traffic. They may not be fully trained. Lines are a part of shopping during the Christmas season.  (another reason to shop online) Remember to bring your Christmas cheer to the mall.

What are your tips to cut down on shopping stress? Are you an early shopper, or a last minute, Christmas Eve kind of shopper?

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