When people ask me for my holiday shopping tips, one of the first things I always say is this: buying gifts is a lot like buying groceries.
That is, you should never go to the store (or online to shop) without making a list (and checking it twice).
At the same time, you need to see what sales are available.
Also, if you can, try and find coupons to help you save even more on your shopping.
Whether you use Black Friday doorbusters or free gift card offers to check off items on your holiday list, as long as you have a list, then you’re on the right track.
Smart Holiday Shopping Tips
Regardless of when you start your holiday shopping or where you get your gifts, you can make it through the holiday shopping season with your budget and sanity intact. To help you do so, I’ve put together these smart holiday shopping tips.
Holiday shop with a list
As I said at the top of this list, gift shopping is just like grocery shopping. So, you need to make a list and bring it with you to the store (or reference it when shopping online) to help you stay organized.
For example, I used the Notes app on my iPhone to keep a running list of gift ideas. Just this past weekend my daughter mentioned her favorite brand of dry shampoo–and how expensive it is.
I got her to tell me the brand and where she buys it (Ulta, FYI). I added that information to my Notes.
Then, since it’s not on that dry shampoo recall list, I’ll be buying her some as a Christmas gift. I call this gift-buying reconnaissance.
Buy holiday gifts based on your budget, not the recipient’s salary
When I was working on my gift-giving book You Shouldn’t Have: How to Give Gifts They’ll Never Forget, I stressed this shopping tip repeatedly. That is, rather than worry about how much you’re spending, look for gifts that match the person’s hobbies and interests.
In other words, if you’re buying a gift for a rich person, don’t feel like you have to spend at a rich person’s level. Remember: it really is the thought that counts.
Keep all-occasion hostess-like gifts on hand throughout the season
This is a holiday shopping tip you might not think you need. And that is this notion of always having all-occasion hostess gifts on hand.
Why? Because these are great to have when you need something last minute when invited to a holiday party.
Some of my frugal favorites including:
- candles (check out the candles in the Aldi Aisle of Shame!)
- children’s toys
- mixed nuts
- oven mitts
The gift of food makes a great, affordable teacher gift
If you’ve got children in school, then you’ll need to add teacher gifts to your holiday shopping list. This article offers all kinds of ideas for clever teacher gifts.
Bottom line: Even a box of cookies or an assortment of candy transferred to a festive tin will be much appreciated by the educators in your (and your children’s) life. I’m telling you: there were many holiday seasons when we would make slice-and-bake cookies for my daughters’ teachers. Easy, affordable and delicious.
Gather related gifts for a big wow factor without a big price tag
What do I mean by related gifts for the holidays? For example, give the coffee lover in your life bags of coffee tucked in a travel mug and packaged with a gift card to a local coffee shop.
Here’s a tip for children: fill a backpack with arts and craft supplies–construction paper, colored pencils, and a box of crayons. For teens, you can purchase an iTunes™ gift card and a set of headphones.
Don’t forget the gift receipt
You want to make things easy on a gift recepient. So, always include a gift receipt.
Many retailers do not give a gift receipt automatically, so ask for one. This way should your item end up (unfortunately) as an unwanted gift, the person has an easier time returning it.
Create gorgeous centerpieces without much effort
Festive candles set on holiday-themed plates, hurricane jars filled with bright Christmas balls, or colorful candy can be all you need to make your holiday table look amazing. Similarly, you can buy containers at a dollar store and fill them with candy to give as a gift to someone else.
Or like I did below, take whole walnuts and mix them in with Christmas ornaments in a trifle bowl. This might be the easiest centerpiece I’ve ever made.
Set up a gift-wrapping station at home
I like to keep wrapping paper, ribbons, scissors, and tape in a plastic bin in our guest room. That way, whenever I need to wrap a gift, I have everything I need to turn a purchase into a present.
This saves me from searching all over the house for those gift-wrapping necessities. Also, I tend to buy wrapping paper during after holiday sales, such as after Valentine’s Day.
When in doubt, grab a reusable bag
For about a dollar, you can pick up a colorful reusable bag that can double as a gift bag. Then the bag itself becomes a practical part of the present, because the recipient can use it for shopping throughout the year.
Holiday tips for including pets
Make sure you have a stocking for your dog or cat. This way, every member of the family can be a part of your holiday celebration.
I stock up on stocking stuffers for my dogs throughout the year, usually by trolling the clearance bins at PetSmart or the end caps at Target!
Also, dog and cat toys are a great substitute for traditional housewarming or hostess gifts. So, rather than grab a boring bottle of wine, get some pet treats and toys, if the person you’re visiting has a dog or cat.
Cash in rewards to save on shopping
We have two credit cards that provide cash back rewards we can redeem as gift cards. Every holiday season we use these rewards to get gift cards for “free.”
Those gift cards become stocking stuffers for our family or teacher gifts to give. The only catch is this: sometimes it takes the credit card companies a few weeks to mail them out. So if you’ll be using this tactic as part of your holiday shopping tips, make sure you order them well in advance.
Don’t forget to treat yourself
Holiday shopping is hard work. Why not treat yourself to a new ornament for the tree or a picture frame for the mantel.
Or if you use a credit card that gives you free gift cards as a cash back benefit, as mentioned above–save one for yourself. Then, you can take yourself shopping without guilt that you’re busting your budget.
Finally, follow these tips to prevent stolen packages when you shop online.