It is that time of year again, when the task of shopping for those on our holiday gift list has to be tackled. With our lives already so busy during the "off season," it seems impossible to be able to find the time and energy to accomplish this extra duty. How can we keep our lives in balance and still give that perfect gift?
I think we have all been in the frustrating situation where we aimlessly walk around the mall hoping that a gift idea will just "pop" out at us. While this may work every now and then, it isn't really the best way to go about holiday shopping. You end up wasting a lot of time and are more apt to overspend. With a little planning however, there are better ways to go about crossing those names off your gift list.
The first (though obvious) thing you need to do is to make a list of all the people you have to shop for. I find that organizing my list into different sections works best. I have the largest section for spouse and children and any other loved ones I purchase multiple gifts for. You'll want and need a lot of space here to record things. Subsequent areas might include close family members, other relatives and of course friends. A final section will list those people whom you may not know very well. These could include teachers, neighbors and acquaintances that you want to show your appreciation towards. For most of us, these folks are the hardest to shop for.
The next step is initially a time-consuming one. If you put some time in here at the beginning however, you'll find yourself being paid back at the end with time saved. Here I look at each name and let my mind wander and think about the individual himself/herself. What do they like? What are they into? I may even try to recall some past conversations to see if they may have dropped any "hints." I jot down any ideas or thoughts that come to me. You can even take this concept a bit further by keeping (hidden of course), a year-round holiday list. Then when your Aunt Alice mentions a specific book that she had lent to a friend and never got back, you can run to your "list" and jot down the book's title. How impressed and touched will she be when she opens this book under her Christmas tree months later?
When I have the ideas listed next to the individual names, I begin doing some research on these gifts. For example, if I know that I want to pick up a crock pot for my sister-in-law, since she kept asking me questions about mine this past summer, I start to look at the sale flyers in the Sunday paper and see if I come across the one I want. You can also get information on specific product availability and prices online. Sometimes shopping from your home computer is the best time-saver of all. You also get the extra bonus of being able to shop in your pajamas!
Choosing gifts for the people on your list that you aren't necessarily close to can be a bit harder. You probably don't know their likes and dislikes and have few hint-divulging conversations with them. Try to come up with something that would be considered middle-of-the-road. There are certain items that most of us use and like. For women, soaps, candles, stationary, etc. are usually a safe-bet. Stereotypically for men, choose something for their car, workplace or favorite hobby. Sports-related gift ideas can also be a great solution for either males or females. To make gifts for this type of recipient meaningful, you'll have to be a little more creative. The way in which you package what you are giving can make all the difference in the world. Even if you don't know the person receiving your present all that well, by adding a little of "you" to the gift itself, you can't go wrong.
Magazine subscriptions are also a wonderful idea for holiday gifts. While these may seem impersonal, they needn't be. For a magazine subscription, I usually wrap up the latest issue and add small-related trinkets to the package. If you buy your niece Seventeen magazine for example, wrap it up with a few makeup samples and some hair clips. She'll think it is great and will be looking forward to her upcoming mail deliveries.
Gift certificates and gift cards are another great way to buy your loved ones a holiday gift. Make it even more of a point to personalize this type of present. You don't want to come across as "taking the easy way out." Show you care by packaging certificates in a creative way. Keep with the theme. If you buy your nephew a certificate to a music store for some CDs, wrap it up with a poster or a travel CD case.
Homemade gifts are the ultimate way to show someone that they are special. Here is where money truly doesn't matter. Whether it is a food-type present, a craft item or a written piece, gifts from the heart are always a winner. You won't see these being thrown away. They are definitely "keepers."
With just a small amount of effort, the gifts you give this season can be special and personal. If you approach holiday shopping in an organized and positive manner, it can actually be fun. You certainly don't want it to be something you dread. You are blessed enough to have people in your life you care about and who in turn, care about you. And isn't that what the holidays are all about?