Cents & Sensibility: Gift Giving on a Budget

Cents & Sensibility: Gift Giving on a Budget

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I have to confess that I had quite the debate with myself over whether to write about holiday shopping in October, but the money-saving maven in me won out over my disgust with the retail industry’s yearly jumping of the gun, putting Christmas ornaments out before back-to-school items are even off the shelves. The thing is, I prefer to give my family and friends thoughtful, useful and unique gifts. Someone once told me that the best gift is “that thing that I really need that I didn’t even know I needed.” With this in mind, I actually do start thinking about gift shopping before Thanksgiving.

To start, I carry a notebook in my purse that has a page dedicated to gift ideas for each person with whom I exchange gifts. For example, when my mom visited me for a week this summer, she unknowingly wrote her holiday wish list as we shopped and talked. If she fawned over something at a store or commented on something she liked, I noted it in my book on the sly. Not only does this make it easier for me to remember my ideas, but when I need retail therapy, I head to the mall with a purpose rather than buying more clothes for my overstuffed closet.

Having an idea ahead of time of what I’m seeking also allows me to take advantage of sales throughout the year, rather than succumbing to the gimmicky sales on typical gift items offered in December. Perhaps your dad really does need a shaving kit, which is an easy find at department stores before the holidays, but wouldn’t it be more fun to add some creativity that will make him think of you each time he uses his gift?

My dad carries a hanky in his pocket (no comment on the "ick" factor, thank you very much), and after hundreds of washings, his handkerchiefs are threadbare and ragged. I purchased a pack of plain hankies on sale at Target and stitched his initials onto each one with embroidery floss. Now I have a gift that is needed, personal and inexpensive.

Adding a personal touch to store-bought items is a great way to make a gift unique and meaningful, but it also takes time. If your calendar is anything like mine during the holidays, you will have trouble finding time to brush your teeth, let alone time to customize gifts. Starting in October ensures that you will have the time necessary to let your creative juices flow and make your gifts into something memorable. Just don’t forget where you put them once they are ready!

Finally, purchasing gifts early spreads the cost out, helping avoid the cash crunch that causes many people to turn to credit cards at year-end. You also will find that the adage, “It is much better to give than to receive,” may actually be true as you watch your loved ones open their heartfelt treasures, rather than hoping they don’t hate the item you hastily pulled off the shelf on your way to the party.

Happy gifting!