Diva’s Top 10 easy, budget-conscious Christmas shopping tips

November 21, 2011

It’s time. Past time, really, because the crowds are starting to mass and it’s already hard to find a parking space at the mall.

Diva’s almost a professional shopper, and one thing she’s got down pat is saving time, money and still getting the best gifts for everyone on her list. Here are a few tips to make shopping quick and easy on the wallet.

Make a list and check it twice, so you don’t forget anyone. Then, mark down what you’ve bought for each person and keep the list for future reference. I do this, but then I misplace the list, like I’ve just done. Looking madly all over the house for it. (Do as I say, not as I do!)

Shop all year and stash goodies in a designated gift box. Old cardboard boxes work, or buy cute little boxes like those above.I’ve used clear plastic boxes and old brown cardboard. Diva’s Christmas shopping is always done well before November, and usually cost-efficiently. That’s because she’s always on the lookout for fun gifts and treasures, and even better if they’re on sale. Label each with its intended recipient before putting it in your gift box.

Choose on-sale goods carefully. There’s a big difference between buying a Starbucks mug on sale and buying a sale sweater when you are not 100% sure of size. I returned some clothing that was the wrong size and style to find that it had cost the giver $15–a huge markdown from the original price. A great bargain for my gift-giver but when I returned it to the high-end store it came from, my only option was to spend far more to get something else. I chose a store credit, which I have yet to use, years later. A $15 gift card for books or coffee would’ve had the same impact on the giver’s wallet and been more useful for the recipient.

If it’s a matter of size and taste or if there’s another reason why the recipient might exchange it, pay full price and include a gift receipt. Just about everything else? On sale is fine. Oh–and if you do not absolutely know a size? Do not buy clothing. Seriously. Because you’ll always guess wrong.

Travel is an opportunity to find unusual gifts. When I was in Scotland, I got my golfer nephew several gifts from St. Andrews, the golf mecca. Irresistible opportunity to give him something special. In Ireland I found wonderful lace and embroidered sachets for friends. And tiny framed four-leaf clovers. In Banff I found a inukshuk pendant to protect a young friend on her journey through life.

If you’re buying while traveling, size and weight are important considerations. If you’re out of the country, be sure receipts are accessible in case there are questions about your customs declaration.

5. I like stores like TJ Maxx, Home Goods and Ross, but I’m careful about what gifts I buy there. Many of the “leather” goods are actually vinyl and look shoddy. The soaps and lotions can also be cheap imitations. But on things like kitchenware, stationery and household goods, I’m on “go” all the way. They’re also great places to find hostess gifts. I recently bought myself some colorful, modern cheese knives that would have also made a great gift. They were $7.50. Check carefully for flaws and damage.

Target’s $1 bin is great for things like baby socks and bibs that have a short lifespan. Also, children’s books and other little goodies that make a nice addition to a gift sack. Pick through the offerings and examine them carefully for defects.

A word about China. Recent issues like pet food ingredients that kill pets and toothpaste brand clones with potentially poisonous ingredients have taught us that life can be cheap in this increasingly capitalistic and sometimes corrupt country. I do not buy ANY CONSUMABLES made in China and especially not pet treats or food / candy of any kind. Check labels carefully if you are concerned.

6. Make something. Oh, I know, you’re going to say you aren’t crafty. You don’t knit, crochet, stitch or make pottery. But anyone can bake. Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread mix is a deal at $2.99 and has simple instructions. Cookies, gingerbread, pumpkin loaves all can be easily made and adorably wrapped for just pennies. Thoughtful, consumable and always appreciated.

If you want to put forth a little more effort, candy’s not that hard, either. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as the delectable selection below, but you can make a platter of chocolate covered fruit or a small selection of easy truffles, wrap it nicely –a fabulous holiday gift friends will ooh and ahh over.

7. Gift cards and certificates. I’m a fan. Target, Sephora, Amazon, Starbucks, a sporting goods store, a restaurant, wherever. These are especially appreciated today, when many people are facing hard times. Just make sure it’s for a place the recipient shops.

8. Personal services certificates. Have you hired a babysitter these days? It’s not cheap. Any couple with young children would appreciate a night out. A hand-made certificate for an evening’s babysitting could be worth its weight in gold. If you’re really into it, offer to take the kids out for the day.

Do you cut hair, do nails, organize, clean houses, garden, mow lawns, shovel snow or have another skill a friend can use? Offer your services as a gift. If you’re on a budget yourself, this is a wonderful way to give something to those you love without spending a cent.

9. Beautiful seasonal flowers can be creatively wrapped to make a beautiful gift. I bought a tall purple orchid at Trader Joe’s the other day for $12.99. With cute wrap and ribbon, it would be a gift I’d love to get. (I did get it–for myself!)
10. Gift bags and baskets. I love a goodie bag. Got an old basket hanging around? Safeway has been putting wines on sale for 30 to 40% off list. A bottle of wine, nuts, dried pasta, crackers, dried fruit, cookies (handmade or bought) all can be bought individually for far less than commercial gift baskets. Buy some cellophane wrap at a crafts store, tie it all up with a big bow and there you have it. A great –and economical–gift basket.
You can do the same thing in gift bags of any size. Do you recycle gift bags? If not, you should. Keep and reuse them. Yes, I even reuse bags with store logos. Use the old tissue to line the bottom and new tissue up top where it shows. Draw or use stickers or ribbons to give a solid colored bag a festive look or to cover a small logo.

Never pay full price for Christmas ribbon, wrap, tags and bags. I buy all my holiday wrappings on Dec. 26 when they go on sale. Shop early for the best selection.

A gift chosen with thought and care with the recipient in mind is always appreciated, no matter the price. It is, after all, the thought that counts.

Watch this week for: Best gifts under $10
and Best gifts that cost no money at all

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