We only live once, so why not make the most of it? The ‘Better Me‘ series hopes to give some ideas on how to add fun and meaning to our lives.
Come November, planning for Christmas becomes legitimate. As street after street turns on its Christmas lights and drinking establishments start serving mulled wine, I allow my thoughts to wander. While happily populating my diary with party invitations, I think about all sorts of important things, like how to allocate my party outfits so that no one sees me wearing the same thing. Or how to avoid over-eating at the first ten parties (essential if I still want to fit into the aforementioned party outfits by the time Christmas rolls in).
The one thing I am less inclined to think about is Christmas shopping. Which is, in fact, the one thing I should be thinking about at this premature stage. Two years ago I did all my Christmas shopping in one single day. Not because of some organisational tour de force but because, come the 23rd of December, I had still not purchased one single gift: one day was all I had. Needless to say, Christmas shopping did not go very well that year. I had to call it a day five Christmas presents and a few hundred pounds short. If you would like to avoid learning the hard way (as I did), why not follow these simple tips?
1. Make a list
This tip is as obvious as it is boring. But if you want to make sure you don’t forget anyone, make a list of every single person you would like to buy a gift for.
2. Narrow it down
Now that you’ve made your list, go through it again and cross out all the people you may not need to buy gifts for. These could be people you haven’t seen in ages, people you are unlikely to see over Christmas or people whose children you get gifts for. Does the hassle of buying cheap presents for your childhood friends outweigh the benefit of receiving cheap presents in return? If so, ask your friends if they want to continue with this tradition. You may find that they would be as relieved to put a stop to it as you would.
3. Tally it up
Now that you’ve got your list ready, create a second column and, next to each name, write down how much you are prepared to spend. After you are done, add it all up and make sure that the total cost is well within your budget.
Now that you know how much you intend to spend on each person, try asking some of the people you are close to what they would like for Christmas. Manage their expectations by giving them a few options in the price range you are considering. For example, if you ask whether there is a specific book or makeup item they would like, they are unlikely to turn around and ask for a Maserati. This can save you a lot of time and it also ensures you are getting each person what they actually want. Make sure to ask the question well in advance (before anyone else does and they run out of ideas!).
5. Think before you buy
The worst thing you can do is to aimlessly wander around the shops trying to see something someone might like. Before you go out looking for something, you need to know what you are looking for. So add another column to your list. For those people who have already asked for something specific within your budget, add the specific item to the list. For those who have not, think about what they might like. Not what you might like for them.
Say your sister has an eccentric taste in clothes. No matter how hard you try, you feel you could go very wrong in your choice of clothes for her. So, unless she asks for a very specific item, don’t risk getting her clothes. Try to focus instead on things you know she would like. For example, if you know she likes a specific jewellery shop or make-up brand, why not get her jewellery or make-up?
People tend to talk about things they find nice or interesting. Only we don’t always listen to them properly and, when we do, we rarely make the link between the topic of conversation and potential gift ideas. Train yourself to listen better and notice things people like. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If your boyfriend enjoys playing tennis, for example, you could get him some nice kit, or book him a few lessons with an expert. Gifts don’t always need to be tangible.
If you give someone an intangible or generic present, like a gift voucher or a spa treatment, make sure to accompany the gift with a nice card and a token item, like a small box of chocolates. That way, you are adding a thoughtful touch to a gift that may otherwise seem impersonal. Make sure your budgeted cost includes the cost of these token items.
Now that now have a complete list of the people you are buying gifts for and, for each person, the specific gift ideas and expected cost, it may be helpful to split them into categories. Which gifts can be purchased on the internet? Are there any other gifts you could get from the same shop, shopping centre or shopping area? Once you have done this you will know roughly how much time to allow for Christmas shopping. For example, one evening of internet shopping followed by one excursion to the centre of town and one trip to a specialist shop.
9. Ask for advice
You are now in a shop looking for a present. But despite all the planning, you are not sure which item to choose or you find most things are outside your budget. Before you give up, try asking for help from a shop assistant. Tell them exactly what you are looking for and who it is for. There may be products on special offer, items not on display, gift combinations you hadn’t thought of or special considerations regarding, say, young children or tennis players of a specific level.
10. Cover your back
Always ask for a gift receipt. Avoid investing in items which are not exchangeable or refundable (e.g. a trip abroad, art lessons, certain makeup items etc), unless you are sure they will be put to good use.
11. Gift wrap
Beautiful wrapping can dress up even the humblest of gifts. On the other hand, even the loveliest of gifts can lose its shine if it is poorly or carelessly presented. Don’t neglect the finishing touches: they show that you care enough to go that extra mile.
12. Start early!
The earlier you start planning your Christmas shopping the less stressful it will be. The more thought you give to your presents, the more original and affordable they will be. And remember, as a rule of thumb, the better the gifts you give, the better the gifts you get in return.