Updated on 09.15.14

Think About Christmas … Now!

Trent Hamm

It’s mid-June, so there’s no better time to write about Christmas. Right? Right?!

The truth of the matter is that just a little bit of forethought right now can save you a ton of time, effort, cost, and heartache this December. While it might feel really out of place to think about Christmas on a warm June day, right now is the perfect time to give these five things a quick thought.

Five Reasons to Start Thinking About Christmas Early

Kill off unwanted gift exchanges

If you’re a member of a gift exchange or two with family that you just don’t want to participate in, right now is the time to put an axe in it. Just send out an email or a Facebook message to the other members of the exchange stating the truth of the matter: you enjoy seeing the people, but you don’t think a gift exchange is a great idea.

If completely bowing out seems potentially damaging, suggest that this year be a “secret Santa” drawing instead of everyone buying everyone else gifts or put a strong cap on how much can be spent.

Doing this now is much better than doing it in late November or the middle of December when people are already financially and emotionally involved in their holiday purchasing. The solution to too many Christmas gifts purchased is just an email away.

Get the important people on your radar

For most of us, there are a handful of people that we’re going to buy Christmas gifts for this year. Since these people are truly important enough to us to be an automatic gift recipient, we often desire to find the “perfect” gift for them.

That’s why I start my list now, so I have plenty of time and space to listen to what they’re saying, think about what they’d value, and come up with great gift ideas (and bargains on those ideas) well in advance of the big day rather than stumbling through Target on December 20th, pushing aside the hordes and scavenging whatever overlooked items remain on the shelves in hopes of finding something they won’t find too repugnant.

Just start a list of the people you want to buy for, then pay attention to them in the coming months. Most people will reveal deep interests and passions and sometimes even specific ideas over the course of the year. For example, maybe your sister will mention a type of sweater she finds particularly flattering, or maybe your father will lament not having grow lights so he can start seedlings in the basement in January instead of having to buy starts for his garden in April. Write these down, as they can be the source of great gifts.

Start automatic bargain hunting

If you’re certain of a particular purchased gift for someone already, there’s no better time than now to start bargain hunting.


Well, it doesn’t have to be as painful as it sounds. Let’s say, for example, that you have decided to buy your sister’s oldest son a Playstation 3 for Christmas this year – but you don’t want to spend a mint on it. Right now is the best time to start automatically bargain hunting for it.

You can use tools like FeedSifter to sift through the internet feeds of websites that list bargains related to what you’re looking for – like, for example, Amazon Gold Box. Then, put that FeedSifter feed into a service like FeedMailer so that whenever a deal pops up, you receive an email telling you about it.

Then sit back and wait. The exact deals you want will pop into your email inbox as they come up. Easy as pie.

I already have six of these running related to two different potential Christmas gifts.

Plan ahead for homemade gifts

Some of us (myself included) love to receive homemade gifts – and we love to make them, too.

The problem is that some of them take a lot of advance planning. In order to age well, you need to be considering making things like homemade beer and homemade soaps now rather than in November. If you’re going to knit some sweaters, now’s the time to bust out the yarn and the needles, for example.

If you’d like to save a lot of money and come up with some really memorable gifts, go homemade. The catch? You probably should start now on whatever that project is, because you’ll likely need some time between then and now to cause that gift idea to become reality.

Make it easier on last-minute gift hunters for you

In my family, a lot of people wait until the last minute to do gift shopping. They wait until December 15, then call around in a panic and search internet wish lists (like Amazon’s) for some sort of an indication as to what people want for a gift. Yes, each year, I get calls where people directly ask me what I want for Christmas.

Of course, the typical response to this is to try to think of stuff quickly off of the top of your head – items that usually end up not being items you really want or could actually use, but are items that just seem to randomly float in your head.

Take that challenge head on. Spend some time thinking of a handful of items you could genuinely use in your life. Once you discover them, put them on an Amazon wish list (or something similar), then if last-minute panicked calls come in, you don’t have to rack your brain coming up with half-baked ideas. You can actually point out items that you have thought about in advance and can genuinely put to good use in your home.

There’s no need to promote this list, of course – just create it as something of a protection against last-minute gifts that turn out to be items that you don’t want and they grasp at straws to buy. With just a bit of effort now, you can turn a situation where no one wins into something useful for yourself and something gratifying for the last minute gift buyer.

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  1. Wesley says:

    Basically the only people I buy gifts for our my parents and my fiancee (my friends and siblings have a no-gift understanding) and this year for my parents I am digitizing the photos they have of us kids. There are quite a few so I am starting early but it is a great way to give them a really nice present that doesn’t really cost me anything but time.

    I am also looking at doing the same for their VHSs of home videos they have taken of us kids, but those are going to be a bit more difficult.

    As for my fiancee…who knows at this point.

  2. the Dad says:

    What a great & timely post, Trent. I always intend to this, but don’t. You’ve inspired me! I’m off to create a Google doc with names and ideas. Thanks!!

    the Dad,
    Climbing Out

  3. Claudia says:

    A few years ago we eliminated Christmas gifts except for the children. At first, we were all sure we would miss it. But, we don’t! There’s no stress trying to find the perfect gift and no sick feelings when the credit card statement arrives. Also, I have so much less clutter. I made the mistake once of telling my husband, the Boyd’s bears with clothes on were cute. 30+ bears and bunnies later, not so cute anymore!

  4. Jennifer says:

    This is a great practice, and I also buy early. My mistake that I would caution people against, however, is the mistake of over buying. I tend to buy early, but then not write down what I bought, and then forget until I’m getting it all out to wrap, what I bought. Sure, I’ve got great deals, but maybe over spent because I bought too much.

    Then, what do you do with young children, who tend to change their mind and interests frequently? I run into that problem as well — what good are all those great clearnace finds on CARS items when the child is no longer into CARS by the time xmas rolls around? Haven’t found a good solution for that one.

  5. Rachel says:

    I think about Christmas all year with my ING account!! :)

    Last year I had it start taking $15 a week out to set aside for ONLY Christmas. By the time mid Oct rolled around I had about $500 to spend that I didn’t have to feel guilty about spending! It made buying stuff a lot easier.

  6. Candirn says:

    What you waited till now to start? The time to start next year’s Christmas shopping is of course the day after Christmas. I already have multiple gifts, for the folks I buy for, put away and ready to be wrapped.

  7. David @The Frugality Game says:

    Holy smokes! I need to be thinking of Christmas shopping already? Of course, you’re right–the worst spending I do is because I didn’t have enough time to shop around, wait for a deal, figure out what they really want or make something by hand.

    By keeping it in the back of my mind now, it’ll let me take the time to do it right and (again) shop around, wait for a deal, figure out what they really want or make something by hand–plus seriously reduce holiday stress.

  8. Susan C. says:

    So funny you just posted this because I just did the gift exchange letter to the family last night, literally. I am thankful that both my husband’s family and my siblings families’ have always gotten along, and as a result we always rent a place and do a big family potluck dinner with a budgeted gift exchange. Kids for kids, adults to adults. Kids love being able to do gifts for each other and the adults like only having to bring 1 gift for 1 person. Sometimes we do a secret Santa other times we do a white elephant gift exchange. It always allows us to focus less on the gift giving and more on spending time with each other, eating and listening to the boys play music all night. And to be honest if we ever stopped doing gifts for some reason, I don’t think anyone would even miss it.

  9. lurker carl says:

    Kill off unwanted gift exchanges – but not by email or Facebook. Do this in person, by phone or in a hand written letter. Electronic messages saying you don’t want to exchange gifts come across as rude and cowardly.

    Make it easy on the last-minute shoppers and request a gift card from your favorite store.

  10. Amy B. says:

    I was just thinking about this (while purchasing last-minute father’s day gifts). LOL

    @Jennifer(#4): Consider giving the gifts that are outgrown away to Toys for Tots or other charity – they seem to always have a need for every age.

  11. Michelle says:

    @ #6 lurker Carl – maybe with older folks, but most of my family communicates through facebook, and I’d MUCH rather get a facebook message or e-mail saying “kill the gift exchange” than have to worry about calling everyone, or recieving an awkward phone call about it. Of course, it’s rare that I actually call people. Everything is either done in person or via text/e-mail/facebook.

    I send out a list after Thanksgiving with some gift ideas, and sizes for all the kids. I try to make it clear that these are gift ideas, not commandments, and if the person has a better gift idea, that is absolutely fine. It’s funny, I would rather be told exactly what to get someone, than have to guess. Maybe I’ve been the recipient of too many bad “thoughtful” gifts, but my thoughts are, ask me for what I want and buy it, OR don’t get me anything. And I use that same philosophy with others, tell me what you want and I’ll buy it, otherwise, expect nothing. I am a big fan of the wish list.

  12. Rebecca says:

    Definitely recommend hand made gifts for coworkers, teachers etc. We need about 50 to 60 of these for teachers, therapists and my husb’s office. I make apple butter in the fall, strawberry jam NOW!, and then mix up batches of my special scone mix in a jar the week before christmas. I buy brown paper lunch bags which we stamp or paint at home, I can make all the gifts for about $100, often with supplies left over. Far nicer than anything I could buy pre-made, and way cheaper.

    I also have about half of my shopping done already by scouting Goodwill and other clearance sales. I hate wrapping gifts, so as I find the perfect gift, I wrap it as soon as I get home, and put a sticky on the outside to know who it is for and what it is. By Dec I don’t have any wrapping to do.

  13. rosa rugosa says:

    When I decided I really wanted to get away from the holiday gift thing, I asked people at Christmastime, “why don’t we just get together next year, but cut out the gifts?” Almost everyone was fine with this, and my list is down to 4 people rather than 25 or so.
    I also use the curb-spending technique of writing down things I want/need instead of buying them right away. This also come in handy as a wish list. If my Mom or sister (two of the people we still exchange gifts with) ask what my husband or I want for xmas or a birthday, I just refer to the list. I also keep a list for my husband. He doesn’t usually want too many things, so when he mentions something on a rare occasion, I really pay attention.

  14. Kelly says:

    I just buy gift cards for others on my list. I’ll get my nieces a Toys R Us gift card and my brother does the same for our nieces, then they can pool all their gift cards together and buy themselves a really cool toy that they’ve picked out!
    For my husband and son, I try to buy throughout the year and like an above poster, will start the day after Christmas.

  15. shassmre says:

    I already have multiple gifts, for the folks I buy for, put away and ready to be wrapped.

  16. Laurie says:

    Jennifer, in the summer we buy gifts at yard sales that we think the kids will like. These are usually “fill-in-around-the-edges” gifts. Since these items are extremely cheap, it doesn’t matter a whole lot if one in five things misses the mark. We just shop for cool things most any kid their age would like. We wait until closer to Christmas to buy new gifts from their wish lists. So we do a mix of new and used gifts. But we find that surprising often, the secondhand gifts turn out to be the favorite gifts. One reason is that gifts from wish lists are not surprises, whereas yard-sale gifts are unexpected surprises… things they didn’t know they would want, but really like.
    Now, if you tell your kids gifts come from Santa, they will be puzzled why Santa gives them used presents, but gives their friends new presents. We NEVER told kids presents came from Santa. They always knew the presents were bought by their parents or grandparents. From a very young age, we told our kids our family does things to save money because were saving to buy them a nice house with a big yard to play in.
    So to Trent’s point, the time is now… for yard sales. I keep an eye out for gift ideas. We find great stuff that if purchased new, would simply be outside our budget. We also buy for some adults in our life. An example would be a really great book that cost $75 new that I bought for $3 used. I also buy antique-ish vintage type things, and silly gag gifts.
    The bottom line is that I do a set budget per kid. Since they were small, they always understood this, and know if some things were bought used, they get way more for Christmas.
    Buying secondhand gifts is not “cheap.” Like homemade gifts, a secondhand gift represents effort, because I work really hard finding great things for people.

  17. Molly says:

    I like to make photo albums or pictures in frames for people. Pictures go on sale often throughout the year, and sometimes places like Walgreens and Snapfish have them really cheap or free. Then I find cheap but nice albums or frames at thrift stores and garage sales.
    I also look out for books because a lot of my family members are bookworms. I’m about to start looking for all these things now actually.

  18. Kim says:

    Great post! I just opened up a new ING savings account today for Christmas. I’ll actually use the account for all gifts i.e. Mother’s day, birthdays and Christmas.

  19. TOS says:

    We made Christmas much easier by setting a limit on what each of us could spend on any one person (set at what was reasonable for the person with the least income).

  20. Mari says:

    great tip I got from a friend, for older kids with changing interests: give some of their gift in cash and offer to take them to post-christmas sales suring the week following xmas — many popular toys were already steeply marked down. My kids enjoyed the trip and made very sensible choices, given the chance. they all decided to buy some but also save some of the money, and donate some. it also cut back on the post-christmas blahs. modest indulgences over a few days was actually more fun than a single materialistic blow out xmas morning.

  21. Sara4 says:

    This is a good time to get family members to establish a wish list on Amazon.com. It is helpful to get very specific information with a photo of the book, DVD, CD etc. I print the lists to carry with me. With a few months of leeway, I usually can find some of these items on the secondhand market.

  22. I am not thinking about Christmas now because the trends change so fast

  23. Michele says:

    I just started this week to make the earrings, rose petal sugar scrub, scarves and wine glass charms I’m giving to co-workers and friends for Christmas this year! VERY timely post, Trent :)

  24. Alan says:

    Also, if you manage your own portfolio, make sure that you keep track of secret fees they are charging you. I use the Wikinvest Portfolio to do this and to make sure that I know exactly what’s going on with my investments to the penny. I don’t have a lot of money so knowing how much money I make or lose is very important to me and my kids. I strongly urge you to sign up for free here: https://www.wikinvest.com/?_acn=portfolio&_acm=competition&_acs=aibrahim
    It’s an amazing tool that I’m so fortunate to have found.


  25. Deb says:

    We and a few of our friends keep amazon wish lists that we share with each other year round. We each have certain things that we collect (books, video games, Star Trek, etc) that we love to receive as gifts, but without these lists we would be constantly receiving duplicates. It makes it easier on distant family, too (we do a gift draw where each person buys for one other person).

  26. deRuiter says:

    Love the idea of bowing out of gift exchanging. I tend to get together with friends for the holidays, we go to a restaurant and split the check. It’s fun, not stressful, no clean up, no having to accept useless gifts and put them out at the yard sales. Folks, please tell me, WHY GIFT CARDS? 1. They are plastic waste and bad for the environment., 2. They limit the recipient to the store of YOUR choice, 3. There is often a charge deducted for use., 4. If the person doesn’t use the whole amount the rest is wasted or they must put their money with yours to get another item. WHAT’S WRONG WITH CASH OR A CHECK? Actual money gives the recipient flexability. Perhaps they’d rather put any found money on their debt snowflake project instead of buying another useless item they don’t want so as not to “waste” the money. Gift cards are pushed by stores because they make money from them, many are never redeemed or not redeemed in full so the store profits, but not the person getting the gift. CASH OR CHECK!

  27. Peter Jay says:

    Prepared the umbrella even in a hot day is always a good idea. When the rainy days comes, then nothing to worry about because everthing is on the right position PLUS all this brilliant ideas!

  28. AndreaS says:

    Regarding gifts, I like to set boundaries early for new people in my life. If I make a new friend, with whom a gift exchange could be a potential, at some point before the holidays I let them know “I don’t do gifts.” My children are now young adults, and so now there are new significant others floating into my life. I let them know we are pretty loose about gifts… we keep them very inexpensive, or don’t give at all. No need for them to get me anything.
    And as my children have new significant others, they are encountering in-laws who have really expensive habits. I encourage the kids to set the ground rules early. This includes on other frugal fronts aside from gifts. One in-law family likes to all go out to a restaurant to eat every time someone has a birthday. My daughter went along a couple times, but then began telling them she and her husband could not afford this (and didn’t want them to pay for her). She has repeatedly suggested potluck gatherings instead. I think they went without her a couple times, but last birthday was a potluck barbecue.

  29. Heather says:

    I scored during the Christmas clearance at the craft store with magnetic grocery pads and matching blank note cards for half off. I grabbed a bunch thinking they would be great for teacher gifts (my son starts school this fall!) They have actually come in handy already as we needed a little something for Sunday School teachers and other situations where a small gift is needed that I hadn’t anticipated. I also watch for gifts while on vacation or at the summer fairs that feature locally-made crafts. Plus its easier to drop $20-$30 here and there than a larger chunk come December. Great post!

  30. Christy says:

    I pick up things I know my kids and in laws would enjoy all year long. One thing that we have done since my kids left the house is the “free” stocking. The young adults (22-23) still want a stocking so everything in it must be free, so things we pick up at the State Fair, (pencils, scratch pads, rulers, etc) go in the stocking. If we get a buy one get one free (toothpaste, deoderant, shampoo) we put those in there also. The kids get to unwrap something and they think it is really funny some of the things we pick up. Every now and then we get a free gift card for buying something or we have even picked up luggage as a “free” gift when we bought a coat once.
    Another thing we do is give gifts that will not collect dust. These are useful gifts. I make and give calenders with my own photography, I home can our own food for the winter and give jars or home canned goods away, (pickles and jam and home canned green beans are many peoples favorites). Or we pay for someones utility bills for the month of January, or buy a yearly newspaper subscription for the in laws. Something they enjoy but does not collect dust.
    We buy pocket knives or leather gloves for my husbands crew. So I am always on the lookout for those to go on sale (like now for Fathers Day).
    I shop for Christmas all year long. I have a hidden drawer in my pantry where I store all the goodies, and I do wrap them when I get them and put the names and Item on there.
    My employer gives us city gift certificates. They can be used in over 200 places in town and the money stays local. I used mine last Christmas for an entire romantic weekend for a gift for my husband. Food, hotel, movie and concert tickets. It was a blast and I got to go to!

  31. Mary says:

    I agree, the time to start shopping is the day after Christmas! Actually, I learned from my mother (mom of nine kids) to shop all year round. And there’s really no such thing as over-shopping. I always have small, thoughtful gifts on hand if emergencies arise. For example, my son’s classmate just had a birthday and we’d had an absolutely crazy week in which I didn’t have time to shop. I dug into my gift box and had a lovely little book, perfect for a 4-year old. I also appreciate that the parents had left a little note in the invitation which read, “Please keep the gifts modest.” I thought that was a quick, painless way to let other families know they were keeping gifts at a minimum.

    One of the best places I’ve found to purchase REALLY inexpensive, quality gifts is at places like Home Depot and Kroger in the few days after a holiday. They don’t get the insane rush like other shopping centers and malls, and they have really nice stuff which gets marked down to incredible prices. I have also purchased seasonal things like decorative porch lights which are normally $10 for $3 or less at Kroger!

    Thanks for the post, Trent!

  32. Stephanie says:

    I do the same thing for birthdays. I keep track of what the kids/family like throughout the year and also pick up a few generic items that are usually popular with their age groups for last minute presents. With two hours notice our plans changed and we were able to attend a birthday party for a two year old last weekend. Instead of hitting the mall I “shopped in the closet” and pulled out a wooden toddler puzzle that was a hit.
    It is also a great way to find items that are just too much at full price. My stepson loves penguins and covets a pair of boiled wool penguin slippers that are way too much money so I have been looking at sales/clearance for ages. I found them on clearance a year after I started looking and he will get them for his birthday this summer.

  33. Steffie says:

    If you feel you must give a gift card make it to a store like Kmart or Sears or your local department store, there is a large selection of dfferent things and surely everyone can find something they need or better yet ‘want’.

  34. Kelly says:

    I only buy the giftcards for my nieces who are all under age 12 and for Toys R Us.What child DOESN’T like Toys R Us? I know my recipients pretty well so I’d NEVER give them a gift card to a store or restaurant that I know they wouldn’t use.
    The local grocery store chain runs a special right after Thanksgiving, for every $50 you spend on gift cards you can deduct 20 cents off a gallon of gas. Normally, you only earn 10cents off per gallon for every $50 you spend at that store. That’s when I buy! I can earn quite a bit off of my gas for my car with the purchase of gift cards for Christmas.
    As far as charging for use, I’ve never run into that problem with any gift card I’ve ever given or received. The problem with writing a check is that the recipient has to go to the bank to cash that check Cash can get lost. I know my nieces have lost many a $20 bill they’ve received as gifts.
    For Father’s Day, I’m giving my husband a gift card to Kmart from our son. Hubby likes to browse around our local Big K store. Sears gift cards can also be used at Kmart and vice versa.

  35. Gretchen says:

    $100 dollars on coworkers is $100 I could do about 100 better things with.

    The best gift my best friend ever gave me was the decision we weren’t doing birthday gifts anymore (christmas gifts went away from that circle around the same time).

  36. susi says:

    what a great post! When I got my calender this year, I put down “Christmas gifts” at the end of September – but Trent, you are so right. Starting now is even better! The only things I am worried about is if I find a great deal now and buy the item with so much time left for christmas, what if the person buys it itself in the meantime? Hm… but just watching sales is a great suggestion, so I get a feeling for the prices of certain items and do better in fall.
    Thanks for the post – very timely, very true!

  37. triLcat says:

    I tend towards very small gifts with most of the people in my life, even for real occasions – I usually keep gifts under $10. If I spend more, I make sure it’s something I know they’ll really treasure.

    I’ve managed to give gifts that cost me $1-$2 and have made people really happy. It’s a matter of really listening and really bargain hunting. (sometimes, if you happen to get just the right piece to something that someone needs when they couldn’t find it, they’ll be thrilled with something that they KNOW only cost you 25 cents.)

    I’m also open about regifting with *some* of my friends – I’ve regifted things to my sister and told her that it was regifted and her response was that she was glad I hadn’t spent that much on her. (I regifted a goodie basket my husband had gotten from his company, not a personal gift from a friend who might ask about it later)

  38. Zaboozie says:

    I like the idea of bowing out of gift exchanges early. I don’t buy a lot of gifts for anyone, except my brother and his wife, and my parents and grandmother. But our extended family always wants to do a gift exchange/secret santa thing…but people always fail to follow the rules. Instead of each person buying one gift to exchange, they’ll buy the one gift but still buy extra gifts for the relatives they are closer with or something. Then others feel guilty for having more than one gift, blah blah blah. It’s a mess in my family. I think I’ll be opting out of gift exchanges altogether this year.

  39. Susanne says:

    I saw this EXACT list on the local news this morning (WDIV Detroit). What’s up with that??

  40. Rebecca says:

    @#22 Gretchen, most of that money goes towards my sons’ therapists. 2 of my 3 kids are disabled, and we have about 12 men and women who spend hours a week at our home helping my sons, not to mention the awesome teachers and support staff at the school. These people spend their days helping kids who need every bit of time they have, and it is not an easy job, but they do it because they love kids like mine! My husb’s coworkers also have been nothing but supportive of our situation, letting him work from home, come in late, leave early without affecting his job security. In my mind that needs a thank you.

    I think the big thing here is to cut your shopping list down to only those you feel you really want to give gifts to. That list is different for everyone. I know at my past jobs we didn’t do gifts. But sometimes they are appropriate.

    I know as a kid I had an aunt who gave us a gift certificate for a bookstore as a gift. We LOVED that, as our library was tiny, and we couldn’t afford new books otherwise.

    And I can say that I personally LOVE getting gift cards. If I get cash, I can tell you that I will not spend it on me but use it to pay bills, buy groceries etc. But if my mom gives me a card to a specific store that I love, it forces me to get something for myself. That is a huge treat for me.

  41. DivaJean says:

    My daughters are “into” American Girl dolls. I have been sewing all year and plan to give some for special outfits they want and sell most at the school craft show in the fall. I have also gotten handy at refurbishing the dolls and find the best sales price for used is during the summer when no one else is thinking about Xmas. Last year, I got a doll for under $30— pretty good if the price new is over $100. Believe me when I say, the overall quality of the doll is worth it, but the difference in the cost of buying used versus new is worth it. If others are interested in looking into getting used dolls, American Girl also has a really good customer service and a program for fixing up dolls. You could get one used off eBay and still be ahead of the new price getting a new wig on the doll and an overall cleaning. Do not be fooled by cheaper imitations. The cheaper, rooted hair goes natty after no time versus AG wigged hair lasting longer.

    As for my boys, my oldest son is all about movement and music. We usually end up buying him cds or videos of his favorite, Cirque du Soleil. If any kid of mine “runs away” to join a circus, it will be him. The cds and videos he would want are rarely “on sale” unless I find a good Amazon search. which I have on all the time. We bought him a gymnastics mat last year that got a lot of usde- we are considering getting another to add to his floor area “routine.” My youngest son is 3 and we find that recycling toys from the oldest kids often goes unnoticed. There might be an occasional “I used to have one of those..” but otherwise, no one makes a big deal out of it.

    As for the extended family, we have not so many to buy for anyways now. I would rather wait until it gets close enough for me to be sure of what I am getting. We have cut many down to getting school pictures in the holiday card, and they are all just as happy to not have to shop.

    I still like to receive a few things at holiday time, but I am always certain to let people know my size, color tastes, etc so I don’t end up with a pile of returns.

  42. kristine says:

    Hi Molly!

    Just make sure the pictures are of your gift recipient and you, or their family, and not your own kids! Grandaparets might like the once a year photo, but…I have a sister-in-law who sends us 300 snapfish images of her family every month, gives us too many photos, and for Xmas, gives us framed photos of her kids, and mugs, and T-shirts, and calendars go to the grandparents (a calender of HER kids, never mind that they have 4 grandchildren, not 2.) I have more photos of their kids, one for every year, than I do displayed of my own children. It became embarrassing coming up with excuses why we do not have the obligatory shrine to their children from all those photos! I stopped displaying all photos of living relatives, and instead confine it to ancestors, and paintings of living fmaily. That did the trick.

    It’s just best to alternate photos with other things.

    I find art suppies- a pad and colored pencils, are apprecfiated by almost anyone- artist or not! For teens, a great gift is an XL white T-shirt (Fruit of the Loom is fine), and a package of colored Sharpie markers, so all their friends can draw on and sign a shirt for them at the party!

  43. partgypsy says:

    All of the children of my in-laws have brought up the last couple years the idea of forgoing gift exchange (which is a big deal for the parents) and going on a vacation instead. My parents in law the only ones that are not on board, so the gift exchange continues.
    For my own family, if I see something significant I want to give my family, I just do it at that time. For example going to help my mother buy a new mattress, and treating my Dad to a stay at the beach for a couple days. The Christmas gift doesn’t have to fall on Christmas. Then at Christmas we exchange smaller gifts (pajamas or socks, chocolates, etc) so there isn’t this big pressure of finding the “perfect” gift. Much less stressful, I know they are getting something they actually want and need, and spreads out my expenses.

  44. Crystal says:

    My problem is that I get great ideas and even find great deals, but I give them to the recipients REALLY early because I want them to be able to use it as soon as possible. :-)

    I usually don’t allow myself to Christmas shop until at least October since anything I buy earlier than that never stays very long in my house…

  45. Thomas says:

    What would the holidays be without waiting until the last few days to get it all done and then spending too much because you didn’t find bargains?

    My budget is about $1,000 on the holidays. I put $85/month in ING and at the end of the year, I have $1,035 or so with interest. Saves me a ton of stress January 25 when the credit card bill is due.

  46. Kerry D. says:

    Like Rebecca, we really LIKE giving thoughtful gifts to the people around us, especially those who are particularly kind to our (also special needs) kids… and friends–it is a delight to give gifts to my own friends. What pleasure to find some (small) treat that my friends will enjoy. I don’t spend vast sums, but it’s amazing with some creativity what enjoyable gifts we find or make. (End of school year teacher gifts were a couple home made oatmeal bars, plus a bag of cocoa or a couple of tea bags, in a brown bag which my daughter decorated with markers to say “snack time.” Some teachers were delighted to open up and eat immediately! ) I’m sorry this joy and fun can get lost in the time, money, or “impression” pressures.

  47. Now is the time to start your Christmas Club bank account, if you don’t have one already. Old fashioned, yes, but they do still exist! Make it automated so the money comes right out of your paycheck…our bank cuts Christmas Club checks in October and surprise! I’ve got $500 saved for Christmas shopping without even having to think about it. No credit card bills for Christmas = best decision ever!

  48. guinness416 says:

    One problem I (and some other members of my family) have is those who agree to kill the gift exchange but then, maybe this year maybe the next, start sneaking back in some “little things” that “don’t count”. Then you end up buying the damn gifts anyway, just in case someone gets you that “little thing”.

    Or you could just live abroad like I do. Cuts the physical gifts waaaaay down.

  49. Angie says:

    Here’s what I always thought would be a fun holiday tradition: a couple weekends before christmas (before all the craziness of the time), have all the family get together. Both sides of our family are within 4-5 hrs of each other, so would probably rotate homes each year. In the morning, do a fun exchange type game where everyone picks a name, then go to a specific place (store/mall) and try to find something within a certain price range (likely under $10). Then do something- sled, bowl, movie -in the afternoon. Come home, wrap what gifts were bought that day, and have soup/sandwiches, open gifts. To me, spending the time with the family – plus the fun of shopping *without your person catching you while shopping for their gift*, done ahead of the rush would be fun. But neither side of our family will cooperate, so I suggest once in awhile and hope it catches up. We go to 5 Christmases between Xmas eve and day and is never fun, we don’t have a chance to visit, just eat, open gifts, say thank you, leave. It’s turned into one of my least favorite holidays.
    I’ve never run into a gift card charging me to use one, and I don’t give them to people for places they don’t shop at anyway. And if I have to use my own money to use all on the card, then I got a really good bargain for something, so I could care less. In the early 90s, I received a gift certificate for JCPenney, lost it, and found it in 2001. It was still good – but that was the old certificate, not giftcard. I was supprised it was honored. The only problem is with this economy it’s hard to tell which stores will still be around long enough for the recipient to use.

  50. kristine says:


    A a teacher- a “snacktime” gift is SO much more appreciated than another tchatcki! Small items are usually just dusting and moving and storing work disguised as cuteness. That and the guilt of not keeping it when you know a child picked it out for you.

  51. Kate says:

    I’ve made gifts in the past (flavored vinegars, Christmas tree ornaments), but ran into problems with the expense of MAILING them. A yucca-bell wreath or dilled vinegar may be cheap to make, but the time investment can be more than you’d think, and actually mailing such things can cost five times the gift budget! And I never started before October or November, meaning that getting things finished became a major PITA.

    But reading this gave me an idea for a type of homemade gift that should cost less to mail, and by reading it NOW I can start researching what I’ll need to make them. Thanks!

  52. DivaJean says:

    #33 Angie- Getting together on the Sundays before Xmas was something I did in my 20’s with my “found family” of friends. Each person in the group hosted a Sunday dinner after church time and we spent the afternoons enjoying each others company and NOT scrambling in the malls. The slowing down of the holiday was a hallmark for all of us involved and most never sped it up again. We had luscious meals to look forward to and our closest friends rather than fighting for sales.

  53. Laura says:

    I have been doing this for years – picking up sale items during the year for birthday gifts and Christmas. It saves time and I don’t have a huge, expensive amount to buy in December. Couple of tips – try to designate one spot (like a closet or corner in the basement) for the items and keep a list; it’s so easy to forget who you’ve bought for and what you’ve bought. Best wishes!

  54. Lulu says:

    I have reassessed my desire to celebrate this holiday all together. The emotional drain and financial expense are burdens that I no longer want to shoulder. I’m not a Christian, my children are grown, I hate shopping and I find Christmas annoying. I might change my mind if I ever have grandchildren, but for now, I’m happy to skip it.

  55. Karen says:

    Ditto on the Christmas account – had one for several years and it really saves me the stress of a big credit bill. Got to start one for my property taxes – ugh!!

  56. haverwench says:

    Don’t forget to keep the folks on your gift list in mind as you do your yard saling. You can often find great, barely used toys for kids and interesting books or hobby items for adults. (Check out my article at http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2943590/save_money_by_doing_your_holiday_shopping.html?cat=46 for details.)

  57. Nancy says:

    I just saw this post and I had posted about getting ready for Christmas on the 25th of this month. Your tips are great. Hope you get a chance to pop over to my blog and read my post, particularly the part about getting gift cards now to ease the budget.

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