Blame it on the polar vortex, El Nino, or the fact that Hobby Lobby not only has fall décor out (and it’s already discounted 40%!), but I woke up last week with Christmas on the brain. I guess there’s something about 60 degree mornings in mid-July that make a person realize that the holiday season is literally just around the corner!
When I was growing up, I remember my Mom doing her Christmas shopping year-round. I never totally understood that until I became an adult and realized it’s a little hard to budget in gifts for 18 family members—plus each other and Lily—two weeks before the actual holiday. So, while I’m not quite as dedicated as she is to shopping throughout the year, I do usually try to start my Christmas gift shopping early—usually around June or July.
There are a lot more benefits to getting gifts sporadically through the year (or months) leading up to Christmas. If you’re truly dedicated—like my Mom was—the first thing you’d do after Christmas is hit the markdowns. I did do that last year and managed to score some Christmas décor I’d been eyeballing since October for 75% off! That’s a perfect time to stock up on wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and other such things which are always pricey and usually not included in the gift budget.
I tend to leave the actual GIFT buying until later in the year. We have a four year old who is notorious for changing her mind like I change my gym socks. I will hear “This is my favorite toy in the world!” approximately 5,098,405,830,468,039 times before Christmas, and it will be exclaimed over 40,863,068,039,845 different toys. That’s just the way she is. We also have nephews who range in age from 9-15, so gift buying for them is a bit tricky. The younger ones are at the cusp of not-really-wanting-toys-but-still-wanting-cool-toys, and the older ones are beginning to really be concerned with what is cool—and cool for a teenager changes as drastically and as often as a four year old’s favorite toy.
So, how do I manage to shop?
One of the easiest ways to budget Christmas into your regular monthly shopping is to pick up gift cards. Kroger grocery stores usually have double fuel points promotions on gift card purchases throughout the year. During the Summer, they will often run weekend specials for four times fuel points. If you use the mobile coupon app, you can get money off for the purchase of certain gift cards (for instance, right now, you can purchase a $50 Children’s Place gift card for $40). I begin budgeting for a $25 -$100 gift card either each grocery trip or each month—usually to Target, Amazon, or Best Buy (places that I know I can find gifts for pretty much anyone on my list). I get the extra fuel points and save on gas, and by the time I need to shop for gifts, I have several hundred dollars’ worth of gift cards socked away. I can either gift the cards themselves OR I can shop online or in store and pay for the items with them. Having a gift card at the ready also comes in handy when someone’s birthday slips up on me, and I’ve forgotten a gift. Bonus: find that special gift on sale, and then you can treat yourself to something new, too! (Another handy gift card tip: If you are going to go out to dinner and know where you’re going ahead of time, run by Kroger and pick up a gift card. You’ll “pre-pay” for your meal, and it can save you anywhere from $0.10-$0.40 on gas later!)
I also keep my eyes peeled for end of season and pre-season sales. This is another great way to pick up gifts throughout the year. Our older nephews really like clothes from more expensive stores, which isn’t always feasible for for our budget (we set a limit per person). However, if I can find a $40 t-shirt marked down to $15 during an end of season clearance—presto! I can get them something I KNOW they’ll like and stay under budget!
Another way I save big and “win” with gift giving is by shopping locally. I like visiting the little shops and boutiques all around Nashville and the surrounding areas. These places, since they’re on the small side, tend to want to turn over their inventory so they’re not carrying tons of stuff from multiple seasons. They want to make room—quickly—for the newest, freshest items. So when these stores put things on clearance, it’s a REALLY good clearance! Boutiques also offer you an opportunity to keep your money local, help a Mom and Pop business stay and grow in the area, and get some of the coolest, most unique gifts around since a lot of them are homemade or small-batch made. This route is a win-win—you get to give a cool gift that you can’t find anywhere else, and you help ensure another local business has a happy holiday as well.
Do you shop early? Do you have any tips or tricks to share?