Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Shopping Tips

When it comes to last-minute Christmas shopping, it's all in the planning. And after many years of last-minute dashes, and finishing shopping by December 10, I've got a few tried-and-true tips that work for me:

1. Make a list. The most basic things can trip us up when we're under stress and not thinking clearly. And with Christmas shopping, there's a preponderance of bright, shiny objects to divert our attention. Put at least a few minutes' thought into it ahead of time so you don't lose focus. (Or risk forgetting your Great-Aunt Mildred.)

2. Go where no man has gone before. Or at least go when they're not thinking about it. Shopping on the way into work when stores have extended store hours can be helpful. But here's my secret: shop Sunday mornings around 10 a.m. Even on the Sunday before Christmas, I've found this to be the magic hour - stores open, nobody around.

3. Plot your course. Think proximity; try shopping where the items you need are close to one another. Otherwise, you maybe running from one end of the mall to the other, or circling the same neighborhood, wasting precious time. When time is of the essence, who wants to bother with back-tracking?

4. Wear comfortable shoes. I swear by running shoes. Whether you're pounding the pavement in a city or zipping through a mall, you're likely to be standing in lines at some point and your feet will take the brunt of the punishment. Tired feet mean an ineffective shopper.

5. Hoard a couple of extras. Think broad appeal: gift cards for Starbucks, Best Buy, Nordstrom, you name it. These days, you can choose from the entire flock at a grocery store! Having a couple of cards on hand can come in handy for those surprise gift-giving sessions.

6. Smile, smile, smile. At some point, all this shopping can be a pain. I'll grant you that. There's the tension of having to buy more with less. Or finding just the right hip Secret Santa gift for $25. Or you've got a cold and you're sneezing more than you're shopping. But it's Christmastime, dammit! Try to make the best of it and enjoy yourself. A smile goes a long way, too, with a busy clerk or a grumpy line-neighbor.

7. Think outside the (big) box. What could be more impressive than a one-of-a-kind item for your brother's new girlfriend? Go to sites like Etsy and see what they have in store.

8. Give til it hurts. There's always a person on your list for whom a gift seems . . . well, silly. They've got everything they want. Or they give everything away. But a donation might be just the right fit. There are a million wonderful charities worthy of your attention. Think Oxfam, Project HOME, or the American Red Cross.

9. Hydrate. The heat's on full blast. There are people all over the place. You're working up a sweat finding the right Christmas angel for your tree. Bring a little H20 with you to avoid keeling over.

10. Pack the Purell. This is the germophobe in me speaking, but think about it: you've got kajillions of people stuffed inside of stores, pawing over the merchandise, using the same pen over and over and over to sign the credit card slips. Sanitize early and often, and you just might ring in the New Year feeling healthy, wealthy and wise.

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