My husband says I treat Christmas shopping like a military operation. And as a proud Army veteran, I can’t really argue. As we gear up for yet another season of decking the halls and letting the wrapping paper fly, here are my tactics to survive the season:
Step 1) Evaluate available resources. In the military, the goal is to win wars. In shopping, it is to not go broke by January 1. Evaluating your resources means understanding exactly how much money you spend on gifts and creating a limit on how much you will spend on Christmas gifts.
Step 2) Triage. In the military, triage is assigning a degree of urgency to wounds. In shopping, it is who is going to get the good presents vs. who will get a $50 gift card. Decide this in advance. Typically children, spouses, and immediately families are first. Everyone else gets a gift card — you can make your life easy by stocking up on a bunch of coffee or restaurant cards, which will make anyone happy. Even coffee haters can find a treat at Starbucks.
Step 3) Have a plan of attack. In the military, this would mean you are going to map out what maneuver you are going to use to surprise the enemy. With Christmas shopping, the enemy are other shoppers ready to take your gifts.
Start early and slowly start buying Christmas gift bags/wrapping paper at the dollar stores (they go quickly) and take advantage of all of the “pre-Black Friday” sales. If you are brave enough to do Black Friday, enjoy. I can’t deal with the craze and I am normally done with my holiday shopping by November.
If you are taking kids, have a bribing strategy because that is the only way you are going to survive shopping with children. My favorite is ice cream at the mall or cake pops at Starbucks. Give stipulations as to what behavior you expect in order for them to get their treats. I know they should behave no matter what, but I need cooperative kids while finding deals and I will use any means necessary, including a sugar rush, to finish shopping.
Step 4) Plan for the unexpected. In the military, you are always told to be prepared for the unexpected. In Christmas shopping, leave room in your budget for that unexpected gift you received, which means you now have to buy a gift — maybe keep a supply of champagne on hand for this purpose (see the next tip for why). Plan for last minute holiday parties and days where you are too tired to cook and want to eat out by leaving some wiggle room in your dining out budget.
Step 5) Know your surroundings. In the military this means you’re constantly surveying your environment for potential threats and escape routes. With gift buying, that means shop around. After you’ve done some looking around and decided what you want, comparison shop for the best prices.
Instead of driving all over town or spending hours on the internet, make use of some specific websites or apps that do all the work for you. Try Pricegrabber, Nextag, or even Google Shopping if searching the web. If you’re at the store and want to compare prices instantly, download the RedLaser app to your smart phone and use it to get a price check against other nearby stores. Then either ask the store to match the price or head to the one with the best deal.
Step 6) Timing is everything. In the military, this means obeying the rules of engagement and knowing when to fire and when to hold. With Christmas shopping, it means understanding that certain times of the year are better than others to make purchases. A study by Lifehacker determined the best time of year to buy everything from Broadway tickets and computers to tools and wedding supplies.
It turns out that December is a great time to buy champagne but a lousy time to buy a gym membership. Who knew?
The bottom line is, with a good battle plan, you can make it through the holidays without going into “sticker shock” in January. Get your strategy set today!
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