Friday, December 30, 2016

How I shopped for Christmas all year long

Christmas of 2015 was almost a disaster for us. We were hit by two major bills to pay and the second bill took all of our shopping money we had set aside for our two kids. Fortunately, family and friends came to the rescue, giving gifts to us and the children. While I am extremely grateful that our Christmas gift-giving tradition for the children was saved, I resolved that this year would be different. This year I would actually put into action a plan I’d been thinking of using for some time now: Shopping for Christmas all year long.

This kinda idea is not new. I had heard of several families shopping for Christmas all year long in order to ease their financial burden every December. Doing this would also keep them from giving in to the temptation to splurge now and regret it later.

After I made this decision, I put together my strategy. I would buy each child one gift for every month. And, in December, we would also buy their stocking stuffers.

I knew that if I was going to go through with this, I would need to plan ahead. So I decided to enforce a few guidelines to follow:

1. Keep a list of what the kids want on hand. I use the “Memo” feature on my Android phone and this allows me to keep important notes and reminders handy if I ever need them. Last year, the kids put together their Christmas list. We assured them that if they didn’t get all the stuff on that list last year, there was always next year. Now it’s next year! And having their wish list with me makes it easier to figure out what to get them.

2. Don’t put a price limit on all gifts. At first I thought maybe it would be better to put a $20 spending limit on the kids’ gifts, but then I realized that would limit the variety of gifts I could shop for them. I decided to use whatever amount of money I had available for this. At the same time, the amount spent on each gift ended up being slightly different for each child. For one month, for example, each gift cost $30. For another month, one gift that was on the wish list was $25, while the other gift was $13.

3. Don’t try to do this alone. I knew I could not be the only one shopping for the kids. My husband always enjoyed buying them Christmas gifts. So I decided that we could take turns buying their gifts.

4. Keep a list of gifts bought so far. With 12 months of shopping to do, it could very easily happen that I’d end up buying a gift I’d already bought months before. To avoid this, I kept a list of gifts that I bought so far. Of course, I also removed items I got from their wish lists, but I still kept track of everything so I had a good idea of the balance of gifts for each child.

After the year started and this plan was carried out, I began to see just how convenient it was to shop for the kids’ Christmas gifts all year. I knew I would not be able to take advantage of Black Friday deals or huge sales on Christmas Eve since we were already going to have the kids’ Christmas gift shopping done, but that was something I was willing to do without. Also, I could still shop for other family, relatives and friends on Black Friday or Christmas Eve. My daughter took advantage of Black Friday deals, and it was fun to take her shopping.

One thing I didn’t foresee was the possibility of the gifts being stolen. Although we have a neighborhood watchgroup, crime was still pretty bad in my area. (Crime is really bad everywhere during the Christmas season.) I also worried about something disastrous happening that would destroy the gifts, like a fire. I just had to push these fears aside and carry out the plan. Fortunately, nothing happened to them and they were safely stored away until Christmastime.

Another thing I did not expect to happen? Running out of room for the gifts! By October, I had quite the pile of wrapped Christmas presents stored away, but because it was all in a pile, some of the other gifts at the bottom were starting to get crushed. 

So I used another storage space for the gifts and that solved that problem.

As the months passed and the gift pile built up, I started to get excited over the prospect of the children enjoying so many Christmas gifts this year. This would be the first Christmas ever that they had so many gifts! I know, it’s only 12 gifts for each child, but that’s still a lot compared to other Christmases. I also felt secure knowing that no matter what financial disaster awaited us in December, our children would still have a nice number of Christmas gifts waiting for them under the tree. (And, fortunately, a financial disaster did not strike during this month. My husband’s truck did break down, but a friend loaned us her vehicle until a he is able to get a new vehicle to drive for work.)

Along the way, I learned a few good tips should I ever decide to do this again:

•    Pay attention to what the kids ask for.

If a child mentions he wishes he had a particular toy or if your daughter stares longingly at something in a store and you are not able to buy it for them just yet, add it to the list as a gift to purchase next month. I often mentally added things to the kids’ list as they came out on the market or the kids mentioned that it was something they wanted to have.

•    Wrap the gifts as soon as possible.

My kids have a knack for finding gifts I try to hide away. Whether it’s Christmas or a birthday gift, they have a radar that leads them right to it. My son discovered the gift pile of Christmas gifts in March. Fortunately, they were all wrapped, so he wasn’t able to see what they were. If there’s no Christmas wrapping paper, use plain-color wrapping paper available from the dollar store. And on that note…

•    Have LOTS of Christmas wrapping paper on hand.

By August, I ran out of Christmas wrapping paper. I had used what rolls of wrapping paper we had left from last year but it had not lasted for all 12 gifts. So just as soon as it was available again, I was sure to buy some extra rolls of Christmas wrapping paper!

•    And have extra boxes on hand, too!

Because we often order online, we had a nice supply of small boxes available to wrap gifts in. For one gift, however, I had a hard time finding a box to wrap it in! I ended up taping two boxes together to “make” a box for it. (I also had to get creative in using a side of a cardboard box to make a box for my sister’s Christmas gift, too.) Many gifts had their own packaging, but for things like stuffed animals or art supplies, it’s a good idea to have a box to put them in!

•    Be flexible with gift expenses.

While it would be nice to be able to buy the kids an expensive gift every month of the year, our budget just doesn’t allow for that kind of thing. For a long time, we were really struggling. But as long as I was able to buy them a gift – even if it was just a $5 gift – then at least I had something. One month, I was able to spend $30 on each gift. Another month, I only had $20 available for their gifts, meaning a $10 gift for each of them. That’s just the way it is. (And here is a perfect example of why yearlong Christmas shopping is a great idea: It helps alleviate the financial burden and stress of shopping for more than one child in just one month.)

•    Be firm about saving the gifts for Christmas.

As mentioned earlier, my son discovered the hidden gift pile before Christmas got here. He got so excited that he wanted to open the gifts right then and there. While I almost gave in to that request because I knew how happy the gifts would make him, I had to check myself and practice some restraint. I had to tell my son that these were Christmas gifts and that if he was patient, he would have 12 Christmas presents waiting for him under the tree on Christmas morning. If he opened them now, he wouldn’t have so many gifts. He was not happy about not getting something clearly with his name on it, but in the end decided that it would be worth the wait. (And it was!)

•    Hold on to receipts

I saved all of the receipts in case something had to be returned. I also occasionally kept tabs on how much was spent on gifts each month. (If I do this again, I will want to keep track of the cost to get a better idea of how much was spent on their Christmas presents. The receipts could be used for this purpose, as well.)

This was also a challenging experiment because, sometimes, I really had to weigh which gift a child wanted the most out of all the others on the list. I wanted to get them the items that were super-important to them, and not just another thing they “wanted” to own. The gifts had to have value, so I had to be selective in ensuring they got something they really, really wanted.

Also, some of the items on their wish list were expensive. For example, my daughter really wanted a book that was a collector’s item. Unfortunately, despite my search across the Internet, I could not find a copy of the book for under $80. That was a little outside of my budget. My husband suggested I just save the money I would have spent on a gift for one month and add it to next month’s so that I could get her the book, but that meant veering off course from buying the kids a Christmas present for every month of the year. And that was my plan! That was the whole reason I started doing this. Just one Christmas gift a month for each child. So I stuck to my plan, even if it meant I could not buy the expensive things. But maybe I’ll take his suggestion into serious consideration for next year, since my son also has some expensive items on his wish list as well.

And, finally, this was not just something I did for the kids. For four months out of the 12, I also bought my husband a Christmas present. He was just as excited to get more than one gift from me as the kids were to get 12 gifts from their parents.

This was a fun challenge and quite an interesting shopping experience. It definitely made some extra money available for one very special gift in December (my son got a new bike and my daughter got a portable DVD player – expensive gifts we might not have been able to get them if we also had to buy a few other Christmas presents for them). The extra money also meant we were able to get gifts for family members too – something else we often struggled with.

The question remains, though: Is this a frugal method of Christmas shopping? It can be. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on Christmas presents. Also, shopping for Christmas all year long also means saving money up for expensive gifts, which would make the gift-giving experience all the more awesome for a child. It could also work as a way to get one special gift for someone in the whole family during the whole year or even making something for each family member in the months leading up to Christmas.

I am still not sure if I’ll be doing this again next year, or even if I’ll do this again in a different way. The kids had a lot of fun counting off each gift they opened and they were, of course, very excited about the prospect of opening 12 gifts on Christmas morning. We will see if I do this again next year or if it will be our thing now. But it was definitely a fun thing to do the first time around and I am glad we did it.  

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