Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Holiday Shopping

I just thought I'd slip my $.02 into the large pot of holiday finance tips. A few notes on how I do my holiday shopping. I love giving gifts, and these are some of the principles that guide me.

1) I sometimes buy things without a recipient in mind.
If I come upon a really sweet deal, I'll take it. There will always be someone whom I've forgotten or whose gift could use augmentation. This morning I bought a set of iPod speakers for $7 including shipping. I'll give it to one of my friends or I'll bring it to my office and listen to music when I stay late. One caveat on this tip: it works best if done in advance. That allows you to consider who your recipient will be and/or how the gift will fit into a gift theme, if it won't be your only gift to that person (I'm big on little gift packages).

2) I rely on gift cards.
I get a few gift cards a year from family friends who don't know me that well. Unless they're at stores where I regularly shop, I try to apply them to things I need anyway or save them to buy gifts. My Urban Outfitters gift card from last Christmas will buy my boyfriend an awesome blazer for this Christmas. A Virgin gift card will also come in handy, though I'm not yet sure just how.

3) I plan ahead.
Seems to contradict #1, but doesn't. I don't just mean "have a price ceiling for each gift recipient," because that's obvious. But the earlier you start shopping, the less the possibility of overpaying on and/or missing the mark with a last-minute gift. I start thinking about where I should be looking for different people's gifts early, which allows me to set up online alerts for good deals I can incorporate as I go.

4) I use eBay.
I remember looking around the library one early December afternoon last year and noticing that approximately a third of the kids "studying" were actually buying gifts on eBay. You have three options here: find it cheap, find it handmade, or find it ironic. If you know what you want to get someone, there's a chance you'll find it cheaper on eBay than retail. Alternately, if you're not quite sure what you want but you know that you want something unique, eBay offers the chance to browse people's craft items. I bought my sister a crocheted cloche last year that she wears regularly. On the third hand, if you think it would be really funny to present your college roommate with a set of commemorative stadium ashtrays, eBay is also the place to go.

5) I scour craft fairs and secondhand shops.
Local craft fairs and internet craft clearinghouses (like Etsy) are a great place to find good gifts. Though you'll find a lot of expensive stuff, there's also a great opportunity to pick up unique gifts for very little money. Some of the things I've found good bets: handmade jewelry (a mixed bag, because it can also be exorbitant, but check out this awesome ring for $10), handmade notebooks or stationary, and handmade bags (like these two). This offers the assurance that no one will give a gift like yours, reminds your recipient that you think she's unique, and offers the satisfaction of supporting independent artists. Junk shops are also great for jewelry and knickknacks--one of my most successful presents to date was a doublefaced genuine brass Victorian hand mirror that I picked up in a junk shop in Portland* for about $15. Be careful with vintage clothing because of size and shape differences--I only risk it as a gift if I know the recipient's figure quite well, like, practically to the measurements.

6) I make baskets.
The whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. Putting together a bath basket for someone who needs personal relaxation time, for example, is often a big hit: include bath bubbles or oil, a candle, a homemade mix CD, a shortish book (poetry works well if your recipient likes it, and either new or used books are fine, but inscribe it if it's new), and some plate-free finger-food sweet thing (homemade a plus), and you've effectively given someone a very lovely afternoon or two. Similarly, variations on the "hostess jar" theme work well, too: a Mason jar with homemade mocha mix accompanied by a mug, for example, is a thoughtful present to an acquaintance, and doesn't cost you more than $10.

7) I bundle.
Again, "the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts." When I'm giving one person several small things, I like the things to have a theme. Not only does this demonstrate your thoughtfulness, it makes the gift seem more like a larger, unified present than a handful of little things.

In general, the best gift is something the recipient loves but wouldn't have bought himself or herself. That's always my gift goal as I embark on my holiday shopping.

*Portland has absolutely the most amazing junk stores in the world. Portlanders: hit up lower Hawthorne and Store II. (Also, obviously, the Alberta arts district)

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