‘Tis the Gift-Giving Season

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‘Tis the gift-giving season!  Holiday shopping can stress out the best of us.    We’re buying for family, friends, co-workers, teachers, and others who touch our lives.  Every year, the list seems to grow longer – as our family expands, so does our gift list.  Gift-giving can get overly complicated, very quickly. 

First, how much are you going to spend?  This past year has been financially tough on a lot of us.  I, for one, found myself unemployed, several of my friends were furloughed. Most everyone has been financially impacted by the pandemic.  We still want to be generous and give meaningful gifts. We just need to be realistic in matching our intentions with our budget.

Keeping your list manageable is a top priority.  How do you prioritize? Do you need a gift for your brother’s girlfriend?  (Is she even still going to be his girlfriend by the time Christmas rolls around??)  Should you draw names? What do you do about the office Secret Santa exchange? What do you for your boss – that you haven’t actually seen in person for the last nine months?  Is going to the mall, or going anywhere to shop, even an option this year?.  Do you ship presents directly to the recipients, or have everything sent to you — so you can wrap and personalize them and mail/ship them yourself?

Speaking of wrapping…  Buying gifts is just the start. They need to be wrapped.  Do you love wrapping or dread it?  Do you use wrapping paper or the ease of gift bags?  Do you channel your inner Martha Stewart and make your own gift wrap, or do you consider yourself successful if you just remember to take off the price tag? There’s no shame in either!   Have you ever been over-organized, wrapping gifts as you purchase them and then forgot what’s inside the box?  Or worse, can’t remember if you have already given someone a gift?  ARGGG.  It’s all happened to me.

Last but obviously, not least, what about gifts for YOU?  Are you happily surprised by the gift-giving prowess of your family and friends?  Or do your loved ones fail miserably every year? Leaving you with a pasted-on smile while feeling let-down, disappointed, resentful, or even angry cause no one gets it right.  How can you improve your odds of getting something that will make you smile?

See, I told you that gift-giving could get really complicated.  You want to do it right; you want to make everyone happy (including you).  What you don’t want is to lose sleep over it!  Here’s a couple of suggestions, tips, and ideas that can help you navigate your way through holiday gifts:

Gift Tracker

Overview:  Organization is the absolute key to stress reduction!  To be organized, you need a written, visual plan or flow chart.  This plan can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, or you can go high-tech with a gift tracker app.  The necessary components are the same.  You list everyone you will be gifting, set a budget, list your ideas or intentions, and identify what’s been accomplished.   Containing this basic info in one place will immediately help clear your thoughts and calm your nerves.  You can customize your plan or chart to help you identify delivery dates, wrapping options, reciprocity – whatever additional info you find helpful.

Option #1: Excel Spreadsheet

Advantages: I have been using a simple Excel spreadsheet for years. I love it!  I use it all year long. Each holiday is color-coded (highlighted) – birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Mothers/Fathers Day.  Each column is labeled with a name, and the brainstorm of gifts is below their name.  I add ideas throughout the year as they occur, so I avoid the “what do I get” last-minute pressure. When I buy the item, I highlight it with the appropriate color. The best part is that it’s all there on one sheet.  Easy Peasy! Historically, I can go back to my saved documents and see what I gave 3 years ago. I can also see what was on the list that I didn’t buy. I also have a column to reference what that person gave me – if I want to gauge my giving accordingly.  

Downside: The spreadsheet is on my laptop, not on my phone.  I can’t take it shopping with me.  However, since I’m doing all my shopping online this year, that’s not as much of a disadvantage. 😊 The other downside, at least for me, is my limited knowledge in creating spreadsheets. It’s not nearly as functional as the apps.

Option #2: Gift Tracker Apps

Advantages:  As the saying goes, “there’s an app for that.”  In this case – yes, there are apps to organize your gift purchasing.  These apps range from Free to $2.99.  They are a lot of fun and can absolutely keep you organized (provided that you use it).  The features will vary. For the “good” stuff, you will need the paid versions.  There is so much these apps can do.  There is a built-in calculator which helps you in tracking your spending and staying on budget.  They provide links so that you can even do your shopping from it.  You can complete profiles for each of your recipients, and it tracks the important dates.  It’s a phone app, so you can take it with you. Most of the apps will sync between devices.

Downside:  For me, I have too many apps, and once the shine has rubbed off, I don’t use them.  These apps have too many functions for my simple needs!  I don’t have time to fill out profiles.  Nor do I need shopping recommendations.  I’ll stick with my Excel spreadsheet.

Spending Budget

Overview:  Money can be a very delicate topic, especially around holiday spending. Too bad!  It’s time we remove the emotion from our finances and honestly discuss what a reasonable expenditure is.  Only you can decide what you can afford and if you’re willing to make sacrifices.  In a perfect world, you have already budged for the holidays.  You know what the lump sum total that you can spend is.  If your world isn’t perfect (join the club), it’s time to roll up your sleeves and doing some simple math.  I’ll restate this again: Organization is the absolute key to stress reduction!  Overspending will quickly compound your stress and drag you down in the upcoming months.  There are a couple of ways to stretch your dollars and reshuffle your expenditures. Still, you need to clearly know your cash flow and understand the repercussions of spending beyond your means.  Knowledge is power!  When you see what you have to spend, you can get creative on how you spend it.  When it comes to handling your spending budget, the person you most want to impress (in the Impress Not Stress scenario) is YOU!  Here are a couple of suggestions and tips in working out your gift budget:

Suggestion #1: Prioritize

It’s not fun or easy assigning a maximum dollar amount to members of your family, your friends, and your social/business network. You need to do it anyway!  This starts with identifying the lump total you have to spend and start subtracting with every person.  This will be an eye-opening exercise.  Again, it’s not easy but too bad — do it.  You may be pleasantly surprised, and trust me, it’s easier to add more than lower the assigned amount.  However, most of us will be faced with the realization that we need to cut down.  This leaves you with three options.  Either cut down on individual amounts, cut out some of your recipients, or both. It’s not fun, but this is your reality. On the bright side, once you know the situation, you can realign your expectations and challenge yourself to make the most out of less.

Suggestion #2: Re-allocate Personal Spending for a Month

The amount you have in the bank account may not be the last word on what you have to spend on gifts.  Cutting out or cutting down on some discretionary, non-necessity expenses for a month and shifting those dollars to your gift allowance is an option.  There is an important caveat, you must have the discipline or will-power to do without for a short time – no more than a month.  It also means you are giving up actual money (not imaginary money) you already have budgeted and planned on spending.   Giving up a nail or spa appointment would be worth it to buy an extra gift for some of us.  For others, it might be eliminating a couple of car washes.  You may elect to cut back on lunches out or date nights. 

Suggestion #3: Reducing the Number of Recipients

If you aren’t already drawing names for gift exchanges, this is a great year to start!  This is especially important for extended family, work, and social groups.  Set a reasonable dollar limit.  Ask everyone to prepare a couple of ideas for themselves at that limit and distribute them with the name. (It’s not a requirement to buy from the suggestions, but it will be very appreciated by those less creative folks who get stuck with your name!).  You may also want to consider a mutual agreement among your extended family to skip the gift exchange this year.  Most likely, you won’t be seeing most of these people due to pandemic restrictions. The hidden expenses of online shopping (shipping and gift wrapping) can almost double the amount you were planning on for a gift.  Chances are that your extended family members are in the same boat and will be very grateful that you made the suggestion.

Suggestion #4: Service Gift Certificates

Remember as a kid, when you gave your mom certificates for babysitting, cleaning the kitchen, or washing the car?  It may be time to revisit this on a grown-up level. It sounds silly on the surface, but think about it!  Wouldn’t you love it if one of your friends or extended family members would look after your kids for a Saturday evening or even a whole weekend?  Cleaned your house?  Washed your car?  Doesn’t sound so silly now, does it?  These gifts have value – both monetary and in thoughtfulness.  No one really needs another generic scented candle or mitten/scarf set! 

Suggestion #5: Five Dollar Secret Santa Exchanges

Office gift exchanges and those of any club or social group can take a bite out of your gift budget.  As opting out isn’t politically correct, suggest an option that will challenge everyone’s creativity…a $5 limit!  Seriously, it’s so much fun coming up with all the cool things you give for $5.

Suggestion #6: Beware of Hidden Costs in Online Shopping

Shopping online has been a life-savor this year. However, the add-on costs of shipping and gift wrapping can practically double the price of your gift.  When you have set a $25 maximum for a gift, as far as your budget is concerned, that’s the “all in” amount (including the gift, tax, shipping, gift-wrapping.) This may mean that you really only have $15 – $20 for the actual present.  Plan accordingly!  There are several free shipping sites, but many of them (such as Target and Walmart) require a minimum expenditure to qualify for free shipping.  It is sometimes possible to get shipping fees waived by making a call and requesting it. (It doesn’t hurt to try!) Gift wrapping is rarely free, and it adds up quick.  To avoid gift wrapping costs, I once had all the gifts shipped to me to hand wrap everything and then mail/ship it myself.  I will NEVER do that again!!!  The price of mailing or shipping packages is astronomical.  However, I did learn that flat rate shipping from the US Post Office is a bargain if you are shipping several gifts to the same address. It is also the least expensive way to send packages to Alaska, Hawaii, or international destinations.  Bottom line, these expenses are our new reality in gift-giving. We need to include these costs when determining what we will be spending per person.

Getting the Gifts you Want! 

Overview:  No one wants to give a gift (spend the money or invest the effort) that doesn’t make the recipient happy.  It’s a lose/lose.  Knowing this, don’t put loved ones in that position when it comes to buying for you!  Sure, you may be (or if you’re like me – you’re not) skilled at hiding your disappointment when your loved ones totally miss the mark. (It’s like they know nothing about you!)   Or you hide (or try to hide) the resentment of having spent so much time and effort in choosing the perfect gifts for others when they don’t reciprocate with the same courtesy. I mean, you don’t ask for much, right?  Is it that hard to simply put in some thought and effort?  ENOUGH!  Life is too short – take control and stop setting others up to fail.  There’s a couple of ways to nicely guide others to select gifts that you want/like, and they will feel good giving.  Win/Win.  Here are a few suggestions based on the degree of ineptness and level of motivation that allows everyone to be happy:

Well-intentioned but Misguided

This is someone who has the right idea but just falls short.  They know you love clothes (jewelry, perfume, art) but have terrible taste.  They embrace creativity in gift-giving but just aren’t good at it.  Great ideas, terrible execution!    This is the most challenging group to guide because they don’t know they need help.  A great deal of sensitivity must be taken to avoid hurt feelings.  It will require patience, but it’s worth it.  The key is reining in their creativity.  This can be accomplished by the timeless art of HINTING.  Don’t be too subtle or clever – or your hint will never make an impact.  You also don’t want to be too blatant. This is not the time to be forwarding shopping links (you will offend these good souls.) You need to employ good, old-fashioned hinting — making your desires known through conversation with guided discussions, comments, compliments, and voiced observations.  Mention any Wish Lists you have on your favorite retail sites.  (If you haven’t been utilizing this feature on your sites, start now!  This is a great way to help someone in choosing the perfect gift for you).  Another option is to engage a family member or friend’s help to “secretly” clue in your person on your wishes.   The gift-giver is pleased because the gift is still their idea, and you are getting something that you will enjoy.  Everyone is happy!

Clueless but Motivated

This person wants to please you. Unfortunately, they don’t have a clue as to what you like or what you want.  They are more than willing to do what needs to be done – provided you tell them. Personally, this is my favorite type because this person takes instruction well.  Point them in the right direction, and they will take it from there.  My adult kids fall into this category.  Every holiday, I put a “suggestion list” together (with the shopping link, or at least a store name). The list includes various items at a varied price range – so I’m not making assumptions on their budget.  I make it clear that I don’t want or expect everything on the list. This way, they remain in control. They pick out what they want to give me from several options, and I’m pleasantly surprised.  Everyone is happy!

Oblivious and Uninspired

Some people are born without the gift-giving gene.  They don’t like gift-giving. They don’t get it and really don’t want to have anything to do with it.  Don’t judge them!  It doesn’t make them a bad person – any more than people who don’t like football.  Rather, accept it and embrace it as an opportunity to get exactly what you want! It’s almost like you picked it out yourself – because, well, you did.  Provide this person with a link to the exact item you want  (the link should include the size, color, and any other available option).  The only thing the giver has to do is click the link and enter payment info.  If you’re old school and have mail-order catalogs, have everything clearly marked, so no guesswork (effort) is required.  Don’t complicate things by offering options.  They don’t want to mess with options.  Make it a no brainer. Make it effortless. They will be delighted that they are getting you something that you like, and you will be delighted that you are getting something that you want.  Everyone is happy!

That “wraps” up gift-giving.  Some simple organization goes a long way in reducing stress during the holidays.  Know your budget, utilize a tracking system, and get creative in ways to stretch your spending.  While it’s better to give than receive, you deserve to be happy too – if your peeps don’t embrace shopping for you, help them!  Let’s all be happy!


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