With Christmas literally right around the corner, I can't even handle how my master plan for the holidays came to a crash. I tried so hard to be a huge Grinch this year but was thwarted at every turn.
I sat everyone in my family down and told them that because of my lack of funds (and patience) I wouldn't be buying gifts this year. My exact words were "Don't buy me anything because I won't be buying you anything." They were all incredulous and skeptical but I thought we had come to an understanding.
So, with Christmas chomping down on my heels, I've been doing quick trips to random stores in an effort to pick up those oh-so-perfect gifts for my family members who apparently don't follow instructions too well.
Luckily for me, I was presented with the opportunity to check out the early stages of the newly redesigned Square One mall. Equipped with brighter corridors, better stores and shops and more places to stop for food, it's just a nicer environment to shop in. Especially when your go-to mall is usually Vaughan Mills (I live near there so I'm allowed to nag).
Now that I've done some legwork, I'm comfortable in providing you with some tips for holiday shopping when you've left it down to the wire.
Do: Make a list of what you're looking for.
Not one salesperson I encountered was amused when I kept saying "This is perfect! But I'm going to keep looking just in case I find something MORE perfect!" If you write down an idea or some semblance of what you'd like to get each friend and family member, you won't be torturing yourself with what else you could have found.
Don't: Start shopping for yourself.
...Like I did. Because I'm soulless. I know it might be hard because everything in stores is awesome right now (thanks a lot, retailers) but you have to fight the temper-tantrum-having four-year-old inside you who wants those oxblood pants because she's been an angel this past week and even gave a can to that drive-thing and she totally deserves them! Jeez she's so bitchy around the holidays. Maybe get her some sugar cookies while you're at it.
Do: Try a new mall.
Prior to this shopping trip, I'd actually never been to Square One. Preconceived notions aside, Square One was completely different than what I had envisioned and thanks to its remodelling it had all the stores I needed to hit. Part of the issue with holiday shopping is that you can feel like you've exhausted your options for the perfect gift. Open up your range of shops and get a fresh perspective on the best places to melt your credit card at.
Don't: Kid yourself about your size.
A karmic backlash that stemmed from 'holiday shopping' turned into 'me shopping' found me stuck in a smaller-than-small dress that I was so sure I could squeeze into. I knew the second I wriggled it over my head that it was a doomed experiment but I continued. Long story short, it took almost six minutes of pulling, stretching, and pure contortion to get it the hell off. I was sweaty, red faced and all "is this what claustrophobia feels like?" Just grab the size up.
Do: Set a limit on spending.
Or at least try. Keep track of your bills and how much you've spent and how close you're getting to your limit. But if you see something that NEEDS to be purchased and will kick you over that budget just a teensy bit, don't worry. We've all been there.
Don't: Get so distracted by the cashier's cool hair that you leave a purchase behind.
I mean....hypothetically, or whatever. But in my defence, the woman in Zara had the EXACT shade of white-blond that I had tried to achieve five years ago! Like exactly! Until all my hair fell out and I was forced into a pixie cut. Don't cry for me shopaholics, after a quick-tearful call, my bag was found and is currently being kept safe until I get my butt over there.
Do: Buy things in bulk.
Especially from the multitude of smaller, privately owned booths that litter the walkways of malls like Square One. Not only are you guaranteed to be given a much more attentive shopping experience but there's a better chance they will throw in initiatives for you to purchase. In the form of sweet little freebies. Just try not to leave them on a store counter. Sigh.
Don't: Drink too much coffee.
After three cups I was literally buzzing through the mall. Sounds were louder, colours were brighter and for some reason I was practically sprinting through stores. Keep hydrated with water, bring a cold bottle with you. It may be chilly outside but with huge amounts of people in each other's personal space inside, it's going to get really hot, really fast.
Do: Figure out what stores you want to hit.
If you know you're going to a specific mall, look up what stores they have and where exactly they're located. Having a decisive plan of action is never a bad thing. You don't want to be one of those zombie shoppers who are so in over their head that they wander aimlessly trying to remember if they saw an H&M somewhere. I myself totally forgot that Square One opened an Express and so I missed it completely. Damnit me!
Don't: Give salespeople attitude.
Snipping a sarcastic "I get how a line works, thanks*" to a salesgirl probably isn't the best way to ensure great customer service. I know we all love to put the blame on high school age girls who come complete with bored-to-death eyeballs but I can admit that I contribute to a shoddy experience once in a while. Just remember that they likely want to be where they are even less than you do. So empathize.
*Okay yes, that snark was WAY rude but I apologized right after.*
**Okay I didn't apologize but trust me she was snarky first! I actually DO know how a lineup works!
Sending gifts far and wide is pricey -- but it doesn't have to be, especially now that December 17th is National Free Shipping Day. On that day, 1,127 stores (including Best Buy, Express, Talbots, Kohl's, Home Depot, REI, Levi's, Barnes and Noble and JCPenney) will give all customers free shipping on their online purchases, with delivery by December 24th. If that sounds enticing but you don't see your store on the list, Jeanette Pavini, a consumer reporter and a household savings expert for Coupons.com, suggests you search online for free shipping promotions for any site you're ordering from, because you'll likely find a code. In fact, National Free Shipping Day can help you out with this, too -- scroll to the bottom of their homepage for links to free shipping coupons for everything from Forever21 to Barneys.
You don't have to be a seasoned holiday traveler to know that the risk of flight delays in the winter is high. Getting stuck listening to piped-in Christmas music is frustrating on any number of levels -- and that frustration is particularly dangerous to your wallet. Why? Well, first you think it's just going to be an hour until you board, so you buy some candy as a treat. Then they add another two hours, and you decide that the magazines you bought before the flight aren't going to keep you entertained through the wait, so you pick up a couple more. Between hours two and three, you get a burger and fries at the nearest restaurant. On the way back, you grab a bag of caramel corn and a banana for later, just in case -- oh, and a visit to Starbucks couldn't hurt, right? When you finally get on the plane, laden with half-eaten snacks, you settle into your seat, think about the evening, and ask yourself: "I spent WHAT?!" All those stores lining the terminal corridor are there to tempt you into parting with your cash, so before you hand over your credit card, make a plan to keep starvation and boredom at bay. Say the delay is three hours: You'll have some dinner and grab an apple for later, and then you'll go to the gate and read what you have before you buy anything more.
You can't bring four dozen almond snowballs to the cookie swap in plastic bags, or you'll end up with a couple pounds of crumbs that look like dirty snow. The cost of ingredients, tins and Tupperware quickly adds up. Finally, a sale that hits right when we need one: Jeanette Pavini says that baking supplies and containers go on sale from November through the end of the year. While this may seem to break the laws of supply and demand, Pavini says that there's so much baking done during the holidays and so many brands vying for a bigger piece of the pumpkin pie that competition for your dollars becomes fierce. Check store circulars, newspapers and online sources for sweet deals on cake mix, frosting, chocolate chips, decorating gel, sprinkles and plastic containers to put the goodies in.
You wisely thought ahead and bought your dress during last year's postseason sales. But you forgot about the things that go underneath, like stockings and support garments that could cost an extra $100. Manufacturers know that demand is high for these items during party season so, unfortunately, you probably won't see many deals. Pavini suggests asking retailers if they have any discounted styles left over from last year or brands in outdated packaging. Make a note to stock up on winter stockings when you're out returning gifts in January because that's when they tend to go on sale. For shapewear, check to see if the store carries Assets, the lower-priced brand by Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx (a pair of Assets midthigh shapers will cost $26 to $28 versus $48 for a similar pair of Spanx at Nordstrom). In a pinch, pull on dark-colored bike shorts under your LBD or snip the legs off a pair of control-top stockings.
If you're invited to one party a week this season, you'll need at least four bottles of wine to bring for your hosts, and that's not including the extras you'll want for yourself (to serve at your own get-together and to sip while buying gifts online). Last year, Americans spent over a billion dollars more on wine in December than they did in November, according to retail trade reports from the government. Jeanette Pavini suggests picking up a case or two (you'll save 10 to 20 percent more than if you buy individual bottles) to last you -- and your guests -- through January. Those oenophiles looking for year-round sales might consider signing up for one of the new wine flash-sale sites, like Gilt Taste, Lot 18 or Invino, which recently offered a Bongiovanni Barolo Pernanno for $60 -- 40 percent off the regular price.
For gifts that you've bought in an actual brick-and-mortar store, it might seem like there's no way to avoid paying through the nose to get them to the people you love. Not so! Let's say you're sending video games, books and more from Pittsburgh to your nephews in San Jose. The price to send a 30-pound package via parcel post will cost $34.25 and will take seven business days to arrive. If you buy a Priority Mail Flat Rate box from the USPS for $14.95, you won't have to spend another dime, and your nephews will be competing for top scores within three days. The postal worker will even pick it up from your house (and you'll save an extra 75 cents if you buy the box online). The post office has been trying to spread the word about these Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes for the past few years, and when sending gifts of ample weight (i.e., not origami kits) and packages long-distance, they can save you time and money. You can use the Postal Price Calculator on the USPS website to find out what shipping option best fits your needs.
E-greetings are terrific: easy, inexpensive and just right for procrastinators who can't quite make it to the post office. But they lack a certain something that paper greeting cards provide (besides, there will be people who are eagerly awaiting for your card to complete their holiday decorations). If you are adept with scissors and a stencil, you may choose to make your own cards, but the rest of us might consider sending postcards this year. Stamps for 100 postcards will cost just $29, compared to the $44 you'd need to mail standard-size cards in envelopes. You won't feel like you're skimping aesthetically if you choose something like this sweet vintage-style illustration, this modern evergreen greeting, or this Tiny Prints photo card that has fun with the travel theme.
You love the idea of showing up like Santa at your friends' homes with small gifts for their children, but the added expense of the toys awakens your inner Scrooge. Here's one way to save big on little gifts: During the year, whenever you stop at a rest stop or a mall with a toy vending machine, pop in a few quarters and save the prize. Disperse these baubles (they're prewrapped!) to your friends' children as you make the holiday social rounds. If you have more than a few coins to spare, look for games built to quietly amuse.
Many of us feel so overwhelmed by holiday tipping etiquette that we start indiscriminately handing money to anyone and everyone who helps us look and feel better in December. This isn't necessary, says Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition. "Think about holiday tips as thank-yous to the people that help us out all year long," she says. This means that you don't need to give an extra holiday tip (on top of your standard tip) to the woman you've never met before who painted sparkles on your nails. "If you're on a strict budget, ask yourself, 'Who could I really not live without?'" advises Post. That might include your babysitter, your regular stylist who cuts your hair every six to eight weeks, the teen who mows your lawn and shovels your walk. For suggested amounts on what to give them, check out the comprehensive "Holiday Thanking Recommendations" at EmilyPost.com. If you're on a really strict budget, Post advises acknowledging this in a handwritten note that expresses your appreciation and your wish that you could do a little more for them this year. This is especially important if you've given a holiday gratuity in the past. "The last thing you want is to make someone feel like you either didn't notice or didn't appreciate their great service," she says.
It can be next to impossible to find a free sitter on a Saturday night in December -- some have been booked since August, says Mary Schwartz, director of public relations for Sittercity.com. As all parents forced to sit home last December 31 know, New Year's Eve is hands down the most difficult time of year to find someone to watch your children, and even if you do score help, you should expect to pay a 50 to 100 percent increase over your normal rate (Sittercity.com's babysitting rate calculator can help you figure out the average hourly rates in your area). One way to bring this cost down would be to organize a babysitter share, which involves hiring one sitter for multiple families. Parents who share a sitter usually pay about 20 to 35 percent less than individuals, says Schwartz. "So if you and the other families typically pay $12 an hour, you could reduce this down to $8.40 each, and the sitter will still make $16.80," says Schwartz. She adds that these types of arrangements work best under the following conditions: when there's one sitter for no more than two infants or four children, the kids are around the same ages, the parents agree to return home around the same time, and the families share the same basic disciplinary beliefs (i.e., in regards to time-outs, spanking, etc.).
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