Opinion Saturday — Thinking ahead

I almost hate to mention this because I KNOW that Christmas is still two months away. But I have so many people to shop for that I got a teensy (weensy) jump on my Christmas shopping this week. I’d love to get some more of it done soon. This got me wondering — how do you all handle your Christmas shopping? Do you work on it all year? Do you wait til December 20th? What works best for you and why? And for all you crafty types, I’d also love your ideas for fun and affordable hand-crafted gifts. Stuff that kids can assist with would be even better. You have all week to share your ideas. I’ll hand out the Golden Keyboard Award next Saturday.

Speaking of awards, last Saturday I asked for your help regarding my haircut dilemma. Reading your comments, I found myself nodding and agreeing first with the ‘cut’ and then the ‘don’t cut’ crowd. Then I read this comment from Carrien. I’ve given this girl awards before, and I promise I’ll pick someone else another day. But her idea was the perfect answer to my problem. Thanks, Carrien!

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  1. I usually start the shopping during the mid-year sales. I’ve got some great things for the kids this way, all 50-70% off. And it sure helps that July is tax time down here in Australia (I guess that’s what the toy retailers are banking on, LOL). Having said that, I usually leave the stockings/smaller gifts until December because I’m an absolute Christmas NUT and love the atmosphere in the stores.

    As for the craft stuff. I love to craft, but I’m not one (in either time or inclination!) to create something elaborate like a handmade quilt. I just don’t have the time. So I’m always on the lookout for simple, easy patterns and instructions online. If you pop into my blog and look in the left sidebar, there’s a good list of crafty gift stuff that fits this bill – lots of fleece, LOL, very easy to work with. My kids like to help with the baking side of things and the teachers always get something handmade along these lines – I think they enjoy the idea that my kids (their students) have helped.


    Hope that helps a little!


  2. I try and have all of my Christmas shopping done by mid-November so that I can just relax and enjoy Christmas – and I try and do it all online, too.

  3. I start my shopping after Thanksgiving. We don’t have a huge family to shop for(we have 3 kids) so it isn’t hard for me to be done before Christmas. Sometimes I shop for little stocking stuffers right before but I try to get that done too.

  4. This year we are going to be in Ukraine adopting our three new children! The stay averages about 5 weeks or so and our biological children will stay in America with my parents.

    So, needless to say, I am shopping early! We leave December 7th. I actually like having to organize! Not only do I have to have my shopping done but I also have to have them wrapped and the advent calender stuffed and the stockings planned! (Though I may leave my mom some money and let her fill the stockings)

    Normally, I may buy a thing or two before December but not the bulk. the reason is, for the kids, their wish lists change and I want to buy for the latest “fad”. For example, If they have been playing legos like crazy, I buy legos; if they have been playing My Little Pony, then I’ll look for ponies!
    For my husband, I wait because he may just go and buy himself what he wants while I have it sitting in a closet waiting for Christmas!

    My Husband did all his shopping online last year and did so well, all I asked for for my January birthday was a plastic butter dish with a lid! 🙂 He loved not having to brave holiday shopping and He started early enough to shop on eBay where he could wait for the right price! This is the guy who is the one of many normally seen on Christmas Eve in the Walmart! We didn’t even darken the doors of a store on Christmas Eve last year and that was a MAJOR achievement! (If we don’t shop on Christmas Eve I count that as being ready early! Haha!)

  5. I will say that I’m about 75% done already. Here’s how it works. I set a budget in September. This year I decided on $300 total for 15 people. As of now, I’ve spent $207.64 on a retail value of goods that equals $931.

    Here are my favorite tips:

    1. Ask suuuuuper early so you have an idea of who wants what. My parents and siblings think I’m nuts for asking in September, but I’d love to know in July so I can get the best price.

    2. Make a list of possibilities and alternates so that you get the number of goods/dollar amount you’d like to spend per person. I keep a notebook with the person’s name, what I spend (including tax and shipping), and the retail value of the goods. I don’t try to spend the same amount on each person, but I also don’t want it to be highly disproportionate.

    3. Save things like survey points and checks all year to cash out. This year I got a DVD, 2 $45 cameras, and a couple of photo collages for free from those surveys/pampers points/our meager coke rewards. Free gifts, great! You can cash out the checks and have a mini Christmas club (I make a couple hundred per year in these checks, so it’s nice not to have to budget so much for stuff like this).

    4. Shop through mypoints or ebates. I prefer mypoints because I feel like I get more, and I earned points enough points shopping for the gifts to earn a $25 gas card to give to my brother in college. Woohoo, another free gift!

    5. I get gift cards through the year that I might not use, but others might. The best was a $50 one for opening a checking account. I went to Target and bought 3- $20 gift cards for my other siblings to go with their other gifts, thereby only costing me $10.

    6. Shop sites like deepdiscount.com and graveyardmall.com. Good products, great prices.

    7. Consider joining a book, CD or movie club. You can get the introductory offer (and earn lots of mypoints!), and fulfill your obligation all in one order, and end up saving at least half off of retail prices. It’s a win-win!

    I wish I were crafty, but I do bake. Oh, I make my own vanilla extract that makes good gifts. $12 for a liter of vodka and $5 for a dozen beans on ebay. Slice the beans, scrape then into the bottle, and put the pods into the bottle. Keep in a dark place for 45-60 days, shaking every couple. Strain. Then pour into 2 oz bottles with a ribbon. Present with your holiday baking. 🙂

  6. sahmof3qts says:

    I usually start making my budget and thinking about it in Sept or October. I had all my shopping done before Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, but it was no fun to go into the stores during Christmas time so I wont do that again. I like to do a little before Thanksgiving and a little after Thanksgiving.

    I love to make crafty type things. This year I ordered some vinyl lettering (www.ldsvinyl.com is a great resource) and pu them on a tile from the hardward store. Very easy and fast. I also printed a quote on a transparency and put it over a picture of Christ and put it in a frame. And of course, I make scrapbooks. The mini-albums that are available are fun and easy.

    Tracy M. posted instructions for an easy tote bag on her blog, and you should look at it. She insists that it is easy. http://www.dandelionmama.wordpress.com Good luck!

  7. I start as soon as I know where we’ll be and with whom for Christmas.

    This year, we’ll be with my in-laws. I’m making cloth shopping bags for my mom-in-law ($2/yd at wal-mart), crocheting purses for the two girls (with leftover yarn), buying paperbacks and getting them spiral-bound for the bro-in-law with physical handicaps, and we’re framing a rubbing from the Vietnam Moving Memorial Wall (it was here in August) for the pop-in-law. It’s of the name of a man he went to school and served with in the war.

    Needless to say, it took us months to think some of these up–I agonize starting in July, and ask everyone I know for advice. And I still don’t know what I’ll do for the husband. My son is only 1, so he’ll get one cool toy and some nice (second-hand) hardbound books to start a library for when he’s older.

    As for crafts, you can get looms at any craft store to make hats and scarfs really easily (foolproof, mostly). Fleece blankets are easy, too–get a 40% off coupon for Joann’s and cut one length of fleece, cut into the edge to fringe it, and then tie each little piece into a knot. When I was little, I had a friend who made beaded Christmas ornaments (stars of david) using pearl-like beads and wire for all her friends. And kids can always make baked gifts.

  8. I too thought Carrien’s answer was wise.

    Throughout the year I keep my eye open at yard sales (or great deals at discount stores) for items that are perennial favorite of my children or suit their personality. We keep a “Christmas Box” hidden away and add the finds to the box. About this time of year I look through the Christmas Box and round out their gifts by adding “fad favorites” when I find them on sale. We keep gifts very simple and minimal for Christmas so we can focus outward and make the season more joyful for others. In the past we have done this by supporting local humanitarian efforts. This year we plan to shop with our children from the World Vision Catalog. http://donate.wvus.org/OA_HTML/xxwvibeCCtpSctDspRte.jsp?section=10024

  9. Being from Australia, I too took advantage of the mid-year sales. We’re also expecting our second child at the beginning of December, and I was dreading the idea of shopping with a newborn and toddler with the crowds, the loooong breastfeeding sessions (kiddo 1 rountinely took 1 1/2 hours to feed) so when I saw the flyers from the stores in July I jumped on them. I still need to get stocking stuffers, new pjs & a Christmas ornament for everybody & do some shopping ‘from’ the kids for dad, so hopefully I can figure out what to get pretty soon!!

    I haven’t done any crafty stuff this year at all, haven’t been motivated.

  10. Hand stamped cards are always a hit. Also something the kids can help with. Add some envelopes (stamped to match?), tie together w/ some pretty ribbon or place in a nice box & voila, a useful, beautiful gift.

    Angela 🙂

  11. We have a large extended family that I like to have something for at Christmas but we can’t spend a lot so…..
    I make calendars every year that have everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries on them. You can do this really inexpensively and the kids could help decorate them to make them even more special.
    We get a lot of compliments on these every year and receive comments year round about how helpful they are to the families.

    I wish I were done with my Christmas shopping…. I have ONE thing bought so far.

  12. I start my shopping or crafting right after Christmas and continue all year round. Not only do I not end up having to rush at the end, I spread out the expense. Better yet, I really enjoy doing it that way. My goal is to be almost finished by the end of September.

    I make a list at the beginning of the year, with all the names on it. Sometimes I have ideas and sometimes I don’t, at first. As I get or make things for each person, I fill in the details.

    Our family gives music, books and educational (long lasting) games and toys. We never give the fad gifts of the season, so there’s no need to wait til the end to shop.

    My grandkids have other grandparents who never give music or books, so we balance each other out. I find good books for pennies on the dollar in the Hamilton Books catalogues. I find good buys on music CDs and musical DVDs in various catalouges (as well as from Hamilton Booksellers)

    This year I bought many, many things from a local toy store that was going out of business in August. I’ve got gifts for birthdays and Christmases to come. My gift ‘box’ is now a gift ‘closet’.

    I also ordered gifts from catalogues when they were on sale or when I saw something particularly appropriate for someone.

    I use my credit cards all year and then cash in the rewards at the end to pay for my mother’s and my mother in law’s gift certificates to their favorite restaurants. They, then, can take friends to lunch and enjoy that treat, and not get a gift that doesn’t fit or that clutters up the house. At 81 and 91, they don’t need or want any more clutter!

    My crafting consists mostly of knitting. This year I knitted 4 Christmas sweaters (finished all 4 by March) and the children will get those just before Thanksgiving. I bought the wool yarn on sale when JoAnn.com was having a good special plus free shipping.

    I will have wool socks for everyone, but then, that’s easy for me, since I make them on my circular sock machines.

    I like Jenny’s idea of giving calendars. In fact, I did that for my mother for her birthday, next week (she’ll be 91). I bought a flylady calendar (large squares, large calendar) and filled in all the birthdays and anniversaries in the family with the appropriate phone number for each. Each special day is decorated with stickers to make it stand out. I doubt that she’ll miss a birthday or anniversary next year!

    It’s a great Christmas idea, too. I hadn’t thought of that.
    In fact, I’ve received 3 or 4 pretty 2008 calendars in the mail, already, and those could be filled in and given. Calendars on a ‘budget’..and nice gifts.

    I have always enjoyed doing my Christmas prep all year round. I also enjoy December without the rush and extra expense. ‘Works for me!

  13. Martina Fahrner says:

    Sorry Mary, but I have to knock out Halloween and Thanksgiving first before I can focus on Christmas…
    Why the haste?

  14. I have a lot to shop for too. I make a list and write down what I want to buy. It really doesn’t take too long to get the shopping done when I know what I want to buy, it does take a little research to find where to buy sometimes. I start after Thanksgiving when all the good sales start and I am done two weeks before Christmas. I don’t really shop online. Oh, I do start saving money in my Christmas fund starting January.

    About the haircut, I am letting my hair grow out (again) but I do hit the salon every 3-4 months to have it trimmed up but keep most of the lenght. That way it still feels fresh and looks healthy while growing out.

  15. As I have fickle teenagers (change their minds like the wind) and a son who is extremely hard to buy for I tend to squirrel money away and make my ‘big’ purchases closer to Christmas.

    But I also buy throughout the year. My girls get ‘teen care packs’ full of bits and pieces that I know they will want and use. Stuff like hair tyes, makeup, electric toothbrushes, face wash, scented body wash, floss (yeah they love it!), deodorant, favourite chocolates, cookies, notebooks, funky pens and the like. I buy something with every shop so I don’t notice the cost so much.

    I individually wrap everything and then put it in a huge box.

    I also do a summer fun pack (it is summer at Christmas here with 5 weeks holiday) with ‘vouchers’ for a trip to the beach, movie tickets, lunch with Mum, shopping with X amount of dollars.

    These are all expenses I would have already had, but the kids don’t look at it that way. At 16 (on Friday!) and 14 the girls really enjoy these.

    For my Boo, my 9 year old (on Saturday!!! I know, day after his sister…) it is always something weird that he wants. One year it was a water cooler. So that needs to wait till closer to Christmas.

    Right now I am trying to talk him out of asking Santa for a icecream freezer. You know the ones in the store?! Or a taxi….. Sigh…..

    For teachers and my parents I make gift baskets. Last years theme was movies. So popcorn, homemade truffles, homemade cookies, video store vouchers, soft drink (pop?) and candy.

  16. Two gifts I’ve given that have gone down well:

    Buy some really nice but cheap blank journals. Type up a ton of journal prompts and put them in a jar with some M&Ms. Give both to the recipient – they get candy, a journal and lots of prompts for when they need to be creative! It’s from here: http://organizedchristmas.com/adult-journal-jar, and people really like it 🙂

    I also really like this one: http://organizedchristmas.com/MM-cookies-gift-jar, but there’s tons here: http://organizedchristmas.com/gifts-in-a-jar

    You can buy jars at dollar stores, and blank journals at supermarkets and bookshops, I’m told!

  17. I love the Christmas season! I usually like the bulk of my Christmas shopping done by the beginning of December so I can enjoy the rest of advent without stress (okay, with less stress). This Christmas we’re going to have two new additions so I’m hoping to get all the presents done before we travel to Ethiopia. I shop throughout the year. If I see something that would be “perfect” for someone and it’s on sale, I pick it up. It then goes on my list of bought gifts (so I know who I bought for and who I still need to buy for) and goes in the gift closet. This system has taken a lot of stress out of the gift giving season so we can focus on why we are giving the gifts.

    In recent years, my favorite craft gifts have been using the many (100+) bail canning jars that I picked up for free. For a simple project, I fill them with potpourri and tie cinnamon sticks around the neck of the jar with a cute ribbon and gift tag. If I’m feeling more artistic, I’ll paint the outside of the jar (or use rub-ons) with a winter/Christmas scene and then put a votive and holder in the mouth of the jar. I also love cookie and bread mixes in jars. They are simple enough that even the little ones can help pour the ingredients in the jar. Finish with a pretty ribbon and cookie cutter and you have a yummy gift to share.

    My husband and I also give “Giving Gifts”. We make cards for the people to whom we are giving gifts to let them know that we have made a charitable donation in their name. I’ve found this is one of the most rewarding gifts that we give.

  18. I try and get all my shopping done BEFORE Christmas Eve because I really hate all the crowds and I like to spend Christmas Eve with my family. Having said that, the crowds are actually a little lighter late on Christmas Eve–many people having already finished their shopping by that point.

  19. Carrien’s reply was incredibly well, genius!

    I usually start thinking about Christmas gifts sometime in September if I plan to make something. This year I’m making those tie fleece blankets for my niece and nephew and I already bought the fabric on sale. ( Bigger kids can help with these since it’s just knot tieing.) I went through and got rid of so much this year but I missed one box of fabric and just found some that would work to make a quillow for my other nephew. (It was purchased so long ago, it feels like a free gift!)

    I find giving baked and/or canned goods a nice bonus with a small gift card for my brother and sister and spouses is plenty. I think people really appreciate gifts with a labor of love factor instead of just something you pulled off the shelf hoping they’d like.

    For my own kids, I have a couple of ideas some that can be ordered online – for the convenience factor. I’d love to get my son a couple of age appropriate games this year like “Chutes and ladders” and “Candy land” since it seems that he’s getting to the age where he likes cards and games. But I wish I had done more garage saling to find them, it all adds up fast.

    Then there is the other part about making gifts — actually finding the time to make them!!!!

  20. I had planned to post this soon anyway, so our Christmas plan of attack is here:

    Crafty ideas: Have you checked out Oriental Trading Company? I just got a holiday craft catalog yesterday, and while it is filled with more foam crafts than I care to acknowledge exist, there were some good ones in there too. And even if you didn’t order from them – lots of good ideas.

    One year I had our kids paint some wooden snowflakes (from the craft store) white. When that was dry we painted them with sparkly paint. Because it was SO simple, they look pretty good if I do say so myself.

    Another idea is to make napkin rings with festive beads and stretchy elastic (They sell it in the beading isle.) You can use mostly seed beads which are cheap and a few really pretty larger beads. The younger kids can do the beading while you or the older kids tie the knots. Just be sure to add a little dot of super glue to the knot to keep it knotted.

    Now to read everyone else’s ideas and gather some for my family! 🙂