Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Do You *Really* Need That Deal?

This Friday will kick off the official start of the pre-Christmas buying frenzy here in North America. During this period of "unbeatable deals", it's easy to get caught up in the hype and end up buying (and spending) much more than you'd planned. A bargain isn't a bargain if you (or the person you gifted it to) didn't really need or want it to begin with!

With all those tempting ads out there, how can you shop smart while cruising the deals?

I know that for most of us, when we start gift shopping we tend to let down our guard a little more and perhaps spend more than we usually would. Often, we don't have well-established criteria in mind when purchasing gifts, we just know we need something for so-and-so on our list. When we get desperate, we just grab the first thing we see that might fit the bill, hoping it will work out okay.

This is why it's so important to have a plan *before* you start shopping the sales.

Here's how I handle my Christmas gift shopping:

1. I take a few sheets of paper and write down each person on my gift list. I only write 4 names per page, leaving plenty of space for brainstorming potential gifts.

2. I cruise through my gift cupboard to see what I have that might be appropriate for a particular person (often I've already added items to the cupboard with a specific recipient in mind). I record any gifts I already have on hand on my sheets.

3. I then fill in any additional homemade gifts I have planned for each person (food baskets, knitted items, etc.)

4. I then look to see where I have "gift gaps". There may be some people for whom I already have a complete or nearly complete gift, and others for whom I have little to nothing. I use the extra space I have left on my sheets to brainstorm potential gifts to fill in these gaps. If I can't think of anything specific offhand, I may jot down the person's interests (e.g. reading, cooking, knitting) to help inspire me towards finding an appropriate gift. I also consider whether someone would appreciate a gift of my time or talent, or a charitable donation, more than a material item (I don't want to give something that will just end up in the trash or a donation pile!)

5. I now review the whole list to see how many gifts I still need and how much money I have in my gift budget. I'll then allocate it towards specific gifts. Now I know exactly who I need to buy for, what type of gift they will like and how much I have to spend on that gift.

6. NOW it's finally time for me to start looking for deals. I have a firm plan in place and know what types of items I'm looking for. Because my list is very specific, I will know exactly when I'm done shopping. And since I've allocated specific dollar amounts towards each purchase, I won't end up spending too much on one gift and have no money left to buy a gift for another person on my list.

By following this basic process, I end up with exactly the gifts I need, without buying anything I will regret or overspending. And that goes a long way towards making the holidays a lot more relaxed and enjoyable!

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