Holiday Shopping Strategies for Recovering Shopaholics

In just three days the holiday season kicks off with one of the biggest shopping days of the year…BLACK FRIDAY!! If you are not ready then it’s time to get ready…not just for Black Friday, but for over a month of festive shopping. The Season of Giving is the Season of Buying and for those of us that have compulsive, overshopping tendencies, this can wreak havoc on our shopping discipline.

In fact, just a few days ago I was browsing the “Gift Guide” on one of my favorite online retail sites looking for inspiration on what to get a few friends. As I was scrolling, I clicked on a pair of cashmere gloves thinking “I could really use a new pair gloves since I don’t remember where my old ones are”. Then I saw a dazzling Kendra Scott pendant and thought “ That is gorgeous and would look perfect with the dress I’m wearing on Thanksgiving”. I suddenly realized where this was heading….so far I had picked out two gifts for myself and zero gifts for anybody else. For years this had been the way I shopped for holiday gifts, and it’s only ever turned into a lot of wasted time and stress searching for the right gifts and usually picking up more than a few things for myself along the way…things that I don’t need. I truly had to find a better approach for this year.

In my mind, when I think about how I want to spend the Christmas season, I envision playing holiday music in the house while I bake and decorate sugar cookies with my son. I'm excited that in a few weeks my oldest kids will be home from college and we will gather for a family movie night, complete with popcorn and watching “Four Christmases”. I dream of spending a day with my youngest going to a nearby gardening nursery to view their animated Christmas displays, visit the “live” reindeer, and take a picture with Santa. But then I get a pit in my stomach thinking about having to buy and wrap the nearly 75 gifts I purchase each year. That’s when this wonderful season starts to get stressful. My head starts spinning…what will I get everyone this year and how will I manage to keep my own shopping in check?

I have two goals as I embark on my holiday purchaisng. First, I want to spend less time shopping for gifts and more time simply enjoying other festive activities. Secondly, I want to successfully manage all the shopping triggers that are sure to occur. I did some research (including speaking with some of my more financially responsible friends) and put together a few strategies to help get through the shopping season more mindfully, less stressfully, and ultimately more merrily.

1. Determine your overall holiday budget. Knowing how much you can spend on gifts this season is critical in establishing a shopping plan. Make sure this budget includes the other little items that can add up such as wrapping essentials, and holiday cards.

2. Make a list and check it twice. Take the time to sit down and compose a list of everyone you’re giving a gift to. Double check it to make sure you haven’t forgotten anyone…like the mail carrier or school bus driver. Too many times in the past I’ve forgotten people and then find myself scurrying around last minute (which is something I want to avoid this year).

Once the list of names is complete, write down the desired amount to spend for each gift. Then make sure it all adds up to fall within the total designated budget.

Next, jot down a general idea of what you may want to give each person. Knowing the type of items you will be shopping for will help you put together your shopping plan of action and narrow down which stores to shop in, instead of just randomly moseying through the mall with no direction.

3. Don’t use credit cards (whenever possible). Using a credit card is only going to cause more holiday stress, unless the balance will be paid off at the end of the month. If you are not paying the balance off then you are going to pay interest and therefore spend more money for your purchases. If you are already in debt then adding to it is only going to bring more unhappiness once the holidays are over, and those credit card statements start arriving in the mail. If you have no other choice but to use a credit card, then please proceed with caution and control. Pay close attention to exactly how much you are charging and immediately set up a plan to get it all paid off as soon as possible. We must try hard not to fall into old bad habits by putting blinders on while shopping (especially if using credit cards). I’ve done that dance too often in my life, and know how quickly things can begin to get out of control. More mounting debt isn’t what any of us need as we head into the new year.

4. Stop trying to find the “perfect” gift. People will still love me even if they don’t love my gift. In the past, I have spent too many hours browsing the internet trying to find the best gifts possible. I’ve also wasted time comparing different stores and trying to find the absolute lowest prices. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t put thought into gift buying, but stop trying to be perfect. Love can not be bought. I have been guilty of buying expensive gifts (well over my budget) in an attempt to impress or even seek the approval of others. I am not doing that this year. I will pick out something nice within my set price range, and just include a gift receipt. I may even just give a gift card if I can’t quickly figure out what to buy someone. I want to have more time to spend with my family, friends, and just enjoying the season. I’m not fretting over “perfect gifts” this year.

As for finding the best prices? Naturally, I don’t want to pay more for something if I don’t have to, but my time is also valuable. Checking for a cheaper price is easier to do with online shopping where a quick internet search can compare costs, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. Obsessing over finding the best deal can really get you sidetracked which is something we don’t need. As long as what I do spend is within my determined price range I’m not going to swap saving a few bucks for saving time.

5. Make a homemade gift. If you have some crafty talent in you, then this can save you a lot of money and is truly more thoughtful and personal than anything you can buy in a store. If you love baking then you can make cookies, breads, etc. and wrap them up festively. I have a friend who bakes, and one year she gave me a homemade gingerbread house that was both beautiful and delicious! If you are handy with sewing, knitting, or crocheting then you can make hats, pillows, scarves, ornaments and so many other great gifts. You can even buy simple t-shirts and then add your own embellishments (think vintage buttons or lace). You could try your hand at making homemade soaps and candles and even greeting cards. I once received a thank you gift from someone who enjoyed photography as a hobby. She gave me beautiful blank greeting cards made by using photos of flowers she had taken and attached to pretty card stock paper. Knowing that someone put in the time and shared their talent to create a gift for me is priceless! My neighbor who is super crafty and also talented with a sewing machine has made so many beautiful homemade gifts for myself and my kids throughout the years including embroidered towels, throw blankets, and decorative pillows. Pinterest is a great place to look for so many different creative craft ideas. If you don’t have time this year to make homemade gifts, then perhaps this is something you can plan for next year.

6. Give experiences instead of gifts. This can be as simple as treating someone to a day together doing something special. Experiences can be in all price ranges such as a mani-pedi, dinner and a movie, tickets to a concert, a visit to a museum, sport lessons, or online classes. You can google “experience gifts” and you will find so many different, unique ideas. This year my husband and I are planning an overnight hotel stay in the city to see the play Hamilton instead of exchanging gifts. I am so looking forward to some adult time alone with my favorite person! I will also be giving tickets to my mother-in-law and her sister to see a Broadway show. My kids will also receive experience gifts (I can’t reveal what they are yet so the surprise isn’t ruined). In a world full of consumerism and the ongoing collection of “things” that we don’t need (and end up decluttering later on), giving an experience can be the best gift of all. And if the experience includes time spent together then it’s even better.

7. Practice the pause. It is going to happen. You will be shopping and suddenly you will see something beautiful. You will want it and to top it off, it may have a price that screams “How can you NOT buy this?” Here is when we need to practice The Pause. Walk away from it. Leave the store. Give yourself time to get out of the shopping urge fog. Step away and re-evaluate the potential purchase. Do you really need it? Just because it’s on sale does not mean you need it. Can you afford it? If you have to go into further debt to buy it then the answer is No - you can’t afford it. Do you have a place to put it? If you still haven’t gotten around to cleaning out your jammed, overstuffed closet, then this isn’t the time to cram anything else in there.

I know that I don’t need any more clothes right now. I already have my holiday outfits selected. My closet is neat and organized and contains many beautiful items just waiting to be worn. I need to keep this truth in the forefront of my mind when I start to get distracted. If you have determined that there are items you need for yourself this season that can’t wait, then you should add these things to your list and budget before you start shopping.

8. Be mindful of emotions when shopping. Let's remember that emotional shopping can cause us to buy compulsively and accumulate more of what we DON'T need. The holidays are full of emotions, so we need to be even more careful this time of year. When your mood is festive and jolly you may feel you don’t have a care in the world and will be more willing to throw caution to the wind. This can result in shopping bags full of unplanned purchases. Also, avoid shopping when tired. When we are worn down our resistance to compulsive shopping becomes weaker. Just call it a wrap if you are out shopping and start to feel exhausted. Pack it in and start again on a day when you have a clear head and well rested body.

This season often brings about sentimental emotions, loneliness or even sadness. We may quickly rush to escape these feelings or to fill the voids by excessive, unnecessary shopping. We need to be aware of all that we are feeling, and to remind ourselves that shopping is not the support or fix that we need. What if you do have a weak moment and give in to a shopping urge? Be kind and remind. We must be kind with ourselves if we do slip up, and remind ourselves that recovery is a journey and we are not perfect. Simply pick yourself up and continue onward. If you know you don’t need it, then return it…you’ll be happy you did.

Remember, compulsive shopping patterns can get worse around the holidays. Temptations from advertisements increase, there are many seemingly awesome deals to be had, and our own emotions can mess around with our better judgement. To shop successfully this season we really need to prepare ourselves and create a plan that we can follow. Don’t leave it up to chance.

It may come as a surprise, but I don’t plan on doing any shopping this Black Friday. Instead I hope to spend the day making memories with my family...playing games, watching movies, and eating leftovers.

I wish you all a Wonderful, Blessed, Happy Thanksgiving and Merry kickoff to the 2018 holiday season!

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