Early Holiday Shopping: Why I Finish by Thanksgiving


I’m not the busiest guy on the block. Many of my peers are true multitaskers who juggle families, career, side businesses, and various twisty-bendy Pilates and yoga appointments. I’m not that guy. I enjoy my downtime, and I defend it ruthlessly — even during the holidays. To make sure I dodge that the distant roll of holiday thunder, I do my shopping early. I usually target Thanksgiving as my personal deadline for having every last gift wrapped, bow tied, and holiday card artfully addressed. (See also: 36 Green Gift Wrapping Ideas)

That final month is just for me, and I’ll admit it — I mock the maddening crowds as I relax with my eggnog. I chuckle at the stressed shoppers, the traffic jams, and the long lines as I dig into my first cheese log and plan my re-gifting strategy for last year’s fruitcakes.

Why am I so focused on early and efficient holiday shopping? First, shopping early lets me relax about the entire process. I start gingerly — picking up that perfect gift during some random sale in July or August. Then I ramp up gradually and find a few more gifts in September and October, I’ll arrange a few gift baskets in early November, and wrap things up by the time the grocery stores are pushing Butterballs and cranberry sauce.

Planning ahead and starting early lets me take my time and find exactly the right gifts, too — without all the competition and cold sweat. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who subconsciously shops for holiday gifts all year long, secretly collecting and storing just the perfect thing for mom, dad, or the kids. It’s an art, isn’t it?

Getting a head start on the throngs of over-caffeinated shoppers (are they foaming at the mouth or is that just a bit of latte on their lips?) also lets me enjoy the holiday season. That hard-won week or two off of work is for sleeping in, reconnecting with friends and family, having snowball fights, sledding, deciding how much holiday weight gain is acceptable (five pounds), and burning at least one apple pie. Why would I want to trade a night of watching Miracle on 34th Street for an evening of living Nightmare on Elm Street at a mall or big box store?

Finally, at the risk of getting flamed, I still believe the best deals aren’t found during the holidays. I don’t care how vast the Black Friday crowds are, how desperate the retailers are, or what the economists say about consumer confidence. If the concept of supply and demand holds any water at all, the best bargains are found right after the holidays or at any other time of year. When you factor in the logistics of battling the crowds, the stress, the credit crunch of buying everything at once, the last-minute splurges just to push through to the finish line, holiday shopping during the holidays is a budget-buster.

So, let’s put a bow on this idea — shopping early lets you take a more leisurely approach to the holiday season, gives you time enough to find just the right gifts, keeps you a safe distance from stressed shoppers wielding sharp credit cards, and even gives you a running chance at scoring better deals. Isn’t it time to reclaim the holidays and snatch December from the jaws of the mall escalator?

Just imagine yourself reading by the fire on December 20 — no panicked online buying at 3:00 am, no catalogs spread out on the dining room table, no Scotch Tape stuck in your hair. Listen — the honking horns off in the distance almost sound like bells ringing.

How early do you start your holiday shopping? Are you a year-round shopper and if so, what advice do you have for readers who might be trying to get a head start this year?

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Guest's picture

I'm with you. We have 26 relatives and they're scattered along the east coast. I hate shopping and start in January to find the most amazing things with very little stress. We mail out the week of Thanksgiving then sit around and bake cookies. Much more fun.

Guest's picture

I totally agree. And my self imposed deadline is the same. Mail the cards off on Black Friday and start baking cookies!

I also decorate in stages through December - starting with the outside on Thanksgiving weekend (weather permitting) and ending with the tree on the Fourth Sunday of Advent (it then stays up until 12th Night). I'd rather go to the "Nutcraker" and the "Carol Singalong" than the mall - even without the crowds. Plus it's easier to fit shopping for gifts into the budget if it's spread out a bit.

Guest's picture

This article is great from the shopper's perspective, but it's tricky for your gift recipients if they expect their present to come with a gift receipt. If you bought that sweater back in last January and it needs to be exchanged this January, that person is out of luck.

Guest's picture

I bought the big presents for my kids in April of this year, thanks to an amazing sale and Target's clearance. After nearly 9 years of marriage, I think my husband has finally come to appreciate having Christmas presents bought randomly throughout the year and hidden all over the house, especially because it means bargain prices! I will totally venture out on Black Friday, especially if I find a deal I want, but that is strictly for the fun of it, and I will wait until 9 or 10AM.

Guest's picture

I couldn't have said it better. Last year I was so happy to have done this because in the 2 weeks before Christmas, my husband and I were both working overtime, both got sick, and were in the midst of making a major life decision. I'm so glad I was able to avoid thinking about gift buying at that time.

Guest's picture

I'm right there with ya, only I shoot for Halloween as my "90% done" date. This has been my routine for the last 8 years and I will never go back. I also keep spreadsheets (or more recently, iPhone app) that lists what I purchased, the location and the amount I spent. I don't do this for a budget reason but more as a tickler for gifts from one year to the next. If I purchased a book for a friend who enjoyed it, visiting my list reminds me of that gift and to look for a book by the same author.

As we speak, 75% of my gifts are wrapped but without bows or tags. That's my Saturday project. I'll also be using the iPad app to send personalized holiday cards this year. Writing cards is something I loathe, but I feel I need to send out roughly 25.

Then December is for me to enjoy as I wish: baking, parties, laughing at the procrastinators.

Guest's picture

I like taking Thanksgiving week off from work to get a everything in order for the holidays -- makes December so much less stressful.