Holiday Gift Giving Techniques

Photo: Coreyann

Ah…Christmas time. I love Christmas. I really do. Well, parking madness, shopping terrors, and cold weather aside, I love Christmas. No really! But some of the things we eventually love about Christmas (like sitting around a beautifully lit tree on Christmas morning with the family and opening gifts and enjoying some Christmas cheer) gets clouded by what we have to go through before that beautiful day…shopping. There are a number of ways you can shop for your loved ones each year, and I think I’ve tried them all. Let me give you the run down:


Making Gifts

You can make all your presents. Ah. Right from the heart. You’ll save money, avoid all the darn commercialism, and people will really appreciate the beautiful gifts you spend all that time and energy making for them. Right? (heh heh)

One year, I decided to make all my gifts, when I was a starving artist. And we’re not talking popsicle-stick houses either. We’re talking high-quality gifts. I made porcelain flower arrangements, clocks, beautifully framed photo collages, things that my family and friends really appreciated. And they loved the things I made (at least they say they did, so that’s good enough for me)! Problem is, I spent more money on all the crafts that I then had to pour hundreds of hours into, than I would have if I had just gone out and bought my gifts for the year.

And what if you do receive the shabbily made gift – that popsicle-stick house? We’ve all gotten these gifts that were made with love, and that really have no place in our homes. You know – the year you got the very colourful finger painting…made by your fully grown children…"yeah, I’ll put that right up here on the fridge, with the alphabet magnets". I mean – what do you do with them? I have a box in my hall closet at home, filled with truly tacky gifts that my friends and family have made or bought for me, some so bad that I’m sure it was a joke. And every time these friends visit, I pull their creation out of my dusty box and find some prominent home for the object. I’m sure they can see through it, but it’s the thought that counts, right? At least, that’s what they must have been saying when they made the bloody gift!

Okay, so making gifts have their place, but only if you’re willing to put some serious elbow grease and money into it. You can also…



C’mon…everybody does it! You receive this really nice bar of soap from some fancy store, one of 15 bars received this year. You really like it, but you’re still working on the soap you received six years ago. So… put it in a special place, and when you need to come up with a gift at the last minute – whamo! You have soap.

Okay – sometimes you really can re-gift and it can be a good thing. Maybe you really received a gift you have no hope of ever using, but that would be perfect for that somebody else in your life. But beware.......remember who gave you the gift in the first place.

True story: It’s my second Christmas with my ex’s family. My mother-in-law, bless her heart, hadn’t quite figured me out in terms of what to buy for me, and since the relationship was still kind of new, we were both unclear as to what types of gifts we should get for each other. For our first Christmas, I got her…you guessed it…soap. (Everybody can use soap, right)? Guess what I got back the next year? That very same raspberry foam soap that I had given her the previous year. And I know that this was a re-gift, because she never would have been able to buy the same soap that second year; the store went out of business!

So…re-gift at your own risk. It’s a big bad world of soap out there.


Early Shopping

You can also get all your Christmas shopping done early. Ah – to happily avoid the mad parking lots outside of shopping malls, the disgruntled crowds in the stores, and to be done by September. What could be wrong? Well…

If you are going to go to the effort to finish shopping early, stick to your guns and don’t go out again. For example, I (foolishly) decided to keep a friend company one year while she did her last minute shopping. The number of things I saw that were even better than the gifts I had all wrapped up at home were incredible. So I ended up going shopping twice anyway, and I bought twice as many gifts. My family liked it, but my pocketbook certainly didn’t.

Another year (I hadn’t learned my lesson yet), I was tickled pink to be finished all my shopping by the end of October. My family, however, doesn’t operate this way. So, a week and a half before Christmas, the decision is made that we’re all going to chip in for one big gift for my mother-in-law. Oops. And now I had all this soap I couldn’t give her! Ah well – off the soap goes to the “miscellaneous gift” pile. Which takes me to the next method of gifting you can employ.


Miscellaneous Gifts

Ah – the “miscellaneous gift” pile. You know the one. You see a great sale on at a store, and some really funky items that are an absolute steal. You don’t really know who in your life would enjoy them, but you just know you have to have them, and that surely there’s somebody you forgot to add to your list who will appreciate this, and being able to whip this gift out at the last minute will save your butt from an awkward one-sided gift giving session.

In fact, this funky item on sale is such a great deal, you know there’s at least two people who will enjoy this gift. You just don’t know who yet. So you buy four. And they sit in your miscellaneous gift pile for way longer than you had anticipated. Years, actually. You’re only able to give away one, maybe two each year. Watch Out! Remember who you gave it to.

My best friend’s step-mother was notorious for doing this. And how do we know this, you ask? Because she got the very same wooden salt & pepper shakers, two years in a row.


Really Last Minute Shopping

And, of course, you can join the ranks of so many men (and I do stereotype men here, but I think you’ll agree that this is a somewhat established pattern), who do all their Christmas shopping…on Christmas Eve. They realize that in half an hour all the malls close and they still haven’t found something for that special someone in their life. Do you want a Christmas eve giggle this year? Stake out in front of a 24-hour drug store on Christmas Eve, and watch the mayhem. Men, pale faced and panicked, running around in a chaotic state, begging the staff at the drugstore to find them something for their girlfriend or wife. Drug store perfume, chocolates, soap – anything!

My Plan

So here’s my plan for this year. I’ve turned over a new leaf. I’m going to join the ranks of December shoppers and shop for my family and friends in the last 3 weeks before Christmas. Sure, the crowds will be harrowing and the parking lots a complete disaster. But the Christmas decorations will put me in a numbed festive mood, and I’ll happily shop for my loved ones, secure in the knowledge that nobody’s going to hit me up at the last minute for a “group gift”, I won’t be in danger of re-gifting something back to the original donor or giving somebody the same funky item two years in a row, I won’t spend hundreds of hours crafting the perfect piece of junk for the hall closet, and I won’t be limited to the last dregs at the drug store either. I think it’s the perfect plan.

What could go wrong?


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Guest's picture

great deals. no crowds. and you can do it in your pajamas. :)

Julie Rains's picture

I'm not quite as brave as you Nora and don't like to go anywhere near the mall beginning with Black Friday through Christmas Eve. But, like you, I have also spent too much by shopping early (and forgetting what I've already spent) and buying items for my gift closet that have gone unused. I can't recall a specific last minute group purchase for parents/in-laws (and I had finished my shopping or thought so) but that has happened also. Like Guest #1, I've done most of my shopping online and am now hoping everything arrives on time. 

Guest's picture

I'm a big fan of supporting local businesses: local farmers at the farmer's market, local restaurants, local retail shops. If you insist on venturing out into the outside world to do your shopping, why not patronize unique, locally owned shops rather than the big, overcrowded, anonymous mall? When I buy from local merchants, I almost feel like I'm giving two gifts: one to the recipient, and one to the store owner! Nurseries/garden centers are a particularly great local business to get a dose of Christmas spirit (many of them do a big business in greenery and decorations) + creative gift ideas.

Guest's picture

With making presents, as you illustrate, you still need to stick to budget.

Thankfully I get fabric by the carload from my uncle in law (my mother in law's brother) twice a year- free. Sewing is the cost of thread and time for the most part- unless I get into quilted gifts. Batting can be expensive- so I use some of the thicker, textured fabrics. Once these run out, then I have to get more creative. I do buy blankets, linens at garage sales- wash them in the hottest water possible, and use them.

Guest's picture

Homeless shelter, youth shelter, shelters for young moms - yes, the handmade lavender and chamomile goat's milk soaps might be outside the norm, but that may make it even more special. Our local food bank holds summer yard sales, too, and they might be pleased to deal with the extra five or six thingamabobs too many. :) I also like Freecycle - our group tends to offer surplus candy after the various candy holidays, and they never last. :)

Nora Dunn's picture

Admittedly, this article was written more to poke fun at holiday shopping rituals, rather than illustrate my new mantra in life.

In fact, where I currently (temporarily) live, I am in a very remote place in Hawaii, and have chosen to send a few meaningful things home to family & friends that they couldn't otherwise get, which I hope will remind them of me and bring us closer. 

Between that and on-line shopping, I have a new lease on holiday shopping!  

Guest's picture

My biggest shopping day of the year is December 26th. Suddenly, "holiday" vases and glassware are the 50% off. Target is a good place for exotic designer or faux designer housewares that make both "next Christmas," birthday, or even "Pretend-you-didn't-get-the-gift-to-them-in-all-the-holiday-hubub."

My new favorite cheap gift comes from the clearance bins of Old Navy. A set of 3 blown glass 3-inch decorative balls pre-Christmas will run $8, but $2.97 or even $0.97 cents after the holiday. They're gorgeous enough to split up and make three friend's trees more festive.

Nora Dunn's picture

I actually have a friend who categorically insists on celebrating CHristmas on Dec 28th. This allows him to shop for everybody on Dec 26th and take advantage of those holiday steals.

Maybe we can all petition to change Christmas....but just not let the retailers in on the plot.... 

Guest's picture

Well Nora, I'm amongst those who shop a bit early as I tend to avoid the last minute rush at the malls. I prefer attending post-Christmas sales as I did last year and got some great offers. that's why i didn't use much of my credit cards this season.

When it comes to gifting people, I go the Kris Kringle way - it's fun and exciting indeed! and kids just love such things. well, i just followed some tips that could keep me within my budget so that i don't end up being in debt. Let me share with you some budgeting and planning tips for a stress-free Christmas. Hope you'd like them too!

You'll get the 51 tips at .

Merry Christmas in advance!

Guest's picture

I don't know about you but I have a few friends/family members who are SO difficult to find gifts for. Last minute shopping is awful when considering a gift for them as I hav ended up in the past making bad choices and regretting it bitterly. I made a resolution last year that I would carry a tiny notebook in my handbag (took up no room) and when I was around my more difficult friends eg those who are hard to buy for, when ever they made a small off the cuff (and unremembered by them) comment about what liked/wished for/might like one day, I would note it down to keep a track of it. The result was amazing! I had a list of a few things that I could use and the result was often the comment: "How did you know that is just what I wanted?". I just smiled. Seems crazy, but it really really worked. I like to personalise my gifts, and make them meaningful, and this made is easy to remember a simple comment and use it to find the right gift. Good shopping! Josie

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

That's an awesome idea, Josie! Love it. I'm setting up a notebook right now!