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The gift-giving battle plan

Wednesday, 26 March, 2014

I mentioned earlier that Christmas was hugely stressful for me last year. I also mentioned that I would blog about my battle plan for buying Christmas presents, which helps to reduce some of the stress that Christmas brings. Then I realised that Christmas present-buying is really part of what I do about present-buying for the entire year, so to call this post “The Christmas present battle plan” wasn't quite correct. So anyway, here I spell out how I handle present-buying throughout the entire year.

Please note that I am not saying that this is the “right” way to do it (though please permit me to suggest that if you're dragging along two children under 5 to a shopping mall in December, you're doing it wrong ;P). I'm sure that people who know me well will find this yet another rather amusing example of my idiosyncrasies. There is no “right” way, of course. But doing it this way helps reduce the stress and increase the pleasure of gift-giving for me. Because I do actually enjoy gift-giving. I know some people only enjoy it if it's the right gift for the right person at the right time (which does not coincide with a birthday/Christmas/anniversary/parental obligation [i.e. Mother's Day/Father's Day]). And I totally get that: part of the pleasure of gift-giving is being able to give pleasure to another person by giving them something they want/need/would really like, and if you can do it unexpectedly rather than under obligation, all the better. However, I usually see such occasions as Mother's Day, Christmas, etc. as being opportunities to give and make people happy with gifts, and the obligation aspect doesn't really factor (unless they are someone who I find difficult to buy for). In terms of the Five Love Languages, I do tend to express love through the giving of gifts, but, curiously, rarely feel loved when receiving them. (In fact, if something in the latter activity is a bit off, I feel worse … but that's another story.)

Another objection that I feel I should address up front is the one about materialism: we already have so much stuff, why add to it? I understand those concerns too: we live in a rather cluttered two bedroom unit and I am very conscious of how much stuff I have and the need to declutter and get rid of things. I guess the only thing I can say in response is that even though we have a lot and don't really need anything else, there is a “goodness” to stuff (well, some stuff), if I can put it that way—usefulness in function, beauty in form, pleasure in the leisure that an object can bring (e.g. books, DVDs). Some people don't need these things and that's fine (though it should be noted that this does not make these people morally superior in any way). Some people enjoy the stuff-ness of stuff—even if it's only for a time (e.g. reading and enjoying a book once and then passing it on to someone else, donating it, reselling it, etc.) For some people (like me), certain stuff can double as research/consumerism in order to grow creatively/artistically (which is why there are a lot of books, comics and movies on my wish list). Of course, gifts don't have to be limited to stuff; they can also encompass experiences, quality time, services. But as the majority of the gifts I give tend to be stuff, I'm focusing on that here.

Right then. On with the plan:

  1. Make a list of everyone (and I mean everyone) you will need to buy presents for throughout the year. (Be sure to include immediate family, of course, but also extended family, in-laws, step-siblings, Secret Santa recipients, your child's childcare workers, etc.) It's clunky, but I use Excel for this—listing all recipients down one column and then occasions across the header row—birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, anniversaries, Christmas, etc. I also keep separate columns for price so I can see how much I've spent (and whether I've exceeded my budget :S). The spreadsheet gets filled in gradually throughout the year as I buy things. It's helpful because I can see at a glance what I've got and what I still need to get. Christmas is obviously the most intense time because there are more gifts required for the one occasion, whereas, obviously, birthdays and the like are scattered throughout the other months. Last year's Christmas recipient list came to around 30 people.
  2. Observe: what do your intended recipients like that? What are they into? What makes them excited? Furthermore, what sorts of things do they like to wear? What constitutes their style? What do they express a desire for? What are things they might need? What are the things that they might find useful even if they would't say they particularly need that item? I don't always get these things right, but I try to pay attention as much as I can.
  3. Collect gift ideas throughout the year. The spreadsheet is not so helpful for this (though sometimes I will enter something and highlight it in a different colour if it's something I've definitely decided to get). Pinterest is a more helpful tool for this sort of thing. (I keep all my gift ideas on this board. Feel free to steal some. I don't specify recipients because it's a publicly viewable board [though sometimes I wonder if I should just make it a private one], but I do tend to remember who I thought each gift was suitable for.)
  4. For people who are difficult to buy for, surreptitiously consult spouses or close family members, or brainstorm. Photos or photo books of grandchildren, or even artwork by grandchildren, are usually appreciated by grandparents. Books are good presents for children—particularly if it's something that they wouldn't tend to know about and therefore have. Where possible and because I like supporting the comics industry, I buy comics for people and enjoy figuring out which comic(s) the intended recipient might like. (Last year I bought Economix for my mother's partner, who is an economist, and he really liked it.) The other good thing about buying comics is that the likelihood of the recipient owning any is small simply because most people do not buy comics.
  5. Buy at the most opportune time from the best place.
    • When purchasing books, always consult Booko with the book's ISBN number as it will tell you where you can get it at the best price (including shipping). Take advantage of when The Book Depository is on sale (which unfortunately happens rarely these days, but then their prices are usually heavily discounted anyway.) (Yes, I realise I am contributing to the death of brick and mortar bookstores, and part of me is sorry about that. But it is hard to go past free delivery to my door—particularly where toddlers and pelvic pain are involved. It's far more frustrating to go down to my brick and mortar store and find that they don't stock what I want—which usually happens anyway because I tend to get the obscure stuff.) If it's something for Christmas, be aware of mailing cut-off dates.
    • Booko can look up the best price on DVDs too, but I usually just go straight to JB Hifi. They also do cheap or free shipping.
    • For music, it's best to find out whether the recipient prefers hard copy or digital. (I'd say the trend is towards digital. I may be wrong about that though.)
    • If you want to get something signed by the creator (which I like to do when it's comics), purchasing things at cons is better than through online retailers.
    • For iTunes cards (which are Ben's favourite present), follow @giftcardsonsale, which tweets alerts about sales—often really good ones.
    • For perishables like chocolate, coffee and the best marshmallows in the universe, always buy a close as possible to the date you give the present. I know: this sounds dreadfully obvious, but this is important to remember for someone like me who doesn't give food that often.
    • For jewellery, support handmade when you can. (Sites like Etsy and MadeIt are good places to look for all sorts of beautiful and unique gifts, not just jewellery. Unfortunately the bulk of them tend to be geared towards women rather than men. Also, the cost of shipping can be an issue.) With jewellery, however, you have to be careful: you need to know a person's taste really well to get jewellery right. (Strangely I tend to notice stuff like this for some reason—a person's style, the sorts of clothes and colours they wear, the sorts of things they may be into. It's weird as I am not usually this observant of other things.)
  6. When making anything by hand for Christmas, ALWAYS start in October. Preferably beforehand. Always order the materials (i.e. in my case, yarns and patterns) well ahead of time. For Christmas, make sure you do not commit to making more things than you have time to make. (I am preaching to myself as I have fallen into this trap many a time.) Knitters, make sure you leave enough time to block your work (if necessary). (It's a good thing that December is usually quite warm so things dry quickly.)
  7. For Christmas, remember to buy far more wrapping paper and sticky tape than you will need as you will invariably run out. (On the subject of giftwrapping, I don't tend to go to a lot of trouble, but there are a few little things you can do that can make your presents look a little classier. I've compiled a whole Pinterest board of ideas.)
  8. NEVER leave it until Christmas Eve to start wrapping everything, or you will go insane. Start at the beginning of December if you can.
  9. Make sure you have enough gift tags, otherwise (if you're anything like me) you will forget who the present is for.
  10. This is something I like doing: photograph each present with its completed gift tag before wrapping it so that you remember exactly what you gave each person and don't double up the following year. (Sometimes the spreadsheet isn't quite good enough for things like this.)
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