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Despite the fact that Americans generally love to get their shop on, most people would say that they dread holiday shopping – and with very good reason. It isn’t fun to shop in large crowds, stand in long lines, and arrive at the store during some strange hours to get the best deals. Even for some hardcore bargain shoppers, it can be a very stressful endeavor.

The number one cause of stress is procrastination. Many people may have a general idea of what they want to get their loved ones, but they often end up putting it off until the last week or two before Christmas. Unfortunately for them, 80% of the country has also waited until the last possible moment to tie the loose ends in their holiday shopping.

Some people try to beat procrastination by shopping on Black Friday. But, honestly, this option isn’t much better than procrastinating. Waiting in lines and dealing with large crowds the night after Thanksgiving – when you’re already stuffed to the hilt – is not always a pleasant experience. To some the bargains may be worth it, but there’s always a better way.

Some people don’t plan what gifts to give whom, until they actually get to the store! These people are really just trying to resist the holiday stress until they don’t have a choice anymore, then they are stuck up a creek without a paddle!

 

Failure to plan is planning to fail

Holiday shopping does not have to be this stressful however, if at all. A lot of the stress can be mitigated by making a list of everyone you plan to give a gift to. If you are really hardcore, you can start making this list in January or February. Starting a list towards the end of the summer is probably more reasonable to most people, however.

First, decide who you’d like to gift for, and try to stick to that list. This group of people can be broken down into two parts from higher priority to lower priority: 1) close friends and family and 2) important acquaintances, such as coworkers, neighbors, and other people that you may have regular contact with but are not very close to yet.

Since you can guess what people in the first group like, it may take some time to plan for them. People in the second list will probably be the recipient of more generic gifts since you don’t know them as well and, therefore, you are not as familiar with their tastes. Generic gifts are easier to plan for because you can pick something that most people seem to like and purchase larger quantities of that item.

If you like sending out holiday cards or postcards to everyone in your address book, it doesn’t hurt to start creating those cards earlier in the year. A lot of postcard companies will offer discounts outside of the holiday season when the demand for their services is slower. Preparing for this early on gives you time to double check and update the addresses that you have, as well as correct any mistakes you see in your postcard template. It also gives you more time to prepare the cards for mailing.

 

Holiday shopping for smart people

The best time to shop for the holidays is before the holidays even begin, even before the stores start advertising for it! For example, a good time to buy technology or clothing is in August when many stores have sales before school starts.

You can also buy clothing at great discounts towards the end of any season. There are also a lot of non-clothing items that are on discount after Christmas and New Years Day, since many stores are trying to clear up their inventory. While you’re out returning some of the gifts you didn’t like after Christmas, peruse the stores for these discounts.

Another way to get holiday shopping done in batches and well ahead of time is to create homemade gifts, especially if you are into specific kinds of crafts.  Some popular homemade options are:

  • Homemade soaps and candles, if they are done in a professional looking way.
  • Knitting scarves and other items, especially as gifts for children and babies.
  • Paintings or framed collages are a great, sentimental gift for close friends.
  • Dried herb mixes for tea or potpourri is a great batch gift for acquaintances.

If you still prefer to buy gifts from store and you don’t like the idea of planning so far ahead of time, another great option is to do some of your shopping online on Cyber Monday – the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend. Even for people who dislike buying online, it is still possible to plan ahead and visit stores before the holiday season to touch and feel the items. Come Cyber Monday, you will have a well thought out battle plan. You can avoid a lot of lines and general stress by doing this.

 

Managing holiday shopping stress

It is important to realize that a lot of the holiday shopping stress actually comes from pressure. Many people feel obligated to buy gifts for people that they don’t want to buy for. Have you ever been drafted into a Secret Santa at work that you didn’t care to participate in? Have you ever felt the pressure to buy for family members that you don’t care for?

Some people try to avoid this kind of pressure by not buying anything for anyone at all. Some people may not have qualms about this but it does seem uncouth to do this. Who wants to look like a Grinch or a Scrooge?

Here are ways that you can include everyone in the holiday spirit without people feeling like you are exhibiting favoritism:

  • Preparing a group gift or hosting a group event is a great way to do this. Bake a huge batch of cookies or buy a bag of mixed candies, individually wrap them in colorful wrap.
  • Propose an event with family members, such as a movie theater, indicating that you are treating them.
  • Buy a magazine subscription or donate to a charity on behalf of a family or group.
  • If you have financial limitations, homemade gifts can work well.

Finally, avoid putting undeserved stress on yourself. Just remember that despite the expectation of gift giving, the holidays are a time of social bonding and self-reflection. Give what you can, when you can – if you can – and don’t ruminate over it. If you can’t give anything, remember that giving your time and showing up at social events is the best gift of all to the people who care about you!

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