Holiday Shopping Tips

In case you haven’t noticed by now, I kind of have a thing for Christmas. I think a lot of it is the traditions that I’ve cultivated over the years, from the house tour, to decorating with my mom, to our Christmas Eve feast of appetizers. Believe it or not, my annual Christmas shopping day is also one of the traditions I cherish.


It started about ten years ago at my very first job. Because I was still pretty fresh out of school, my finances were pretty tight. Instead of budgeting like an adult, I simply allotted my last paycheck before Christmas entirely to Christmas shopping. I looked at the calendar and decided to take that Friday off to do all of my shopping on one trip. It sounds crazy and overwhelming, but I totally loved it.

Even though I still do the majority of my shopping all in one day, my process has matured beyond “well, I’ll wander around the mall and spend until my card gets declined.” I’ve pretty much got it down to a science now.

Here are my tips for a successful holiday shopping trip:

1. Make a budget.

Before you can even start on everything else, you need to know how much money you’re working with. Maybe you’ve been putting away a bit of money from each paycheck to go toward various gift-giving occasions, or maybe you’re going to start the budgeting exercise now. Either way, you need to put a strict, realistic limit on what you’re going to spend and (this is the important part) stick to it. While it’s super fun to lavish your loved ones with gifts, it’s decidedly un-fun to be stuck with a huge bill come January (trust me–learn from the mistakes of my 20s!).

2. Make a list (and check it twice, or as many times as you need to).

Once you’ve made your budget, making a list of what you’re going to get for each person will really help you stay on track. I like to keep my list in Google Keep so that I can check things off on my phone as I pick them up. The cool thing about it is that it syncs between your phone and your computer, so you can make this list on your computer, but still be able to access the most recent version on your phone.

3. Plan it out.

With my list made, I then look online to see what I can pick up where. I even check stock the night before my shopping trip so that I know which location is most likely to have the item when I get there (there are few things more annoying–especially when you’re using public transit–than dragging your ass all the way across the city only to discover that the item you want is sold out).

Once I know what I’m getting where, I also plan out which order I’ll hit the stores. Depending on whether you’re using a car or taking public transit, you’ll need to organize your day a little differently. For example, if you’re taking a car, you don’t need to worry so much about having to carry a lot of packages, but you might want to group stores so that you can easily drop bags off at the car. But if you’re using transit, you’ll want to group your stores so that you can either stop some stuff off at home or buy the largest items last.

4. Start your day early.

I always look up what time the first store opens and try to get to that general area about ten minutes before that. If I’m at the mall, I’ll hang out at Starbucks until the stores open, chill in the car until it’s time. Just don’t be that jerk who’s very clearly waiting just outside the store, counting the seconds until you open. Speaking on behalf of all of us who have worked retail: nobody likes that guy.

5. Treat yourself.

It doesn’t have to be mimosas or fine leather goods (although it totally can be), but I like to plan a little something for myself in the day. Usually it ends up being a delicious, relaxing meal once I’m all finished.

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