When the Christmas cards at Marshall's start looking picked over and it's only November 13, you know it's coming! Yes, the time of year that starts out with the best intentions and ends with panic and wrapping presents in the bathroom Christmas morning.
Part and parcel to holiday festivities is the gifting— from the mulling to the searching to the deciding and finally the wrapping. It's the one time of year I switch gears from shopper with antennae all over the store to determined shopper with blinders. As both veteran inveterate shopper and savvy salesperson, I share these hints:
> Shop early and early in the week.
Mondays and Tuesdays are traditionally retail's slow days. If you shop in the morning right when the stores open merchandise is restocked, new products are out, and the sales staff is fresh and enthusiastic. If you go in right before closing even the sweetest associates will be looking at the clock. Try to avoid a shopping trip on Sunday. It's the hardest day for businesses to staff up so associates may be fewer, less experienced and more hassled.
> Buy them what they want.
If someone has specifically told you what she'd like, don't think you're not being creative by getting it for her. If your sister really wants those faux leopard gloves, buy them. She may truly be counting on it. Then do something fun like pack them in a box from animal crackers. Children in particular have curated lists and would prefer to accept no substitutes. On the other hand, if there is no list or no request, create away. One of the best gifts I ever got as a child (not asked for) was a real grown-up manicure set. Likewise as an adult one of the best gifts was a Be-a-Dress-Designer paper doll set.
> Look for generic gifts with a twist.
These are for people you don't know very well, like your child's teacher or a new boss.
Choose a luxury version of an everyday item, like gourmet olive oil, fabulous soaps or a beautiful blank journal. Think of things people might like but wouldn't buy for themselves.
Find something with the recipient's initial— a mug, a candle, a small purse. An initial makes even an ordinary item personal.
A magazine subscription is unexpected if you have an inkling of the recipient's interests, and it's the gift that keeps on giving.
Add on a little something to a gift card. If you are giving a restaurant card, wrap it with a menu. Or "frame" a gift card in a small frame that can be used again.
> It's okay to give money.
The service people you usually gift at the holidays (hairdresser, custodian, etc.) consider cash the best gift of all. As do the teenagers on your list. And cash is preferable to check. Personalize the gift with a small add-on— homemade goodies or a luxury chocolate bar or tuck the $$ into a fun pair of mittens (one-size-fits-all stretchy mittens sell for about a dollar). For a teenager you can wire bills onto a small table-top Christmas tree. Even ten one-dollar bills look pretty spectacular if the tree is small enough.
> It's a wrap.
You don't have to spend a fortune on fancy wrapping paper. You can buy a roll of butcher paper and rough twine that looks like straw (at a home supply or hardware store). Then slip a bit of fragrant greenery (thyme, rosemary or evergreen sprig) through the bow.
Use the cheapest dollar-store wrapping paper you can find for kids' gifts. The quality isn't great but it rips easily and noisily, which is all that matters.
Foreign newspapers (especially from Asia) also make gorgeous grapphic wrapping paper.
One family I know "re-gifts" the same Tiffany blue box year after year. Whoever gets it one year is beholden to give it to someone else the next, usually filled with a gag gift.
Speaking of boxes, don't seriously pack a gift into a box where the gift was not purchased. I've been on the receiving end of that as a sales associate. It's embarrassing for the recipient trying to return and embarrassing for the giver in absentia. You would never ever do that, right?