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Shop More Mindfully This Holiday Season With These 5 Tips

Shop for everyone on your list without breaking the bank.

The holidays are quickly approaching, meaning family time, Christmas cheer, and a lot of holiday shopping. Our bank accounts are shaking in their boots! But just because you have 12 people on your Christmas list doesn’t mean you can’t spend mindfully (and save money) this holiday season.

As we approach the season of giving, there’s one universal truth we should all remember: it’s the thought that counts. Yes, we roll our eyes at this old adage, but it’s a cliche for a reason. Remembering this will remove a lot of stress around sourcing the perfect lineup of gifts, and help us avoid zeroing out our bank accounts in an effort to impress.

Contrary to frantic, consumerist beliefs, holiday shopping is best done with a strategy in mind. Retailers profit over your impulse purchases and excessive consumption during the holidays, creating the opposite of an intentional holiday season. After all, it’s all too easy for us to turn into Rebecca Bloomwood from Confessions of a Shopaholic once we step foot into an Anthropologie.

To help bring intentional thinking to your holiday purchases, we’ve put together five steps you can take to shop more mindfully this season. And no, they don’t involve extreme couponing or stuffing cash into envelopes.

Christmas

5 Steps to Mindful Holiday Shopping

Step 1: Make a list & set tiers.

The obvious first step in your gift-giving master plan is to make a list of recipients. Here’s the key though: create tiers to help guide your spending. Here’s an example of how the tiers could look…

Tier 1: Highest Spend 

  • Parent(s)
  • Grandparent(s)
  • Sibling(s)
  • Partner

Tier 2: Medium Spend 

  • Close friends
  • Aunt(s)/Uncle(s)
  • Partner’s parent(s)

Tier 3: Low Spend 

  • Cousin(s)
  • Boss/coworkers
  • Teacher(s)
  • Friend(s)
  • People you want to show gratitude towards (i.e. mailman/woman, doormen, cashiers at your favorite shops)

Mindful Holiday Shopping - Giving a present

Of course, this is an example, so adjust your tiers accordingly! By doing so, you don’t end up overspending on anyone who maybe doesn’t warrant an expensive gift. And on the flip-side, you won’t end up giving your Mom a single pair of socks. At least they’re fuzzy!

This list also ensures that you recognize all of the important people in your life. Maybe all tier 3 gets are some holiday cookies or a thoughtful card, but even that goes a long way with the more peripheral folks in your life. And who doesn’t like cookies?

Mindful Holiday Shopping - wrapping presents

Step 2: Set a budget.

In an ideal world, we all would have started saving months ago, but the holidays creep up and many of us find ourselves saying, “Wow, is it November already?!” First of all, get a calendar. Second of all, it’s okay if you didn’t budget for your holiday spending in June. Although next year, you should. These finance creators will help you get it together and build better money habits going forward.

Determine how much you can realistically allocate towards gift-giving. This number may be derived by evaluating how many people are on your list and the average cost of a gift per person, or simply by calculating out what you can afford, and then assigning each person a percentage of that number. Whatever you do, it’s not worth going into debt over buying gifts. And there are so many cheap Christmas gift ideas out there!

Mindful Holiday Shopping - wrapping presents

Step 3: Create a list of gift ideas.

We recommend beginning this leg of the process at some point in early-to-mid Fall. The benefit of doing this in advance is that you can be thoughtful about gifting and have plenty of time to keep your eyes peeled for deals.

This step will require the most forethought for Tier 1 and Tier 2 gift recipients. If you’re struggling to think of the perfect gift, here are a few questions to help you start…

  • What is something this person would appreciate having, but wouldn’t  spend money on themselves? 
  • What’s something this person already has that I could upgrade for a nicer version? 
  • What’s something that would make this person’s life easier? 
  • What’s something this person has expressed interest in? 

Luxurious towels, sheets or cookware are great gifts for the person who seems to have it all! High quality wine and liquor make for great gifts for the alcohol aficionado in your circle.

Holiday shopping at the mall

Step 4: Keep your eyes peeled for deals.

Now that you have your gift list, a budget, and some ideas for each person, it’s time to scour the internet for deals. Gone are the days of waiting in line at Target at 10 PM on Thanksgiving. The internet is a wonderful thing.

If you have a specific item or retailer in mind, subscribe to their emails to receive price drops and sale alerts. Additionally, keep a pulse on their websites to find the perfect moment to pounce. You best believe Black Friday and Cyber Monday will yield some good deals across all retailers.

Black Friday Sale

To really maximize your budget and get the most bang for your buck, here are a few additional tips:

  • Download a free browser extension like Honey, which will automatically scour the internet for the best deal before you’re about to check out.
  • Bundle purchases to maximize on free shipping. If you need to spend $75 at Macy’s to get shipping waived, try leaving gifts in the cart until you have enough to qualify (unless, of course, you’ll miss a good deal by doing so).
  • Check your credit cards for special offers. Some cards will give you cash back or points towards rewards for shopping at certain retailers. Hot tip: if you have an AmEx, you’ll find some major cash back offers in the ‘Offers’ section of your app.
  • Check out apps like Rakuten, which will give you cash back for shopping at certain retailers through their portal.
  • Use Fetch Rewards once you’ve done your shopping to get points for your receipts that can go towards gift cards to your favorite stores, including Amazon, Sephora and Starbucks.

Holiday shopping at a market

Step 5: Keep a running tab on all of your purchases.

You didn’t make that budget for no reason! Be sure to track each purchase you’ve made. It could be in a note on your phone, or if you want to be more sophisticated, an Excel sheet. The benefit of Excel is you can see exactly how much you have left to spend based on your budget. Voila!

Additionally, keep a note on your phone of which gifts you purchased for each person. It can be easy to forget items and end up overspending on a single person. To avoid this, check your previous purchases to ensure you actually need another item for Dad. We’re willing to bet that Dad won’t be too upset about your negligence.

Mindful Holiday Shopping - presents

Bonus Holiday Shopping Tips

  • Consider the person you’re buying for before splurging. Name brands are nice, but will the person you’re buying for really appreciate them? Consider this before you drop $150 on a fancy pan that your recipient may mistake for a discount item from HomeGoods.
  • Splurge on a couple major items, and surround them with smaller, more affordable items. Buy one to two nicer items for a recipient, and then beef up the gift with more affordable gifts from a store like HomeGoods or TJMaxx. For example, a Le Creuset tea kettle for Mom, surrounded by tea, cute mugs and fun tea steepers from Target. Get the picture?
  • Budget for your own Christmas gift(s). One thing that can cause us to go off the rails during the Holiday Season is the temptation to spend on ourselves thanks to all the great deals. Sephora is literally the snake in the garden telling you to eat the damn apple. Listen, you work hard, you deserve a Christmas gift. Just not twenty. Give yourself a budget that you feel comfortable with to shamelessly spend on $35 mascara and Free People claw clips. Treat this money like a limited resource–once it’s gone, it’s gone. Psst… You can always subtly suggest that your partner buy you that fancy lipstick instead!

Happy holiday shopping!

By Jess Lohr

Jess is a Cambridge-based, Syracuse-born twenty-something who loves coffee, dogs and stalking Zillow for her future home. Her favorite ways to kill time include strolling through Boston’s cobblestone streets, socializing over a glass of wine, and reading finance books (if only 22-year-old Jess were like this).

She has spent the past 4+ years working in Consumer Insights, and when she’s not working on her 9-5, you can find her pursuing her most recent side hustle as a dog sitter. Jess is co-founder of Adultescence, a podcast and lifestyle website with the mission of helping post-grads navigate adulthood.

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