exhausted shopper

Being an introvert during the holidays is a veritable hell. Forget the obligatory office parties and family gatherings, I fear most the packed aisles and endless checkout lines. True, I could just buy everything online and hope for the best. (I can’t begin to express my love for Amazon Prime). Sometimes online shopping works, sometimes the “huge” stuffed animal you buy your niece looks like a pencil topper when it arrives (if it arrives at all), and you’re left scrambling for a present on Christmas Eve.

I may loathe crowds (ok, people in general), but I adore my friends and family and take pride in finding thoughtful gifts each year. I’m also really cheap…not in a Here’s a roll of toilet paper, Merry Christmas way, but in a I want to give my loved ones the best presents I can without blowing my budget kind of way. If I know exactly what I want, online shopping is a snap. However, I’m often inspired by things I see in person, which means I have to venture into the world.

I’m not a nice person when I’m rushed or crowded and nothing kills my holiday spirit faster than road raging my way to a strip mall to circle a full parking lot like a vulture. Holiday shopping during the holidays often makes me feel more like a lemming or frantic slug than an elf. So, after years of buying gifts for an extensive and diverse group, I’ve assembled the following Cheap Introvert’s Guide to Holiday Shopping in the Real World:

Make A Damn List

I forgot my daughter’s extended-day Kindergarten teachers one year and had to buy a gift at a value club (the closet store to my office) on the last day of term. The only present left was a fifth of vodka (which, though entirely inappropriate, I’m sure they would have appreciated) and a tin of random cookies. I clutched the cold metal to my chest like Gollum as frenzied shoppers pushed past me to the summer sausage-and-“cheese” platters that require no refrigeration. Never again. I now take the time to really consider my shopping list. I even go through it with my husband (the non-gift shopping extrovert who remembers people I sometimes forget). As cheap as I am, I’ve contemplated buying an extra Treat Tower to keep on hand for crowd-gift emergencies.

Set a Budget

You can go about this two ways: Set an overall budget for all the gifts you need or a budget for each group on your list (teachers, nieces and nephews, siblings, etc.). I’ll get to why this is important later.

Start Early

I’d sooner bash my head against a wall than muscle my way in and out of stores on Black Friday. In fact, I strive to have 80% of my holiday shopping complete by Thanksgiving. The remaining 10% are fairly impersonal gifts that can be purchased at the liquor store (because who doesn’t like wine and lotto tickets) or stores I have to shop regardless (Think candy from the pharmacy or a Christmas Cactus from the grocery store)

I credit my mom for my manic holiday prep. Before most people have taken down their Halloween decorations, my mom is halfway through wrapping her Christmas gifts, let alone buying them. Starting early means shopping when the stores are less crowded. It also frees up time during the hectic holiday season to hide in a closet and sneak an emergency piece of chocolate. Self-care is important y’all.

A note of caution: You might have to wait to buy some presents for your own kids. Small children change their minds often and until they’ve written that letter to Santa or plopped on the Big Guy’s knee, you’re kind of screwed. I would walk through fire for kids, so I would go to the store for them during the holiday season. We do schedule our Santa visit early AF. Luckily, what they want is usually on a commercial, which means it’s usually online, and I can save my motherhood martyring for hot coals and the norovirus.

But for everyone else, where exactly are you supposed to find all these marvelous, cheap-as-shit gifts before Thanksgiving?

Craft Fairs

I score my most unique presents (often for a steal) at these event. As an added bonus, I love supporting independent artisans and find the crowds less intimidating outdoors.

Hit End-of-the-Season Sales (including Christmas)

I know, you JUST got through more hours of social interaction in the past four weeks than in the rest of the year combined. You just want to climb into bed and binge watch bad TV until Spring, but hold strong a little longer. There are several advantages to buying gifts throughout the year, most notably avoiding the holiday shopping crowds and spreading the expense through multiple month’s budgets. Plus, despite being a thoughtful, caring introvert, there’s always that one person on your list who ends up with a snowman serving tray (because WTF do you give them otherwise?). It’s inevitable. At least you can save 75% on Frosty. For some reason, I can handle the after-Christmas crowds better than pre-holiday shoppers. Maybe the deals make it easier to stomach. So, like a distance runner sprinting to the finish, I stock up before melting into my bed. Shop online if you must, but do it. I’m also a fan of President’s Day, Fourth of July, and Columbus’ Day sales for finding great deals without the massive crowds.

Sweep Discount Stores Like a Shark

The key to buying thoughtful gifts at places like Tuesday Morning, Burlington Coat Factory, Home Goods, and Marshalls is shopping often. The inventory in these stores changes constantly. On the occasional lunch break, I scurry through the aisles, finding things for the thirteen kids on my shopping list. Get in, get out, and if you see something, buy it. It probably won’t be there again. You can apply your holiday budget in two ways at discount stores:

Cheap: Buy better presents because they cost less.

Real Cheap: Use the “suggest retail price” as the amount spent.

So, for example, if you’ve budgeted $20 for Uncle Bob and his scarf only costs $11, but retails for $20, you can either give Bob the scarf and call it a day or slip in a few scratch-off tickets and some candy. How much do you like Bob? That’s on you. At least you have nine bucks to contemplate the degree of your affection and/or obligation (and whether or not you went over budget elsewhere). Whatever you do, make sure you’re done mulling it over by Thanksgiving.

Don’t Forgot all the Non-Gift Crap You Need

I take my kids to the shoe store at the end of October every year and even purchased my four-year old a pair in the next size because I feel a growth spurt coming. There is no way in hell I’m going to the mall in December. I buy their Christmas outfits before Thanksgiving as well as any tights, hair bows or PJs they could need. We also stock up on light bulbs, tape, wrapping paper, and bulk dry goods. I do not go to value club stores in December unless it’s to buy a tin of shitty cookies and sprint to the express line. (And never again.)

With a little planning, you too can shop for the holidays in the real world. Just make sure you’re done before shit gets real (usually a week before Thanksgiving) and have a bar of chocolate waiting in your closet. You’re going to need it.

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Kathryn Hively

I started Just BE Parenting as a way to cope with the anxiety of balancing work, motherhood, and the impulse to write. That’s right, I’m not a parenting expert. I, my kids, and my family are perfectly flawed in MANY ways. As a parent, I’m trying to let go of perfection and just BE the best mother I can for my kids. The ‘B’ and ‘E’ in Just BE Parenting also represents the first letters of my children’s names. What works for me and my family may not work for you and yours. That’s ok! Even if we’re not the same, I hope you’ll find something relatable here.

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