Step Aside, Santa

You might not have a sleigh, a staff of elves, eight tiny reindeer or a sweet elderly woman willing to make you cookies every day, but you can pull off the holidays without pulling your hair out.

Woman making her Christmas list

1

Make your list and check it twice

Columbus never would have set sail with just a rough sketch of how to get to the new world, now would he? Nor should you set out into your town or city without a plan. Organize your holiday list by person and by group if it helps. For example, you can itemize your kids, spouse and sister, but you can lump "church group" or "teachers" or "neighbors" all together. When you group folks together, you might find something you can buy several of that fits the bill.

Next to the person or group on the list, put their wish list and a monetary amount, if you have that established. Next to each item, put the store where said holiday treasure can be found.

Before we move on, do yourself a favor and keep the list manageable! Is this the year you cut out a few people who never reciprocate or for whom you buy strictly out of obligation? Why, yes, it is.

2

Map out a strategy

Now that you have your list, rip off a second piece of paper. Write all the places you need to visit, with the things you need to buy there and then (this is key) put them in order of location. You can start anywhere you want, but be mindful of traffic patterns during certain times of day and try really hard not to backtrack or worse yet, go to the same place twice because you forgot something. Those time-wasters are for amateurs. You are a seasoned holiday professional. Some may snicker at the idea of putting this much thought into holiday shopping. Those people are the ones who have an off-the-rails meltdown at their kids, in public, by three in the afternoon.

3

Set an alarm, sleep in your clothes

We're not kidding. Stores open early, and you want to take advantage of that for lots of reasons. Go to bed early the night before, get a good night's rest and set the alarm for a half hour before the first store on your list opens. At the holidays, the early bird doesn't get the worm. The early bird gets to cruise through the stores, have first pick of everything, not wait in line and be home putting things under the tree before dinner.

4

Bag it

Bags are a crucial and oft-overlooked aspect of holiday shopping. Whenever possible, have your purchases put in a bag with handles. Some bags, like those from Victoria's Secret, already look like gift bags and are ready to put under the tree. But even plain brown bags with just the store's name on them can be dressed up with ribbon, tags and an ornament if you so choose. Don't be afraid to ask the retailer if they have gift bags or something that can pass for a gift bag. The more gifts you can tag and toss under the tree without having to re-wrap, the easier your life is going to be.

It's not a bad idea to put reusable bags in the car, too. Those big bags you got at Costco or the ones you take to the health food store can help you organize your purchases in the car. Maybe one bag is assigned to "house" and another to "co-workers." This will minimize your trips from the car to the house when you're done shopping and help you prioritize what needs to be tagged and wrapped in what order.

5

One-stop shopping

Let's suppose you want to really simplify these steps for a more organized shopping spree. You follow all of the same tips as above, but you can drastically minimize your travel time by visiting Simon Malls. Simon Malls are outlet malls located across the country and are a lifesaver at the holidays. They bring together high-end retailers like Gucci and Versace and popular favorites like Zumiez and Nike — all at drastically reduced outlet prices. When you can concentrate your holiday shopping efforts and enjoy deep discounts, you are beating Santa at his own game.

More holiday shopping

Don't forget the stocking stuffers
7 Shopping tips to reduce holiday stress
The kindness catalog

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