It’s July, which means we are thinking about Christmas in the Steward household. I promise we’re not those sorts of Christmas people, hanging up our Christmas lights in October. We are, however, both frugal and Christian, so it is important to us that our holiday celebrations are not completely driven by consumerism, but leave room for an element of the sacred. To that end, we’ve found that it pays (get it?!) to start thinking about Christmas, well, now. Here are some of the reasons why we start shopping for Christmas in July:
Structural Changes Need to Be Broached Early
In order to keep our sanity during the holiday season, we made two major structural changes in how our family celebrates Christmas. The first change was to make it clear that we weren’t going to visit both sides of the family (who live roughly six hours apart) on a single holiday. Instead, we alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas between each side of the family. So, if we visit my family for Thanksgiving, we go to Mr. Steward’s family for Christmas. The following year, we flip the holidays. Someday, I’d love to transition this to a model where our family comes to us.
The second major change was to make it so we were not expected to buy gifts for everyone. Thankfully others were on board, and now every Christmas event moved to a name-draw system that only requires each adult to buy a gift for one other person. There are several variations on this method, depending on the Christmas celebration we attend. Some celebrations include children also drawing names and some don’t, some exempt family heads who benefit substantially from the gifts. (The one exception across the board seems to be that adult children still buy gifts for their parents, and parents always buy gifts for their children.)
Both of these changes have not only saved us money by allowing us to spend less on gas and gifts, but they also gave us time to enjoy the Christmas season more fully by travelling and shopping less. The key to successfully pulling off such major structural changes is to bring them up early. Mr. Steward and I informed our family of our holiday plans the June that we were married (which also headed off potential problems now, as Bean is in increased demand by our parents). The following summer, we broached our desire to draw names, and initially met resistance. By Thanksgiving, however, everyone had time to think about it and was happy to move to the new system.
Time to Find Deals or Make Alternative Gifts
One of the best ways to ensure a good deal is to make a list of potential gifts for people on your Christmas list now, and start feeling out prices. We do this continually. Any time we see a gift that a person might like, we add it to an Amazon wishlist for that person (although a plain old Word file or notebook will do). Whenever we see the item for a great price, we snatch it up and hold it for the next gift-giving occasion.
Since we do most of our shopping for specific products via Amazon (and have Prime), we make heavy use of camelcamelcamel. Camelcamelcamel is a website with historical pricing on Amazon items and a notification feature for when the item reaches a price that you set. I usually set my price threshold low in July, and raise it the closer we are to Christmas. When the price is right, we buy and hold the item for the next gift-giving occasion. Since I had historical data on the lowest and highest prices ever when I set the price threshold, I know I am getting a good deal.
Routinely thinking about what gifts to get someone also helps us to find random things that would not otherwise have occurred to us (which is important since yard sale season is still going strong in July). I recently had the opportunity to pick up a $62 denim Thirty One bag monogrammed with my mom’s initial for $5. I know she will love it, but if I hadn’t just been thinking about what I would get her for Christmas a few days before, I honestly might have passed it over.
Finally, thinking early about Christmas gifts opens up avenues for creative gifts that take time (for you crafty sorts) or gifts that are logistically challenging. One of the best presents that I have ever given was a book of letters to my mother-in-law, written by her sons and daughters-in-law. There were tears, folks, and I think the project cost me $10. But, if I hadn’t started it several months in advance to allow time for thoughtful letter writing, it would never have happened.
Being Done When Everyone Else is Starting
For the past two years, I have been completely finished with Christmas shopping by the beginning of November. I can confirm that it’s really fun to say, “Oh, I finished that a long time ago…” when your friends ask how shopping is going in mid-December.
On a more serious note, I find it easier to honor the Advent season knowing that all of the “extra” stuff is out of the way. Regardless of your faith, freeing up your holiday calendar to spend time with friends, family, and community is what it’s all about. That’s a lot easier if you’re not running around like a chicken with your head caught off, paying top dollar for last-minute gifts.
What tips and tricks do you use to curb holiday spending? How far in advance do you shop for Christmas gifts?