Have you noticed how birthdays, anniversaries and holidays always sneak up on you? Your logical brain knows that a whole year (52 weeks!) goes by in between most celebrations, and yet the calendar often catches you unawares. Quick! I need a birthday gift for my husband / aunt / nephew! Who do I call for that?
While I don’t recommend calling your CPA with this question, I bet there is a thing or two he or she could share that would relieve some of the stress and pressure. If you were to call me, here is what I would recommend.
First of all, everyone has a different way of managing their gift purchasing process. Some people genuinely enjoy shopping for the gift right before it’s needed. They find that this approach inspires their creativity and gives them focus. If your current way is working for you, there is no need to change it. On the other hand, if you dread the last-minute rush to the store and find it hurts your budget, here are some tips for holiday and gift shopping, the Tracy Stewart way.
Step 1: Create a system to capture ideas when they occur to you.
I will let you in on a secret: very few people are fantastic gift-shoppers under pressure. For most, last minute shopping is no different from writer’s block. They find themselves aimlessly haunting the store aisles and waiting for inspiration to show up, which can be frustrating and unproductive.
How do you make it better? By eliminating the guess-work and the need to wait for inspiration. You need to capture gift ideas when they visit you. If you pay attention, you will notice that your family, relatives and friends drop gift hints all the time without even meaning to do so. You have probably heard your brother mention a book he would love to read. Your friend might have waxed poetic about a kitchen gadget that would make food prep so much easier. If you create a system for writing those things down when they happen, you will have a ready-to-use reference guide of perfect-fit presents. How easy is that?
The key to making this work is to set up one system and stick to it every time you have an idea or a hint to capture. The system could be as simple as a list on your smartphone, a document in Evernote, or even a small notebook in your pocket. What you use is not as important as the fact that you use it consistently.
Step 2: Buy gifts throughout the year to spread out the expense.
Nobody loves to see their bank balance drop and credit card bills spike around the holidays. To avoid this common mistake, shop throughout the year. It has been observed that people would rather part with $1 ten times than with $10 once, so use this to your advantage. Spreading the expense over a longer period of time allows you to catch sales, take advantage of free shipping, and get other small perks. Pro tip: when you have purchased a gift, make a quick note on your list so you don’t buy a duplicate!
Step 3: Find a great place to hide those gifts.
No, really, you need to do this! The secret hiding spot must be discreet enough for the recipient to not stumble upon the gift stash accidentally. In the case of curious children, you may have to outthink their determined search mission. The secret location must also be easy for you to remember. We have all had the experience of having tucked something away so well that we cannot find it until 3 years later – don’t make that mistake!
I also recommend making a quick note on every bag and box with the name of the recipient and the anticipated occasion (birthday, anniversary, Christmas, etc.) Not having to scratch your head and dig through a dozen of bags to find “the one” is priceless.