Much as retailers would like us to believe that the holiday shopping season begins December 26th (you know, the previous year), many of us still cling to the notion that the green flag flutters down the day after Thanksgiving in these United States. These same retailers additionally like to stoke the idea that shopping is a joyful, exhilarating experience.
I—and perhaps you—know different. Crowds. Endless treacly holiday music. Faux peppermint and pine scent. Seasonal staff that points you in the direction of blinking Santas instead of comfortable loungewear. Parking spaces a state away from where you want to be.
Bah. And I say that with more than a dash of humbug.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you must retreat to a cave and emerge only after Rudolph and the boys have flown off to Fiji for a well earned respite. Instead, you might consider the following gift-giving options.
Be wary on Black Friday. At the risk of destroying the American economy with a single blow, I’ll suggest that Black Friday has turned from a day to hunt for bargains at your leisure into an Event. It’s now about getting up early and being part of the mob.
Sure, some places do offer bargains, but not always. The folks running these emporiums understand that Black Friday is A Thing and customers will show up regardless of whether they hack prices or not. It’s well worth your while to spend some time online researching prices on items you really want, making a note of each. Then, if you choose to venture out, compare the “sale” price with the online price. You may find that store prices are actually higher than what you can find online. (And higher than what that store asked for just two days before.)
If you’re already in the thick of it, take a few moments to download the RedLaser app to your iPhone. With it you can quickly scan bar codes and then check competing prices elsewhere. It may mean throwing that hard-won alpaca jumper to the pack, but it could save you money in the meantime.
(I will make an exception for the “Mom and Pop” stores that may remain in your town or village. Frequenting such places and paying a few bucks more is often worth it simply to keep them in business and, thus, maintain some kind of community flavor.)
Shop smarter at Amazon. A lot of us do much of our holiday shopping on Amazon. But we don’t all do so as intelligently as we might. Wouldn’t it be great if you could create a list of items that you want to buy and then be alerted when their prices drops?
You can. Travel to camelcamelcamel, create an account, and make your list (checking it twice is not required). Enter a price that you’d be willing to pay and wait for an alert (via email or Twitter) that tells you that the price has dropped to something you can afford. You can even view a history of the item’s price, which may provide a hint about when it’s likely to be discounted.
Use old gift cards. For years now the generic holiday present has shifted from the poinsettia and fruit cake to the gift card. “Oh, how lovely!” you exclaim, “An Amazon/iTunes/Target gift card! How thoughtful!” And then you shove that card into a drawer somewhere and forget about it entirely. Emailed gift cards are even more likely to be forgotten.
It’s time to remember. Many of us have dozens of dollars of unused gift cards lying around. There is absolutely no shame in digging them up and putting them to work. Heck, you can even slip them into an envelope and send them back to the original gift giver along with a cherry note that reads, “Gosh, I loved your gift of the Amazon card so much last year that I thought I’d return the favor! Happy holidays!”
Impose your taste on others. You know that song, album, movie, app, ebook, or audiobook you love? It can be sent as a gift to the target of your holiday affection. Just travel to the iTunes store, locate the item you’re after, click on the triangle that appears next to the buy button, and you’ll see a Gift This option.
But be tasteful. There’s always the danger that your gift of A Clockwork Orange may be received with an uncomfortable raise of the eyebrows. “Hah hah…erm, I think we’ll wait just a few more years before we show this to Little Joey, but… um, thanks!”
Give the gift of you. You know things. You do things. You have unique talents and knowledge that you can share with others. Given that you’re reading these words it’s possible that you know a thing or two about technology. Put that to good use by helping a relative or friend set up their new mobile phone, ridding their inbox of spam, or showing them how to find the best stuff on Netflix.
Because ultimately, it’s not really about getting the gift that’s easiest to acquire. Rather, it’s finding one that’s going to be most appreciated and heartfelt. More often than not, a helping held offered at the perfect moment is just that—a gift that lasts a lifetime.
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