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Mommy on Fire's How To: Christmas Shopping

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! At least, for me it is! And that's because I absolutely love Christmas. For me, the holidays always bring me back to the happiest times in my childhood and I am honoured that it’s my turn to create a magical season for my kids.

There are so many elements to the Christmas season like baking, decorating, and cheesy holiday movies. But what I would guess is the most stressful part of it all for so many is the shopping. I wouldn’t fancy myself the best gift giver in the world, so my Christmas shopping routine pre-children was to wander the mall and buy whatever speaks to me. Ain’t no mama got time for that BS once small humans are in the mix. I barely have time to brush my teeth, so I'm for sure not heading out to the mall for an indeterminate amount of time to peruse the shops.

No, this year I had to get smart. Unlike Santa, I don’t have whole team of elves behind me, so I knew I needed to make Christmas shopping efficient and cost effective. I think I cracked the code – at least for myself – and it wouldn’t be very nice of me to keep this ‘hack’ all to myself.

Here's how I managed to stay on budget and organized with my Christmas shopping this year:

Set a budget

This started wayyyyy back in January when Samir and I created a rough annual budget. We knew we went overboard at Christmas last year and it just isn’t sustainable to do that year over year. So, we came up with a number (I vomited a little in my mouth at the thought of it), and that was that!

Don’t fret if you (and your partner) didn’t set up a budget months in advance but do make sure to set one before you purchase anything. Giving gifts at Christmas should bring joy to you and your loved ones. I don’t know about you but going into crippling debt does not bring me joy, so let’s avoid that by setting a realistic budget. Once you have that in place, let’s make a list!

Make a list

There’s no wonder Santa has a list and he’s checking it twice! Write down every single person you need to shop for – from the daycare educators to your neighbour’s dog! If you’re wrapping a gift for them, they’re on the list.

Once I made a list, I went back and made some edits. I was ruthless a-la wedding invitation style. You don’t have to do this step, but reviewing who I thought I had to buy gifts for versus who I wanted to buy gifts sparked a sense of gratitude and appreciation for those close to me and my family.

Set an amount for each person

This is when I started working in excel – because I am a nerd! I entered in all the names of people I was purchasing for in one column, and in the third column I set a dollar amount for their gift. I summed it up at the bottom and played around with the numbers until the sum was equal to my overall budget. Of course, you will want to take into consideration that people like your children or spouse might have a significantly higher amount (hi! I’m Santa and Mom, so I needed to budget for stockings and Santa gifts).

You might be asking yourself, well Mallory you skipped over the second column! No, my friends, that is where you put the gift you want to purchase this person.

Other columns include what you actually spent on the gift and the difference between your budgeted amount and what you spent.

Get into the fine details

As mentioned, my immediate family members require a higher budget and more planning. Samir and I decided that our family tradition will be everyone gets a stocking, a gift from Mom and Dad, and a Santa gift. So, to help keep all of that organized, I created separate sheets for each family member.

On each person’s sheet, I had a column for the gift type (ex: stocking, Santa, parents), then I had the gift idea, followed by budget, actual price, and difference. The total amounts for budget, actual spend, and difference are linked up to the first sheet with the master list – allowing for my totals to automatically update.

Now its time for the best part – the actual shopping!

What’s my strategy?

Create an Amazon List

Having the list of gift ideas was a game changer for me. Once I had them all set on the list, first stop was to go to Amazon and create a shopping list. This will allow Amazon to send you notifications when items on your list is on sale.

Actually Open Your Junk Emails

Second, I finally found a use for the incessant brand emails I get every day (multiple times a day). Every morning I looked at the top stores I knew had the items I was looking for (ex: Indigo, Toys R Us, Gap). Make use of your loyalty programs like Plum Plus or PC Optimum for extra savings. Another great tool was Rakuten – seeing what stores had double cash back on the items I was looking for, gave me such a dopamine rush!

Use Facebook Marketplace

I’m also not ashamed to say I stalked Facebook Marketplace for gently used items like unopened Duplo sets for Lola’s building table I’m making. The overwhelming cloud of materialism that is Christmas is not lost on me. Employing the second-hand economy not only saves me money, but also helps to keep my consumerism in check.

When I tell you I have not purchased any item on my list at full price – I didn’t know how much I could save by planning ahead! Bonus points is if you can manage to get this list compiled in October so you can stay focused during November’s Black Friday barrage of deals!

Look, Christmas is supposed to be a time of happiness and cheer and getting my shopping done and on budget before I open the first door on my Lindt advent calendar gives me the ability to actually feel those feelings. Rather than rushing around, panic buying, and stress wrapping on Christmas Eve, I am confident I will have everything done the first week of December. Allowing me to be in the moment and witness the magic that is this season!

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