Goal: Get Christmas Shopping Finished Early

I went to a store on Saturday to try to get my Christmas shopping done, and as I was standing in the checkout line I recognized that I was having a crazy moment. Not a crazy moment like when the kids are being noisy and it’s five o’clock and I’m trying to cope, but crazy as in, “Who is this person? This is totally not like me at all.”

What was happening?

I went to one store to buy a gift for someone else, and I came out with no gift but three things for myself: a wool sweater in a gorgeous shade of peacock blue, a matching pair of lamps with zebra shades, and a cape. Yes, a cape. No, not like a Halloween cape, more like an equestrian-style cape. I don’t know what came over me.


I did get all of my Christmas shopping done, which is what I set out to do last week in an attempt to minimize stress for the holidays. I’ve never done it this early before, but setting goals and focusing on specific projects like this works really well for me.

I did it: in one week  I bought and wrapped unique gifts for more than twenty people (including December birthdays because we shouldn’t forget those.)

(Twenty? Yes. And more. And before you ask, yes I did take some people off the list to shorten it. And yes, we do draw names for two family groups to keep it simple. Right now I’ll just feel fortunate to have so many people in our lives to whom we can give gifts.)

In all this shopping, I learned a few good lessons…

“A little for you, a little for me…”

Every year when I go Christmas shopping I’m reminded of this basic truth:

It’s so much easier to shop for yourself than for other people.

And this can get you into some trouble. It’s hard to concentrate on the gifts you need to find when you see a whole bunch of shirts on sale that you know you’d like. You’re already primed to buy, there are sales everywhere, and it’s the end of the year. It’s a weak spot.

Know what your wardrobe is lacking before you go shopping. Have a wish list. Avoid buying something random because it’s on sale — that can bust your budget.

Go Early

There is so much more selection when do your shopping early. You can find clothes in the sizes you want. You don’t have to wait in line to check out.

Whether you go early or go late, you’re spending the same amount of time, but going early makes you feel successful instead of stressed out. I’m so glad I can go into the Christmas season with that crossed off my list.

Go Fast

Just because you’re going shopping early, it doesn’t mean you should linger and spend more time on it. Get it done. For the first gift we bought we went to a department store and spent an hour wandering around before we made a decision. I looked at our long gift list, and I knew we couldn’t do that for every gift. We changed our approach:

  • Go to stores where you can buy gifts for more than one person at a time. This saves all the time you would spend driving, getting your kids in and out of the car, looking around, and checking out. After that first gift we consolidated our ideas and went to the antique store, the book store, and the hardware store. With most of our purchases made, we could finish up the rest of the list in other places.
  • Bonus! When you go to fewer stores, you’ll have less enticement to make impulse buys. The more stores you go in, the more promotions and sales you see.
  • Find a gift they’ll enjoy. You won’t find one that will make all their dreams come true. Don’t worry about it, just pick something.
  • When you do all of your shopping in a condensed amount of time, it is easier to know and keep track of how much money you’re spending overall than when your shopping is spread out through the whole month.

Wrap It Up

When you get your shopping finished, you’ll feel so good about it that you’ll want to throw your hands up and call it done. Buying all those gifts takes a lot of time, but you’re not done yet. You still have to wrap.

I always forget just how long it takes to wrap all those presents. When the wrapping is finished, that’s when you really are done.

I use my shopping list to keep track of which presents are wrapped so I don’t forget anything and nothing gets lost. Seeing all those gifts wrapped signals to me that it’s over and I can ignore the rest of the sales and advertisements. I don’t need to add anything else.

All that shopping and I only had one crazy moment of impulsiveness get to me…I think that’s pretty good.

I returned the cape I bought. It was awesome for about an hour, but I decided it wasn’t perfect. I saved the peacock-blue wool sweater. It was so beautiful that we decided it could be my Christmas gift this year, not that Doug needs any help, I just really loved it. I’m keeping the zebra lamps too; I have a plan for those.

Now all the presents are put away at the top of the coat closet, and I’m deciding what to do next for preparations. I’m thinking I need to do some housekeeping before Thanksgiving, or maybe we need to get everyone haircuts.

What have you learned about going gift shopping?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I love this post, I love everything about gifting!!! And you hit a certain truth there with: Get something they will enjoy NOW!!! How often I have anguished over that extra special gift that would enrich and change their life forever… when really a lovely magazine would have been the perfect treat – for a laze during the hectic season!!! So often I have anguished over a gift for our kids and then … weeks later I can’t even remember what it was!!! Something they will enjoy now is my shopping mantra it has literally taking years of stress off my life!!! I know my dad would love a new deck on the front of his house or the tools to do it… but now for his birthday next week he would really really like that dutch chocolate he considers just too expensive for an everyday treat.

  2. I would love to start and finish Christmas shopping early this year! How do you handle shopping for your little ones? Are you finished with them also?

    • I did finish the kids’ gifts. We give our kids one main present and sometimes one or two smaller additional gifts, depending on the year. This year they each received their own bedroom when we bought and renovated the house, so we decided to keep it to one gift and give each of them a special toy. We also do stockings from Santa, but those are small fun things like apples, juice boxes, and crayons, and I haven’t done those yet. We have such a big, extended family who gives our children gifts that they receive plenty.

  3. Most online shopping options are offering free shipping for the holidays, so since I have to mail a good chunk of gifts to family and godchildren back in the US, this is a great way for me to ship presents affordably. Often times I’m able to find something totally unique online, like in Etsy or Big Cartel shops. These shops usually do adorable gift wrap, making getting a package even more special.

  4. It’s easy for me to spend a lot on little things for someone. Instead, I’d rather just really get them 1 thing nice. First, it can save money, second, it saves time in shopping, and third, saves time in wrapping, storing, and toting.

  5. I love the gift-wrapping stage. That means an afternoon while the kids are napping and I have a few shows lined up on hulu.

  6. How cool is it that you bought things for yourself and were able to reevaluate and return what didn’t work?

  7. What have a learned about going gift shopping?

    I’ve learned that I prefer to shop online. :)

    I’ve learned more about storing gifts — my mom taught me to store young kids’ gifts in the luggage until Santa comes — brilliant!

  8. i want to see your gorgeous sweater;)

  9. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed because I had 25+ kids to buy gifts for, add in my son’s grandparents, and I’m feeling a bit cash-challenged. I am almost finished with the kid presents. I just have a few “finishing touches” on them and then get them wrapped.

    I love the way you put it into perspective: “Right now I’ll just feel fortunate to have so many people in our lives to whom we can give gifts.” Blessed.

    Thank you for that reminder.

  10. I always used to have a hard time Christmas shopping for my grandparents once they were in their 80s. Their lives had simplified so much that they didn’t need or want much. So one year, I made a donation to the local Humane Society in their names, because they are animal lovers. No gift I bought before or after has ever compared to how delighted they were with that donation. So I have learned that sometimes giving to charity on behalf of the recipient is a valid, sometimes better option than buying an actual object.

  11. i read your recent blog about this be done by thanksgiving and adopted it as my own – i am feeling so good to be almost done. so great!

  12. Yay for remembering December birthdays! (Mine’s December 18th) :)

    I’ve followed your lead on shopping early for gifts, and I am quite proud of myself for how much I’ve done so far. I’ve already purchased 8 gifts, and all the ingredients to make the cookies for the 20ish families that we give cookie plates to. Now all that’s left are 4 more gifts to buy, and all the wrapping. Well, plus all that cookie baking. But that’s fun for me.

  13. Congrats!

    I have ordered most of the gifts I buy online and I have started making the rest.

    Still to do the wrapping… For the kids I use kraft paper bags stamped with their name, toys that need assembly and/or batteries are go in there all ready to be played with, makes for less stress on Christmas.

    • Yes! So many gifts for children need preparation and assembly. So much better to have it ready.

      • Karen (scotland) says:

        We even go so far as to unwrap other people’s presents to our kids, cut all the wires from the packaging, make sure batteries are in, put them back (loose) in the box and rewrap (with same paper or our own fabric bags – just transfer the gift labels.)
        Seems extreme but after one Christmas morning was spent building a Fisher Price garage, we learned our lesson.

    • The paper bag idea is great! I have my kiddos color coded, so a paper bag with their color bow, and I’ll be all set. Plus I hate buying wrapping paper, it’s so expensive and such a waste. PLUS, I can save the paper bags to use to start the fire pit in the backyard. Thanks!

      • Thanks Joan!
        Hmmm…. color coded kiddos, I’ll have to think about that! Did they pick their favorite color?

        We actually re-use the bags since they just take the gifts out of them and toss them aside, so if rescued quickly enough I don’t even need to buy new ones every year. Made for a lot less crumpled paper last year. I have two boys, they don’t care much about packaging anyway, but they love being able to read their name on the bag.

        Happy wrapping (and shopping) everyone!

        • Yep, they picked their fav color. Except the youngest who was a baby at the time. I keep colored trays on the table so they don’t fight over who’s got 1/2 a cookie left, etc. I knitted them hats in their color last year, no more fighting over that. Works great for lots of things because there is no question who’s it is!

          I will try to salvage the bags for re-use, but thinking that it’s not gonna work out that way!

  14. 1) I shop online

    2) I just returned from a day of shopping and I didn’t get everyone’s name marked off because I just didn’t find the right gifts – but I knew it was time to come home because I was walking around the mall and realized, “I’m bored”. That’s my cue to stop.

    3) Make a list and check it twice – I always forget someone.

    4) My achilles heel is finding stuff for the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes (which have already been stuffed and shipped off this year) for NEXT year. And I buy it. Every time. I finally took some time yesterday afternoon to make a list of what I had for each age group so I know what I do and do NOT need.

    And for the record, today I managed to come home with just two things for myself – paper Christmas napkins and a Christmas pillow that sums up how I’m trying to change and simplify my decorating this year. :-)

  15. I’m the opposite – I head out to go shopping for myself with something specific in mind and end up coming home with stuff for my husband and kids. This is how my husband has twice as many clothes as I do.

    This year, my kids will get one homemade gift, one store-bought toy, and consumables like coloring books and crayons in their stockings. I’m maxed out on the STUFF in my house. No more! I’m going to make our kids clean out their room before Christmas “to make space” for the new things.

    My target to get the shopping done early is because of shipping stuff. We don’t mail a lot but we do send a couple of boxes. The last thing I need in December is to waste time standing in line at the post office, and to waste money sending things express to make sure it gets to the destination before Christmas Eve.

    • Karen (scotland) says:

      We’re the same. Planning lots of “consumables” as the house just can’t hold any more stuff.
      Karen (Scotland)

    • I agree about having a room clean out/de-clutter before Christmas. Nice to start with a clean fresh space to re-fill :o)

      Also, as part of my kid’s gift this year I am buying (probably from Craigslist) a shelf and possibly bins for the new toys. I am getting them all Playmobil and am anticipating that all of the little pieces could cause some Mommy stress if I don’t Pre-think a solution. Since we haven’t had these toys before they’ll need a special home. I won’t present the shelf as a part of the gift, it’s just that I am keeping it in mind in terms of budgeting.

      Three of my four children have birthdays within two weeks of Christmas so lots of planning and shopping :o)

  16. Another perk to getting it done early is that the wrapping can be enjoyed as another festive decoration for longer than the walk from the car to the recipient (which is often my way).

    • Wrapping early is my big goal for this year. I don’t love doing it anymore and so put it off, but it makes it even worse when everything is unwrapped in a matter of hours – it feels like wasted time, money, and paper. So I vowed to wrap as I go and get things put under the tree so we can enjoy the way they look!

  17. Thank you! You have motivated me to get my shopping done!

  18. My shopping is almost done! My husband and I just shop for our kids, and they had a $100 budget this year, now……we did make a slight exception for our 5 yo son, we went over just a wee bit (the quality of the item we got him is really sturdy). Now wrapping is a whole different ballgame for me, I suck at wrapping. My kids (5 and 3), heck even my 8 yo golden retriever can probably wrap a better gift than me. :)

  19. Did you have a list of exactly what you wanted to buy before you went out shopping? I am trying to get all my Christmas shopping done before December 1, but I’m still drawing a blank on what to get for some of my nieces and nephews.

    • No, I never know what to get for other people ahead of time. I have a list of people, and then I just go see what I can find. That’s why I tend to do most of my shopping for other people in stores, even though for myself I can usually shop online.

    • When I have a list like that, I go with the theme. Everyone gets books. Or a puzzle. Or a certain type of toy. That eliminates a lot of the thinking for me.

  20. Rachel!
    Your last post on this subject inspired me. As of today, we are completely done with our shopping AND we are wrapped. I hope to stay out of the stores the entire month of December! :)!

  21. Just wondering…Where did you find a wool sweater in gorgeous shade of peacock blue? I think I need one too. Also, that photo shows a touch of your revamped kitchen. Will you be showing more photos of it and the rest of your house??

    • It was at Marshall’s. I’ll be showing the kitchen and some other projects that are still in progress soon.

  22. I have learnt that having only one person ( my daughter ) to buy for makes Christmas easy. Everyone else made a pact not to buy for one another. One trampoline on lay-away and I am done ! Wowzers !!!

  23. We are trying to buy local or handmade or fair trade items only, if possible. While we were out of town this weekend, I came across a shop called Ten Thousand Villages. I was bale to buy some really cute simple toys for my grandchildren, some cute delicately detailed crocheted finger puppets for the little ones! And some very different type gifts for a few of my kids. Not quite done, but a chunk. 2 of the adult kids are getting Kindles and 1 is getting a pro camera, so those are taken care of. I hate shopping, especially in crowds so I will be glad to be done!
    Six steps to stop procrastinating today

  24. this is such a good goal! I’m sorry you returned the cape – I was curious to see it. I have a vintage cape that I LOVE.

  25. I’m not sure if I’ve written about this in one of my comments before but our gift-giving is about as simple as can be, which thankfully leads to less rushing during the holidays.

    We limit ourselves to three gifts each, representing the three wise men’s gifts. Gold was given to kings, so we give a material gift; frankincense was used by priests, so we give a spiritual gift; and myrrh was used in burial rites, so we give an experience, or in other words, a memory we can take with us into the next life.

    We try to use our gift-giving as an excuse to be creative and think of the Savior. For extended family, we try to be as simple and frugal as possible, putting more time and effort into the gifts than money. If nothing else, we spend a lot of quality time with family because that’s honestly what they’ll remember most.

  26. I’ve learnt that when it comes to buying for children, if you see a great deal on something they would like, grab it. My son would really like a leappad for his December birthday. On Monday I saw one at 20% off, but thought I’d wait till the next bank credit to get it. By Tuesday evening the offer had gone, and all the stores I’ve checked are out of stock! Now we are getting worried we won’t be able to get one without paying a huge premium. All the other presents for the kids are bought but this was his BIG thing this year.

    • Karen (scotland) says:

      I had the same problem last year with a Lego Pirate Ship. Saw it in November for £80-ish and thought “Hmm, pricey. Better shop around”. Next week, it appeared the country had sold out and the ones on ebay were going for around £140 plus.
      Karen (Scotland)

  27. You know what saves me at Christmas? ETSY!!! There’s a lot of beautiful, handmade stuff on that site (www.etsy.com) so you’re not only getting something lovingly made but you’re supporting emerging craftspeople and artists, too. Plus you can avoid the shops, which is a *huge* bonus in my books …

  28. I start Christmas shopping around September. I keep my list of people in my head and an eye open for things that they would like. So far this year I’ve come across several second hand or handmade treasures this way, making the gifts feel more special and making me feel better about my consumption patterns.

    Because I live in Europe, I’ve been picking up gifts on trips here, which has been a great strategy so far.

    As for wrapping, I can’t do that until I get back across the Atlantic, as I’d rather not have airline security unwrapping my Christmas presents!

  29. I love getting the Christmas shopping done early! I always end up forgetting what I got people, so when they go to open their gifts Christmas morning, it’s like a surprise for me, too. :)

    My family is getting each other only one gift this year. My dad was diagnosed with cancer early in the year and we’ve been really learning the hard way what is most important to us, and this year we just want to spend money on doing things with each other instead of material things. :)

  30. I try to do any actual shopping early, but what happens is a week before Christmas I start seeing great deals, or something cute for one of my kids, and I *forget* about everything I have already bought…and I also forget what I have gotten for other people until they open the present :-)

  31. Wow, your organization and discipline amaze me! I am not there yet.
    However, one thing that has helped me a lot with the kids is setting up an Amazon wishlist for each of them. That way, when I have an idea I put it there. When a birthday or Christmas comes along, I have a list of ideas that I’ve researched (plus Amazon is usually the best price). It also helps with grandparents and great-aunts who keep pestering me for gift ideas for the kids (and who go crazy if left to their own devices!). My MIL loves it because she hates mall shopping, and she even takes care of the ordering part for her less-internet savvy relatives. And I don’t have to worry about the kids getting all kinds of toys that I, for one reason or another, would rather they not have.
    Beyond Amazon, I try to shop at the local artsy shops in our town square – I know a lot of the owners, so it is a really nice community feel, and I know I’m supporting local businesses and artists, while getting one-of-a-kind gifts.
    But nothing is actually bought (much less wrapped) yet – maybe next year!

  32. I am really liking your Christmas shopping posts this year. We are setting a goal to have the shopping done by the first week of December.

  33. Wow! Very inspirational and practical! I have lists of things to get people and want to get a lot done this weekend so that I can enjoy the holidays for what they really should be – spending time with the people you love over warm drinks and good food.

  34. Amazing job, Rachel – this is inspiring.

    I especially need to follow your guideline about going fast – I do tend to linger the longer I have. And your suggestion to not be fixated on getting The Perfect Gift for everyone but simply something they’ll enjoy is a great point.

    I see in your answer to one comment that you don’t shop with a list. I have learned that I am the opposite and have to shop with a list of general ideas at the very least, or else I find myself walking the mall, tired out and unable to think. If I reach that point for some reason, I recognize I have to go home and think some more.

    I have also learned to keep track of where I put away the gifts. One year I bought gift cards for several people and put them away “in a safe place”. It was a harried year for a number of reasons and I was late wrapping gifts. I couldn’t find the gift cards and had to go re-buy them as it was too late to come up with another idea. Fortunately, they turned up a few weeks later and were for stores we use frequently. It stressed me out immensely though, and has spurred me to greater decluttering of my house as well.

  35. Four years ago we began making all our Christmas gifts. It started out from necessity (no $) and though that hasn’t changed, we’ve found that we really love choosing the projects we’ll make each year. We’ve also come to value Christmas itself more than the “stuff” associated with it. The only hitch is that our families haven’t made the same jump and so it’s sometimes awkward.

  36. Thanks for sharing about your impulses to buy for yourself! I think (hope?) that identifying that before I go out will help me catch myself when I’m doing it. Plus I really admire your small, thoughtful wardrobe, and so it was good to know that you still shop impulsively sometimes, too.


  37. Rachel,

    I like the sentence and agree that It is far easy to shop of ourselves then others. I generally like to shop for others, but I tend to buy things I like, so just in case if they do not like what I got, I can use it or so I think :-)

    I think I have done my Xmas shopping (we have short list this time) and a few items for sudden urgency if needed. Wrapping is not done yet, I am still going to wait though for it.

    Zengirl @ Heart and Mind´s last post…How To Simplify Gift Giving During Holidays

  38. I too am finding over the last several years that getting done early makes it less anxiety inducing for me. Some of the things I have done to make it easier:
    1. My hubby made me an excel spreadsheet to plug in names and cost. It gives me a nice running total of exactly how much I am spending…works better than trying to keep a running total in my head. I keep stockings on there too, they add up!
    2. We homeschool, so we take several fieldtrips throughout the year. I always try to pick up a small token at the gift shop (magnet, pencil, craft from that time period) to save for winter solstice. That way, it makes them remember the trip, and we talk about it again at the holidays.
    3. We live in a rural community, but are lucky to have a lot of great local items to buy. It makes for a great gift basket. We have local: winery, coffee roaster, orchards, cheese makers, yarn spinners, dairy, ice cream/yogurt makers. All kinds of goodies!
    4. ETSY.com, a great way to support artists!
    5. All the time, gas, energy it takes to go to the stores just isn’t worth it to me. Amazon has most everything else.
    6. A few years ago, as a reward for getting done early we took the kids out to dinner on the eve of winter solstice. The only catch was, they got to order dessert first! They didn’t know what to say, and we thrilled :-)
    It seems like the simpler we make it the better it gets. Hard to believe it at first, but it turns out to be true. The kids are super happy if they have gotten something they really wanted, and all they want to do is play with it, not have to sit still and open 20 more gifts.

    Love this post Rachel, thanks!

  39. This is a very savvy shopping plan to get it done. To use a cliche’ “been there done that” to mean I’ve been in the thick of the craziness before. Plus I have also shopped early too. But now that my kids are grown and with my immediate family we’ve opted out of giving gifts for most part.

    I make bake goods, give gift certificates of things I will do for them, and give little funny items sometimes. But we mainly get something during the sales, before or after Christmas — something that the whole family can use.

    We partake of the sales online — and locally, if it’s a really good bargain for something we’ve needed or find something I really like. But I dislike shopping for special occasions, if I can help it.

    Did you know that there is over a billion dollars spent on gift cards (Probably because people don’t know what to get someone most times.) that don’t get spent by the recipient. That’s pure profit for companies.

    I like keeping Christmas as simple as possible, so I can appreciate the moment.

  40. As I note on the wrapping……

    I am DVRing some Christmas movies so one afternoon I can send my husband out with the kids and spread everything out in the living room to wrap at once. Maybe a some hot coffee or chocolate to complete the mood :o)

    I pick a color theme for the year and buy one super big roll of paper or two smaller rolls that are in the right color (usually Hobby Lobby and very inexpensive) then I buy a one or two rolls of one inch wide satin ribbon to tie them with. The satin ribbon is in the craft/sewing section vs Christmas. (again usually Hobby Lobby and usually 50% off, very reasonable) I think using the ribbon makes such a difference since I like pretty gifts :o)

    Sometimes I buy gift tags and sometimes I make them, this year I am using the free printable ones from Jones Design Company’s blog!

  41. I love Christmas shopping, but I found that if I did it too early I lost all enthusiasm for the gifts by the time it came to Christmas. So now it is all done at the end of November although this year I think I am going to need another hiding place…

  42. That spot book on the counter is so great! I just read that to my nephew before bed the other night and I loved it! Whoever is receiving that book is lucky :)

  43. Over the years, my gift giving has gotten more personal as I try to stick to the mantra you stated: go early to avoid pressure and think of what the person will enjoy. I used to think it had to be the end-all, be-all of gifts, and found myself so stressed that the enjoyment of giving was diminished. Not the way to go! We also greatly reduced the amount we give, limiting ourselves to simple things that can be used right away, sometimes handmade if we can manage it. Our children also only receive one big gift from us and maybe a couple of little ones. They are so spoiled with gifts by family that they aren’t missing a thing!

    Rachel, as usual, you have given me food for thought and an amended action plan! I almost always shop in advance, but wrapping simply doesn’t/didn’t happen. This must explain why I now have a bulging stash cupboard full of gifts past their intended giving dates. Why? I shopped so far in advance, forgot what I bought, had a new idea and gave something else when it was time. So silly! I don’t do that anymore (though I’m still trying to whittle down the stash of goodness). Wrapping would eliminate any worries of it happening again. A wrapped gift with a name on it means I’m done! Thanks!
    Jennifer´s last post…Balinese dancers and a give-away!

  44. I know this is NOT the point of this post, but the book sitting on your counter – Press Here by Herve Tullet – is one of my favorite new children’s book of the year! I’m a children’s librarian and love when I see people buying quality children’s books! FYI- It is a perfect gift for anyone over the age of 4!