Shop Smarter, Not Harder

If I were to offer three little words of advice to all of the holiday shoppers out there, it would be: don’t. get. crazy. Trust me, it’s easy to do. I was speaking on this topic during a recent workshop and one woman shared this tale: She had recently landed a job at her dream law firm, and was eager to impress her new boss. So when she got the invitation to the annual office holiday party, she decided to buy her a gift. Not wanting to appear cheap, she dropped $250 on a beautiful Hermes scarf. But there was one problem: that one item completely blew her budget for the month! She had to cut corners everywhere else including walking to the office party through the snow in her festive attire because she could no longer afford a cab. As she thawed her frozen feet under the hand dryers in the bathroom at her schmancy company party she vowed that next year she would stick to something more modest, more thoughtful, and more within her budget.

Easier said than done, right? I understand; this time of year is sentimental (and prices on everything from holiday decorations to food to gifts reflect that). But it’s just not worth it to derail your budget in the very last month of the year when you’ve been so good leading up to it. Here are a few ways to gift smarter this year without looking like a Grinch:

Get Personal.

When it comes to elevating your gift-giving game, it’s about putting in the extra effort—not the extra dough. Take the time to find gifts that are specific, inexpensive and special for each recipient. I can write an entire book about the presents I’ve given to people over the years, whether for a holiday or after a great meeting. They are thoughtful tokens of love and appreciation; nothing lavish. For example, I gave a fun Superwoman USB drive to a hardworking female relative who said she liked the one I had on my keychain. I sent a little box with nail polish, top coat, and a package of cute emery boards to a friend who said she was thinking about trying a daring yellow manicure for her holiday vacation. One year, I sent a monthly subscription for a box of gluten-free snacks to a colleague who said she had a tough time finding healthy food at work. I keep an ongoing list in the Notes app on my phone where I jot down little things that people mention throughout the year, so that when the holidays roll around I’m not stuck for thoughtful ideas. The point is that the gifts should be personal, not pricey.

Avoid temptation.

As you can see, I’m a huge proponent of the thought counting more than the price tag, which is why you should avoid a little thing I like to call “price matching.” No, not the kind where you find a lower price elsewhere and ask your retailer to match it — that one, I fully approve! I mean the phenomenon in which you feel the need to spend the same amount of money on various people on your list. Here’s the thing: the price is only one component of the gift. The thought and the gift’s utility should factor in immensely, too. Maybe you spent $50 on a cozy wool scarf for your uncle, because he lives in blustery Chicago and walks to work. You want to get your aunt a $25 gift card for a manicure at her favorite local nail salon, but don’t want her to feel slighted. I say: bologna!! The price differential doesn’t matter in the least as long as both parties will enjoy (and actually) use their gifts, and sticking with your gut on the “perfect” gift regardless of a more modest price tag will save you money in the long run.

Show some love.

The holidays are an important time to show your regular support team some extra love. If you have a housekeeper, nanny, personal trainer, dog-walker, or any other person who is regularly working in your home, they come first. The custom is to tip them a day’s wages, but I also like the idea of giving them an extra day off if you can manage (after all, they probably have holiday shopping of their own to tackle!). If you do go the cash route, tuck it inside a festive card with a thoughtful note from the whole family. Gift cards are also a nice gesture, but unless you know their tastes keep it generic (Visa or Target gift cards are usually a safe bet). If you live in an apartment building or condo complex, your doorman and superintendent are the next group of people with whom you probably have the most day-to-day contact.

Tipping varies wildly by region, just as rent does, so asking your neighbors (especially those who have lived in the building for a while) is a good way to start. If you’re still not sure, calculate 2-5% of your monthly rent and offer that as a cash tip. Homemade gifts like cookies and candy are also a nice reminder that you appreciate the work they do for your home. If you’re like many women, you’re probably going to see your hairdresser, nail technician, and other beauty experts during the holidays. So there’s no need to seek them out for a tip; just tack on an extra 5% to what you usually tip at your next appointment. You can adjust this amount based on how often you see them: if you only get your hair cut twice per year, an extra 3% is totally understandable. But if you’re an “every 4 to 6 weeks” kind of gal, you may want to ramp it up to 7% or even 10% for all the time you spend in their chair.


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