The Smiths Go Christmas Shopping

by Gary Foreman


John and Mary left the mall and headed for the family minivan. Each carried a number of packages. "Hon, when we get back to the car, let's regroup a bit and figure what our next stop should be." John usually hated shopping. And Christmas shopping was the kind of shopping that he disliked most. But the smile on John's face was evidence that this wasn't the ordeal he had feared.

Why was this year's Christmas shopping different? Mary and John had spent some extra time preparing in the comfort of their kitchen before venturing out in the stores. Their preparation included a plan that would help them save both time and money.

The plan was a list with four columns. The columns were headed "whose gift", "how much to spend", "possible gifts" and "stores". Mary and John began by listing all the people who would receive gifts in the "whose gift" column. They remembered to include grab-bag and gag gifts, too. They purposely left three or four blank lines after every name.

The Smiths progressed to the second column. Here they listed what they thought that an appropriate gift should cost. This had a number of benefits. First, they could total the entire list and see how much they were spending. They compared this total to the family spending plan. They made adjustments to the gift plan so that total spending was in line with the family budget.

Another advantage to this step was that it avoided family arguments. Both Mary and John were able to discuss what to spend on each individual. They limited the cost of each gift to what was on the plan. You wouldn't hear "How much did you spend on Aunt Edna?!?" in the Smith house!

After they had agreed on the financial part of the plan, Mary and John moved to the "possible gifts" part of the plan. With catalogs spread out all over they listed possible gifts for each person. The only thing that limited their imagination was the spending limit. Compared to fighting the crowded malls, this shopping was easy. No circling for a parking space!

They tried to list two or three possibilities even though they might only buy one gift. That way they would have some options when they were actually shopping. In some cases they noted a store with a price and any sales that were scheduled.

Like most of us, the Smiths had two people on the list that were impossible to shop for. In past years they had wearily wandered the malls looking for an idea. Now they had time to call Mr. Hard To Shop For's mother or wife to get an idea. Much easier!

In some cases they had filled out the "stores" column when they listed a possible gift. Wherever they had blanks they filled them in now. They listed more than one store for items that could be found at a number of different places. That way they'd have options when they were actually doing the shopping.

Only after they completed 'the plan' did Mary and John start shopping. They began by looking to see what stores showed up most often. Naturally, they began at those stores. In some cases they would buy at the first store. Sometimes they would just note the price of an item on their plan for future reference. Before they left the store they reviewed the plan to make sure that they weren't forgetting anyone who had an item listed for that store. That way they cut down on return trips to the same store.

When they made a purchase they noted the price in the "how much to spend" column. At their second stop, Mary found a sweater for her sister that was less than they had planned. She made a note of the savings on the bottom of the plan so that she could use it later if needed.

Now John and Mary were nearing the end of their annual gift hunt. They sat in the van and decided that it wasn't worth negotiating cross-town traffic to save $2 on Uncle Harry's shirt. Rather they would buy it at the next store where they planned to buy for John's brother.

Mary started up the van and moved out into traffic. She thought how planning had made shopping much more pleasant and economical. John broke the silence. "This worked out well. Instead of running around like crazy, we get to spend more time and energy on the things that matter most. After this last stop, let's go home, put on some Christmas music and some hot chocolate and wrap some presents." And that's just what they did...


Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and he's a regular contributor to CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

Take the Next Step

  • Check out our Christmas Countdown Calendar. A 5-week to-do list to help you prepare for Christmas.
  • Check out some additional articles to help prepare for Christmas this year.
  • For more inexpensive Christmas gift ideas, click here.
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