Christmas in October

Christmas gifts.
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I know this will come as no surprise to those who know our tendency to plan, plan, plan, but we have already started Christmas shopping. In fact, we’re well into the process.

And you know what? It is awesome.

See, here’s the thing. Every year, Christmas shopping gets more stressful. We can always come up with a long list of things Alex would like, but Julianna’s desires remain very simple: books and music. But we have hundreds of books, and she’s deliriously happy with the music we already have. And Nicholas? Nicholas loves everything, but thanks to Alex we already have everything: Duplos, trains, superhero action figures…

For the last couple of years, we’ve brainstormed, made lists, and hired a babysitter to go shopping. But let me tell you, those shopping trips are anything but fun. We feel under the gun. Nothing ever seems like enough; we feel compelled to have equal amounts of gifts for each child, but the inequality listed above makes it really tough. I spend the whole buying process feeling anxious and under pressure to get it done before the babysitter bill racks up too much. Not enjoyable at all. This is a perfect illustration of why I wrote a book about reclaiming Advent in the first place.

And it was really expensive. (Disclaimer: if you know us at all, you know we are collectively the cheapest people in the universe. I’m sure many people would roll their eyes at me calling it expensive, but as far as I’m concerned, having to pull money from savings instead of covering out of the budget qualifies as EX.PEN.SIVE.)

Plus, there’s this factor. Last year, the kids loved their toys…for a month or two. But they haven’t touched them for the last four months.

It’s time for a change.

So this year, we’re taking a little different tack:

  1. Start early. Really early. As in making lists in early September.
  2. Spread out the expense. The last couple of years, we’ve panicked at the last minute, realizing we’ve forgotten gifts for teachers and the like. That’s never a recipe for getting something they’ll actually use and appreciate. This year, we’re starting to collect Panera gift cards via the local SCRIP program (one each ordering session), and gift boxes from Penzey’s.
  3. Limit the toys. I know we can’t avoid toys altogether, but we’re scaling way back. Why waste money on things they aren’t really all that interested in? My kids are experiential kids, not toy kids. Alex even said a few weeks ago, “I like toys that help me play. Like Wolverine claws.” (If only we could find those.)
  4. Think creatively. Guess what? We desperately need pillows and bedsheets. Why not get some fun ones and wrap them up? And the kids, fighting over the Spiderman bath sponge? Sounds like a Christmas gift to me!
  5. Check the bargain aisles. So far, bargain shopping has netted a book for each child (a fairy counting book, not Tinker Bell; a photo book of trains; and a car game book, total about $20), and we picked up two containers of sidewalk chalk for $.50 each.
  6. Go handmade. I’m planning to make a couple of headbands for Julianna, and enlist Alex’s help. Being my artistic one, I know that will be right up his alley.
  7. Go with time-gifts instead of Stuff that’s just going to lie around making more clutter. My work list is getting so long that it’s tempting to try to plow through the mornings and not spend time with the little ones. But they love to help me bake. Why not get some fun cupcake decorations and give them to the kids as Christmas gifts? Use them up, make a memory, and consume it. Sounds like a perfect gift to me.

That’s our plan for this year. But I would love to hear from others. How do you deal with planning Christmas gifts your kids will like without a) stressing out, and b) spending money on things they aren’t going to care about?