The holiday season is nearly upon us and you know what that means: temptation. No, not temptation to gobble up those delicious party snacks and awesome desserts. That’s fine by me — a holiday party is a great way to get a whole day’s worth of free food, all in one sitting.
Nope, this time I’m talking about the temptation to spend money on gifts for other people. Sure, it’s the season for giving. But that doesn’t mean you have to actually spend your hard-earned money on frivolous gifts for everyone. I mean, you’ve been saving up some serious cash by not spending money on groceries. Don’t get tricked into thinking this is why you’ve been squirreling away your dough for the past month. Once again, I am here to help you save money on all your (limited) holiday shopping.
Let’s start with the basics: regifting. Regifting is a timeless tradition that everyone dabbles in from time to time. But for you, it will now become an art. Regifting — and regifting well — takes some serious skill. You can’t simply grab a gift bag that you think you got from Aunt Susie, throw in a bottle of wine that you think you got from Uncle Rich, and give it to cousin Danny. No one wants to be the jackass who accidentally gives back a gift to the person who gave it to you in the first place.
So to be a skilled regifter. The spirit of regifting must be in your mind 12 months of the year, not just on December 24 (and the day before Chanukkah) when you realize you’ve screwed the pooch and waited too long to shop. In order to do this, you must be organized about it. Whenever you get a gift that you don’t want/need — and you should be doing this at all major holidays, including birthdays — put the gift in a previously chosen location. Back of a closet always works or in a cupboard is good too. Now, you must record these gifts. Create a folder on your computer for this purpose because let’s face it, you’re just not organized to keep track of a random notebook. Just type up who gave you what gift and you’ll be in great shape for the holidays. I realize it’s a little late to do this for the current holiday season, but at least now you have a New Year’s Resolution.
So let’s talk about some ideas you can put to use right now. Picture frames are a lovely item that have been used as gifts for who knows how long. But before you run out to Christmas Tree Shop or Target to purchase a few of these thoughtful offerings, take a look around your own house or apartment. See any picture frames? If you’re a person, I bet you do. So, go ahead and take the pictures out of those frames. Slap the pictures on the wall with some Scotch tape, like a less classy graduate student (see my apartment for prime examples). You might want to clean off the picture frame a bit, since it’s bound to be dusty. You know you don’t spend your money on dust rags and those foofy duster things that are supposed to bend and flex and clean in all the nooks and crannies. Those things are for people who can afford to buy new picture frames for gifts. And don’t worry about your own lack of picture frames. You’re sure to get a couple as gifts over the course of the year. It’s the circle of life.
If you’ve already used up your supply of picture frames, you might be interested in a more edible present. Lots of people go for those big towers or baskets of fruits and muffins and such. It’s not a bad idea. But don’t even think about ordering one from a catalog. That’s like asking your well-intentioned back side to get ripped off. You can simply make one on your own. Head to the grocery store and check out the sales. That’s how you’ll be picking out what fruits to add to the basket. Couple apples, maybe some pears, and a nice package of English muffins. Not too much- everything has to fit into the small sized basket from Christmas Tree Shop that you picked up for fifty cents. It won’t look as good as a catalog basket, but you’ll get some points for the effort of doing it yourself (and everyone will know you did it yourself).
Sales are a great way to shop for yourself while also doing some holiday shopping. My favorite store to do this in is Bath and Body Works. I used to work there, so I know all the deals. Their best sale is during the summer, though that won’t help you now. But add it to your notes for future reference. Fortunately, the store has a sale pretty much all the time, the best one being the Buy-3-Get-2-Free deal. This way, you get to replenish your own stock of favorite shower gel, lotion, and body spray, while also getting two gifts for future use. No one actually wants to get a product from here as a gift. It’s never the right scent or type of lotion that we actually use. But somehow, it has become a classic holiday gift item. So jump on the bandwagon and enjoy the ride.
Baked goods are a great way to go in terms of a gift. That stuff kills it every time. I’m not telling you to do anything too intense. Clearly, that’s not my style. Just grab a couple of bread mixes in the box (I suggest pumpkin or cranberry for added festivity). They’re great because everyone will think you slaved over a hot stove for hours. No one needs to know it takes approximately 3.5 minutes to go from box to oven. And one of the best parts — these guys don’t even need to be wrapped up all pretty. Throw some tin foil around each one so they stay fresh and toss them at the nearest relative. Sure, everyone knows you didn’t spend much, but everyone also knows that you’re just a poor student. Learn to milk that excuse for as long as possible and you’ll be golden.
Got an old gift card lying around that you haven’t used? Probably- gift cards are notorious presents. But don’t just hand your gift card off to someone else. There’s always the chance that the original gift card giver will spot your impropriety. So go out and stretch that gift card to its max, buying all kinds of cheap little gifts for people. You’ll be buying gifts without actually using any of your money, plus you’ll be catering to that urge to shop that I’ve been telling you to stifle. It’s all about compromise.
Let’s talk wrapping paper. As in "let’s never buy wrapping paper again." Seriously, could there be a bigger waste of money? Just think about it for a minute: when you buy wrapping paper, you are buying something that is going to be ripped to shreds and dumped into the nearest Hefty bag. What to do instead of this wallet-sucking material? Alternative one is to throw the gift in a store bag (Old Navy and Gap always has nice bags and you know you have plenty of those, you clothes whore). Hand it off to the recipient and simply say, "Sorry, I just ran out of time to wrap it." If you’re a student of any kind, no one is really going to blame you. Besides, your gift is so crappy that the crappy presentation of the gift is hardly going to be talked about. Really, it’s not even worth it. Wrapping a bad gift in real wrapping paper is like popping one Tic Tac after a loaded sausage: doesn’t matter how you try to cover it, you still smell like shit.
Alternative number two is to pull the prodigal child routine with your parents. I assume most people are going home to their parent’s house for the holidays. You could always wait until you get home, visibly show your enthusiasm for being home with family, then offer to help wrap gifts if only you can use some wrapping paper for your own gifts. Your mom will be so happy to see her baby home, she’ll practically throw the stuff at you. Hey, if it’s free and at your disposal, are you really going to say no?
You now have all the tools for a successful holiday season. Wondering what to do about Uncle Bob’s "extra friendliness" going on under the holiday dinner table? Sorry, can’t help you there. Just throw a pumpkin bread in his hands. That should keep him busy for a while. Now go enjoy your holidays.