I know I start a good 63 percent of entries by saying I’m really bad at this or that skill, but it’s true. In so many ways, I am terrifically incompetent. It is a vast and sparkling galaxy, the number of things I don’t do well. And so tonight, one more tiny star: I am bad at holiday gift-giving.
But I’ve gotten a little better. And so here are some useful guiding principles on how even the very poor/shopping averse can feel competent during this festive and joyous season.
1. Make your holiday gift budget. You know how much money you can spend without overdrawing your bank account/barely paying rent/unfairly resenting your relatives just for existing after you buy them things and then the previous two situations happen. So figure out what that number is. Write it down. Circle it. You cannot spend more than that.
2. Make a big, inclusive list of everyone you could be expected to give presents to —parents? Significant other? Siblings? Younger cousins/nieces/nephews? Close friends? Aunts/uncles? Work friends? Your boss? — then whittle down the list as much as possible. Can you just bake delicious treats for extended relations/work and non-close friends/etc.?
I used to ask my mom to relay to my uncles that while I was so very appreciative of their gifts, since I was also poor I would really appreciate it if we could keep gifts under $5, or better yet, exchange homemade things. I was too old for people to buy unreciprocated presents for me, but too poor to actually reciprocate.
2.5 Some people are not optional. Little kids in the family, moms and people who will be overly hurt if they get something for you and you completely neglect to get anything for them and don’t bother communicating this beforehand — these people should be toward the top of the list.
3. Begin to parcel out that money from step one. Maybe you can afford to buy three people (mom/dad/S.O.) $20 presents, five people (niece, nephew, sister, two best friends) $10 presents, and everyone else small tokens of your affection. That’s OK. If you’re 22 and making just-above minimum wage, people will understand. If they don’t, they’re jerks.
4. Try to figure out ways to spend less, but still get people wonderful things that they will enjoy. Used bookstores are super for this. Ditto Goodwill for home decor and books, amazon.com, garage sales, and just paying attention to small things people mention they might enjoy, like sweet-ass pens that cost $4.29 apiece. And don’t forget delicious homemade things.
5. Don’t forget that you should do all online shopping by two weeks before Christmas. Which means we are now getting into the wee small hours.
6. As you are purchasing things, online or in person, keep track of how much you are spending. Know how much of your budget you have left. If you’re going to make everyone, say, fudge, figure out how much the ingredients for five batches of fudge cost, and subtract that from your total. Stick to the budget. Budget. Budget! IT’S THAT IMPORTANT.
7. You do not have to spend $25 of your tiny, precious gift budget on wrapping supplies. Go to Target, and get two rolls of scotch tape, a pair of scissors, and one of those ribbon assortments that come with three colors. Wrap things in newspaper with a festive amount of ribbon. If you are poor, spending a bunch of money on seasonally-specific wrapping paper is completely unnecessary.
8. Pick a weekend in which all shopping and wrapping will happen. Clear out your schedule for at least seven hours. Yes. I know. It’s commercial and horrible and irritating. But then you’ll be done with it. In the grand scheme of things, seven hours is not that long. Unless that seven hours is being spent on Dec. 24, first in the mall then going crazy at home when you run out of Scotch tape. Do it now. Godspeed!