What you want to avoid is the panic buying at the last minute when you are ready to get anything regardless of the cost.
So start with a piece of paper and down one side write out the 12 months, checking a calendar write beside the month holidays you celebrate with gift giving and number of people receiving the gifts( for example Easter- baskets for 4 children, 2 cards for grandparents, Chocolate bunny for spouse.)
Next write in all the birthdays and anniversaries you celebrate and finally any special occasions you know that will be happening that year, like a 25th wedding celebration or a graduation. This probably won't cover all the gift giving you're likely to give in the year as you will probably receive some invitations to events you had not planned on. Decide who will be given gifts and who will be sent cards my mail or e-mail.
Set a realistic budget for gifts and write it on the list. You might budget $20 for each adults birthday gift but $50 for a graduation gift. Use this list as a master plan and have a copy of it in on you so when ever you are at a great sale you can glance at it and see if there is anyone you can buy for. Once you have bought them a gift make sure to cross their name off the list. Remember that you don't have to spend the full amount on the gift, if you budgeted $20 and only spent $10 that does not mean you should then buy them something else for $10.
There might be some people on your list who really don't want you to buy them anything and have been telling you that for years.
If your aunt Ella has been asking you not to get her anything for the last 10 years but you feel guilty if you don't maybe this year cut a bouquet of beautiful flowers from you garden and give her an exquisite card that she can display.
Grown siblings might also be quite happy to stop exchanging gifts but bring up the matter tactfully and do it well before their birthday (or after) so they don't feel slighted.
You must keep in mind that the purpose of a gift is to bring pleasure to the person that is receiving it and very often price has absolutely nothing to do with it. There is nothing wrong with shopping at garage sales and thrift stores for gifts as long as it is done with the right intentions.
Antique dealers often check out garage sales and thrift stores for amazing deals and then go on to resell these items for huge profits in their shops or if they are new and unused they sell them on Ebay.
If that new in the box reel you spied at a garage sale for $3 is absolutely perfect for you brother-in -law for Christmas then buy it for him. If your sister loves vintage jewelry then scour the garage sales for some amazing bargains. (read How to Make Garage Sale Finds Look Like Gift Shop Treasures)
Liquidators and clearence stores are also great places to look for presents, sometimes they are only open for a few weeks out of the year at warehouses so check for ads in the local papers. If you find a really great bargain think of buying more than one and using them as your hostess gifts or thank you gifts. End of season sales are great for presents you need 6 months down the road. A pair of ski gloves bought on sale in March would be ideal for a October birthday.
Of course not all gifts have to be store bought, if you are known for your fabulous baking or jams then wrap them up. If you have any sort of artistic ability then a pencil sketch or photo of something meaningful to the receipient in a lovely (bought on sale) frame would be perfect.
Once you bring home the gift you bought on sale or from the thrift store or garage sale, with a sticky note mark who it is for and place it in a designated gift area. This might be a shelf in the basement or in your linen closet. If you have family members that like poking around to try to find their gifts put the gift in a covered storage carton and mark the carton "Items that need to be washed before given to charity". You could wrap the gift as soon as you bring it home but make sure that you write with pen on the wrapping paper who it is for in case you forget who you were going to give it to.
Finally the old saying "it's the thought that counts" really is true. Sometimes the most memorable gifts are the ones that just make us laugh. When a couple who both loved fishing got married one of their favourite gifts was from a family friend who sent them two lures with a note that read "Glad to see you two finally got hooked".
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Copyright Ingrid Talpak 2009