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Archive for Monday, September 19, 2011

The perfect holiday shopping plan: How to stay on budget and organized (with minimal stress)

Lawrence professional organizer Kimberly Erwin, owner of Family and Home Organizing, checks out the wares at Weaver's Department Store, 901 Mass. Erwin says she keeps her clients on task and under budget by first devising a plan.

Lawrence professional organizer Kimberly Erwin, owner of Family and Home Organizing, checks out the wares at Weaver's Department Store, 901 Mass. Erwin says she keeps her clients on task and under budget by first devising a plan.

September 19, 2011

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On the street

How early do you begin your holiday shopping?

Six weeks before.

More responses

Not to ruin your Monday morning, but it’s 98 days until Christmas.

Or 94 days until the first night of Hanukkah. Those who celebrate Kwanzaa are a bit luckier, with 99 days to go. Not much of an advantage, but surely those gift-givers will take it.

The point is that unless you’re the type who already has a closet stuffed with gifts compiled since the opening days of January, you probably haven’t started your holiday shopping yet. Sure, the “official” start day for holiday shopping — Black Friday, also known as Nov. 25 this year — is still 68 days off, but why start then?

Better to start now, says Kimberly Erwin.

Erwin, Lawrence, is a professional organizer and owner of Family and Home Organizing. She and Joe Flannery, president of Weaver’s Department Store, 901 Mass., give their best tips for staying on top of the yearly ritual/stress-maker known as holiday shopping.

Plan

First things first, you’re asking for trouble if you start throwing items in the cart without a plan. And Erwin prefers to plan as much as you can ahead. From when to shop for gifts to when to shop for holiday supper food to when to decorate your presents to when to decorate the house — it’s all in a three-month example plan she created for Go!

The first order of business? Create your own plan.

You can use the example we have posted with this story on Lawrence.com, or just fly by the seat of your pants and your own personal schedule — whatever works best for you and your personality. Whatever you do, set aside some time by the end of the month to create a basic outline of your holiday season and responsibilities — it will make things much less daunting.

“Getting organized for holiday shopping is fundamentally a process of time management that works for you personally,” Erwin says. “The first thing you’d need to do is establish a personalized time-management system, which is built with detailed goals and plans and which is based on your values related to this particular time of year.”

During your outline time, designate a notebook or computer file for your plan. Use this as a place to keep your master plan and budget. Next, figure out what sorts of things you’ll need to do this holiday shopping season, such as holiday present shopping, card shopping, food shopping (if you’re hosting dinner), present wrapping, present shipping, card shipping, holiday decorating.

Once you have an outline of what you need to do, pick when to do each of them and list each task on its appropriate day in a special color on your calendar.

One of the first tasks you need to schedule is a gift/card list planning session. Use the dedicated notebook or computer file to list whom you are planning to give a gift or a card. Then, write next to each name if the person gets a present, a card or both.

Budget

Next, set a budget. It’s a necessity, Flannery says.

“I think the No. 1 priority that people should do is to prepare a budget,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be large, but it’s important to stick to that figure. Otherwise, it tends to create some anxiety as the holidays get closer and people start to panic.”

Plug the gift recipients into your budget and brainstorm ideas for gifts. Erwin says that all you need is a general idea what you want and how much you have to spend — you’re just trying to avoid doing the math in a store flanked by a screaming child.

Shop

Once you have it all down on paper, the shopping should be less of a hassle, says Erwin. She recommends always carrying your holiday notebook or computer printout in your purse so that if you do run across something on a day not designated for holiday shopping, you can purchase it (and remember you purchased it and for whom), rather than make an expensive guess.

Flannery says that if you’re looking for specific items, you might want to start in October. He says that’s the month when stores make their inventories flush in preparation for the holidays.

If you’re not looking for something specific and are just shopping with a batch of possible ideas and your budget, Erwin recommends sticking to a specific shopping schedule you’ve created as part of your earlier master plan. In the sample plan she created for Go!, Erwin has two full shopping days worked in — Nov. 12 and Nov. 19. Both are eight-hour days with a lunch break worked in. Erwin says that if you don’t have an army of kids to buy presents for, you should certainly spend less time shopping — again, adapt your schedule to your needs and personality.

Wrap, hide and post

Just as with rest, don’t forget to add in time to hide, wrap and send what you buy to your master schedule.

Erwin says you should designate a hiding place for presents early on in the season — preferably during your outline and budget session. No place to hide anything or have a designated space that will fill up fast? Erwin suggests budgeting in a few large, opaque plastic storage containers for hiding gifts. There are models that have holes for padlocks to keep out those incredibly crafty and determined family members.

As for wrapping and packing, break up the duties. Erwin suggests taking time after dinner on a weeknight to hide yourself away and wrap all the gifts that are staying in house. Take another night to wrap and post all the gifts you’re sending out. Similarly, take separate nights to address and stamp holiday cards and to write them.

Splitting up the work is a great way to keep things organized and make sure you’re not left with a bunch of half-done to-do items during a week when you have four holiday parties to attend. Because really, why do all this planning only to have your good intentions fall apart because you’re having fun?

And both Erwin and Flannery think fun should be a major equation in the holiday equation. Erwin even suggests that you pick specific weekends and times to keep to yourself for fun and relaxation. Her favorite pick? Black Friday.

“I want to give people Black Friday and that weekend — at home,” she says. “Sipping tea. Eating muffins. Just relaxing, because that’s what the holidays are all about. They’re about joy and renewal and connecting in special ways to friends and family.”

SAMPLE MASTER SCHEDULE

(This is a sample — personalize it to your needs)

Sept. 24 (Sat.); 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

  • Holiday Shopping Organizing Session!

Oct. 1 (Sat.); 10:00 a.m. – noon

  • Purchase all holiday decorations for October holidays.
  • Purchase candy and other items.
  • Purchase storage containers in which to store decorations after holidays.

Oct. 2 (Sun); 10:00 a.m. – noon.; 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

  • Decorate home inside; outside.

Nov. 1 (Tues.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Compile Gift List of people/pets/organizations to send cards/money/gifts to.
  • Make 3 columns labeled “cards,” “money and amount,” “gifts and gift ideas” and list recipients’ names under appropriate column(s).
  • Include amount of money and/or gift idea(s) by recipient’s name.
  • Calculate postage for mailing cards and amount of total cash/checks needed.
  • Keep this list in wallet/purse or planner/desk – you will need it regularly over the next two months.
  • File this list under “Contacts” and/or “Holiday Shopping” when the holiday season is over and all of your holiday shopping/storing is complete.

Nov. 2 (Wed.); 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

  • Buy postage for cards at post office.
  • Get cash and/or verify checking account balance.

Nov. 2 (Wed.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Shop for all cards.
  • Use sticky notes on cards to remember who each one is for (if not bulk).
  • Keep cards in their own envelopes during transit and while stored.
  • Keep all cards in labeled “Greeting Cards Box” with lid; keep box on designated desk/table/shelf.

Nov. 3 (Thurs.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Refer to Gift List.
  • Fill out cards and envelopes by hand and/or computer program; include cash or check for specified recipients.
  • Apply postage, seal and return to Greeting Cards Box.

Nov. 4 (Fri.); 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

  • Mail cards at post office.

Nov. 4 (Fri.) 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

  • Remove October decorations.
  • Store carefully.

Nov. 5 (Sat.); 10:00 a.m. – noon; 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

  • Purchase all holiday decorations for November holidays.
  • Purchase storage containers in which to store decorations after holidays.

Nov. 6 (Sun.); 10:00 a.m. – noon

  • Decorate home inside; outside.

Nov. 7 (Mon.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Plan menu and cooking schedule for November holiday meal(s).

Nov. 12 (Sat.); 9:00 a.m. – noon; 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

  • Shop for December gifts.
  • Store promptly in designated area.

Nov. 13 (Sun.); 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

  • Grocery shop for ingredients, bulk items, supplies, etc. for November holiday meal(s).

Nov. 19 (Sat.); 9:00 a.m. – noon; 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

  • Shop for December gifts.
  • Store promptly in designated area.

Nov. 20 (Sun.); All day and night

  • Relax and renew at home.

Nov. 22 (Tues.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Grocery shop for fresh items for November holiday meal(s).

Nov. 25, 26, 27 (Fri., Sat., Sun.); All day and night

  • Relax and renew at home.

Nov. 30 (Wed.); 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

  • Remove November decorations.
  • Store carefully.

Dec. 3 (Sat.); 10:00 a.m. – noon; 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

  • Purchase all holiday decorations for December holidays.
  • Purchase all gift wrapping necessities.
  • Purchase candy and other items.
  • Purchase storage containers in which to store decorations after holidays.

Dec. 4 (Sun.); 10:00 a.m. – noon; 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

  • Decorate home inside; outside.

Dec. 6 (Tues.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Do all gift wrapping.

Dec. 7 (Wed.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Package all gifts to mail.

Dec. 8 (Thurs.); 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

  • Mail all packages.

Dec. 12 (Mon.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Plan menu and cooking schedule for December holiday meal(s).

Dec. 18 (Sun.); 10:00 am – noon

  • Grocery shop for ingredients, bulk items, supplies, etc. for December holiday meal(s).

Dec. 22 (Tues.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Grocery shop for fresh items for November holiday meal(s).

Dec. 23, 24 (Fri., Sat.); All day and night

  • Relax and renew.

Dec. 26 (Mon.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

  • Plan menu and cooking schedule for January holiday meal(s).
  • Decorate for January holiday.

Dec. 28 (Wed.); 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.)

  • Grocery shop for all items for January holiday meal(s).

Jan. 7 (Sat.); 10:00 a.m. – noon; 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

  • Remove December and January decorations.
  • Store carefully.

Rest, relax, renew ...

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