Yes, by nature of the profession, educators are already strapped for time. But leave gift shopping until shortly before the holidays and you’ll find yourself even more stressed out and spending way too much time and money.
However, adopting some the strategies of the shopping overachievers we all know (and secretly envy) can help you avoid getting caught up in the crazy. Yes, you CAN be the envy of your friends and family and get everything done early! It just takes planning.
With the help of fellow educators, we’ve collected seven ways to help you get all your shopping done while sticking to your budget. Plus, you can use these ideas to get started even earlier next year.
1. Create a list with a per-person budget and stick to it! Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to buy, at least have a dollar amount in mind for each person on your list. This will help you keep spending under control. Use the method you know you will use, whether that’s pen and paper, or computer and smartphone. Keep it with you so you’ll have it if you find a few extra minutes for a shopping run. (Take advantage of extended holiday hours!)
2. Go high-tech. Use time- and money-saving apps and websites to plan strategic strikes. Coupon Sherpa, both the website and app, tracks down brand-name online, printable, grocery and mobile coupons. Sites such as Mint can help you stick to your budget.
3. Buy online. Middle school teacher Lesley Buckner, from Berea, Kentucky, shops online to save time. She makes sure she waits for sales, free shipping and also remembers to make use of her NEA benefits. “Last year, NEA Click & Save helped me save an enormous amount of cash,” she recalls. “I bought down vests from Lands’ End and saved at least $20 per vest.”
4. Combine sales with coupons to save the most. When Buckner shopped for her down vests, she was able to use Lands’ End coupons when the vests were on sale. Nearly every week stores are offering coupons in the newspaper or online. You can often get extra deals by signing up for store emails.
5. Think in themes. If you’ve found a kind of gift or a theme that works, stick with it year after year. Take Angela Hardy, a former third-grade teacher who now teaches at Unity College in Unity, Maine. “My mother-in-law loves antique kitchen utensils, and after 30 years as a home economics teacher, she appreciates each item,” Hardy says. “I love wandering through small antique shops or yard sales, and finding that one item that would put a smile on her face.”
6. Buy in bulk. If you have extended family and/or lots of friends to buy for, think of more generic items that you can buy in multiples. For example, buy the same popular toy for several children or a pretty scarf in different colors for several relatives. Just be aware of recipients who might be opening their gifts at the same holiday party.
7. Give gift cards—it’s ok! While not a first choice for gifts, Berta Sipe, an elementary physical educator, admits that when you give a gift card, “it saves you from getting the wrong item or size.” Gift cards can fit any budget or timeframe.
And to get you started on NEXT year:
Hit the after-holiday sales, then buy all year long. “I usually do holiday shopping throughout the year because as a teacher, I only get paid once a month,” says Buckner. “To budget and still purchase quality gifts, I must shop throughout the year.” She’ll start next year’s holiday shopping literally the day after Christmas and then stock up all year long when she finds bargains.
These tips should help you get your holiday shopping off on the right foot. And even if you can’t put them all into practice this year, you can keep these ideas in mind for the next holiday season and beyond.