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Painless Shopping Careful Planning With Lists And Firmly Set Budgets Will Save Money, Time And Headaches

‘Tis the season for giving, and that can be a chore. To save you some legwork and, hopefully, time and money, here are some ideas to get you started.

Like Santa, begin with a list. Write down the names of all the people you need to shop for, with their ages, jobs, hobbies and interests. This ought to give you an idea where to start looking for items they will like. Of course, you could just ask them directly.

There are no shortage of specialty shops and department stores in Spokane, the Valley and Coeur d’Alene.

You, however, have a limit as to how much you can or will spend. So the next entry on that shopping list should be an estimate of how much you’re going to spend for each person. It’s not a good idea to take credit cards to any store without planning; you’ll be sorry!

Gifts for small budgets

Keeping in mind the very limited budgets some people must stick to, here are some places and gift suggestions that won’t break the bank. For instance, if you have a little girl who likes to play dress-up, go to Value Village or any Goodwill store and get a pile of dress-up items, including shoes and gaudy jewelry, for little money. Silk scarves sell for a quarter at Goodwill. If you have an old trunk or “treasure chest” to put them in, she’ll be delighted.

And what do little boys want? They have to be just about the easiest to shop for. Anything that runs on batteries, anything that is loud, anything that has wheels. Matchbox cars sell for around a buck apiece; Toys R Us has a remotecontrol turtle mobile for $25. For quality and the most versatility of any toy, Legos are wonderful - watch for “sale buckets,” a good deal at $12.

Another option for those with limited budgets who want to do something special is BJ’s Books and Brew on Francis Avenue, next to the Goodwill store. I found a red leather nail-care kit for $10; they have a large quantity of books, including coffee-table books and antique prints. A great place to browse, but don’t wait to buy what you like there, for at those prices, nothing lasts long.

Home-made food items make a good generic gift. And I do NOT mean fruit cake! Make a batch of divinity fudge or peanut brittle and find a pretty cookie tin at Target or any department store (starting at $2.50), to wrap it in. This is especially helpful for moms whose children live all over the country.

For significant others

Ah, but you have the money and you want to spoil people, you say? Well, let’s talk spouses and significant others.

At Victoria’s Secret in NorthTown Mall, the store manager said some husbands come every month to buy their wives a gift (and will those husbands please give mine a call?).

“But I don’t know her size and I’m too embarrassed to ask the salespeople,” you say. Don’t worry, they’ve heard it all and they’re there to help. Here’s the secret for getting the size right: Dig into your wife’s dresser or closet and look at the labels. Or, take her best friend along - if she can keep mum, that is. She’s also likely to be knowledgeable about price and value.

What about him, though? Does he golf? The Bon Marche has everything in the way of golf accessories - instructional videos and books (around $19.95), even a golfer’s set of barbecue tools ($30). There’s also such items as a motorized tie rack ($35) or a plug-in-the-lighter coffee mug for his commute ($15).

By shopping for men’s skincare and fragrance products at the Bon, you have a chance to guess how many golf balls are in a golf bag, and if you guess right you get the bag (and the balls, too).

A note on fragrance, men or women: If at all possible, find out what they normally use. Though Estee Lauder packages their fragrances in irresistible containers ($60 each, if she only wears Chanel or Opium, the scents will clash. Similarly, an Old Spice kind of guy probably won’t like Brut.

While you’re at the fragrance counter, check out Estee Lauder’s gorgeous compact and mirror cases $25-$50).

For young and old

The only people who aren’t specific about what’s in pretty little bottles are girls, 2 to 12 years old. At Payless are darling gift sets starting at about $3 for a basket with little soaps and a sponge.

The adult versions of such gift baskets - coordinated soaps and bath gels, bubble bath in a champagne bottle ($2.99-$6.99, Payless) - make great gifts for seniors, too. Older people are often hard to shop for since they already have everything and don’t have much room for storage. Small usable items such as nail clippers, bath beads, etc., are nice, as is a simple rose in a bud vase.

But what they would really like is more visits from you, and if you can’t visit with them, this Christmas take pictures of everybody and write a long letter to go with them. Payless has special “grandparent” photo frames, which little kids can color ($4.99 includes mailing box); another choice is a large frame with space for several different pictures (about $7 anywhere).

For older children, though they beg for everything they see in commercials, consider more valuable and lasting gifts. For instance, books (by the way, even little people love getting books; as little as $3.99 buys them their very own copy of “Harold and the Purple Crayon”).

Teenage girls, no matter how much into grunge, will appreciate make-up, hair products and silk items. If you want to give jewelry, purchase a gift certificate, though. Unless you are a very relaxed parent, make sure it’s not for body-piercing stores, and ditto for boys.

For boys, how about a watch ($30 and up), a sturdy backpack ($12.99, Target), or snowboarding accessories (REI, Gart, Bon, starting at $12) instead?

Since it’s the ‘90s and kids are handy with computers, there are games and software products available by the bushelful almost everywhere, from Shopko to Toys R Us to Circuit City ($15-$65).

For kids: “Reader Rabbit” editions ($20-$30) are a favorite at my house, but before you buy, check to see what they already have.

The hot game systems on the market are Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn or Sony Playstation ($150-$200). They run from $20 to $70, with most in the mid-range.

Quick tips

If you need more suggestions, what follows is a list organized by age and price, from little to big. If the store is not specified, the item is widely available.

Set of baby dinnerware, The Bon, $15; Christmas bib, $6.50, baby elf outfit, $11.

Little girl’s Christmas velvet dress, starting at $30; big girls’ holiday dresses, $40-$70, The Bon.

Hair clips, combs, jewelry for girls of all ages, prices range from 99 cents at Payless, to between $20 and $200 at Nordstrom and The Bon jewelry departments, which offer Swarovski and other designers. They’re also available at Claires at the Post Falls Factory Outlet mall and NorthTown, which offer wide a selection of trinkets at great prices.

For gag gifts, The Bon has a nice selection of boxer shorts (around $15), some of which glow in the dark; check out the holiday ties, which run around $20 and feature the Grinch and even make music.

More conservatively, a nice set of cufflinks ($30) or Ray Ban sunglasses ($99-$150) will improve the looks of any man who cares; of course, Foster Grants from Payless ($10-$20) are great, too, and it won’t be such a big deal if they get lost on the next ski trip.

The Nordstrom ladies’ socks and pantyhose department is highly recommended. Not only do they stock lots of varieties and brands, the store has its own brand, which is more than sheer and more than pretty and wears well ($6 a pair or $9 for three pairs of cotton socks). When in doubt about the shade, buy taupe.

Everyone but everyone can use slippers. Perennial favorites are Isotoner; it’s amazing how luxurious feet can feel for $10. For girls, they come in bright colors with tufts and glitter. Men’s slippers run higher, starting at about $15. Nordstrom has slipper-socks for $12 to $14.

You can spoil ‘em rotten with collector dolls, such as Mme. Alexander editions: $95-$200 (for the set Lucy and Ricky); Barbies starting at $45; Rapunzel to $250 for the Russian Empress. Other collector dolls run $19.95 and up.

The pretty crystal figurines and music boxes at The Music Box in NorthTown Mall are in same price range as collector dolls.

A game of golf and one night’s stay at the Coeur d’Alene resort runs about $200 for two.

Stocking stuffers

Key rings, electronic pets, play lipstick, real make-up, costume jewelry, little soaps or bath beads (Soap Shop, Riverpark Square); small photo frame (1-Hr. Photo, $2.99); phone cards, starting at $10 at post offices; disposable flash camera, $10.

Box of crayons and large paper pads; CD storage items, from wall-mounted to take-along ($4.99 and up); kids’ sunglasses, kids’ luggage.

Stationery sets; calendars; candle holders and other knicknacks; night-lights or lava lamps, hand-held electronic games, electric keyboards.

Have a good time shopping - and stick to your list like glue so you’ll still feel good about this Christmas when the bills come due in January.

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