These days, you can almost count on seeing Christmas decorations and gift items for sale before Halloween, and that is just weird. I love the holiday season as much as anyone, but seeing Santa in October means many of us will be really sick of him by Dec. 25.
I still have the battle scars from wounds received as a young wife, daughter and mother trying to make the holidays special for everyone in my circle of influence. For many years I thought I had the power to create magic in people’s lives, and in turn made sure the season was full of disappointment and stress for everyone, especially myself. The ever-popular game of balancing visits to family and creating your own traditions just about always made someone mad, because they felt slighted or not quite as attended to as the other in-laws. Sound like your happy holidays?
Then toss in the demands of all the parties, workplace events, shopping, baking and gift exchanges and snowstorms, and it’s no wonder that the season can be short on wonder.
For buyers, planners and sellers, some tips to make the season bright:
• Set a budget and be sure to include incidentals like postage, wrapping and additional purchases at the grocery store. If you have a difficult time not using credit to make Christmas happen, next year figure out how much you need to set aside each month and do it. When December arrives, you have the cash on hand. Talk about a stress reliever.
• Shop smart and sell smart. When you see a sale, make sure it really is a sale. Every year we see popular gift items with sale tags attached that are really the same price tag from a month ago. Shop and compare, and know what you are buying. A smaller gift of higher quality is a lasting memory, not a throwaway that will be forgotten by 2011.
• Gift cards are a mixed blessing. Some recipients see them as a sign that you are too lazy or uninterested to care about what they like. Others would much rather make the product decision themselves. It boils down to knowing your audience. Just be sure you purchase gift certificates or cards from a merchant who will still be around in 2011.
• Shoppers, know a store’s return policy. Businesses, be sure you have it posted where everyone can see it. Each retailer sets their own policy, and they can vary greatly. When in doubt, ask. Also ask for a gift receipt — a proof of purchase that does not show the price of the item — as having one makes the return process so much easier.
• Learn to say no. To the kids who demand every item on their list, to the relatives who want more of your time than you have to give, to the excess food, alcohol and sweets that are everywhere, to the customer who demands that the world revolve around them, to the advertisers who promise happiness and serenity if you would just buy their products, to the phony charities who spring up each season, and to that little voice inside telling you to spend more, do more, ask more and ignore more so everyone can be happy.
• Retailers, if you’re advertising items, be sure you have enough of them in stock and that you have ready and trained staff to assist your customers. There is nothing more frustrating than unengaged, uneducated and uninterested staff when the store is busy.
• Buy local, to be sure, but if you do have to reach out online please check first and know whom you are dealing with and where they are located. There are so many rating and ranting services online that not having a real good idea of who you are spending money with is no longer an excuse. BBB Accredited Businesses will display the interactive BBB Torch Logo on their webpage, letting you know these are companies you can trust. Sites like Yelp! and Angie’s List offer feedback from other customers, and www.bbb.org will give you complaint and resolution information as well as a letter grade earned by each business for its marketplace conduct. Check before you send an unknown company your credit card number and save yourself a headache.
This year don’t let the frenzy take away the magic. The magic is still there, if you slow down and let it happen.