Holiday shopping guide for the shopping impaired

What does this mother really want for Christmas? A personal shopper. I’m starting to think the idea of Santa Claus and his toy-making elves came from a desperate mother like myself who doesn’t enjoy shopping. Oh, to wake up on Christmas morning and find the perfect gifts for everyone all wrapped and ready to go under the tree. What comfort and joy!

I don’t know about you, but between the choir concerts, orchestra recitals, school sing-ins, class/neighborhood/work/church parties, Christmas cards, tree trimming, house decorating, and cookie making, I have a hard time figuring out when and how to do my Christmas shopping.

I know. The ultra organized Type A mothers who enjoy shopping as a hobby finished the job weeks ago. Bravo! Good for you. I say that with a tinge of resentment and annoyance because I wish I were a little more Type A myself, or at least capable of enjoying the process a little more. It would make the month of December a whole lot easier.

Not that Christmas is all about the presents. To the contrary! But even the simplest of Christmases with a proper focus on giving to others would be missing something if there were no gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. If done intentionally and with a plan in place, the gifts given to loved ones can be a highlight of the season and an effective way to bind our hearts together in love. But that takes time and careful planning — hard to come by in a busy home full of children with all the other activities and obligations of the season.

Sometimes I long for a simpler time when children were thrilled to receive a peppermint stick in their stocking, the only event on the calendar was Christmas dinner, and holiday decorations consisted of a few pine boughs and holly berries over the mantel. (My husband likes to ask me how much I would like the “simple” process of killing, cleaning and cooking a goose for Christmas supper!)

But I realize I live in suburban 21st century America and must face the reality of my time and place. I have complicated decisions to make about whether to splurge on professional outdoor Christmas lights (no), which of my 500 favorite cookies to make (definitely Russian tea cakes), and —of course — how to choose meaningful, quality presents for my children (for as little as possible) without ever leaving the confines of my home.

I realize many people like the “fun” of driving in traffic to The Mall/Target/Walmart/Toys-R-Us in the freezing cold, wandering up and down the aisles of merchandise with their massive carts while maneuvering around other people and their massive carts, rummaging through every blessed thing, standing in mind-numbingly long lines listening to other people’s conversations, and then lugging everything back to their cars and then into their homes. Fun, right? As for me, I will do anything to avoid an unnecessary trip to any retail establishment at any time of the year, but especially during the holiday season.

So if I must shop for Christmas presents (and I must), it’s online shopping or bust. Yep. It’s been me, my laptop, and my jammies for more than years now. In my humble opinion, online shopping is simply the best option for mothers with children still at home. No driving, no looking for parking spaces, no wandering up and down the aisles looking for something I could Google in two seconds, no waiting for Dad to get home so I can rush out before closing time, and definitely no standing in line with a shrieking baby in arms. Another advantage to online shopping is the ability to narrow down your search by age, price, gender, and type of toy or gift. I just love to edit my shopping cart with ease whenever I have some free time, push that little “ORDER” button on the screen, and then wait for the UPS elf to drop the presents on my doorstep. It’s beautiful.

But before I find myself filling up virtual shopping carts, there are two fundamental decisions to make about the year’s gift giving. I know many mothers already have their philosophies and traditions surrounding gift giving firmly in place, but for those who aren’t quite there yet I’d like to share three simple suggestions that have helped this Type B non-shopper survive the holiday shopping season.

1. Make a spending budget. Some years this decision is made for you, and other years you have to set your own limits. Spending almost a decade of our married life with children while my husband was still in school, we had many slim Christmases. I’ll never forget the year we had only $60 total for all our gift giving. (That sure simplified things!) But other than my husband and I not getting each other anything, that year’s Christmas wasn’t really much different from today’s. Christmas has never been about the money for us, but again, you still need to decide what to buy or not to buy. This year we can certainly afford more than $60, but after many years of doing without, we are mindful that just because we can buy x, y and z for our children doesn’t mean we should. Not only do we want to keep the focus on giving, but we are in the process of saving money for other reasons, we don’t want to fill our house to the brim with toys and “stuff” that our kids don’t really need, and we’d rather experience the Christmas spirit together by baking cookies or going to see Christmas lights than shopping our brains out every Saturday in December. A budget helps to keep the time and money spent shopping in check.

2. Make a gift budget. Along with deciding on a Christmas budget, shopping is made so much easier by deciding how many presents to give each child. (It’s probably a good idea to tell the children about your plans too!) I’ve heard of many families who give only three presents per child each year, symbolic of the gifts given to Jesus from the three wise men. Some even categorize their gifts in ways such as Something Useful, Something Needful and Something Just for Fun. Keep in mind the presents that will inevitably come from extended family members, the presents you’ll be putting in their stockings, and the family presents everyone will enjoy such as board games and movies, and you can probably get away with giving much less than expected. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found forgotten gifts under the wrapping paper that nobody even noticed. Children —especially young ones — can only take in and appreciate so much. And they are so easily pleased! Our $60 Christmas was as well received as any other year. If you are truly selective and thoughtful about the gifts you choose, less really can be more on Christmas morning.

3. Be deliberate in your gift giving. To help with the decision making, I like to Google “Best Toys 2011″ or “Best Educational Toys” or “Award Winning Toys” for gift list ideas. You may also consider things your children are in need of anyway, like new clothes or shoes, or purchase experiences and classes instead of “stuff.” Another spring board for gift ideas is to think about the things you want to teach them or the values you want to reinforce. I still use the recipe book my mother made me the last Christmas I was living at home. And remember, gifts don’t have to be purchased at all! Families can give gifts of love and service to each other that mean infinitely more than a store bought gift ever could.

But knowing that many of you will be purchasing gifts with the green stuff (or should I say, plastic — debit, please), I’ve included some great websites below for your surfing enjoyment. First and foremost is our very own Power of Moms Store. In order to make the cut, these products must be timeless, meaningful, built-to-last, and focused on real learning or serious creativity and fun. Everything here has been tested or read and recommended by a deliberate mother – and most items are things Power of Moms Directors, April or Saren actually use and enjoy in their homes. Please let us know any favorites we’re missing by emailing us at store@powerofmoms.com.

I’ve used many of these websites over the years for both purchases as well as ideas. Before purchasing, I always like to see if the same things are offered for less on Amazon.com because they offer free shipping after only $25.)

So tonight after the kids are in bed, put on your jammies, make some hot cocoa and go shopping!

Power of Moms Store
Kazoo Toys
Discovery Channel Toys
National Geographic Toys
Fat Brain Toys
Educational Toys Planet
Tiny Toy Arcade
One Step Ahead
Home Science Tools
Wonder Brains
Genius Babies
Young Explorers
<a href="http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/home/home.jsp" target="_blank"Lake Shore Learning
Growing Tree Toys

QUESTION: How do you tackle the job of holiday shopping each year? What is your family’s philosophy for gift giving?
CHALLENGE: Make this the year you give thoughtful, meaningful gifts to your loved ones without spending your life at the mall.

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