A Parentís Guide to Low-stress Holiday Shopping

By Gregory Keer

Make Plans Before Heading Out to Avoid Stress

ShoppingWhen you factor in the contemplation of finding the right holiday gift, pushy crowds, and money draining from your wallet, you realize the shopping experience is more bloodsport than sleigh riding. Retail statistics show that the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the season. But the stress of holiday shopping builds way before Turkey Day – and doesn’t end until the after-Christmas sales.

Rhonda Seaton, a mother of two children under 6, admits, “I start shopping pretty late. Usually a couple of weeks before the holidays start.” Still, Seaton says she heads for the stores prepared. “I definitely make a list of all the people in our lives we should buy a gift for,” she says. “I write in the kind of gift next to each name. Then I minimize my trips by deciding which gifts I can buy at the mall, which ones at the music store, etc.”

Seaton tries to avoid shopping with the kids in tow, especially when the items are for them. If she needs to bring them, Seaton explains, “my first option is to take my husband with. He can get them ice cream or something while I make the purchases.” When shopping alone with her kids, Seaton strikes preemptively, “I cut a deal with them in the car before we enter a mall,” she says. “I lay the rules about what we’re going to buy and whether anything will be for them at that time. Usually that keeps them in check.”

While Seaton’s approach works for her, the following are tips to help you create your own, shopping strategy.


Shop early. If you start early enough, you can bargain hunt for the right price on a particular item. Know what something costs by researching it before going shopping.

Eat before you shop. With a full stomach, you and your child can think clearly and carefully as you shop.

Set a budget. Estimate the amount you plan to spend on gifts. Designate a budget for each recipient. Going into a store with your limits in mind prevents impulse buys. Remember that grandparents and friends may give gifts, so be wary of buying too much. Bear in mind, kids will ignore most of their toys within days if not minutes.

It might be a good idea not to take the kids.
Unless you have a spouse or other help with you on the trip, it will take more than homework or coloring books to keep kids from going crazy in a toy store. If you do not plan to involve your children in the shopping, consider leaving them home.

Think about shopping with the purpose of taking in the holiday spirit.
It might be a good idea to take a special trip to your local mall – just to enjoy the lights, decorations, mall carolers and Santa Claus.

Try shopping online or with catalogues.
These options can be done in the comfort of home. However, you still need to order early enough for purchases to be delivered in time for the holidays. (see 10 Tips for Safe, Savvy Online Holiday Shopping)

Consider your child’s time.
It’s disappointing for a kid to wait an hour for something you said would take 30 minutes. You invite complaints if you don’t keep your end of the time bargain.

A Child’s List

Ask children to make a gift wish list.
Considering the endless gift possibilities presented to children in the media, lists force children to prioritize and narrow their choices. Tell children how many toys you plan to buy for them. Ask them to decide which ones they want most. A list also makes shopping more efficient by limiting in-store tantrums and negotiations. Let a young child dictate a list to you. Older children can create their own. (Children can write e-letters to Santa Claus at the volunteer-operated Santa Search. For Hanukkah-related children’s activities, visit Happy Chanukah!.

Use the wish list as an opportunity to teach values.

This is a good opportunity to educate your children about families who are less fortunate. Ask your child to choose a toy to donate to a charitable organization. Bring the lesson home by allowing your child to place the unwrapped toy in the collection container. Visit the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots programs, which collects toys for needy children. (see also Teaching Your Children How to Be Generous Rather than Greedy)

However you choose to approach holiday shopping, try to remember that shopping for kids is one of life’s true pleasures. Buying something you worked hard to pay for and that you chose just for your child is wonderful. So, take a deep breath and shop happy.