Emily Parnell — In the sport of holiday shopping, a smile is the biggest trophy of all

12/05/2013 12:46 PM

12/05/2013 12:46 PM

How’s your holiday shopping coming? Are you ahead of the game, gifts wrapped and tucked under a Christmas tree? Or are you just starting? Did you hit the battlegrounds running on Black Friday — or even Thanksgiving — and nickel and dime your way to bundles of bargains? Or maybe Christmas gift-giving isn’t part of your holiday traditions. Do you sit back and shake your head?

Most people are probably like me, somewhere in the middle of the game. Some items have been tucked away for months. Some were hunted out and purchased with precision during Black Friday sales. And a few still sit on my list, awaiting inspiration or opportunity to purchase.

I’m a good shopper. Not to brag, but give me $20 and an hour, I can come home with something pretty good. If there’s something particular I want, I can figure out how to budget it in. When I take the time to plan and strategize, I do alright. I manage to not break the bank, yet not end up with something “cheap.”

I approach gift-giving as almost as a sport. (Don’t roll your eyes.) Striking a balance of value and quality, matching the right gifts to the right people, and those magical moments of giving the perfect gift — these things take skill and result in tremendous satisfaction. The course is the merchants, the catch is the gift, and the trophy is the appreciative smile on your recipient’s face.

Losses in the gift-giving game can bring on reactions from shoulder-shrugging to deep disappointment. It depends on the stakes in a particular game. Just like other sports, right? It’s one thing to give an adult friend a bargain gift that might be relegated to a drawer, never to be retrieved. But disappointing a child, that’s the defeat we work so hard to avoid.

I approached my kids’ early Christmases haphazardly, I admit. Our pocketbooks were fatter back then, and I assumed I’d be able to find what I wanted. But I learned early, if my child requests a specific, name-brand item of a particular color, buy it. Buy it fast; if it’s on sale, then great. If it’s not, pay full price. When the item arrives, check it to make sure you ordered the right thing. It’s a small price to pay, really, and a lesson sadly learned.

“It will be on sale. I can find it online. The stores will have plenty.” These are all lies that can lead to tears on Christmas morning. From Zhu Zhu pets to very specific Star Wars toys to purple unicorn Pillow Pets, I learned that sometimes the only thing to do is rush out the moment your child mentions the gift and buy it.

But once my premium items have been paid for and stashed, the game is ON. I troll websites, browse fliers and sneak in/sneak out with bargains galore. “Bwa ha ha,” I laugh fiendishly, surveying the booty, calculating my savings. Disproportion between price paid and retail value makes me smile, but finding the perfect gift at a great value? That’s the smell of sweet victory.


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