The dos and don'ts of holiday gift shopping on a budget

by Olivia Harvey / Beacon Advice Columnist • November 20, 2014

Listen, I hate to say it, but it’s already mid-November. I know, I’m not sure how or when we got here either, but the holiday season is speeding toward us like a herd of flying reindeer.

Have you started shopping for gifts yet? If you haven’t even thought about it yet, I get it. We’re all gift-giving procrastinators to a certain extent. I think I’m the worst when I have to buy a present for someone. I just can’t get organized. 

In my defense, I haven’t really learned great gift-giving skills from anyone in my family. Dad bought Mom a new vacuum for Christmas one year, and the look of agony on her face when she realized that the biggest box under the tree was for cleaning the house was horrifying. Nanny chose a theme for her Christmas gifts one year: things from home. Some of the stuff she gave us was pretty cool — my cousins each got one of my grandfather’s rifles, and I got her collection of uncut gemstones, but then she started handing out things like paintings with ripped or stained canvases, and old socks. It’s the thought that counts, right?

It’s always a great goal to get your gift purchasing done early. Ordering online is a handy way to avoid the last-minute crowds, and depending on how much you procrastinated, most sites let you do next-day shipping. You can also get personalized presents online. I just ordered my mom a really nice gift on a site called ThingsRemembered.com. They do really nice personal engravings on several different styles of necklaces, bracelets, rings, or charms. Personalization is a thoughtful touch to add to a present.

My dad’s a tough cookie to buy for. He’s very much so a “manly man”—think Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation. He knows what he likes, and does not venture out of his comfort zone for anything. Every year for his birthday, Father’s Day, and Christmas, he asks for socks and underwear. You know, “the nice socks that don’t fall down inside your boot.” For people like this, I recommend making something. My dad loves reading my writing, so I think I’ll gift him something related to that. 

Or, if you’re artistic, paint, draw or collage something for someone who’s hard to buy for. In high school, I created a timeline collage for my friend Melissa who brought an apple to school every day. I took a picture of her and her apple each day of senior year, and gave it to her for graduation. It was weird and quirky, but she loved it. Another great idea for a dad like mine would be to knit socks, or maybe even fingerless gloves for him to wear while he’s working.

I’m a big proponent of the joke gift when it comes to buying stuff for friends. Joke gifts are also great presents for those hard-to-buy-for people, and they make for awesome stocking stuffers. I buy all my joke gifts from ArchieMcPhee.com. It sells things like rubber horse masks, pickle bandages, and “Happy Dead Clown” chewing gum. My mom gets all her stocking stuffers from here too. I was once gifted a “Crazy Cat Lady” action figure, complete with several different breeds of cats. I highly recommend this website. Your friends will thank (and hate) you.

If you’re feeling into the holiday spirit and want to shop at some local Boston establishments, Emerson is located in the perfect spot to do so. Newbury Street is an excellent shopping location for some high-end items, like at Maya Handmade Jewelry and Crafts. But there are some less expensive gems at places like Lush, Newbury Comics, or Trident Booksellers. On that note, the gift of a delicious dinner in Boston is also a great idea. Restaurant gift certificates are always appreciated and can really make for a special night. 

If you give a good gift, and you see the recipient’s face light up, the feeling you get is very rewarding. That’s what the holiday season is all about — making the people around you feel loved. I know whatever I give my parents—socks, underwear, bracelets, writing, or even a vacuum cleaner — they will love me regardless. But don’t freak out too much about stocking up on stocking stuffers or bombarding friends and family with boxes and bags. Take your time, think presents through, and you and your family and friends will be happy and thankful.