The Miser’s 3 Things:

  1. Gift-giving doesn’t magically work itself out, even if you hope it will. It takes a little planning.
  2. Start thinking about your Christmas shopping early to avoid anxiety and overspending at the last minute.
  3. Avoid awkward workplace gift exchanges. Limit your giving to the people with whom you’re close.

The Miser has never enjoyed the process of picking out gifts for people, and it has nothing to do with being a thrifty fella.

Instead, it’s the pressure of having to come up with a good idea, the nervous feeling that someone might not like their gift, and the concern that our gifts might not match up in price.

So, a couple years ago, I wised up and came up with a Christmas shopping checklist that can help you avoid nervousness and save you some money! Gift-giving isn’t magic — it doesn’t just happen perfectly. Like so many things in personal finance, it takes a little planning and effort.

1. Start early.

If you want to save money on Christmas shopping, the time to start is not December 23.

Almost everything is on sale at some point during the year. If you know what you plan to get someone, think ahead and buy it when it’s on sale — even if that’s in February.

Furniture deals happen on holiday weekends, summer clothes are on sale in late August. And if you’re buying someone a Christmas tree as a gift, buy it on December 26. You’ll get a great deal and be done shopping 364 days in advance!

(Sorry, you will have to find a creative hiding spot. The Miser knows all about searching out his presents before Christmas.)

2. Ask people what they want.

This is not unromantic, unloving, or unfriendly.

Perhaps it is un-spontaneous. But you and your gift recipient will get over that with feelings of joy celebrating a fantastic gift.

Here’s what I do: I ask everyone I plan to buy gifts for, “Tell me a few things that you want.”

Then, out of whatever they tell you, pick what you find most romantic/loving/friendly. You can even branch away from their ideas and come up with something on your own. Either way, there’s a little surprise and a gift that’s a guaranteed hit.

3. Limit who you’re getting gifts for, then make the gifts count.

I like to think I give some pretty cool gifts. I can afford this because I don’t feel compelled to give a gift to everyone I meet.

Decide who you really want to give a present to, as opposed to someone for whom you’re just buying something to buy something.

Which leads me to…

4. Avoid those $5 gift exchanges.

You know those workplace Secret Santa or White Elephant exchanges? Unless you find them wildly fun, avoid them.

They’re awkward. Few Secret Santas know what to buy their assigned recipient. You look bad if you choose the wrong gift.

They’re a waste of money. If you’re involved in multiple exchanges, the cost can add up. Plus, few people get something they’ll actually use. Many gifts go in the trash. I’m convinced White Elephant exchanges keep the $5 candle and coffee mug industries in business.

5. Set a budget for each person.

No matter if this is your boss, your wife, or your mom, assign each person a number and stick to it. Again, not unromantic/unloving/unfriendly.

If you want to discuss an appropriate amount so neither one of you feel stiffed, that’s a great idea.

6. If you’re financially strapped, have a conversation.

The worst thing you can do is be in debt and stressed about money during the holidays. Prevent that having an honest conversation early in the process. Your family members or significant other will understand and respect your honesty.

7. Buy an experience!

Every year, I find a top-ranked restaurant in town and take my parents there as a Christmas gift. We get to spend time together doing something we all enjoy: trying new restaurants.

This could also be tickets to a performance, a cooking class or a vacation. (If you’re in the habit of gifting vacations, The Miser would like to get to know you.)

The other benefit to buying an experience is that it cuts down on clutter. So many items get used a few times and then never again.

Do these things and I guarantee you’ll avoid making “not going into credit card debt on gifts” one of your New Year’s resolutions.