As stereotypes have it, women shop in advance for Christmas, while men pack the malls at the last minute scrambling for whatever they can find to satisfy their obligations. I hate playing to type.
I used to be one of those women, actually — taking a page from my mother's book, I would start shopping after Thanksgiving when I was already visiting to keep from having to drag presents on public transportation or ship them home. When online shopping (and cheap shipping) became de rigueur, I would get online the first week of December, shop for the family and the boyfriend and have almost nothing to do but wrap by the time I arrived home for the holiday.
And then I began to slide a little every year, until last year, I arrived home 4 days before Christmas without a single gift in hand. Two of those days, I had to work. What this meant, naturally, was that there was no daytime shopping trips, no leisurely slow meandering through the mall or surfing online or waiting four days for the bidding to be over on a precious eBay find. It was time to get serious, to have ideas, walk into stores, purchase them, and get the hell out of there before the malls all shut down. It was time to shop like a boy.
And so for those people stuck in this position today, what follows is a short list of how to accomplish this on a budget (if, say, you're concerned about your future employment) without resorting to a handful of gift certificates, ill-fitting clothes, holiday tchotchkes or George Foreman grills.
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1. Make a list, check it twice
Look, when you've got 4 hours to complete the task, you don't have time to go back for anything and the person who ends up with the $10 piece of shlock from CVS isn't going to feel very Christmas-y. Write it down! Ask people what they want and go armed with clothing sizes. There is no shame in getting someone the very thing they asked for.
2. Use that list to create a plan of attack
This is war, people, and you don't go to war without a map. You cannot hit every boutique in the mall looking for the perfect sweater (not that there is such a thing). Department stores have good sales, are open later than anyone else in the mall, make returns easy and are ubiquitous. Big bookstores have everything from books to DVDs to childrens games. Find a strip mall with a Target, a Bed Bath and Beyond, a liquor store, and a bookstore, and hit a mall with no less than two anchors stores that you would actually shop at.
3. Go late
Normal people shop during the day or immediately after work and go home to their families or dinners — but the malls stay open forever right before Christmas. There are few lines, no waiting and most stores (and those stuck working in retail on Christmas Eve) use the down time to straighten up so they don't have to stay forever. Use this to your advantage. You'll have help, short lines, an easier time getting around and that parking spot right by the door. Crowds are for suckers.
4. Booze — it's not just how to get through shopping anymore
Unless your family is filled with alcoholics (drunks don't go to meetings!), the liquor store is a good place to shop for that person you cannot think of anything for. They package crap up for the holidays with free glasses and shit — everything from Tequila to Godiva liqueur and Irish creme. Champagne for Christmas breakfast? Done! Wine for Christmas dinner? Done. Mini bottles for someone's stocking? Done.
5. Sales, sales, sales
The economy sucks, no one is shopping, so everyone is trying to convince you to pay for stuff by making it cheap. Bypass any display without a sale sign on it and use those Price Check machines to maximize your dollar. Plus, sale racks generally have a selection of merchandise organized by size, which means you don't have to fool with multiple racks shifting through to find the right size.
6. Men really are easy
They rarely complain or take anything back. Unless you have one of the exceptions to the rule in your family, focus on the women first, and swing back through the books/CDs/DVDs/video game section for the men in your life. Think of how they shop for themselves, then shop like that for them.
7. If you only see it during the holiday season, think it through
Sure, some people really want a Homedics mini fountain, or a pedicure bath or a massaging chair pad. The reason that you only see them in any quantity or on display once a year is that most people don't.
8. Bring your own soda
Many food courts and even coffee shops don't stay open the way the stores do, so BYO or be SOL.
9. Stop obsessing
If you think he's a large, buy a large. If you can't decide whether she'd like black or pink, for God's sake, buy the black. If you're not sure whether the toy is age-appropriate, ask someone around you if they think it is. The longer you obsess, the more time you are wasting. If you're really off, the recipient will bring it back anyway.
10. Power through
If you have waited this long to shop, it's because you aren't really a fan. That's okay. But if you've made a list, brought your beverage and are there, don't crap out. It's Christmas and people are counting on your conspicuous consumption. Take a deep breath and start checking things off that list. The sooner you get home, the sooner you can have the drink you know you want.