Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are you a holiday pioneer?

Pioneers thought ahead. Come spring, they started chopping wood for the next winter. Thanks to the availability of most products, we’ve lost that pioneering spirit.

Why is it that the events in our lives requiring use of the retail system tend to find us waiting until the last minute to settle such needs? I don’t have one answer but will say that retailers love it when people are stuck in a pinch. Shoppers tend to spend more money and usually end up buying an item that has a higher than average chance of finding it’s way to the customer service desk. And, isn’t it weird that during the holidays, stores automatically print exchange receipts? Do they expect us to return items? I’ll bet studies show that exchanged items boost sales because customers spend more than the exchange amount. Wow, this gives pinch hitting a whole new meaning.

Retailers tend to make it seem like holiday shopping is “fun.” Stores are decorated, windows are displayed, the television is bombarded with ads. Is driving around a huge parking lot looking for a place to park in the snow fun? Is standing in line at 5AM to get into a store the day after Thanksgiving fun? Is walking through an over-saturated mall, shoulder to shoulder with strangers moving en masse fun? How about those lines to the register only to meet an exhausted cashier. Fun? Standing in line to see Santa for over an hour with a little one. Fun? Wow. I want a Valium just after writing all that.

Now let’s go to the Post Office to mail off packages and stand in line with 10 teetering packages. Fun? I once waited one hour and 45 minutes in a post office, in a town I won’t name to save embarrassment, to mail off packages at the last minute. I spent over a hundred dollars mailing those gifts. There was nothing fun or festive about that and I need something stronger than Valium after reliving that postal experience.

So, on January 1st, 2009 I proposed A New Year's Resolution Revolution to readers. Karen Datko of MSN Money, immediately picked it up on her blog. The resolution is to shop birthdays and holidays year round at thrift stores. This eliminates the pressure and allows you time to really think about the people you buy for and give them something they just might really love or need.

Some people may think giving thrifted items is gauche, maybe gross. Well guess what. Many of the thrift store items I give are BRAND NEW. In the midst of a deep recession and massive job layoffs, Americans are still buying new items and wastefully tossing them over their shoulders to land in thrift stores. Some habits die hard. Real hard. Take these candles I bought at Goodwill this Monday. All, new in the box, wicks never seen fire. The entire lot was $7. Price stickers were still on two of these boxes and together totaled $24. Who knows the total retail value.

Over time and some desperation, I’ve developed a routine of shopping year round. On some hot day in late July or early August, I pull out my bins of gifts for out of town friends and relatives. (We have an extensive family and many friends who have become family.) I wrap them up and box them up to mail at the start of November. Because I am in no rush, I mail them ground and even save money as I happily pony up to the mail desk with little or no line.

Speaking of postal rates, I love giving books to out of town friends. The US Postal book rate rules! And, it's very easy to find top notch books, recent releases, and signed books at thrift stores. These children's books, all in new or excellent condition cost me a total of $7.50.

That day of gift wrapping out of town gifts came and went. The top photo shows 20 gifts that were purchased for $129 total. That’s an average of $6.45 a gift. The majority of these gifts are brand new items or antique items from thrift stores supplemented with a few items from the last chance sale tables from Anthropologie and Williams Sonoma.

The ribbon along with enclosure cards where purchased at thrift stores. Sometimes I even find new boxes at thrift stores, the kind you purchase a office supply stores!

So, I spent six months searching out just the right thing to give someone and I found amazing treasures that I could never afford at the retail price. Consider the post, Wow! This is so You! What's happened to the fine art of giving? to ponder what retailers have done to us; especially during the holidays.

And yes, I’ve picked up some darling things for my immediate family too.

The day after Thanksgiving, my family will get up early and take the leftovers of our feast along with a large thermos of hot chocolate and head up to Buffalo Creek in the Pike National Forest of Colorado to select our Christmas Tree through a program sponsored by the Forest Rangers. All it costs is the gas to get there and a $10 permit fee for a tree. If there's snow, and there usually is, we'll go sledding. On the weekends we’ll play games and eat cupcakes. Come January 1, 2010, we won’t feel any financial pain from the holidays. Instead, we’ll keep on with that pioneering spirit.

Call me uptight. Call me manic. What will you be doing in December and what will be your stress level? Mine will be smooth and cool. Oh yeah, and how thick with that credit card statement feel come January, 2010? Mine will be so light, the wind just might deliver it, save for the purchases made at my favorite bakery.

Post script: Many readers wanted to peek inside after this post aired. Click here to peek.


Frances said...

I so agree with this post! I stopped the last minute shopping rush years ago and am stress free during the holidays. Of course, it is really easy now that my entire family, both my side and Hubby's, and all of my friends get homemade jam and baked goodies for Christmas. They all love getting something they will use and I love having my gift list finished in the Fall.

And no January bills! That is the best!

Oh, and when I do need to buy gifts, I am all about finding them at thrift stores. What treasures we can find there!

Dime Store Thrift said...

Brilliantly written. I heart you always. Sonya

dixie said...

I am right there with you. My Christmas shopping is well underway - all from thrift stores. Last year was the first year I started shopping year round and at thrift stores for Christmas and I will never go back to the "old" way again! And last year was one of the best Christmas seasons for us.

Shopping Golightly said...

Oh if only the world knew the value of Thriftmas!

beccy said...

Great idea that should be shared by all! My gran has always bought her Christmas presents extremely early - I'll bet she has them all wrapped in her wardrobe now. I try, I can't really afford to pay out £££ in December. Last year, I made a lot of my presents, and thrifted some too. Unfortunately we don't have the likes of Goodwill over here in the UK, our charity shops often assume that we are happy to pay new prices for 'new' items, so those really good bargains are few and far between and boy do we have to hunt for them (and I do!)

Heidi Ann said...

I will call you one thing: SMART!!
Great job.

Anonymous said...

Join those who have given up the satanic consumer-based holidays altogether. It's the ultimate in freedom. No gifts. No worries.
If there's a Hallmark card for it, give it up-Valentines, St. Patricks, Easter, Secretaries Day, Mothers Day, etc.

Stop believing in everything you believe in. Think on that.