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Let the shopping season begin 4 tips for gift buying
My go-to tips to keep the holiday shopping under control. - photo by Erin Stewart
Halloween has come and gone, which means one thing: It is totally OK to rock out exclusively to Christmas jams in the car now.

Now I know you calendar rule-mongers out there are saying, But wait! What about Thanksgiving? Its all out of order! Youre absolutely right and I used to be one of you, audibly guffawing at the Christmas displays next to the Halloween candy. But I cant fight the Christmas anymore.

I give in. You win, commercialism. You got me.

And so Im listening to Christmas tunes in November and loving it. Im also trying to get all my holiday shopping done by Dec. 1, a goal I set every year so that I can relax and enjoy the holiday season throughout December.

Luckily, stores are in such cutthroat competition with each other that I no longer have to wait for Black Friday for deals on gifts. As I venture out into the world of Christmas shopping, here are my go-to rules.

1. Make a list and stick to it. Write out every single gift you need to buy this season and then only buy whats on it. I warn you now, your resolve will be tested. Amazon will try to entice you with exciting email subject lines in your inbox telling you that you should, nay you must, buy todays exclusive once-in-a-lifetime lightning deal. Hurry before its gone forever! You tell yourself you wont buy it because its not on your list, but youll just check it out anyway. Just to see. Dont do it, my friends. Make the list and stay strong, even if that lightning deal is 90 percent off and you dont even know how theyre making any money on it at that price. Resist. You dont need it.

2. Buy toys for kids that will last past New Years. Often, the hot toy of the season is some trendy nonsense that your kids will play with once or twice and then forget. But still, its the hot toy and all the hot toy lists say so and if its not under my tree then my child will be the most deprived non-hot-toy-owner on the block. I refer you to the Tickle Me Elmo panic of 1996 where parents were practically selling their livers to get on waiting lists for the red-haired monster. So I generally ignore these hot toy trends and opt for classic toys that my kids will play with for years. This year that means Lego Friends and KNex, which never lose their appeal and actually make my kids think. Plus theres the added bonus that Legos will never start singing Elmo loves you in a creepy voice from a darkened closet in a year from now.

3. Give your kids experiences. We started last year giving our children an experience rather than a big gift. Last year, we went to an indoor waterpark resort, and this year well all be going skiing. Of course, Santa still brought them a gift with the requisite Christmas morning wow factor. I loved making memories with my kids instead of handing them one more thing. They probably cant tell you what toys they got lost year, but they still talk about the time we conquered a massive waterslide as a family.

4. Find a way to give back. There are so many opportunities to give during Christmas like Toys for Tots and lots of other donation sites. While my kids are making their holiday wish lists, we also take time to make sure we are giving to other children who may not be as fortunate. We start in November with Operation Christmas Child though Samaritans Purse. As we pick the toys and pack shoeboxes to be sent to needy children around the world, I love seeing my children find joy in giving to others. Its also a good reminder to them and to me of how little it matters what size package is under the tree. Some child somewhere in the world will be opening this small shoebox on Christmas morning with a huge smile on his face and gratitude in his heart for a shoebox. It helps put that whole Christmas morning wow-factor thing in perspective.

So while the stores and online ads have suckered me in yet again to starting my holiday shopping well before the first snowfall, my most important rule for gift buying is not to let the commercialism take away the best gifts of the season. Deals change everyday. Kids outgrow toys. Stuff is just stuff. The real gift is the love we show for each other and thats not something even an Amazon lightning deal can match.
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