If you’re like most Americans, you’ll be approaching this year’s biggest gift-buying season a bit more cautiously. Holiday sales are expected to increase a modest 3 percent this year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That’s a slower pace than the 4.1 percent that was gained in 2010, and for good reason. Between concerns over the persistently high unemployment rate, a vulnerable stock market and high fuel prices, shoppers are expected to take a different approach to holiday shopping this year, preferring gifts that provide long-term real value versus those that provide an immediate, but short-lived “wow” effect.
So what types of gifts deliver the most bang for the buck? Homemade gifts, whether they are baked goods, crafts, artwork or are knitted or embroidered, rank high on the list of favorites. They deliver a strong message that you care enough to give of your time and not just your money. Personalized gifts also send a strong message, even though they don’t require a lot of money. Simple gifts can easily be made to appear extra special with just a few added touches. For example, why not give a picture frame with a favorite picture inside? Or consider including a DVD of the person’s favorite actor, or a big box of candy or even a special book with an added gift of a bookmark.
Another highly economical gifting approach is the purchase of a single larger item that can be shared and enjoyed by multiple family members, such as a gaming system, electronics or a ride-on vehicle. Smaller, less-expensive items that can be enjoyed by the whole family include board games, candles and flowers.
Educational gifts, especially when purchased for children, also provide a real long-term value. With the high cost of books and school supplies, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with just the basics for school-aged kids, so the holidays provide an ideal time to purchase those tools that give students an added edge in school. A mark-my-time digital booklight is just one example of an educational gift that provides immediate appeal and continues to benefit the student throughout the school year and even through summer reading programs. A bookmark, timer and booklight in one, it helps kids track their required reading time – day or night – and, in the process, encourages them to build strong reading habits. Available at retail stores or through mark-my-time.com in a number of eye-catching colors, including blue, pink and green camouflage, it actually makes reading fun. It’s an affordable stocking stuffer idea that will be appreciated and used long after the holidays are over.
Other affordable, but equally attractive educational gifts designed for short- and long-term appeal include books, puzzles and word games. Even traditional school supplies can be jazzed up to create attractive gift ideas when they’re purchased in today’s hot colors, gel textures and stylish designs. And, since the holidays hit right before the start of the second school semester, it might be an ideal time to replenish supplies in an attractive and fun way.
Of course the ultimate in gift frugality is the recycled gift. Regifting, as it has become known, once frowned upon is now viewed as acceptable by many, and there are even websites devoted to discussing proper regifting etiquette. An eBay survey found that 83 percent of adults have received an unwanted gift. Of those, 46 percent say they have resold or regifted items.
Beyond the selection of value-oriented gifts, the makers of the mark-my-time digital booklight offer the following tips to help keep holiday shopping budgets manageable.
* Set a budget in advance. Be realistic but make a commitment to stick with it. Some financial experts recommend a budget of 1 to 2 percent of your annual income to cover all holiday-related expenses, including gifts, entertainment and travel expenses.
* Make a shopping list before leaving the house. Wandering aimlessly through the stores can lead to overspending.
* Compare prices before making impromptu purchasing decisions. Be certain to include all related expenses, including shipping and installation expenses, if appropriate.
* Beware of discounts based on inflated prices. Don’t be fooled by sales that promote double-digit discounts on extravagantly priced items. It’s the bottom-line price that counts.
* Consider patronizing local merchants instead of buying online this year. Not only will you be doing your part to help support the local economy, but you might actually find some great deals as brick-and-mortar retailers are becoming more aggressive in combating online sales strategies.
The current economic climate is causing people to change the way they do a lot of things in life, including the way they celebrate and shop for the holidays. But with some careful planning and creative thinking, it’s still possible to find the perfect gift that fits your budget and needs exactly.