Holiday Shopping Tips

You'd think that it was enough to spend the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas dusting off tree ornaments, baking for the school cookie contest and finding a dress for the office party. But no, there's more.

What's missing? No need to furrow your brow, dear hearts, because the omission is obvious: Shopping. Christmas shopping in particular. Which, depending on your point of view, either fills you with unspeakable joy or makes you want to throw up.

If you are feeling joyful, stop reading.

But if even contemplating your shopping list makes you want to lie down with a cool cloth on your forehead (which is the Queen's reaction), as usual the Queen - your Queen -- is here to help. Ponder, then, the Queen's Guide to Christmas Shopping, a hodgepodge of helpful hints and musings (offered in no particular order) designed to help you get through the coming shopping season.

1. Never shop on an empty stomach.

All your plans for power shopping (meaning 10 stores in 3 hours) will be ruined if you have to wait on line (with all of your packages) at Bruno's Burger Land and then carry that flimsy little orange tray in one hand.

Dine first and carry something easy in your purse (bottled water, trail mix, pretzel sticks) to snack on as you stride purposely through the mall.

2. Never shop with someone who has a different shopping style.

"Shopping style" is a very particular personal characteristic. Some shoppers are simply incapable of entering a store, buying one thing and leaving, while others consider a shopping trip to be a failure if they spend more than 15 minutes anywhere.

Neither approach is superior to the other, but the clash of styles leaves everyone feeling homicidal, so be careful about who you choose to shop with.

3. Park your car with the front end facing out.

When amateur shoppers are out in full force, you can still make a graceful and easy exit if your car is facing in the direction in which you hope to drive. Nothing is more unpleasant than an unscheduled visit with an auto insurance adjuster around the holidays, even if it means that you get an extra calendar with your insurance company's name written in that funny font.

By the way, consider taking only your car key with you and lock your other keys in the trunk of your car.

4. Clean out your wallet, your purse and your coat pockets.

Life at the cash register is wicked enough without having receipts from your last 8 trips to the convenience store cascade out of your wallet as you search for your credit card.

So take all of the non-essentials out of your wallet and/or purse as well as your pockets. The salesclerk doesn't need to see a picture of you and your dog. At most he needs your credit card and driver's license or other ID. Plus, if you fall prey to a pickpocket or simply lose your wallet (not unheard of during the hectic holiday season), you haven't lost everything you own.

While you're at it, put a little envelope in your wallet or purse and use it to collect all your receipts. Receipts should never "go in the bag," despite the salesclerk's smiling suggestion, if only for the reason that if you have charged your purchase, your credit card number is on it.

5. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.

Wear comfortable clothing and shoes and leave that winter coat in the car. Down jackets, capes, and harlequin hats that play Christmas carols should be left behind. And you will not be a cheery shopper if you insist on shopping which wearing those jeans that are a tiny bit too small; save them for your high school reunion planning committee meeting in January.

6. Make a shopping plan.

The most successful shoppers have several things in common. First, they know what time stores open and close (you would be surprised how many "big box" retailers start opening at 8 AM for the critical holiday season). They also are aware of and use back entrances and exits into crowded parking lots. As well, they have a concise list of the gifts they need organized based on the store (or stores) they intend to try.

And for gifts that they want the retailer to mail (and many stores will do this for an amount only slightly more than the price at the post office - and in many cases you can see a savings in sales tax if the gift is sent out of state), they have current addresses (including zip codes) neatly printed on index cards.

No sales clerk wants to wait while you thumb through your address book looking for Megan Smith's new address in Colorado which you think you wrote on an adjoining page because there was no room left on the "S" page… and an inaccurate or incomplete address is a prescription for disaster.

7. Don't rely on your cell phone.

Lots of people rely on their cell phones to coordinate shopping with friends or family elsewhere in the same shopping area and don't have a backup plan.

This is a very bad idea. Why? Because interior areas of stores and malls may have little or no signal reception. Besides the embarrassment that you will suffer when you are standing in the food court shrieking "Hello, HELLO!!" into your hand, you may never actually reach the other person. Work out a plan that if you haven't actually spoken to each other by a certain time, you will meet at a central location.

8. Shop online before you shop in person.

If you have lots of brand name products on your shopping list, devote an evening or two to shopping on line before you even get into the car. Purchasing such items from a reliable online merchant (especially one with a bricks-and-mortar presence in your community) can save you time, effort and maybe even some cash. For merchants whose only presence is online (such as, even if the prices are not lower than those available in your city, you may still see a savings if you aren't charged sales tax!

9. Use personal shopper services.

Lots of bigger retailers have complimentary personal shopping services. While some retailers want you to think that these services are only for the big moguls, it usually isn't true - if you have a good idea about what you want (a monogrammed terry cloth bathrobe, for example) a personal shopper can find it much faster than you can and will also know whether that item simply isn't ever in inventory at this store. By the way, don't forget to show your appreciation to a diligent personal shopper with a tip in a holiday card dropped off the next time you are in that store.

10. Have a sense of humor and perspective.

The Queen wants to let you in on a secret: in five years, 91.6% of the people on your holiday shopping list will not remember what you gave them and, in fact, may not remember you either. So the Queen pleads with you in Her most persuasive voice: please don't let holiday shopping consume your life and bank account. Life will not end if you don't give Aunt Gertrude the only gift that FBI investigators would say she really wants. Leave room for homemade gifts and cards. Leave room for imperfection - after all, the only truly perfect shopper is the Queen.

And She is not going to be doing your shopping.

Merry Christmas from the Queen