GiftWe haven’t even crossed the six month mark for Christmas this year, but here I am, talking about gift-giving. I haven’t lost it, though: along with Christmas, I’ve already got my gift giving for Father’s Day, various birthdays and a few weddings planned for. How many hours each year do you spend shuffling around for birthday presents or holiday gifts? What about cards? Or even trying to remember to call someone on their happy day? How much time — and money — do you think you can save with just a few lifehacks?

But why worry about it in May or June? Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t bear the thought of even thinking about tinsel in January, or even February. I’ve got no excuse for not getting my plans out of the way in March or April, but I always seem to wind up getting this whole gift giving thing out of the way around Memorial Day — mostly because I’ll take a look through the sales papers and start thinking about who wants what for birthdays and holidays. And if I’m going to sit down and plan Christmas in May, why not get the next year’s worth of gift-giving entirely out of the way?

18 Days Until Father’s Day

The biggest change you can make is deciding who you’re planning to give gifts to this year, and how much you plan to spend. Oh, and for what holidays?

  1. Start with family: Who’s birthdays are you spending what on? Are you doing a family gift exchange for Christmas or Hanukkah? Is anyone getting married or having a baby?
  2. Next up are friends: Do you really want to send a Christmas card to that kid you haven’t seen since 2nd grade? Do any of your friends have kids you plan to give gifts to, as well?
  3. Don’t forget work: Do members of your office ask you to contribute for birthdays and such? Or do you run your own business and plan to send out holiday cards to your business contacts?
  4. And what about your significant other? Do you celebrate an anniversary? Or Valentine’s Day?

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself adding to this list over the course of the next year, and changing it year after year. I’ll guarantee, though, you’ll be surprised by how many gifts you buy each year. And you may decide it’s time to cut down — especially if you’ve been trying to budget. There’s no shame in cutting a few people off your list — or giving them something smaller than you might have in the past.

Once you’ve got a list of who you routinely give gifts to, you can start budgeting how much time and money you spend on the effort. I’ve got everything in a spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Name of the Recipient
  • Date
  • Price Range
  • Gift Ideas

It’s a pretty simple system. For date, I use whenever I plan to give the gift — December 25 or a birthday, for example — and I generally keep my spreadsheet sorted so that I can see what’s coming up. I tend to highlight names after I buy a gift, and then change the color of the highlight once I’ve actually given the gift.

263 Days Until Valentine’s Day

But what’s so great about this system? For one thing, I save plenty of money because I can buy gifts far in advance — I’ve already started shopping for the holidays. I also can spread out my buying to when it’s more convenient to my budget, and I can hit up sales throughout the year. And for gifts that are time intensive, such as knitting someone a sweater, I have a much better idea of when I need to start — especially if I have several gifts I need to give at the same time.

Since I’ve started this gift-giving system, I’ve managed to avoid missing a number of birthdays, as well. I check my list at the beginning of the month and make plans on what I’m mailing off based on that list. I’ve also been better equipped for taking care of time sensitive gifts — like taking a friend out to dinner. Not only do I know to make room for that meal in the month’s budget, but I remember to make reservations as well.

An Unknown Number of Days Until Your Grandmother’s Birthday

There are a couple of spots where your plan for the year’s gifts must be flexible. A friend might get married on very short notice or your cousin might have a baby that you didn’t take into account on your spreadsheet. Personally, I’ve made a practice of keeping a few gifts on hand that may not be perfectly personal but will still let someone know that I was thinking of them on their happy day. I also keep a variety of cards on hand for the same purpose — and I routinely make my own, as well.

Another problem I’ve run into is with books, movies and games: not only do I run a risk of someone receiving whatever I plan to get them long before I hand over a nicely wrapped present, but there’s the fact that buying such a gift and then mailing it off can be far more expensive then letting Amazon do the hard work. For friends and family that I want to give books to, I try not to buy their gifts quite so far in advance anymore. Instead, I make a note on my spreadsheet to order it when their birthday or other event is getting closer.

Overall, though, planning out my gift-giving is one of the greatest lifehacks I’ve managed to implement in my way of doing things: I’ve saved a pretty significant sum of money in the past couple of years and worried a whole lot less about snubbing Grandma by forgetting to get her a gift — or even give her a phone call.

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