As a teenager, I spent a lot of time in the mall around this time of year. Between working in retail, buying presents, and going to Christmas movies, I’ve truly spent a huge chunk of my life in the midst of holiday mall mayhem. I’ve listened to Norah Jones sing soulful Christmas covers on repeat so many times that her honeyed voice haunts my dreams. And yet… I still love shopping around the holidays.
Not that the experience can’t be a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are the fun things — the giant Christmas trees, whimsical window displays, and the joy of getting the people you love gifts that express your affection. On the other, there’s always a lot of pressure to find the “perfect gifts.” Then there are the crowds, the drain on your bank account, and the constant battle to find parking.
Who am I kidding? I can complain, but I don’t actually mind. Even these things feel like Christmas to me.
To ensure you enjoy that happy, satisfied feeling during this crazy season, I have a few suggestions. This is my guide for (totally pain-free) holiday shopping that will get you in and out quicker than you can say, “I’m done but where is my car? Seriously! Did it get towed?”
1. Make a list. (I’M NOT GOING TO SAY AND CHECK IT TWICE. I WON’T AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME)
There are times when it’s super fun and relaxing to window shop. But this is not that time. This the time when any uncertainty will get you carried away by a pack of wild, shopping wolves who can smell your weakness (they’re traditionally called “salespeople” but we know the truth).
Here’s the thing: You have a lot of people to shop for. You will forget someone until right before you leave and burst into tears at the thought of having to go back in if you don’t have a list. Plus, think about how good it feels to cross things off a list! Seeing those names dwindle will be like fuel to keep you going. A shopping list is totally non-negotiable to survive this time of year.
2. Know your price points.
Most of us are at our tightest financially around the holidays. Flights home are a billion dollars, we’re taking car services to parties and buying booze to throw parties of our own, and now, on top of all that, we have to buy presents for all our nearest and dearest (and several of their pets).
The plan here: Decide on an overall budget and then divide that out individually based on how much you love someone.*
*This can sometimes get truly petty. Did your sister say something snarky about your boyfriend on the phone? Someone’s just been downgraded from a $50 dollar present to a $30 dollar one. Oh wait, did she just tell your mom that you lied about visiting Grandma last week? Enjoy your $5 candle, Steph.
3. Study a map.
Time to plan your route. I want you to know every inch of this shopping center — entrances, exits, what time the guards change shifts, the amount of cash they keep in the vault and….oh…I think I’m falling into an Ocean’s 11 heist voice, but you get the idea. Don’t fall into the trap of wandering past the same stores over and over again like you’re in a horror film trying to get out of the woods and you keep seeing the same tree.
“Is that Sephora again? God, no. I turned right this time, didn’t I? Where is Williams Sonoma? I’ve BEEN to it. Okay, this time I’m taking a left. No. No. There’s the Forever 21 again. And….now. THERE’S THE SEPHORA. Where am I?”
4. Don’t wait until the last minute.
Go early. Seriously, stop reading this and get into your car and go buy some presents. Shopping earlier means there will be more inventory and less stress. If you don’t find one item, you can get it the next week and not have to panic that your inconsiderate nature has flat-out ruined Christmas… again.
5. Go by yourself.
Other times of the year, shopping with friends can be a pleasant experience. “Oh would you like to stop in there?” you say in March. “Sure! Let’s stop into this novelty license plate store and search for our names. Why not?”
But nobody has time for that right now. This is the major leagues of shopping. Do you want to double your mall time by helping a friend figure out which coffee table book of rustic fish his grandpa might like? No. You. Do. Not. This is a solo mission and while you might not get out alive, at least you won’t take anyone down with you.
6. Try to go at an “off” time.
After work, weekends, these are times when only a crazy, lunatic would go to the mall to try to get Christmas shopping done. And believe me, millions of them exist and they’ll all be in Bath and Body Works figuring out which lotion makes their face smell the most like what a sweet pea smells like (personally I prefer Tart Broccoli body mist, but whatever floats everyone’s boat). So, if you have the opportunity or flexibility to go on an off time — like a weekday at 10 am —you should absolutely jump on that opportunity like the last lifeboat leaving the Titanic.
If you must go on a weekend, do it right when they open on a Sunday. You’re guaranteed to be basically by yourself the first hour or so.
7. Take the first parking spot you see.
There’s this primal urge we all have to get a “good” spot in any large parking lot. You land right in front, and the amount of pride you feel is akin to winning an Olympic medal. This is what you trained for!
But there’s nothing worse than 45 minutes of driving around looking for a better spot. Especially at Christmas when you’re crazy busy. The truth is that even the worst spot is probably a 5-7 minute walk to the front door at most. So just take a spot in the back and walk in. You’ll get some exercise and leave the closer spots for those who brought 17 kids with them to shop. They need it more and you save tons of time and stress. Win/win.
8. Treat yourself.
Holiday shopping can be stressful so as you check things off the list, allow yourself little splurges. A mocha from the mall coffee shop, a buttery, hot pretzel, maybe a Panda Express meal in which you sit in the middle of a food court eating by yourself and read a book for 20 minutes! This could actually be… kind of fun?
Also, is there a Cheesecake Factory? Oh you know there is, like a beacon of light, an island in the parking lot of Mall city. Well, after you’ve planned it all out and efficiently and cost-effectively bought everything — you should head to the Factory to eat a bowl of pasta larger than your last three apartments and day drink! You earned it this year, my friend. You earned it.