The Three-Day Christmas Shopping Strategy

Professional Organizer Kelly Pratt shares this easy way to get it all done real quick.

Even though you managed to shop early as well as nearly every day in December, you’re still braving the crowds at Wal-Mart, an exasperating end to another December: a swirling black hole of expanding gift lists, I-better-get-it-because-it’s-on-sale and oh-my-gosh!-I-totally-forgot-so-and-so. If you’re ready to rethink your gift-giving tactics, it’s time for the three-day Christmas shopping strategy: Plan! Shop! Wrap!

Benefits of Short-Term Shopping

As a disclaimer, I know people, some in my own family, who love to Christmas shop all year. A streamlined Christmas shop would completely rob the season of some of its magic. If you fall in this camp, you can adapt these ideas to your own needs and style or put down this article and head out on great shopping adventures. God speed! If you fall in the camp of thinking of shopping as a wild fusion of kind of fun, mostly frustrating, this streamlined approach may just be the ticket to greater sanity and gift-giving enjoyment.

For anyone who has tried shopping “early,” you know there are pitfalls, among which are lost gifts, feeling like your life revolves around Christmas for half the year, and nickel-and-diming yourself to death. If you are ready to try Christmas shopping over a much shorter period of time, you can expect to spend less and have more time to actually enjoy the holidays.

It goes without saying that tracking expenditures over a one- or two-day period is much easier than tracking over the course of months; you get a much better sense of what you are actually spending. It’s a whole lot easier to spend $3,000 on Christmas if you spend piecemeal. Unless that’s your budget, spending over a shorter period of time will help you keep yourself in check.

A three-day shop also helps you avoid nickel-and-diming your schedule. By limiting your shopping period, you allocate as much time as you want to dedicate to shopping rather than shopping with all the time you have allocated, which, over the course of a year, can add up to hours and hours and hours. So, you will save time, you will save money, and you will have a better sense of what you’ve actually purchased by adopting the plan, shop, wrap approach. If that appeals to you, here are the particulars.

Step 1: Plan

Even though almost everyone creates some kind of shopping plan, there are ways to make your plan even more effective.

Create a Christmas binder. To keep everything from wish lists to receipts in one location, create a binder with sections for categories like—

• Gift ideas. Use this section to store your kids’ wish lists, catalog clippings, sale ads, etc. You might also want to create lists for items in the $5, $10, $20 and $20 and up ranges.

• Master gift list.

• Master wrapping list.

• Shopping plan. Use this section for your shopping excursion broken out by location.

• Receipts. Use a 3-ring punched, double-pocket folder to store envelopes for receipts to the stores you frequent for your gifts. Transfer receipts from your receipt holder to these envelopes after shopping trips. (See the “Shop” section for more receipt tips.)

If you’re more of a technology person, you could also create a Christmas file in Excel and store similar information in spreadsheet format. The point to a Christmas binder or electronic file is to keep all your information in one place, a true time and sanity saver.

Choose a theme. If you want to take a different spin on Christmas, build around a theme for gifts and activities. Last year, our family chose an entertainment theme, so we spent more on concerts and ballets than on gifts. Other themes you might consider are—

• Sports

• Vacation/Travel

• Service

• Electronics

• Events


• Cooking

• Crafts

Choosing a theme is a great way to involve your family in creating memories and giving gifts around something that really matters to all of you.

Decide on your budget. If you don’t want to feel the pain of maxed out credit cards or an overdrawn account, you must be clear on exactly how much you want to spend this Christmas. It’s important to set this limit BEFORE you create your master gift list because you will be less likely to fudge. Remember, Christmas is one occasion where the beauty of the day can easily be swallowed up in the stress of knowing that you spent too much and have months of making payments. Let an honest budget be a gift you give yourself.

Create a master list. Whether or not you choose a theme or adopt any other planning suggestions, if you practice making a master list, you will simplify your shopping immeasurably. I recommend making this list in a program like Excel so you can easily track your expenditures. Your master list will include—

• Whom you need to shop for.

• Gift ideas for each person on your list.

• Ideas for stocking stuffers.

• Wrapping needs.

• Where to purchase the gifts you’ve chosen.

• How much you wish to spend.

• How much you actually end up spending.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a master list. If you prefer, there is a sample Master Gift List and a sample Master Wrapping List that you can access by the links on the Studio 5 web site.

1. Decide whom you will give to. For your master list, include—

• Family.

• Friends.

• Neighbors.

• Teachers (school, community, church).

• Hair stylist.

• Nail tech.

• Mail carrier.

• Paper delivery.

• Milk delivery.

2. Determine how much you will spend on gifts for each person on your list. Make sure to honor your budget.

3. Create a table or spreadsheet to help you track your expenditures.

4. Brainstorm a list of gift ideas for each person on your list and/or request a list from family members.

5. Brainstorm a list of stocking stuffers.

6. Check the newspaper or online for sales.

7. Determine where you will purchase your gifts (online, Target, Wal-Mart, etc.) or if you will make your own gifts. If you make your own gifts, make sure to estimate high on how long making the gifts will actually take.

8. Take an inventory of your gift wrap, and determine wrapping needs for general gift-giving as well as specific, odd-sized items. (A sample Master Wrapping List is included as a link at the end of this article. See the end of this section for instructions on how to use this list as an Excel or .pdf file). Remember to include these items as you map your shopping.

9. Map your shopping excursion geographically. If you have created your master list in Excel, you can sort by your “Where to Buy” column and all gifts from the same stores will be grouped together. If your master list is in a hand-written format, take some time to go through the list to group items together by store or to highlight each store by color. Map your stops by proximity of stores to each other so you can save time.

10. Determine where you will store your gifts and make arrangements with a friend or neighbor if you need to stash big ones.

Here’s an example of a completed master list:

Master Gift List (Excel Spreadsheet)

To make your life easier, as I mentioned, you can download a blank, pre-prepared Master Gift List and Master Wrapping List on this site in either Excel or a printable .pdf format. If you choose to create your list in Excel, be aware that the formulas for your cash flow are already in place. The totals at the end of the document will adjust as you enter the dollar amounts for your gifts. If you are unfamiliar with Excel and wish to add lines to your spreadsheet for additional friends, family members, etc., place your cursor over the row number where you wish to make your insertion and right click. Select “insert” and a row will be added. To insert multiple rows, highlight a block of row numbers, right click, select “insert,” and that number of rows will be added. To delete a row, highlight the number of the row you wish to delete, right click and select “delete.”

For another sample of a pre-prepared list, visit

Step 2: Shop

Shopping day is about minimizing effort and maximizing results. To get the most benefit for your time, energy and money, keep these guidelines in mind.

Get a sitter. If you’ve ever tried to marathon shop with your kids, this point needs no explanation. Whether you opt to swap sitting with a friend, hire a high schooler, leave your kids with your spouse or relatives or use a drop-in center, you will save yourself stress, time, energy and money if you don’t have to manage toddler meltdowns. Your kids will also have a whole lot more fun staying home than being hauled in and out of car seats and shopping carts.

Shop during “off” hours if possible. Early morning and late evening can be less crowded than after-school hours. Decide whether this makes a difference to you, and plan your schedule accordingly.

Answer only more urgent cell phone calls, and don’t stop to text. You are likely to forget things and will take longer if you are distracted by talking or texting.

Stick to the plan! “I’m going to the store for milk.” How often have we said THAT and come home with $50.00 worth of groceries? Sales are tempting. Do your best not to rationalize expenditures not on your list.

Update your spreadsheet as you shop to keep in mind how much you’re spending. Update your file when you get home so you have an accurate record for next year.

Keep receipts together. One of the difficulties of holiday shopping is keeping receipts where you can find them just in case you need to return or exchange. Swankadot makes beautiful receipt holders that you can customize according to your receipt filing style—by store, by person, by category. For a preview of these functional and oh-so-stylish holders, visit

Mark all gift receipts so you don’t forget which gift they go with.

Give Neat Receipts a try if you need some tracking help. Neat Receipts scans receipts and downloads them into financial tracking software like Quicken. If manually entering receipts isn’t your favorite, Neat Receipts may just be the ticket. Visit for more information.

Carry a notebook and have an extra pen or two in your purse. Make note of—

• Last minute wrapping needs for over-sized or odd-sized gifts.

• Battery sizes for any gifts requiring batteries.

Step 3: Wrap

The final step to the three-day shop is wrapping. Here are some ways to make wrapping more fun and efficient.

Create a wrapping center. If you have a closet or room to dedicate to wrapping, fantastic. If not, purchase—

• An under-bed storage box,

• A few clear shoeboxes and small white plastic baskets (from Wal-Mart),

• A vertical wrapping paper container, and

• A ribbon holder.

Outfit your under-bed box with plastic shoeboxes and/or small baskets to hold small gift bags, pens, scissors, tags, tissue paper, boxes and embellishments. A vertical wrapping paper container is my favorite container for wrapping paper rolls because the rolls stay accessible and can be easily stashed in a closet or storage room. You can find these containers at big box and home improvement retailers. If you can’t find a ribbon holder that you like, you can fashion one for under $3.00 with a white plastic dot basket from Wal-Mart (they come in a plethora of sizes) and a 1/4 -inch dowel cut slightly longer than the length of the basket. Put spools of ribbon on the dowel, insert the dowel through holes at each end of the basket, and thread the ribbon through the holes on the side of the basket. Instant ribbon dispenser! Store these wrapping storage containers in your home office, bedroom or wherever you plan on doing your wrapping.

Buy extra tape, pens and scissors. These commodities can be in high demand during the holidays. Stock up!

Get a sitter. Again, if this is a possibility, have someone else watch your kids. You will enjoy your time so much more if you don’t have to keep telling your kids that no, they can’t come in.

Make the experience a celebration! Play your favorite music. Have a treat. Really enjoy wrapping as you think of how excited others will be to receive your gifts. Enlist the help of older children and other family members to wrap gifts for those outside of the family, or invite friends over for a wrapping extravaganza!

Clean up and hide or display your gifts. After your wrapping blitz, take a few minutes to vacuum up scraps of paper and ribbon and peel stray pieces of tape off the carpet. Then, get your gifts into their hiding places, mailing boxes or under the tree as quickly as possible so nothing gets damaged, forgotten or secretly unwrapped.

There you have it! A three-day Christmas shopping strategy. This just may be the solution to your shopping angst if you are a shopping sprinter. You long-distance types can use it as a three-step guide to even more shopping fun. For additional Christmas planning guidance beyond shopping and gift-giving, visit A warning: this site is for serious Christmas aficionados or those who aspire to be. You will find everything from weekly preparation countdown calendars (beginning in September!) to menu preparation to ideas for handmade gifts. Prepare to be utterly amazed and inspired!

All the very best for a joyful holiday season! Happy shopping and happy organizing!

Kelly Pratt is a professional organizer and owner of the organizing company Spaces Limited. For more information, visit: . You can contact Kelly directly at:

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