Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Affordable Christmas Shopping with Kids

I’m taking the local grandkids Christmas shopping at the dollar store this coming weekend. Although there are four of them now, one just turned a year old so I think I’ll have big sister shop for her. My daughter comes along so we’ll have two adults and only three kids, ages 3, 8 and 10. The 10-year old can also help the 3-year old so each child will be able to find appropriate gifts for everyone on their lists, including my daughter and me, without spoiling any surprises.

Our Christmas shopping goal is threefold:
  • Allow the kids to experience the joy of giving.
  • Teach the kids to be wise shoppers.
  • Provide enough guidance that the gift recipients don’t end up with junk.

Can we meet this goal at a dollar store? Absolutely! Although there is a lot of junk at dollar stores, there are also many nice items. The trick is to pick the treasures from the trash, which is a valuable skill for consumers of any age.

Last year, for instance, the 2-year old picked out a dishtowel for his aunt. He was going for color only but coincidentally chose one that seemed the best of the lot. Well, I saw the thing in auntie’s kitchen last week and it looks just about as good as when he bought it last Christmas. I know it’s been washed repeatedly and used this whole time so there’s a firsthand testimonial for decent quality finds at the dollar store.

Also, there’s usually a nice selection of:
  • Coloring/activity/puzzle books for all ages
  • “Consumable” gifts, such as stickers, note pads, kitchen scrubbies, etc.
  • Colorful calendars

An Early Christmas Memory

I remember shopping as a very young child. My parents took the three of us to the dime store. Remember dime stores? I guess they were the dollar stores of the 60s. Anyway, we’d each have some change in our pocket and off we’d go, up and down every aisle looking for treasures, in search of just the right gift for each other and our parents. What a treat! Well, at least for us - how my poor mother survived taking three kids under the age of five or six Christmas shopping is beyond me. But she did and it started a tradition that I continue 50 years later with my grandkids.

How to Shop with Kids

To make your dollar store shopping trip a success instead of a nightmare (I’ve had both), follow these tips:
  • Help each child make a list of everyone they are shopping for. This is best done in advance, like the night before. Limit the number of gifts to buy (we go with 10 because that’s how many quarters are in a roll) and start with parents and siblings. Then let the child fill the remaining slots on the list with anyone they want but help them remember close family and friends, teachers, etc. If they have more than 10 (or whatever your limit is), they need to cut back the list. Provide guidance but let them have the final say (with the exception of parents and siblings, although they could buy one gift for the parents to share) - after all, it is their list.
  • Make sure everyone is well fed and has used the potty before leaving home. And I mean everyone. Go shopping in the morning for best results (less crowded store, less cranky kids) and plan around naptime, if necessary.
  • Hold on to their money for the little ones. Trust me, they will lose it. Then give them their money when they check out so that they can have the grownup fun of paying.
  • Postpone your own shopping until another time - this trip is just for the kids. Do buy some Christmas gift bags if you want, to make wrapping easy for the little ones.
  • Have a little extra cash for sales tax, if applicable. If you live in a state that collects sales tax, pay it out of your own pocket when each child checks out. The kids need to focus on selecting gifts. At the dollar store, they should be able to get one item for each person on their list without having to worry about setting aside extra money for sales tax, too. There’s nothing to spoil holiday shopping like getting to the register and being a tad bit short of funds so pay their tax for them.
  • Pair an adult with each child under eight or so. Put anyone under four or so in the shopping cart. Have older kids pick an adult with whom to shop. Take the little ones around the store to the areas you know are most appropriate given the people for whom they are shopping. This helps them focus and avoid getting completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. Let older kids take you around the store and help them make wise decisions, as needed. Your job is to educate them as consumers while letting them have the final say.
  • Swap kids with another adult, if needed, so that each child can shop for each adult without spoiling the surprise.
  • Limit your trip to just an hour or so. You want this to still be fun when it’s done!

Gift Wrapping - the Fun Continues!

Take the kidlets straight home and have some lunch or a snack. Then help them wrap and label all their gifts. If you bought gift bags, this part should be easy. If not, be sure to have blunt scissors and LOTS of paper and tape!

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