Tips to preserve Yuletide sanity

The year has once again come full circle. The time known as “the holidays,” in which Americans are bombarded with a barrage of gifts and food, has come. While this time of year is supposed to trigger feelings of joy and merriment across humanity, it often concludes with frazzled Santa stand-ins, despising shopping malls and pulling one’s hair out from the roots.

I know this feeling well. I have worked retail for two “Black Fridays” – the notoriously hectic first day of the holiday shopping season that begins almost as soon as the dishes are cleaned after Thanksgiving dinner. I have seen Hades, my friends, and it has track lighting.

In addition to fighting the crowds, you have to buy gifts, too – gifts for your loved ones and sometimes, gifts for your not-so-loved ones, such as coworkers or pet-sitting neighbors.

Of course, presents cost money, and buying them requires time to shop. Most college students have neither the funds nor the schedule to complete their shopping lists adequately. But fear not: There are a few things you can do that will be good to your budget, your agenda and most importantly, your sanity.

If you must shop in the mall, find out when the stores you patronize receive their shipments. This will serve you two-fold: First, if you need a sweater in a size that sells out quickly, you’ll know the best day to purchase it. Secondly, when some stores receive a major shipment, the merchandise from the previous shipment goes on sale, which means the purse you were considering for your sister may cost less next week.

Many stores offer e-mail registration through which you can receive coupons or announcements of when sales begin. These can be very helpful. Via e-mail, several customers at the retail store I work at receive coupons for up to 25 percent off merchandise that others who haven’t registered for these e-mails do not get.

To save your sanity, shop at the mall between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to avoid the lunch-hour and after-work rushes. There really is a break in the sea of shoppers during those hours, and if you despise crowds as much as most people, that’s the time to go. Also, don’t shop on the weekends. That’s simply ludicrous if avoiding crowds is your aim.

A nice alternative to the bright lights of the shopping mall is Internet shopping. Of course, you must be sure you’re purchasing from a secure Web site and that the merchandise is high quality, so eBay may not be the best place to get Grandma’s gift. offers high-end merchandise (think Williams and Sonoma ) at large discounts with very small shipping costs. Often, it offers dollar-shipping promotions that apply to all goods. Everything from kitchen gadgets to popular books are available for bargains on the site.

For minor gifts, such as the Secret Santa exchange at work, name brands speak volumes. Some store Web sites offer deals you cannot find in the mall, similar to the sales that e-mail registration can offer. Ann Taylor Loft, Target, The Gap, Old Navy and other large retailers feature online sales of up to 30 percent off certain items, as opposed to buying the item at the store. Just remember that shipping – especially during this season – may take longer than usual. Order in advance.

Don’t disregard the convenience of the Bull Market on Wednesdays. Some of the vendors have unique, handmade gifts at reasonable prices. Unlike large chains, Bull Market prices are not set in stone. The art of negotiation has been lost in our generation – why not revive the skill? If you can haggle, you may be able to get some jewelry for your mother for a deal, and she doesn’t have to know the money you saved.

If all else fails and you’re still in a dire need for money, explore the store credit card option. Some stores offer credit cards that can only be used at that store, as opposed to a new Master Card that will burn a hole through your wallet at every shop you visit. Most of these store credit cards have reasonable annual percentage rates and offer discounts and coupons for those who apply and are approved for the card.

If your financial situation comes to this, apply for a store credit card at a store that can fulfill your shopping needs for the majority of your list (think Dillard’s or Bed Bath & Beyond) and utilize that open-a-card discount.

Use it once, and cut the card when the shopping is done. Afterward, you can pay it off in increments favorable to your budget while still giving adequate gifts to your loved ones.

The holidays are not about the trivial exchange of gifts. The joy of giving can be found on the faces of your recipients, who smile brightly and exclaim, “How did you know I wanted this?” upon opening your handsomely wrapped gift. Just don’t allow the holiday anxiety to turn you cynical toward what should be a time for family togetherness.

Taylor Williams is a junior majoring in English education.