Simple Green: Gearing Up for Holiday Shopping

10_24_08_holiday.jpgHas anyone else already heard the holiday music being pumped through places like department stores, craft shops, and home improvement places? Today we're dressing up for Halloween, and already we're bombarded—even in a tough economy—to buy, buy, buy.

To alleviate some of the serious stresses of holiday shopping that seem like they're already upon us, we'd like to share a few tips that will make your gift-giving greener and more economically sound. Trust us, it's better to hear this way in advance than to wish you'd heard it by mid-December! Jump below for our advice, and then share your own. The holidays seem to catch us by surprise each year. So, in 2008, we've decided to start far in advance—and that aforementioned music seeping through speakers is furthering the cause. But there are lots of things to think of first.

• First, set a firm budget. This seems like a no-brainer, but we often find ourselves often over-spending when it comes to gifts. This year, we're taking out a certain amount of cash and not allowing ourselves any overages (no credit card purchases, either). It helps to make a list of everyone you hope to give to, and on what level (So-and-so get $20 gifts, but Such-and-such gets a card with an ornament garnish, etc.). With the economy looking gloomy, you want to be sure that happy holidays don't create debt. Be realistic and honest with your budget, too, and that way you won't be forced to eat Ramen while you pay off your holiday expenditures.

• Then, take a look at where you're shopping. You've heard it once, so you've heard it a thousand times, but...Shy away from the big-box stores, and head to locally-owned businesses. This will help the local economy out in a big way. And if you're hard-pressed to find exactly what you need (say, a waffle iron for your boyfriend's grandmother), check out places like Ross or T.J. Maxx. These stores carry the same things that department stores have, but they tend to carry the cast-offs—at a huge discount. This is also a great way to fill up your closet: "slightly imperfect" clothes usually have nothing immediately visible wrong with them (or they're easily mendable), and you can buy them for fractions of what they cost elsewhere. We think it's the next-best thing to shopping for used.

• That said, of course, try to shop used. There is nothing wrong with gifting a gently used item, especially something unique for the home. You can turn used items into a work of art, too: gift a photo frame with a personalized picture or message, or paint a kitchen accessory to match the recipient's tastes. People like original gifts, and everyone can appreciate the effort to save some green and be more green.

• Better yet, buy everything handmade. You can delve into the world of online shopping, turning to Etsy to find the perfect hand-knit scarf for your best friend, or just the right wallet for your younger brother. Supporting handmade goods is a great way to impact local communities. Plus, without mass production, the carbon footprint is itty-bitty. And, of course, you can look for upcycled or recycled items that will have an even better green imprint. You need to shop soon, though; Etsy items need to be shipped, and many sellers already have holiday instructions up on their site. So plan ahead!

• Don't forget: food makes a great gift. So think of local cheeses, local wines or beers, local jams and preserves, or local meat. Everyone eats! And eating locally is just about the most delicious way to go. Plus, you might discover new local things. We just realized we could get locally grown olives! What a treat.

So, good luck as you begin preparing for the holidays...And share your tips on gifting while saving money and saving the planet.

Photo via Nosheep on sxc.hu

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