6 Ways to Make Holiday Gifting Easy, Affordable, and Punctual

published Nov 6, 2020
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The holiday season is upon us once again, even though you might still be eating the last of your Halloween candy or finishing up your annual viewing of Hocus Pocus. As spooky season fades into sparkly lights and jingle bells, it would be wise to start thinking about your holiday gifting plans—especially if you’ll need to ship your presents.

As with most things in 2020, holiday gifting may require extra time and patience, explains Elaine Swann, lifestyle and etiquette expert and founder of The Swann School of Protocol. Normally, Swann suggests Black Friday as a bookmark for the start of holiday shopping, particularly if folks want to take advantage of deals throughout Cyber Monday. But this year, she expects things to look a bit different—mostly because our shopping habits have already changed amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“With businesses closing and shipping slowing down this year, it’s a good idea to start strategizing your holiday gift giving a little sooner than you normally would, because you might have to make some modifications,” Swann tells Apartment Therapy.

If you’re the kind of person who craves specific tips and hard and fast deadlines in order to get something done, look no further. Ahead, find all the pointers you need to make sure your gifts end up in the hands of your loved ones in time for the holidays—including all the shipping dates you’ll want to put in your planner or phone.

Shop Locally

Online shopping has increased throughout the pandemic, and it is certainly a safer option than visiting a crowded mall or store. But given that the coronavirus has devastated some small businesses—particularly ones owned by women, people of color, and immigrants—it’s helpful to shop locally if you can do so safely. Doing so will also lessen the stress felt by postal workers and other delivery people, many of whom are overworked and worried about catching the virus themselves amid the uptick of home deliveries.

Swann agrees, noting that it’s “increasingly important for consumers to pour into the local economy as best as possible.”

Many smaller stores are offering curbside pickup and virtual shopping, so check with your local businesses to see what safety guidelines they’ve put in place.

Credit: Cathy Pyle

Prioritize Your Close Relationships First

If your gift-giving list starts to feel overwhelming, or you’re understandably worried about your end-of-year budget, Swann suggests taking a step back and putting an emphasis on your closest relationships. She uses an onion metaphor, noting that a person’s closest relationships are at the core of the onion, with acquaintances and more distant friends in the outer layers. 

“We should prioritize our gift giving and shipping in that same manner,” Swann says. “The folks who are closest to us, who provide that family or friendship connection, they’re on the inner layer. And then we work our way out.”

It’s important to point out that, for many people, holiday spending may be tighter this year due to job loss amid the pandemic. It’s OK if you need to skip out on buying elaborate gifts for everyone at work; people will absolutely understand.

For Those Outer Circles, Consider a Small Token

You can still spread cheer without investing a ton of cash; handwritten holiday cards are always a sweet sentiment, as are gift cards to a local coffee shop (and those don’t need to be for more than $5 or $10). 

Thinking more along the lines of something free? Try getting creative with a coupon for a service you can provide. If you have friends with a dog, offer to pet-sit! Have a way with IKEA furniture instructions? Build a family member’s new desk! The possibilities are endless, and bonus: These DIY coupons also make great stocking stuffers.

Shipping? Check Deadlines Ahead of Time

If you plan to mail gifts via USPS, you’ll want to consult the holiday shipping deadlines on the service’s website. To send something domestically via Retail Ground service (aka, the least expensive option), be sure to get it to the post office by December 15 if you want it to arrive by Christmas Day. Note that the USPS structures its deadline chart around Christmas; in order to ensure your gift arrives by the first night of Hanukkah, which is on December 10 this year, consider subtracting 15 days from any deadline on the USPS’s website. If you’re sending something for Kwanzaa, you can use the deadlines currently listed, as it begins on December 26.

But let’s say you simply ran out of time and are rushing to get your package out the door at the last minute. (Hey, it happens!) You have until December 23 to ship domestic packages in time for Christmas (and December 21 if your gift is going to Alaska or Hawaii), as well as December 8 for Hanukkah, but you’ll pay an extra fee for the overnight delivery. The USPS also offers deadlines for international and military mail, and some of those dates are coming up in November.

You may choose to ship presents via UPS or FedEx; both companies have similar deadlines posted on their respective websites. FedEx also has a same-day option for December 25, but some restrictions and extra fees apply.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Shipping delays can still happen, even if you get to the post office on time. Swann suggests packing some additional days (even up to a week, if you want to be extra careful) into each of these deadlines to account for unexpected hiccups. “Consider the normal delays that we usually experience, and then factor in the slower mail service we’ve been seeing lately. There could be even greater delays,” she explains. “It’s important to plan a little more in advance, given the pandemic and all the circumstances around it.”

But If Your Gift Arrives Late, Don’t Sweat It—Really

At the end of the day, it truly is the thought that counts—now more than ever. If there is a shipping snafu and your gift arrives after the holidays, it doesn’t make you a bad friend or family member.

“Even without the pandemic, late holiday gifts are acceptable,” Swann says. “The fact that a person thought well enough of you to research and purchase something, that speaks volumes—even more than the timeliness.”

The Home for the Holidays vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn editorial teams and generously underwritten by Cointreau.