I know you don’t want to hear this, but Christmas is only a few months away.

I say this not to alarm you, or to urge you to shop now; I merely want to encourage you to plan for the biggest Christian spending holiday on the calendar. While Black Friday is typically considered the launching point for the holiday shopping season, it’s becoming more and more common to see holiday displays pop up as soon as the back to school gear comes down in mid-September.

A 2011 Rasmussen poll found that 26 percent of people waited til the last week before Christmas to even begin their holiday shopping. For years, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid those last minute dashes to the mall; I’d rather spend my late-December evenings curled up in front of the tree listening to Christmas carols, not the wailing screams of a toddler whose parents dragged him along for a last minute trip to Walmart’s electronics section

The Errors Of Christmas Past

Last year, I thought I had my Christmas shopping plan all laid out. I took advantage of discounts and coupons throughout the entire year; by the time Black Friday rolled around, my closet could have been mistaken for Santa’s workshop. It was packed to the brim with toys for my kids, tools for my husband, new food and water bowls for my dog, and new clothes for me; you could even spy wrapping paper and ribbons curling out from underneath the door, waiting to topple down on anyone foolish enough to dare to open it.

When all was said and done, I’d bought more than 100 presents for my family…cash payday loans have their place, but Christmas shopping should not be one of them. And while that overwhelming total did include stocking stuffers, gifts for my daughter’s teachers, and for both sets of grandparents, it also included a ridiculous 30 toys for my kids alone. (I told you it was ridiculous and overwhelming.)

My Plan For Christmases Yet To Come

I can now fully admit that I went overboard last year – way overboard. In fact, in true kid fashion, my kids had much more fun playing with the boxes in which their toys came than with the toys themselves. On top of that, we put our house on the market just a few weeks into the new year, forcing us to put most of those brand new, barely used toys up in the attic in a futile attempt to declutter.

With the lessons of Christmases past still fresh in my mind, this year I’m paring down on my family’s holiday wish list. Instead of buying everything in sight just because it (A) fits my child’s age and gender and (B) is on sale, I’ve decided that this year, all members of my immediate family (husband, daughter, son, myself) will get exactly three gifts; like the three good fairies from Sleeping Beauty say, “no more, no less.” Each gift falls into a theme:

  • Gift #1 is an educational gift. For my husband, this may be golf lessons; my daughter will likely get a new bike.
  • Gift #2 is something you need. I happen to need a new office chair, as I currently do all my work using an old recliner that puts my spine in horrible alignment as I attempt to work at my computer desk.
  • Gift #3 is an experience. My husband and I may combine this into a night’s getaway for just the two of us; my son will likely get his first trip to a Disney on Ice show, while my daughter will go to the movies or something similar.

I’m still working on a budget for these 12 gifts, but I hope to spend no more than $600 in all. I’ll still be couponing and searching for discounts; I may even turn to Craigslist to buy my daughter’s bike secondhand. And instead of spending the night in a hotel for our getaway, we may simply send our kids to the babysitter’s for the night and pay her instead.

Reader, what’s your plan for Christmas shopping? Are you doing anything differently in 2012?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke