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Tapenga's Tales
A Great Change in My Christmas Shopping Strategy

So here I am, mid 40's, facing yet the rush of another Holiday season with something less than enthusiasm. My husband and I have now been married about 3 1/2 years and are blissfully happy.

As for the rest of our family.........sometimes we have an empty nest, and sometimes the nest is backfilling. We just never know from one day to the next how many people live in our house.

I get very angry at the retailers for pushing the holiday season to back up to Halloween and make secret vows to myself not to begin the season until Thanksgiving Day. It was always a tradition in my family to get the Christmas music out on Thanksgiving Day.

I must admit, begrudgingly, however, that their strategy must work because almost a week before Thanksgiving and I was already knee deep in my thoughts of shopping.

I find it harder and harder to go out and face the crowds and the same old shopping places, and harder and harder to come up with the gift idea that is just right for each family member. It is Wednesday night, my husband has rehearsal for his improv group, and the daughter that is currently living at home is working so it seems a perfect time for me to go out and do some shopping.

Now mind you my day begins at 5:15 every morning and I work in a high stress profession dealing with people all day. I came home from work totally prepared to go out in the evening and make a good dent in this task.

I fixed dinner, my husband left, I cleaned up and was ready to go.......NOT! Maybe if I just check my email first I will get the energy to face this.

So......on goes the computer. Wow, getting closer to the holidays my junk mail list keeps getting longer and longer. I skim through it quickly, trying in the meantime to talk myself into or out of going shopping, and in the bargain going through my mental calendar to see when else I could do it if I delayed it.

I happen to notice a couple of emails aimed at holiday shopping. I don't have a problem with making purchases online. I have discussed it with my husband who is the world's biggest computer geek and if he is comfortable with the security of online shopping, then that certainly makes me comfortable with it.

I have bought a few things online, but have generally felt that there was a need to meander through the stores in order to be drawn to just that perfect gift and investigate the options. On top of that I am basically cheep and felt that if I did my shopping online I would not be able to take advantage of bargains, and oh.......the shipping fees!

In the spirit of procrastinating tonight's trip I did some investigating into the possibility of doing a greater share of my shopping online. Let's start with our 21 year old daughter.

I know that she wants a pair of Heidi Klum earrings and I have no idea where I am going to find them in the area. I was going to start at the jewelry and department stores at the mall. Now, by doing a search for the earrings I was able to locate them with the click of a button.

I found the exact ones that she wanted on the QVC site, along with several matching pieces and had them purchased and on their way in a matter of minutes! Hmmmm.......this is not so bad! Let's see, she has also asked for a docking station for her iPod. I notice an ad in my e-mail list for 15,000 items at Target that include free shipping! Wow, this makes the deal even better!

I was able to find a docking station for a reasonable price, and I remembered that I had a coupon for Target in my purse. A little investigation led me to the fact that yes, I can use the coupon online as well as in the store. I purchased the docking station, and with a little browsing through the site was able to come up with about 6 stocking stuffers for her and several for my husband. I used my coupon and got free shipping!

My spirits are now lifting because I am doing great on my Christmas shopping, saving money and time, and now it looks like I don't have to go out in the cold and the crowds tonight and aimlessly drift through the stores! I decided to build a fire in the fireplace, put on my pj's, pour a glass of wine, put on some of my favorite music, cuddle up on the couch and continue my Holiday shopping! I could learn to like this.

So, who's next? The two married daughters with young children. We had thought about getting the families a weekend away at a local indoor water park. I was able online to compare the local water parks, prices, attractions, room types and places to eat. I found out that there are rooms big enough to hold all 9 of us. What a great time to have the whole family in the same room for a weekend of water park and pizza and how great to be able to gather all the details of the event in my pj's on the couch!

Our other option for them is a portable DVD player. We have one that the kids occasionally borrow when they are taking long car trips and need to occupy the little ones and I am sure that they would enjoy having one of their own. I noticed that in my mailbox there were several sites that had either free shipping or $1.00 shipping specials for the next couple of day.

I checked these sites for the options for DVD players. There were quite a few to choose from and since I don't have a lot of knowledge of these products I did a search and found a couple of good sites, Cnet.com and About.com that had done the critiquing for me. They have lists of products in order of quality in several different categories including price and where the products could be bought. Several of the ones that made the top of the lists were also available at the sites that had free shipping.

I was able in about 20 minutes to comparison shop on 2 different products, a task that would have taken my about 4 stores, multiple sales people, and too much gas on this cold dark night that I didn't really want to go out on in the first place. I did not make a decision on rather to go with the DVD players or the weekend trip, but I have done all of the leg work and after a discussion with my husband will be able to come back to the sites that I have bookmarked and with a few clicks have the purchases made.

If things keep going this way I could almost get to like this holiday shopping stuff! Now for the kids…We have 2 grandchildren, 4 and 5, a nephew 10, and a family with 3 nephews and a niece ranging from 5 - 13. We prefer to get them educational toys, and look, there is an email for Discovery Channel Toys with an offer for free shipping! This is cool!

And to make it even easier they have the site broken down into boys and girls and age categories. First, the 10 year old boy. I looked in his age group and narrowed it down to about 6 items. They include customer ratings and reviews. I eliminated a few after reading the customer reviews and placed the others in the shopping cart to go over with my husband when he gets home to make the final decision. I personally like the radio controlled flying saucer, but the equalizer stunt car is pretty cool too!

For the little ones I went back to the Target site. I had seen a preschool version of a laptop computer in their circular that came in the paper last Sunday. The kids love to use the computers when they come over to our house so I thought their own "laptop" with preschool learning activities would be just the ticket! I was able to browse the Sunday ad that I had seen the item in online, locate the item, purchase it, and qualify for free shipping all in about 5 minutes.

The family with the four children aready have an Xbox 360. I would like to get them a game that would appeal to all the age levels. I am not a gamer so I don't have any idea what is out there or who it would appeal to. I did a search for the Xbox, found some sites the told me what games were out there, told me a little about each game, the age level and the family friendliness. I used the Xbox site and again C-net and have chosen the game Cars. It is family friendly, and I think it will cover all the age levels.

I was not able to get free shipping to my house on this one, but I did purchase it from Best Buy. I had a coupon for 10% off in my purse that I was going to take to the store with my and I was able to use it online. I was also able to have it shipped free to the store where I will just have to make a brief stop in on my way home from work one day and pick it up. I don't mind doing that at all if it means I don't have to spend a lot of time in the store browsing and waiting in those lines, but just make a quick run in.

Now the real challenge. My husband is not a very material person. He is not a sports person, is a computer person, and if you ask him what he wants he will look at you and smile and say in his cutesy, mocking voice "I have everything I want" meaning me and the kids, I am sure! I know very little about computers and he knows little about medicine so he does the consulting, and I do the nursing and the world stays happy!

I would never know what to get him in the realm of computers, but I did attend CES last year with him and the flat screen monitors did catch my eye, and I think his. I have gotten pretty good at this internet shopping thing tonight so let's give it another try. Again I do a search for computer flat screen monitors. I use Cnet.com, and About.com, compare quality and price until I find one that meets my requirements for both.

Once I have picked the specific brand and model that I prefer I do a search for that model and find the vendor with the best price and shipping costs. Again a few clicks and I am done with his big gift.

This is more than I had hoped to accomplish tonight, but I have had a great evening snuggled on the couch in front of the fireplace so I will attempt a couple of gifts for the out of towners on my list. In past years I have sent my brother and his family a Hickory Farms gift box, ordering from a catalog that I have received in the mail. This year I do a search for food gift baskets and have options that I never new existed.

I looked at all kinds of gift basket with every kind of food item imaginable in them. Along the way I came across a site for Dale and Thomas popcorn, Oprah's favorite! They have a special where you can sample one or two bags for free; you just have to pay the shipping. I could not resist, so I ordered those for me!

Perhaps I will have them the next night I decide to do the rest of my computer Christmas shopping. So I find a gift basket for my brother and his family that contains candy, cookies and other holiday goodies, and yes, free shipping!

My dad lives in Florida and his passion is golf. I spent the next 20 minutes touring and comparing the golf courses in his area for one from which to purchase him a gift card for a round of golf. I was able to compare quality and price online, something I would never have been able to do no matter how much time I had spent out shopping tonight.

I have it narrowed down to Grand Cypress and Mission Inn. They are both in his area and are both great courses. I have plenty of time to make that decision so I will leave that one hanging for the moment. When I do decide I will be able to have a gift card sent directly to him with a holiday message from me included.

Since I have saved so much time on my shopping, I have decided to take a weekend before Christmas that I would usually spend last minute shopping and go visit him. Another quick look at my email tells me that a local air carrier has flights to Florida for $59 each way. A few clicks and I get a bonus weekend to go visit my dad.

It is about time for my husband to get home so I am going to conclude my shopping for the evening. It is funny how something that I was dreading turned out to be such a relaxing, enjoyable event. I can't believe how the limited choices of my local stores suddenly have become the endless possibilities of internet choices.

I still have to find stocking stuffers, but I am sure that I will be able to come up with some great, unique items from the comfort of my own home with the help of my friend the mouse, and leaving most of the work to the mail man.

Oh yeah, what do I want for Christmas? Well……..if my husband should ask, just tell him that I am sure you can buy a great hot tub and also find a contractor to install it, all in about 10 minutes just by looking online.

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