It’s funny how people change over time. Ten years ago I would have been the frantic idiot in line at the mall five minutes before closing on Christmas Eve, arms laden with stuff that may or may not have been on anyone’s wish list but at least would allow me to cross someone off my gift list. My dad was usually less frantic, standing in line behind me. Fast forward a decade, and I actually pride myself on being able to count in years how long it’s been since I’ve set foot in a mall. A downsized gift-giving list and dedication to shopping local and sustainable whenever possible can take most of the credit. That said, the day after Christmas is my Black Friday and so far no distance, weather event, illness or hangover has prevented me from this annual ritual.
By the time the holidays roll around I usually have a list of things I need, want, or would like to replace. I hit the stores with a simple plan – think outside the box, don’t buy more than I can use, and put it somewhere I’ll remember for the following year. Here is a list of ten things I look for when I hit the stores after Christmas:
1. Ornaments and lights. This one is obvious, but there was a time when I just packed up the old, half-lit bulbs and tossed any broken ornaments and figured I’d deal with it the following year. Now we usually buy one new ornament as a family, typically one that commemorates something that happened that year, and the rest we get 60% – 75% off. I also try to stock up on those little stockings, which I use as silverware wrappers and gift card holders, and smaller ornaments that I use on top of packages instead of bows. Now that he’s old enough, I also scoured the discount ornaments for something I can use as a base for T to customize next year for the grand- and god-parents and found some cute snowflakes that will be perfect. And don’t rule out ornaments as gifts for holidays other than Christmas – in past years I’ve found Star Wars for my brother who loves the movie series, Nascar for my dad who collects that type of paraphernalia, and multiple cows for myself who can’t get enough of them.
2. Tableware. I have a really hard time paying a lot of money for disposable paper so unless we have holiday-appropriate tableware when we need it, we’re out of luck. After the holidays I stock up on plates, cups, napkins, and serving trays. Some stores have a collection of holiday wares in “non-traditional” color schemes like blue, yellow and magenta, and I love when I find some pretty champage glasses or tablecloths I can use for some other party. A few years ago I replaced my chipped dishes with a set of beautiful white china rimmed in silver that I found marked down by 80%. We still use them and have long since gotten our money’s worth. This year I snapped up some great little cocktail plates that will hold a wine glass and purple tablecloths – party of the “non-traditional” holiday color collection – that I’ll use when the Ravens reach the playoffs. I also found some placemats and a table runner I’ll use on the coffee and side tables in a beautiful aqua blue.
3. Linens and sheets. Flannel sheets are great, especially when you find them on clearance. I’ve also found rugs, pillows, throws, and dish towels. Last year I found small fleece blankets which I bought for $2 each for gifts for the pups. This year I scored a couple of kiddie hooded towels which T will love to get later in the year.
4. Toys. T and J both have birthdays in the two months following Christmas and while we are usually done shopping for the event well before then, sometimes I’ll come across stuff that we pick up for the occasion. But when the stores start marking down toys, first 60% and then 75% or more, I buy and store them for Toys for Tots the following year. Last year I got $100 worth of charitable donations for less than $25, and used the trip to the donation box as a chance for T to learn about giving to others. Don’t forget the pets – sets of toys packaged especially for gift giving are often on sale as well.
5. Sporting Goods. I”m not sure why these go on sale with the holiday stuff but every year I take the opportunity to update my camping supplies and check out the bikes, wagons, scooters, and every assortment of golfing equipment and sports ball. This year I had my eye on a new air mattress (in the same aisle as camping) but talked myself out of it on the premise that I could probably find it cheaper online.
6. Bakeware and cooking essentials. I’ve already mentioned tablecloths, placemats and table runners, but there are plenty of other great deals to be had. I finally replaced my beat up pot holders with some new ones I found in a hodge podge of discounted cookie sheets and cupcake wrappers. This is a great time to find holiday-themed kits (think cupcake and chocolate covered pretzel), stuff to decorate cookies, and baking equipment packaged for the holidays like cookie presses and mixing bowls. This year I bought a few packages of gingerbread and sugar cookie mix, which will keep well into the new year, and a red cookie sheet liner that I snagged for $1.72. I also took the opportunity to stock up on all the packaging supplies I’ll need for next year’s neighborhood cookie exchange, including some super cute gingerbread house boxes.
7. Packaging. Also obvious, but this is another thing I hate spending a lot of money on. We do a pretty good job of reusing bags and boxes but sometimes it takes a while for them to cycle back. I stock up on coordinated paper, bags, boxes and tissue for “Santa” gifts, and find other bags and paper for the rest. I love when I find pretty gift boxes or even decorated cardboard boxes that don’t need to be wrapped. This year I grabbed a bunch of gift card holders including some that are basic enough they can be used for pretty much any occasion. I also scored a several giant gift bags, enough small handled bags to use as “stockings” next year, and several containers to package and dress up the wine bottles we tend to give throughout the year. But my favorite score was two fabulous red totes I’d had my eye on for months, with which I plan to (finally) organize by trunk.
8. Craft supplies. Places like Michaels and JoAnn Fabrics stock plenty of crafty stuff in time for the holidays, including tons of kid-friendly stuff. From the holiday surplus I culled paints, markers, stickers, pipe cleaners and pompoms, plus a bunch of kid-friendly craft kits that he’ll grow into by next year. Bonus score: Multi-packs of crayons we can grab and go when we eat out – it’s not like T will care they have stockings on them!
9. Gifts and stocking stuffers. I can appreciate the pre-packaged gifts that stores put out during the holidays, stuff like electronic coin banks and hair hockey tables and mitten sets, but not so much the prices. I don’t buy this stuff to have it “just in case,” but occasionally I come across something that will be a great match for someone on my gift list. This year I brought home several book “safes” with the hollow middle, which J and his cousins will love. I’ll probably wait another week or so but I usually buy several glove and scarf sets, which I donate to charity during the coat and mitten drive. A few years ago I purchased a set of glass candle holders that I gave as a wedding gift later that year, and often find pretty plant bulb sets that make sweet Mother’s Day gifts. And this is a great time to find picture frames, some of which I keep and some will be used to gift next year’s holiday pics. Several stores now have dollar sections, great for stocking stuffers pre-holiday; they are even been post when the stuff is 70% off. I cleaned up at Michaels, finding everything from glow sticks to model car kits to temporary tattoos, everything but the edible treats we’ll pick up closer to Christmas.
10. Storage. Craft stores have their holiday baskets on sale most of the month before the holiday, and they are even cheaper after. I usually hit this section after a good look around the house to see what needs to be organized, revamped, or redone. This year the craft supplies are getting an overhaul thanks to metal buckets I found for less than $2 each; the bathroom towels will find a new home in baskets on the wall; and we will finally have some sort of system for the various cords, remotes and controllers that have overgrown the media center using the felt totes I discovered on an endcap at Target.
As I hauled in my goods DH rolled his eyes a bit but I know he’s pretty proud not only of the money we save, but of the fact that we don’t need to scramble around last minute. I usually make it to retail box store, a craft store and a home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowes, which provide a great supply of lights and ornaments. Places like CVS and Walgreens also have a nice selection of packaging and toys. Many years, in addition to preparing for Christmas future, we stock up for other coming events such as birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, weddings, even Easter. With a little foresight and planning, post-Christmas clearance can be one-stop shopping for a year full of great times.