There's no reason to panic when it comes to the holiday shopping season. Instead of dreading all the gift buying, embrace the spirit of Santa; put on your elf shoes, and jingle those bells. Here are some tips from some of the most successful shoppers I know:
*"My biggest shopping secret is actually a well-known fact in my family," says New York fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo. "I shop for Christmas presents all throughout the year. I'm always circling items in catalogs, shopping the sales rack when I'm on trunk shows at Neiman Marcus or Saks, and bidding on silent-auction items at the various charity events I attend. I have a large extended family, and I would never have time to shop for them if I waited until after Thanksgiving. I start wrapping presents in October and color-code the gifts by family with a little sticker on the bottom of each package."
*Jenna Lyons, creative director of J. Crew, loves to give gifts that keep on giving. "One of my favorite gifts is magazine subscriptions," she says. She recommends Bon App?tit for the chef in your life, Cookie for new-mom friends, and Teen Vogue for aspiring stylists. She also has a great idea for the guys on your shopping list: a tie of the month from J. Crew.
*Marian Bruno, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, says one of her best shopping secrets is to start early.
"My gift list is long, so I start a list right after Christmas. Then, as the year goes by and I happen to see something perfect, I stash it away," she says. "The hard part is not sending it to them early. I note on the list what I bought, where and how much it costs. In November, I take inventory before I go out on the final shop."
Bruno also keeps sizes, preferences and "hates and wants" in her BlackBerry, so if she's out, she has them handy.
She also shops for the younger people on her list last. "Never buy anything for the kids in advance; they change their minds faster than the weather."
And a great tip for all of us: "I always buy myself a good present. That way, I know Santa's going to be good to me!"
*Douglas Gearhart -- sales director of Lida Baday, a Canadian fashion designer -- says, "If you're watching your budget, always buy something that is fabulous so that you get the most bang for your buck." That goes for buying for yourself, as well as for when you're shopping for other people. Most of us would love to receive something that we would not buy for ourselves -- or think of for ourselves!
Here are some other "tips" from savvy shoppers:
*Never shop at the last minute. If you can get a head start on your holiday shopping, you usually will benefit from not overspending.
*Decide where you're going to shop. If you've got a wide variety of people on your holiday list, the mall may be your best destination. However, if you're shopping for your supper club friends, then you may need to head to a specialty foods store.
*Beware of sales. I know we all love to get a bargain in tough economic times, but when shopping for a gift, think twice before you are tempted by an impulse buy just because it's a "deal."
*Don't shop when you're depressed. We all know that this is not a good time to do anything, except maybe window-shop to get ideas.
*Make a list. It's Shopping 101, but often we spend endless hours looking for the "perfect" gift and wandering around endlessly. Keep a small notebook all year long with your wish lists.
*And my favorite tip? It's fun to play Santa, but be good to yourself, too. Don't be afraid to splurge on a little something for you. Enjoy the spirit of giving even more!