Hey, cowboy, just where do you think you're going with those scented candles and bath salts? Put them down, and back away slowly. It doesn't have to be like this.
Gift giving is one of the most emotionally fraught and financially taxing aspects of the holiday season. Whom do you gift? And what? What should you spend on gifts? And what do you do when you get a gift you weren't expecting? So many social minefields in such a short amount of time! Don't panic; you can survive the holiday season with your social graces and bank account intact.
Everyone's circumstances are different, and what one person is willing to spend on presents, another person will not. The best thing to do is make a budget that works for you and stick to it. This can seem overwhelming when you take into consideration all the people you might have to buy gifts for during the holiday season.
So whom do you buy for? Think about your life and the supporting players. Live in a building with a maintenance man and a doorman? Yes, they get gifts. Get the paper delivered? Ditto. Did your neighbor dog-sit or water the plants while you were out of town? Add him to the list. Basically, anyone who has made your life easier or has gone out of his or her way for you is deserving of some recognition.
It is traditional to give cash in certain situations. Generally, if you pay for someone for a service (hairstylist, baby sitter, pool boy, etc.), you give him or her extra cash around the holidays -- anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the service. But the holiday doesn't have to be all about the Benjamins. There's no need to bankrupt yourself just to show your appreciation.
For cheap gifts, the Internet is your best friend. Anything your little heart could possibly desire is available at any hour of the day or night. For all intents and purposes, it's a giant mall that never closes. Plenty of websites abound with cheap, clever gifts. Of course, this means some planning is required, as you'll need to allow time for delivery.
Got a geek in your life or a co-worker you're buying for? ThinkGeek has everything he/she could possibly need to be happy. From snarky sticky notes to robot pencil sharpeners to marshmallow guns, there are plenty of gifting options, a lot for less than $25.
Need to buy for someone with a more unusual sensibility? Etsy will save your bacon. The online marketplace of handmade items is a veritable cornucopia of crafter's delights. Speaking of everyone's favorite breakfast meat, a quick search of the word bacon on Etsy reveals bacon soap, bacon magnets, bacon earrings, a bacon and egg pincushion, and a poster advising, "Keep Calm and Eat Some Bacon."
Looking for funny slogans and sassy T-shirts? CafePress is the one-stop shop for you. Search out a phrase or Internet meme and see what results come up. Most graphics are available to be printed on stickers, T-shirts, magnets and buttons, so you can get your girlfriend that "Frankie Says Relax" hoodie and your best friend a bumper sticker that says the same.
What if you've run out of time and ordering online is no longer an option? Before you start stocking up on generic gifts galore (say no to drugstore spa kits!), remember:
--Think about things that everyone needs. In this day and age of laptops and desktops and home and work computers, who couldn't use a USB drive? There are plenty to choose from, styled from Hello Kitty to Zippo lighters.
--Buy in bulk. If there are multiple people you are going to give a bottle of wine to, buy a case instead of individual bottles.
--Buy someone an experience. Instead of giving a traditional gift, give tickets to the theater or to see an up-and-coming band.
--Hit thrift shops and eBay.
--When in doubt, almost everyone appreciates homemade cookies.
If the orgy of consumerism is bumming you out, donate time, money or other resources to a local charity in the name of someone on your list. Most charities send a note to the person you've donated on behalf of, and you both get to start the year riding a wave of good karma.