Christmas Eve is double-digit hours away. You have a list of names and a bit of disposable income left, but no ideas on how to execute said disposal. What to do?
Step 1. Breathe
The world is full of people eager to take your money. Relax and saddle up.
Step 2. Visit the Mall (Duhn-duhn-duh-DUHN)
It's too late for shipping, so get over it. Your recipients at this point had better be local or not mind a belated Happy Jesus Day gift. Next to pop-ups or banner ads, nothing compares to the sensory bombardment of online shopping like a visit to the local Retail Mecca. Need ideas? The Mall delivers.
Step 3. Use Common Sense
You’re ushered inside by the Salvation Army rep uttering his 739th “Merry Christmas” greeting of the day. You reply in kind. Now, stop! Consult your list. You’ve known most of these people for the larger part of your sentient existence. You need to focus. Sis, who never bakes, doesn’t need a cake mold. Dad, who doesn’t hunt, won’t want camouflage socks. Kids’ stores are for kids … unless LEGOs or Star Wars are involved.
You OCD folks – who inexplicably have waited until the closing hours of the shopping season – can picture your gift recipients left to right in your head in alphabetical order, or up and down by age. Either way, have that vision created for Step 4.
Step 4. Case the Joint
You’ve now got a game plan in that you’ve conceived of the hits and misses for the laundry list of loved ones. Now move it, soldier! Find your way out of the store you originally entered and wade into the meaty Mall’s aorta. Confusion may set in, but remember that while store fronts exist on either side of you, your skull, spine and ocular devices are naturally enabled to swivel. If you’re 80 or older though, you may require a firmware update.
Make use of these natural gifts as you breeze empty handed like a Tom Brady pass through the aimlessly wandering Time Suckers. They are the enemy. The Time Suckers linger, looking for odds and ends. You, on the other hand, are starting from scratch. They should fear your determination, your focus, your visible sense of urgency, but they don’t. And unlike rush hour traffic, they do not come equipped with brake (or reverse) lights or turn signals. Deploy the Marty Feldman tactic. Keep one eye on the driver’s ed video unfolding before you and the other eye’s focus split evenly between bright, shiny, neon store names and “70% Off!” placards.
Your objective here on this leg of the speed shopping mission is to identify your targeted items.
Free tip: grasp the concept of the mall. Based on independent research conducted by me yesterday, the Mall is geared toward the female 13-35 demographic. That means aside from the anchor department stores, three out of four stores deal in women’s shoes, women’s clothes, things that smell nice, or women’s clothes and shoes that smell nice. Sprinkle in a toy store, a Radio Shack, two video game buy-trade-sell outlets, a pretzel kiosk and a place to buy sports memorabilia, and you’ve discerned the lay of the land in your local Suburban Income Suck Pit.
Keeping your list – or your chronologically ordered faces – front of mind, allow yourself the freedom to wander into and out of stores whose offerings might produce a Recipient Match. Don’t fear failure. For example, an adult male shopping for six nieces in the 10-20 age range will strike out more often than not. Set aside the discouragement and go with your gut, but don’t buy a thing, yet.
Work each level of the mall, end to end. Take note of prices and discounts. Make that quick call to the significant other to confirm the seeming normalcy and/or practicality of that one thing you saw in that one store with the things in it five doors back. Well done! You’ve identified your target purchases.
Step 5. The Dash to Dispense Cash
The 1,000-yard dash begins. Lesson learned: Do not backtrack from your stopping point in Step 4. You are now standing at the gaping mouth of the store by which you entered. Do not work your way back and purchase your targeted items in reverse order. (See Step 6.)
- Given economic times, pay in cash. If you have a debit/check card, make sure it’s readily available and make sure your magnetic strip is well oiled and in otherwise pristine condition.
- Keep your driver’s license with your debit card. This will save you time. Most sales associates won’t ask, but if they do, you won’t have to drop your bags and dig for it in the pants, the jacket, the purse or the wallet.
- Keep one pocket empty to store all those receipts.
- Most importantly, fly solo. You’ll move a lot faster and will avoid those distracting second opinions. You’re going with your gut now as time is of the essence. Trust it, and clear a path.
Step 6. The Big, Long Haul
I hope you’ve been keeping up your gym membership to this point. You’re about to load up on lots of plastic bags which, over time, will collectively destroy any circulation to your finger tips. Under other circumstances where you’re free to meander, you might pick up the stocking stuffers first, then the clothes. They’re light. Save the gadgets and toys for last. They’re heavier, but also tend to make maneuvering through the masses a tad complicated. In this case, you simply have to suck it up. You’re on a mission after all.
Stop at the car intermittently? No way, Joe. It wastes a lot of time. It leaves your freshly purchased prizes vulnerable to the desires of unscrupulous folk. And it wastes a lot of time.
Stay focused. If you’re clear and direct – and sans a long line at the register – you can be in and out of a store in two minutes.
Head to the farthest place from your entry point and start swiping as you work your way back. Use the stairs. Avoid the escalators. They’re slow, and on them, Time Suckers become immovable objects to your unstoppable force. Besides, dodging, darting and the occasional, “accidental” nudge with the sharp edges of the Tommy Tells Time box are fun.
Remember to breathe. If you don’t, you’ll turn blue, see more bright, shiny lights and fall over. If that’s your thing, do it on your own time.
Walk fast, with a purpose. People, even Time Suckers, don’t like to get run over.
Finally, be polite. You’ll encounter people of all temperaments in your mad dash. Even the orneriest are more likely to give way if you’re polite.
Step 7. The Exit
Your hands are full, your bank account is empty and if you’re silly enough to have worn a leather jacket, you’re likely breaking a small sweat. Those four passing offers for a free massage are looking pretty good right now, but don’t give in. Your shoulders will recover, and your fingertips will eventually return to their natural color.
Head to your door, say something nice to the Salvation Army bell ringer and breathe the fresh air. Check your watch. Two hours? You rock!
You’re done. Fill the trunk with the goods, go home, crack the egg nog and break out the wrapping paper.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.