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5 Christmas Shopping Secrets of Working Moms

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For working moms, the holiday season can hit like a ton of bricks. Unless you're one of those hyper-organized women who finished all the Christmas shopping early in November, you're now scrambling to RSVP to parties, sign up for school potluck duty and purchase gifts in the space of a few short weeks. Not to mention doing your regular job.

Here's the answer to your woes: Christmas shopping tips for the rest of us.

1. Do Your Christmas Shopping Online

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Photo credit: Getty Images/Tim Robberts

The retail industry makes a big deal about Cyber Monday -- the Monday after Thanksgiving -- as a chance for Christmas shopping deals. For time-starved working moms, it should be self-evident that Cyber Monday is just one of the many opportunities to squeeze in some online purchases during your lunch break or that precious half hour between the kids going to sleep and when you collapse unconscious yourself.

There are two key points with online shopping to be as efficient and effective as possible. First, give yourself a target, such as: one hour to pick out four gifts for your two children. Otherwise, you end up spending far more time browsing and comparing prices than you can afford. Second, schedule these types of errands into you calendar, just as any other appointment. That will help you stay on track throughout the holiday season.

2. Make Family Agreements Around Gifts

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Photo credit: Snrop / Flickr

If you've got a large family, Christmas shopping can quickly become a nightmare of credit card debt and empty shipping boxes in your front hall. This year, consider reaching out to your family to set limits on the dollar amount each person will spend. Or even, consider buying gifts only for the children in your family. If that leaves adults feeling left out, you can always institute a Secret Santa plan where you draw names from a hat so that every adult gets one gift from whomever picked his or her name.

The important point is to communicate effectively with family members to avoid a present escalation problem, where each year you try to top the generous gift your relatives gave the year before. Soon enough, you'll each be spending more than you can afford in an attempt to be fair or match what you anticipate the other will buy. This can be especially hard with grandparents, who want to shower their precious grandkids with presents, but it's not impossible

3. Christmas Shop with a Plan

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Photo credit: Comstock Images/Getty Images

Just as Santa makes his list and checks it twice, so should you approach holiday shopping with a detail-oriented, methodical plan. Of course, create a list of people for whom you'd like to buy gifts, from your dad and mom to the second cousin that you always see on Christmas Eve. And set yourself interim deadlines. Perhaps that's buying gifts in time for Hanukkah for Jewish family and friends (often before Christmas). Or maybe you need to buy presents for far-flung relatives in time to ship them.

As with any task, breaking it down into smaller steps makes the whole process easier. If you stick to your list, you avoid the mistake of getting so panicked about Christmas shopping that you overbuy and select items that the recipient won't use or enjoy. Careful planning will help save you from this fate.

4. Christmas Shop with a Budget

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Photo credit: Altrendo Images/Getty Images

Just as you use a list of people to shop for holiday gifts, so should you create a budget for what you can afford to spend. Don't go by the average several-hundred dollars that most Americans shell out. Look at the people you genuinely need to buy gifts for: co-workers, friends and family. Be generous but not crazy about the dollar amount you'd spend on each person. Then stick to your budget!

You can also go easy on your wallet by coming up with thoughtful but inexpensive gifts that people on your list will enjoy. Maybe that's homemade brownies if you like to cook. Or framed photos of the kids for adoring grandparents. Give experiences or gift certificates if the recipients will enjoy that.

5. When in Doubt, Give Cash

Christmas shopping
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For those on the list that you don't know as well -- the mail delivery person, your trash collector or other service providers -- the best gift is cash or a check. This can even hold true for college-age children and hard-to-shop for relatives. If you don't know exactly what they'd like, choose a gift card to their favorite store. (Just be sure to check the conditions and fees to avoid the many gift card scams out there.)

I hope it goes without saying that to preserve a happy marriage, nobody should give a spouse a gift card. Even if you know she will return the gift and select something she'd prefer, at least take a stab at it!

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