The holidays really are coming

By Mir
September 16, 2008

The lovely Kristen writes:

I can’t believe I’m even posing this question in September, but the thought of Christmas shopping has started to make me have heart palpitations. I am the type of person who has an excel spreadsheet with people’s names, the gifts, how much I spent – and I add a new tab every year! So the cool (and obsessive thing) is that I can keep track over the yearsÒ€¦ but I am stressed. I have a lot of kids in the family to buy and money is not exactly plentiful right now. πŸ™‚

So my questions to you are:

1.) Are there any particular stores or online sites that are favorites for you to buy kid’s toys? Do you wait for certain deals? When would these deals start to appear? (I esp. love the convenience of online shopping for the holidays, but I’d like to get discounts/free shipping offers)

2.) Or as a mom, do you have any particular suggestions for inexpensive gifts? The kids I’m shopping for range in age from 4-10.

Thanks for your help!

First off, let’s congratulation Kristen on thinking about this now. Yay you, Kristen! September really is not early. I shop all year, but you knew that.

I’m going to answer your question backwards, because I’m difficult like that. And also because part of the answer to the second question answers the first. Some people are likely going to disagree with me, but I can only tell you what I know.

You said:

2.) Or as a mom, do you have any particular suggestions for inexpensive gifts? The kids I’m shopping for range in age from 4-10.

As a mom, I have to say that my kids always have more than enough toys. If someone asks me what to buy them, I never say toys. I say: Books! DVDs! Clothing! And with our families we have actually made a rule to this effect. Of course, my kids are a little bit older so it’s easier to do, but that’s how we manage it. Are you not me? Then you don’t buy my kid toys.

(Honestly, unless you’re talking about people of limited means, who really thinks, “Gee, you know what my kid needs? More toys!)

My exception to the no-toys rule is board games. We love us some board games in our house, and I’m always happy to give and receive those. They’re also often easy to find on sale.

So. Board games of all types. DVDs of shows or movies. Books of any kind, of course, though I can get into specific recommendations for those if you need. And when I say clothes, I don’t necessarily mean, “Oh, Aunt Kristen, underpants. Gee. Thanks.” I mean silly socks. I mean a long, crazy scarf or goofy mittens. I mean shirts from Threadless. My daughter is always excited about hair pretties or nailpolish and my son is usually pretty stoked about a “cool” hoodie. Both of them love pajamas and even still—they’re getting older, so I may eat these words later—love having matching pajamas.

Okay, so let’s go back to the first question, now.

1.) Are there any particular stores or online sites that are favorites for you to buy kid’s toys? Do you wait for certain deals? When would these deals start to appear? (I esp. love the convenience of online shopping for the holidays, but I’d like to get discounts/free shipping offers)

When I am buying toys, I often do so at Amazon or Target. Sometimes Toys R Us and eToys have shipping deals, too. I keep an eye out all year long, but as we inch closer to Christmas the deals will come and go.

We’ve talked about Black Friday here on Want Not before, and I know a lot of people love the “hunt” and getting those special deals that day. Me, I never shop on Black Friday. But if you’re wanting a particular big-ticket item, sure, that’s one way to snap up a deal.

Those other items I mentioned? I often get movies and board games at Amazon, as well, but I also like Deep Discount for movies (and they’ll likely have a coupon in November, which is a good time to stock up).

For clothes and associated accessories, I do like Target quite a bit, but I also love Crazy 8, Kohls and The Children’s Place, both of which often have sales and deals.

When do you shop? You get into the habit of always keeping an eye out, and you’ll never have to ask that question. I always bought my nephews’ holiday stuff, months ago. Not because I’m fabulous but because it’s a habit with me to stock up when the prices are right.

Fortunately for you, you’re already so very pretty, reading Want Not and keeping up on the latest deals. I predict you’ll do just fine this holiday season.

Readers: More to add? Hit us with your suggestions!


  1. kohl’s is really good with discount on kids toys, books etc.
    I also dont mind walmart for some dolls or toys. They have a lot of collection just like target!

    Another secret place is Ross and Mervyn’s. These stores are always on sale and true to it, i get a few good cheap things from there as well. But ofcourse they are its all good when u wrap it up in jazzy packing!

  2. Borders has a wonderful clearance/discount section. They have books for all ages and they have kits for things like learn how to knit, or learn how to make origami. I love giving and receiving those. I can usually get one of those kits for 50-75% off.

  3. On board games. When picking out gifts be sure that the recipient is able to keep track of multi-part items. My youngest has inattentive ADD, and when she was younger was utterly unable to keep things together. Board games became useless after being played with once, as did puzzles, and anything else that was not one piece. Those missing pieces have never turned up — and she is now in college! The sight of a board game now makes my eye twitch, though we did come up with a few inventive games by combining the remaining pieces.

    When people asked what to get her I would specify books, videos, pretty clothing, stuffed animals, or one-piece toys. Anything else was a waste of money.

  4. An awesome gift for the preschool age is a dress up tote. Just after halloween Target clearances all of their costumes. If you are willing to wait it out, the stuff will go 75-90% off. You buy a $4 tote, fill it with all kinds of dress up stuff (costumes, wigs, shoes) put a big bow on it, and for less than $20 you have a huge gift that will get lots of use. (It makes a great gift for multiple kids in the same family – nieces and nephews for instance)

  5. I feel like the Costco evangelist but watch Costco for art supplies – they carry specials like beautiful art paper, sets of edging scissors, lots of crayonny, markery type things as well as standard construction paper.

    Also, doesn’t charge shipping (at least they didn’t on the gorgeous leather dining chairs I just got at WAY deep discount (yay! I have to go visit my chairs sometimes just to tell them how much I love them. Then I slink out of the dining room again because that’s just so wrong), and they have bulk nuts, coffees – all sorts of nifty stuff. They even carry unusual things like vanilla beans so putting together simple gift baskets is pretty darn easy.

    That said – Cost Plus is fantastic for inexpensive but nifty things for kids. They usually have small wooden toys, pretty necklaces, fun bath things, GREAT and unusual candy and other little snacks and they totally rock the gift basket thing with miniature versions of all sorts of food that kids enjoy simply because of the size.

  6. I never thought I would be saying this in September, but I have all of my Christmas shopping for all kids except mine done. It is really very simple. I choose an author appropriate to their reading level and interests, then I pick out four books by that author on the 4-for-3 page at Amazon. I make sure that it is not something common that they might already have. Sometimes it takes some searching, but it usually works out well. I also keep a spreadsheet so I don’t duplicate books. This year I went a little crazy, and everyone gets 5 books. When they get older, I will change to buying a gift certificate to a local book store. The kids in my family will have well-stocked libraries! Sometimes I do that for birthdays, but not all the time. One sister-in-law has four children to buy for, so I think I will get her a bookshelf this year. Mir, let me know if you find a good place to buy bookplates.

  7. Hee hee hee… I just did some Christmas shopping (as in, before I saw this post) for the little cousins on, using coupon code FREE10 for $10 off $30. Conveniently, several of the little cousins live in Florida, so funky t-shirts on end of summer clearance work for Christmas gifts!

  8. @Stephanie Chance: If you’re looking for bookplates, may I recommend Everything on Etsy is handmade, and they have a HUGE selection of bookplates in a range of prices from around 35 cents to $1 apiece.

    Here’s one inexpensive (and lovely!) option I found:

    Etsy is a great place for all kinds of gifts, actually–not always super inexpensive, but you can find great deals on unique items. I’m particularly in love with a ton of jewelry on Etsy.

  9. Ooh! I kept nosing around Etsy for bookplates and found these vintage-inspired ones:

    They’d average out to 70 cents apiece for 24 bookplates, and that’s figuring in shipping costs. πŸ™‚

  10. First of all, without looking like a total brown noser, stick around here. Just when I would think I was done for my kids last year, Mir would post another deal that was too good to pass up. And as much as I like to be an early bird, it seemed to me, the best deals came closer to Christmas.

    Also, I never ever hit submit without opening another brower and googling {store name} coupon codes. Sometimes you find nothing, sometimes you find something. Its worth the two minutes. I say this especially for Children’s Place. There is always a coupon code someplace for that (I believe they give out codes to people in their child’s birthday month so there is a month 15 or 20% off coupon).

    As for good 4-10 year old gifts, I have a 5 and a 6 year old and the big gift this year (though maybe its starting to wane, I don’t know. It hasn’t at my house.) is webkinz. They cost about $10 and they get a stuffed animal and a year subscription to the safe, fun internet site. There are always new ones and pet-of-the-month so its hard to beat, in my opinion.

  11. Last year I made a list of all of the kids we shop for who still like Disney. I went to the Disney outlet and shopped online when they had a coupon or free shipping offer. I ended up buying toys that were only like $2 when they were originally $16.99 or higher. It was very convenient and priced right.

    One of my girlfriends likes to buy beach towels when they go on sale. She gives them year round and that makes a great gift too.

  12. i too use the excel spreadsheet to keep track of gifts & receipients (plus how much i spent) and have for years. it’s proven more than once to come in handy. last year was the first year that i’ve had to buy gifts for the 4-10 year age range (husbands (and now i guess mine too!) nieces & nephew) and we went to costco and jc penney. i used to be a year round shopper and, get this, used to be DONE christmas shopping by this time simply because i LOATHE to go to the mall after halloween. sadly, finances have dictated that i haven’t been able to do that for the last couple of years. BUT! i’ve always found target, outlets (if you have any close) and online stores (varies, depending on what you’re looking for) have been the best for me.

    good luck all!

  13. thanks, Erin!

  14. Everyone has such great ideas!!! Webkinz, books, and craft kits are big on my list.

    Every time I’m in Target (every other week for formula & diapers), I check out the toy clearance racks. I also check the clothing out, as with older boys, team hats and gear go over VERY well. I also make it a point to try to get my shopping done before Thanksgiving when the big toy sales are on. I’ll check out Kohls, Walmart, and other stores if I’m in the area, but tend to end up at Target the most.

    Rather than buying one gift, making up gift bags with a few items you’ve picked up on clearance and individually wrapping them before putting them in the bag seems to make the gift seem bigger than it is ($10 can go further).

  15. One thing I’d love for my kids is for the relatives to focus on is a non-stuff gift. I’d love to get a gift certificate to a children’s museum/aquarium/theme park/kid restaurant (ack, but they’d love that last one), a use-it-up gift like bubble bath, gingerbread house kit, etc. Anything that doesn’t take up more space in the playroom!

    However, here’s one recommendation: One great game for an only child (or a child who might be stuck playing games by his/herself sometimes) is “screwball scramble” by Tomy. Grownups enjoy it too!

    And as far as shopping goes, I’ve picked up some really neat European/wooden/creativity type toys pretty regularly at Tuesday Morning. That is also a GREAT place to go for baby shower gifts- there’s usually tons of baby/infant things there.

    Other than that, I’m an Amazon shopper. If you put specific items you’re wanting in your shopping cart, and then come back later, you can just open your shopping cart to see if their prices have changed. You can snag some great deals on things you need by doing that.

  16. I love to give (and receive!) movie tickets. Our local chain of theaters also sells “Souvenir” cups and t shirts which give you $1 soda refills and free popcorn. Great gift and no more closet/shelf stuff.

  17. You’re so welcome Stephanie Chance! I love Etsy so so so much–you usually pay a very reasonable or even small amount for something really special and handmade. And you get to support small business folks! It’s a great website with some seriously awesome stuff…but beware of getting lost in there looking at all the great finds. πŸ™‚

    And I’ve been thinking about whether I need those bookplates ALL DAY.

  18. Erin, I can’t decide which ones to get! I want each child to have his or her own unique personalized bookplate, so maybe a stamp will be the best choice.
    I have bought from etsy before, amigurumi patterns and doll eyes. It is a great place!
    That’s another Christmas idea. Make something for kids. Girls will love homemade dolls because they are unique, and therefore, special.

  19. Mir – thanks so much! In the words of Ron Burgundy, “you (and your readers) are a delight.” πŸ™‚

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