A thing occurred to me the other day. I was composing my holiday shopping list when I suddenly realized that the proverbial fruit hath fallen quite a distance from the tree. You see, my good mother was an advocate of year-round shopping. Come January, she would begin buying and stockpiling birthday gifts, anniversary gifts, Christmas gifts–you name it: If there was an occasion to be had, mother always had a gift on hand. In fact, the Stepford Wives had nothing on mama. Why, she would sweep them under an antique Thomas Seddon sideboard with a cornsilk broom with all the straws intact!
Often the envy of the neighborhood with her meticulously wrapped, thoughtfully carded gifts, mother was an inspiration to wives and girlfriends and aspiring wives alike. “Mauve, the key to efficiently managing a household is to smartly manage your purchases,” mother would instruct.
In honor of the coming holiday and new year, I thought it appropriate to share with you some of mother’s wisdoms.
Declare those dollar
“Every year I tell myself how much I have to spend, and what amount I will not exceed,” mother taught me. Along with bringing in the new year, mother was also famous for bringing in the new books, at which point she itemized everything from the monthly grocery budget to her yearly purchase allowance. In all my years, I was never aware of mother exceeding her established spending limit–not even on herself.
As mentioned, it was never too early for mother to begin, for instance, her Christmas shopping. She would identify a well-concealed place in the house, which would become her “storage area.” As mother purchased her gifts, she would box and tape them shut, being sure to mark each with a small number. In a separate notepad, she would then mark the number and a shorthand description of the item (that only she could understand) as well as the intended receiver. That way, if it became necessary to gift early, or “regift” to someone besides the intended receiver, she had a method of replacing the item and tracking her giving.
Have patience, dear shopper
“Remember, Mauve: Six days passed before God saw all that he had made and determined that it was good,” mother was quick to lecture. “Have patience when shopping,” she would say. “If you want a quality item that is not high priced, you must be patient.”
I often saw this principle in action on our weekly shopping trips, where I quickly learned that, at one point or another, an item is going to go on sale.
For mama, a sale was not a sale until it started at (at least) 50 percent off the regular price. “Mauve, you must know that items, when they reach the racks, are often marked up or overpriced. Twenty-five percent off is nothing. When a sale hits 50 percent off, that’s when I take notice; 75 percent off, that’s a sale in my book.”
Mother believed that shoppers should never be in a rush to buy–unless, of course, quantities in their size were limited.
Take a walk
Mother was a firm believer in comparative shopping. It was no unusual occurrence for us to shop for hours on end, returning with only a small bag of purchases. Decked out in her most comfortable (but highly fashionable) shoes, mother would trek from store to store, comparing prices and inventory, before finally deciding who would be the recipient of her currency. “First let your shoes do the walking, before letting your money do the talking” was one of her favorite sayings.
Mind your manners
Always a lady, mama never, never (never) failed to show her fullest appreciation for a courtesy granted. Whenever we went to the department stores (where she was known on a first-name basis), mama was always kind and respectful to the sales staff. I often witnessed the rewards of mother’s behavior, as the sales staff were extremely fond of her, and were quick to alert her as to store bargains or when a sale was coming up on an item she fancied.
Clean up after yourself
“Mauve, salesladies are not slaves: They are somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s sister or daughter. Treat them with respect and don’t create unnecessary work for them,” mother would say.
On the unfortunate (two) occasions that I tried on clothing and left them sitting on the fitting-room floor, it caused mother great displeasure. “If you have somehow forgotten how to hang things back where you found them, please ask someone for help; if you are simply being lazy, walk them to the nearest salesgirl and hang your head in shame–I am quite certain I raised you better than that.”
But you can buy white after Labor Day
Say it with me: off-season, off-season, off-season.
Shop for summer clothes after summer, shop for winter clothes after winter–your purse will thank you.
Do your homework
When shopping for family members and associates alike, mother was the queen of buying exactly the right gift. An expert sleuth, she often cloaked her gift inquiries in random conversations. Father remembered one conversation in particular, where mother bewailed the dryer eating up her dress socks and the bureau swallowing up her hankies. In a matter of minutes, father was confessing the number of belts and suspenders he had misplaced and how he could never figure out how to match his shirts with his ties. That Christmas, father became the proud owner of not only several sets of suspenders and belts, complete with an organizing hanger on which to keep them, but also a fabric-coded system–which mother herself created–on what colors and pattern of ties to match with what shirts and slacks–ingenious!
Bad, bad Santa!
In mama’s book, it was not always the thought that mattered: There was such a thing as a bad gift. “What use is a gift to me if it is of no use?” was mother’s position. She considered it extremely bad taste to buy just for the sake of buying. “When I shop for others, I tend to look for what I would like. It simply must be something of quality–something that I know I would appreciate someone giving to me.”
One final tip, holiday shoppers: Don’t forget to think outside the mall. It’s sometimes your local and specialty shops that have the most unique gifts. Develop an eye for the unlikely find and a sense of adventure. Happy holidays, and remember: Let’s go out there and look fabulous!