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'Tis the season...to shop!

Warmth. Family. Gratitude. Optimism. All of these words seem to take on more meaning as the leaves begin to change color and fall off the trees, and ultimately, as the holidays grow near. This is also a time of year when consumerism takes an equal spotlight to all these warm feelings of togetherness and contentment. So, knowing how challenging these quests for the perfect gifts can be, we've gathered several tips to prevent you from succumbing to the strain of the holiday shopping season. After all, it's the thought that counts...not the number of bruises sustained while clambering for the last Tickle-Me-Elmo doll.

So, grab a pen, some caffeine and get ready to strategize your way past some of the more painful aspects of the holiday rat race!

Shop smarter, not harder:

Believe it or not, at the ripe ol' age of 32, I realize how little stamina I truly have left for the hours of mall-walking, display window scanning and aisle surfing that holiday shopping entails. So, instead of going up against the die-hard bargain hunters for what feels like days at a time, I choose to spread out the shopping well in advance of the holiday onslaught. And, I mean weeeeeell in advance (i.e., starting in January). I'll start collecting gifts methodically and packing them away in a secret hiding place. Whenever I see things that might fit that certain member of the family or loved one, I'll just go ahead and strike. Why wait? Not only does it take the pressure off, but then you don't end up in a mad scramble for the last dregs (read: cheesy and impersonal) strewn on the shelves a couple weeks prior to the holidays. If you're lucky, you'll be all finished before people are even talking about Halloween costumes and all you'll need to think about is wrapping paper!

Keepin' it real:

It may sound a bit odd in an age laden with gadgets, but oftentimes the best gifts are those with the personal touch. It doesn't have to be some work of art that took you countless hours or an elaborate toy that requires a Master's degree in fine woodworking, but simply something that says, "I took the time." Not only does this mean you can avoid the gauntlet of shopping carts and mall parking lots, but nowadays with so many online resources you can easily create gifts with that custom touch from the comfort of your laptop. One of the best ways to do this is by conjuring up the memories provided by simple photos in a photo book - like those provided by two of our clients, Shutterfly and Snapfish!

Not a big photo person? That's ok, too. There are a growing number of "paint your own pottery" studios around the nation, like The Painted Pot here in New York. It's a great way to uniquely finish-off something that your special recipient may use every day (while letting the professionals do what they do best...after all, it should actually hold liquids, too!)

You can even jimmy-up a fun journal, too. Whether it's a notebook for jotting-down lists or a journal in which to reflect, Pinterest has an amazing array of DIY journal ideas. One of my faves that I might just give a whirl this holiday season is a logo card-based notebook from Design Aglow.

What are some of your best shopping strategies and tips? We'd love to hear them.

All we need is love...and The Muppets

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