The lazy cheapskate's guide to holiday shopping

Dec. 23, 2005, midnight | By Alex Hyder | 15 years, 11 months ago

"Help! Christmas is tomorrow, and I'm broke!"

If you are reading this, then you likely find yourself in the same situation as I. You, sir, are a man, I guarantee it. How do I know? Because, like millions of men the world over, you are reading this on Christmas Eve, and, after emerging from a seemingly endless pile of work, you have just realized that haven't made a penny's worth of Christmas purchases.

Women, on the other hand, have put time, thought and effort into making their Christmas purchases well in advance, for a couple hundred people—even the relatives you forgot about. By "in advance," I mean "months ago." Coupons were clipped. Their gifts are already daintily wrapped, with an intricate bow and a thoughtful, eloquent, beautiful Christmas card neatly affixed to the wrapping. You, meanwhile, were inside rooting like a crazed gorilla for your favorite football team. I know. I was there. And I still think that they should have gone for it instead of punting on fourth and 3.

The good news, my friend, is that you are in good company. The first Christmas givers, the Christian Bible's three wise men, found themselves in the same boat one night.

In the beginning

The first gift-givers, according to the Bible, gave the baby Jesus frankincense and myrrh, which, according to, are "gum resin[s]." Now, I ask you, what kind of a man would give the King of Kings gum resin? A man not unlike you or me—a real wiseguy—I mean, wise man.

They, like every guy, waited until the last second and found themselves in a real jam. It was Christmas Eve, after all, and every store in Bethlehem was closed. Even the 7-11. All they could find was a little store on the Lower East Side called World-o-Myrrh, which also carried "Frank's Incense."

Now, this may come as a surprise, but the first gifts were not wrapped. I have talked with a biblical scholar about this. The three wise men did not wrap their gifts. "They probably presented them plain," the scholar, who wants to avoid being associated with me, said. "At best, they put them in burlap sacks." You hear that? Burlap sacks! In a pinch, you could do the same. (If you don't happen to live near a burlap factory, a Hefty bag works just fine.)

Now remember, these fellows were not just men, they were wise men. Wise. As in: having a good sense of judgment and foresight. So if your last-minute gift plans fall through, at least you have an excuse. If gum resin in burlap sacks was the best that even the wisest of men could do, how much can your friends and relatives expect out of you?

Staying afloat

It's not for nothing that Christmas colors are red and green. For most people, Christmas means going into the red by spending all of their green. It's enough to make for a blue Christmas. Yet there are ways for holiday shoppers—even eleventh-hour slackers like you and me—to save money.

First of all, seeing as how you only have a few hours left (and the precious seconds are ticking away as you read this), realize that driving all over town to find the perfect gift is not one of these ways. You are a man; it's high time you shopped like one. First, decide which store will sell the widest variety of cheap merchandise. I can make this decision for you; the answer is Wal-Mart. Once you have decided on a store, go to it, go directly to it, do not pass Go or casually roam through Macy's, hoping to spot a deal. And never, under any circumstances, ask for directions. Find the aisle within your chosen store that stocks the required wares, pick up what you need and find the shortest line in the store. This could mean that you find yourself ringing up a teddy bear in the hardware department; this is perfectly normal behavior this time of year.

But how to choose a gift? Simple: if it's for a family member, just buy what you would like to receive. Somehow or other, it will find its way back to you.

As for the men in your family, allow me to introduce you to the cheap polyester necktie. Sure, the similarities to a noose are uncanny, but neckties could well save your life. You don't have to worry about sizes when buying a tie, and with ties, item quality is imperceptible. In other words, Uncle Pete will never know that you only spent five bucks on him this year.

If the gift is for someone else, I'd recommend a t-shirt. Plain colors work well; low prices work even better. If you know the recipient's size, then more power to you. If you don't, apply my one and only rule of clothing: everyone, from your five-year-old cousin to your sumo-wrestler uncle, wears a large.

If you have to, you can save time by finding creative ways to wrap your gifts. As I said before, Hefty bags are in style this season. If you possess at least some aptitude in the actual wrapping of gifts but want to save money on paper, I have found that newspaper is a viable substitute. Or, if you're feeling clever, take an empty box for a different item, like cereal or crackers, put your item in it and glue the top closed. This will surprise the recipient twice—once when he or she gets a mere box of cereal for Christmas and again when he or she realizes that your gift is, at the very least, better than Cheerios or Grape-Nuts. It has the added bonus of making your gift seem more valuable. Were Machiavelli around today, he would probably use this method.

For that special someone

Now I don't claim to know anything about women, other than…well…nothing. But I do know that, as much as it hurts my wallet to say it, diamonds really are a girl's best friend.

"Now wait a" By now, you're scratching your head. "I don't have the budget for that."

Well, neither do I. But I do have two words that will make the holiday season a lot easier: cubic zirconium.

Sure, cubic zirconium crystals are not diamonds, per se, but they're close enough and can be yours for a fraction of the cost of a real diamond. Besides, no one can tell the difference. At least that's what that shady guy in that back alley told me.

Sometimes, though, diamonds—even almost-but-not-quite diamonds—lack that personal touch you seek. In that case, why not surprise your special someone by baking cookies?

Oh, wait. I forgot my audience. As a kitchen-impaired male, I can tell you from experience that asking a guy to bake cookies is like asking the Three Stooges to pilot a jumbo jet—only charred, mangled, flaming wreckage will remain at the end of the day. So…why not go to Safeway, buy some cookies, put them in a box and say you baked them. Hey, it's the thought that counts.

...And to all a good night

Well, here's hoping your Christmas goes off with a bang. Good luck making your purchases, and I hope my advice helps. I'd offer more, but Wal-Mart closes soon.

Alex Hyder. Hyder, as he is affectionately (or, as is often the case, not-so affectionately) known, is thoroughly enthused about his position on SCO. A junior in Blair's Magnet Program, he is too lazy to write a more extensive bio but nonetheless finds the energy to write … More »

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