It's the week before Christmas and you feel like a louse. Your shopping's not done, and you're stressed, no doubt.
But before your wondering eyes land on your credit card ... stop and take a minute to get some perspective.
First, think budget. How much can you afford to spend, and how much have you spent already on the holidays?
You've read it here before: No one who really cares about you wants you to go into debt just to buy them a present.
Think about how you can use your time and talents to create a gift that might mean more to them. If your friend's spouse is deployed, make a card with a special invitation to dinner at your house in January. Or take her a batch of your favorite cookies or fudge, or your special homemade spaghetti sauce. Offer to take care of the kids for a few hours while she does some shopping — or naps.
You can donate to the recipient's favorite charity. Or write a letter to that person detailing why you admire him or her and everything they've done for you and others in the last year. It may take more effort than a shopping trip, but it also might be more appreciated.
If you're grimly determined to head to the store, here are some last-minute tips to keep your budget — and your peace of mind — intact:
• Steel yourself for the crowds by doing some advance online planning. If you have an idea of what you want to buy before you enter a store, you can execute a "targeted strike" and pull out of there faster.
Think about what that person likes. For example, if he loves to cook, search for "kitchen gadgets" online to get some ideas before you go. You might find a kitchen specialty store that's not too crowded. Plug in "fish and tackle" if she's a fisherman, for ideas ranging from wearable tackle boxes to lures.
• Take advantage of last-minute sales to stretch your dollars. Go to your favorite store's website and check out this week's sales flyers. For example, http://www.walmart.com">at Wal-Mart's website you can click on "Local Ad" at the top. At http://www.target.com">Target's website, scroll down to the very bottom to "Target Stores" and click on "Weekly Ad."
The exchanges are having last-minute sales, too. For example, from Dec. 22-24, Navy exchanges will feature a 20 percent discount on certain watches, 30 percent off throw rugs, and sales on sweaters and outerwear, Navy Exchange Service Command spokeswoman Kristine Sturkie said. On Dec. 22, certain video games will be $20 off. You can visit http://www.mynavyexchange.com">the Navy Exchange Service website and click on "Weekly Ad" at the top.
For information on sales at Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores, http://www.shopmyexchange.com">click here. Scroll down to click "Your Exchange" and then "Store Ads."
• Check with your installation's tickets and tours office for discounted tickets or passes for a local day trip or weekend trip.
• Buy a gift certificate that can be used at a local movie theater, favorite restaurant or bowling alley. You can http://www.greenbeanscoffee.com">order a Green Beans coffee gift card online and it will be delivered to the recipient at the Green Beans cafe at his base. They are generally ready within a few hours after the order is placed, and you can include a gift message. These cafes are located at a number of bases, including some in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan and Djibouti.
• Consider a magazine subscription. Through the exchange online mall's link to Books-a-Million, you can get discounts on magazines, as well as books, e-books, movies, music and audio.
• Consider an exchange gift card.
You can do plenty without depleting your pocketbook. And if you put some thought into it, rather than a lot of money, the recipient just might be even more grateful.
Questions? Comments? firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Consumer%20Watch:%20Holidays%20dont%20mean%20holiday%20from%20budgeting">E-mail staff writer Karen Jowers.