Ticking off the last name on my list I feel a special sort of pride – because I got my Christmas shopping wrapped up SIX MONTHS early.
By Natasha Donovan, 39, from Chigwell in Essex
Mum-of-two Natasha is known among her friends and family for getting the yearly shopping ritual out of the way before July 1st – when the rest of us are preparing to take our summer holidays.
She said: “I just prefer to do things this way. It makes a lot more sense. Some people might think it’s a bit strange, but it leaves more time for me to really enjoy the Christmas holiday without having to battle through the crowds.”
Natasha has maintained her yearly deadline since she was a teenager, when she decided she didn’t enjoy visiting the shops during the seasonal peak.
She said: “When I was younger I was always being dragged around the shops by my mum and dad.
“It was nice to have the day together but I never enjoyed squeezing through crowds of people.
“Christmas time is always the worst for the crush. Shoppers seem to forget their common sense and manners and become fixated on barging each other out of the way for the must-have items
“It’s so strange that at a time of year when people are supposed to be thinking about goodwill and being decent to each other, they put themselves in a position where they’re stressed and getting annoyed.
“It just doesn’t suit my personality at all – I don’t particularly enjoy aggravation. I prefer to do things at my own pace.
“The year I turned 18, I decided that things were going to be different the following year. I told myself that I would try and get all my Christmas shopping done by July 1st.”
Natasha, who today works as a trainer in the healthcare industry, set out to buy the first of her Christmas presents in the January sales.
She said: “I was amazed at how much money I was saving just by going into the shops at a slightly quieter time.
“It felt strange to be planning so far ahead, but I had my deadline in mind and I was sticking to it.”
Natasha continued picking up presents as the weather got warmer through the spring, and she completed her unusual task before the calendar passed July 1st.
She said: “After that I could put my feet up and relax. When the winter came around and all my friends started panicking to get their Christmas shopping, I was quite pleased with myself.
“It worked out so well that I decided to do that every year.
“I was determined not to miss the deadline, and I managed to get everything done, even ahead of time.
“I’ve never missed the deadline since.”
Natasha is mother to her children, Flynn, 17, and Jordan, 21, as well as stepmother to Conor, 19, and Ciara, 17 and Ryan, 21, with her partner John, 43, a radio presenter.
Once her friends and extended family are taken into account, her shopping list is as many as 20 names long.
She said: “It sounds like quite a long list but I imagine most people who care for their friends and family as much as I do have a similar number.
“Once everything is totted up it can make for an intimidating challenge. Luckily, by setting myself a challenge of getting everything done by the start of summer, I can break it up into a manageable chunks.
“I’ve noticed that by spreading out the shopping over the start of the year I can make real savings, too.”
Last year Natasha spent £1,500 on her Christmas shopping and by keeping an eye out for bargains she was able to make sure she gets extra value for money.
She said: “I managed to get things at a fraction of the price which I would have paid during the seasonal peak.
“I bought a wide range of different gifts, including luxury items like handbags and designer clothing and fashionable trainers.
“I bought nice toiletries for a few of my extended family – nice sets, not the sort of thing you’d pick up at a supermarket checkout for £15 on Christmas Eve.
“Some of the kids were due to go off travelling, or had plans for gap years before university. I had time to think about the kinds of things they actually wanted, and pick out the gifts which I knew they could really use. I got them things like backpacks and travel flasks.”
She said hitting the stores early means she can bag coveted must-have items which otherwise would have sold out nearer Christmas.
She said: “When the kids were younger, they of course wanted all the trendiest toys in their stockings. It made me roll my eyes to see stories of parents travelling huge distances or paying massive sums of money for bits of overpriced plastic.
“By getting out there in the summer I didn’t have to compete with the other mums. So the children didn’t worry about not getting their Buzz Lightyears or Furbies.”
Every year Natasha has to be careful not to reveal her Christmas presents ahead of time, keeping the stash carefully hidden away during the autumn.
She said: “It’s always a worry that the family will find the presents, and the surprises will be ruined, so I’m quite sneaky. It’s always a surprise when I give the gifts out.
“Last year the family absolutely loved their presents. It’s always a rewarding experience to see the smiles on their faces.”
Despite her aversion to the festive shopping crowds, Natasha is a huge fan of Christmas, and makes the most of the season each year.
She said: “Just because I don’t like the crowds, it doesn’t mean that I really love Christmas. Actually, I appreciate Christmas more than anyone I know.
“I really enjoy meeting friends for mulled wine, and I even appreciate the Christmas decorations going up in town – I’m just glad I don’t have to dive into the shops to get all my shopping done.
“Christmas is probably my favourite time of the year after Halloween and being so organised, it means I can make the most of my time with the whole family.
“I’m sure lots of people would argue that Christmas shopping is as much a part of Christmas as the Queen’s Speech and the Eastenders special, but I think it’s gone too far. I don’t miss the canned Christmas music on a loop, or standing in long queues for the tills.
“There’s just too much pressure on people to spend too much money and pretend as if they’re having fun doing it.
“I don’t think Christmas should be about buying things, but spending time with the people you love. By being as organised as I am, it means I can simply do more of that.”
Natasha’s top five shopping tips for year-round Christmas shopping:
Prepare your list.
Write a list of all the people you have to buy for. It sounds obvious, but being prepared will prevent panic-buying. Help yourself to pick out the perfect present by writing the person’s likes and interests next to their name – and don’t forget to note what you got them last year to avoid a repeat.
Keep your ear to the ground
Most good department stores have sales throughout they year, so look out for them, and make sure to pop in when the prices fall.
Check your inbox
Don’t forget online deal sites like Groupon or Livingsocial, as they can provide you with unexpected, and sometime hefty, savings.
Stick to a budget
Decide how much you want to spend per person and stick to your goal. This will avoid overspending and unnecessary purchases.
Reuse and recycle
If you get a gift that you don’t want at Christmas – and you think it would be perfect for someone else – then don’t be afraid to pass on the love and give the gift to a person who appreciate it. Just make sure it’s not the person you received it from!
As told to Helen O’Brien