This is a copy of the article I wrote for Amword which is a student publication at American University in Washington DC. It was published in the holiday edition for 2008.
Perhaps the second scariest phrase around this time of the year (beside Final Exams) is Holiday Shopping. Seriously? Is it really that time again to make the mall your second home? If you are worried about giving the best gifts more than your chemistry grade, look no further. Here are some great ideas to buy unique and cool holiday gifts for all your loved once. And with prices that can fit any student budget, you wont be left to live on bread and eggs alone after your shopping spree.
Before setting off on your mission however, try to remember the following three rules:
- Price tag is not a measure of your love : Spending hundreds of dollars on a brand name purse or jewelry is nice, but not necessary to show that you care for someone. Try to think of less generic and non traditional items that show that you spent time looking for something that matters.
- Make shopping an event instead of a chore: Living in DC means you are blessed with neighborhoods that are stuffed with art shops, boutiques, cafes, and bakeries. Grab a friend and spend the day discovering a neighborhood while simultaneously checking off the holiday list by shopping in local stores.
- Have a clear budget: While your list of friends and family gets longer with each year ( a good thing), your wallet still has some catching up to do (a bad thing). Use Excel or a similar program to designate an overall budget and then break it up per person. Not only will you be able to track your expenses but it will also keep you from forgetting what you have already bought.
Enough said; go grab that friend and hop on the metro to DC’s Eastern Market for your first holiday shopping destination. Located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Eastern Market has been around since 1873. It’s a year round market for fresh produce, arts, crafts, and also a flea market that has about 175 exhibitors on the weekend.
Start off your shopping at the South Hall for some coffee and baked goods. These will come in handy to keep you warm and sugared up. The bakery inside is amazing, and if you can resist their beautiful display for a moment, look around the corner to find their day old treats on sale. Believe me, they taste just as amazing a day later.
While fighting your friend for the last bite of that pound cake, head to the outdoor flea market and into your secret weapon for a fabulous budget friendly holiday shopping. This place has everything that you and your neighbor’s dog would like (literally). The key here is to first walk around and scan all your options and then come back to claim the things that stuck out from the crowd. And don’t forget to bargain. A sweet smile and a request to “do better” will most likely result in you saving a few greens.
Lets start with the boyfriends, dads, brothers, uncles, and all other guys on your list. You can never go wrong with a tie. It’s practical, classy, trendy (especially the vintage ones on the left), and between $5-$15 you wont be breaking the bank. If he’s not the tie type, how about a really cool retro poster; they could really brighten up those dorm room walls.
Moving on to the girl friends, best friends, moms, sisters, and all the other women that make your life so beautiful and sweet. Scarfs are in this season, and so are shawls. Hand made jewelry and watches are not only beautiful (and affordable) but also support the local designers.
If you have friends who are suckers for food, cooking and kitchenware, there are some great bargains when it comes to classic china, vintage bowls, crystal, and even some state of the art pieces like this Le Creuset grilling pan which usually retails for $110; sold here for only $50 (or less if you use your bargaining skills). Some marble chopsticks to eat that deliciously greasy take-out, ain’t a bad idea either.
There are also some wonderful and super affordable options for stocking stuffers. These items work well paired with other things, or pass ’em out by themselves.
Let’s not forget the neighbor’s dog as promised earlier. Although I don’t condone dressing up animals in clothes, the colorful activewear for dogs is hard to pass up on ($15). There were also some wonderful handmade chew toys for your dogs chewing pleasure.
Lastly, there were plenty of off-the-wall things for friends and family who have everything but could always use an extra bit of funk (and junk).
Have I convinced you yet to skip the mall this holiday season? I certainly hope so. But just in case you had any doubts about shopping at a flea market, keep in mind that you are doing more good than just buying a beautiful gift. You are helping the local vendors, artists, and small business owners who are probably suffering more than the big retail stores in this economy. In a way you are also helping by recycling perfectly functioning things that might end up in landfills.
Even though things are plenty cheap here, don’t forget to still keep track of your budget and try not to hoard everything for yourself; believe me that’s hard to do given the amount of surprises you run across here. It is the perfect out of the box, anti-socks, anti-ugly-sweater shopping destination that will not only make you look cool, but save you some major dough. So skip the mall traffic this year and get to Eastern Market soon. Now only if studying for exams was this easy. I’m off for another cup of coffee. Happy shopping!
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