I Did All My Holiday Shopping at Small Businesses. Here's How It Went

by Elizabeth Aldrich | Updated Nov. 9, 2021 - First published on Jan. 31, 2020

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Shopping small this holiday season was both more enjoyable and a lot harder.

I've always preferred shopping with small businesses when I can. Not only do I feel like my spending is making a more direct impact on people's lives, but I can more easily find items that are unique, handmade, or otherwise more interesting than what I'd find at a big box store.

Despite wanting to support small businesses, I've always done my holiday shopping in big malls or on Amazon. This seems like the most convenient way to cross off all the names on my list during a time of year that's already hectic enough. 

However, this year I decided to go the extra mile and vowed to do all of my holiday shopping at small businesses. Here's how it went.

How I shopped small for almost everything

I did end up getting two gifts from Amazon: an appliance for my stepdad because he's notoriously difficult to shop for, and a "Stranger Things" hoodie for my sister that she really wanted. There are some items you can't really get from small businesses.

That being said, I found ways to shop small for everything else. For books, instead of ordering from a major retailer, I ordered them online from Powell's, a local, independent bookstore. I even saved money because I was able to buy some of them used. Etsy was helpful for everything from custom socks to wall art and jewelry.

Gift cards to local businesses were an easy and flexible option, especially for people who are tricky to buy for. I got my Dad a gift card for a local Mediterranean restaurant he'd been wanting to try, and my Mom got a gift certificate for a local nail salon.

I came out ahead … if you don't count shipping

By shopping with small businesses instead of big box stores, I didn't expect to save money. However, I ended up spending $29 less on presents this year than I did last year, and I don't feel like my gifts were any less meaningful. If anything, they were a lot more personal and thoughtful. I also used the best rewards credit cards for all of my holiday shopping this year, so I'm now one step closer to using my credit card points to travel for free.

I did end up spending $32 on shipping this year, whereas last year I got away with spending $0 on shipping by buying everything through Amazon Prime or in person. Most places I purchased with online had holiday deals going on that offered free shipping if you ordered over a certain amount, but there were two items that I purchased last minute that needed to be rushed, resulting in higher shipping fees.

Next year, I'll try to order everything by the end of November to avoid paying for express shipping. Cyber Monday is a great day to order gifts from small businesses online -- to my surprise, even the smallest online sellers and artisans offered some kind of Cyber Monday sale this year, which also saved me money.

Craft fairs and holiday markets were perfect for last-minute gifts

I had a lot more trouble shopping small in person than I did online, which made it tough to pick up last-minute gifts. I spent the two weeks leading up to Christmas visiting my parents who live in a suburban area, meaning lots of malls and shopping centers that almost exclusively house big chains. 

Luckily, I found out about a big craft fair happening the weekend before Christmas that featured dozens of artists and makers. This is where I picked up the last of my gifts, which included small-batch gin made by a local distillery, a hand-carved wooden cutting board, and some prints from a local artist. My family and I also found a holiday market that ended up having a wonderful selection of handmade gifts.

Shopping small was harder, but more rewarding

There's no doubt that ordering everything on Amazon Prime or running to the mall and doing all of my shopping in one go would've been easier. It took me a lot longer to find suitable gifts for each person on my list because small businesses don't tend to have the wide selection that big chains offer. 

On the other hand, taking the time to find the perfect present for each person instead of picking up something generic they might already have made each gift more special. Some of the gifts I found couldn't have been more perfect, and they were items I never would've found at a big chain -- and items they probably wouldn't have found themselves either.

What's more, I had a lot more fun holiday shopping this year than I did last. I dread malls year-round, but they're particularly awful during the holidays. Browsing craft fairs and holiday markets instead was far more enjoyable.

Overall, I'm happy with the outcome of my holiday shopping this year and will attempt to make all of my holiday gift purchases with small businesses again when the festive season rolls back around. With a little planning, hopefully, I can save more money next year and still get everyone something they love.

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