Ah, the great shopping mall at Christmas...the symbol of all that is so typically, well, American. Everywhere you look are the signs of what so many of us consider to be the problem with the Christmas holiday, as well as the pressure cooker of keeping up with every other family. Malls send us the mistaken message that all shoppers can afford hundreds of dollars in presents for their loved ones. Walk by the Apple store in my local mall on any given day and one would think the average American has hundreds, if not thousands, in disposable pocket money. The same mall is anchored with a Nordstrom's and a Dillard's, both high end stores. So why in the world would this budgeting mama encourage a trip to the mall with a tween?
Because I remember very clearly what it was like to be a tween myself. I remember vividly all the outfits presented to me at Christmas that were just slightly off, veering from cute to nerdy (sorry Mom!). I remember all the exchanges my poor mother made after Christmas. And I don't intend to spend my valuable shopping time after Christmas standing in the return lines.
My tween is almost thirteen. She has definite ideas of what she likes and doesn't like, particularly when it comes to what she wears. I have specific things I am looking to get her—a winter hat and gloves, and both can be found in a reasonably priced store hidden in a back corner of the mall. We will do some window shopping to get some ideas of what she would like for Christmas other than gift cards (I hate giving gift cards). We get to spend some time together looking at pretty things and getting some ideas of what the other wants for Christmas. In addition, today is $5 movie day. I have a rewards card with the movie theater, and the theater will also comp me the cost of my parking. So I'll pay $10 for parking and a movie for two, plus get the credits on my rewards card, which may very well give us a free snack or drink. Not a bad deal.
The trick with visiting a mall, I find, is to stay focused on the goal at hand, which is NOT to purchase anything today. It's to get ideas of what my tween likes and wants. Once I have those ideas, I can purchase the items from the semi-affordable store in the mall...OR I can purchase it somewhere less expensive. Either way, my tween feels heard, we have a nice afternoon outing, and mom saves a few bucks. Not bad for an otherwise boring Tuesday afternoon, huh?