By Amanda Johnson



Resources to lower stress make you feel good about your purchases, and put you ahead of the game this holiday season.

Itís that time of year already? The holidays just snuck up on me! If you find yourself saying these words during the holidays, you are not alone! Welcome to an elite club of 85 percent of Americans who finish their holiday shopping in a frenzy the final two weeks before Christmas, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Apparently, earlybird shopping went out the window with Bing Crosby cassette tapes and Christmas fruitcakes. Holiday stress comes from family interaction, financial constraints, and, most commonly, holiday shopping. Americans are faced with the stress not only having to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list, but also staying within their budget and meeting the daunting deadline of Christmas Eve.

The holiday crunch not only stresses out shoppers, it creates stress for the environment and leads to the expansion of low-paid labor. When pressed for time, people tend to be less selective in their purchases, not only in the products they buy, but also in the stores they buy from. The NRF figures show that last year, over 50 percent of last-minute shoppers purchased gifts from large discount stores. If you donít know the standards of a store you are buying from, you may be accidentally purchasing goods made with sweatshop labor, or ones that cause environmental problems when there are affordable alternatives.

This brings two questions to mind:

1) Are large discount stores really where you want to spend your money and time?

If youíre looking to lower your stress and support companies that uphold your values, probably not. Smaller businesses usually have a more personalized touch for shoppers, which helps relieve the stresses of fighting holiday crowds. These smaller community businesses also have other advantages. They help keep the local economy running providing local jobs and contracts. And, if youíre concerned about the impact companies have on the environment and the ways they treat their workers, you will be more likely to find concern for these issues at smaller shops. As a bonus, many socially-responsible companies, with environmental- and labor-friendly practices, offer great gift ideas, ranging from handmade Christmas ornaments, to real wooden toys, to organic hair and body products.

2) Are large discounters really where your loved ones want their gifts purchased? Ask yourself, what gift do you remember most? Probably it was something unique that was picked out with you in mind. Maybe it was a pair of handmade slippers, or specially- selected herbal teas, or a basket of all-natural bath products. Remember, generic gifts get old quickly. Nothing says ďblandĒ like gifts purchased at large chain stores.

Loved ones appreciate the extra thought involved in unique gifts, especially when they realized they wonít be getting the same picture frame or candle each year.

This Holiday season, you can avoid the stress of large stores, find perfect gifts, and help the planet. You can find all these benefits in Co-op Americaís 2004 National Green Pages. The Green Pages is a directory of hundreds of businesses offering thousands of products and services. All of these companies have been selected for their ability to offer quality products that are good for consumers, while working to solve, rather than cause, environmental and social problems. How refreshing!

With a total readership of one million people, the National Green Pagesí popularity is growing, in part, because consumers are realizing that being selective in spending their money makes a difference. Every purchase this season could be a dollar vote: spending money at places that help your community and the environment will put your mind and body at ease.

The other driving force behind the National Green Pagesí popularity is the unique mix of products and gifts available. Dark chocolate-covered espresso beans (certified Fair Trade to ensure that cocoa growers are paid a living wage), flower stationery from a Madagascar cooperative, or a handmade, one-of-a-kind necklace will be more appreciated, and certainly more hip, than something you can hastily grab from the local mall.

Finally, the Internet can take hours off your shopping time and lower your stress level. Purchasing your gifts online really is convenient, and you can find a wide-range of unique gifts that are made by responsible companies. Last year, the NRF reported that 85 percent of customers were very or somewhat satisfied with their online buying experience.

Most gifts can be purchased on the Internet and shipped to you, or directly to the recipient, saving time, packaging, and postage for those distant relatives and friends. Consider using Co-op Americaís , the online version of our National Green Pages to start your search weeks before the holidays where you will be to buy from a national selection of companies that are all routed in their communities. By avoiding crowded stores and constant traffic, you will have more time to spend with your family and friends ó the best gift of all ó or pamper yourself with a relaxing night at home.

Regrettably, we just donít have much time to spare around the holidays. So donít run around on the Saturday before Christmas dodging the tedious lines, screaming children, and stressed shoppers.

A little planning is the best way to reduce your holiday stress. Start early and be selective in the gifts you buy, taking the time to purchase from companies you feel good about. Your loved ones and the environment will be grateful, and, it might just make you feel good inside, too.

Consumers can order print editions of the National Green Pages, which includes feature stories about green businesses and tips for greening your life, for $10.95 (including shipping) by calling (800) 58-GREEN.

Visit Co-op America online at . Co-op America is a national non-profit consumer and investor education organization. Located in Washington, DC with over 52,000 members throughout the country, Co-op America provides practical tools and information for how people can live a saner, greener, and healthier lifestyle.

Return to the November/December Index page