So, is your Christmas shopping done yet?

No? Come on, it's already Dec. 9! Not much of a planner, are you?

Just kidding. If I had any Christmas shopping to do this year, I guarantee it wouldn't be done. Back in the days before I was married, the few gifts I purchased were always last-minute deals.

But I don't even have to worry about that anymore. Once I got married, and especially after we started having children, my wife made it clear to me that I was not up to the rigors of the gift-buying season.

For one thing, it's too hard for me to part with money. I don't like to spend it, and I tend to think everything is overpriced, even if it's not. (What's this, $20 for a toy? When I got a similar item 35 years ago, I'm sure it only cost a couple of bucks. Inflation? Nope, never heard of it.)

The other problem is that I am the absolute worst hint-taker in the universe, so I tend to not get people the gifts they clearly indicate they want. This was a real problem for me during the first few years of my marriage. My wife would tell me she liked what she received, but during the weeks and months after Christmas, I would find out she had told me several times what she really wanted, and I somehow didn't catch on.

I was saved from this problem by the "Lord of the Rings" movies. My wife is a big fan of the LOTR books and movies, so as long as I purchased something related to them, I was fine. That's why she has LOTR earrings, pins, letter openers, puzzles and such. I rode that horse for years!

But this year, I wasn't even planning to look at catalogs for more "Rings" items, because we bought a family gift that we agreed would cover both of us. (Not that she'll abide by that pact. She'll still get something for me, calling it a "stocking stuffer" or saying it's "from the kids" and thus doesn't count toward our agreement. Sigh.)

The point is, I figured I had successfully avoided any hint of holiday shopping this year. And then last Saturday came around.

I was out with my family, and we decided to stop at a certain popular store whose name rhymes with "All-Smart."

But as we entered the store, I felt like I was anything but smart. How did I get suckered into Christmas shopping with my wife and all four children? I knew I was in for a crowd-jostling, mind-numbing, money-sucking experience that would destroy any holiday spirit I may have been feeling. And since I'm known as the Scrooge of my family, there wasn't much to destroy.

Then something strange happened. As we went up and down the aisles of the store, looking at boots for my little boy, or dolls for my younger daughters, or anything pirates-related for my oldest girl, I found that I was actually enjoying myself.

The crowds weren't bad at all. It was fun to look at — and, I admit, play with — the toys. And watching my little ones talk about the items in the store reminded me of being a kid myself.

We spend a lot of time in my family discussing what we believe is the real "reason for the season," and I would never change that. It helps us stay focused on the things that matter.

But I also think that seeing your children's eyes light up on Christmas morning as they receive gifts they've been dreaming about all year is a precious experience. I well remember the thrill of staring at the beautifully wrapped presents under the tree in our living room when I was a child, imagining what might be inside. We didn't have much, but it didn't matter. The magic was there.

I saw a hint of that magic in a crowded store on a busy December Saturday. I didn't expect it — especially at that time and in that place — but I'm glad I was there to witness it.

What do you know? Maybe Christmas shopping isn't so bad, after all — as long as I only have to do it once a year!

I'll be back to discussing your personal finance comments and questions next week. Send correspondence to [email protected] or to the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.

e-mail: [email protected]