The holidays ought to be a time of joy and love and generosity, a time to show your loved ones how much you care with a little gift or two. Unfortunately, the physical, mental and financial stress of holiday shopping can severely drain the joy out of holiday gift-giving.
Fortunately, much of that stress can be avoided thanks to a few savvy shopping tips and a great game plan. To go from stressed consumer to master shopper, try putting together a holiday shopping game-plan using these tips.
Use a Shopping List
The best and most basic tip for any shopping trip is to make — and use! — a shopping list. Shopping without a list makes you far more susceptible to impulse purchases and over-priced displays. With no idea what you plan to buy, you stop at every eye-catching display rather than making a beeline for the right department. Shopping with a list helps create a first line of defense against holiday-display money traps and can prevent you from coming home with bags of random merchandise that still have no intended recipient.
Aside from helping save money, making a list and checking it twice helps ensure no loved one is forgotten in the physical rush of shopping. Shopping without a list can result in multiple last-minute runs to the store as you remember gifts you forgot to purchase. So save yourself money and hassle by making a master shopping list that doesn’t just include names of recipients but also the specific gifts you intend to buy.
No one wants to come across as a Scrooge, but logic dictates that, unless you’re a multi-millionaire, it is unwise to attempt to purchase a gift for every family member and acquaintance, no matter how long forgotten or far removed.
When making your shopping list, don’t be afraid to edit your first draft. You may find you include friends that are no longer in your life out of habit. Or perhaps you’ve started listing your entire family tree out of gift-giving guilt. The holidays are about showing you care, not competing in a gift giving competition. Narrow your shopping list down to those you really want to recognize this season, and let yourself off the hook for the rest. If guilt is still weighing you down, consider making a secondary list of people who will receive Christmas cookies or holiday cards.
Make a Budget
Depending on your personal preference or financial situation, you may wish to make a budget prior to making your recipients-and-gifts list, or you may choose to set a budget somewhere in the middle of that process. Either way, it’s important you establish a budget before setting foot in the store (or mouse on the website, as the case may be).
A predetermined budget and a clear list will help you avoid the lure of check-out-line displays and other store tactics. A budgeted list will free you from the thrall of “act now before it’s too late!” and “must-have items.” To keep track of your budget and spending, try noting your budget and purchase totals in columns or your shopping list, or use your bank’s mobile app to keep track of your purchases.
Double Check Deals
Most shoppers gravitate toward deals and sales, but truly savvy shoppers know to double check those deals before swiping their credit card. It’s an unfortunate fact that some stores drive up their prices in the weeks preceding a sale, resulting in sales that aren’t really sales at all.
Whether you mistrust retailers or simply want to ensure the best deal, it’s in your best interest to comparison shop before making your purchase. All sales are not equal. The same item may be on sale for three different prices at three different stores, or it could sell for less online.
Once you have played sales-sleuth and found the best deals, be sure you don’t lose out by forgetting your carefully cultivated coupons at home. Store them in your wallet or purse, or use one of the many smart-phone apps designed to help shoppers.
Much of the stress of holiday shopping comes from long lines and crowded stores. Some opt to avoid the madness by completing all their purchases online. Others find they can reduce stress —and better enjoy the physical act of shopping — by adjusting when they shop.
Contrary to popular belief, Black Friday is neither the best nor the only day for sales. With some sales starting as early as September, and others popping up in December, you no longer have to wake at 2 A.M. to fight a cranky mob for Black Friday deals. Once you’ve researched the deals you want, try scheduling your shopping for off-hours. Avoid peak evening or weekend hours and try shopping early to mid morning on weekdays instead.
Remember, holiday shopping does not have to mark a season of stress. With a little research, a well-planned list, and a predetermined budget, you can transform yourself into a stress-free master shopper.