When it comes to holiday shopping, most people generally fall into one of two camps. Some people embrace the shopping season and all its mayhem. They plan to meet friends at the mall and revel in the chaos. Other folks make it their life’s goal to avoid setting foot in a mall or department store between Black Friday and New Year’s Day. Regardless of how you view the winter holiday shopping season, there are steps you can take to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Read on for some early and easy shopping tips.
Whether you check it twice or even three times, making a list is the most important step when it comes to making your holiday shopping experience as easy and stress-free as possible. Some people keep gift lists going all year long, using them for inspiration for birthdays as well as holiday presents. At the very least, you’ll want to start making your lists at least two or three months in advance of Christmas, Hanukkah, and the like. Get yourself in the holiday spirit: Grab a mug of your favorite hot drink, don your favorite comfy sweatshirt or ugly holiday sweater, and put on some seasonal music for inspiration. Next, make a list of all the people you need—or want—to buy presents for. It’s a good idea to keep a small notebook handy. You can assign each person their page and jot down your thoughts if you have additional ideas later.
Next to making a list, setting a budget is key. Without one, it’s too easy for the shopping expenses to get away from you. Decide how much you want to spend on each person. Also, be sensitive to your recipient's financial situation. You don’t want to make them uncomfortable by purchasing presents that are far costlier than what they can afford in return. Conversely, budget for your means; that is, spend what you can afford, not what you think others expect you to spend. Consider signing up for a holiday club account at your local bank or credit union. With these accounts, you make weekly or monthly deposits; then, the money is withdrawn right before the holiday season to pay for gift purchases. This helps reduce post-holiday sticker shock when credit card bills arrive. Don’t forget to budget a reward for yourself, such as a pair of women’s leather gloves, for keeping up with those deposits. Another way to stay on budget is to take advantage of any layaway plans stores offer. These allow you to set aside an item and then pay down the cost over a period of time rather than all at once.
Before you buy most things, you should do some research. This is especially true when it comes to big-ticket items. Prices change all the time, and sales go on yearly. Decide what features are important and which aren’t. Also, consider the model year. Sometimes the only difference between one year to the next of, say, a washer and dryer set is the color. If the washer and dryer will be in the garage or behind the closed laundry room door, purchasing the set in last year’s color could save you several hundred bucks that you could then use toward other gifts.
There are aggregate websites that compare the cost of an item and let you know where the best prices are. Other sites offer product reviews by other customers; if you tend to gravitate to such sites, be sure you read the reviews by verified purchases only.
Doing your research also means learning about the wishes and tastes of your giftee. For example, if you know your sister loves women’s polo shirts, and she likes blue but hates orange, you’ll want to avoid buying that vivid tangerine top for her. It doesn’t matter how awesome you think that color is—you won’t be the one wearing it.
Stores offer deals all the time, not just during the holiday season. If you’re planning on buying your dad the leather bomber jacket he’s wanted for years, don’t leave it to the last minute. Once you’ve done your research and you find the store you want to buy from, make it a point to sign up for email and/or text alerts. Sometimes businesses will offer in-store on online-only deals or extra savings to people who have recently signed up to receive notifications. If you’re shopping at a local brick-and-mortar store, stop in periodically and cultivate a relationship with the manager. Store personnel has been known to tip off favored customers about upcoming sales.
When properly cared for, a cashmere sweater will last for years. So, while the cost might seem pricey, depending on the budget you have established, your recipient might appreciate such a sweater more than two or three acrylic-yarn sweaters that will become stretched out after just a few wearings. The same is true for most other items. Also, beware of discounts and sales that seem overly generous. If an item seems too good to be true, that’s probably the case.
Shopping for holiday gifts doesn’t have to be difficult. Following these tips will leave you time to enjoy the holidays with friends and family, but without stressing about presents.