Whether it involves camping in a store parking lot for Black Friday deals or racing other parents for that last hot-ticket toy, just about everybody has their own nightmare holiday shopping story.
Let’s be honest: holiday shopping has the potential to be awful. You have to brave crowded malls, overpriced items, and the same Christmas carols playing on repeat. But your shopping experience doesn’t have to be that way.
Try these tips to shop smarter and have a much happier holiday experience.
1. Plan ahead.
It would be nice if we were able to shower our friends and family with unlimited expensive gifts, but the truth is that the majority of us have a limited amount of money. Before you even start your holiday shopping, make a gift list and set yourself a budget. That way you won’t fall prey to last minute splurge purchases.
2. Save gas (and time) by shopping online.
Avoid crowded shopping centers altogether by doing the bulk of your shopping online. Just make sure that you keep mailing costs in mind and order your gifts far enough ahead of time so that you don’t have to pay for expensive overnight shipping.
3. Focus on Cyber Monday–not Black Friday.
Sure, you may find some pretty crazy deals on Black Friday, but when you factor in the gas you use to drive to the store, the time you spend waiting in the cold out front before they open, and the time spent fighting the crowds and waiting in line to make your purchase, is it really worth it? This year, try shopping on the Monday immediately after Thanksgiving. This is the day when online retailers promote big sales, so you can save while shopping from the comfort of your own home.
4. Track price changes for expensive items.
If you’re shopping with a big online retailer like Amazon, you can set up a tracker through websites like CamelCamelCamel or The Tracktor. You can check out past prices of the items you’re shopping for in order to determine whether now is a good time to buy or if you should wait for the price to drop.
5. Use online coupons.
Avoid the hassle of clipping coupons and shoving them in your wallet until you can get to the right store by using online coupons. Many sites give you an easy way to quickly search for and redeem deals for your gift items. Here are a few to bookmark:
6. Avoid credit card debt.
This should go without saying, but one of the best ways to shop smart this season is to avoid charging more than you’ll be able to pay off. Don’t get talked into starting a credit card with a particular department store, either. It’s usually not worth it. Keep close track of the money you spend and know where your limits are.
7. Don’t be afraid to buy the same gift twice.
If you find a gift that you know several people on your list would enjoy, don’t be afraid to buy it in multiples. This cuts down on your shopping time, and if the store is offering any kind of “Buy 1, get the second 1 at a discount” deal, that’s even better!
8. Considering buying experiences–not just stuff.
Instead of buying material goods that your family members aren’t that excited about, consider buying a day or weekend trip that you can share together. It can make more sense to invest money in creating a family memory that will last forever than buying an item that will have a short life span.
9. Group your shopping trips.
If you have to go to brick and mortar stores to do some of your holiday shopping, figure out where all the stores you need to visit are and plan the route that will involve the least driving. Try to get all your shopping done in one fell swoop so that you don’t have to keep driving back out to the stores.
10. Save money by using your smartphone.
The Amazon Price Checker app, which is available for both iPhones and Androids, lets you scan the barcodes of items in a store and compare to prices of the same item online. Shopkick is another great app that rewards you just for visiting stores by offering you special discounts. Make purchases at the store and you’ll get even more points to put towards a future reward.
11. Never shop on weekends.
Weekends are inevitably the busiest shopping days during the holiday season, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try shopping on weekday evenings.
12. Shop alone.
While shopping alone doesn’t sound as fun as bringing along a friend, it will save you time and potentially prevent you from being influenced to make big spur-of-the-moment purchases.
13. Know when to eschew the express line.
Each person has to do an individual transaction, so a medium regular checkout line is often better than a long express lane line.
The holidays should be a time to relax and hang out with friends and family–don’t let yourself get stressed out by last-minute shopping expeditions.Just take a deep breath, do some planning in advance, and shop smart this season.