Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Holiday Gift Shopping

As the sluggish economy makes many Americans waffle over the amount they intend to spend this Christmas season, one thing is certain: consumers continue to exercise caution with their ideas on holiday spending.

Last year, the National Retail Federation reported a 3% increase in holiday sales bringing the grand total of Christmas spending to $579.8 billion for the 2012 season. However, according to a recent Forbes.com article, expected spending for the 2013 Christmas season won’t leave retailers feeling as jolly, and current predictions indicate consumers won't spend as much this year as they did last.

Even though the holidays are a time for good cheer and giving, it doesn’t mean you can’t be thrifty, too! Maximize your savings by following some simple rules:

  • Budget Out Your Costs

    Your holiday shopping costs fall into two categories:

    1. Gift Costs - First set a limit for how much you can comfortably spend on holiday gift shopping. Based on that limit, you can then allocate funds to various friends, family members, and coworkers based on your relationship with them. Those to whom you are closer should receive more thoughtful and, potentially, more extravagant gifts. For families, consider a single gift that they can all enjoy.
    2. Contingency Costs - This includes gas money for driving from store to store, shipping costs, gift wrapping supplies, and, most importantly, time. To reduce contingency costs, you may want to consider doing your holiday shopping online whenever possible. While online purchases still only make up about 10% of total product transactions, that number is growing rapidly – having increased 15% in 2012 with the expectation that it will grow even more in 2013.
    3. If you’re an Amazon Prime Member you can receive free 2-day shipping on all purchases. Otherwise, Amazon offers free 4-7 day shipping on many items as long as your shopping cart exceeds $25 spent.

      Some malls even have charity groups that will wrap your gifts for you. Check to see if your local mall offers this service, and save yourself the headache and time.

    Once you have a budget, stick to it! No one likes bringing in the New Year in debt!

  • Do Your Research

    In addition to budgeting out your costs, it’s also important to be informed of your purchases. Before you make a purchase, do the following:

    • Compare in-store and online pricing between different stores. Many stores are now price-matching their in-store prices to popular online merchants like Amazon, eBay, etc. Even if they don’t, it’s always good to get a sense for how much you should be paying for a gift. Don’t just settle for the first price that’s thrown your way. Give yourself some room for negotiation!
    • If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Shop only at stores that you trust. If you aren’t familiar with a store, look for privacy/security seals on their website or Google user reviews for it.
    • When making online purchases, double-check your shipping address and payment method before confirming. Don’t send your gifts to the wrong place!
    • Keep good records of all purchases. Staple a gift receipt to the tag or box of the gift you purchase in case it needs to be exchanged. Keep your original receipt for your files in case the gift breaks while under warranty. When doing online purchases, keep an email folder for all of your purchase and delivery confirmations in case there are issues with delivery.
    • Before purchasing any gifts, take note of the store’s holiday return & exchange policies. Some stores charge restocking fees or offer reduced/extended return policies for the holiday season. Sometimes a store’s return policies are different depending on the product. Be mindful of what you are purchasing and how its return policy is applied.
    • Pay attention to final shipping dates. If you’re having a gift delivered to you or the gift recipient, take note of the final date that the store guarantees delivery before Christmas. It’s different for many stores, and the holiday season is the busiest time of year for the US Postal Service and FedEx.
  • Don't Screw Yourself

    In addition to budgeting out your costs, it’s also important to be informed of your purchases. Before you make a purchase, do the following:

    • When making online purchases, double-check your shipping address and payment method before confirming. Don’t needlessly delay your delivers or send your gifts to the wrong place!
    • Keep good records of all purchases. Staple a gift receipt to the tag or box of the gift you purchase in case it needs to be exchanged. Keep your original receipt for your files in case the gift breaks while under warranty. When doing online purchases, keep an email folder for all of your purchase and delivery confirmations in case there are issues with delivery.
    • Choose your times to shop in-store wisely. Many stores offer extended business hours around the holiday season. Shop late at night or early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Additionally, if you’re taking advantage of a sale, try going to the store after 6:00PM the day before the sale begins. A store’s registers are often configured with the sales price the evening before a sale officially begins, which will help you avoid the crowds while still getting a great price.
    • Don’t wait until the last minute! The longer the wait, the harder it will be to optimize your shopping experience. Don’t leave yourself open to mistakes. Try to spread the bulk of your holiday shopping through November to reduce stress. You’ll be able to avoid the brunt of the holiday shopping nightmare.

    The holiday shopping season doesn’t need to be terrible if you don’t want it to be. Shop smart, and be happy!

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