Your Ultimate Guide to Holiday Shopping (and Saving)

Holiday Shopping Guide

The arrival of the holiday season can mean more shopping than at any time of year. While once upon a time, Black Friday1 was the official start of the holiday shopping season and the single day on which you could grab great sales and deals, now there are many "deal days" and the shopping frenzy seems to start earlier and earlier.    

An intense focus on shopping during the holiday season can make it super stressful. According to one survey, 46% of people2 said that they were overwhelmed by shopping for gifts. Shopping doesn't have to be stressful, nor does it have to break the bank or leave you with a huge credit card bill at the end of the season. Here's what you can do to master shopping during the holiday season and keep your cool.

Create a Budget

During the 2019 holiday season, people estimate that they will spend around $1,047 on gifts and other holiday-related purchases3. Before you hit the mall or start stalking the online sales, it's important to sit down and see what you can afford to spend on gifts and other purchases for the holidays. It might be that you have $1,047 to spare, or you might need to set a more conservative spending limit.

Know Who You're Shopping for

Knowing who you're going to buy gifts for and what other purchases you'll need to make during the season goes hand-in-hand with creating your budget. If you have a long list of gift recipients, you might find that you need to reduce the amount you spend on each person. 

As you create your budget and gift lists, write down each person's name and a few gift ideas for them, at a variety of price points. If you have 10 people to buy for and $1,000 to spend, you might find that you can comfortably afford to purchase $100 gifts for each one. But if you have $500 to spend, and you are preparing your family's holiday meal, you might find that you can comfortably spend $25 on each person.   

Tally up other holiday expenses as you plan your shopping and budget. It can also be helpful to think of ways to reduce costs at this point. For example, can you ask guests to each contribute one dish to your holiday meal, so that you don't have to shoulder the entire cost alone? Can you upcycle materials, such as brown paper bags or old newspapers for gift wrapping, rather than buying new rolls of wrapping paper?

Strategically Plan Your Purchases 

Is Black Friday the best time to buy certain items? What about Cyber Monday or Green Monday? While stores want to get you in the door or online on those big sale days, it's often not worth the stress or hassle to nab a so-called deal.

If there's a specific item you hope to buy someone as a gift, such as a new TV or laptop, you might want to start scoping out sales well in advance of Black Friday and the holiday shopping season. You might find that certain items are cheaper earlier in the year.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many items go on sale at the end of the holiday season, from December 26 through the end of the year (and often into January). Retailers are hoping to unload all of the stuff that didn't sell during the holidays, to make room for next year's items. If you can hold off on gift-giving until the end of the season, you might find some great bargains.

Stay Calm at the Mall

Although online shopping is popular, plenty of people prefer to do at least some of their holiday shopping in person. Heading to the mall to shop gives you the chance to touch items and see them up close before you make the decision to buy.     

Heading to the mall in the middle of the holiday rush requires some forethought and preparation. Here's what you can do to help yourself stay calm when shopping:

● Make a list and a game plan. Strategically map out a route, using your gift lists as a guide. That way, you can make sure you hit all the stores you need to.  

● Bring water and snacks. Mall food isn't always the healthiest, and spending money at the food court can throw your budget for a loop. Bring your own healthy snacks, such as granola bars or fruit, plus a few refillable bottles of water.  

● Try to shop during off-hours. Malls are going to be busy during the holidays, but some times are going to be crazier than others. If you can, try to shop on weekdays, rather than at night or over the weekend.  

Don't Forget About Shipping

While many online retailers offer free shipping on all orders or on purchases over X amount, not all do. If you're shopping online and free shipping isn't an option, be sure to add the cost of it to the total cost of your gift, so that you have an accurate idea of what you're spending.

Another thing to keep in mind with shipping is that sometimes the thresholds to get free shipping can be high enough to make it not worth it. For example, if shipping is $5, but free for orders over $50, and you plan on spending $20, it might be better to pay for shipping rather than to spend another $30.

One last thing to keep in mind when shopping online: Know the shipping deadline. Most retailers will tell you when you need to order by to get your items by a certain date, such as December 25. To be on the safe side, order well in advance of that deadline so that you can be sure you'll get your stuff in time.

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1. A Brief History of Black Friday, Mental Floss,

2. These are 4 of the biggest holiday stressors - and ways to cope, MarketWatch,

3. Holiday shoppers plan to spend 4 percent more this year, National Retail Federation,

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