The holiday season is in full swing and it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. That is, until you realize it’s almost December and you have not yet tackled your rapidly growing list of gift recipients. If you’re a last-minute shopper, like many of us are, you know that holiday gift-giving can be stressful and costly when you’re rushing to buy presents days, or even weeks, before the first gift exchange. So, before you start mass-purchasing Amazon gift cards (which, by the way, is not a bad gift seeing as how you can get pretty much anything on Amazon), follow these seven tips to help reduce stress, save you time and money, and simplify last-minute shopping without sacrificing thoughtful gift-giving.
- Make a list and stick to it
The first mistake any holiday shopper can make is going at it without a list. Holiday shopping is no easy task and to dive in headfirst without getting organized is only going to set you up for disaster in the form of meaningless gifts, overspending, and scrooge-like emotions. It’s important to think through the loved ones you want to buy for and at the same time, jot down any ideas you have in terms of what they might like under the tree this year. Sticking to a list of gift recipients and gift ideas will help you avoid making last minute additions or over-purchasing because you couldn’t remember if you already bought for that person or you didn’t like the random item you grabbed in a holiday panic. Make a list, check it twice, and then hit the stores or hop online knowing you’ve got a plan!
- Save time and shop online
Sometimes when shopping truly is last-minute, it can be easier to sit down in your holiday pajamas with a cup of cocoa and do all your shopping in one place—online. You eliminate the need to get dressed and out the door (no easy task if you’re carting around one or more kids), drive from store to store in traffic, and wait in obscenely long lines at checkout (queue child meltdown here). What about shipping? Skip shipping to home and send your gift directly to the gift recipient! Watch for deals on free express or 2-day shipping this time of year. Online retailers love to offer shipping deals with minimum purchase amounts that will guarantee your gift arrives on time.
- Hit the local shops
One of the best ways to find thoughtful gifts for the people on your list is visiting local shops. If you’re struggling with gift ideas, there’s no better place to get inspiration than window shopping in town. Now you may be thinking, how is this going to save time? Although it might seem at first to be less efficient than shopping online, chances are you have a downtown with many local businesses conveniently located on one street (perhaps even a coffee shop or bakery where you can grab a coffee and a treat for holiday shopping fuel). Purchasing items in a store can save you time if you don’t know what you’re getting someone. Online, you need to have some idea what to search for but in a shop, you’re presented with all kinds of ideas you can see and touch. And while you’re shopping, you’re supporting the small businesses in your community and helping your local economy thrive.
- Let someone else do the wrapping
Another time-saving perk you’ll enjoy while shopping in your local stores is the ability to have someone else do the wrapping for you. Some stores will offer full gift wrapping while others might ask you if you’d like the supplies to wrap yourself. Either way, you’re on a tight schedule and you’ve got more buying to do, so avoiding the wrapping altogether or having to buy wrapping supplies will save you in the end.
- Utilize gift cards
When it comes to holiday spirit and meaningful gift-giving, it’s likely that gift cards are not the first thing that come to your mind. However, gift cards can be a great option if you know where your loved ones like to shop. Gift cards are also one of the best options in terms of saving time for all you last-minute holiday shoppers. You may know your dad’s favorite store or that your mom loves a particular chocolate shop in town. Maybe your sister buys everything—literally everything—from Amazon because there’s no time in her busy schedule to actually walk into a store. There can be such a thing as “thoughtful gift card giving”.
- Stalk your gift recipients online
This sounds a little creepy, but it’s one of the best ways to save yourself time in trying to figure out what to get the people on your list when it’s right there in front of you! Social media is a great way to get gift ideas by looking at your friends’ recent likes and places they have been or visit frequently like a local coffee shop, the gym, or the movie theater. Pinterest is an excellent resource for gift-giving inspiration in general but if your loved ones have Pinterest accounts, check out their boards and items they are saving. You might find someone has an interest or hobby you didn’t know about or an obsession with accessories like oversized winter scarfs. Not only can social media help you find the perfect gift, it can also save you money. A lot of retailers will present special savings and deals that are exclusive to their followers. So be sure to keep an eye out for discounts!
- Suggest a gift exchange game
Faced with a large group of friends to buy for at your annual Friendsmas? Chances are you aren’t the only one scrambling last minute. Rather than buy a gift for There is no shame in shopping online or out of state for the holidays. I’ve found some of my best holiday gifts in distant cities. BUT! There is so much more to be gained, for you and your community, by weaving a good deal of local shopping into your holiday plan. The only trick is saving time and money while you’re at it.It’s no secret that the small businesses at the center of town count on you for their livelihood. And you count on them to keep their doors open so you don’t have to drive half an hour for a quart of milk or that thing you need right NOW. Without your local small businesses, Vermont towns can begin to feel a lot like a ghost town, with no place to congregate or meet new people.When you shop close to home, your money is placed in local hands. It is used to pay local employees, and may be used to purchase other local items or services. It may even be saved in a local credit union or bank. When your money stays in your community, it benefits the people closest to you. It even benefits you. The more money stays in your community, the more resources you have access to, and the more prosperous the community becomes.
This doesn’t make shopping locally easy, of course. Sometimes (not always!), local shops are more expensive. This may be because they are specialty shops or because they can’t order in large enough quantities to keep prices low. Either way, you may feel like it’ll be easier to keep to your budget if you hit the department stores or shop the online deals. It can also take more time to find what you’re looking for in the available local shops.
So how do you shop closer to home without spending more time and money than you have? I have been curious about that lately, so I asked around. I conferred with my colleagues and friends, did some good old fashioned internet research, and brewed up a few ideas based on my own experience. Here’s what I’ve collected:
- Shop early and often
The sooner you begin shopping, and the more frequently you go, the less stress you’ll feel because you’ll be able to collect ideas and find what you need without worrying that you’re running out of time. Once you’ve set a good shopping pace, you’ll enjoy checking things off your list and won’t want to lose the momentum (i.e., you won’t be as likely to procrastinate); and because you’ve started early enough, you’ll have more time to find better deals.
- Make a list and check it twice
The best way to spend a ton of money and waste time doing it is to go shopping without a list. When you do that, you tend to buy the first semi-appropriate thing you see and buy far too many gifts because you can’t remember what you’ve bought already. So make a list! Jot down the people you are shopping for, items you want to buy, and how much it will all cost. Then organize the list so that you know where you will need to go online or in town to make your purchases. If you’re shopping online, this will prevent you from making a lot of small orders at the same store, which will save you money on shipping.
- Shop online at local shops
Just because you’re shopping locally doesn’t mean you can’t save time by shopping online. A lot of local shops have an online presence and offer a positive eCommerce experience. The best way to do this is to look up all of the shops on your list to determine which ones offer online shopping. Sit down for an afternoon and get those out of the way, and then head out the door for the rest.
- Find rebates
As you’re planning your list or shopping, check out Ebates or Ibotta (mobile), or seek out another site for rebates on your holiday purchases. These cash back offers can really add up!
- Call ahead
You can save time by calling the store ahead of time to find out if they have the item you’re looking for. If you find out that they don’t, you’ve just saved yourself a trip into town. If they say no, you might want to ask them if they have something similar. Maybe they’ll suggest an even better idea!
- Find the local shopping events
Discount events and other opportunities tend to pop up around the holiday season. You may find these online on your local events calendar, Front Porch Forum, Listserve, or chamber of commerce site. For example, Seven Days is a popular community calendar. And if you live in Montpelier, you can check out the Montpelier Alive website for money-saving shopping events.
- Ask for a discount
If you are turning an item over in your hands, wondering if it’s worth the price and finding that it’s just a little more than you’re willing to put down on it, ask for a discount. Tell them what you’re willing to pay and ask them if they’ll meet you there or somewhere in between. Bartering may not be a common practice in the United States, but discounts are and shop owners are often willing to give a discount to get the sale.
These ideas are meant to help you spend more locally so that you can give the gifts your family and friends will love while supporting your local community. If you’re in research mode, check out our blog, where you’ll find articles that will help you make the holidays more affordable or get your last-minute shopping done. Keep reading and shop wisely this holiday season!
everyone in your group, try suggesting a fun game like a Yankee gift exchange, where you only buy one gift with a price limit. There are dozens of gift exchange games you can find online. Not only will this save you time and some serious cash, it could become an annual tradition promising heartfelt memories and a few good laughs.
- Shop early and often
Holiday shopping is more fun when you’re not worried about how you’re going to pay off your credit cards afterward. The best way to approach the season is to save money throughout the year, so you don’t need to rely on credit. But since we’re already counting down the days, let’s focus on what you can do if you weren’t able to save enough. Try these five ways to make the holiday season more affordable.
Before you start writing down names and dreaming up gift ideas, set a budget that feels comfortable. Find a reasonable number that you can stick to and use it to determine how much you’ll spend on each person and the types of gifts you’ll buy them.
I’ve found a great app, called Christmas Gift List. With this app, you add the names of the people you’re buying gifts for and set a budget for each person. You then enter a description and cost for each gift you purchase for those on your list. You can also add a photo of each gift and a link. This app can be password protected, so you can keep your gift giving ideas secret. You can also put holiday photos next to the names of the recipients, so you will really be in the spirit of gift giving. When the season is over, the app will archive your list so you can continue using it year after year.
Use a low-interest credit card
If your budget is larger than your savings, find a low-interest credit card that won’t cost you a fortune if it takes a while to pay down the balance. Rewards credit cards are great if you don’t carry a balance, but they often come with hefty interest rates that can end up costing more than they give back in rewards. For the holiday season, save yourself money by using the lowest-interest card you can find.
Take out a personal loan
Another option for you, if you qualify, is a personal loan. Rates can be higher for a personal loan, so you’ll want to compare the rates of low-interest cards to those of a loan. You may only be able to find a loan term of one year, based on the purpose of the loan, so your payment could be higher. This can be a good way to make sure you pay the debt down faster, if you are able to make the payments.
Skip a payment
One way to improve your cash flow during the holiday season is to skip a loan payment. If you have a personal loan or auto loan with a financial institution that will allow you to skip one month’s payment during the holiday season, you might want to think about taking advantage of their skip-a-payment program. The cons of this program are that you may be required to pay a small fee for processing, and the payment that you skip will accrue interest daily. Consequently, when you make the next loan payment most of the payment will go towards the interest. Skipping a payment will also extend your term on the loan an extra month. However, if you are in need of extra cash this could be a better option than taking on additional unsecured debt.
Save for next year
We know the holiday season comes every year, so why don’t we save for it? Once this holiday season is over, prepare for next year by making a commitment to save. One suggestion that I have is to work with your employer to set up direct deposit, weekly or monthly, to a separate savings account. You can spend the year watching your money grow, and have a stress free season next year.
Time passes quickly this time of year but there’s still sand in the hourglass. Take a few minutes to make your list and follow some of these simple tips to get through the giving season stress-free and perhaps with a little extra money in your pocket!
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