Holiday Shopping Tips

Start Your Holiday Shopping Plan

Man Unloading Xmas Gifts
Shop Smart This Holiday Season

Holiday shopping can produce quite a bit of anxiety. Shoppers have to balance the pressure of remembering to buy a gift for everyone along with the stress of trying to stay within their budget. Do not fret! These 5 holiday shopping tips will have you balancing it all like a holiday shopping pro.

Plan Ahead

The planning portion of the holiday shopping season is definitely the most crucial part because it will help you limit your spending and structure your shopping trip.

Planning ahead includes:

  1. Assessing your holiday budget.
  2. Making a list of the people you’ll be shopping for.
  3. Creating a list of additional holiday expenses (i.e. Christmas trees, travel expenses, holiday cards, gift wrap, etc.)
  4. Limiting your cost per person.
  5. To estimate your budget and the particular cost of different holiday expenses, it may be helpful to refer to last year’s expenditures. If you’re starting from scratch, that’s no biggie! Be sure to check out BCU’s budget planning tool to get started.

    Use the margins of your gift lists to track what and when you’ve bought for the special folks in your life. Also use them to track your spending so you stay within your budget.

    Shop Year-Round

    There are many items that do not go out of fashion from year to year. Throughout the year, snag up sale items in bulk like candles, coffee mugs, lotions and picture frames and store them for the holidays. Save trendy items like clothing and electronics for Black Friday.

    Buying gifts in advance has the added bonus of reducing your stress during Black Friday shopping. Since you’ll have fewer people to worry about buying gifts for, you’ll be less likely to impulse shop and overspend.

    Keep Receipts

    Saving receipts allows you to track your spending in the here and now, but it also allows you prepare for the following holiday season. As soon as you stash your holiday gifts, refer to the budget you’ve created. Continuously deduct what you’ve spent from the total funds you’ve allocated for holiday shopping.

    Purchase or create a folder for holiday receipts or scan and electronically file them. When you go to create you budget next year, you’ll have record of your spending habits from the previous year.

    Of course, receipts are also useful in case you buy more gifts than you need and have to return some. They’ll also come in handy if you need proof of warranties, especially for big-ticket items.

    Compare Prices ahead of Time

    Once you’re in a store, it’s easy to be swayed by the appearance of a great deal. However, most sales only look amazing because retailers inflate regular prices in the first place. Don’t be misled by “Compare at…” tags that do not reference realistic full pricing. To avoid the mirage, check prices online through comparison shopping engines or mobile apps first.

    To use comparison shopping engines, such as, simply type in a particular item and the search engine will pull up the product from various online sources. You can sort your search from low to high prices and voila, you have the best deal!

    Mobile apps, such as RedLaser or ShopSavvy, allow you to do the same thing. In some cases, you can even scan an item’s barcode in-store and instantly get price comparisons through your phone.

    If you’re not fond of online shopping, some brick-and-mortar stores offer price match deals during the holiday season. Put your online comparisons to good use by showing store employees the lowest prices you found online.

    Avoid credit

    Whenever possible, avoid using credit cards to pay for gifts. The deals you find will not be great if you have to pay for your items with interest. Instead, use cash as often as possible. Cash will give you a clear sense of what your limits are. You will literally see the money dwindle in your wallet, which will cue you to slow down on spending as you approach your limit.

    Debit is a nice middle ground between cash and credit. You cannot build credit with a debit card, but in some cases it’s safer to carry than a wad of cash. Most debit cards are insured in case of theft, but once cash is stolen and used, there’s no way to get it back. If you decide to use a debit card, be sure to track your spending and opt out of overdraft protection. Overdraft protection lets you spend beyond your limits if you pay a fee.

    Again, you’ll want to avoid anything that cancels out the great deals you’ll be shopping for this Black Friday. If you are not using cash, be sure to opt for payment options that allow will you to track and limit your spending and avoid fees or interest.

    Final Word

    The key to successful holiday shopping is getting an early start. There’s no need to block out the holidays once New Year’s Day is over. The whole year offers plenty of opportunities to plan ahead, compare prices and purchase gifts bit by bit. Once you finally decide to cross some gifts off your shopping list, be sure to pay in cash and keep the receipt. You won’t want to be in debt until next winter and you certainly will want to remember what a great job you did shopping in 2013!