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Tips and Tricks for Smart Holiday Shopping

As the end of the year approaches, shopping malls and online stores will soon be bustling with bargain hunters on a mission to check items off their gift lists. Although the thought of crowded parking lots, long lines, and sold-out products may be daunting, these smart shopping strategies can help you ease the stress of gift-buying.

Plan ahead
It may seem obvious, but planning ahead is key to efficient holiday shopping. Here are a few ideas for getting organized before the rush starts:

  • Make a detailed list. There's nothing worse than forgetting someone and having to make a last-minute trip to the mall. In addition to friends and family members, think of any coworkers, teachers, or neighbors you'd like to acknowledge this year.
  • Set a budget. Ask yourself how much you want to spend overall; then, break out costs for each individual on your list.
  • Do your research. Compare products and prices online before heading to the mall, and make a game plan for what you want to buy, where.
  • Get there early. Some retailers program their registers the night before a sale, so shopping after 6:00 p.m. the night prior can be a great way to take advantage of advertised discounts before the crowds descend.

Try shopping online
Browsing online is often much less time-consuming than braving crowds at the mall, especially if you're not sure what you want. When shopping online, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Weigh your shipping options. Many online retailers can ship your purchase to a different location than the billing address—a useful feature if you're traveling and want to send gifts directly to your destination. Some merchants also let you buy online and pick up the item at the store.
  • Check return policies. Stores' policies vary significantly, so be sure to get the details on returning and exchanging items before you buy.
  • Stick with trusted retailers. It's best to do business with merchants you know and to avoid any too-good-to-be-true online promotions. If you're not sure about a site, you can check out other customers' experiences at

Find creative ways to save money (and time)
Whether you plan to shop online or at the mall, saving a little money here and there can really help stretch your holiday budget. For example:

  • Compare prices on the go. To check prices while you're out and about, consider using a smartphone app like Red Laser, which lets you scan a product to see if it's available anywhere else for less.
  • Use cash. Shoppers who pay with credit cards are likely to spend more than those with cash in hand.
  • Outsource gift wrapping. For a small donation, many charity groups offer gift-wrapping services in malls and stores, saving you time and the cost of supplies.
  • Don't overlook coupons. Browse your local newspaper and look online for deals from retail stores you plan to visit. Apps like Coupon Sherpa can even deliver discounts to your phone.

Make a post-shopping to-do list
After you've finished your shopping, there are still a few things you can do to avoid last-minute hassles:

  • Keep track of purchases. Save your store receipts and print out confirmations for online purchases, in case you need to make a return or exchange later.
  • Get to the post office ASAP. Aim to mail packages as soon as your shopping is done. The U.S. Postal Service and other shipping companies only get busier and busier as the holidays draw near.

Here's to a more peaceful season!
The holidays shouldn't be stressful, but they certainly can be if you wait until the last minute to finish your shopping. We hope these tips will help make your preparations a bit more pleasant—and give you more time to celebrate with your loved ones!

© 2013 Commonwealth Financial Network®