holiday shopping tips

*Christmas is right around the corner, and you still have time to take advantage of some great deals, but when you consider all of the shopping involved for family, friends and loved ones, it can easily become overwhelming if you fail to do a little planning.

Since many people agree shopping for family and friends is no small task, EURweb’s contributing writer Angela P. Moore-Thorpe asked people from across the country to share their secrets for saving money and shopping stress-free as possible.

From buying gifts online  to fighting the mall crowds,  to baking your favorite cookies, fudge or fruitcake, to taking advantage of “family and friends” shopping days, you can stretch your hard-earned dollars, find great discounts and shop stress-free with proper planning.

Tips for stress-free shopping to live by…

Set a Realistic Budget

Set a budget for your holiday shopping and stick to it. Ask yourself how much can I afford? Set a max for each person. You don’t want to start the New Year off broke. Consider taking your Christmas money and put it on a bank gift card to shop, and when you have spent it all, your shopping is done.

Track your Spending

If you know you have problems staying within your budget, consider shopping with an accountability partner (friend or relative).  If possible, stick to your Christmas list and do not buy on impulse or add extra gifts for people on your list. Making a list and assigning a price to each gift can help keep you on track and on budget.  It is easy to add extra toys and cute things when shopping for kids, so stick to your list.  In addition, try to buy everyone’s gift and wrap him or her before you start deciding to keep some of the gifts for yourself.

“Make a list of everyone you are buying a gift for and be sure to include the dollar amount that you are going to spend. Set a limit and seek gifts in that limit, like gift cards, gift baskets.  You should look for stores that offer gifts in your price range,” says Tonya Smith.

Shop Around

Do not pick up the first gift you see unless budget shopping isn’t your thing.  It is a good idea to do some comparison shopping before you go shopping. Research online first to see what the item is going for before you go out to the stores.  Check out the Sunday newspapers sales papers and online sites before you make that final purchase.  Keep in mind just because an item is discounted doesn’t mean it’s a bargain.

“Weigh out all your options when purchasing a particular gift.  For example, you may visit an electronic store looking for a particular electronic device, but online sites such as Amazon may have an even better bargain.  I’m all for a good bargain especially when you have to buy for multiple people.  Also, I get a lot of unique gifting/craft ideas from Pinterest for the holidays,” says Maxine Pressley

Shop Online

With high gas prices still a bit  high, shopping online may be the perfect place for you to start.   Many retailers like Best Buy, Target, Macy’s, Stein Mart, and Kohl’s offer free shipping deals online.  On the other hand, maybe you just want to avoid crowds and possibly picked over merchandise.   Before you get started, you can set the mood by putting your favorite Christmas music on, pull out your favorite cocktail glasses or crystal and pour yourself a glass of eggnog, make your favorite holiday cocktail, or sip on some champagne.  Now, you are ready to pull out the laptop or tablet and search online for those special gifts.  Great websites to find personal gifts at include amazon.com, overstock.com, smartbargins.com, and your favorite stores.

When shopping online, a tip that may help you save money is to save your item(s) in your shopping cart, but do not purchase them right away.  Sometimes you may end up receiving a coupon for 10 to 20 percent by not purchasing the item right away. Go back the next day and you may be offered a coupon, or a coupon may pop up in your inbox or in an ad on your Facebook page.

“I prefer to shop online because in my opinion you get better deals, plus you avoid long waits in lines and keep your sanity as well. This makes a more stress-free holiday for you and your family,” says Ursula Bennett.

Andrea Hundley says,”I purchase the bulk of my gifts from online discount sites such as Gilt and Joss & Main. These online sites constantly have sales on items such as jewelry, housewares and electronics to name a few.  I can review the sale prices being offered and decide on the gift I want to buy before the sale ends. Using this method allowed me to purchase a coffee machine originally priced for $150 for $45!”

To take advantage of sentimental gifts try shopping for Groupon/ Living Social deals that often find their way to your inbox.  “The online Groupon/Living Social deals allow me to purchase more sentimental gifts like dinner for two at an upscale restaurant or a wine tasting event for a deeply discounted price. The person receiving the gift appreciates the thoughtfulness of the gift, and I was able to add a personal touch to a gift without breaking the bank!” says Hundley.

Theme Shopping

Choose a theme each year and buy everyone the same item. Some themes to consider include  Keeping Warm, Wrapping Up, Electronics, and Writing.  Some items include pajamas, robes, sweaters, leather gloves or slippers, scarves, tablets, stationery or calendars.  Buy each person his or her favorite color. Try to find the item in bulk and you can separate the items into multiple gifts.

Shop at discount stores such as Ross, T. J. Maxx’s and Marshall’s.  If you cannot purchase the items in bulk, shop around at other discount stores; the idea is to give everyone the same type of gift. So, if your theme is winter warmth, consider buying everyone on your list a warm scarf, sweater, pajamas, or a robe. Alternatively, a pair of gloves. Often times, you can purchase designer Isotoner gloves for a mere $9.99 or comfortable designer slippers for a bargain price of $1999 or less. Later on you can plan a family slumber party or a girl friend’s movie night and everyone wear their new pajamas or robe.

Electronic gifts are also great things to buy the entire family. Online sites such as QVC and HSN often have packaged, two-for-one deals that come in their separate box.

Unbundle Gifts

If you have a large family or a lot of girlfriends that you would like to purchase a gift for, try buying  gift collections and separate them and give to multiple people.  Online shopping sites HSN and QVC often offer multiple items in their gift sets, games, lotions, and electronics.

Take advantage of “Family & Friends” Day

If you have friends or loved ones that work in retail, be sure to ask them if you may use their “Family & Friends” day discount. The discount is usually allowed for 1-2 days.

The Early Birds.

Purchase your gifts early.  Don’t wait to Christmas Eve.  Next year, start shopping in the summer months or during the ‘Christmas in July’ sales. You can also purchase your gifts throughout the year, so you are not stressed with having to buy so many gifts at one time.  “I find that purchasing items such as clothing and electronics off-season saves me tons of money,” says Andrea Hundley.

Also, consider shopping at consignment shops, boutiques, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army.  Often, they will have new items with the tags still on them.  Shop in the ritzy neighborhoods and you will find expensive items at reasonable prices.

Stocking Stuffers

Don’t forget to pick up some forget-me-nots for the Stockings hung on the fireplace. Stocking stuffers do not have to be expensive. Just search for some unique little items such as lip balms, miniature travel colognes and perfumes, CDs, socks, hair items, etc.

Use your Coupons

Most credit card companies send coupons to use.  You can also find coupons online at www.coupons.com, www.ebates.com, and some of the stores’ websites. “I mainly use my department store credit cards for Christmas shopping so I can use the discount coupons that they mail you. Sometimes I get $25-off coupons for credit card purchase of $100.  I take advantage of them.  I also cut out discount coupons in the newspaper . [Most important], I make sure I can pay the credit cards off at the end of the month when I get the bill,” says Leslie Parker.

Make a Gift

Write a letter to a friend or family member.  Sentimental items are always great gifts.  Another excellent gift is baked goods. Who doesn’t love a beautiful Christmas tin of Chocolate chip cookies, peppermint bark or fudge?

Buy Gift Cards

Instead of using your time running from store-to-store looking for a gift, consider buying gift cards to their favorite restaurant, movie theatre , or clothing store.   Ensure that you read stipulations on how long they can be used.

If you have some secrets to saving money and shopping stress-free, feel free to comment…

Angela P. Moore-Thorpe is an Atlanta-based freelance writer for local and national magazines. She is also a Publicist and CEO at APM Public Relations (www.apmpublicrelations.com) and owner of The Inkwell Agency.