Buying holiday gifts can be expensive and stressful. With pressure to get all of the gifts bought and beautifully wrapped in time for the holidays, we don’t always make the best purchases. Here’s a look at several potential pitfalls that even savvy shoppers make this time of year.
Failing to comparison shop. Retailers use “compare at” prices or sticker prices to make you think that you’re getting a great deal with the store’s sale price. But with a little comparison shopping, it’s very possible that you’ll find the same or similar product for an even better price online or in another store. Use comparison shopping smartphone apps like RedLaser, ShopSavvy and Smoopa before you check out. In some cases, you may even get the retailer to match a competitor’s price.
Getting seduced by a “deal.” Some retailers play mind games with consumers using come-ons like “buy one, get one half off” or “free shipping with a minimum $75 purchase.” At times, I’ve found myself wandering the aisles looking for a second item I can snag at half price or adding extra products to my online shopping cart to qualify for “free” shipping (it’s not really free because the cost of shipping is factored into product pricing). Before you check out, ask yourself if you really have a use for the extra items. If not, buy only what you came for and put the rest back.
Waiting until the last minute. As of mid-November, almost half of consumers hadn’t started their holiday shopping yet, according to the National Retail Federation. In fact, the biggest shopping day is usually the Saturday before Christmas (not Black Friday, as you might expect). Sure, you might luck out and find a last-minute deal, but it’s also possible that in the last-minute holiday rush, you might not find what you’re looking for and wind up paying more than you’d planned out of desperation. Also, keep in mind that if you’re ordering online, you’ll pay extra for expedited shipping. A slew of online retailers have teamed up to offer Free Shipping Day offers on Dec. 18, but if you’re shopping later than that, prepare to pay extra for shipping to ensure delivery before Christmas.
Paying with plastic. Swiping your credit card to earn the rewards and paying off your balance in full is one thing. But if you’re carrying a balance and paying interest on your holiday purchases, that $200 worth of toys for your niece and nephew could wind up costing a lot more in interest. Be realistic and charge only what you can realistically pay off at the end of the month on a rewards credit card. If you must carry a balance, use your lowest-interest credit card, which is likely to be a plain ol’ credit card without rewards.
Forgetting to budget for the extras. Americans will spend just over $800 on holiday gifts this year, reports the National Retail Federation. When setting your holiday budget, you probably factored in gifts for your close friends, relatives and significant other. But what happens when an acquaintance drops off a gift and you feel obliged to reciprocate? Or when you run out of wrapping paper and ribbon? Buy inexpensive all-purpose gifts and wrapping paper on sale (after-Christmas sales, anyone?) so you’ll have them on hand, and try to build a buffer into your holiday budget so you’ll have a little wiggle room.
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