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5 tips for affordable, last-minute holiday shopping

Sienna Kossman

Even the best-laid holiday plans can go awry. This year I was determined to cross each item off my shopping list early, but those expectations were quickly shattered. Between overcrowded stores, sold-out items and budget concerns, so far I’ve only bought about half of what I intend to.

Since then, as the number of days until I need to have my gifts ready for delivery dwindles, I’ve browsed online and chatted with friends for suggestions on how to finish my last-minute shopping while keeping to my budget, but still give meaningful presents to friends and family.

The clock is ticking, but now I’m reinvigorated and ready to shop. Here are five tips I’ll be using over the next few days to combat shopping stress and prevent budget-busting or less-than-ideal gift purchases:

5 tips/things to keep in mind as you wrap up your last-minute holiday shopping

1. Gift cards aren’t always a cop-out.

While debating what to get a few hard-to-shop-for individuals, I grabbed a few gift cards in one store but felt immediately guilty, like I was taking the easy way out, so I put them back.

After some reconsideration a few days later, I realized gift cards can actually be perfect, meaningful presents for some people.

For example, a cash-strapped young adult may really enjoy a gas or grocery store card to help pay for unavoidable day-to-day expenses, or a super frugal friend may love the opportunity to take a gift card into a store that would be normally outside her budget and indulge a little bit.
Sure, gift cards don’t take a lot of thought, but if you keep coming back to them as the right present for someone, go for it.

2. Expensive presents aren’t always the best.

I recently found myself in a big box store with a $10 item in my hand that was perfect for my best friend, but ended up putting it back because I was worried she’d outspend me and I’d feel cheap.

If you’re having similar feelings, let’s ditch them together.

The point of gift giving is to show those closest to you how much you care. If a trinket that reminds you and your friend of “that one time way back when” means more than the high-tech, more expensive item you feel could be the “right” gift, go for the trinket. Plus,  The National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend an average of $805.65 in the 2015 holiday shopping season, so saving a few bucks here and there won’t hurt.

As cheesy as it may sound, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on something fancy to put a smile on someone else’s face. Going with your gut will also save time otherwise wasted fretting about what to buy.

3. Consider nonmaterial or homemade gifts.

Building on tip No. 2, nonmaterial or homemade items can be great, inexpensive gift options as well.

If you only travel home to see your parents a few times a year, consider planning a dinner out together while you’re in town instead of purchasing items. For mom, new memories will likely mean more than that fancy kitchen gadget you were eyeing for her. Or, if busy work schedules keep you and your spouse apart more often than not, plan a romantic date night or day trip.

Nonmaterial gifts will also save you time by eliminating drive time traveling from store to store over the next couple of hectic shopping weeks.

Some homemade gifts can be time consuming, but options such as framed photo prints for family members to commemorate special events or individuals can make great inexpensive, timesaving gifts that still hold emotional value.

4. Browse the Internet before heading to the mall.

I know I’ve spent way too much time waiting in checkout lines, looking for parking and patiently sitting in traffic, wasting gas this holiday shopping season.

To compensate, I’ve moved my shopping online, like many other holiday shoppers. In fact, 46 percent of holiday shopping will be conducted online in 2015, up from 44 percent last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Shopping online helps nix timewasting issues altogether, but shipping time is running out. To save time and money on your next shopping outing, peruse the Internet before getting in the car to determine what exactly you’re looking for, where you can make the purchases and the most efficient travel route to take. Watch for free or fast shipping promotions, especially. Amazon Prime, anyone?

5. Use up old gift cards, reward points or store credits to save money.

If you have partially used gift cards or credit lying around, help your spending budget out and put them toward a gift for someone else.

I’m always hesitant to use a gift card I received on a present for someone else — again, feeling a little cheap — but if doing so saves a few extra bucks on an item I was already planning to purchase, why not?

Credit card reward points or programs can also help out with the gift giving process. Check your accounts to see if you get extra cash back from making purchases from specified retailers with your card or if you can redeem points online for gifts. Last year I was able to save 30 percent on my brother’s Christmas present by ordering it through a specific online retailer with my American Express card, plus I got free shipping. That’s a win-win in my holiday shopping book.

Editor’s note: This was originally posted in December 2014, and has been rewritten and updated for the 2015 season.

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