Our holiday chore lists can be as long as Santa's annual "naughty or nice" catalog. There's the decorating, the baking, the cards, not to mention the gifts. Oh, no! The gifts!
Amid our constant holiday activity, we don't always find the time to get holiday shopping done early. A new poll from Rasmussen Reports shows that 28% of us have yet to purchase a single gift. That would be fine if all those people weren't planning to give gifts this year, but I suspect many of them will be heading to the mall this weekend with a look of mild panic in their eyes.
Shopping at the last moment can lead to some financial peril, if you're not careful. You may be more apt to ignore your budget, purchase high-priced gifts, buy without comparing prices, and succumb to every shoe sale in sight. Here are some ideas for keeping your head while doing your last-minute shopping.
If you're shopping late, start with the gifts you know you'll order online. The closer you get to the holiday, the more it will cost to guarantee delivery on time. Be sure to pay close attention to the shipping details.
Most online merchants clearly display how long it will take to ship your gift and whether that delivery date is guaranteed, so read those details. Double- and triple-check the addresses if you're sending the gifts straight to the recipient. Now's not the time to lose your niece's and nephew's toys in the mail.
If you're heading to the mall, remember to ask for gift receipts, gift boxes, and a tutorial on the store's return policy. Also, shopping under stress can more easily lead to overspending, so it's best to know what you want before you head out.
If you made any lists of gift ideas this year, it's time to find them. You might look around on the Internet, too, to get some ideas. Know that many of the season's hottest items can be hard to find later in the month. As long as you're making lists, write down the names of anyone you have yet to find a gift for, lest you forget someone and find yourself back at the mall on Christmas Eve.
If you have a gift in mind, go out and get it. Then, stop shopping when you're done. Don't wait till you're ready to drop. No study (that I know of) has ever proven this, but my personal experience shows that it's easier to get drawn into spending more when you hang out at the mall longer than necessary. Before you know it, you'll be shopping for gifts for yourself.
If you have absolutely no idea what to get some of the people on your gift list, just ask. Confess that you're a little flummoxed, and you might get some great ideas from them, or their friends and families. This may seem a little gauche. After all, the perfect Martha Stewart season means you've chosen perfectly appropriate gifts months ago and spent the month wrapping them in hand-printed paper. Forget it. With a few delicate questions, you're more likely to give a gift that's appreciated.
Gift certificates are another form of asking the recipient what he or she wants. They're a good solution if you know, for example, that someone loves music or books but you can't quite put your finger on their taste. If you're afraid you'll go wrong, gift cards let the recipient do the choosing. Here's some advice about checking out the fine print on gift cards.
You can also take advantage of some great gift resources here at The Motley Fool. There are gift conversations going on all over the discussion boards, and there's even a board dedicated to gift ideas. Check out this great list of gift ideas, too.
If you're shopping for someone who has everything, consider making a charitable contribution in that person's honor to a cause they really care about -- maybe one we've selected for Foolanthropy. If, on the other hand, you're too overwhelmed by gift possibilities, leave the mall and look for a specialty shop. Sometimes it doesn't help to drown ourselves in choices.
Then relax, grab a cup of cocoa, and start wrapping. You did remember to buy wrapping paper, didn't you?
For more holiday Foolishness:
Motley Fool GreenLight has personal finance tips for the holiday season as well as the rest of the year. After all, managing your money smartly is a year-round commitment. Check it out for free with a 30-day trial.