Here are five easy ways to save money and time on holiday shopping:
Start by Getting Organized
Smart shoppers begin with a list. This should include all the people you'll be buying gifts for during the holidays. Don't forget to include work colleagues, your boss, friends, clients you'd like to thank, your family, anyone who has an annual holiday party you always attend, friends or friends' kids who have birthdays at that time of year.
Don't worry if your list is long. The beauty of starting with a list is that you can always shorten it. But by seeing everyone together you can group them together and buy everyone in each group the same thing. Then you can look calmly for something that fits the bill, buy several items at once and check the group off your list.
Buy for Groups When Possible
Now that you're list is ready, group people by gift ideas or cost level. Say you have several work colleagues or clients that you need to send cards to. Buy a big box or assortment of cards instead of picking up individual higher-priced ones. Have a slew parties to attend and need to take along a little something? Go to the wine store once, ask the clerk to recommend an affordable bottle, and buy a case of it. Then ask if they can give you a break because you're buying in bulk.
Most important, once you decide how much to spend on someone, stick it. Resist the urge to pick up something that's a little out of your price range for one person on the list. As your generous nature takes over, you'll begin to make more exceptions and soon your costs will balloon.
Often the most thoughtful gift isn't one that you spend the most on, it's the one that shows you're involved in the life of the person you're giving to. If your sister is always hunting for pens, stamps and envelopes, put together a "postal kit" in a plastic folder that keeps all these necessities in one place. Does your grandmother love weekly telephone chats? Give her a phone card so she can call without worrying about the bill. Talk to other family members and friends to find out what the people are your list are concerned with and you'll come away with a gift idea that says, "I know you and I care" rather than "I spent a lot."
Take Advantage of Online Shopping
Many online retailers offer free shipping around the holidays and give discounts. By taking advantage, you avoid the time, energy and gas you'd spend driving from store to store. Set aside an evening, sit down with your list and do a little online comparison shopping, and your ability to save increases even more.
Pool Your Money
By going in on a present with several other people, you can give a gift that makes a big impact but that is affordable to everyone.
Avoid the Impulse
Impulse buying is one of the great money-wasters of all time. Stores depend on your last-minute frenzy to find the perfect gift and they know you'll end up spending a lot more when you're short on time and have to buy something RIGHT NOW. That's when it's easiest to convince you that even though you planned to spend $30 on a nice gift, you can accomplish the task immediately here and now, including gift wrapping—for $50.
Try to buy holiday gifts whenever you see them, even if that means picking them up in July and stashing them in the closet until winter. Get into this habit and you may find half your list is taken care of before you've even visited the mall.