December 15th ~ Shop Til You Drop

On the fifteenth day of December my true love gave to me,

a stack of credit card receipts.

I love to shop. It doesn’t even matter what I’m shopping for. As long as I have a list then some basic need inside of me is being met.

I’m not necessarily a ‘shop till you drop’ kind of girl, but because I live on an island and have to travel anywhere from 1 hour 20 mins to 3 hours, one way, just to get some decent shopping in, I’d say that it happens more often than not. That’s okay. I just have to plan my day (or sometimes two) around it. It’s also not uncommon for locals to take trips into the nearest metropolitan area, get a room for the night, and do several months worth of shopping.  We are also big fans of ordering Christmas gifts online. It just makes things easier, and we don’t have to drive 150 miles to some big mall or department store to sift through the crowds and mess of merchandise.

Every year our boys get three gifts each. Jesus got three gifts, and our boys have learned that Christmas is not about getting, getting, getting. They also get gifts from grandparents, and aunts, and occasionally extended family members, and their stockings are always filled by Santa. They certainly are not in want. We weigh their wish lists carefully and see what we feel fits in best with our budget.

Deciding what to buy can be hard, but sometimes it’s the actual buying that’s the hardest. A few tips I’ve learned over time that will help you make smart spending choices and enjoy the season in good health, good spirits, and good fun without sacrificing any festivities.

1. Shopping can actually cause major stress indicators such as headaches, weight gain, insomnia, digestive problems, depression, and even gum disease. So set a budget and pay with cash. You’ll spend up to 18% more if you use a credit card. Cash reminds you of what you have to spend and how much is going out. Stay calm and in control.

2. Follow the crowd: you can stretch your dollar by buying from websites that discount 50-90% when certain numbers of people agree to buy. Check out Jasmere.com, groupon.com, woot.com, tippr.com, livingsocial.com, buywithme.com. Some of these sites include restaurant coupons (check out restaurant.com!), but make sure you read the fine print for your offer of choice.

3. Stash cash for maximum savings: Even this close to Christmas retailers will still treat you to as much as 14% earnings on any holiday money you set aside. Check out this online savings tool smartypig.com. It allows you to stow money as you would your bank, but you can withdraw your money in the form of a retail gift card. For example, someone who opened an account with $500 in November could turn that into $750 in Lands’ End gift cards, which is a 14% bonus in only 2 weeks.

4. Shop at night: Black Friday is a mess and I refuse to be a part of the madness. I actually know people who arrive at stores at 2 or 3 am, and this year someone I knew actually started at midnight with a plan that took her through the entire night, a very early breakfast break, back at a specific store for their doorbusters, and back home in time for her kids to get up and have breakfast. Whew! Why do that to yourself?? Did you know you have the same chances online for those doorbusters? Maybe not at every store, but yes at Walmart, for an example. Check in at 12:01 am ET. If the sale isn’t available yet then check in again at 4 or 5 am, or whenever the store opens. Grab those great deals and avoid the crowds (and the desperate people with mace).

5. Know the competition: Spend some time reviewing the latest sale flyers. Some stores suspend price matching on Black Friday, but for many others it’s still an option. There’s also post-purchasing matching, and some stores will refund the difference if you spot the same item for less within a week or two. Bring your receipt and proof of the lower price. If you don’t have the sales ad then take a picture of it with your phone.

6. Find a tree almost for free: I like to get my tree up around the 1st of December and I suspect most people do. There are still those who wait for Christmas Eve for that traditional 12 Days of Christmas tree trimming. By the middle of December artificial trees are already an out-of-season item, so find a good sale and buy one for next year. In some home and garden stores you might find them for as much as 50% off. Live trees can be found, too, in stores such as Lowe’s, which regularly sells fresh six-foot Douglas fir trees for prices as low as $25.

7. “Friend” favorite retailers on Facebook. I’ve received discounts and coupons at Chili’s restaurants, Banana Republic and Gap for friending them. Other sites that you can check out are twitter.com, foursquare.com, and other social networking tools for specials.

8. Phone it in: Before you make a big purchase make sure you’ve finagled a first-class deal on your cell phone. You can take a picture of an item’s bar code and upload it to shopping sites for fast online price comparison. Try biggu.com. And also check out this app-review site appolicious.com.

9. Grab last-minute deals: You’d think that last-minute shoppers would end up overpaying, but truth is those procrastinators can end up with the sweetest deals, such as free gift-box and shipping promotions. Sites that gave extras in mid-december were redenvelope.com, wine.com, and bluenile.com. Keep in mind that there are always cutoffs for holiday arrival. There is such a thing as shopping too late.

10. Avoid shipping fees: free shipping is one of the most common holiday promotions. Hunt for codes on freeshipping.org and retailmenot.com. Another option is site-to-store shipping at Walmart, Payless, L.L. Bean, and Sears, among others. Coupons can also be applied where applicable.

So there you have it. Some excellent advice and a slew of resources provided by senior consumer reporter, Kelli Grant of smartmoney.com. I found all this in the 2010 December edition of Good Housekeeping and it has been my favorite issue ever. (Definitely not one I will rip apart for my recipe project – oh my, remember that post? Someday I will finish that project.)

I can never understand those people who gleefully announce that they have finished all their Christmas shopping by July. Maybe it’s cheaper, maybe it’s easier, who knows, but where’s the fun in that? To me, part of enjoying the entire season is the shopping. I think the proof is in the pudding. You don’t have to spend a fortune in December to get all your holiday shopping done. Oh that reminds me…COUPONS! You will notice that RedPlum and Super Saver and the other coupon distributors never put inserts in the Sundays following a holiday, but definitely clip pre-holiday. It’s the best time to sneak in extra savings. Especially this time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas when high in demand items are more likely to have a coupon, such as flour, sugar, gravy mixes, stuffing mixes, even turkeys. You get the idea.

Enjoy your shopping days. Don’t sweat the small stuff. And remember the real reason for the season.

“If it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

                                                                                                      ~ Romans 12:8  NIV

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