As folks head into the home stretch for holiday shopping, taking a few minutes to slow down and make a plan could help keep them safe, sane and on budget.
A few tips from Marianne Bickle, director of the Center for Retailing at the University of South Carolina:
Stay on budget
The first step to staying within your budget, of course, is to know what it is. Have a list with specific and realistic amounts you want to spend on each person. Tally up what you spend as you go along – and don’t forget to include taxes, cards and gift wrapping in the equation.
If you can, leave the credit cards at home and take only the cash you know you can spend. But make sure not to “flash your cash” when you pull your wallet out to pay, Bickle said, because thieves look for easy targets. Shoppers also could write a check so they have to physically write down – and recognize – the amount they are spending (rather than just swiping a card). Or, take a friend who will keep you in check when you try to spend too much.
Label and lump all of the presents you have bought in an open area in your home, rather than stashing them in a closet. Having them out in the open will help you remember how much you already have bought, Bickle said. “If you put everything in a closet, you’re going to forget and you’re going to overspend.”
We all know the first rule in keeping your haul safe as you shop. Say it with me: Don’t leave presents out in the open in your car.
But it’s also important to keep your wallet safe while you shop. “There will be pickpockets out there; be cautious and be careful,” Bickle said.
Finally, forget social media. “Do not put your gifts on Facebook,” Bickle said, and don’t post where and when you will be traveling for the holidays. Even if you think your information is private, it’s not hard for criminals to track postings and target your home. “If you’re Tweeting about it or Facebooking about it, that’s not a good thing because all the thieves are looking at it.”
Minimize the materialism
“Homemade gifts are great,” Bickle said, especially if you are a crafty person. Bickle, for example, is making monogrammed placemats for a relative in Florida to match her kitchen with material she already had in the house. She also is baking homemade goodies for other friends and putting them in tins she got at steep discounts after Christmas last year.
Even if you can’t knit or bake, you can offer your time and help to friends and neighbors. Raking a neighbor’s leaves or babysitting for a single mom you know so she can go Christmas shopping is sometimes the best gift a person can get. “Services are phenomenal,” Bickle said. “People are so busy.”
Sometimes, people get wrapped up in who can give or get the most presents, but “when you’re looking at what can you afford, keep in mind … what it’s all about,” Bickle said.
Wrap it up early
The earlier you finish your shopping, the less likely you are to overspend – if you can resist going back to the store for one last thing, Bickle said.
“Really try and be done by the 20th,” she said. “The closer you get to Christmas, the more you spend and the more you spend on your credit card. … People just get hyped up. They get excited.”
And if you are planning to buy gift cards, make sure it is for a store where the person will shop. More than half of all gift cards get lost or gather dust and never are used, Bickle said.
Finally, keep all receipts, no matter how sure you are that you’re buying the perfect gift. If it has to be returned after Christmas, especially in the case of clothing, it could be marked down by as much as half. In most cases, the recipient will need a receipt to get the full value that you paid.