5 stress-less holiday shopping tips to save you time and money

(BPT) - Each year, before the autumn leaves even have a chance to fall, the holiday shopping season arrives. The cost of holiday gifts - not to mention, food and decorations - can add up quickly. Here are five money- and time-saving tips for surviving the holiday shopping season with your budget and sanity intact.

1. Make a list and set a realistic budget.

Create a refined list of your expected holiday purchases. Include the gifts you'd like to purchase for those on your shopping list and a budget for how much you are willing to spend. Don't forget to include the people you are planning on giving holiday tips to, like your babysitter, hairstylist, dog walker and doorman. Make sure to also factor in easily forgotten items that can quickly put you over-budget, like wrapping paper and any holiday cards that you will be sending out. Creating a shopping list keeps you focused so you aren't tempted by door-buster deals and sales on items that you don't need, while setting a budget for your list will help you monitor overall spending.

2. Start shopping early.

Start your holiday shopping as soon as possible to give yourself enough time to shop around for deals. It's easier to stay within your budget when you're not waiting until the last minute to cross those last few gifts off of your list.

3. Use gift cards to stay on budget and save money.

According to a recent study by Blackhawk Network, the majority of people surveyed (89 percent) plan to purchase at least one gift card this winter and agree that gift cards are easier to purchase than traditional holiday gifts. Gift cards can also be one of the best ways to stay on budget and cash in on special promotions. For example, if you shop at a particular retail store regularly - especially during the holiday season - consult your budgeted shopping list and use a merchant-specific gift card for everything you are planning to purchase at that store. If you aren't purchasing a large number of items from any one store in particular, use MasterCard or Visa-branded cards to help you stay on track with your spending. Often, during peak holiday shopping months, retailers try to capitalize on the increased foot traffic with extra gift card freebies on higher dollar gift card purchases. For example, buy a $100 gift card, get a $25 gift card for free. Purchasing gift cards at grocery, big-box or convenience stores can also earn you extra rewards and loyalty points to save on other items, like gas. Savvy shoppers can buy higher dollar gift cards to cash-in on loyalty points and promotions and use the gift card to make sure they are staying on-budget.

4. Centralize your shopping.

Holiday shopping can be exhausting and time-consuming. Whether you typically get caught up in the holiday hoopla and run out of time to cross everyone off of your list, or just prefer value and convenience, one perfect way to knock out all of your shopping in one fell swoop is to look to your local grocery or big-box store. As you fill your cart with food for your pending holiday feast or get your home ready with holiday décor, you can join nearly half (43 percent) of consumers that Blackhawk surveyed who will also pick up gifts for the whole family by purchasing gift cards at a local supermarket.

5. Avoid shipping costs.

While more and more holiday shoppers are looking to trade crowded stores for the convenience of shopping online, they worry about having to factor shipping costs into their holiday shopping budget. Check for promo codes often during the holidays, or you can always wait for Free Shipping Day on Dec. 16. During November and December, it's not uncommon to see retailers offering short-term discounts - most commonly, free shipping - throughout the season. Another no-cost delivery option that is quickly increasing in popularity among gift-givers due to ease-of-use, personalization options and electronic delivery are egift cards, or electronic gift cards. These eGift cards are delivered via email free of charge and can be redeemed by printing it out to use at the store or using the gift code online. Many stores now also offer the option to order items online and pick them up in the store for no charge. At the start of the holiday shopping season last year, nearly half of consumers had recently taken advantage of the "buy online, pickup in store" option. You may have to brave the parking lot, but this option allows you to get in-and-out quickly by skipping the long checkout lines and avoiding crowded aisles.


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