More than one-third of consumers have already finished most of their holiday shopping, a figure released by the American Research Group on Monday that's particularly irritating to procrastinators. Just because you waited until the last minute, however, doesn't mean you have to pay top price for the dregs of merchandise.
In an effort to reduce their inventories further, some stores are dropping prices as Christmas approaches, so it sometimes pays to wait. Still, it's a lot more stressful and shoppers are more likely to grab the first thing they see, regardless of price. Avoid overshooting your budget by following these six tips for last-minute holiday shopping.
1. Keep Comparing Prices
Stressed shoppers will often pay whatever a retailer charges for an item just to cross it off their gift list. However, it's important to comparison shop even when you're in a hurry, which is why sites like PriceGrabber.com are so helpful this time of year. Simply enter the product name and the site locates a store near you with the lowest price. Better yet, get notified via FreePriceAlerts, a free browser download that updates you via e-mail or mobile app when your desired item drops in price.
2. Skip the Hottest Toys
The odds of finding a Nerf Vortex or a Sesame Street Let's Rock Elmo rank up there with winning the lottery. Even if you could locate the object of your child's most expensive affection, stores will likely have jacked up prices as they know shoppers are desperate.
3. Last-minute Lifesavers
The secret to successful procrastination is making it seem like you plan things well in advance. Gift cards are a go-to solution for anyone facing a last-minute gifting challenge, especially now that they're available in printable, e-mail and mobile formats from popular merchants. You can also find printable gift wrap for small purchases from sites like gift-wrapit.com for last-minute packaging.
4. Read Your Junk Mail
Remember all those merchant e-newsletters you receive throughout the year? Well this is the time to start reading them. Online retailers usually include coupon codes that allow you to score great last-minute deals.
5. Seek Out Free Gifts
Victoria's Secret is making 100,000 fans very happy with free gift cards given away on Facebook each day through Dec. 15. American Express cardholders who spend $25 or more at select stores are receiving a surprise gift by email through their "Gift Chain Program" (while supplies last). Keep an eye out for such special deals as they're all over the place this year.
6. Take Advantage of Free Shipping Day
It's not too late to order gifts online. Scheduled in its fourth year for Dec. 16, Free Shipping Day allows procrastinators to shop from over 2,000 merchants with free shipping by Christmas Eve. You'll find both big-name and small business merchants at FreeShippingDay.com, along with many great deals.
Guest poster Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. Her goal is to teach consumers how to live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. Andrea has appeared on The Today Show, ABC News NOW, NBC Nightly News, FOX, MSNBC, CW and been quoted in SmartMoney.com, Kiplinger Personal Finance and many others.