Christmas Shopping: Proceed With Caution (Part I)

We all need to prepare for onslaught of Christmas sales that are slowly creeping upon us. It's nice to save money on gifts, but don't blindly surrender yourself to the siren call of those "Sale" signs and prices. It's very easy to go from saving money to losing lots of it if you're not careful. Part I of this series is on shopping preparations.

Before you embark on your shopping expedition, really sit down and plan things out.
-First, make a list of people you need to get gifts for.
-Second, think about what to get for each person.
  • Set a budget for each person.
  • If a person has let it be known that he/she likes Widget V. 2.0 and you can afford to buy that, that's great, problem solved.
  • However, if Widget V. 2.0 exceeds your budget, think about alternatives. In order to do that, think about that person's personalities and interests. From that, think of a number of specific items that might fit the bill. It's good to have a list instead of just one product, since you want to be flexible when you hit the stores. The exact thingus you want might not be available or may be too expensive, so having backups is important. Also, you might want to consider bundling a few cheap items together. Having a bundle of cheaper (but not cheapy) stuff looks more impressive than a dinky yet expensive item.
  • Plan on getting a few gender-neutral extra gifts in case someone unexpectedly gives you something.

-Third, do some "comparative shopping." You definitely want to get the best deals.

  • Do some research online to supplement knowledge gleaned from Black Friday print ads. Sites such as BargainsLA provide information on sales at smaller local retailers and wholesalers that don't necessarily advertise in newspapers.
  • Just because something is on "sale" doesn't mean it's the lowest price possible. I heard that some sneaky vendors actually mark things up.
  • Some sales items are not of the best quality, especially clothing. The name-brand label may be there, but not the name-brand quality if it's a "special value" secondary line. Some things may have started out as high-quality, but with rough handling from the crowd, things might change. When you get to the store, don't forget to inspect the merchandise thoroughly.
  • Certain stores may have some superlow price on one item just to lure you in to make you pay higher prices for other things, so don't be fooled. Keep this in mind for the next step.

-Fourth, figure out how many things you can get at each store and plan a schedule. Since certain items are available at the superlow price for just a few hours, and because crowds = parking problems, you need to plan wisely. There's no time to fly from one location to another.

  • A balancing test may be involved--ask yourself how important it is to get a particular item, if you're willing to get one expensive item for cheap at the expense of not getting 3 things, or vice versa. That'll determine retail locations to hit.
  • Make it a team effort. If your family has more than one car, send people to different places to get different things. Have multiple people in each car--you just know there will be a lot of circling the parking lot looking for a space, so have one person drive and the other(s) getting dropped off to shop.

-Finally, don't forget online stores. If you can get stuff online, it'll save you a lot of time. That will maximize the chance of scoring stuff that are only available at brick-and-mortar establishments.

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