10 last-minute holiday shopping tips
Pare down your shopping list
Remove all but the most important people on your gift list—just immediate family and closest friends. For everyone else, you can agree not to exchange gifts, or make yourself a promise to surprise them with a treat when they least expect it: any other time of the year.
Bring a shopping list
Wandering around a crowded store, hoping inspiration will strike you, is a tremendous time-waster. Before you hit the mall, decide on a specific gift for each person—or choose a theme, like sweaters, sports equipment or art supplies—and keep shopping time to a minimum.
Shop early—or late
When holiday shopping days start to dwindle, eliminate the competition of other shoppers. Most stores offer extended early-morning and late-evening hours during holiday time, and these non-peak shopping times offer better access to merchandise plus shorter checkout lines.
Stick to a budget
When time is running out and you start to feel desperate, common sense can go out the window. Keep a rein on those post-holiday credit card statements by deciding on a budget for each person—and sticking to it.
Clip those coupons
Check newspapers and web sites for coupons you can clip or download. You’ll save money on popular items, and you can also find gift ideas you hadn’t considered.
Get lots of rest
Holiday shopping as an endurance event? You betcha. Miles of walking, jostling crowds and aisles of tempting merchandise require a sharp mind, an iron will and lots of energy. Make sure you’re caught up on sleep so you feel ready for your last-minute shopping adventure.
Wear lightweight layers
Keep in mind that most stores are heated like office buildings, so salespeople are comfortable while customers in coats are sweating. Plan ahead for marathon shopping by leaving your bulky coat at home, and dressing in light layers you can add or remove as needed
Bring water and snacks, or plan food breaks
When you’re dehydrated and hungry, you’re more likely to make bad, and costly, last-minute decisions. Plan ahead by bringing your own snacks and beverages, or treat yourself to a nice lunch or dinner midway through your shopping expedition.
If possible, leave the kids at home
Last-minute holiday shopping can tax even the most avid shopper, and kids rarely have the interest, energy or attention spans required to make it fun. So unless the kids are buying gifts for others (and if so, keep the shopping trip short) leave them with a sitter, or take advantage of in-store play areas.
Be thrifty with time and money
A great gift doesn't have to be new. Shop thrift stores, flea markets and consignment shops for unique gifts you won't find at the mall. And the beauty of thrift stores is the volume and variety you'll find: you can do all your holiday shopping in one handy location, and you won't pay department store prices.
Sharon O'Brien is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon -- and a notorious last-minute shopper.