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12 tips of Christmas shopping

Every good shopper knows that the list is an essential tool. It's like a map, and without it you will flounder, directionless, frustrated. Armed with a list outlining people and potential gift ideas, you can accomplish great things, whether shopping is your forte or your foe.

In the spirit of the season, Bankrate is happy to bring you some tips and tricks to survive the season of giving, and turn holiday shopping into a pleasure, or at the very least, a bearable task.

Tip #1 is to create a list, outlining the people you'd like to shop for and potential gift ideas.

Tip #2 is to scratch several names off that list with a simple phone call or e-mail. If there are people on your list who are a chore to buy for or a ridiculous exercise in spending money on useless items, put an end to it this year. Chances are those people will be equally delighted not to have to buy for you. Suggest that in an effort to reduce consumption, save the Earth or get back to the real meaning of Christmas, that you and your cousin/office mate/old friend/neighbour stop exchanging gifts. To soften the blow, you might want to suggest a get-together or making a small charitable donation in each other's name.

Which bring us to Tip #3: Give to those who actually need it. Instead of exchanging gifts among children (it's the parents who usually do the buying anyway), friends or family, pool your money and sponsor a family in need or simply make a one-time charitable donation. Whether it's buying a goat and school supplies for children in a far-off land or doing something closer to home by supporting the local food bank or homeless shelter, there are so many better things we can spend our money on than another scented candle, plastic toy or mug filled with sachets of hot chocolate.

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People will embrace the idea -- it's a win-win situation for everyone. Most charities invite online donations via their websites, or visit the likes of Canadahelps.org, which enables visitors to chose from and donate to a variety of charities in one swoop. Another cool feature is their Charity Gift Card, which you can purchase in any denomination and pass on to someone on your list. They get to visit the site and chose the charity they'd like to contribute to. It's a fabulous way to teach children about philanthropy and do some good at the same time.

Of course, there are times when a gift is a must, and Tip #4 is a good place to start: online shopping. If you haven't embraced it yet, you are alone; well not quite alone, but according to the latest stats, Canadians spend $13 billion a year online, and that number is growing every year. 

It's easy to see why: the web is a fabulous resource for bargains, reviews and hard-to-find items. It's also the anti-shopper's safe haven -- you can slip into your pyjamas, pour yourself some eggnog and start shopping. If you have that list handy, you should be able to do it in one sitting. You can buy anything online these days, but remember to double-check shipping times and ensure all websites are secure so as to protect your credit card information.

In addition, a number of aggregate-type sites are making the process even easier. While most retailers allow for purchasing right from their own sites, several websites, such as CyberShopping.ca, Canadian Internet Shopping or Shopping.ca are online malls that gather retailers in one place for easy browsing. For something completely different, VirtualMall.ca is a great source for original Canadian art and unique arts and crafts items.

Another great resource is Wishabi a relatively new site that does much of the work for you, comparing deals among retailers and converting U.S. buys to Canadian dollars and factoring in shipping so you can see if you're actually getting a bargain. The site lists more than 350 retailers, including Canadian Tire, HBC, Apple and Costco.

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-- Posted: Dec. 18, 2009
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