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12 tips of Christmas shopping

The Internet is also the best source for Tip #5: Find a good deal. Whether you're shopping online or visiting bricks and mortar retailers, do your homework and save scads of money. Wishabi is a fabulous source for the best deals of the moment -- it actually allows you to follow an item and alerts you when the best price comes available -- while sites, such as RedFlagDeals.com or SmartCanucks.ca post sales, freebies and crazy deals from countless sources.

If you're not into the hunt, then perhaps you'll take solace in Tip #6: gift cards. Gift cards are essentially money, but with a bit more thought behind them. Gift cards can be personal, but best of all, they make for a hassle-free shopping experience. These days, you don't even have to visit the store from which you want to source a gift card. Thanks to the surge of kiosks, you can gift someone a spa visit, concert tickets, a dinner out, a shopping spree or even a weekend getaway by popping in to Shoppers Drug Mart or Loblaws, both of which feature a wide selection of cards for retailers galore. Or, visit Giftcertificates.ca to buy gifts for a selection of leading Canadian retailers.

If you're time starved, but still want to embrace the flurry and excitement of holiday shopping, consider Tip #7: Make the most of your lunch hour by turning it into shopping hour. There are a few tacts to take: Armed with your list, hit the mall and local shops in frenzied swoops, grabbing everything you can during each visit. Make sure you leave enough time for lineups because chances are you won't be the only person using this shopping strategy. You can go the slightly more refined route by tackling a different store each day, thereby reducing stress and allowing you to zero in on one purchase at a time, then get back to the office and gobble down your lunch.

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Or better yet, eat and shop. Tip #8 is a combo of four, five and seven, which involves using your lunch hour to shop online (because we know you'd never do it during working hours). Again, if you have that list in hand, you may well be able to complete the whole thing as you scarf down your tuna sandwich and carrot sticks.

Another solution for those who simply don't have enough hours in the day is Tip #9: Shop in the dead of night. Select Walmart, Zellers, Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw Real Canadian Superstore outlets to name a few are open 24 hours in the days that lead up to Christmas. If you so choose, you can print photo greeting cards and buy toys, stocking stuffers and the Christmas turkey at 3 a.m.: It's a sure-fire way to avoid the crowds and expedite lineups.

Tip #10 is an entirely different approach: Shop local. Give your shopping a theme this year by vowing only to purchase items from local retailers. Grab a coffee from your local barista, arm yourself with a stash of reusable shopping bags and take to the streets. Many neighbourhood retail associations host special shopping nights compete with discounts. Strolling the neighbourhood on a sunny afternoon, popping in and out of shops, getting to know local retailers and saying "hi" to the neighbours is a far more festive experience than battling faceless crowds at the mall and fighting for the last parking spot.

Tip #11 isn't much fun, but it's worth repeating: Devise a budget and stick to it. You don't want to deal with the holiday shopping burden for months to come as you struggle to pay off those credit cards.

As for Tip #12, it's tempting to say start early, but as you're reading this in December, it's already a bit late for that. With that in mind, don't panic. It's only shopping -- take a breath, strategize and get to it. Start with the list, and the rest will follow.

Michelle Warren is a freelance writer living in Toronto.

-- Posted: Dec. 18, 2009
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