Despite best efforts, it’s sometimes inevitable to get caught up in the rush of the holiday season and fall behind on holiday shopping.
At least you’re in good company. According to a survey last year by the National Retail Federation, only 12 percent of shoppers had completed their gift purchases by Dec. 12. On top of that, 66 percent of shoppers didn’t plan to purchase their last gift until Dec. 18 or later.
Whether you’ve spent the past month traveling, you’re waiting to score last-minute deals or you’re simply a perennial procrastinator, it’s not too late. Here are some tips to help you find the perfect gift for everyone left on your list without busting your budget.
1. Buy online if you can
The top reason to avoid last-minute holiday shopping never changes: the crowds. Stores are packed, traffic is terrible and what you intended to be a short trip can easily turn into a day-long affair.
Skip the crowds and look online first. Many stores offer expedited shipping (though some may come at a higher cost) to ensure your gifts arrive on time, even up to Dec. 20 or beyond. Amazon Prime customers can take advantage of one- and two-day shipping as well. But don’t risk cutting it too close; order as soon as possible to avoid any delivery issues.
Also double and triple check order deadlines. You don’t want to finalize your purchase only to find out in the confirmation email that delivery is expected on Dec. 27.
2. Save your receipts
One savvy trick that can work in your favor this time of year is taking advantage of price adjustment policies.
Many stores will offer to pay the difference if an item is marked down within a certain number of days after your purchase, says Jeanette Pavini, savings expert at Coupons.com.
“If you are shopping close to Christmas, it’s likely items you purchase will go down in price starting on Dec. 26,” she says. “Most stores just require you to bring in the receipt, not the items, to get the adjustment.”
Remember to read the fine print and make sure the retailer doesn’t adjust or eliminate this policy during the holiday season. And, as always, keep your receipts.
3. Shop the stores and avoid crowds
If you do need to go to a brick-and-mortar store, look for stores that offer extended hours during the holiday season to avoid the crowds. Retailers want to keep your shopping experience as stress-free and enjoyable as possible, so some are making it easier by extending hours and hiring more seasonal staff.
Even if you’re not an early riser, dedicating a day to wake up before dawn to complete your shopping can help you beat the midday rush and raise your chances of scoring low-stock items before they’re gone.
Another way to avoid crowded aisles is in-store pickup options. “It will allow you to shop from home on your computer or phone and head down to the store to grab it once you get the email telling you it’s ready, typically within an hour or two,” says Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com.
4. Look out for Super Saturday
Super Saturday is the last Saturday before Christmas, which is Dec. 22 this year. While this is one of the most popular shopping days all year, it’s also one of your last chances to check off your gift list.
“You’ll find deals on toys, electronics and apparel,” on Super Saturday, says James. Last year’s Super Saturday deals included 20 percent off coupons at Macy’s and Kohl’s, cash-back offers with purchase minimums at Belk, PetSmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods and even a few exclusive offers for early-bird shoppers at stores like J.C. Penney, according to USA Today.
“The discount may come in the form of a coupon,” Pavini says. “So be sure to follow your favorite retailer’s social media. Check in on their Facebook page to find out what they are offering.”
5. Hunt for coupons and clearances
Almost every store you buy from this time of year will have some sort of sale or discount.
“Keep and eye on retailer friends-and-family,” says Kim Miller, chief marketing officer at Ebates. “Keep an eye on the flash sales and the one-day events that typically crop up this time of year as retailers try to move inventory in slightly different ways.”
Online coupon sites and apps, store emails and even print ads can be great resources for these last-minute coupons and flash sales.
“Many popular retailers do their clearance markdowns and add new items to the clearance rack on specific days of the week,” James says, so knowing when stores move inventory can help you score further clearances. In the week leading up to Christmas, for example, he advises shopping stores like Macy’s and Anthropologie on Monday but waiting until Wednesday to go to Best Buy and Saturday for Kohl’s.
6. Take advantage of loyalty programs
Retailers don’t just want you to shop their products this season — they’re also trying to build brand loyalty to have you return throughout the year. As a result, loyalty program sign-up offers and coupon codes may be especially lucrative.
Beware of any programs tied to store credit cards, though. “You don’t want to add more credit card debt to 2019,” Pavini says.
Retail cards are generally not a great deal, so “just open it if you will save a good amount of money and you can pay it off by the due date,” Pavini says.
7. If all else fails, go with gift cards
Gift cards are perfect for procrastinating gift-buyers. And you can even score great deals on them if you shop smart.
“You can actually pay 8 to 20 percent less than the gift card’s face value by using websites like GiftCardGranny.com, CardPool.com, Raise.com and GiftCards.com,” James says.
If you’re looking to give restaurant gift cards, you can find great deals leading up to and even after Christmas. Currently, Benihana is offering a $10 promotional card with every $50 gift card purchase through Dec. 31, and Longhorn Steakhouse has a $5 bonus card deal with every $25 gift card purchase.