5 reasons procrastinators are screwed at Christmas.

thEvery year we see some kind of commercial about last-minute holiday shopping. Often it’s the stereotypical dude rushing through the store on Dec. 24 (because apparently all men are clueless bumblers when it comes to the holidays).

Oh, you’re all out of Appropriate Gifts? I’m sure my wife/kids/parents will LOVE a set of car air fresheners or this mega-hot salsa collection!

No doubt these commercials sell lot of, well, whatever the sponsor is trying to sell.

We also see humorous essays about parents trying to get that season’s Must-Have Toy, or folks scrambling to track down the one thing that spouse/partner truly wanted. Usually the item is found on eBay or Craigslist at a vastly inflated price – but hey, it’s Christmas, right?

The stress, disappointment and overpayment are so preventable. All it takes is just a little bit of planning. Just a tiny bit. Those who don’t plan are likely to have their pockets picked every 25th of December — and they may lose out in other ways, too.

I understand that procrastination is a thing, at least as it applies to being a freelance writer. But people who wait until the last minute might hurt budgets along with feelings because they might buy the wrong item, or pay too much for the right one.

Mistake #1: Believing that overnight shipping will save them

Procrastination is an especially bad idea because of what happened last year. A whole lot of packages weren’t delivered despite being guaranteed to arrive, so stores are being a little more careful. The National Retail Federation says that about 70 percent of the merchants offering free shipping will make Dec. 19 the cutoff for guaranteed-by-Christmas delivery. Only about one in five are considering offering upgraded expedited shipping.

So yeah, it might still arrive on time. But it might not.

Shoppers should also keep in mind that some things can’t be bought in person. My daughter was fond of a jewelry storage rack at Anthropologie, but it was online-only. If you wait to buy these things at the last minute, they might not get there in time for Christmas.

Or suppose you want something one-of-a-kind from Etsy. Is it realistic to expect that you can order it on Dec. 23 and get it the next day?

Possibly – but you’re gonna pay for it. If you’re using the U.S. Postal Service, Dec. 20 is the latest you can mail for guaranteed before-Christmas delivery of first class and Priority Mail. For packages mailed on Dec. 23 you have to use Priority Mail Express. (Hint: It costs more.)

Mistake #2: Not doing due diligence

People who want to buy gifts like smartphone or televisions but don’t do even a little bit of research on a site like Cnet.com are just asking to get taken for a ride.

Without a little homework, you may wind up buying a device that’s either too bare-bones or so loaded with bells and whistles that it bewilders the recipient.

Perhaps you’ll believe the salesperson who assures you this model is perfect for your middle-schooler/spouse/grandma, never knowing that it’s actually a lackluster performer that the store simply wants to unload. (Well, your middle-schooler will let you know.)

When my daughter was on disability and didn’t have two nickels to rub together, she joined the MyPoints rewards program and saved up credits to buy an MP3 player. Abby made it a point to research the technology (again, Cnet makes this easy) so that when the Staples gift card finally arrived she knew exactly what to buy. No salesperson could talk her into buying more — or less — than she wanted.

Knowledge is power.

Mistake #3: Ignoring the labels

Some of those Black Friday specials are off-brand technology or items created specifically to be loss leaders. In other words, they’re of inferior quality. So if you see “50-inch LED television, $200” you might think you’re getting a heck of a deal. Not necessarily.

Once again, sites like Cnet or Consumer Reports can clue you in as to whether an item is reliable. So easy to look this up if you allow yourself even a little time on the front end.

With non-tech stuff, take a close look at how well (or cheaply) the item is made. There may be a reason those yoga pants are only a few bucks.

Mistake #4: Assuming what they want will be there

Some people are very specific about their gift lists. If the only thing your kid wants is a certain Lego playset and it’s not available when you hit the toy store on Dec. 23…Well, it’s not the end of the world. But you could have avoided the disappointment.

When your child makes out his list, how hard is it to go to a price comparison website, figure out the best deal and buy it? Potential problem prevented. (Two good ones are PriceGrabber.com or, for Amazon, CamelCamelCamel.)

If you’re on a budget or if you’re just a deal hound, it’s not hard to set up a price alert at one of those sites. You’ll be notified when it goes on sale. Toys tend to be cheapest about 10 days to two weeks before Christmas, but you run the risk of it being unavailable To avoid missing out on a really popular plaything you should probably buy it early in the game. Just use the best deal you find from one of those price comparison sites.

This applies to non-toy gifts as well. If you wait too long and the grownup present you wanted to buy is sold out, you’ll need to substitute something else. Are you going to search the store in a methodical way, or are you going to grab the first thing you see?

This might or might not work out. One of those Hickory Farms gift packs might be just fine for your grandparents, or they might have developed some dietary issues you didn’t know about. (This happened to me.) Or maybe your boyfriend’s father would find a folding poker table and chips to be a lot of fun. But he may also be a guy who hates card games.

Mistake #5: Paying too much

If what you were looking for can’t be found, the first thing you grab might cost more, and maybe a lot more, than your original choice. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Do it enough times, though, and your credit card starts to singe around the edges.

Toys get cheaper the closer we get to the holiday, but some items don’t. You might luck out with a sale, but you can’t rely on that.

You know those loss leaders available from Black Friday through Cyber Monday? They’ll still be sold after Dec. 1, but they’re going to go back up to the famous “manufacturer’s suggested retail price” (which is itself a crock). Even a small bit of planning would let you get, say, bath towels for $2 each instead of $5.99.

Which is where the Black Friday apps come in, like the ones from Brad’s Deals, Fat Wallet or Retail Me Not. Punch in what you want and the app tells you where to find them at the best price.

That doesn’t necessarily mean online. An app can let you know where that K-cup coffeemaker is cheapest, and you could choose to drive there and buy it. Or you could order it online through a cash-back site like Mr. Rebates or Extrabux, using any discount codes offered, and then go pick it up. Only amateurs pay retail.

Readers: What are your shopping habits like? Shopping throughout the year, doing most of it between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, or dashing through the mall a couple of days before Dec. 25?

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  1. Well, Donna, it’s this way. In my family we have no young kids or anyone in college. We decided to take all that money and donate it to a needy family or a cause in which we all believe. Then we celebrate Christmas with church and a family dinner. Works for us! No hassles, no shopping, no bills coming due in January. When we do have kids, we will go back to buying, but we will still do the charitable giving, the church, and the family dinner.

  2. Already bought my own Christmas gift last week, (Nutri Bullet I’d been wanting for a long time) on sale at Target this week and a gift card back with purchase- which made it the same as the lowest price I saw on a Black Friday website- bought it online through Ebates and got free shipping! Didn’t even have to get in the car!
    And, every time I get those $5 or $10 Target gift cards for my purchase, I mail them to my neice who’s in her first year of grad school and needs them more than I do!

  3. I shop throughout the year and avoid the stores as much as possible from Halloween till New Years. If I have to get a gift card from a store (Walmart usually) I go in at 4 am and am in and out in 3 shakes of a lamb’s tail. No crowds at that hour either!

  4. I’ve already got most of my shopping done. Mostly because I cannot stand shopping during “the season.” All the crowds make me feel overwhelmed(haha I guess my introvert is showing).

  5. Throughout the year, I make notes on my calendar with what people say they want, like, or need. Even tho I usually don’t start till Thanksgiving week, I have a budget and I have ideas. Very much better than nothing!

  6. When I worked in a restaurant in a mall, the guys were not bumbling along on the 24th. They had been sent out, told to stay out till X time and finish their shopping. Most finished in less than an hour, having a good idea what they were looking for (maybe not the best price but a good item) and spent the rest of the time (and money) on drinking, until they could go home. It was one of the best income makers for me, because the guys tipped like bar and some even over tipped for christmas. I think guys know how to shop!

  7. Punkin Pye

    I try to shop all through the summer for Christmas presents. I pick up great deals that way. I started late this year and didn’t get to start shopping till September. I am having a great year getting Amazon ad Walmart gift cards with Bing and surveys. I’ve gotten a lot of my gifts with this “free” money this year.

    • Donna Freedman

      That’s the way I shop, too. I was finished fairly early this year, in part because I kept an eye out and in part because so much of my “buying” was going to be in the form of gift cards from rewards programs.
      The Financial Blogger Conference is also a source of small gifts/stocking stuffers, courtesy of the Expo Hall. One of the items this year was a tennis-ball-sized version of the Magic Eight Ball; my daughter gave me hers, so I can put one in each nephew’s stocking.
      You mentioned Bing and surveys; am assuming you also do Swagbucks? I write about it often enough that most readers know about it. Just in case, here’s my referral link:


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