4 ways to avoid panic shopping

Instead of blowing your budget and stressing out, make the countdown to Christmas happy

Published: December 20, 2013 04:30 PM
Panic shopping right before the holidays could leave you broke.

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and other hype-filled holiday-shopping opportunities have come and gone, and your remaining buying days are dwindling—fast!. So it’s understandable if you’re getting a bit anxious about ticking items off your gift list. You’re not alone: According to the National Retail Federation, with one week to go before Christmas, 32 million would-be shoppers hadn’t yet started the process.

No matter the reason for your last-minute shopping—you wanted to hold out for deeper discounts or you were too busy to shop—you want to avoid panic shopping at all costs.

For one, succumbing to panic shopping can hit you hard in the wallet. "When shoppers panic, they throw money at the problem and often overspend to get a gift—any gift—in time for the holidays," Jason Alderman, senior director of global financial education at Visa, said.

What’s more, panic shopping can be overwhelming, turning holiday cheer into chaos. David Lewis-Hodgson, a neuropsychologist and founder of Mindlab International, a marketing consultancy, suggests the sheer number of people thronging the stores can set off the primal fight-or-flight survival mechanism. Competition for the last PlayStation 4 or Game of Thrones box set can send even the sanest consumer—let alone a near-desperate midnight shopper—over the edge.

Here are four straightforward tips to navigate the next few days with calm and purpose befitting a Zen master and not a panic shopper.

1. Put it in writing. Jotting down your budget (you did make one, yes?) and a list of recipients will help keep you focused on the task at hand. Staying true to the list is also a way to resist those free-with-purchase offers and other impulse-buy promotions designed to make you part with more of your money.

2. Keep it simple. Forgo the blockbuster present in favor of items that won’t provoke either buyer's remorse or receiver's resentment. A laser-guided pizza cutter, a titanium spork, and a subscription to the Hosiery-of-the-Month Club might seem novel and/or necessary but will likely end up as a never-forgotten source of holiday embarrassment. Play it safe and consult our Holiday & Gift Guide for smart choices.

3. Work the Web. A fellow procrastinator, David Rogers, author of "The Network is Your Customer: 5 Strategies to Thrive in the Digital Age," said that his holiday shopping takes place in three stages: “Denial. Avoidance. Amazon.” Shopping online spares you from parking-lot rage and long queues at checkout. Not only is the always-open Web convenient, but because online outlets aren’t subject to the overhead costs of brick-and-mortar stores, you can also frequently find merchandise at a lower price than at their physical counterparts.

4. Shop smarter. If you do opt to brave the mall, paying for your purchases in cash rather than credit can go a long way toward helping you stick to your budget. Remember to make full use of mobile shopping tools to comparison shop and find the best price. (Find our picks of the best free Android and iOS apps.

Should circumstances beyond your control—for instance, shipping is delayed by inclement weather or gifts are back-ordered—thwart your last-minute shopping efforts, you might find some comfort in knowing that 5 percent of total holiday spending happens after Dec. 25.

—Leslie Clagett

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