From Consumer Reports
---- — Overall, holiday shopping can be stressful — from choosing the right gifts, sticking to a budget, avoiding the last minute-scramble and more. The December 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from Consumer Reports, is stuffed with holiday advice that can help shoppers select the perfect gift, wrap it like a pro, save on holiday purchases and more.
“Our goal is to bring more joy to the holiday gift-buying season by helping shoppers make smart choices,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “We wanted this issue to be a one-stop shop to help them fine-tune their holiday shopping and entertaining game plans.”
Here are some tips on how to shop smarter — not harder:
• Get last-minute gift help. Last-minute shoppers have two things going for them — deep discounts from retailers hoping to clear out their inventory and new ways to make gifting easy and even automatic. Feeling stumped about what to buy for the people left on your list? ShopSmart suggests trying a gift-finder tool for inspiration, such as the one at Gifts.com (gifts.com/finder).
• Avoid shipping fees. More stores are giving shoppers the option of ordering items online and picking their purchase up at a local store — eliminating shipping charges. Best Buy, Finish Line and Target are among the retailers offering this perk.
• Cash in coins for gift cards. Coinstar kiosks won’t charge a fee when users opt for a gift card instead of cash at a bunch of participating retailers. New merchants include Applebee’s, GameStop, Home Depot and Southwest Airlines.
GIFT CARD GOTCHAS
A gift card seems like the perfect option as a last-minute gift or for someone who’s hard to shop for, but some still have huge drawbacks; here are some things to keep in mind:
• Purchase fees. Retailer gift cards usually do not charge purchase fees, but shoppers may be charged around $3 to $5 for bank-issued cards that feature logos such as MasterCard or Visa.
• Evaporating value. An inactivity fee can’t be charged unless a card hasn’t been used for 12 months. But the fees can kick in as long as they don’t exceed one per month.
• Lost card headaches. Gift card holders may be out of luck if they lose them. Some issuers will replace a lost card for a fee. Target and Wal-Mart will offer a free replacement with the original receipt.
DIY FANCY GIFT WRAP
ShopSmart shares some budget-friendly tricks for keeping wrapping costs down from paper artist Mollie Green, author of Sweet Paper Crafts (Chronicle Books, 2013), using a few basic craft supplies:
• Load up on paper. Plain metallic and solid-colored papers are sold for a reasonable price at craft stores — about 20 cents to $1 a foot, which can save at least $1 a foot over high-end papers.
• Skip wallet-busting ribbons and bows. Shoppers can buy a giant roll of red and white baker’s twine for as little as $5. Or check out the sale bins at craft stores for yarn, rickrack, ball fringe and other inexpensive ribbon alternatives.
• Save on gift toppers. Look for inexpensive knickknacks to tie on gifts at the dollar store, such as small, shiny ornaments, toy Santas and candy canes.
SET A GAME PLAN FOR HOLIDAY SAVINGS
ShopSmart’s eight-step game plan will help holiday shoppers stick to their budgets and avoid some of the worst holiday shopping headaches. Sample steps include:
• Make a list. List each person, gift and budget. Promise to avoid impulse purchases. Consider apps to create shopping lists, such as Smart Shopping List a la Carte (Apple), so the list is always handy.
• Scope out sales before shopping. Subscribe to email newsletters from favorite retailers. Use one email address to corral all alerts. FatWallet.com does an excellent job of putting sale notices all in one spot.
• Don’t bank on Black Friday. Though discounts may be tempting and shoppers can certainly get some great deals, Black Friday isn’t necessarily a sweet spot for sales. ShopSmart price studies have found that when it comes to top-rated items such as cameras and TVs, prices actually dipped to their lowest point after Cyber Monday.