Alison Griffiths

We may joke about them, but last-minute shoppers are actually in the majority. Research shows that about 75 per cent of the population still has gifts to buy heading into the last days of Christmas shopping.

Those who take it down to the wire often have little choice. Families, friends and busy work schedules equal too many presents to buy and too little time. I’ve been there when my children were young.

There are also a wide variety of good reasons for last-minute shopping. Some wait for their Christmas bonus. Others are counting on eleventh-hour price discounts. Still others find it less stressful to do it all at the last minute rather than string out holiday shopping from Halloween to Christmas Eve.

Then there are the chronic procrastinators, estimated to be up to 20 per cent of the population by Joseph Ferrari, author of Still Procrastinating: The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. These folks will be last minuters no matter what.

Since 75 per cent means most of us, here are my nine survival tips for surviving last-minute holiday shopping.

1. Early birds get worms

Arrive when the stores open, especially this weekend. On my last-minute forays I’m always pleasantly surprised by how quiet things are first thing in the morning. You’ll also get more attentive service. By lunch things are heating up and by evening it’s a zoo.

Arriving early also usually means getting a better parking space, saving you time and energy toting parcels.

2. Laser targeting

Proceed with the precision of a military campaign. Hit the stores with specific objectives in mind. This is vital if you have children in tow. Make a list of stores to hit according to their proximity to each other so you aren’t backtracking as you shop.

Have items to be purchased arranged according to store. Sometimes you may have an item recorded multiple times and that will save footsteps if one store doesn’t have it.

Keep the number of stores you’re visiting down to a minimum. After five, most people turn into zombies.

3. Use the magic of the Internet

Do your comparison-shopping online for availability and price. Don’t bother if a store notes there are less than five of your preferred item in stock or call to be certain and have the item set aside. And phone in the morning when you can actually speak to a real person before the New Year dawns.

4. Lists, lists, lists

A gift for every name. Tie for Tony! Brandy for Britta! Do include a second option, especially for popular things. Now prioritize, leaving the easiest to last when your feet are giving out. Easiest may be defined as most readily available or least affected as crowds get heavier. Crossing off items provides a surge of adrenaline, which will help keep you going.

5. No browsing

This is all about survival, not having fun. See Tip # 2.

6. Use leverage

Last minuters can often negotiate, especially in specialty stores or small chains. One strategy is to buy a number of the same item. I got a 20 per cent discount on five candles at a boutique recently. You are often in a strong position as stores are dying to see inventory fly out the door.

7. Beg or bargain for help with kids

Bring a friend or family member to keep the ankle biters distracted while you wait in line. Or divide and conquer. One person takes one child and a list while you head off with the rest. Another option is to babysit while a friend with kids shops, then switch.

8. Use loyalty points

There’s a huge array of items and gift cards available from loyalty programs, but it is too late to get purchases delivered in time for Christmas. Instead, send a note saying it’s on the way. That’s almost as good.

 9. Gift of self is a winner

It’s a bit of a cliché, but a gift of self really does light up the heart of the recipient. Make your offer specific both in terms of date and venue so it doesn’t end up in a drawer with the kids’ dusty IOU’s from years back. For example:

  • To June, mani and pedi, Jan. 12.
  • For Frank, be my guest at bowling, Jan. 6th.
  • Merry Christmas Maria, art gallery tour and tea, Feb 15th.

With a bit of planning you can actually turn the stress of last-minute shopping to your advantage. Keep your cool, be disciplined and you may find you’ll spend less money than if you’d started weeks or months earlier.

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