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Which Christmas Shopping Strategy Saves Money and Time?

Updated on November 25, 2011
Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom is a keen observer of life. She shares her personal experiences and opinions in helpful and often amusing ways.

It's Black Friday. Do you have your Christmas shopping done? Have you even started? Or are you one of those who waits till the last minute, cramming more gift buying into the final hours of Christmas Eve than is humanly possible?

When it comes to buying gifts for the holidays, everyone's got their tried-and-true strategy. It works for them and can't imagine doing it any other way. But could there actually be a better way to approach the whole Christmas shopping experience?

This hub explores some of the different ways people get their Christmas shopping done and the pros and cons of each.

In describing each shopping strategy, I've made some assumptions about you, the reader/gift buyer. I'm assuming that

a) You do not have an unlimited budget ("money is no object" does not apply)

b) You do not have unlimited time to devote to Christmas shopping

c) You care about your sanity and want to contain, if not minimize, the stress of Christmas shopping

I always welcome alternative solutions. If you have a secret shopping tip not mentioned here, please share it via the comments.


Does the Early Bird Shopper Get the Worm?

We all know them. The people who ask us on October 1st if we're "ready for the holidays" yet. And they don't mean Halloween. The mean Christmas. "Oh yes, I just finished the last of my shopping!" they declare -- as if this is the most natural thing in the world.

I just smile sweetly and respond, "Oh no.Not quite yet. I've still got a few presents to buy." What I really mean by that is, "I don't even want to think about Christmas shopping for at least two months (you freak)."

Although I can't personally relate, I can admire the Early Bird Shopper. It's wise to be an all-year-round shopper. Meaning, if it's May and you see something you know would be perfect for Aunt Sally, the smart thing is to buy it on the spot. You know you'll never find it again, especially not six months later. Seize the bargain, as they say.

Pros and Cons of Early Bird Shopping

There is sound financial wisdom to buying presents early. It's a lot easier to budget (and stick to your budget). You can spread out your purchases -- and your payments -- over a series of months. By the time Christmas hits, your gifts are in hand and paid off. While everyone else is heading into a January money hangover, you'll be in great shape.

My only concern with the early bird strategy (aside from the fact I could never in a million years follow it myself) is does it save money on each gift? Probably so. Today, with retailers offering a plethora of sales for other Fall holidays (Labor Day, Veterans Day, etc.), there's no tradeoff involved.

Black Friday Ninja Shopping

Is it me, or has Black Friday officially overtaken Thanksgiving? How many ads have we seen on TV touting "Black Friday" shopping? How many circulars were in yesterday's newspaper? Not to mention the dozens of emails -- all with "Black Friday" in the subject line.

The whole idea of "Black" Friday is that it's the day retailers start to turn a profit for the year. With margins as slim as they are, stores must balance out deeply discounted items with money-making items. And volume's important, too. Once they've got you in their store, they want you to do all your shopping there, not take any of your precious shopping dollars down the street to their competitor

Black Friday Ninja Shopping Pros and Cons

You can call me lazy but you can't call me crazy. There is no way I will ever, ever fall for the Black Friday come-on. There is absolutely nothing at Target, Walmart, Kohl's, SEARS, Best Buy, Fry's or any other retail store worth getting up in the middle of the night for. Moving the insanity up to midnight doesn't make it any better. Black Friday turns shopping into a competitive sport. I don't have the stomach for it.

The pros of Black Friday Ninja Shopping. Do the rabid, middle-of-the-night bargain hunters know something I don't? Because honestly, I'm coming up blank on the "pros."

Perhaps you, unlike me, do view shopping as a competitive sport. To you they're not presents, they're prizes. The thrill of Black Friday shopping isn't in buying gifts, it's in beating out other rabid bargain hunters.

The cons. But as a financial strategy, does it add up? Are the prices advertised to lure you into the store in the wee hours really the best they're going to be all season? In this economy? Doubtful. The retailers are playing you like the latest XBox 360 game. They've got you exactly where they want you!

How can you make sound purchasing decisions when you're both sleep deprived and pumped up on adrenaline? The answer is, you can't. So chances are, Black Friday Ninja Shopping costs you more money in the long run.

Black and Blue Friday


Cyber Monday and Internet Shopping

"Cyber Monday" is the Monday following Thanksgiving. It's the "traditional beginning of the online Christmas shopping season—when consumers return to work and start ordering online." (Wikipedia). How quaint! And how civilized -- waiting till after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to start the shopping frenzy!

Truly, there's much to be said for Christmas shopping online. It's convenient. It's efficient. It's focused. I dare say you can find anything online that you can find in the stores -- in your own time, with no crowds, no parking lots, and no waiting for a cashier to price check your items.

Your Christmas Shopping Strategy

How do you prefer to shop for your Christmas gifts?

See results

Pros and Cons/Internet Shopping

Throughout December, Santa comes at least once a day to my house. Only he's not in his sleigh, he's in a brown UPS truck and he wears shorts. That's because my son is a diehard shopper. Of course, he uses other Internet sites as well, but usually just for comparison shopping.

For me, even though I'm not the one online shopping, there's something nice about seeing all these packages arrive, not knowing what's inside, or who they're for. It helps put me in the holiday spirit.

So what are the main benefits of cyber shopping? Convenience is right up there. Online stores are open 24/7. You don't have to drive there, find a parking spot, or fight the crowds.

Item for item, you'll probably pay the same online as in stores. Shipping used to be an added expense, but these days, online retailers do everything they can to compete. If that means "free shipping" on orders of $25 or more or "everything ships for $2" then so be it. And they go out of their way to make sure you'll get your merchandise in time for Christmas.

The cons of online shopping are few, but can be significant for some shoppers. FIrst of all, you're "buying blind." Sure, you can click for a larger view, but you can't hold an item in your hand and feel the quality. That's important to some shoppers.

Financially, online shopping is (in my opinion) no better or worse than retail shopping. It's maybe a little easier to be disciplined because you have to think before you press "check out." On the other hand, if you're shopping on multiple sites where your credit card number is on file, it's easy to lose track of how much you're putting on that card(s).


The Holiday Mall Rat

In years past I spent a lot of time in malls. When my son was little, the mall was the place to get Santa photos taken. The decorations are lovely, the smell of Kettle Corn fills the air, and that helps set the tone for a festive shopping experience.

I still like malls, but haven't set foot in one in years. The main reason being the parking situation. As distasteful as I find competitive shopping (see Black Friday paragraph, above), I find competitive parking even worse. Schlepping the length of two football fields -- in the pouring rain -- from my car to the mall entrance is not my idea of fun. Schlepping back, loaded down with heavy bags makes me feel positively Scrooge-like.

Aside from that, malls are great. If...

Pros and Cons of Mall Shopping

Malls are great if you don't know what you're looking for and have plenty of time to spend locating it. They're great if you don't mind paying mall prices. Because the overhead at a mall is high. Somebody's got to pay for Santa and his helpers, the beautiful decorations, and the mall advertising to bring traffic to the mall (as opposed to any individual store within the mall). That would be you.

The pros of mall shopping include: wide selection of retailers in one convenient place, climate controlled shopping (unless it's an outdoor mall, of course) and a nice atmosphere.

The cons of mall shopping include battling crowds just to get inside and notoriously high prices (which can be mitigated by watching the retailers' sales circulars and coupons).

Last-Minute Christmas Shopping

Finally, we come to a shopping strategy that's near and dear to my heart. Well, technically, it's Hubby's strategy. And Hubby is near and dear to my heart.

The Last-Minute Christmas Shopper crams all of his/her gift buying into the final three days before Christmas. The really hard core LMCS won't even start shopping until Christmas Eve.

This is a gutsy move, but can pay off handsomely.

Pros and Cons of Last-Minute Christmas Shopping

The positives of last minute shopping: In his own way, the LMCS is the smartest shopper of all. Here's why:

He maximizes his limited shopping time. He is every bit as organized as his Early Bird counterpart. He has to be, or else he will wander aimlessly and the stores will close before he finishes buying the presents on his list.

He also gets great deals. I have not done a controlled (or even uncontrolled) study, but I would venture to guess the LMCS is reaping the same -- if not more -- bargain pricing benefits as the Black Friday Shopper.

And, unlike the Online Shopper, the LMCS is not shopping in isolation. He's in the Christmas groove. By noon on December 24, the stores -- and shoppers -- are filled with anticipation and good cheer.

Are there any cons to last minute shopping? It's high risk/potentially high reward. Thus, it's not for everyone. (But then, neither are any of the other Christmas shopping strategies!)

I wish you and yours a delightful holiday -- no matter how you choose to shop for it!
Mighty Mom

Holiday Shopping Tips


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    • Aunt Jimi profile image

      Aunt Jimi 4 years ago from The reddest of the Red states!

      I used to be an early bird shopper, taking advantages of after Christmas sales on those items that I knew would be useful -- mostly generic and useful for tuck -ins of last minute gifts next year. I don't shop at all now, but if I did I think online would be so convenient.

      There is nothing I want so badly that I would risk life and limb on Black Friday or anytime that whole weekend. Can you believe Wal-Mart has a traffic jam that entire weekend? Now I don't go out anywhere for anything until after that weekend is over.

      Hope you and your family will have a wonderful, peaceful, holiday season!

    • profile image

      MundaneMondays 5 years ago

      Best method for me ? Gift Cards i cant stomach fighting over completing a list at the last minute..i lived in New York before i moved to Toronto and it was madness around that time, now first christmas in Toroto was last was much worse

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi Silja,

      Great strategy. I personally can't feel the Xmas spirit if I don't go into the store. But then, I quickly get tired and sore from shopping, as the glazed look that is in my eye keeps me wandering for hours with no decisions.

      I agree it's hard to buy things that are supposed to "fit" online. Shoes most definitely! Gotta walk around in those to make sure they feel as nice as they look!


    • Silja Paulus profile image

      Silja Paulus 6 years ago from Bristol, United Kingdom

      I tend to prefer shopping in a store and usually I buy the gifts a week or two before Christmas. I don't buy them at once because I like to look around and find the best bargains. Time-consuming, I know but I do have time. I also think that there are bargains all the year round, just have to keep your eyes open and use them!

      From online shops I order books and health supplements, such as protein powder. Wouldn't think of buying clothes or footwear online. Should try them on first to ensure a perfect fit (and looking good - some things look great on a photo but absolutely horrifying once you get them on).

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Thanks Rainy.

      Happy shopping -- hope you get great gifts at a bargain!


    • Will1015 profile image

      Will1015 6 years ago from Brooklyn

      I'm definitely seeing some better deals in the weeks following Black Friday, unless of course you're looking for high-end electronics. Buying toys for my kids (girls 2 and 4 years old), I'm finding the same stuff I got on Black Friday sales for less than what I paid (particularly at Target). When I look at the Black Friday "door buster"deals, it's mostly high-end electronics that I want for myself, not to give as gifts. Long story short, I think the final 3 weeks before Christmas works best, as long as you're not bound to specific items (lots of stuff will be sold out if you wait to long)

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Thanks, Better Yourself! Happy shopping to you! MM

    • Better Yourself profile image

      Better Yourself 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Fun article to read! I love shopping - online, in-store and even Black Friday :) I'm not a crazy shopper who will do anything to beat someone else to an item but I do enjoy the thrill of it. And online shopping is so easy especially when you get good deals with free shipping! Thanks for posting!

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi fellow shoppers, thanks for sharing your strategies. I agree a combo strategy is best. Whatever gets you in the mood, I say. Wrapping is the best part -- much more fun (I think) than ripping the paper off. That just goes by too fast!

      Thanks for your comments, hubber friends. MM

    • profile image

      sestasik 6 years ago

      A fun article. I completely agree with you about Black Friday being over-the-top and not worth it in the long run. We use a bit of all the other methods, but do a lot of shopping online. We live far away from family, so they ship things here for me to wrap for my son. There is something festive about packages arriving all through the month, especially for him because he sees them arrive and then a day or two later, a wrapped gift is under the tree.

    • TroyM profile image

      TroyM 6 years ago

      Useful shopping tips here... Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    • Cody Jenkins profile image

      Cody Jenkins 6 years ago from Columbus, Ohio

      Online shoppingwill definitely be my time saver this year.Cyber week here I come,and no crowds to contend & always have great sales and unique gift ideas.

    • mathira profile image

      mathira 6 years ago from chennai

      Shopping does make you feel relaxed and we tend to go a little awry while shopping as the mood catches on.I always plan my shopping and no last minute shopping for me.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Cags -- That's a very creative strategy! I particularly like the "shoppe diem" attitude. Who knows if we'll have any money next year, so buy now! Love it!

      Celebritie -- GREAT points. The latest items have never, ever been on my list. I still have a tough time with the buying for the opposite season, but I hope to adjust one of these decades.

      Thank you both for your excellent contributions to the discussion. MM

    • celebritie profile image

      celebritie 6 years ago

      online shopping is going to be the best way to find deals and save money, also I find that when I go to the clearance items they are easily 50 to 70 percent off the retail price. This only works if you do not mind having off/season items.

      If you follow the rule of buying winter items in the summer and summer items in the winter then you will save loads of money.

      Another strategy I use is after a big holiday each year I pick up the marked down and clearance items and save them for the next year. This works well for xmas, halloween and easter. If people can get out of the mind-set for having to have new items then shopping can be a breeze, unless your a computer gadget nut.

    • Cagsil profile image

      Cagsil 6 years ago from USA or America

      Hey Mighty Mom, when I first started Christmas shopping when I was younger, my strategy would be to get two Christmas' out of the way in one shot. I didn't have a whole lot of money to spend, but I would shop last minute, however, it was a targeted shopping spree. I would buy the gifts I needed for the upcoming Christmas and buy one additional item for each person which would be for the following Christmas.

      Then every year after that, I would be shopping for the maybe one or two gifts tops and then shopping for an additional gift for the following Christmas. This way, if I ever ran into money problems then at least I had one gift already set aside to ensure I would have something.

      However, as I reached further into age, I quit doing it and would be a year round shopper. If I saw something I thought would make a great gift, then I would buy. I didn't care if went on sale for the holidays. Nowadays, I'm again a last minute shopper and I am only able to get someone a little something, due to financial reasons. Great hub! :)

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Thanks for commenting, OfTheHeart. When I heard about the shopper spraying pepper spray and people (including sales associates!) actually DYING on Black Friday that officially tipped it from ill-advised to criminal. How can anyone justify that?

    • OfTheHeart profile image

      Stephanie 6 years ago from New York

      I agree, I wouldn't be caught outside on Black Friday. It's becoming a holiday, sometimes even bigger than the actual REAL holiday of Thanksgiving. Crowded stores, nasty/pushy people and rude sales employees who are pissed off they are up before there's even light outside. There are other ways to save on your Christmas shopping. Thanks for naming a few.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hey MA, How are you?

      I totally agree. I think there are actually better bargains to be had at other times of the year.I also believe that if you wait another couple of weeks you will get at least the same discount as advertised for Black Friday. I heard someone just this morning say their kid dragged them out last night (BF) to save $100 on a TV. What do you want to bet the same TV will be at least $100 off in late December...

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      It seems to me that there are just as good sales throughout the year(especially online) as there is during the holidays.It also seems that the so called awesome sales on black Friday are woefully understocked...we usually go to Santa's First Federal Loan Office and bring home money as gifts:-))

    • discountuggboot profile image

      discountuggboot 6 years ago

      ok that is good