It’s going to be a zoo at the stores the next couple of days, the last full weekend before Christmas (next Sunday) and Hanukkah (which starts the night before). Plus, today is the last day for ground delivery from UPS and FedEx deliveries if you want your packages to arrive by Christmas.
If you feel like the shopping season is shorter this year, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal says the election kept people distracted and more retailers put off promotions until closer to Thanksgiving.
The crush of stressed, rushing people can lead to all kinds of financial fallout, from overspending inside the stores to fender-benders outside them. Some things to keep in mind if you’re venturing out:
Make that list before you go. So basic and so easy to forget. Specify who you’re buying for, and the budget. Put it on your phone, tattoo it on your forehead, whatever it takes.
Use a credit card (or two). Many credit cards offer protection if your purchases are stolen or damaged. Some double manufacturers’ warranties, and all can serve as a middleman if you have a dispute with a merchant. Just don’t use cards as an excuse to go wild–credit card balances should be paid in full. (One reader treats his credit cards as prepaid cards by sending an extra payment in advance to cover his holiday shopping.)
Maximize your rewards. Using the right card at the right venue can boost your rewards. If you have a card with changing bonus categories, know what those are before you leave home. Chase Freedom, for example, is offering 5 percent cash back on wholesale clubs (including Costco and Sam’s), department stores and drugstores. Discover It has a 5 percent cash bonus on department stores and Amazon. Many cards have ongoing bonuses for certain purchases, such as gas or dining out. NerdWallet has other tips on maximizing your rewards.
Go early. Getting there when the doors open may give you a few moments of less-crowded shopping.
Keep your phone handy. Check prices on the fly. Resist the urge to snap up extra “bargains” that might not be. But:
Watch out for fake shopping apps. Yup, they’re a thing, even in the supposedly-safer Apple App store. These apps can steal your credit card and personal information. Go to the retailer’s site and use the links there to download its mobile app.
Hide it, lock it, keep it. Don’t leave your purchases in plain sight in your car and try to avoid parking in dimly-lit or poorly trafficked areas.
Beware in-store pickup. It sounds great: shop online, pick it up in the store. Except when it doesn’t work, which can be often, since many stores’ inventory tracking isn’t all it could be and they may not have enough staff to get your stuff off the shelf. (Target stores in my area can’t seem to consistently fulfill in-store pickup orders even with normal traffic.) Have a plan B in case your order gets canceled or never fulfilled.
And speaking of Plan Bs:
There’s always Amazon. The online chain is offering one- and two-hour delivery all the way through midnight on Christmas Eve with its Prime Now service.