What to Avoid as You Begin Shopping for the Holidays

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are when we get together with loved ones and celebrate various traditions and beliefs. While everyone has different rituals, food choices, and ways they spend their time, one thing most of us have in common is shopping for our holiday gifts.

While it should be a fun-filled activity, the truth is it’s often stressful and overwhelming. Between budget constraints, the ever-growing list of people to buy for, the crowds, and the traffic, holiday shopping can be utterly exhausting. But never fear; we’ve put together this handy guide of what to avoid before you begin shopping for those holiday gifts.

1. Overpriced Items

Sadly, overpriced items go hand in hand with holiday shopping. Often, a store will hike the price of an item before putting it on “sale” to make it seem like you’re getting a good deal. So it’s important to compare prices before you begin shopping. Use apps like Price Spy and Kelkoo to track the cost of an item across several retailers and alert you when the prices are at their best.

You can also do it the old-fashioned way by going through circulars and visiting stores before you put your money down. You can avoid overpriced items altogether by doing alternative gift-giving, like buying second-hand items and trolling thrift stores for treasures. Homemade gifts are another option, and they aren’t as bad as they seem. Especially in today’s economy, people may genuinely appreciate a knitted hat or homemade lasagna.

Offer a service like car detailing or lawn care; nobody will hate the gift of help. If you need to shop for specific gifts like bedding, for example, remember that bedsheets for better sleep can be found just as easily at Target as they can at Macy’s. Gifts don’t need to be pricey to be helpful.

2. Getting Into Arguments With Fellow Shoppers

Most of us have seen those tragically embarrassing videos of people accosting each other over the last five-dollar crockpot on Black Friday. Before you begin shopping, ask yourself if you want to be that person. We all love a great deal, but it’s not worth our dignity or to be forever remembered as the crazy slow cooker criminal from YouTube.

Even if nobody is filming, arguing with other customers is not worth it. It takes valuable time away from your shopping goals, and it will solve nothing. This is especially important if you have kids with you. As an adult, you should set an example.

So whether someone snatched an item, bumped into you, or cut you in line, take a deep breath and let it go. The last thing you want is a trivial occurrence to escalate into a physical altercation. That will have you asking for bail money and attorneys for the holidays rather than a new vacuum. Don’t let a stranger in a store ruin your holiday cheer. Stay calm and walk away.

3. Speed Between Stores

Both motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic are at their highest during the holiday season, so care should be taken to obey all traffic laws and avoid speeding as you go from store to store. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re in a rush, but nothing is worth injuring someone or damaging property. The last thing you need for the holidays is the gift of a subpoena from a motor vehicle accident attorney. Never mind a trip to the emergency room for you and your loved ones. So before you begin shopping, slow the car down, take your time, and enjoy the ride.

4. Extravagant Gifts

We all want to buy our loved ones the best of everything. But most of the time, going all out with extravagant gifts is not the best way to go. This is especially true during the holiday season when there are several people to buy gifts for. Most people do not expect over-the-top gifts, and they are thrilled with thoughtful items from the heart. Think about meaningful gifts before you begin shopping.

Rather than a designer bag or platinum jewelry, consider giving an experience like a day trip to a vineyard or a walking tour of a historic district. Find out what your gift recipient enjoys and go with a theme. If they like golf, don’t give them a membership to a private country club. Get them some nice golf balls and a day at a public course. There are ways to pare down well-meaning extravagances into more budget-friendly realities.

5. Buying A Gift That Won’t Be Appreciated

Giving a gift that people won’t appreciate is a fear that runs through most of us at some point. But this is a problem that you can quickly solve with some good planning and communication. We often want to surprise our loved ones with the perfect gift. The look on their face when they open that unique item is always priceless, unless it’s one of confusion or worse, horror.

There’s nothing wrong with talking to your friends and family about what they want. Ask them to list a few things they may need. At the very least, know their likes and dislikes. For example, if someone loves Japanese food, a gift card for some really good sushi might work. But if they’re vegan, that Outback Steakhouse certificate probably won’t go over well.

Remember that the most beloved and appreciated gifts are those you put thought into, not necessarily the price. More than anything else, people will enjoy the time you put into giving them a personalized gift tailored to their needs and interests. Don’t be afraid to get practical either. If someone is in need of a new appliance or even car repairs, they will absolutely love not having to replace or fix it themselves.

6. Buying Gifts That Expire

Whatever you do, don’t get gifts that expire. Whether it’s food or services, nobody likes to have a time limit on enjoying their gift. Unless you’re buying perishable items you know will be quickly gobbled up, don’t waste money on fruit baskets or things of that nature.

First, it’s a waste of money. Next, you’re actually giving your friend or family member the gift of unwanted work. They’ll have to figure out what to do with it, clean it up, and throw it away when it expires. It’s best to give them a Visa gift card to get some sushi food or whatever they want.

Then there are those well-meaning gift cards to places like salons, spas, and experiences that often come with expiration dates. Don’t invest in these types of gifts unless you know for sure the person can go within a specific time frame. Some cards don’t have an expiration date, but those that do are usually good for a year. While this seems like enough time, a lot of times the card is misplaced or forgotten about, and by the time it’s recovered, it’s too late. Make sure to check with the business regarding expiration dates before making your purchase.

7. Spending More Than You Have

It’s a trap many of us fall into at one time or another: spending more money than we have. In our quest to impress a significant other or make our kids happy, we end up close to bankruptcy. While it’s admirable to want to get nice things for our family, so is putting food on the table and having heat and electricity.

The best thing to do is sit down and look at your finances. See how much money you have after paying the bills, and the fridge is full. Then decide how much to spend on each person.

A gift is meant to show your affection for someone, not put you in the poorhouse. As we said before, most people are happy with a small token that shows you thought of them. Nobody worth your time is expecting you to break the bank on a holiday gift. It’s tempting to go overboard, but please give within your means.

8. Prioritizing Quantity Over Quality

Sometimes, when they begin shopping, folks think that giving many gifts shows how much you love a person. Parents often do this with their children. They want to fill up the house with as many gifts as possible to see the joy on their children’s faces. Only to find that come March or April, the kids didn’t even open most of the toys.

It’s not just kids, either. Sometimes, adults do the same thing with their spouses for the same reason. The truth is that giving one or two gifts of quality is better than a bunch of useless stuff that will collect dust.

Communication is crucial to this idea. Sometimes, people are uncomfortable when asked what they might like as a gift. Make it clear that you’d instead get them one or two things that they want or need, and it’s helpful for you to have the information. Now, kids are a little more difficult, especially if they are used to getting many gifts. But try to explain that you’re trying to do away with clutter, choose more quality gifts like a game console, or hire a metal fabricator to create a one-of-a-kind bed.

If they still believe in Santa or Hannukah, Harry tells them to ask for only 2–3 items, so the big guys are not overworked. One of the great things about these mythical figures is there is always a creative story that can be whipped up around them. So the moral here is the same as in other sections. Don’t go overboard. Getting a bunch of random stuff is not better than investing in a few good pieces of whatever items your family members like.

9. Ignoring Return Policies

When you begin shopping for the holidays, remember to pay attention to return policies. Each store is different, and some don’t even have them. While it’s perfectly legal to have a no-return policy, it must be displayed in the store and on the receipt.

Most stores offer a return policy on most items, as not having one is considered poor customer service. But there are terms and conditions that you should be aware of before making a purchase, especially if it’s a gift. Some stores will accept returns for just seven days, while others will return items for as long as 90 days.

You may also need the receipt and original packaging, so don’t throw anything away until you’re sure the gift is a hit. The clerk can trace some items like batteries back to the store, so there’s no need for a paper receipt. Online merchants may have unclear policies, so be sure to read the fine print.

10. Not Making A List

You may think it’s silly and old school, but the most crucial thing to do before you begin shopping is to make a list. We’re not talking about writing some names down on the back of the gas bill type of list, but an actual useful one. Take some time to sit down and compose a list of family, friends, co-workers, and miscellaneous people like teachers and coaches for whom you need to buy a gift.

Then, go over your budget and write how much you want to spend on each person. Add to the list as you discuss with people what they want or need. It’s a good idea to get color preferences, sizes, and other little details. You don’t want to be out at the bed shops looking for Aunt Marge’s bedspread and realize you don’t know what size her bed is. If a paper list is just too much for you, there are a bunch of apps that make listing for gifting a breeze.

We hope our gift-giving guide on what to avoid this holiday season provides helpful guidance as you brave the crowds this season. Remember that giving gifts is a delightful way to show you care. Don’t let the shopping part ruin it for you. Keep calm and enjoy yourself. Consider taking a yoga class before you begin shopping. It can’t hurt!