What I Learned From Last-Minute Holiday Shopping

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It's not the last minute yet, but it's getting close. If you still have holiday gifts to buy, you could pay a lot more for them if you wait any longer.

A study done by CNBC shows that the average American plans to spend $751 on Christmas gifts in 2011 – and if you’re anything like me, most of that was put on a credit card at the last minute.

If you also tend to procrastinate with your holiday shopping, change your bad habits like I did…

Avoid last-minute prices

I once spent $185 at a Walgreens on Christmas Eve because I forgot to buy gifts for a few extended family members. Why Walgreens? Because they were open. Why $185? Because gifts don’t come cheap last-minute.

While some retailers offer sales up to Christmas Day, many stores realize they got you, and as a result you may be buying that must-have toy at full markup. Find the best deals by checking out our deals page, and the helpful tips in 6 Quick Tips for Last-Minute Shoppers.

But what if you’re running too late even for that? There’s no shortage of last-minute gift suggestions if you Google around for it. But I found one of the shortest and most practical lists at the strangest of places: a bank’s website. Here are Nationwide’s 10 Last-Minute Holiday Shopping Tips

  1. Head to the nearest gift shop. If you live near an art museum, science museum, or zoo, check out the gift shop for something a little different.
  2. Go back to school. Shops near a local college often have offbeat, interesting gifts for students along with logo-ware for your favorite alum.
  3. Think rural. Drive through the country for handmade soaps, candles, and regional treats. Save time by searching the web for store reviews, hours, and directions.
  4. Create a digital playlist. Buy a USB flash drive, then load it with songs your classic-rock-loving nephew needs to add to his collection.
  5. Get crafty. Knitting, sewing, and other handicrafts have seen a recent resurgence in popularity. That makes it easy for you to find colorful socks, extra-cute baby clothes and funky T-shirts at craft stores.
  6. Buy local. Support area entrepreneurs – and give a unique gift – by purchasing artwork, spirits, or even baklava from the hometown experts.
  7. Get physical. A yoga mat and a gift certificate to a nearby yoga studio is a great holiday present for the athlete in the family.
  8. Try something completely different. Your friends are never too old to learn something new. Give a certificate for dance lessons, horseback riding, rock climbing, or sushi-making.
  9. Put it in a basket. Create a theme – like car wash, spa night, or barbecue bash – and fill a container with everything the recipient needs to do the job right.
  10. Give year-round. A magazine subscription will make sure your friend thinks of you when each issue arrives. Wrap a current copy with a note stating more are on the way.

Start saving now for next year

If you buy holiday gifts with your credit card, and you buy them at the last minute, you’re going to start 2012 with credit card debt. While that’s no way to start a new year, it’s also a good lesson for next Christmas.

Start saving now and make 2012 the year you buy all of your gifts by opening a new account dedicated to your holiday savings. How? Some banks and credit unions offer special Holiday Savings Club accounts.

With these accounts, you deposit money throughout the year, and the bank transfers the money into your checking account in time for the holiday shopping season. Sometimes a Holiday Savings Club account might also earn a higher interest rate than a regular savings account.

For example, FirstState bank offers a 0.25-percent interest rate for balances up to $1,999 with a Nov. 1 withdrawal date. BMI Federal Credit Union offers a 0.25-percent bonus over their regular savings accounts with the Nov. 1 withdrawal date. Obviously, these low rates aren’t going to make you rich, but every little bit helps.

Stacy Johnson

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