How to simplify holiday shopping this year

(BPT) – Does the prospect of holiday shopping make you dance with joy, or tremble with dread? Americans seem pretty evenly split into both categories, a CBS News poll found last year. Love it or hate it, holiday shopping has to happen – the National Retail Federation says more than 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza. So why not take some steps to streamline your holiday shopping, and make it as easy and cost-effective as possible?

Plan early – and firmly

Even if you love it, last-minute, directionless holiday shopping can create stress. That’s why for some American shoppers, the holiday shopping season starts as early as Sept. 30. Start by making a holiday shopping list as early as possible. Your list should include every person you have to shop for, a budget allotment for his or her gift, and at least two good gift ideas. Be sure to include a few generic items that can work as reciprocation for unexpected gifts you receive, or for anyone who may slip your mind until the last minute.

Once you have a plan and budget in mind, stick to it. While some flexibility can help you take advantage of a great deal, sticking to a plan can help you avoid overspending – and ensure no one goes without this holiday season.

Timing is everything

Certain items will be deeply discounted on Black Friday, such as home goods and everyday items like coffee makers and cameras. Other items – like electronics and even cars – are likely to go on sale as the end of the year approaches and sellers strive to clear out lingering 2014 inventory to make room for incoming 2015 products. Research when a particular item you want is likely to go on sale. You might even be able to find a friendly sales clerk who will alert you to an upcoming sale.

While Black Friday will always be a great deal-finding day for stoic shoppers willing to brave the crowds, Cyber Monday is also a good time to find hassle-free deals. The Monday after the long Thanksgiving weekend traditionally yields great prices on clothing, home goods and electronics for online shoppers. And anyone looking to add some items to their collection of holiday decorations will find the best prices – albeit fewer choices – immediately after the holidays.

Pick a payment method that pays off for you

Consider how you’ll pay for your holiday shopping. Many people like the convenience of credit cards, but then you have to keep track of all of them. Meanwhile some shoppers prefer to carry cash to avoid overspending, but lost or stolen cash is gone forever.

Another option that’s both convenient and trustworthy is PayPal. PayPal is there to help alleviate holiday shopping stress and is accepted in-store, online and via the mobile app at some of the major national retailers and local merchants. Shoppers can use PayPal to help avoid long lines, receive special offers based on their location, and pay quickly online, in-store and when dining at participating locations.

Be utterly shameless

Whatever will make holiday shopping easier and more enjoyable for you, do it – shamelessly. If it’s easiest to buy gift cards for everyone on your list, have at it; virtually every online and brick-and-mortar retailer now offers gift cards. PayPal offers a select few merchant’s digital gift cards, too. With your smartphone, you can now maximize your time and schedule to purchase and send a gift card at a later date or instantly for a last minute gift. You can even buy them from websites that sell gift cards from a variety of merchants, and grocery stores generally have a display dedicated to gift cards. Put them in a pretty package or simply hand them over in an envelope, gift cards remain one of the most-desired holiday gifts.

Be shameless about negotiating and taking advantage of shopping incentives like free shipping. While many online retailers already offer free shipping on holiday orders, you have nothing to lose by asking for it if a merchant doesn’t offer it.

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