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Nov 18, 2021

Getting Smart About Holiday Shopping for 2021

By Nancy Mattia

Consider starting before Black Friday, factor in possible delays, and have a smart spending plan.

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If you traditionally start your holiday shopping during Thanksgiving weekend, you may want to reset your thinking—and your calendar—and move the date up this year.

The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted the world’s supply chains, causing delays in the manufacturing of goods, shipping them out, and delivering them to consumers. Because of product shortages, your gift-buying traditions will almost certainly be affected this season. There’s one way, though, to lessen the frustration.

“Shoppers would be very wise to do their [usual] Black Friday and holiday shopping as soon as possible,” says Carlos Castelán, managing director of the Navio Group, a Minneapolis retail and consumer goods consulting firm. “There’s no guarantee the gifts they want to give will be available in stores in November or December.” The supply-chain interruptions haven’t just affected the traditional holiday categories, such as toys and electronics; there’ll likely be limited inventory in many other categories too, says Castelán. Labor shortages and a significant rise in consumer spending have only exacerbated the situation: 2021 holiday retail sales are likely to increase between 7% and 9%, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast, . 

Here, the benefits of shopping early, plus how to make the most of your money and tips on saving for next year’s gift list: 

You may have a better selection of goods.

If you’re looking for a specific item, your chances of finding it in stock are greater when you don’t wait to buy it at the last minute, says Castelán. If you shop later in the season, don’t be surprised to see “out of stock” signs on what you thought was going to be an easy online purchase. Going in-person to retail stores won’t be much better, Castelán adds, with some shelves devoid of merchandise. So consider getting out there now: The early bird gets not only the worm but the gifts they intended to buy too.

It will give you more time to ride out any delivery delays.

Darlene Flythe Wilson, a physical therapy assistant in New York City, says she started her holiday shopping in early October—well before the buying season began—and plans to finish no later than the second week of November. “I started early so everything I want to buy will still be available,” she says. “And I have to ship some gifts, and I’ll do that early too; if a package gets lost, there’s time to rectify the situation.” Since the three largest delivery services–FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service –released their holiday shipping deadlines and they’re almost identical to 2019 and 2020 dates, it’s a good idea to beat those deadlines and give yourself more of a cushion and get your gifts in the mail sooner rather than later. For example, if you want something to arrive by Christmas and you’re using FedEx or the USPS, you’ll have to send your items by December 15.

Stores may offer fewer deals later on.

Black Friday, Super Saturday, and Cyber Monday are traditionally associated with deep discounts and rock-bottom prices, that may not be the case this year. “We expect retailers to be less promotional than in past years,” says Castelán. As an alternative, consider scooping up whatever deals you can find now.

Redeem your credit-card rewards.

Use any rewards (cash back, points, or miles) that you’ve accumulated on certain credit cards—it’ll make gift-buying seem like you’re getting goods for free. But first, suggests Bankrate, check your cards’ rewards’ programs to see if it’s a better value to redeem your points for gift cards, which you’d then use to buy the merchandise elsewhere, generally at a lower price. Be sure to continue to use those cards with every purchase to keep earning rewards even after the holiday season is over. 

Have a  budget and plan of attack.

Like going grocery shopping without a list, buying holiday presents without a firm idea of what you want could lead to overspending. So come up with a plan. Write down gift ideas for each person you’re buying for and research prices at different retailers; add in any shipping costs. One way to avoid shipping charges is to bundle your purchases by hitting one store or manufacturer for several gifts that offer free shipping when you spend a certain amount.

Shop without going into debt. 

How to get a handle on how much you can comfortably spend on gifts? One way is to use the 50-30-20 formula to divide your monthly after-tax income into three categories: necessary (fixed) expenses like your rent and transportation (50%); variable (not fixed) expenses such as travel and entertainment (30%);  and savings and investments (20%). Your holiday shopping budget should come out of your savings (you might want to create a separate account just for holiday gifts). 

Save consistently throughout the year. 

This tried-and-true tip won’t be much use to you this season if you haven’t already started. But if you start putting aside some money specifically for holiday gifts beginning in January (or as soon as possible), you should be better prepared financially to shop during next year’s holiday season.

Smart spending this holiday season means creating a budget that respects your finances, and then hitting the stores—real or virtual—early rather than later to get the best deals. When the bills start arriving in January, you’ll be ready to pay them off!

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Written by

Nancy Mattia

Nancy Mattia is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle topics and lives in the New York City area.


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