Why Holiday Shopping at the Last Minute Is a Bad Idea

Don't wait until it's too late.

Does this sound familiar: You have every intention of getting all of your holiday shopping done well before December but then find yourself scrambling to buy gifts the weekend or even the day — before Christmas. You’re certainly not alone in your procrastinating ways.

Research by the National Retail Federation showed that in 2016 more Americans actually planned to shop the Saturday before Christmas than over the Thanksgiving weekend. By mid-December, only one in 10 had finished their holiday shopping, and shoppers on average had only completed about half of their shopping.

If you’re trying to save money over the holidays, you’re not doing your bank account any favors by waiting until the last minute to do your shopping. “Last-minute holiday shoppers spent an average of $400 more than those who shopped earlier,” said Janna Herron, a senior personal finance analyst at ValuePenguin.

Here are all the ways you’ll pay more and lose out by waiting until the last minute to do your holiday shopping. Don’t delay — take steps now to avoid holiday overspending.

You’ll Pay More for Expedited Shipping

About three-quarters of consumers expect to do some of their holiday shopping online this year, according to a survey by NPD Group, a retail and consumer information company. However, consumers could pay a price for last-minute online holiday shopping.

Herron said that a lot of the added expense last-minute shoppers incur comes from expedited shipping fees for online purchases. If you wait to shop until a few days prior to Christmas — which falls on a Monday this year — you’ll likely have to pay extra for guaranteed next-day delivery.

However, even procrastinators can avoid shipping costs if they take advantage of Free Shipping Day on Dec. 15. The more than 1,000 online retailers that participate in this annual event are required to provide free shipping on all orders with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.

Deals Will Be Tough to Find

Retailers tend to offer their best holiday deals in November because they want to drive customers to their stores to boost sales. “If you shop early on, that’s when it’s most competitive for retailers,” said Eric Glyman, CEO of Paribus, a free price drop monitoring service. “They have to prove early results.”

At the end of the holiday shopping season, retailers don’t need to offer as many incentives to get shoppers into stores. They know you’re desperate. It’s like waiting until the last minute to book a ticket for travel.

“The train or airline will raise their price,” Glyman said. “It’s their chance to really maximize their profit. Retailers are a business. They’re going to take the same approach.”

So if you shop at the last minute, you’re at the mercy of the retailers. “The inventory is more expensive, and it’s the leftover stuff,” Glyman said. You’ll likely find better deals and save money on your holiday shopping the sooner you get started.

You Might Spend More on Alternative Gifts

Consumers who wait until the last minute to shop for the holidays run the risk of the gift they want to buy being out of stock, Herron said. As a result, they become desperate in their search to find something to put under the Christmas tree.

“This could drive them to look for costlier options or buying substitute gifts that might make their recipients unhappy,” she said. Either way, they can end up paying more than they would have if they had shopped earlier in the season when retailers had more inventory.

If you’re worried, though, that you’ll miss out on better deals by shopping too early, you can use the free Paribus app. It will monitor your purchases at retailers that have price adjustment policies and file a claim on your behalf to get a refund for the difference in the price you paid and the sale price. Funds are credited to your original form of payment.

Give the Gift of Flexibility: The Best Gift Cards to Buy This Holiday Season

You Won’t Have Time to Comparison Shop

Comparison shopping is a savvy money-saving strategy. But if you’re making a last-minute dash to the store, you likely won’t have time to research prices. By starting your holiday shopping early, on the other hand, you have more time compare offers, check deal sites and Black Friday ads for the best sales, and take advantage of technology that will help you track prices.

For example, Glyman recommends using a site such as camelcamelcamel, which tracks the prices of products on Amazon. You can sign up for price drop alerts to be notified when the price changes on items you’re tracking. You also can look up the price history of the item you want to buy to get an idea of when during the holiday season the price will be lowest, Glyman said.

If you start tracking prices on products you want well before the holidays, you’ll be in a better position to use that information to your advantage and pounce when the price drops.

Coupons Might Be Scarce

Not only do you run the risk of paying higher prices and not having time to comparison shop if you wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping, but also you could miss out on valuable coupon savings. Retailers tend to offer more coupons early in the holiday shopping season because they want to boost sales, Glyman said. They’ll be harder to come by in the days before Christmas.

By shopping early, you’ll have more time to search coupon sites to find coupon codes you can use when you checkout online or display on your mobile device if you’re shopping in a store. You can make it even easier to find coupons by downloading the Honey browser extension, which does the coupon hunting for you as you shop online. “It will go and scour the Internet to see if there are any coupons you can apply and automatically apply it,” Glyman said.

You’ll Spend More Buying Gift Cards

“Last-minute shoppers often rely more on gift cards because they’re easy to grab in a pinch and don’t take much thought,” said money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. However, this can lead to spending more than if you had taken the time to buy actual gifts, she said.

“When buying an item on sale or from a discount retailer, you can get away with giving something that doesn’t cost much or is below your initial budget,” Woroch said. “Those who give gift cards, however, often spend more since the value of the gift card is on full display, they round up or they have limited denominations to choose from.”

Even if you had planned and budgeted for gift cards, you still miss out on opportunities to save by buying them closer to Christmas. “People who buy gift cards at the last minute will also overlook the opportunity to save on buying discount gift cards from sites like Raise, GiftCardCastle, ABC Gift Cards and more,” Woroch said. These sites sell gift cards for less than face value. But it can take a few days to a week for the cards to arrive in the mail, she said.

Save Your Dollars: The Worst Gift Cards to Buy This Holiday Season

You’ll Spend More on Gift-Wrap Supplies

You’ll often end up spending more on gift-wrap supplies if you procrastinate during the holidays. “That’s because shoppers rush to pick up wrapping paper, gift bags, tissue and bows that are available at the store they are currently shopping at instead of hunting down better deals on such supplies from places like a dollar store,” Woroch said.

Plan ahead and stock up on gift-wrapping supplies and greeting cards at the dollar store before the holiday season gets too busy, Woroch said. Otherwise, you could end up paying 50 percent more if you buy these supplies at a big-box retailer or if you have to pay to have your gifts wrapped when you buy them.

You Don’t Have Time to Make Gifts and Save

“People who wait until the last minute to buy a gift miss out on the opportunity to really save by tapping into their creative or baking skills,” Woroch said. “DIY gifts like ornaments or even a platter of homemade cookies are a great gift for many people on your list.”

However, you won’t have time to get crafty or bake the day of a holiday gift exchange. With more advanced planning, you can search on sites such as Pinterest to find low-cost DIY gift ideas. And you can take advantage of sales at craft stores or the supermarket to save money on the items you plan to make.

You Might End up Empty-Handed

You’re taking an even bigger risk than just overpaying if you procrastinate until the very last minute. “You might end up arriving empty-handed,” Woroch said. “If you wait to stop at a store on the way to a friend or family’s home for a holiday celebration and get stuck in traffic or delayed on a flight, you simply might not have time to even stop at a store.”

Then, you’ll feel even worse not giving anything at all, she said. If you try to make an excuse, it will simply show that you didn’t put the time or thought beforehand into finding a gift.

You Put Yourself at Greater Risk for Fraud

You can set yourself up for an even bigger financial blow if you wait until the final days before Christmas to shop. “Last-minute shoppers also risk becoming victims of fraud,” Herron said.

In general, fraud attempts grew by 31 percent during the holiday season in 2016, according to data from ACI Worldwide, which powers electronic payments for companies. However, fraud attempt rates were the highest on Christmas Eve and the cut-off dates for shipments to be received in time for the holidays.

If you become a victim of fraud, you’ll have to spend time and possibly money dealing with it. And it might increase the stress you’re already feeling from trying to do your holiday shopping at the last minute.

Up Next: 50 Easy Ways to Save for Holiday Shopping