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The Holiday Spending Guide for the Procrastinator

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The end of November is a before-and-after moment for holiday shopping. If you started early — or even on time — you still have nearly all of December to wrap things up. But if you’re just getting to it with only 18 days until Hanukkah and 25 days until Christmas, you’ve put yourself at a disadvantage. Procrastination makes it harder to save money and easier to spend more than you would have had you not dragged your feet through the fall.

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You’ll never get November back, but every day you waste moving forward adds more pressure and leaves more room for error and added expenses.

The clock is ticking, but you need a strategy now more than ever. Dawdling was your first mistake — don’t make it worse by rushing into late-season holiday shopping without a plan. Here’s what you need to know.

Prepare For Extra Expenses, but Do Your Best To Avoid Them

The earliest birds who wrap up their shopping around Halloween miss out on some of the best deals of the year. But if you wait too long, you’ll almost certainly spend money that you could have saved with a little bit of hustle in November. If you procrastinated, plan for some extra expenses.

Make Your Money Work for You

When Shipping Deadlines Near, You Pay For Peace of Mind

The longer you delay, the longer the odds become that the things you plan to ship will reach their destinations on time — and cutting the logistical line isn’t cheap.

“You may end up having to pay for expedited shipping to receive items in a timely manner, and that means increased costs,” said Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews.com. “You can get around this by opting for in-store pickup when you can or as a last resort, printing out a picture of the item you intend to gift and letting the recipient open that if the gift itself doesn’t arrive in time.”

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The Truly Big Discounts Will Be Fewer and Farther Between

If you waited until December, you missed the two biggest shopping holidays of the year — Black Friday and Cyber Monday — plus all the warmup sales from individual retailers like Amazon Prime Early Access in mid-October. 

In short, the season’s best deals are likely behind you.

Make Your Money Work for You

“That doesn’t mean December will be void of deals entirely,” Ramhold said. “But there will be fewer overall for sure. Because of this, you may find yourself spending more on gifts than you would have if you shopped over Black Friday. Saving something is still better than nothing, though, so be sure to take that into account when doing your shopping. Even minor discounts may be the best you can do if you’ve waited this long.”

So, How Do You Score Deals in a Post-Black Friday World?

According to the New York Post, more people shopped in-store this Black Friday than last year, Thanksgiving Day shopping increased by 20% and online sales broke a Black Friday record. Despite all the gloomy prognosticating about how inflation would keep people from spending, they spent — and they spent a lot. That means retailers won’t have to compete as hard for the business of stragglers and procrastinators during the holiday homestretch, which means fewer big December markdowns.

There will be sales, but you’ll have to go out and find them.

Make Your Money Work for You

“Just because most of the deals will be done doesn’t mean they all will be,” Ramhold said. “But it’s more important than ever to shop around. “Before you purchase something, try to look around and make sure you’re getting the best price. Check other retailers to see if they may have a coupon or a sale going on that will help you save even more.”

Also, sign up for loyalty programs where you plan to do your late-season shopping, whether those stores are slashing prices or not.

“Even if there are no sales going on, joining loyalty programs can sometimes provide some minor savings on purchases,” Ramhold said. “For example, paying for Target purchases with a RedCard saves you 5% both online and in-store, so if it’s that or paying full price, obviously shopping at Target makes the most sense. If shopping at Kohl’s means you’ll earn Kohl’s Cash, that could mean a better buy for your wallet overall.”

Time To Revisit Your Budget and Your Spending List

Now that your expenses are growing as your timeline narrows, any spending plan you created earlier in the season has to be reconfigured for the realities that come with a late start.

Make Your Money Work for You

Revise Your Shopping List

Start by dusting off your shopping list and reevaluating your wants and needs.

“Be sure to include gifts you need to buy as well as events you’ll be attending, especially if that means you’ll need to purchase hostess gifts or new clothes to wear,” Ramhold said. “Make sure to also factor in expenses for any baking projects you’re planning or other dishes you’ll be making, as well, to get a full picture of holiday-related spending you’re planning.”

Give Your Budget a Mid-Season Review

The big sales start at the end of October and the holidays are at the end of December. That makes late November the perfect time to evaluate your spending so far — and to make some half-time adjustments where needed. Even if you didn’t cross a single name off your shopping list, you probably blew through some of your holiday budget on travel, parties or even self-indulgences.

That means tough choices are ahead.

“It’s really easy to overspend during the holiday season, but be honest about what you can afford and make sure to stick to your budget,” Ramhold said. “If you’re very in-depth and specific with your budget, it’ll leave less room to fall prey to impulse purchases.”

Without a Backup List, You Might Be Pressured Into Overspending

The final challenge that procrastinators face is dwindling inventory. You’re now competing for the post-Black Friday scraps, so have an alternate plan ready in case you can’t find what you’re looking for. Otherwise, you might feel pressured to overspend on a backup present just because it’s available now but might not be for long.

“Make a list of items you want to buy and who they’re for, but also take the time to plan on backup items,” Ramhold said. “That way, if something is sold out, you already have a plan in mind. You can even fall back on plan b if your first choice isn’t discounted as much as you hoped — or at all — so that you can still save money.”

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