Smart tactics for a thrifty and fun gift buying 

Holiday gift shopping: Do the words terrify you, or make your eyes light up with anticipation? Either way, we have advice to make holiday shopping easier, cheaper, less stressful, and more fun. But before you read our savvy hints and tips, take a minute to remember why you're shopping. Chances are, it's about the pleasure in giving those you love a gift that truly express your feelings for them. Remember that - it'll make all the hunting and haggling more than worth it.

Before the search for the "perfect" gift begins, there are a few things to consider. Mainly: Who? What? How much? And when?

1. Set a limit
Giving gifts should fill your heart, not empty your savings account. If setting a budget seems more bother than it's worth, at least determine an approximate figure ($25 to $75 for family, $15 to $25 for friends) for each person on your list.

2. Record gift ideas
Smart gift-givers know that gathering should happen 12 months of the year. So buy a notebook, attach a pen, and keep track of whom you need to buy gifts for, and ideas you get from window-shopping, catalog browsing, or just sudden inspirations that pop up in your mind. Then, when you do buy a gift for someone, mark it down as well.

3. Clip pictures or ads
Holiday season is catalog season, but most of us get catalogs year-round, too. Don't toss them in the recycling bin. Look for ideas. When you see something that seems right for someone, clip out the picture and description, note the person's name and catalog, and file it away for future use.

4. Think about whom you're buying for
In that same notebook, include information about each person, such as sizes, interestsm sports, and hobbies. Even add gift you've given in the past, so you don't accidentally duplicate.

5. Be an off-peak shopper
Unless you enjoy packed parking lots, messy stores, huge crowds, over-warm stores, and surly clerks, skip shopping on the six or so weekends that lead up to Christmas. Instead, shop weekday mornings or early afternoons. Not only will the crowds be smaller but the stores will be neatened up an restocked.

6. Dress comfortably
Serious holiday shopping is not the time for high fashion. Wear loose-fitting clothes, tie your hair back or at a minimum, wear comfortable shoes so you can navigate crowds and stand in long lines without discomfort. And to avoid energy lags and endless time in food courts, have a good meal before heading our to the stores.

7. Always, always use a shopping list
Random, unfocused shopping leads to impulse buying, overspending, and your forgetting gifts for one or more people. And that means having to go shopping again.

8. Shop year-round
No, this doesn't mean that you're constantly shopping. It means that you are always looking. Because you never know when you might see the absolute perfect gift (at a deal, no less) for someone. And just because you got a great gift for $20 on a discount in March, doesn't mean you need to spend more to bring it up to the originally budgeted cost. Gift giving is about the thought, not money.

9. Shop on vacation
If you go somewhere on vacation, watch out for things that might make someone else happy come Christmastime. Going to a new city or country can open up shopping opportunities that don't usually exist for you.

10. Stay current with the business news
By following the business news, you'll learn about who is discounting, what's hot and what's not, what products are in surplus or short supply, and who is offering unusual deals. Use all this information to help strategize when and where to shop for best prizes and selection.

11. Don't be afraid to haggle
It can pay to be bold. Ask a manager: "Is this item going on sale soon?" "Is this the best price you can offer?" or "Are there any discounts for loyal customers?" The worst they say is "no." But you may be surprised at how many stores consider your request.

12. Go with gift cards
Sure, they might not give you the warm fuzzies, but giving someone the opportunity to choose what they want is never a bad thing. If you want to be distinctive, offer a certificate to an out-of-the-ordinary place, such as a French bakery, high-end restaurant, or day spa. Make sure you read the "fine print" to 
Check out our MyShopToday gift card and let your friends choose from a wide range of products. Enjoy free delivery!

13. Search for sales
Sone online retailers have sales like those at brick-and-mortar stores, with lots of promotion around the event. But even if there is no announced sale, many retailer sites have a permanent discount "room" with nicely marked-down products. Search your favourite online stores for these secret savings.
Check out the Reader's Digest holiday special sale!

14. Compare prices
You found the perfect baseball mitt for your son on a national sporting-good chain's website. Don't order yet! Write down the name and model number, and do a search of the item on your favourite search engine with the added words "best price". You'll not only find other vendors that sell that item (at varying costs), you'll often run across reviews of the product and online retailer.

15. Factor in shipping
Each web site has its own shipping charges. And some do a good job of hiding it! Never make a purchase without understanding the full costs involved, A $49.95 item is a better bargain with free shipping than the same item marked down to $39.95 but with $14.95 for shipping.

16. Consider giving an event
Each of us has our passions; why not let your loved ones engage in theirs? Buy them tickets to the opera, theater, circus, football game, concert, or lecture that they most would enjoy seeing or hearing. Or if they love food, reserve a table for two (or the family) at the restaurant they always dreamed of trying, but never got to. A magical evening out is often more memorable than one more nectie or kitchen appliance, after all.

17. Consider giving a membership
What art-lover wouldn't be happy with a membership to the art museum? All kinds of memberships are available with wonderful benefits, be they free admissions, a monthly magazine, or access to online services not available to others.
Want to give your friend a Reader's Digest magazine subscription? Click here

18. Give of yourself
Sometimes, the best gift of all is you. Give a handwritten or printed coupon to be redeemed over the coming year, for home-cooked meals, a weekend away, a personal car wash, even a massage. Better yet, give a coupon book with a mix of offers, large and small. Sometimes, the best gift you can give costs no money at all. Check out these nice gift coupons and download them for free!

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