But just because the economy is poor doesn’t mean your holidays can’t be rich in gifts. In fact, in such difficult economic times many retailers are slashing prices and offering discounts and deals to entice you into purchasing gifts from their shops.
Here are five ways to make your own holiday gift-giving outlook brighter.
Do your research
Long gone are the days when going to just one big-box store sufficed. With all the smaller, more focused stores popping up in the city and surrounding areas, it’s now become easier to find what you want at multiple store locations.
So don’t settle on just one site for your choices. Search for deals at many different stores instead.
Get in touch
Imagine a time when you’ve been trying to get some quick shopping done. Maybe you needed the perfect pair of shoes for that night’s outfit or maybe you just hate shopping and wanted to grab the first pair of pants you saw and buy them.
And there you were minding your own business, trying to check out quickly, and the store employee started asking all these questions: Did you find what you were looking for? Do you have a store credit card? Would you like to add your email to our list?
Most people cycle through these questions with a series of “No”s, but you might want to pause at that last inquiry. Signing up for a store newsletter or email list can alert you to a whole host of discounts and special promotions.
Those who receive a store newsletter can find out when new merchandise is on sale or might receive special coupons or other savings — a percent off your sale, free shipping, a free gift card, etc. — not offered to regular customers.
It’s also a good way for stores to inform customers of in-store events, whether it be additional savings during one day only or certain celebrities visiting the store (for instance, perhaps a new designer is visiting a shoe store, an author is signing copies of her latest book at a bookstore or Santa Claus is coming to listen to kids’ wishes at a toy store).
Whatever the event or discount, customers who sign up for newsletters are always the first to hear about that specific marketing effort.
So although it might seem like just another way for stores to keep track of you, it can work to your benefit in the end.
Not only does it help improve our direct economy, but shopping local can also save you money and time. Driving to larger malls costs gas money and adds even more stress to an already hectic shopping season. Instead, walk to local stores in your neighborhood or take the bus to conserve gas money.
“More people are recognizing they can spend less money but still do more for their local economy by choosing local independent businesses for their holiday shopping,” says Jeff Milchen, co-founder of the American Independent Business Alliance. “By doing business locally, we tend to reduce our impact on the environment while nurturing community character and cohesiveness.”
Many smaller stores also have more power to negotiate or bargain with you over certain items since the owner is often nearby. For instance, ask if there’s a discount if you buy two or more of the same item, or check to see if there are any upcoming sales in the store’s future.
I have relatives in four different states, all of whom are expecting gifts from me this year. A few years ago, I would have spared no expense to give them what they wanted. But last year I discovered that most of them loved gifts cards to restaurants in their area, and these were much cheaper to ship than large stationary gift sets or heavy clothes.
A gift card often is a more appropriate gift, especially for a relative you might see only twice a year. While I know which restaurants my family likes to dine at, it’s rare that I can accurately guess their clothing size or favorite color.
Instead, I’ll search online for a nearby favorite restaurant or store and see if that shop offers gift cards or gift certificates. Many times they do and are more than happy to send one straight to my relatives or to me first so I can add a personalized note.
Other light items that fit well in the mail are CDs or DVDs. When the economy forecast turns ugly, many people opt to stay inside and watch a movie at home on the weekends instead of going out to theaters. Facilitate this trend by sending those on your list their favorite music and shows on CD or DVD.
For those with much larger families, it can be daunting to purchase gifts for all five of your cousins and all 17 of their children combined. Therefore, it’s often much cheaper to host a secret Santa gift exchange, so you only have to buy one gift instead of many.
One online site making that much easier is Elfster.com. Simply register your secret Santa group online, and Elfster will randomly choose a secret Santa for each person on your list.
Another benefit to using this site is that you can easily tailor your gift to the specific person chosen for your secret Santa. Now, instead of buying multiple low ticket items that some people might like and some don’t, you can choose one gift that specifically fits your chosen secret Santa.
“Across the nation, local business owners are working hard to rebuild our economy,” said Mary Rick, Program Director at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. “Elfster offers a great way to save money, reduce your carbon footprint and find meaningful gifts from your locally-owned businesses.”
Check out Christine Mersch's suggestions for shopping local in the LAST-MINUTE GIFT GUIDE here.