Since I study consumer behavior it's actually part of my job to go shopping. Though my focus is on the mindset of consumers and the marketing tactics of retailers, I've also picked up a few shopping tips.
1. Don't go into debt to purchase holiday gifts. Debt is a daily stressor and ultimately your family and friends would rather have a "happy you" than anything you could buy them.
2. Focus on the gift, not the deal. This year retailers are tempting shoppers with an overwhelming array of promotions and insider specials. These promotions are designed to inspire a fear of missing out, to engage a spirit of competitiveness or to make us feel like we're special. It's distracting and disorienting, which makes it harder than ever to stay focused on the product itself and whether or not it's the right gift.
3. Make a list. It sounds Santa-Clausish, but organization reduces stress and keeps you on budget.
4. Ask for gift receipts for all of your gift purchases then tape them to the product or package right away. Keep your own receipts too-if something that you've purchased goes on sale, you can generally get a price adjustment up to two weeks after you bought it.
5. Order gifts for out-of-towners online to save postage costs. Nearly every online retailer has free shipping promotions this year. If you're mailing your own gifts get it done by December 13, which will be the busiest shipping day of the year.
6. Go easy on trinkets and stocking-stuffers. They add up fast and are minimally appreciated. That goes for special do-dahs for wrapping too.
7. Develop relationships with salespeople in your favorite stores. Ask them about upcoming sales, inventory or to ring up what you want on a day it will go on sale. This probably wouldn't work at Wal-Mart, but it does at many department stores. Retailers want those relationships as well. They want consumers to feel connected with them.
8. Don't buy warranties on electronics.
9. If it's a "must have" item don't wait too long. Retailers have a firm grasp on inventories this year. If it's not an "essential," remember that sales promotions are short-term this year and not progressive. In other words, if it's not the right price another bus will come along.
10. Use your smartphone and your computer to compare prices but keep in mind the time/value equation and don't sacrifice time spent with others for a tiny bit of a better deal.