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5 Tips to Conquer Holiday Shopping this Year (On a Budget)

By Nicole Bustamante

Can you hear the sleigh bells jingling? No? It might be a little early for carols and candy canes, but it’s never too soon to plan out your holiday shopping list! 


As tempting as a little procrastination may be, shopping the day before is not the answer to your gift-giving anxiety. There’s no better time to kick procrastination to the curb (if this is a New Year’s resolution of yours, why not start practicing it now!). 


This year, it’s widely recommended that you start purchasing your gifts ASAP due to severe supply chain issues and port delays — even the White House is saying it! Retailers are seeing increased prices in raw materials and shortages in products, partly due to Covid-related restrictions. Meanwhile, staffing shortages and delivery delays at FedEx and USPS are adding another variable to the mix.


We know how overwhelming holiday shopping can be in normal times, let alone with all of these additional stressors. But here’s the good news: you still have time to beat the holiday shopping frenzy if you play your cards right! We’ve outlined some tips and tricks to manage the manic shopping season and take the holidays in stride.



1. Start early by making your list (and checking it twice)


Get ahead of the game and start your shopping prep now. If you’re reading this article, then you’re already well on your way! 


There’s no better way to tackle an overwhelming task than by breaking it up into more approachable pieces with a list. Start by planning out who you need to get gifts for, ask for wishlists in advance, and then highlight different categories within your shopping list.


For example, you can group expensive gifts together for special loved ones so you know which items will cost the most. You can also group together similar gifts for different people that you can potentially buy in bulk. Or, if you decide to go the homemade route, you can plan who you will be crafting a gift for and create a timeline to make sure that your DIY gift-making is on track to be completed by the holidays. 


Organizing these details will help you begin to shape your holiday budget. Additionally, as ecommerce continues to dominate the shopping landscape this year, some brands have begun offering Black Friday sales as early as October to ensure your items arrive on time. Plan ahead to take advantage of all these deals!



2. Set your budget in advance (and keep yourself honest!)


After you have an initial idea of what gifts you are purchasing for each person, put together a general budgeting spreadsheet with spending allowances. Simply create a chart in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets with four columns:


  • The type of gift / recipient
  • Your allotted budget for the item(s)
  • Your actual amount spent
  • The difference between your allotted and actual spend


If you’re handy with a spreadsheet, you can use shortcuts to automatically calculate total prices or differences for items within each column. You can then compare your holiday budget to your overall monthly budget and see if you need to adjust allowances in other categories like personal shopping or your daily coffee habit.  


However you choose to map it out, setting your budget in advance is a sure way to alleviate any stress and keep tabs on your holiday spending this season. No one is maxing out their credit card this season on our watch!



3. Do your research on in-store vs. online shopping options


Now that you have a realistic sense of your budget and what types of gifts you want to purchase, it’s time to find out how your favorite retailers are handling the likely port delays and product shortages. 


While last year we were very pro-online shopping, hitting up the stores in person may be the smartest solution this year. Not only will you be able to snag your gifts immediately, but many large retailers also offer gift wrapping services so you don’t have to lift a finger — aside from carrying the shopping bags home, that is. You can also still lean into the curbside pickup option to avoid any mad dash chaos. 


No need to fret if the gifts you want are only online — you still have time and options! Many retailers’ websites include information on when popular items will be restocked and estimated delivery dates to aid in your planning. The “pro” to online shopping is that you can send a gift directly to your faraway loved one’s address and avoid a pit stop and additional costs at FedEx/UPS/USPS.


Wherever you’re shopping, make sure to also research their return policies. We love supporting small businesses, but some may have specific return restrictions or limited return windows. If you’re not sure, ask!


Finally, remember: whether you choose to shop online or in-store, you can always pay in installments with Zip.



4. Scout out bulk discounts and holiday deals


Having a plan for what gifts you want to buy will guarantee that you’re ready to pull the trigger if any great deals come along (like those early Black Friday sales!). You can also set a reminder in your calendar for known retail holidays, such as Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Free Shipping Day.


You may be thinking to yourself: “If I have to start holiday shopping now, how do I take advantage of these big-box sales in addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday?”


It turns out, you can have it all. Large retailers are starting their holiday sales earlier than ever before. Amazon started releasing Black Friday-esque deals on October 4 for members to start shopping and saving now. Walmart is also starting early with their “Black Friday Deals for Days” program opening on November 3. Best Buy’s Black Friday deals are also in full swing. These three are not alone in their proactive thinking, as more and more sellers are likely to pick up on the trend to offer their best deals as soon as possible.


If you have specific clothing items or accessories in mind for someone on your list — or you’re treating yourself to a little something for the holidays — keep an eye on inventory on resale sites like Poshmark and The RealReal. With these retailers, you can check availability for the specific items you’re on the hunt for at a discounted price. 


And if you’re eyeing something from a small business retailer like Etsy, pay close attention to their estimated delivery windows and message the seller to see if the timing lines up. Keep in mind that small sellers have a lot less control over shipping delays than the big-buck stores!


5. Manage your expenses with Zip


Whether you’re buying supplies to make a gift from the heart or investing in a larger purchase for a loved one, consider splitting your seasonal expenses up over several weeks with Buy Now, Pay Later. Unlike racking up a mound of credit card charges that will quickly accrue steep interest, using a service like Zip to manage your expenses comes with a transparent payment schedule and doesn’t require a hard credit check. An added bonus: if you start shopping early, you can maximize your spending limit during the holiday season by paying off purchases early and replenishing your available balance for those last-minute finds.


At the end of the day, Zip is a smart spending tool that can help you stick to your holiday budget without cutting any corners. Take it from us: there’s no jollier feeling than knowing that your savings are still intact after the holiday season is over!

Get started with Zip today

Zip’s editorial content is not written by a financial advisor. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

About the author
Nicole Bustamante

Nicole Bustamante is a writer and journalist passionate about storytelling and the art of fashion. She has written for The Zoe Report, Angeleno Magazine, Modern Luxury Interiors California, and more in addition to writing for her personal blog.