The Panic Shopping Just Before Christmas

Four more shopping days until Christmas, so you know what that means, right? Any semblance of reasonableness, budgeting, and comparison shopping is done and over with. Now, it’s mostly panic. And retailers know that. Christmas week is not the week for any great deals.

The average person spends $104 when they go to a mall. That has to be way higher when we have a long list of presents still to buy and not a lot of time. I don’t know if it’s too late to get you to your bank machine and draw out the cash for the rest of your shopping. I hope you’ll do it, because we spend about 18% more when we pay by credit card and, this is purely my guess, another 25 to 50% more in panic mode. If you have the cash on the counter, you’ll literally feel the pain of parting with that money and you WILL reduce what you spend.

Of course, part two is the old stand-by of gift cards. For two years, their sales have been pretty stagnant, but this year, sales are way up and will be over $30 billion in North America.

I’m sitting here looking at a $20 bill. I don’t see an expiry date and it doesn’t say anywhere on the bill that I have to use it at a certain store. It’s nice to know that this $20 is good anywhere, and anytime. That’s not the case for gift cards.

I am not a fan of gift cards unless they are at a discount, such as $80 for a $100 gift card or buy one for $25 get another for $5 free. Give the cash with a note of what you’d hoped they’d use it for and not the gift card. Remember that over 8% of gift cards are never used, so that’s $240 million down the drain, and gift cards are no good if the retailer goes out of business.

I’m fine with those from Wal Mart or Tim Horton, Starbucks or Amazon, but the smaller the retailer, the bigger the risk they won’t be around to honour the gift card. They have your cash and you have nothing.

Conversely, if you do get a gift card, use it right away for the full amount. If there’s a balance left, keep it on the fridge and use a felt marker to note what’s left so it doesn’t go to waste, or give it to someone else in line at the check out, if it’s a small amount left.

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