Instead of aimlessly buying gifts throughout the season (a major wallet drain), use this shopping guide, chock-full of surprising strategies, to cross everything off your list in a single day.
Fuel up. It’s hard to shop sensibly when your blood sugar is crashing, so skip the bagels, the donuts, and the sugary breakfast cereals, says Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian in New York City and the author of The Snack Factor Diet ($12, amazon.com). Choose a meal loaded with fiber, protein, and healthy fats—like oatmeal made with skim milk and almonds. Find healthy breakfast recipes here.
Don’t dress just for comfort. When people are feeling insecure, they tend to buy more, according to Darren Dahl, a professor of applied marketing research at the Sauder School of Business, in Vancouver. So nix the sweats and the sneakers if they make you feel frowzy and opt for something stylish, like cute flats or an on-trend top, that boosts your self-confidence.
Download an upbeat playlist. “Holiday music makes us nostalgic. We linger in the store and buy more to capture that warm, fuzzy feeling,” says Martin Lindstrom, the author of Brandwashed ($19, amazon.com). Outsmart the shops blasting “Jingle Bell Rock” by donning your earbuds and listening to songs with a beat faster than your resting heart rate, which is, on average, about 70 beats a minute. Those tunes will keep you moving quickly and efficiently through the stores. One good track: Katy Perry’s “Firework” (124 beats per minute). Find additional song suggestions at jog.fm.
Get dibs on discounts. Before you leave the house, download the free apps offered by your favorite retailers or check out their websites for announcements, coupons, and the latest information on sales. Smartphone users can use the no-cost app ScanLife to scan a product’s barcode and find out which local or online establishment has the best price.
Head out solo. Unconsciously, people tend to mimic one another. That means if your girlfriend stocks up at the kitchen-supply store, you’re more likely to do so, too, says Lindstrom. So just say no to a shopping companion today. You can share deals with friends by using the free My Shopping Circle app, which notifies them about sales you see (and vice versa).
Stop at the bank… Curb impulse buys by leaving your credit cards at home. Shopping with cash cuts your overall outlay by 23 percent, according to Lindstrom. Avoid the ATM and go to a teller so you can request larger bills, such as 50s or 100s. You will be less likely to break them on unnecessary purchases.
…Then hit the mall. Since the main entrance may have a lavish display enticing you to spend, come in through a side door or the food-court entrance. Avoid unplanned detours by using the free FastMall app, which contains full maps of more than 1,250 malls nationwide.
Buy less expensive stuff first. And here’s why: Once you shell out for something costly, your brain loses perspective on what’s a good price, says Scott Huettel, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. So once you’ve paid $250 for a PlayStation 3, doling out $40 instead of $30 for a Lego set may no longer faze you.
Eat lunch. Recharge by choosing a protein-rich salad with chicken or a turkey-avocado wrap. (Carbohydrate-laden picks, like pizza and fries, will make you want to nap.)
Perk yourself up. A few hours trolling the mall can get anyone down. But you’re more likely to make good buying choices if you stay in a pleasant mood, because you’ll more carefully consider the pros and cons before making a decision, says Paul M. Herr, a professor of marketing at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia. So treat yourself to an inexpensive manicure at a salon or a free chair massage at Brookstone.
Skip lines. When possible, pay for your purchases in less crowded areas of the store, like the men’s-underwear or home-furnishings department. Otherwise, while you’re waiting, you just might pick up something on a whim.
Steer clear of attractive salespeople. You’re more likely to buy something from a sales associate who is easy on the eyes. Research shows that people tend to trust folks whom they find physically appealing, says Dahl. So ask yourself, do you like the looks of the sweater or the handsome clerk holding it?
Get in, get out. The longer you listen to a sales pitch, the more likely you are to hand over the cash, according to Dahl.
Multitask at dinner. Meet your spouse or friends for dinner at a restaurant that offers gift-card freebies, like T.G.I. Friday’s. At that chain, you can buy your college-age son or a friend a $50 gift card for the holidays and get a $10 credit to apply toward your dinner then and there.
Back at home, search for discount codes. Look for your favorite e-tailers at FreeShipping.org, RetailMeNot.com, and CouponCabin.com to see if free shipping or other discounts are available. Or simply shop the clothing-and-accessories sites Zappos.com, Endless.com, and Piperlime.com—they never charge for domestic shipping.
Cash in your rewards. Assess which credit-card partnerships and rewards programs you are eligible for. Consider using points to buy gift cards or make online purchases through the card’s rewards site. Doing so could land you a discount or earn you more points.
Buy toys online. Instead of scouring the often ransacked shelves of big-box retailers, such as Target and Toys“R”Us, head to their websites. Bonus: At this time of year, you can often land free shipping with a purchase over a certain amount.
Be a little sneaky. “Just as you’re about to finalize an online purchase, cancel the order,” says Lindstrom. “If you’ve previously shopped the site, the merchant should have your e-mail address, and you may get a message within minutes touting a discount code.” Or contact a site’s live-chat associate and ask for a discount. This simple action could save you about 15 percent off the price tag, says Robert Pagliarini, the founder of RicherLife.com, a financial website.
All done! Now kick back with a glass of your favorite something. (Find red and white wine recommendations.)