There's no reason to drop when you shop

"Think of your final thoughts from last year’s holiday shopping season: “Next year, I will stick to my budget and get my shopping done early.”The secret to turning yourself into a savvy holiday shopper: Spend more time planning before you hit the stores and shop smarter once you get there. Whether you’re heading across Puget Sound for some destination shopping or staying close to home, the following tips can transform your holiday shopping style:* Have a plan. Make one shopping list for each person you’re buying for, establish a budget and stick to it. And decide in advance how you’ll pay for each gift, i.e., cash, credit or savings.Expand that plan by thinking local, said Mike Brothers, head of South Kitsap Mall’s merchants association and owner of Walk ‘n Comfort Shoes. Before driving to another town or county to buy Christmas gifts, checking the stores in your own community might turn up what you’re looking for, he said.“We all have a tendency to head for the big malls, but there are a lot of businesses in your own backyard that could fill your needs. And you’d be keeping your business local,” Brothers noted.* Be flexible and patient. Supply for the season’s “hot gifts” doesn’t always meet demand, so be sure to have more than one or two gift ideas for each person on your list. Also, give yourself plenty of time to shop. If you buy out of frustration or desperation, you risk spending more than you intended and may end up dissatisfied.* Spread your spending. Most monthly household budgets don’t include holiday gifts. An easy way to keep your December budget in line and credit card bills within limits is to start your planning early and spread the gift-buying over as many paychecks as possible. Begin your shopping in early November (Did you?) and reduce the financial strain.To help get shoppers in the mood for spreading their spending, South Kitsap Mall starts its holiday marketing push the day after Thanksgiving. “I’d start even earlier, like the dayy after Halloween,” said Brothers.* Know your store types. When planning your holiday strategy, know what different stores offer and where the store’s merchandise falls on the value spectrum. * Do your homework. Heavily advertised sale prices aren’t always the best bargains. Sometimes shopping at discounted stores with everyday discounts can result in better deals. Shoppers may be busier today than ever before, but it’s not difficult to do some quick comparison shopping, such as reading catalogs or calling key stores for particular items in stock.“Absolutely, comparison shop. Call a couple stores before you head out. It might save you time and money,” Brothers said.* Shop for value, not necessarily price. Focus on items’ value, not their price tags. Look for quality fabrics or timeless styles. Think about durability. Keep in mind hidden expenses, such as dry-cleaning for clothes, or batteries and maintenance for toys and appliances.* Give practical gifts. What’s great about practical gifts is that they are inexpensive for the buyer and very useful for the recipient. For the music lover in your family, a box of blank audio tapes will come in handy. Give a piece of unfinished furniture to the Mr. or Ms. Home Improvement on your list. And the family photographer will appreciate photo albums, photo boxes and film.* Shop at off-peak times. Fighting crowds can be downright frustrating. Take advantage of special extended shopping hours--such as the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. holiday hours Monday through Friday at South Kitsap Mall--and visit the mall at off-peak hour.* Set up “power-shopping” sessions. Block out a chunk of time, such as an entire Saturday or a weekday evening, arm yourself with your holiday shopping plan, and stay focused. By power shopping, you can get a lot accomplished and save time in the long run. Shoppers with kids should get together with a friend and split the day in half. While one power-shops, the other babysits, then switch.Taking turns at babysitting is “a great idea,” Brothers said. “You can’t always take the kids with you and get the shopping done that you want.”Follow these tips and you’re setting yourself to stay on budget, get your shopping done early and, most importantly, enjoy the holiday season.Sherry Burton is the marketing director at SuperMall of the Great Northwest in Auburn."

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