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5 Shopping Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season

Before you buy one more present, try these tips.

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Don’t rack your brain

If one thing on your wish list is a stress-free holiday, we’ve got a present for you. These shopping tips will save you time and money, with suggestions on how to investigate, auto­mate, and delegate your gift hunt. Don’t feel guilty about ­outsourcing—after all, Santa employs helpers too.

Can’t figure out what to buy? Don’t be afraid to look for clues and ask for ideas. First, see whether the folks on your to-buy-for list have already dropped some virtual hints, in the form of a wish list on amazon.com or gifthero.com, or a ­Pinterest board of coveted items. If you strike out, encourage your lucky recipients to go on a virtual shopping spree, posting items they wish someone would buy for them.

You can also find inspiration in the many online gift guides. They are typically organized by recipient, interest, and/or price range: Gifts for Dads, Gifts for Golfers … You get the idea. Good ones include Target’s gift finder (search online for “Target + gift finder,” then choose For Him, For Kids, etc.), uncommongoods.com (click on Gifts, then select your re­cipient or price range, or browse by interest), and gifthero.com (click on Explore, then type in whom you’re buying for, such as “Mom” or “cook,” or browse the many idea boards to see gift items from various retailers).

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Get someone else to do your shopping

You really can enlist your own personal elves. Many stores have free professional shoppers who can pick out presents for you. We’re not talking just high-end stores such as Blooming­dale’s and Nordstrom. Mall stalwarts Macy’s, J. Crew, Pottery Barn, and others will let you leave the shopping to them—they’re all hungry to win your business away from online retailers. You’ll likely need an appointment, so call ahead or search retailers’ websites for “personal shopping”; you’ll typically find a link on the home page under Contact Us or Services. And if you just stop by a store, any good sales clerk will happily offer suggestions. Independent retailers are known for this personal touch, one of the best (and unsung) reasons to shop local.

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Have gifts delivered

Time is money, and for not a lot of money you can save a lot of time by having your gifts delivered right to your door. Some mom-and-pop shops offer delivery and free setup on items such as bikes, grills, and furniture. Chain stores tend to charge for the service, but it still might be worth paying for the convenience. (Be sure to ask your independent retailer whether it will match the price you found at a chain store.)

For local stores that don’t offer this convenience, try the Postmates delivery service. First, go to ­postmates.com or download the free app and see whether it’s available in your area. Then type the name of a store into the search bar, click on the store, and enter the item you want. You can even add a photo. You’ll pay for the item, plus a delivery fee of $3.99 to $5.99. Best bet: $9.99 for a monthly unlimited subscription and free delivery on ­orders over $20—a no‑brainer if you have a long shopping list.

Need help with assembly? You can post an ad at taskrabbit.com describing what you need, then weigh the bids that come in. Fees vary by job, helper, and location, but the company says the average is about $35 an hour. Need help on finding a gift? This is the ultimate gift for every zodiac sign.

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Never wrap again

Free gift wrapping is not as common as it once was, but some stores still offer it—or at least provide free gift packaging, typically a box, tissue paper, and ribbon. The list includes Barnes & Noble, Pottery Barn, Sephora, and Williams-Sonoma, along with many local businesses. Other stores and online retailers will wrap for a small fee.

Also, keep your eyes open for gift-wrapping tables in the mall at holiday time. They’re usually staffed by volunteers from local charities, and with a small donation to a good cause, you can have all your wrapping done for you.

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Make Black Friday optional

Black Friday isn’t just a day anymore; holiday creep has turned it into a weeks-long sales marathon. If you really love the ritual of hitting the stores that day (or even Thanksgiving Day), you will find major markdowns in many stores as well as online. Hot-ticket items will include TVs, laptops, iPhones (even the new ones!), video game consoles, and appliances (large and small), according to bestblackfriday.com.

If you’d rather skip the mayhem, know that sales will be going on in the weeks leading up to Christmas. A good day to target this year is December 15, Free Shipping Day, when many online merchants promise Christmas Eve delivery without rush fees. Also, watch for deals on exercise equipment (December 10), tools (December 13), toys (December 16), and jewelry (December 4 to 25), according to predictions from shopping expert Kyle James of ­ratherbeshopping.com. To keep an eye on sales as they are announced, watch bestblackfriday.com, theblackfriday.com, and blackfriday.com. Try out these family bonding ideas you can do instead of Black Friday shopping.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Jody L. Rohlena
Jody L. Rohlena is a senior editor at Reader's Digest.