A lifeline for last-minute shoppers

Girl tugging at her hair looking stressedIn case you've managed to miss the incessant Christmas ads, the sale signs splurged everywhere and shoppers struggling under the weight of shopping bags, the time is now upon us.

Christmas is just days away and, according to a recent survey, it's around now that panic starts to grip the unprepared shopper.

A study by AXA has shown that around 32% of consumers only complete their Christmas shopping in the last available week, so the strong message here is that you are not alone.

Leaving it to the last minute

However, leaving it all to the last minute leaves quite a significant margin for error, not only of being unable to get the gifts you require but also massively overspending.

In fact, December 20th has been identified by Barclaycard as the day most Brits start panic buying for Christmas. The survey also identified that the later we leave it, the more likely we are to overspend, with a third admitting they will spend more as the clock is ticking.

With belts tightening across the board, the big danger is consumers could be hugely out of pocket in January and struggle to meet their financial commitment as they get caught up in the mania as the panic kicks in.

What to do?

With this in mind, we've put together some pointers to keep you on the straight and narrow when it comes to last minute Christmas shopping.

1. Don't buy online

Although it's generally a money-saving basic, at this stage unless you pay over the odds for next day delivery you're not going to get the item in time for Christmas. And even then, there might be no guarantees you get it in time with the post already heaving under festive demand. Pre-ordering and store collection is fine, but avoid post at this point.

2. Make a list (and check it twice)

Shopping blindly coupled with panic isn't advisable. It's likely to leave you totally stressed out, unsure of who you're buying for or what you're buying them and leaves you totally vulnerable to last minute splurges, over-spending and giving in to false economies. To make your shopping a 'mission possible', a list is essential.

3. Budget

Knowing your outgoings is key to making sure any budget works so have an idea of firstly how much you actually have to spend and work backwards from there. A survey by Barclaycard identified that the average spend per present this Christmas will be around £32. However as we largely don't keep track of our expenditure at Christmas - particularly when it's last minute - we really don't know what we're spending. So make sure that your proposed expenditure matches what you actually have to spend, without putting yourself into unreasonable debt.

4. Think strategically

Strategic shopping time - you have a limited amount of time and if you've left it this late, it's because you have commitments, a career or kids to manage, or possibly all three. Once you've made your shopping hit list, consider the where and the when. A shopping centre close by? A town centre? Retail outlets? Your decision should be based on two factors – where can you get all the items you need and ease of access. If it's not in walking distance take into account public transport and petrol costs. Which is cheapest and which will make your life easiest. Make your decision on both factors. Some large retailers like Argos allow you to reserve items in advance, so there can be the security of knowing your items are there waiting to collect, which can go a long way to alleviating Christmas shopping stress.

5. Risky shopping business

While the Boxing Day sales were once the starting pistol for a sales frenzy, retailers are marking down earlier and earlier to entice shoppers in. For those looking to take a walk on the shopping wild side, shopping on Christmas Eve can go two ways – bagging loads of bargains in quiet shops while everyone is at home making last minute adjustments to their tree or being stuck in a queue with everyone else who had the same idea. Either way, make sure you stick to your list. And best of luck.

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