Shop Around

By Chandra Orr

September 19, 2008 5 min read

SHOP AROUND

The hunt is on to find the perfect gift at the right price

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

Some do it for sport. Some just want to save money. Regardless, the pursuit of the best deals and steals mean big business for retailers -- and great holiday finds at a fraction of the price for those willing to invest a little extra time and effort.

"Bargain shopping can be both fun and stress-free if you are able to see the game that it really is. After you score your first mega-bargain there's no turning back," said Jennifer Melnick Carota, author of "Shop Smart GIVE MORE" ($17, Lulu) and founder of TheGiftTherapist.com.

It's all about the thrill of the hunt, and stores are gearing up to reel you in.

"Competition for consumer sales will be fierce this holiday season. With more shoppers limiting physical trips to the malls, retailers will be offering additional sales and perks designed to get you into their stores both 'on land' and online," Carota said. "Depending on your purchases, these discounts can help you save big at checkout [time]."

To score the best bargains, do your research.

Before you hit the stores, visit ShopLocal.com to see dozens of local sales fliers for your area. The site features millions of timely in-store and online offers from some of the nation's largest retailers, including Target, Best Buy, Home Depot, CVS, Albertsons and Sears, broken down by location and category.

Planning to skip the stores and shop online instead? Rather than visiting dozens of individual websites, use a one-stop price comparison site like Shop.com or PriceGrabber.com to get a general idea of who has the best deals. Keep in mind, though, such sites typically list paid placements first, which may or may not offer the best price.

For more ways to save, check out CouponWinner.com. The website works with more than 2,000 merchants to provide thousands of free coupons and promotional codes from top retailers categorized by interest, store and popularity.

Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, offers the following additional tips for finding the best bargains and making the most of your holiday budget:

* DO focus on what you spend, not what you save. At the end of the shopping day, you'll still have less in your wallet than you did before. Set a budget and stick to it.

* DON'T splurge on unnecessary items. Just because it's on sale doesn't mean you need it. Midnight madness sales and early bird specials are designed to whip shoppers into a frenzy. Sure, you can find some great deals, but stop and think about whether or not you really want an item before you buy it.

* DO take your time. Don't let anxiety and stress force you into a quick decision. Remember, you always have America's favorite gift as a backup -- the gift card.

* DON'T make impulse purchases. Sales often create a sense of urgency and false value. An item originally priced at $100 marked down to $30? You have to get it now -- it's such a steal! Resist the urge to think this way; stick to your list instead.

* DO get to know a salesperson at your favorite store. They can tell you about sales ahead of time.

* DON'T hold out for a bigger markdown. In anticipation of slower sales this season, retailers have ordered less stock than in previous years, so there's a chance the item won't be around long enough to see a second or third markdown.

* DO look online. Web-based deals often trump in-store specials -- especially when you throw in free shipping.

* DON'T become a compulsive penny-pincher. When only a certain item will do, go ahead and get it. It will last longer and pack a greater emotional wallop than two mediocre gifts. Plus, when people get what they really want they tend to want less.

With this in mind, go ahead and indulge in a little retail therapy -- just keep your eye on the bigger picture. It's great to nab a bargain, but finding the perfect present for that special someone is the ultimate goal.

"Quality is always more important than quantity," Carota said. "Your gift should reflect your gratitude and appreciation for that person by giving them something of value.

"Giving a high quality gift on a budget is possible so don't give a gift that was obviously plucked from your local discount store. I would rather receive a $10 bag of Starbuck's coffee over a knock-off Gucci bag any day."

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