Retailers love last-minute shoppers like me. With weeks' worth of procrastination-based panic about to erupt within me, they can see me and my wallet coming a mile away.

For many years now, I have spent the first quarter of the new year recovering from the last quarter of the old. But not this year. Now I have new strategies under my belt to avoid the kinds of costly overspending errors I've made in years past. Here are six last-minute shopping errors to avoid!

1. Going in blind.

If you walk into a store with procrastination-based shopping stress but without a plan for what to buy for whom, you’re nearly guaranteed to overspend on everything you buy.

  • The fix: Make your list at home, then call around until you find a store that has the item at the price you want to pay. Ask them to hold it under your name. Or use the buy-it-online/pick-it-up-in-store option that some big chains (like Walmart and Target) now offer.
  • How it helps you save: When you enter the store, you have a goal and a destination. Rather than lingering and impulse shopping, you head right to the customer service counter to pick up your item and pay.

2. Assuming Christmas Eve (or even Christmas day) is too late to shop!

Unlike me, the retailers already know I will procrastinate again this year. Hence their extended store hours, eleventh-hour sales, and other alluring last-minute offers.

  • The fix: Well, if they're all going to stay open anyway, might as well take advantage! Also, since many folks are done shopping by Christmas Eve and are home with their loved ones, the stores will be less crowded.
  • How it helps you save: Christmas Eve is a great time to find sales and bargain markdowns (retailers aren't immune to panic, and certain inventory needs to move before the year ends).

3. Wasting time looking for free shipping deals online.

Free shipping day happens on or around December 18th annually. After that, shoppers may find free holiday shipping deals as late as December 22nd. But three-quarters of retailers will rescind free shipping offers by then (for more see NRF). If you’re shopping on December 23rd, don't waste your time—you’ll likely pay in spades to ship in time for Christmas.

  • The fix: If you are going to send a gift via an online retailer, opt for an e-gift card or monthly subscription (these will generate an e-card to let the recipient know their gift is en route).
  • How it helps you save: You won't spend precious time shopping online only to be confronted with exorbitant last-minute shipping costs you’re then tempted to just pay.

4. Taking a big shopping cart in with you.

If you do decide to visit a store without a gift list in hand, whatever you do, do not take a big empty shopping cart in with you! This is just an open invitation to fill it up and overspend.

  • The fix: The best option here is to have one larger item you know you want to buy and put that in your cart right away so it already looks full. If you don't have such an item in mind, then either take a small handheld basket into the store or take nothing at all. If you do find a good buy, you can always head back to the front to get a cart later!
  • How it helps you save: If you don't overfill a big cart, you’re much less likely to overspend.

5. Overspending now on something you know you can get for less later.

This is one of the worst feelings ever—especially when you usually love a good bargain.

  • The fix: Did you know that an estimated 30+ percent of your gift recipients are hoping to receive gift cards for the holidays (for more see Discover survey)?
  • How it helps you save: There’s always time to buy a discounted gift card—even if you just let them know the "gift is in the mail" (some will permit instant e-gift cards). Check out this great KCL post for more.

6. Shopping small or customized.

Customized orders placed at the last minute will be impossible to fix in time—one little typo or scratch could spoil your whole plan. And small third-party resellers (even those you find on Amazon) often will offer "estimated" shipping times, but you can't set your calendar by those dates.

  • The fix: If you shop late, shop big—think Amazon here, not Etsy.
  • How it helps you save: At least you still have a chance of scoring free shipping via a free Prime trial membership—plus the free Amazon Price Checker app will help you find the best deal!


6 Last-Minute Shopping Errors to Avoid!