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How to make holiday shopping in a pandemic less stressful

According to a recent survey, 54% of Americans feel more financially stressed about the holidays than they did last year.
Holiday shopping in pandemic
If you’re feeling anxious about trying to save money, but also want to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones, don’t panic.Angie Wang / For TODAY
/ Source: TMRW

As we venture into the holiday season during the pandemic, several are bracing for a financial strain. According to a new Credit Karma survey, 54% of Americans feel more financially stressed about the holidays than they did last year.

If you’re feeling anxious about trying to save money, but also want to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones, don’t panic. By planning ahead and focusing on meaningful gifts this year, you don’t have to break the bank. Below, financial experts provide tips for a stress-free holiday plan.

1. Create a budget

Colleen McCreary, chief people officer at Credit Karma, says the best place to start is to create a list of all the people for whom you plan on purchasing a gift. Along with setting an approximate dollar amount per person, McCreary points to key questions to ask yourself: “How do you want to prioritize the season? Who's most important? And then work your way down from there,” she said. By having a concrete list itemized with people and prices, you can help narrow down your purchases and where to buy.

2. Stick to the budget

Especially this season, repeat this mantra to yourself when you’re shopping: Don’t impulse buy! Wisam Dakka, co-founder of Meemo, a social finance app, says it’s important to hold yourself accountable to your budget. “If COVID-19 showed us anything, it showed us that we should only spend on the things that we find meaningful,” Dakka said. Sure, those bracelets from Amazon or cookie cutters from Sur La Table are cute, but are they worth veering from your list and overspending? Probably not.

McCreary’s foremost advice? Don’t get caught up in the moment or the sale. “If you start with a plan, but then if you don't follow through, it's like exercise because you realize later on, 'Oh, I didn't actually do anything for the last four or five weeks,'” she said. “So, I would mark your calendar just like you schedule any other meetings, and schedule a time every other day to make sure you're checking back on your plan.”

3. Compare prices across different retailers and sign up for rewards

Most times those retail emails that you send to spam are annoying — except during the holiday season. To help compare prices and sales, it’s worth signing up for store updates. “In most cases there are discounts and coupons that will come through on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter with potentially early access,” McCreary says. Browser extensions, like Honey, offer cashback, so it’s helpful to seek out multiple online services. “Many credit cards and even debit cards have rewards programs, so you should be taking a look at those too,” she says.

4. Keep shipping dates in mind

Planning ahead doesn’t just mean creating a budget. If you’re looking to mostly online shop, make sure you’re ordering in time. “Due to COVID-19 this year, internet sales are expected to be through the roof,” McCreary said. “So, you really want to start thinking even further ahead than you normally would just because there's so many unknowns, given the COVID-19 timeframe.” If you’re purchasing personalized items from places like Shutterfly or Etsy, order immediately to give independent retailers time to create your gift.

5. Buy meaningful gifts

Expensive gifts are so overrated. With stress levels soaring, your loved ones will definitely appreciate a meaningful, thoughtful gift. “There are a lot of things that you can do that are much more personal and sentimental, that don't cost a lot of money,” McCreary said. “Find a quote from somebody who's super meaningful — Brené Brown or RBG — something that's meaningful to that person, and just have it framed.”

6. Support small businesses

As the pandemic affects more and more small businesses, purchasing gifts from local shops can go a long way. Dakka says even making a donation on someone’s behalf may be the best way to pay it forward this season. Several apps, including his own, Meemo, can help you either donate or buy gift cards to local shops and Black-owned businesses.

“The current generation is more interested in experiences — not necessarily owning things,” he said. So, get creative this season, look beyond knickknacks and opt for more fulfilling gifts.