Consumer IQ

Holiday Shopping Advice You Won’t Get From Your Mother

Christmas shopping

I promised myself that I wouldn’t start this story with, “It’s that time of year again…..” But it’s that time of year. Again.

It’s the time of year 51 percent of the population loves and the other 49 percent tolerates. It’s the holiday shopping season.

Consumer advocates like me are often asked for advice on shopping during the holidays. But this year, I’m going to do something a little different.

This year, I’m just going to tell you what to do, because I’m starting to get a little tired of giving you polite advice.

Don’t fall into the holiday shopping trap at all.

Some businesses make a bulk of their profits between the time you read this story in November and the end of the year. If you can avoid buying anything, you should. Prices are preposterously high.

Don’t wait until the last minute to buy a present.

Holding off until a few days before the holiday is a common strategy among shoppers of, um, my gender. We are hoping for … I don’t know what, to wake up the day after the holiday, and for it to be over.

Wishful thinking! This is a lot like the root canal or colonoscopy. Don’t put it off.

Mind the charity traps.

Giving to worthy causes at this time of year is a great idea, but the “worthy” often gets glossed over. Holiday scams are waiting for you out there, and they’re coming for you.

Whether it’s the fake Santa scamming you for a quarter to the sophisticated bogus charity bilking millions from misguided donors – don’t become one of them. Find a charity you like and plan now to give to it.

Don’t follow the crowd.

They say the crowd is smarter than you are, but that’s not true during the holidays. Then, the crowd becomes a mob and buys up every Pokemon and Furby on the shelf.

Tell your kids this holiday’s trend toy is toxic and buy them underwear if you have to, but whatever you do, don’t follow the crowd. It’ll cost you. In some cases, dearly.

Think about this racket, for a second. The holidays have become a giant commercial, an enormous sucking sound on your bank account. Many consumer go into debt to finance their holiday happiness.

If you took just a second or two to focus on the reason for the celebration – not matter what your faith – you might find that the gifts are secondary.

I’m no theologian, but I can tell you, go with that sentiment. It’ll save you lots of money.

I know what you’re thinking: Alright, wiseguy, what are you doing for the holidays – and does your family let you get away with this? Fair point.

My better half is dedicated to shopping. My kids love gifts. It’s a struggle.

But as I write this, we’ve already had a conversation about the gifts we will, and won’t, buy this year. I’ve already given a few early presents.

We’re planning to be with family for the holidays, which is far more important than anything you can buy in the mall.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.