How to Plan Ahead & Make the Most of the Holiday Shopping Season

Treasure & Body Ribbed Funnel Neck Sweater 9

The rush of Black Friday and Cyber Week is about to begin, but before we get swept away in all the sales, it’s important to take a step back, breathe, and plan ahead.

By creating your shopping lists before you hit the stores, you’ll get the most out of this year’s holiday sales without over-buying, putting a huge dent on your credit cards, and suffering all that unnecessary emotional stress.  Here are four steps to get started…

Start digging for clues.

Since you’ll likely be spending a pretty penny on others over the next few months, creating gift lists before you head to the stores can be extremely helpful – saving you time, stress, and frivolous spending on last-minute gifts. If you’re organized and good at taking hints, you probably already have a running gift list for each member of your family, in which case, you’re set!  But for the rest of us, now is the time to start digging. Ask subtle questions around what your friends and family need/want/use on a daily basis.

Here’s one example – maybe you noticed they’re running low on their favorite perfume, or perhaps they may be interested in a new scent.  Start by finding out what types they already love and throw in casual questions about fragrance notes and brands over lunch or dinner. Better yet, take them gift shopping (for someone else of course) and casually stop by the perfume counter to try out samples, taking note of their reactions. The same goes for beauty products, clothes, kitchen appliances, and any other item that they can browse or try on.  When you see their face light up, make a mental note!

Another great way to come up with gift ideas is to pay close attention to a person’s hobbies, then look for ways to improve their current kit or setup.  For a photographer, this could mean replacing their outdated camera; for the home chef, upgrading their kitchen appliances; and for the fitness enthusiast, hunting down the latest model of their favorite wearable tech gadget.

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Create a shopping list for yourself.

Whilst shopping for others, you’re probably going to want to take advantage of sales and do a little shopping for yourself too (and by all means go ahead – November through January offers some of the best sales compared to the rest of the calendar year).  Again, this is where a shopping list comes in handy to prevent over-purchasing and over-spending.

Thinking about shopping that next Nordstrom sale to expand your wardrobe? Before you do, pull out all your clothes and take a good look at what you already own. Then ask yourself what’s missing.  Maybe you need a good pair of comfy, waterproof boots to get you though the winter, or a dress to wear to holiday parties.  Or maybe you’ve been on the hunt for a pair of warm stockings so you can wear your shorter skirts into the fall/winter.  Make a list of everything that will fill in the gaps of your wardrobe and help you get the most use out of your current wardrobe – then stick to it.

You can use a similar approach when it comes to beauty products and home decor, and even sports and wellness accessories and hobbyist items.  The key is to determine what you need before you hit the stores, then try not to veer off track.

Create a visual guide.

For the fashion lovers, here’s step two: build a practical wishlist based off the above shopping list. For example, if you need boots, browse online for 2-3 styles that would be the most practical for your current wardrobe and lifestyle (think heel height, color, style, etc).  Need a new holiday party dress?  Save a couple of styles that will flatter your figure and skin tone, and match the tone of the party.

Arming yourself with a visual shopping guide will help you hone in on styles that work best for you and your needs as you browse the racks, while avoiding impulsive spending on those ‘fantasy’ pieces (i.e. items that may look gorgeous when you try them on, but will likely sit in your closet never to be worn again because they simply don’t fit your lifestyle).

If you’re an online shopper, even better. Stick to your shopping list by bookmarking only your wishlist pieces, then check in on them weekly for price changes. (Continue tracking sales post-purchase too, as prices tend to reduce even further as the holidays draw closer.  If they do, you may be able to get a price adjustment – Nordstrom, for example, currently offers a 14 day adjustment period, along with Gap, Target, and many others.)

You can apply this method to purchases outside of your wardrobe too.  For example, for home decor, note down the colors, tones, patterns, textures, shapes and sizes that work with your current space.  Then seek out individual pieces online, or make an interior design ‘mood board‘ and take it to the store with you so you can immediately identify what will work, and what will clash.

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Matt & Nat Triplet Handbag, Loom Collection, Thyme

Set a budget.

Finally, and most importantly, set a budget for your shopping – a realistic budget. I don’t know about you, but in years prior, I used to blindly spend all through November and December, getting lured in by the multitudes of online sales and even more impulsive in-store offers. I wasn’t tracking a thing, and instead, accepted the fact that I was going to get hit hard in January with a big credit card bill and that was that.

But the result of that mindset was a lot of unnecessary spending – wasted money on things that I and others didn’t really need or use, just because it was ‘on sale’, because it ‘caught my eye’ in the moment, or because I thought I had to ‘match’ what the other person was spending on a monetary level (which, outside of the office Secret Santa, is probably one of the worse excuses for stretching your budget – your friends/family certainly wouldn’t want you to go into temporary debt or suffer from stress over gift giving!).

So create a spreadsheet for yourself with your income and living expenses and figure out what you can reasonably handle. (SunTrust Bank has a great one you can download for free here.)  Then decide how to divvy that up between gift giving and personal shopping. You may find you have more room to buy something extra special this year for your loved ones.  Or, you may find that you need to be a little more conservative with your personal spending.  Either way, identify your limit and stick to it.

Treasure & Body Ribbed Funnel Neck Sweater 9

Treasure & Body Ribbed Funnel Neck Sweater 2

Planning ahead will help you to make more conscious purchases while staying within your budget, instead of getting swept away in the rush of holiday shopping and sales.  The benefits?  Less clutter in our homes, less debt on our credit cards, and less stress during the holidays!


Outfit details: 

Sweater: Treasure & Bond; size XS (green comes and goes in this style – here’s a very similar one!)

Jeans: DL1961; size 28 (purchased secondhand at thredUP) (similar)

Bag: Matt & Nat (100% vegan!)

Watch: MVMT

Earrings: MJLuLu


How do you conquer your holiday shopping?  Do you have any tips to prevent over-spending?

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