Q: It's a few days before Christmas and I haven't even started shopping for gifts. How do I save time and money?
A: You're not alone. According to recent industry surveys, it seems that more shoppers are delaying their holiday buying this year than last year. But don't panic - you can still get it all done, if you organize your list, economize your trips to the mall and use the Internet.
Maybe you'll have a hard time getting hot products like Fisher-Price's Elmo T.M.X., or you're too late for Sony Inc.'s PlayStation3. But you can still get some great gifts within your budget.
"The good news is that you are going to get a good deal on almost everything you are looking to buy. The bad news is that the longer you wait, the less likely you will get the styles and colors you want," said Todd Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports, published by Consumers Union.
First, make a list of the people you want to give gifts to and figure out how much you can spend on holiday gift giving. According to a poll conducted by the Center for a New American Dream, nearly three in five Americans say they incurred or acquired credit card debt in 2005 while holiday shopping. Nearly one-third says it took them more than three months to pay off this credit card debt and 14 percent say they are still paying it off as the new holiday season approaches.
Here are some guidelines, according to experts:
1. Robyn Spizman, an Atlanta-based gift expert and author of "The Giftionary," said once making a shopping list, figure out whether you can give one group gift for several people. Perhaps, you can buy the office one gift like a box of chocolates instead of buying separate gifts. Also, examine the list to see if your friends have a common interest. Perhaps, there are friends who have a pet, or share the same hobby like piano. You might consider getting the same or similar gifts that match the common interests.
2. Figure out who you are going to see before Dec. 25 and after the holiday season, Spizman says. Shoppers can get better deals by delaying gift-buying for those they will see during the post-Christmas season.
3. Explore - and buy - online, says Marks. To save money on gas, click on price comparison sites to find out where you can get the best deals, before you head to the malls. Even with only a few days before Christmas, it's not too late to order gifts online as well. A number of stores are offering free shipping upgrades through Dec. 22, guaranteeing gifts to arrive by Dec. 25. Customers can also consider ordering online and then picking up at the store - a growing number of online retailers like bestbuy.com have this service. Check out the National Retail Federation's site called cybermonday.com, which posts online discounts, shipping deals and other offerings.
4. Consider gift cards - and you don't have to deal with crowded malls to get them. Drug chains and convenience stores like Walgreens Co., CVS Corp. and 7-Eleven Inc. have expanded their assortment of gift cards from various retailers. This holiday season, CVS tripled the number to about 130 different gift cards; they include those from such retailers as Gap Inc., Home Depot Inc. and Macy's.
5. And there's always regifting, but shoppers need to be thoughtful when they regift. Don't regift within the same circle of friends. And don't regift lemons.