21 Genius Tricks for Making Holiday Shopping Less Miserable 

Turn the year's toughest retail season into a breeze.

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"Holiday shopping." Admit it: Just seeing those two words lumped together was like having a bolt of anxiety sent straight through your heart. Okay, fine, maybe that's a bit dramatic. But the truth is, it doesn't matter if you're scrolling Amazon from the comforts of your bed or you're fighting the holiday crowds at the mall, playing Santa for loved ones is never as easy—or as simple—as you'd hoped it'd be.

But fear not, kindhearted friend! We're here to help.

From navigating retail outlets like a pro to spotting the best deals online, what follow are the best tips and tricks you can use to make your holiday shopping an utter treat and not a miserable slog. Who knows? Maybe you'll finish up so quickly you'll have some spare time—and spare money—to treat yourself. And for more ways improve your holiday shopping, check out these 17 Dirty Secrets Retailers Don't Want You to Know About Black Friday.

1
Use social media to your advantage.

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Do you ever wish that hard-to-shop-for relative just told you exactly what they he or she wanted? Well, perhaps they already have. Of course, no sane human being posts their entire Santa's Wish List as a Facebook status. But there's a trick that can key you into their desires. Start by hopping on Instagram. Check out their follower list. If you spot any brands, boom: you've just figured out where to start shopping. And if you're still stressed about the holidays, here are 17 Top Tips from Psychologists for Dealing with Holiday Stress.

2
Mark Free Shipping Day in your calendar.

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It's a little-known "holiday," but, in case you didn't know, December 14th marks Free Shipping Day 2018. More than 1,000 retailers—including Banana Republic, GNC, and Williams-Sonoma—banded together to offer free shipping the entire day. (They also offer coupons, so be sure to check out the official listing for maximum savings.) Fun fact: since its inception in 2008, the day has helped consumers save more than a collective billion dollars!

3
Take full advantage of Amazon Prime.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

If you already shop with Amazon, but aren't yet signed up for Prime, the holidays are the, ahem, prime time to do it. You get free two-day shipping plus the ability to earn discounts or rewards if you are on the ball and have time to choose the No-Rush Shipping option. (Oh, and you also access to the criminally underrated Amazon Prime Streaming service, where you can catch the latest films and TV shows, plus amazing Amazon original series, like Patriot and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.)

The fee is $119 per year ($59 for students). But, considering all the dough you'll save on shipping throughout your holiday shopping persons, you'll make that back in no time. And if you're looking for gift ideas from the site, check out these 27 Amazing "Amazon Basics" to Add to Your Wish List.

4
Trust in the Google Gods.

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To help shoppers combat holiday traffic, the genius engineers at Google Maps have released a cool, data-driven site called Mapping Thanksgiving. They pulled from 2017's holiday season driving info to figure out what stores people go to and when, and used that to inform shoppers when best to stay home—and when best to hit the road.

5
Keep your gift receipts tidy.

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These days, most retailers—whether online or brick-and-mortar—will offer the option to email you gift receipts. Still, you might find yourself with some good ole paper versions. If that's the case, be sure to keep things organized, by using a receipt scanning service like Neat. That way, if the real thing gets misplaced or lost or accidentally tossed in the wrapping-paper fire, you'll be able to track it down in no time.

Let's not forget the fact, too, that relying on gift receipts is a way to surreptitiously give the gift of money. Just buy a present your loved one will obviously return (flannel pajamas!).

6
Ask for free wrapping.

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Shopping might be no fun. But nothing is worse than wrapping gifts, especially if you happen to be laughably terrible at it. Thankfully, many stores—including heavy hitters like Bed Bath & Beyond, Barnes & Noble, and Pottery Barn—offer free or cheap gift-wrapping services on the spot. (Amazon also has a "wrapping" service, though it's admittedly subpar. Even your worst wrapping attempt is probably better than their best.) And some others—like Gap, Banana Republic, and Sephora—will give you the supplies so you don't have to buy your own. All you have to do is ask.

7
Use a list-making app.

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When dealing with all of the holiday-affiliated craziness, making a list (and checking it twice) can quickly become an afterthought. So let your phone lend a helping hand. By using a gift-listing app, you can keep track of your entire holiday shopping endeavor. We're fond of Santa's Bag, which has extraordinarily detailed gift-giving options: you can create lists (obviously), but also track budgets and keep an eye on all of your ordered gifts across retailers. Plus, it comes with a neat countdown-to-Christmas clock.

8
Don't forget sleep on the big-box retailer.

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When it comes to scoring the best savings, online retailers tend to dominate the game and corner the market. But sometimes the simply can't beat the rock-bottom prices at big-box retailers like Costco and Sam's Club. Before you spring for something on Amazon, check the prices at your local club. More often than not, you'll find cheaper prices and a more robust return policy.

Not a member? Don't fret: just ask around—family, friends, neighbors, community Facebook pages—and see if there's someone who will let you tag along on the next shopping trip. And for making the most of your Costco spree, learn these 30 Amazing Secrets Costco Managers Don't Want You to Know.

9
Beeline to the back of the store.

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Yes, it's tempting to stick around at the front of any brick-and-mortar. After all, that's where shiny new buys are stockpiled. But if you head to the back, you'll likely encounter the sales rack, fewer crowds, and last vestiges of nearly sold-out products. Head to the front of the store last—that stuff isn't going anywhere.

10
Mail packages before mid-December.

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Yes, during the holidays, time slips by like a sled down an icy hill; it's easy to get caught up in gift prep and forget to actually, you know, gift. If you're shipping presents to far-off relatives, be sure everything is packaged up and out the door by December 14th. That's the USPS hard deadline for ground shipping holiday presents this year—if you want them to arrive by December 25th, that is. (If you're willing to splurge on First Class or Priority Mail, however, that hard deadline becomes December 20th.)

11
Make the most of shopping "holidays."

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Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are annoying, marketer-manufactured "holidays." But if you're looking for specific products, and if you go in with a plan of attack, you can often walk away with great deals. Black Friday has historically been an ideal day for picking up toys, televisions, and electronics, while Cyber Monday often offers serious steals on apparel, shoes, and accessories. And to learn what not to buy, read up on The Black Friday Deals That Are Totally Not Worth It.

12
Get the store's app.

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Before you head out the door for a brick-and-mortar shopping spree, make sure to download all of the apps for every store you plan on visiting. "But," you cry, "my memory!" It'll be fine. They're generally only about 150MB—and you can (and should!) just delete them once you're done. Often, a retailer's app will offer special deals, sales, and coupons that aren't available online or even in-store.

13
Create a shopping email.

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Some people refuse to sign up for brand loyalty programs because they don't want to hand over personal info to a corporation. Others refuse because they don't want to be inundated with spam. And still others sign up—but miss or delete every incoming retailer email.

There's a workaround to all of this, though: just create a separate email specifically for communiques from retailers. That way, you don't hand over personal info, you don't get spam, and you know exactly where to find every sale alert and discount code. And for more ways to make the most of your inbox(es), here are 17 Genius Email Hacks That Will Improve Your Life.

14
Automate your coupons.

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Utilizing coupons doesn't mean whipping out a miles-long receipt or cataloguing exclamation-point-laden emails. Instead, try using a coupon-organizing app. Honey, in particular, is helpful—especially when it comes to online shopping. It'll scour the web automatically, and, if you're checking out, it'll apply any and all existent discount codes.

15
Receive refunds.

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There's no worse feeling than splurging on some high-dollar item (or even a moderately priced one, for that matter) after doing all of the research and waiting for the exact right time to buy, and then seeing it sell for even less a few days after. With apps like Paribus and Earny, though, you can live a life free of that pit-in-your-stomach feeling. Both track your purchases and, if something experiences a steep price drop after you've purchased, will request the refunded difference for you.

16
Don't shop early.

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Sure, people who get all of their holiday shopping done early on—late October and early November—may have all their ducks in a row. But, admirable as these folks are, many are probably missing out on some great deals: Most companies don't reveal the best discounts until the season is in full swing. As such, experts says the best period of shopping is the magical span between November 19th and December 20th.

17
Use cash-back credit cards.

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When going on your annual buying spree during the holidays, don't fork over your hard-earned cash—dip into your credit card. For the best rewards programs, check out cards like Citi Double Cash, Chase Freedom, and Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature. Many offer 1 to 5 percent cash back on purchases.

18
Check around for the best prices.

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Don't always assume the first product you spot on the first retailer you visit will have the best price. Before hitting the buy button, check out apps like camelcamelcamel—a free Amazon price tracker that helps ID prices across Amazon's ecosystem—or PriceJump, which allows you to scan barcodes in-store to compare prices across brands while shopping in the wild.

19
Consider used electronics.

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You might be inclined to thumb your nose at used or refurbished electronics. But the truth is that second-hand gadgets are often the best-priced gadgets—and at no lower quality, either. In fact, if it's video game consoles you're looking for, you can find refurbished models for crazy discounts. For instance, a refurbished PlayStation 4—which generally retails at $399—sells at GameStop for just $269.

20
Trust the experts

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When shopping around online, don't just rely on customer reviews for the go-ahead to spring for an item, especially if it's pricey. Check out sites that employ experts to write up extensive reviews that aren't biased. Try Wirecutter for its exhaustive amount of recommendations (from electronics to housewares) or Good Housekeeping, whose editors are the be-all-and-end-all experts about anything you'd want to have in your home.

21
Get yourself one gift.

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Every holiday season, you should splurge on one—just one—gift for yourself. You deserve it. And if you need ideas on what to buy, check out these 50 Gifts So Great You'll Want to Buy Them for Yourself.

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