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How to Save Money as a Last-Minute Holiday Shopper

Jon Lal

If you haven't finished your Christmas shopping yet, don't panic. You're not alone. In fact, on Dec. 15 of last year, the National Retail Federation reported that 90 percent of holiday shoppers still had gifts, food, decor or other holiday items to buy for the upcoming holiday.

If you have gifts to purchase, there are still plenty of opportunities to find great deals and get discounts. Since you're working on a tight time frame, it can be tempting to grab the first thing you see and buy it, even if it's not wallet-friendly. Before you do that, take a few minutes and read these tips.

[See: Prepare Your Finances for the Holidays.]

Get organized. It may be the last minute, but if you have at least an hour to spare, you can save yourself a lot of hassle and money. Get a list together of everything and everyone you need to shop for, take a quick look at your finances and decide on a spending limit to keep yourself in check.

Online shopping saves time and money. When you're short on time, you can cover a lot more ground if you shop online. Scan deals, scroll through gift guides and search for the perfect gift with a few clicks. You can even multitask and shop on your commute or your lunch hour. If you're worried about paying for shipping to get your gift in time, there are a few ways to avoid that, including taking advantage of Free Shipping Day on Dec. 16 and other strategies.

[See: Your Ultimate Holiday Tipping Guide.]

Ship it for free. Before you hit "buy," always look for a free shipping coupon code first. Or do enough of your shopping at one store to hit the minimum spending limit. Another way to save on shipping is to pick up your purchase in a retailer's brick-and-mortar location. Typically, it's free to receive items in store. Your purchases are often delivered more quickly. And you can easily park near the store, zip to the service desk and pick up your items.

Looking for another way to get free shipping? Dec. 16 is Free Shipping Day. More than 1,000 stores will offer free shipping with no minimums on Friday. While you're shopping, check out the store's website for a list of order deadlines to make sure you receive it by Christmas.

[See: 14 Important Personal Finance Dates to Mark on Your Calendar.]

Print your gift. If you're really out of time but need a great gift idea, think about what you can buy and print off your own computer. Subscriptions and gift-of-the month clubs, gift certificates, tickets, experiences and memberships are all great "instant" gifts that still carry thought and sentimentality to delight your friends and family. Check out Groupon for local vouchers to spas, concerts, cooking classes and more.

Donate your time. Maybe you have an older family member who could use help around the house or needs something repaired. Perhaps you know a couple of new parents who could really use a night to themselves. Pick up a nice card and write inside how you'd like to help them out after the holidays. When you give it to them, compare schedules and pick a date right away, so your gift doesn't get lost in the shuffle. This is a thoughtful and easy gift idea that leaves a lasting impression. Plus, it doesn't cost a thing.

When in doubt, give a gift card. You're on your way to the party, and time got away from you. Pull into your nearest drugstore or big-box store and grab a gift card that you know will be used. It shows a little more thought than cash and is consistently one of the most requested gifts of the holiday season. If you have a little time, buying a gift card online at a discount not only gives you a lot of store options, it saves money, too. There are several "gift card malls" online -- Gift Card Granny is one example -- that offer thousands of gift cards for less than face value. The best part? You can even sell them a gift card you don't plan to use for cash.

Hopefully these tips save you some time, money and hassle -- and leave just enough room to enjoy the holiday season and all the magic it has to offer.

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