Whether you're battling the crowds on Black Friday or squeezing your shopping in a few days before the holidays, you have to get your mind, body and most importantly -- wallet -- ready for the challenge.
Before the big day you need to create a strategy. Don't just map out the stores you want to hit, but have a list of the gifts you need to buy and an itemized budget of how much you can afford to spend for each person.
After you create your gift list, remember to follow these money-saving tips. First, check coupon and promo code sites like Retail Me Not before you buy. Then get your smartphone ready with price comparison apps like RedLaser to scan a barcode and discover if you can get a better deal anywhere else. Sign up for email alerts from your favorite stores, and, finally, use social media to get the scoop on recently released specials.
If pushing through a crowd in search of the perfect gift sounds like fun, then be sure to arm your body properly. Don't bother with heels; embrace sneakers, jeans, and a comfortable top. You don't need to impress the masses in the store; you want to dazzle your family and friends with your gift-giving skills. And don't forget to bring a snack with you for when you start to get a little cranky later in the day.
For the sake of perspective, start by purchasing your less expensive gifts first. If you drop $200 on the perfect tech toy right away, a bunch of $10 items are going to seem incredibly cheap by comparison.
Most of us end up spending more than usual this time of year. Responsible credit card holders can use the opportunity to get more cash back or rewards. If one card offers a rotating 5 percent cash back for online shopping this quarter, then use it for all online spend, while another may provide 2 percent back in department stores. Use sites like MagnifyMoney.com to see which cash back card provides the best value for your spending habits. Just remember -- if you can't pay your balance off on time and in full, it isn't worth the rewards. Once you start paying interest to the banks, your cash back loses its value.
Those who worry about overspending at the holidays should consider leaving their credit cards at home in favor of debit cards or just cash.
Shopping without a strategy will lead to frustration, returning unwanted purchases and certainly increased spending. Don't forget to include the people in your life you need to tip or buy small presents for like the doorman, children's teachers, a babysitter or mailman.
Reduce your stress and impact on your wallet this holiday season by setting a budget, writing out a gift list, finding the cheapest deals, and actually put away the money you saved into a rainy day fund. Oh, and don't forget to tell Santa what you want this year, too!
The 7 Hot Toys Your Kids Will Want for Christmas This Year
The Apple Watch doesn't come out until 2015, and it's going to cost you at least $350. The VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch is out now and only costs $60. It's clear which smartwatch is going to wind up dominating the market.
Fun idea: When you give this to your kid, perform Christopher Walken's monologue from "Pulp Fiction."
When Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird wrote a comic book in the mid-'80 about giant mutated turtles who were also teenage ninjas, they probably didn't think they were launching a multimedia franchise that would still be selling movies and toys 30 years later. But here we are in 2014, and the turtles are coming off a blockbuster movie -- and they're once again expected to be a top-selling Christmas toy.
Toys R Us thinks your kids will want this "Stretch 'N' Shout Leonardo," which takes the Turtles' stoic, katana-wielding leader and gives him the ability to. .. stretch his arms and scream really loud? OK. Meanwhile, Kmart has the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Lil' Dune Racer, which is basically just a powered kid's bike with some Ninja Turtle stickers slapped on. It costs $162 and has a top speed of 3.5 mph.
Really, these are some weak offerings on the Ninja Turtles front. When I was a kid, I had a little tank that launched pizza discs. Now that was a toy.
Here's another late-'80s/early-'90s toy franchise that's seeing a second life thanks to Michael Bay. The "Transformers" movie franchise is now in its fourth film, swapping out America's Sidekick Shia Laboeuf for America's Knucklehead Drinking Buddy Mark Wahlberg. But more importantly, the fourth film finally got around to introducing Grimlock ("me Grimlock!"), the Transformers' truculent dinosaur robot.
We've got two Tranformers: Grimlock! toys appearing on this year's lists. Toy R Us has the Stomp and Chomp Grimlock ($70), which transforms between dinosaur and robot and comes with a bonus Optimus Prime toy to ride Grimlock into battle. Kmart's Grimlock toy is only $20, but you get what you pay for: It's just Grimlock in robot form, with a button that lets it make some noises. What good is a Dinobot that can't transform into dinosaur form? If you get this for your son, he'll spend three minutes trying to get it to turn into a dinosaur and then throw it aside.
Doc McStuffins –- who, you may recall, provides medical care to stuffed animals –- appeared on the list last year, with a tricked-out check-up center. But this year the good doctor is really stepping up her game, making house calls with the Doc McStuffins Get Better Talking Mobile Cart, basically a pull-along ambulance ($50). It comes with a siren, an EKG machine, a gurney and even a little ladder (I guess to rescue stuffed animals trapped in tiny burning buildings).
Next time someone trots out that tired old "It's the future, where's my flying car?" line, show them this $55 flying Hot Wheels Street Hawk Remote Control Flying Car. Or better yet, buzz them with it like Maverick from "Top Gun" doing control tower fly-by while screaming "Is this futuristic enough for you?!"
The Zoomer Dino appears on all three retailers' lists, so it looks like it will be one of the season's most in-demand toys. It also sounds like it will be completely awesome:
"Boomer can detect when you're nearby and interacting with him. But watch out! Just like a real Dino he can get angry, spin around, chomp and roar! Using True Balance Technology, Boomer perfectly balances on two wheels as he roams freely, exploring your home. ... He might even let out dino-sized burps and farts!"
So imagine the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, only he's wearing roller skates, and also he's burping and farting all over the place. It's $100, and I just ordered it.
This is the one.
The only other toy to appear on all three lists, the Snow Glow Elsa Doll (from the hit Disney movie "Frozen") is already looking like this year's Tickle-Me Elmo. At Walmart, it sold out online while I was writing this article. Kmart says it won't have it in stock until Oct. 30. Toys R Us still has it in stock, but it's already set a limit of five per customer.
All this in September.
If someone winds up getting pepper-sprayed at a toy store this December, you can bet that it will be over this doll. It lights up and sings "Let It Go" -- and your kid probably wants it. You can hunt it down now and pay $35, or wait until December and pay $200 on eBay (EBAY).