7 tips to help consumers avoid shopping heartaches

  • Not sure what to get the little guys on your list? This might help.

    The National Retail Federation recently issued a list of the top 10 gifts for boys and girls this holiday season. Those popular buys include:

    Boys:

    • 1: ...

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  • Not sure what to get the little guys on your list? This might help.

    The National Retail Federation recently issued a list of the top 10 gifts for boys and girls this holiday season. Those popular buys include:

    Boys:

    • 1: Lego

    • 2: Video games

    • 3: Cars and trucks (generic)

    • 4: Hot Wheels

    • 5: Xbox One

    • 6: PlayStation 4

    • 7: Skylanders

    • 8: Remote-controlled vehicles

    • 9: Action figures

    • 10: Bicycle or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (tie)

    Girls:

    • 1: Barbie

    • 2: Dolls (generic)

    • 3: Monster High dolls

    • 4: Disney princesses or tablet/Apple iPad (tie)

    • 5: American Girl or Lalaloopsy dolls (tie)

    • 6: Furby

    • 7: Lego and Lego Friends

    • 8: Elmo/Big Hugs Elmo

    • 9: Hello Kitty

    • 10: My Little Pony or PlayStation 4 (tie)

    Source: National Retail Federation news release

From milelong shopping lists to last-minute house guests and packages lost in the mail, the most wonderful time of the year can also be among the most stressful.

Still, the holiday season is big business.

The National Retail Federation, in a news release, noted nationwide spending will reach an estimated $602.1 billion throughout November and December. That's up 3.9 percent from the same months last year.

And for Crossroads residents navigating stores and the chaos that comes in the weeks leading to Christmas, help is available.

Here are a few tips to help avoid heartache and frustration throughout the holiday shopping season.

Know what you can - and can't - afford.

Set out a budget and stick to it so you don't regret those purchases later. Overbuying is easy to do this time of year.

Go in with a plan.

Create a list of people to buy for, what you plan to buy them and how much you plan to spend. Avoid impulse buys near the register, as well as items for yourself that you don't really need.

Remember to research.

Check out newspaper ads, commercials and store circulars before heading out so you know what's on sale. Consider subscribing to email newsletters from your favorite retailers so you're always in the know. Certain websites such as FatWallet.com help to gather sales information in one place.

Don't dawdle on must-have buys.

Items you see in-store one day might not be there the next. And, because shops are already planning shipments for the spring season, they might not be able to order more. Eliminate some of that risk and buy while you can.

Hold on to receipts.

Stowing sales slips inside a purse or wallet, instead of dropping them into the bag, makes it easier to track purchases and make sure you're staying within your budget. Those documents also come in handy if you have to return something down the road.

Scope out store services.

A number of stores offer free gift wrapping, while some big retailers allow customers to bypass shipping fees if they order items online but have them delivered to a local store. Small considerations like this can make a big difference in holiday planning.

Take steps to avoid identity theft.

Leave credit cards you won't need at home when going out. For cards you do take, copy down the information on the front and back of the card so you have the vital information if the card is stolen. Never carry a Social Security card with you, and be careful where you lay cards down. If you set them on the counter you risk someone eyeing the number and expiration date.

Sources: Rhonda Pakebusch, owner of Rendezvous Boutique; GreenPath Debt Solutions news release; ShopSmart news release