By Camilla Cornell
The jingle-jangle you hear during the holidays is more likely the money spilling from your pockets than the sound of sleigh bells. According to VISA, the average Canadian family spends almost $1,000 on pre-holiday shopping. By Boxing Day, we’re feeling the pinch but still manage to spend an average of $320 each. So if you’re headed for the post-holiday poorhouse, here’s the good news: there are bargains out there, both before and after the holidays. To ho-ho-hold on to a little more of your cash, follow these tips for where to buy what ““ and when to buy it.
WHAT TO BUY From gift bags and wrapping paper to decorations, stocking-stuffers and inexpensive mugs or tins, dollar stores carry a bonanza of items ““ usually for a buck or just slightly more.
WHAT TO AVOID You won’t find good-quality, long-lasting toys or name-brand goods. “There’s nothing appropriate for children under three,” says Adrienne Goddard, a senior research executive with Toronto-based market-research firm Millward Brown Canada. “Too many small pieces.
WHEN TO SHOP Dollar stores can sell things cheap by buying manufacturer over-runs and discontinued items, usually in large quantities. What that means is that the selection changes regularly. Check in often.
WHAT TO BUY Generous refund policies and cross-Canada locations make department stores excellent places to purchase gifts and other wares. Look for name-brand and house-brand clothing and sporting goods, as well
as housewares, perfumes and deals on electronics and appliances.
WHAT TO AVOID Anything that’s not on sale ““ unless the item’s perfect or leaving it behind means you’ll spend precious days looking for another.
WHEN TO SHOP Leading up to the holidays, look for deals on featured items like perfume, wallets and jewellery. Last-minute shoppers will find discounted merchandise even a few days before Christmas, and during Boxing Week. White Sales (on towels, pillows, linens, etc.) and appliance sales usually take place in January.
WHAT TO BUY Costco and Sam’s Club offer fantastic bargains on everything from bulk appetizer collections to furniture and appliances. “Often, prices really are better at these places,” says Vancouver financial planner Diane McCurdy. “They rely on bulk buying to get lower prices, which they pass on to the consumer.”
WHAT TO AVOID You’ll pay $50 for a membership to Costco and $35 for Sam’s Club. So unless you’re buying a big-ticket item or planning to shop there regularly, look for deals elsewhere. Make sure you do your research ““ things aren’t always cheaper at a warehouse store.
WHEN TO SHOP Except for seasonal items, prices aren’t discounted after Christmas, so don’t bother rushing to Costco on Boxing Day.
Big box stores
WHAT TO BUY Looking for dvds, toys, Christmas outfits, cosmetics, jewellery and even prescription or non-prescription medicine? It’s hard to beat the prices at general merchandiser Big Box stores like Wal-Mart. For specials on everything from holiday decorations to tools, try Canadian Tire, rona, Toys “R” Us, Home Depot and Best Buy.
WHAT TO AVOID Paying full price, except at stores that focus on low prices, such as Wal-Mart.
WHEN TO SHOP Take advantage of loss-leaders (items priced artificially low to get you into the store) in the run-up to the holidays…and get there fast or you run the risk of missing out.
WHAT TO BUY The good news: you can avoid jockeying for a parking spot at the mall and still find bargains on everything from golf clubs to computers. The bad news: there are a few other complications to keep in mind.
WHAT TO AVOID Many online purveyors hail from the U.S. and, assuming they actually ship to Canada, costs can be high. Calculating whether you’ve really got a deal? Account for shipping costs, currency exchange and duty. Or, buy from a Canadian site.
WHEN TO SHOP Order well in advance during the busy holiday season.
BOXING DAY DILEMMA
The malls are packed, lineups are lengthy and patience is short. Is it really worth shopping on Boxing Day? Traditionally, it has been the day when retailers clear out unwanted Christmas inventory for year-end. But now, some retailers actually order merchandise for Boxing Day as early as August, according to Adrienne Goddard, a senior research executive with Toronto-based market-research firm Millward Brown Canada. “They will offer those items at deep discounts to get people into the stores and help clear out the winter clothing and extra toys, so if you don’t mind fighting the crowds, there are bargains to be had.” Although the traditional “Boxing Day” has expanded into “Boxing Week,” Goddard advises getting to the stores as soon as possible to maximize your selection and avoid wading through discarded items and packaging.