Holiday Shopping Procrastinators: Stick to Your List

Last Updated Nov 9, 2010 11:00 AM EST


I've yet to start my holiday gift buying and don't anticipate starting until well into December. I know...tsk tsk. But like it or not, procrastination is pretty widespread, especially this time of year. In fact more than 25% of us shoppers plan to be buying presents until the last minute this year, according to the NPD Group.

Partly to blame for our procrastinating ways is that we're overly confident in our ability to find everything we need in a timely fashion. Behavioral experts call this a "planning fallacy." We overestimate how successful our shopping will be and underestimate how much time it will take to complete our shopping. At least, that was the conclusion in a 2003 study published by Canadian researchers Roger Buelher and Dale Griffin specifically about Christmas shopping and procrastination. (Others might just call us "delusional.")

Also adding to our last-minute holiday rush: busy schedules and the belief that we'll necessarily snag the best deals in the wee hours of holiday shopping.

Stick To Your List
As Atul Gawande writes in his best-selling book The Checklist Manifesto, a simple checklist "overcomes failure ... and makes up for our inevitable human inadequacies." Hey, if lists have helped the rise of modern science and surgery as Gawande describes, then they can certainly help us accomplish our shopping goals both when we have ample time and when in a hurry.

Lists help us narrow our options. And that's a good thing, especially when the clock is ticking. Studies show that when we give ourselves too many options it's easy to get confused. We make irrational choices that we might end up regretting. Pulling from my experience as that kid in the candy store hurrying to pick something as mom tapped her feet, I can tell you that having rows of options is no fun - even if it's rows of chocolatey goodness. With limited time and an abundance of choices, I almost always made a regretful decision, whining I should have gone for Milky Way instead of Three Musketeers on the car ride home. And I recall more than one Mother's Day when I desperately opted for the perfume basket from Macy's because I felt overwhelmed by the last-minute shopping experience. I paid more than I had planned, all for a gift that was just OK.

So before you head out to begin your holiday shopping - whether tomorrow, Black Friday or Christmas Eve, invest half an hour to create a thorough checklist: who you want to buy gifts for, the types of gifts you have in mind and a price range per gift. Have back-up gift ideas, as well, especially if you're a procrastinator: By December 24 you're sure to have fewer desirable options. Rather than springing for that $80 perfume basket in the department store because it's already wrapped and you have no other ideas, you can refer to alternatives ideas on your list that you jotted down when you weren't in a frenzy.

A few budget-friendly mobile apps that can help you manage your lists this holiday shopping season include Holiday Gift List ($1.99), Christmas Shopping List (99 cents), Juicy Christmas ($2.99).

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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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