7 mistakes to avoid when buying holiday gifts

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The shops are bustling at this time of year, and it's no wonder why. In preparation for the holidays, we venture out and spend hours shopping online to find the perfect gift for our loved ones. But, even if you learn how to tie a bow ribbon like a pro, mistakes can unfortunately still happen when it comes to Christmas shopping — even though we try not to think about it! 

From overspending to repeated gifts, lots of mishaps can end up costing us more time and money than we realize, so it's best to avoid such errors where you can. To help you get the right gifts this year, we’ve rounded up seven Christmas shopping mistakes to avoid, so you’ve got the best chance of a happy recipient. 

1. Overspending or buying too much 

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It’s no secret that many of us go overboard when buying holiday gifts — I happen to be one of them! It’s often the case where we want to show our love and appreciation to our loved ones or simply spoil the children, and one gift just never seems to be enough. This can also happen where we continue to buy gifts in the spur of the moment, and let them accumulate before the big day. We only realize it might be too much when wrapping said gifts seems to take an age. I’ve even put some aside for birthdays because I realize there’s just too much for one person. 

There can be awkwardness on Christmas morning where you open one special gift from a loved one, while they work their way through a pile. So try to keep present numbers and expenditures fairly similar, otherwise it can be embarrassing for some. Keep a list updated with the gifts you purchase in the run up to Christmas, and once someone is sorted, resist buying more. It can also be a good idea to set a rough spending limit per person, so the expenditure doesn’t get out of hand. In fact, The Conference Board Holiday Spending Survey found that U.S. consumers are looking to spend around $654 on holiday gifts this year, which is on the rise from last year. Make sure you set yourself a budget and stick to it, so costs don’t escalate. 

2. Not checking what we intend to buy with others 

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Every Christmas it seems there’s at least one repeated gift, whether it’s a new book from someone’s favorite author, or scarves and slippers galore. These extra gifts will either need to be returned, or they will end up thrown in the back of the closet and forgotten about. It’s ultimately a waste of time and sometimes money for both parties, so it’s definitely a mistake you want to try to steer clear of. 

Most of us will have a general idea of what we want to purchase for someone, particularly if we’re working from a wish list. It’s always a good idea to reach out to immediate family members who will likely be joining you on the big day, and to check what everyone’s intentions are, especially if they’re working from the same list. This likely won’t be necessary if you’re purchasing something unusual or unexpected, but standard gifts, such as favorite toys and books, should always be checked first.   

3. Not asking for a gift receipt 

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While it may feel like a gift receipt shows uncertainty in what you’ve purchased, it’s always a good idea. Everyone has their own opinion, and something you may think looks great may not appeal so much to the receiver. It’s better that they have a gift receipt so it can be exchanged for something more to their taste, if necessary. Otherwise, once again, it will likely never be worn or used and end up being a waste of money. 

A gift receipt looks nicer versus a standard receipt because the price is hidden. It also usually gives a clear deadline for exchanges/returns as well. When it comes to wrapping up the gift, make sure the gift receipt isn’t loose where possible — it could easily get lost or thrown away with the wrapping paper as it’s removed. Either tuck it into the item, or secure it to the tags with a small piece of tape. Failing that, you can always pass over any gift receipts in person once the presents have been opened. Without a receipt, returning or exchanging the product is unlikely, although policies vary from store-to-store. Some might provide store credit as an alternative, but this isn’t guaranteed and you’re better off with proof of purchase wherever you shop.

Consumer Reports has pulled together a handy Guide to Returning Gifts, to give you an idea of policies available in some of the most popular shops.  

4. Ignoring the wish list

A child writing a wish list at Christmas

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Of course, there’s nothing to stop you going off a wish list should you choose. You may know your loved ones so well that you trust yourself to find gifts they will enjoy regardless, and some do like to be surprised. But, just keep in mind that the list has been created for a reason — these are things that the person genuinely wants or needs, so you can’t go wrong here. 

Going off list, you not only run the risk that they may not want the gift, but there’s the chance they don’t need it, either. For instance, they may have recently purchased a new set of gloves, so a second pair may rarely be worn. Of course, as mentioned at the start, there’s nothing wrong with buying a surprise — most of us will do this with some gifts this year, but there’s always a risk involved. In any case, if they have supplied a list of ideas, read it over and consider whether some suggestions may be more appropriate versus what you're planning to buy. Otherwise, you’re potentially missing out on gifts which could be important to them.

5. Buying vouchers or gift cards they're unlikely to use

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When someone’s difficult to buy for, picking out a gift is never an easy task — especially where you’re looking to stick to a budget. In such cases, many of us will resort to gift vouchers, gift cards or experience days, which can be redeemed whenever they like. The only mistake to watch out for here, is vouchers/gift cards getting stored away, forgotten about, and eventually expiring. I’ve been guilty of this, and I have friends who have done the same. It’s literally a waste of money for vouchers to be lost like this. 

Make sure any vouchers you pick out are for brands where your loved one shops regularly, or for activities they enjoy often. Then it’s more likely to get used all the more quickly. If it's a gift card, suggest they place it in their wallet or purse immediately so they won’t forget about it. If you opt to give them an experience voucher, or something they need to book themselves, make sure you read the reviews first to check how easy it is to book and secure. I’ve had issues in the past where tours could only be booked on certain days and times, which made it that much more difficult to redeem. 

6. Forgetting about batteries 

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This might seem like a silly point, but it can save tears on Christmas day. If you buy any electronic toys or gadgets which require batteries, make sure it either comes with them, or buy them separately to supply with the gift. Otherwise, a favorite toy can turn into a disappointment. 

Always check the box to see what batteries are needed and whether they’re included, and if it’s not clear ask a sales assistant for clarification. It’s always better to have batteries just in case, as you likely won’t be able to get them on Christmas day, and you’re trusting there to be spares in the kitchen drawers. Some shops will even keep batteries at the check out for this exact reason, so always check. And remember that additional batteries may be required for remote controls as well as the toys themselves. Make sure children are supervised around batteries — give batteries to parents separately to fit them and make sure the compartment is sealed with a screw if available.

7. Not checking expiration dates 

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Food can make for a delicious Christmas gift, but it is perishable, so you must check expiration dates. Sometimes dates can be shorter than you expect, particularly if you purchased a gift earlier in the year, or it’s something that was on sale at the time. 

Make sure the expiration date is sufficient so there’s no urgency in its consumption. I’ve been gifted chocolates on more than one occasion which expired in January/February in the New Year, and these ended up expiring in my cupboards because I had no idea and didn’t eat them in time.  

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Katie Mortram
Homes Editor

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Her favorite thing to test has to be air purifiers, as the information provided and the difference between performances is extensive.