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How to beat inflation and empty shelves this holiday shopping season

Brace yourself for higher prices and consumer shortages but above all, don’t succumb to panic-buying.

People at Macy's Herald Square during early opening for the Black Friday sales in Manhattan in 2020. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

I’ve long had a strategy for holiday shopping. I purposefully wait until the last minute, hoping to score deep discounts as retailers desperately try to get rid of as much merchandise as possible before the end of the year.

This year, I’m going to have to change things up.

Supply chain slowdowns and rising inflation are driving up prices this holiday season. There will be sales, of course, but they won’t be as large as in previous years.

A Gallup poll this month found that 64 percent of Americans plan to spend the same amount on gifts this year as they did in 2020. But if prices are higher, their money won’t go as far.

Here’s some advice to help you get through this holiday shopping season with less financial stress and debt:

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Don’t panic buy. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 50 percent of Americans say they are not finding consumer goods they want to buy at a retail or online store.

While it’s true that many items will be in limited supply, there will still be plenty of things you can purchase. Even if your child has to wait for something until after the holiday, it’s not a crisis worthy of going over your budget.

One year, when I couldn’t find an item my daughter wanted, I printed out a photocopy of the gift from a store website and put it in a box with a nice bow.

Yes, I’ll admit, there was some eye-rolling when she opened her present to find just the paper. But guess what? She survived and I bought the present shortly after the holiday.

Panicky Holiday Shopping Is Dumb and Self-Defeating

Prepare yourself for higher prices. Inflation is raising the cost of a lot of goods, and much of the price surge is the result of the pandemic. You will save yourself a lot of mental anguish by not getting snippy with store personnel.

Just stick to your budget and make substitutions if you have to. Don’t get so caught up in the holiday spirit that you overspend and then have buyer’s remorse when the credit card bills come due.

Even if you find good deals remember a sale is not the same thing as saving money. You’re still spending, and maybe that money would be better used boosting your emergency fund.

The supply chain meltdown will make holiday shopping messy this year. Here’s what you need to know.

Get creative. When my children were small, they liked the thrill of opening a lot of wrapped gifts. Knowing they would eventually gravitate to only a few toys or games, I came up with a way to save money and give them the excitement of unwrapping a pile of presents. I would hunt around the house and dig deep into their toy bins for playthings they had long forgotten. Some items got such little playtime, they looked almost new. I would then wrap up the items and put them under the tree. The children would squeal in delight, being none the wiser.

And don’t judge.

The tales of my regifting are so legendary that it’s become a tradition for my children, now in their 20s, to feign outrage as they recall how old they were when they discovered my holiday ruse.

Make deep cuts to your gift list. Do you know why your holiday list is so long?


Gift-giving has turned into an obligation — you receive, and therefore you feel you must give in return.

Americans are unhappy about the economy but still spending big

Our family has cut down on gift-giving by switching to a Secret Santa exchange. We draw names, and each of us only gives to one person in the family group. We even make a game out of it. While we are exchanging, the receiver tries to guess who got his or her name, and there’s a small prize — a regift — for guessing right. There are online sites to help make the Secret Santa exchange easier. Our family uses We also set a dollar limit, and the site conveniently allows people to create a wish list of gifts with direct links to the items they might like.

The debt isn’t worth it. It’s already beginning to look like a great Christmas — for credit card lenders. found in a recent poll that 60 percent of consumers carrying credit card debt said they would add to it for the holidays.

And here’s an interesting statistic from the holiday poll: Of the folks willing to rack up more debt, 45 percent said they’re willing to do so to make themselves happy.

Credit card debt overall has been increasing this year. Total credit card debt was $800 billion for the third quarter, a $17 billion jump from the previous quarter, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data.

Millions of consumers paid down their credit card balances during the pandemic. Let’s keep this trend going.

“As pandemic relief efforts wind down, we are beginning to see the reversal of some of the credit card balance trends seen during the pandemic, namely reduced consumption and the paying down of balances,” a release from the New York Fed pointed out. “As pandemic restrictions are lifted and consumption normalizes, credit card usage and balances are resuming their pre-pandemic trends.”

Credit card debt is expensive, with an average interest rate of 16.13 percent, according to the latest data from

Just don’t do it. Don’t add to your debt burden for gifts many recipients won’t even remember by the time you pay off your credit card balances.

Manage expectations. There’s been so much financial loss because of the pandemic that you don’t have to be ashamed if you can’t give much of anything this year. Be honest with folks, and tell them now that your financial situation just doesn’t allow you to be as generous as you may have been in the past.

The pandemic has taught us — or should have — that we don’t need most of what we’ve been buying each other anyway. What did we miss the most when we couldn’t be in each other’s presence because of the pandemic?

We craved just being together. A hug became priceless.

If we continue to embrace that time is precious, we don’t have to be overwhelmed with spending so much during the holiday season. It’s okay for you to give less stuff and more of yourself by just being present.