5 pointers to maximize the January shopping potential

Start Next Year's Holiday Shopping Now

by R. Kellogg

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It's the day after Christmas and you're a savvy holiday shopper. Where will we find you? At the store, of course. You probably took care of most of this year's shopping last January. Now it's time to plan for next year. If you do the shopping now (and have the storage space), you can save substantially on next year's gifts and decorations.

So let's talk holiday planning in January. You are going to need strategy. Here are five pointers to maximizing the January shopping potential:

1. Know what you want going in on the day after.

The day after Christmas features the smallest markdowns but the greatest variety. The markdowns are pretty good compared to what you would be paying before Christmas; they are around forty to fifty percent off seasonal merchandise in many major chain stores. And many items on offer are marginally seasonal. Sometimes you will find paper towels marked down. Their only tie to the season? Perhaps a light motif of snowflakes on the paper or wrapping. Snowflakes work great for January and February! In fact, if you're not picky about paper towels and are thrilled to get them fifty percent off, you might enjoy using snowflake paper towels in July. Be quick, though. Items of a practical nature go quickly. Remember that many stores will allow you to use coupons to make the discount even sweeter. It doesn't hurt to ask.

If you have had your eye on a particularly lovely decoration, place setting, or child's outfit in next year's size, go for these first, followed by the everyday items like paper towels and soap. A friend of mine picked up a beautiful three-tiered wrought iron serving stand a few Christmas seasons ago. She caught it on the day after at the fifty-percent markdown; she knew it was not likely to remain in the store long.

2. Be aware of general markdown strategies.

Stores will want to clear seasonal merchandise quickly to make room for new things for us to buy. The fifty-percent markdown will generally be followed within a week with a sixty or seventy-five percent markdown and sometimes they will go even higher. Target, for example, will usually have a ninety-percent markdown about ten days after a holiday happens. At this point, things will be pretty picked over, but you can't beat the price. If there is something you are kind of interested in but the store has a lot of it, try waiting for the higher markdowns and see if you can get a fabulous deal. But remember to be quick at the end. Often a store will clear out highly discounted merchandise within a day or two of hitting their highest markdown point. The shelf space is better used with timely full-priced merchandise.

3. Use the Internet to do research.

There are plentiful Internet sites offering information on really great deals, including hidden deals. Some chain stores such as Kmart have a computerized system controlled by a central source, so it is possible for something to be at clearance sale price without being marked as such in the store. fatwallet.com and the shopping boards at mycoupons.com are both good places to look for strategy and deals posted by other shoppers.

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4. Be organized.

If you are buying gifts and decorations this far in advance, you don't want to forget you have them! Keep a notebook tracking what you've bought for whom. Place the notebook somewhere you will remember it. I keep my notebook in my room on a high shelf where my kids won't see it. Toys will often be discounted a few weeks after Christmas. Stores carry fewer toys during the rest of the year than they do at holiday time. Remember to buy your Christmas wrapping paper in January. Most years, I've found a great selection of Christmas paper and cute tags still available at the ninety percent off markdown.

5. If you have a shopping partner, work as a team.

There are two ways you can use a partner. Your partner can work the store with you or as a remote research assistant. If your buddy is in the store, you can work one aisle while she works the next. A key to this game is speed. Brief each other in advance on what you are looking for. If you are using a remote partner, take a cell phone with you and call for updates posted to deal web sites and traffic report web sites.

A peculiar mix of joy and adrenaline comes with bargain shopping in the after-holiday sales. The joy arises from the total dollars saved figure printed on the bottom of a store receipt. The adrenaline comes from trying to beat the clock. The best I can describe it is to say it's like a treasure hunt.

R. Kellogg is a freelance writer based out of the sunny southwest. She enjoys bargain shopping.

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