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Procrastinators Rejoice - All Hope is Not Lost!

Even if you haven't started your holiday shopping, there's still time to do it right.

When I first met my husband, he would spend Christmas Eve, along with throngs of other panicked shoppers, dashing through the mall and paying sticker price for whatever gifts were left on the racks.

With some careful training, he now crosses off his list (me), much earlier in  December, without a hint of the frazzled emergency of Christmases past. He has also learned how to spot a good deal - and avoid a bad one - and how to stick close to a budget. Now if only he would wrap his gifts instead of giving them in shopping bags...

If you're like my husband in his earlier years, the thought of Christmas being just over a week away probably makes the breath catch in your throat and gives you a stomach ache. But you still have time to find great gifts, and good deals, even if you haven't made your list yet.

The first and second things you should do are make a list (and check it twice), and set a budget. Write down who you need to shop for, and any gift ideas you might have for them. Then decide how much you plan to spend total, and on each person. Be organized: Without a good list and a workable budget, you'll wind up making eight trips, forgetting someone important, and spending way too much money.

Then research. Compare prices and plan your shopping trip accordingly. There is still time to order gifts online, but you'll probably pay a premium for shipping in time for Christmas delivery (unless you shop a participating merchant on Free Shipping Day). Look for inspiration on gift ideas by Googling generations, age ranges andhobbies.

Totally clueless? Some creative and affordable, but generic gift ideas include: hat, gloves and scarf sets, gift baskets, movie tickets, eBooks, cool plants, spa treatments, framed photos, wine and liquor, candles and Christmas ornaments.

Gift cards, gift cards, gift cards! Fast and easy to buy, a pleasure to receive. Find gift card stations at some supermarkets and convenience stores, with large selections of gift cards for popular restaurants and retailers. There is something for everyone. When in doubt, give an iTunes gift card.

A few last-minute shopping tips:

  • Leave the kids at home. They'll slow you down and talk you into impulse buys which can break your budget. They might even have a meltdown, forcing you to head home before your shopping is done.
  • Shop at one store, or in one shopping center. The fewer times you have to park your car, wait in line, check out, find your car, the better.
  • If you're planning a marathon shopping trip, have some coffee and a good breakfast before you head out. Pack some water, snacks and pain relievers in case a stress headache pops up.
  • Pick up a few extra small, generic gifts. You never know when you might need a quick hostess gift or something for a forgotten Secret Santa exchange.

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