Instead, save time, money, and your sanity with these tips and know-hows. (We’re even giving you our five favorite online sites for finding truly awesome gifts. And we never share those.)

By Tracy Staton

Inside Information
Best practices for efficient, effective holiday shopping
1. Compare prices online before you hit the stores. Hoofing it from one end of the mall to the other to check price tags just wastes time. Plus, this way, you’ll know a good deal when you see it. 2. Shop after 6 p.m. the day before an advertised sale, when discounts are often in the store’s computer system already. 3. Before you whip out your wallet, ask about any unadvertised discounts or preferred-customer coupons. You might score the same price breaks given to members of the store’s loyalty program. 4. Beat the crowds by shopping extended hours (e.g., before 10 a.m. and after 9 p.m.). 5. When an online shopping site asks for a promotion code, leave your cart and open a new window to check coupon sites like,,, and others of their ilk. 6. When possible, buy online and pick up at the store in order to avoid the hassle of crowded aisles or waiting for the FedEx guy. Nice. 7. Let the charity at the mall wrap your presents. Good deed + time saved = holiday cheer.

Have Some Last-Minute Shopping?
These are the drop-dead dates by which you can order your gift and still have it arrive by December 25.
A+R Store ( December 17, standard ground shipping; December 21, expedited • December 20 • 9 p.m., December 9 for monogrammed gifts; 9 p.m., December 19, standard; noon, December 21, overnight • Noon, December 21, free ground; noon, December 22, express • December 19 for standard, with free upgrade if necessary; December 20, overnight • 11:59 p.m., December 18, ground; December 20, second day; December 21, next day • December 14, ground shipping; December 21, express shipping • December 19, ground; December 21, overnight • December 17, ground; December 20, second day; December 21, overnight • December 20

Sites to See
For gifts unique and different, go off the beaten path to these online specialty shops.
> It’s a treasure trove of witty objects you never knew you wanted but now have to have, like a shag-carpet yoga mat ($90), a bracelet of vintage typewriter keys ($90), and Phillips-head cuff links ($80).
> Think toy weapons for cubicle wars at the office, caffeine in various delivery systems, and gadgets both useful (Medusa Hub, $80, a mix of USB and FireWire ports) and irritating (Annoy-a-tron, a tiny doohickey that beeps at random — great for hiding in your mother-in-law’s bedroom, $10).
> Offers candy classics from the 1950s to the ’90s, available by the package or in themed gift buckets (Cinema Snacks, with theater sweets, $35; Baseball Batter Up Basket, with baseball-centric treats, $76).
> A varied assortment of high-end gifts like Christofle silver frames and baby rattles, Steiff teddy bears, and Ajune Selections skin-care products — something for the whole family.
> A + R Store. It’s all design, all the time. Hand-formed wine glasses that look like Dixie cups on stems ($46), for instance, or a wooden incense burner shaped like a tiny house — the smoke comes out the chimney ($35).