Are You Shopping in "Panic Mode"? Here Are 4 Ways to Stop It

Stress and money make a financially lethal cocktail. Add in hectic holiday schedules, crowded malls and visiting relatives, and you get an environment that sends many consumers into a state of "panic shopping."

According to a recent survey from Visa (V), as of mid-December, fully 73 percent of Americans had not finished their holiday shopping. In fact, fully 16 percent -- roughly 1 in 6 -- hadn't even begun.

That last-minute flurry of purchases can lead to a lot of wasted money. According to a California Institute of Technology study, people will spend as much as 50 percent more on an impulse buy in the store than they would if they'd done their homework online first.

The best way to avoid this situation is, obviously, to start your shopping early -- and, ideally, end it early as well. But here we are in late December, so it's too late for that. But it's not too late to make the best of the situation. Here are some tips for doing just that:

Put a cap on your last-minute spending. Determine ahead of time how much you'll spend on each gift recipient, and try to stay within the budget. For context, Visa recommends spending no more than 1.5 percent of your income on holiday purchases -- gifts as well as decorations, cards, and the ingredients for all those homemade treats you whip up. For a household with income of $40,000, that amounts to a total of $600.

Consider non-financial gifts. If, like many people, you're struggling to make ends meet, remember that you really don't have to break the bank on holiday gifts. You can give loved ones IOUs for home-cooked meals or an afternoon of gardening help, or offer to take photographs at their next event. Instead of buying baby clothes, how about offering new parents your services as a babysitter? Think about what you're good at and enjoy and what your loved ones might need, and you'll likely come up with some good ideas that don't cost much.

Donate to charity. Another idea that can help you get your "shopping" done quickly and effectively is to give to charity in honor of loved ones. You can do this on your own or band together with friends or relatives to make a group donation to an organization you all believe in -- thereby taking care of giving gifts to each other.

Get a head start on next year. The best thing you might be able to do at this point is to start thinking of next year's gifts beginning now. Throughout the coming year, whenever you spot something affordable that would be perfect for someone on your list, buy it and keep it in a place you'll remember. Come next Dec. 1, you might find that your shopping is already done.

Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Visa.

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