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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

7 Unexpected Costs of Holiday Shopping

You’ve made your list, checked it twice, and most importantly, budgeted for it. But what you might not have thought about when plotting your holiday shopping is the hidden costs and unnecessary extras that are often involved. Add-ons, extended warranties, gift wrap, and all those shipping charges can add quite an unexpected sum to what you’d planned to spend.

But with a little research, determination, and stonewalling of over-eager salespeople, you can minimize these costs and save your shopping money for the good stuff—the gifts. Read on for seven hidden costs of holiday shopping and how to avoid them.

1. Add-Ons That Add Up

Buy an iPad and you’ll likely pay for an upgrade, stand, case, apps, and, of course, the Wi-Fi monthly plan—and that $500 purchase suddenly costs you an additional $300. If you’re planning to purchase major electronics, watch out for such add-ons, and do a little research beforehand. You just might find that super-duper cable or sleek case isn’t really necessary. And if it is, you can often find better prices online or after the holidays.

2. Surging Shipping Fees

While you can often score deals on online shopping, shipping costs can seriously eat up your budget. To avoid them, shop with e-retailers that offer free shipping like Best Buy and Zappos or hold out until Free Shipping Day, Friday, Dec. 16. At this one-day online event, over 2,000 merchants are offering complimentary delivery (and other discounts!), with guaranteed arrival by Christmas Eve.

3. Re-Stocking Fees

If you buy something online, but you or your gift recipient want to take it back, you could get charged re-stocking and return-shipping fees. Worse yet, you might get stuck with merchandise credit for a store at which you rarely shop. To prevent these charges, make sure you review the company’s return policy before buying anything, and always hang on to your receipts. Also look for merchants that allow you to return online purchases to their brick-and-mortar stores, which will save you from extra shipping charges.

4. Extended Warranties

Ever notice how sales clerks push extended warranties? It's not because they want to make sure you’re protected, it's because the store makes a huge profit. Consumer Reports found that the majority of extended warranties are unnecessary because applicable products like appliances and televisions don't typically need repair before the warranties expire. Instead, use a credit card that doubles the manufacturer warranty or extends coverage (like American Express or Visa Signature cards)—you’ll get similar benefits, but for free.

5. Parking Tickets

Racing around town, paying mall parking lot fees, running out of time on your meter—just getting to the stores can cost a bundle! To save on your driving costs, plan shopping dates with friends and split the costs of gas and parking, or share rides with someone in your community through Zimride. And set a reminder on your phone for the time your meter is set to expire—help yourself avoid getting slapped with a parking fine for being just a few minutes over.

6. Gift Wrap

Festive gift wrap can be beautiful—and insanely expensive. So save your money for the gifts themselves, and pick up wrapping paper, gift bags, and ribbons at a dollar store, where you’ll pay up to 70% less than specialty retailers and drug stores. Or, consider even less expensive and less wasteful alternatives such as newspapers, last year’s holiday cards, pages from old books or magazines, or even out-of-date maps. For last-minute gift wrap in a pinch, print designs from your computer at or shop with retailers that offer free gift wrap, like Nordstrom and Williams-Sonoma. And don’t bother wrapping gifts you plan to carry on a flight—security will require you open them for inspection.

7. Checked Bag Charges

Traveling home for the holidays with a sack full of presents can result in oversized- or checked-baggage fees, starting at $25 (per bag!). Instead, send gifts directly from e-retailers to your final holiday destination, or box all of your packages together and ship them before you leave home—both options will likely be cheaper. Running out of time? For last-minute gifts, send an e-gift card directly to the recipient for instant and charge-free delivery.

So before you shop, do some research. Knowing what you’re up against before you hit the stores will make sure that your cash is spent where it counts.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wesolowski.