‘Tis the season for families, presents, food, memories ... and shopping. It’s true that giving presents to loved ones will leave a warm fuzzy feeling, especially when, on Christmas morning, a child unwraps the gift he’s been hoping for all year. His little smile lights up the room while cameras flash, capturing the special moment.

However, it’s getting the presents that has become the hassle and places a damper on whatever holiday spirit the shopper might have. Simply driving by a department store and seeing the packed parking lot makes a lot of people cringe, even when they don’t have to stop at the store. Images of long lines, cramped aisles and kids crying flash through the mind (and don’t forget the empty shelves where the toy used to be before it sold out).

But it doesn’t have to be such a bad experience. We all know it’s almost Christmas, and the procrastinators have waited until only days before to actually go shopping. It’s going to be crowded. There are going to be long lines. And let’s face it, we may not be able to find the perfect present. And yes, children do have a tendency to be loud (not all, but most). So here are a few tips to get through the homestretch before Christmas.

Before going into the store, take a deep breath and be mentally prepared for a busy store. If there are a few coins lying around, go ahead and grab them. Dropping them in the Salvation Army bucket guarded by bell-ringers may leave a warm, fuzzy feeling before walking into the craziness. Have a list of presents or other items ready so aimlessly wandering won’t be the end result. Cramped aisles are not easily corrected.

Be patient. What will a few seconds difference make? Or even a minute’s difference? The long line at the check-out is all that is waiting. Be attentive of what is going on, not just to be courteous to fellow shoppers, but also because pick-pockets might see an easy grab.

When it is finally time to stand in line and wait ... and wait, be prepared with how to pay. Some stores do not take checks anymore, and even if they do, they are scanned electronically, rendering filling out the entire check useless. Debit cards, credit cards or cash is the easiest and quickest way to pay due to advances in technology. If a check is necessary, fill it out while waiting in line. That way, the dollar amount is the only thing left to complete.

The fun part about shopping at large stores is the parking lots. Before going into the store, someone may drive around for 30 minutes trying to find a place. Once the space is found, the car is quickly parked and the shopper rushes to the closest door. However, when exiting the store, the ever dreaded question pops into the mind: “Where did I park?” Not a fun thought, especially when the car may have several look-a-likes. While rushing into the store or mall, glance at the row number or identify a landmark such as a tree or store you may have parked near. Some people press the panic button on their key chain to set off the car. Problem is, that button has to be a certain distance from the car before it works.

If all else fails and to avoid the majority of the shopping rush, shop late at night or early in the morning, when crowds are thinner.

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