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Plan the Perfect All-Day Shopping Trip

Grab your friends and hit some stores for a bonding (and buying) adventure

two older women shopping together

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Step away from that laptop. Close that virtual shopping cart. 

Sure, online shopping is convenient, but in-person shopping — especially with friends or family — deserves its due. You’ll make progress toward that 10,000 steps-a-day goal, bond with others and even get a happiness boost, all while checking items off your to-do list. 

So, gather up those unused gift cards and pull out some comfortable shoes. Here’s how to plan an ideal shopping day.   

1. Think ahead

 “Don’t just get in the car and go to the mall,” says Candace Corlett, president of the consultancy WSL Strategic Retail. “Plan your day, not unlike how you would plan a holiday.”

A smart first step: Scroll through shopping center websites. They are often packed with helpful information, such as a map of stores and details on parking, says consumer shopping and finance columnist Trae Bodge.

2. Explore new terrain

Be adventurous — explore beyond your go-to shopping haunts, says Corlett. Ask friends and family for advice and check out local newspapers for destination ideas. “It could be more interesting to drive to a great Main Street that has shops and restaurants than to go to the mall,” Corlett says. 

3. Break out those unused gift cards 

Take inventory of your gift cards and slide them in front of credit cards in your wallet as a reminder to use them, advises Andrea Woroch, a writer and commentator who specializes in saving money. Not a fan of the store the card is for? Swap cards with your companions or sell and/or exchange gift cards on online sites like Cardpool or CardCash. Also, some Target stores will take gift cards from select other retailers and in exchange give you a Target GiftCard.

4. Incorporate nonshopping activities 

Plan to get what you need, but also round out the day with activities like a nice lunch, advises Jean Chatzky, an AARP financial ambassador and host of the financial-focused HerMoney podcast.

“Happiness research shows us that doing things is more satisfying than buying things,” she says.

Choose your day wisely. Some shopping centers host concerts, art exhibitions and fashion shows, while some individual retailers have in-store events such as yoga sessions and cooking classes.

5. Make a restaurant reservation

Food courts can be crowded, chaotic and come with the possibility that you won’t be able to find open seats together, says Bodge. Yelp can help you locate restaurants that satisfy your group’s budget and taste buds, adds Woroch.

6. Be cognizant of your companions’ needs 

Talk through any physical, monetary or dietary restrictions to find solutions that work for all. “You wouldn’t choose stores on Fifth Avenue in New York City if you knew your friend’s budget was more suburban malls,” says Corlett.

7. Take care getting dressed

Wear clothes that are easy to put on and pull off, says Woroch. Yet, resist the urge to don ill-fitting sweats. If you feel insecure about the way you look, you are more likely to buy new things, says Sarah Newcomb, a behavioral scientist at investment research firm Morningstar who specializes in consumer psychology. 

8. Enlist support

Let your shopping mates know your budget and encourage them to help you stay on track, says Chatzky. Also ask them for honest feedback on your potential purchases. “There’s a big difference in the opinions that you’ll get from friends and what you’ll get from a salesperson,” Chatzky says. 

9. Think about big-picture goals

It can be disappointing to bypass out-of-budget items. To counteract feelings of deprivation, focus on what you are gaining by that decision. Not buying pricey shoes may mean that you have more money for an upcoming vacation. “Don’t focus on what you are saying ‘no’ to,” says Newcomb. “Focus on what you are saying ‘yes’ to.” 

10. Celebrate your success

Rejoice in your shopping accomplishments, especially if you snagged items on sale. But remember, the ultimate reward isn’t necessarily those material goods. “The real goal you are meeting isn’t for stuff, it’s time with people that you care about,” Newcomb says.

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