Boxing Day can be a chaotic holiday for many Canadian shoppers, especially for those hunting for the best deals.
And while interest in Boxing Day shopping has declined — only 34 per cent of Canadians plan to spend that day, according to a November survey by the Retail Council of Canada — many are still setting their alarms early on Dec. 26.
If you count yourself among Boxing Day shoppers, there are certain guidelines to follow so your trip is fruitful and not a waste of time, says Barry Choi, a Toronto-based personal finance expert.
Without proper planning in advance, you might be scuttling around in-store or online, distracted by the number of perceived “deals,” which can lead you to overspending.
How to figure out what to buy
To combat the onslaught of signs and emails from stores advertising discounts, write down in advance what you actually need to buy, Choi said.
“You should basically be buying anything that you’re planning to buy anyways,” he said. “If you’re thinking about buying a new TV, you should probably wait until Boxing Day… that’s the time when things go on sale.”
Browse flyers in advance, as stores usually send them out or post them online, he said. Then you can create a list of which deals you’re going for and only buy those items you had planned to purchase.
“Try to stay focused because the last thing you want to do with Boxing Day, it’s so easy to see those deals, and if you’re getting a discount, you’re just tempted to buy it,” he said.
Items that are usually good deals on Boxing Day include anything Christmas-related, like wrapping paper, cards or decorations.
Anything a store has overstocked for the holidays is a good option as well, which could include clothing, toys, video games or electronics from big box stores, he said.
“Quite often, you see big sales on those items because they’re just trying to clear everything out that they didn’t sell for over the holidays.”
Electronics end up being some of the most valuable buys for Boxing Day, as it’s a good opportunity to replace what you have or upgrade to a new model, says Jessica Moorhouse, a Toronto-based financial counsellor and millennial money expert.
“I’d suggest doing your research now to know specifically what brand or item you want, write down its current regular price then, on Boxing Day, try to find it for the cheapest price possible,” she said via email.
A surprising deal not always associated with the shopping holiday is a potentially cheaper phone plan, Moorhouse said.
“That’s how I was able to reduce my phone bill by $20 per month,” she said. “Keep your eye out for promotions … though it’s easier to go to the retailer or kiosk in-person.”
Travel deals are another promotion that some people aren’t aware of, Choi adds.
“It’s usually a good time to buy because what they’re trying to do is get confirmed sales for the new year, so if you can get 15 to 20 per cent off when you wanted to go anyways, that’s a good deal,” he said.
Using sites like Red Flag Deals or Rakuten will help you find more alerts about discounts and give you cash back on your purchases, he said.
What you should try to avoid
Along with the deals that will be worth your while, there are also common mistakes many people make other than being distracted by too many discounts, Choi said.
Buying summer items on Boxing Day isn’t worth it, especially patio furniture, he said.
“I like to avoid … anything that’s two seasons in advance,” he said, adding any patio furniture on sale might be older than you’d like.
A gym membership is also a Boxing Day purchase that Choi never thinks is a good idea, especially if it’s on impulse after indulging over the holidays.
“Most people end up not going to the gym and not using that membership,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you should wait until February or March and ask: ‘OK, am I really going to the gym?’”
To truly understand why you may want to buy more than you need, like an unused gym membership, practice asking yourself why you want to engage with Boxing Day in the first place, says Chantel Chapman, a Vancouver-based finance coach.
“When you’ve spent the time mindfully coming up with your plan, you are going to be more specific when you go in to shop, and it’s easier to stay on course,” she said. “Rather than thinking, ‘Well, it’s Boxing Day, I’m just going to see what I can find.'”
Practicing awareness and mindfulness, even when in the middle of shopping, can keep you from straying from your plan, she said.
“Slow down, take a deep breath and then go back to the question: ‘Why do I need to buy that?’” she said.
If you want to spend Boxing Day online
Buying online might save you the hassle of parking and wading through crowds at the mall or a large department store, she said.
It may be more advantageous to grab some Boxing Day deals online, as some retailers launch sales in advance of Dec. 26, even by Christmas Eve, Choi said.
“You can actually take advantage of Boxing Day early and you don’t need to line up in the early hours,” he said. Generally speaking, most deals available in-store are also online, and often, there’s more stock, he said.
You could also use browser extensions online that will catch deals and promotion codes that you might have missed, like Honey or DealHack.ca, he says.
“You should be browsing, not even realizing there’s a sale, and you’ll have an extension… so it’s really easy to find deals,” he said.
Despite the deals, Canadians still prefer bricks-and-mortar channels, with 40 per cent believing Boxing Day discounts are better in-store, according to a 2019 survey by the Retail Council of Canada.
But Choi says he still understands the excitement that comes with waking up early and physically heading to a store for deals. It all depends on what you’re looking for and what you’re hoping to get out of the day, as long as you follow your plan, he says.
“Like your Christmas list, you should have a Boxing Day list and try to stick to it,” he said, adding that if you’re unable to get an item on your list like a laptop, it’s OK to pick something else.
“But if you didn’t need that laptop, then don’t buy a laptop,” he said. “A deal is not a deal if you didn’t need it to begin with.”