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Wouldn't it be nice if everything we'd ever need in life would magically appear when it was needed? Unfortunately, it doesn't... Everyone has to shop. At least, everyone I've ever met. We shop for food, clothes, entertainment, gifts and the list goes on.

If you're anything like me, you have to be in the "mood" to shop for certain things. I love the grocery store; I hate shopping for clothes for myself. I love wandering through large markets; I don't particularly enjoy wandering aimlessly through malls. So, we're all different in what we shop for and where and how often. The least I can do is help make it easier, quicker and less stressful! Let's start with where you're going to shop.

What are you shopping for today, this week, this month? Whatever the trip is that you're taking, know ahead of time where you'd like to look. This is especially handy when shopping for lots of gifts for multiple people (like around the holidays). Brainstorm a few minutes ahead of time to create a list of what you'd like to pick up. Make a grocery list based on what recipes you'd like to make before your next trip to the store. Make a gift list during holiday time with who to buy gifts for, ideas of what you might like to purchase and the price range you're looking to stay within. Now, where will you have to go to find these things? Can you pick them up at the corner store or local drug store? Do you need to stop by a  specialty shop for something hard to find or locally made? Make a master list of stops that will need to happen.

Now we know what we're getting and where we're going to get it. Let's make the trip as easy as possible. Map out the route you'll take from when you leave the house until you return. Make sure you don't make loops around yourself while you're out there. One large loop is best. However, keep traffic congestion and construction in mind if you're driving. Find out what store hours are, especially if you're venturing out in the early morning, late evening or during the weekend. If you're traveling by public transportation, use an online system to help map out the best route for each stop. (If you are traveling by public transportation, also keep in mind how much you can carry in one trip!) You might also want to make sure you have any coupons or gift cards with you that you think you might use on this trip out. Take reusable bags when possible.

There are two other things to keep in mind when it comes to shopping: making returns and the ease of shopping online.

If you're making any returns in this trip, here's what you need to know before you go:

- Do you have/need the receipt to return this item?

- Do you have/need the original packaging for this item?

- Is the item still eligible for return?

- Have you included the store on your route?

- Have you put it in the car/bag you're taking with you?

Now, online shopping: It's great, and it's a trap all at once! People can spend hours and hours browsing around online. Don't! Stick to the websites you know you love or that come highly recommended. Have an idea of what you're looking for ahead of time, like when making any shopping list. Make sure sites are secure before you purchase anything. And, finally, give yourself a time limit! This should be similar to the amount of time you'd be willing to be running errands outside the confines of your computer. For some, online shopping is perfect: it's quick, it comes to you and there's no getting out of your pajamas. For others, there's nothing better than being able to see and touch something or trying it on in person.

So, no matter which way you choose to purchase goods, just remember one thing: let me know when there's a great sale!


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