What to buy (and skip) in December 2021

Getty Images

Wouldn’t it be convenient to wrap up the year with straightforward shopping advice? Alas, the retail landscape is still chaotic. So it’s hard to tell which products (if any) will be listed at an affordable price point this month.

If you’re looking for the short answer as to what’s worth your dough, consider opting for gift cards and discount cookies. If you’re game for the longer, more complicated answer, read on.

Inflation, logjams and holiday shopping

Like every year, retailers are tripping over themselves to promote holiday bargains. But, as you weigh discounts, keep in mind that base prices may be higher than usual.

Just look at what the Consumer Price Index tells us. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses CPI to track average changes in the prices consumers pay for goods and services. Prices for all tracked products and services increased by 6.2% from October 2020 to October 2021, according to the BLS’ most recent data. That’s the largest 12-month increase since 1990.

Whatever it is you’re shopping for may not only be more expensive, but also harder to get in time for the holidays. With supply chains jammed, many retailers still seem to be taking educated guesses as to when their merchandise will arrive. So shoppers are left guessing, too. Will the products you want be available in time for the holidays?

Given this uncertainty, you’re likely better off shopping now for items you feel you must have for the holidays. “I wouldn’t worry so much this year about timing the deals,” says Kelly Goldsmith, professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. This may be the year “you make peace with the fact that you may not get the 10% off of it and just be happy that you have it,” she adds.

As for which of those products to buy (and skip), here are few thoughts:

Buy: Gift cards

Gift cards are the secret weapon against inflation and unpredictable supply. “Buying gift cards gives the recipient the option to buy what they want when they want it if it’s not available at the right time — hopefully at a time when the price is a little lower,” says Paula Rosenblum, co-founder and managing partner of Retail Systems Research, or RSR, headquartered in Miami.

If this route feels a little impersonal as a holiday gift, pair it with a thoughtful note. And try to ensure the recipient would actually shop at the store for which you buy the gift card.

Skip: Furniture and bedding

For most of the past decade, furniture and bedding prices hadn’t changed much and, if anything, trended downward, according to BLS data. But you won’t find those relatively low prices now. Inflation has hit furniture prices like a sofa to the face.

The cost of furniture and bedding increased 12% from October 2020 to October 2021, according to those CPI figures. That category includes bedroom, living room, kitchen, dining room and other furniture.

If you need another reason to pass on bedding and furniture purchases, consider that you’ll likely see these items on sale in a month or two. Traditionally, January is when retailers majorly discount bedroom and bathroom goods. And, in years past, you could find furniture and home goods on sale the weekend leading up to Presidents Day, which will be Feb. 21.

So, if you can, hold off until the new year to spruce up your home. Then start scouting for deals at retailers such as Kohl’s, Macy’s, Overstock and Wayfair.

Buy: Cookies

National Cookie Day is Dec. 4, so keep an eye out for discounts and freebies. Last year, Insomnia Cookies, Subway and Great American Cookies offered free cookies at select locations, while Cheryl’s Cookies and Mrs. Fields gave discounts.

Follow your favorite local and national cookie retailers on social media to learn about promotions. After all, navigating this messy shopping season is tough — you deserve to treat yourself.