Gift CardsBefore you hit the shopping mall, hit the gift card mall. In most cases you don't even have to leave your own neighborhood. Safeway, QFC and some major drugstores sell gift cards for movies, the Mariners, bookstores, dozens of major department stores, even Disneyland and eBay.Right off the bat, you're eliminating the guess work. You're saving yourself a lot of time and you're saving gas money not having to drive around to all these places.By law, in the state of Washington, gift cards cannot expire nor have deductible monthly fees. Just be careful about buying gift cards from the major credit card companies. They're a great option for people who live in other states, but Visa, MasterCard and other major credit card companies have different rules, with fees that can rapidly drain your balance.One downside of gift cards is that many people never use them, so be sure to match the card with the person, so it's something they'll put to use. Hot SellersAs for actual gifts, Nintendo's Wii is again the hot pick of the season.With units flying off shelves at $250, don't count on any price cuts. Unlike last year, retailers say supply is good, but they do run out. So if the Wii is on your list, buy it now to avoid having to wait for new shipments. Ditto for the top selling Wii game, Super Mario Galaxy.Another hot seller: Tickle Me Elmo, the Extra Special Edition. TMX Elmo is so hot, it may be in short supply as we get closer to Christmas. Regular price is $40, but watch the ads and you'll find it for $35.
Coupons aboundDo not miss the Thanksgiving Day edition of the Seattle Times / PI. It'll be stuffed with coupons and specials for nearly 50 retailers this year, more than ever before.And here's a tip that can help you get a jump on the sales: If you see an ad for something on sale that's coming up later in the week, head to the store after 6 p.m. the night before the sale officially begins. A lot of times, the prices are already marked down. For extra savings, shop online and find the special coupon codes -- especially next Monday which is Cyber Monday, when as many as 75 percent of the retailers will offer special promotions.Online shopping expert Hillary Mendelsohn is author of "thepurplebook," a comprehensive directory of thousands of the best online retailers and services and how to get good deals."Log onto your favorite search engine, type in the site that you want to shop at, the plus sign, and the words 'coupon code,' and all the coupon codes and deals will be pulled up on your search," Mendelsohn said.Time to talk turkeyGrocery store sales are in full gear for the holidays, so watch the newspaper coupons, clean out the freezer and make room in the pantry.Keep an eye out for items on sale that you can either freeze or store, to use months from now. Especially butter -- this is one time butter comes on special, guaranteed.One of the biggest money traps you can fall into at this time of year is not knowing what you want ahead of time. Your uncertainty means more money left at the store because you're more likely to buy on impulse.If you're looking for specific items in an ad, take the ad with you so you go to the correct store. Take a supply of paper clips so you can clip all the receipts and guests receipts together. Keep them in one envelope in a safe place. And always keep your purse or wallet closed and close to your body and never leave packages inside your car in plain view.