It’s Dec. 21. That means there are just four shopping days (including today) before Christmas.

This could be exhilarating – if you like crowds and an adrenaline rush – or simply a nightmare.

With Black Friday sales coming north of the border, many Hamiltonians were out bright and early Nov. 29 taking advantage of deals and checking off names on their Christmas shopping list.

But, if that was not you, and the five-days-til-Christmas reminder elicits a freak-out, we’ll try to help. We’re consulted experts (like yours truly) for tips on how to get your shopping done on budget and on time.

Start early

Most malls, even the local ones, are opening early to accommodate the shopping crowds.

“The last weekend before Christmas is always really busy for us,” said Sheila Jennings, general manager at Lime Ridge Mall.

Hamilton’s biggest mall is open at 9 a.m. on Saturday, 10 a.m. on Sunday, 9 a.m. on Monday and 8:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve Day. 

Foot traffic will be at its lowest if you arrive right when the mall opens. You’ll also have a better chance of getting attention from the employees if you need help with your gifts.

And if you’re one of those people who really doesn’t like going to the mall, heading there early will reduce you time inside. Get in and get it done.

Make a list, check it twice

“Come prepared with a list,” Jennings said.

Not only will a list keep you focused, it will save you a trip back to the mall. At this time of year, that’s probably not something you want to be doing.

But if you really have no idea what to buy...

Don’t be afraid to ask

Many of the stores at Lime Ridge will have managers, product experts and extra employees around to help you find the perfect gift.

“Be open to recommendations,” Jennings said.

Remember: they are the experts.

You CAN still find deals

Thought you missed all of the deals if you weren’t out on Black Friday? Jennings said about 80 per cent of her stores have some “really great offerings,” whether they be discounts or buy-one-get-one promotions.

If you’re looking for a good deal, try doing some online research first to see what you can expect when you get to the mall. 

Try going local

Avoid the mall entirely and try your local shops and boutiques.

“You don’t feel the pressure,” said Elisha Proietti, events coordinator for the Ottawa Street BIA. “And you might be surprised what you can find.”

For example, Proietti said, the BIA’s flower shop has Grinch-themed Christmas plants, if you’re looking for a quirky, small gift.

Proietti also oversees the Ottawa Street Farmer’s Market, which is open bright and early Saturday morning at 7 a.m. She has a few vendors who have gift baskets for the foodies on your list.

“Staying local is often easier on the budget and your sanity as well,” she said.