Like thousands of well-meaning Canadians, you may have had the intention of getting your holiday shopping done back in November. But now, you’re finding yourself sorely lacking in the gift department as we count down the final days before Christmas. If that’s the case, don’t beat yourself up about it. Last-minute shopping can have its benefits.

Nobody wants to face the crowds, the traffic or the shopping mall frenzy, but buying last-minute might actually save you some cash. People who make many shopping trips over a long period of time often end up going over budget, forgetting how much they’ve spent on mom, big brother or their significant other, and feeling the need to pick up “just one more thing.”

The best news about still having to purchase gifts is that you haven’t spent the money yet! If you’re preparing to march into gift-buying battle, take a few minutes to plan before entering the fray.  With a bit of discipline, you could actually turn last-minute shopping into a boon for your bank account. Here are seven steps to eleventh-hour savings:

1.     Take a Look At Your Finances:If you haven’t bought anything yet, you’re at monetary ground zero. So take an honest assessment of your finances: bank accounts, piggy banks, credit card statements, any outstanding bills that need attending to and other holiday expenses that might be round the bend (like food, travel, etc.). It might be tempting to just ignore the bills until January, but if you take an honest assessment, you’ll know what you can afford to spend without getting yourself into fiscal hot water come 2013.

2.     Set a Budget: Now that you know how much you have available, make a list of who you need/want to buy for and decide on a reasonable amount for each person. To really stay ahead of the game, only use the money that you have in the bank, right now, and stay away from credit as an option.

3.     Think DIY: If you’re looking at your resources and you’re coming up short, consider going DIY with gifts this year. Creating a meaningful gift yourself will often elicit just as many smiles and hugs as expensive consumer goods. If you’re an ace baker, whip up some decadent treats for your best friend. If you paint, do woodwork, write songs, knit, create poetry – whatever! Remember that it really is the thought that counts. (If you’re thinking “no fricking way,” see below.)

4.     Check Online Deals Before You Go Anywhere: Before you hit any of your favourite shops, take some time to comparison shop online. You might be too late to buy your gifts online and be sure it makes it in time, but you can still check out the deals on offer and plan accordingly. This will also help you decide on what you are going to purchase before you venture out, which will reduce the likelihood of impulsively buying something ridiculously expensive.

5.     Do It All In One Day (and Maybe, In One Place): For some, this might sound overly ambitious (and exhausting), but I’m the type of gal who likes to get the shopping done in one fell swoop.  You may be the type who hates shopping malls, but remember that the less places you go to, the less traffic you’ll have to fight or parking you’ll have to pay.

6.     Use Cash: I know I mentioned this one in #2, but it’s worth reiterating. If you’ve decided to spend $200, $500 or $50 on gifts, take out only that much and don’t even think about dipping into your credit cards for more. (Maybe allot yourself a small food and drink budget to keep you energetic and hydrated during your shopping spree.) And keep track of each purchase so you don’t go overboard with one recipient before you even get to another. If I sound like a big party-pooper, remember, massive January credit card debt will be even less fun!

7.     Save It Til Boxing Day: Want to really save on presents? If you have understanding friends and relatives and don’t mind the crowds, you could always suggest postponing the gift-giving until after the 26th. You and your loved ones could save 20, 30, 40 per cent or more on your desired items. Plus, if you’re going to be braving the last-minute-Christmas-shopper crowd, you might as well brave the boxing-day-bargain-hunter crowd. Just double up on the hydration and bring along an aspirin or two.

Shelley White is a Canadian freelance writer, editor and TV producer who contributes regularly to The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, The Grid and Spinner.com. Shelley is also a mother of two who aspires to never again carry a credit card balance.