Catey Hill/Morningstar—The holidays are supposed to be about surprise: the look on your spouse’s or kid’s face when they unwrap the perfect gift they weren’t expecting. But couples who share a credit card, bank account and Amazon login increasingly find it hard to even browse online without tipping their hand. Once you’ve viewed a product on Amazon, the site sends emails suggesting similar items, and Amazon ads featuring the watch you were planning to get your spouse suddenly show up everywhere you both go online.
1. Search online without leaving a trace
Chances are, your teenager–who really hopes you’re getting him the new Xbox this Christmas–knows more about snooping on dear ‘ol dad than vice versa. So he might not be able to resist checking out what gifts dad is searching for online. If you want to surprise him, the first thing you need to do–if you share a computer with the family–is learn to search the web for presents without leaving a trace. Use incognito mode when searching; here’s how you do it on Google Chrome, and on Firefox. If you don’t do that, you can also clear your cookies and browser history once you’re done searching; here’s how to do this on Firefox and Google Chrome. Better yet, says Michael Fertik, CEO at Reputation.com, a site that helps consumers protect their privacy online, use your own device, be it a computer, tablet or smartphone–or even your office computer–and search incognito and/or clear history and cookies and make sure you aren’t logged into any joint accounts.
2. Create a separate account at retailers
You also have to beware of your shared accounts like Amazon, which, when you are signed in keeps a log of every item you’ve looked at. If you’ve been researching say a new juicer for your wife, then she’s likely to see those recommendations when she logs into your joint account. Consumer savings writer Andrea Woroch recommends getting a separate Amazon (or whatever retailer you’re shopping at) account to buy gifts with. At the very least, make sure you’re logged out when searching the retailer site and practice the above online searching methods. It’s also possible to delete items from your Amazon browsing history.
3. Turn off push notifications
Woroch also suggests that you turn off push notifications on your phone: Sometimes, for example, you’ll get an email confirmation when a purchase ships and it will show up as a push notification on your smartphone. If the phone is out in the open, that message might pop up and the family could see it.
4. Create a separate email account
You may want to get a separate email account for purchases if you share one with your partner, says Woroch, who adds that this can be an easy way to manage retailer emails (sign up for their email list to get savings and all the offers just go into this email, rather than clogging up your primary email). You may also get one that isn’t linked up on your smartphone to avoid those push notifications. And, of course, be sure to logout of your email when you’re done using the computer as a partner could open up the screen and accidentally see order confirmations or shipping notifications for the gifts you got her.
5. Pay for gifts slyly
Paying with that joint credit card makes it nearly impossible to hide items you bought your spouse–and what you paid for them. So if you have a separate credit card, pay with that (beware: opening a separate credit card just for you isn’t likely to engender anything but suspicion unless you explain; it can also impact your credit score). You can, of course, also pay with cash in stores–in which case you’ll only need to explain the telltale ATM withdrawals. Another solution is to buy gift cards at the grocery store (the purchase will show up on your credit card as from the grocery store) and use those to buy gifts; you can also buy discounted gift cards at sites like GiftCardGranny, recommends Woroch. (Remember that gift cards come with fees, so beware of that.) She adds that many retailers accept PayPal payments so if you have your own PayPal account, you can pay from that. And, of course prepaid cards are an option, but again, beware of the fees.
6. Time your purchases and shipping
One major problem for holiday shoppers, especially those who go early, is that they then have to hide gifts in the house. But that can be avoided by having packages delivered to your work address. Green also recommends doing layaway for purchases so you can simply pick them up very close to the holiday. If you don’t want to deal with the stores, Trae Bodge, a senior writer for RetailMeNot.com, says that consumers may want to time the shipping of gifts to as close to the holiday as possible so they aren’t sitting around the house. She uses Amazon Prime to get two-day shipping and has her gifts arrive right before the holiday. She cautions that this can be risky though, especially for limited-quantity items.