Holiday shopping is more expensive than you probably realize. The average American plans to spend $967 over the course of the holiday season. That totals to over $678 billion spent on gifts, decorations, and more over the course of November and December.
If you’re like most people, you likely don’t have an extra grand laying around to spend on gifts. Therefore, this holiday, beat the trend and work hard to find ways to save money on your holiday gift shopping. These 20 tips should help you out.
1. Make a concrete list of gifts within your budget
Spontaneous shopping leads to overspending. When you’re not sure what you’re looking for, you end up looking everywhere, which makes you extra susceptible to buying things you don’t need.
Don’t just wander into the store or browse idly online, hoping that you find something. Kick the holiday shopping season off by deciding exactly for whom you’ll be shopping. Set a budget for each person and get as specific as possible about what you’d actually want to buy for each. You might not know exactly, but a little thought now can prevent impulse buys later
2. Start putting away money for the holidays ASAP
The holidays are such a financial burden largely because all your spending usually occurs in a span of a few weeks. On top of keeping up with all your other bills and financial commitments, you have to find the funds to buy gifts for everyone important in your life. The added spending pressure leads to people relying on their credit cards, which in turn leads to paying off holiday gifts with interest over the course of the next year or more.
Don’t fall into this trap. Start saving for the holidays early so you have a financial cushion when it’s finally time to buy. In addition, plan to keep saving after the holidays to make up for the excess spending you undertake during the holidays.
3. Space out your shopping
On top of saving extra for holiday shopping, keep an eye out for gifts year-round. You might miss the end-of-the-year discounts, but you’ll greatly reduce the stress of trying to finish all your shopping the weekend before Christmas.
It might be difficult to keep your gifts hidden if you have kids, however, so you’ll have to get crafty if you want to stow holiday gifts all year long.
4. Track prices online
When it comes to saving money, the Internet is your friend.
On one hand, apps such as Amazon allow you to watch certain deals over the course of the holiday season to see when the best time to buy is. You’ll be able to make your list and keep an eye on prices simultaneously.
On the other hand, third-party websites such as CamelCamelCamel allow you to check historical price fluctuations on items to get an idea as to how low the price can go. That way, when Amazon tells you that your deal is ready, you can check to see if buying now really is the best option.
5. Ask for a price match from your local retailer
Say you find an item you want for an extra-low price in an ad for a store that’s 45 minutes away. You could make the trip; or, you could bring the ad to a competitor that’s five minutes away and ask the store to match the price. Most stores will price match competitors just to get your business, and you’ll save twice: once on your purchase and once on gas.
6. Shop through a rebate site and get cash back
Making money by shopping online is no fairytale. By shopping through a rebate site such as Ebates, you can qualify for a rebate on a percentage of each purchase you make. All you have to do is click through the rebate site over to one of its affiliated retailers and shop like normal.
You won’t make a ton of money back (most rebates are from 1-5%) but hey, it’s something.
7. Use a cash back credit card
While you should avoid spending on credit if you can, some credit card companies do offer some nice incentives if you need to charge your holiday purchases. Check with your credit card company and see if you get any kickbacks for shopping with certain retailers. When you’re trying to save during the holidays, every little bit counts!
8. Take advantage of price adjustments after the sale
While most stores don’t advertise this fact much, many will actually refund you the difference if the item that you bought goes on sale within a certain period. Therefore, if you paid $99.99 for that blender and it goes on sale the next day for $69.99, you might be able to get $30 back. Just make sure your keep your receipts and check with your retailer to see if it’s willing to adjust your price retroactively.
9. Avoid store credit cards if you can
While you should make an effort to avoid spending on credit altogether this holiday season, you should be especially wary of store credit cards. Resisting the urge to open a store credit card can often be difficult, since stores throw all kinds of incentives at you right at the register when you’re feeling the pinch of your purchase. However, that extra $20 off probably isn’t worth spending on a store card, which tends to carry a much higher interest rate than your run-of-the-mill credit card with fewer perks.
10. Subscribe to store emails and other on-site promotions
Online shops will often gladly give you a discount upfront if it means they can turn you into a repeat customer. Often, this means offering coupons in order to get you to sign up for email lists so they can continue to market to you over time. If you aren’t interested, just use the coupons and unsubscribe before they clutter up your inbox.
11. Scour the Web for coupons (or use an app)
The Internet is chock full of websites that claim to give you coupon codes to just about any retailer out there. These coupons don’t always work, but it’s worth searching through these sites for a minute or two to see if you can find a deal.
Better yet, just use an app. Browser extensions such as Honey search for coupon codes for you as you shop, automating saving with every purchase.
12. Follow brands and retailers on social media for savings updates
Especially around the holidays, brands and retailers are likely to use their social media channels to advertise savings in real-time. Some extra savvy brands might even post deals exclusively to social as a reward for their most loyal followers. Follow the brands and retailers that you’re most interested in on social or just scroll through their feeds occasionally to find savings.
13. Abandon your shopping cart and see what happens
Online retailers hate it when you abandon your shopping cart midway through the checkout process. In their minds, they almost had you. What went wrong?
For this reason, they’re likely to send you extra deals and coupons just to entice you to come back and complete your purchase. These deals might come through email, through social media retargeting, or through some other means, but they’re common. So, before you buy, let your cart sit abandoned for a few days and see if the retailer tries to win you back.
14. Use live chat to get discounts
Live chat is becoming a common feature on many retailer and brand websites because it gives shoppers a direct, real-time connection to a customer service representative who can answer questions in a personalized way.
At the end of the day, these reps want you to shop, and they’re empowered to do what’s necessary to get you to complete your purchase. Spark up a live chat and mention that the items you want to buy are just a little bit outside of your price range. Your rep might be able to hook you up with an exclusive coupon right then.
15. Get free shipping
There’s no reason to pay for shipping on your holiday purchases. Most retailers offer free shipping automatically if you spend enough money. When you’re buying a lot of stuff, this break on shipping can be a huge cost savings.
If you don’t qualify for free shipping, check to see if the retailer has a ship-to-store option. If it’ll ship your purchases to a store near you free, it’s probably a good use of your time to go pick up your order.
If you’re out of other options, check to see if the retailer participates in a free shipping day. Many retailers designate a day late in December when it offers free shipping, guaranteed to arrive before Christmas, as a way to incentivize last-minute purchases.
16. Pick up gift cards secondhand
Did you ever get a gift card you didn’t really need? You probably didn’t know that there are thriving marketplaces all over the Internet where you can sell your gift cards for cash.
Websites such as GiftCardGranny allows users to buy and sell unwanted gift cards at a discount. This discount is a huge opportunity for the bargain-minded holiday shopper. If you were already going to shop at a store and you pick up a $50 gift card to that store for $40, then you’ve pocketed $10. The same logic applies to giving the gift card as a gift.
Gift cards might not be the most exciting gift in the world, but they get the job done. At the very least, they can be handy for completing your holiday shopping.
17. Avoid what’s trendy
Remember Tickle Me Elmo? In 1996, every kid in America wanted one. With limited supply available, parents were fighting each other in stores to bring Elmo home, and some savvy resellers were charging up to $10,000 per doll before Christmas.
Despite all the drama and price gouging, however, most Tickle Me Elmo toys probably ended up in a forgotten toy bin after one use. It’s not the children’s fault: it’s just that the joys of trendiness are fleeting.
Don’t buy what’s hot or popular just to do it. You’ll end up paying a premium for a gift that’ll likely end up in a closet, totally forgotten.
Instead, base your purchasing decisions on what you know people like and what they need. Anything else is a distraction.
18. Give fewer gifts (without hurting anyone’s feelings)
Easily, the simplest way to save money during the holidays is to buy fewer gifts. However, the social pressure to give a gift to everyone who might merit one can be intense. You don’t want to remove someone from your list and hurt his or her feelings (especially if that person already bought you something).
Be proactive and suggest a solution, such as Secret Santa. It’s a fun excuse to have a party, and it ensures everyone in a particular group buys only one gift instead of something for everyone. Most people will probably be relieved about that.
19. Make your own gifts
If you’re crafty in any way, then making your own gifts can be an affordable and meaningful way to save money over the holiday season. Candles, crafts, and original artwork can be excellent gifts for the holidays. Just try to be honest with yourself: is your DIY gift worthy of “main gift” status, or would it make more sense as a supplement?
20. Give unique secondhand gifts
Secondhand gifts will always be cheaper than buying something brand new, but some people feel awkward about buying something used and giving it to a friend or loved one.
The key to buying something secondhand is to make sure that it’s unique and meaningful. Giving someone a used book might be a downer, but giving a copy of your favorite book with a meaningful note inside can be more memorable than a new item.
Whether you use all these tips, or just a couple, remember the holidays don’t have to be a financial nightmare. By keeping your spending in check you can have a happy and fiscally responsible holiday season!