As soon as the Halloween decorations come down — BAM! — it’s Christmas shopping time. Radio stations are playing Christmas music, stores add to the displays they’ve had up since September and next thing you know, the holiday season is in full swing. Thanksgiving gets squeezed tighter and tighter every year. It’s hard to see the turkeys through the Christmas decorations. But the truth is, Christmas is next month, so it’s not a bad idea to get started on your shopping.
If you like the hustle and bustle of the mall or the crowds and long lines of Black Friday, then by all means, go out and enjoy it. For those of you who want to avoid the crowds and the hassle, you might want to walk to your computer in your pajamas and quietly select your gifts. There are still ways to get the savings of Black Friday and the big mall sales. You just have to plan ahead and shop efficiently.
Make a List
Be like Santa: Make a list of the people you want to buy presents for and any ideas of what they might like. Don’t start buying until you have spent some time planning. Lack of planning can cause over-expenditure and forgetfulness. One kid or parent gets shorted, you spend a bunch more money equalizing them with another — and so on. Last-minute purchases end up being more expensive. You end up paying for guaranteed arrival times or buying the last item at a noncompetitive price.
Use your list to research prices online. You may find big discrepancies in cost from one site to another. You can download price-checking apps to do the same thing, but it all comes down to how thorough you want to be. In some cases, you’ll find a difference of a couple of dollars, and then the deciding factor becomes how convenient it is to order from each site. You might spend a few dollars more on one item to be able to purchase all your items at once.
Connect With Stores
Connect online with your favorite stores by “liking” them on Facebook or joining company email lists and newsletters. You may be notified of sales in advance or be treated to “members-only” sales and special offers. You have nothing to lose, especially if it’s a store you like. Yes, you’ll start getting a lot more email from them, but one of those could end up saving you money.
Opt for Food
Rather than buying someone a scarf or a boring tie they don’t want, get them something you know they will like. Everyone likes snacks. Why not get your special someone a delicious candied nuts gift tray? Who doesn’t like toffee mixed nuts, honey-roasted cashews, cinnamon almonds and sugar-toasted peanuts? For the person on your list who already has everything, food could be the solution every year. You’ll save money by buying something everyone likes — and maybe, if you’re really lucky, your recipient will share the treat with you.
Use coupons on top of sales. Purchase with a specific credit card if you get airline miles, cash back or other rewards at the end of the year. Redeem any reward points you have on your store credit card. If you still subscribe to a newspaper, look through all the ads. Many stores offer what look like cardboard credit cards, which typically offer a large percentage off your total bill. Most are redeemable online, as well.
Gather Gift Cards
Gather up all your gift cards from over the past year and find a way to make them work for you. Many gift cards expire, so be sure to use them before they turn into worthless bits of plastic. There are services that let you redeem your gift cards at a discounted rate, but it’s better to get their full value, even if you are re-gifting it. If you’re stumped and just can’t figure out a gift for someone, cash in your gift cards to produce a different one as a gift.
Get Free Shipping
Be careful of shipping charges. When you see them pop up at the end of your transaction, it can ruin the good feeling you had when you thought you were saving money. Try to get free shipping whenever you shop online. Some sites offer free shipping as long as you spend a minimum amount of money.
Other online shops offer free shipping on specific days, so pay attention to the details. Many large retailers also offer the option to shop online, but pick up your products at the store. You still have to leave your house, but you won’t be putting yourself through the full-day mall experience. Shipping charges can make a big difference in how much you spend and how likely you are to shop online.
The holidays are supposed to be fun, but they can also be extremely stressful. There are some situations where you just have to grin and bear it, like family obligations, kids’ school plays and events and the increased traffic and crowds. Forgetting to decorate your home before the snow comes can also be a major source of stress. But you do have options to help you control the shopping and financial burden of the holiday season. Planning ahead and being a smart shopper can keep more money in your wallet and make certain your season is bright.
Anum Yoon started and maintains Current on Currency, where she shares her hard-earned insights on money management.