12 Wallet-Friendly Tips to Prepare for the Holidays
If the most wonderful time of the year is also your most stressful, you're not alone. A recent Harris Poll found that 43 percent of Americans feel pressured to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season.
To help you eliminate some of this stress, MoneyGeek reached out to shopping experts for a dozen ways to trim your holiday budget:
1. Buy cheap gift cards
"With these sites, you can create your own sale," explains Trae Bodge, a smart shopping expert in the New York City area whose site TrueTrae.com provides money-saving advice. "You can buy gift cards for 2 to 30 percent off. It's digital, so you just show the cashier your bar code and you automatically get the discount."
Buying a gift card valued at more than you paid, then using it for purchases, also gives you more money to shop with.
2. Get cash back
According to Michelle Madhok, online shopping expert and founder of deals site SheFinds.com, there are several websites, such as Ebates.com and TopCashback.com, that give shoppers cash back when they make purchases.
"That's on top of the store's regular discounts," Madhok says. "You just register with the site, say where you want the check to be sent and then shop through the site. They track where you shop."
Ebates features a wide array of clickable store buttons for retailers like Kiehl's, Toys "R" Us, Macy's and more. The buttons display each store's current discounts, as well as the percentage you receive in cash back for your purchases.
3. Add browser extensions
Sites like Ebates also offer an option to add browser extensions, so anytime you're making online purchases the site is scanning for opportunities to give you cash back.
"I think browser extensions are really where it's at this year," Bodge says. "That's where the consumer can save money with ease."
Other sites that offer this feature include Wikibuy, an extension that unobtrusively scans the web for better deals on purchases you're considering, then notifies you if there's a better deal elsewhere or if you're looking at the best price.
Still others, like Cently, offer plug-ins that notify you of available coupon and discount codes every time you're about to make a purchase.
4. Use apps that offer deals
Bodge suggests downloading at least one coupon app to your mobile device. The Coupons App, for example, offers non-expiring deals for more than 100,000 retailers.
Other apps include Ibotta, which enables you to scan receipts for grocery purchases or get cash back, or Walmart's app, with the Savings Catcher feature — just scan your receipt and the app crawls the web looking for better deals on those items elsewhere. If it finds them, you get the difference back in an e-gift card.
5. Subscribe to your favorite stores
Madhok recommends signing up at your favorite stores' websites, or at the register, to receive emails. Many popular mall stores, such as Cost Plus, Old Navy and Gap, send exclusive deals this way.
"Some deals may only come through their emails, especially the ones that are tied to tech apps," she says. "I love the massage app Zeel.com, the mobile massage service. They have a lot of deals only coming through email."
6. Buy in bulk
Bodge recommends taking advantage of wholesale clubs like Costco or Sam's Club to buy in bulk.
"One thing I like is that they often sell giant gift baskets," she says. "One fun shopping hack is you can take the baskets apart and give the individual items as gifts to several people."
If you don't have a membership to Costco, try Boxed.com, an online wholesale club with no membership fee.
7. Don't sacrifice savvy for convenience
Just because the sales rack makes it look like a great deal, don't assume it is.
"If you're in Macy's, Google (the item) on your phone and see if it's cheaper elsewhere. There might be a better deal across the mall," Bodge says. "My main word of advice is, take your time. Make an educated decision every time."
8. Save on wrapping
Your local dollar store is probably one of the best places to buy discounted holiday wrapping. Or, rather than loading up on holiday paper, buy a plain roll of white or butcher paper.
"It's fun to let your kids decorate and personalize gifts, and you get more paper that way," Bodge says.
9. Save on décor
The best deals on holiday decorations come around in December, so while it may be tempting to buy them in November and put them up right after Thanksgiving, Bodge says it pays to wait. And when you buy any décor, make sure it's something you'll use again and store it carefully.
10. Make friends with the salesperson
Negotiating at the register isn't advisable and can be awkward. "But if someone's helping you in the store, ask if there are any offers you should know about, and they might just say, 'Actually, just for today, sweaters are 20 percent off.'"
11. Stick to a list and budget
"I don't care how organized you are, without a list you will go over budget," Bodge says.
And avoid the impulse to keep up with the Joneses. Just because someone gave you an extravagant gift doesn't mean you have to reciprocate with something equally extravagant. The old adage, "It's the thought that counts," really is best. Give within your means.
12. Avoid the debt trap
It may be harder to pay cash, but it usually pays to do so. If you must use your credit card, plan to pay it off in January. Don't carry that debt.
"Every year, people go overboard and carry their holiday debt through the year," she says. "But then you've just eliminated all the savings you just got."
Jessica Santina is a freelance writer, editor and college writing instructor in the Reno, Nevada, area who contributes regularly to MoneyGeek.com. Her work has appeared in numerous books, regional and local publications, websites and blogs.
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