Part of the fun of shopping during the holidays is the opportunity to nab fantastic deals and offers that aren’t generally available any other time of year. However, it’s also an easy time to overspend if you’re not strategic. “One of the best things you can do to prepare for the holiday season is set a realistic budget that can guide and simplify your finances during this busy time of year,” said Kevin Condon, Preferred Rewards executive at Bank of America. “To get even more out of your holiday budget, set time to explore and take advantage of the rewards, discounts and special offers that may be available to you—whether they’re from your bank or favorite retailer. The savings can really add up.”
To save money—and keep your shopping experience as stress-free as possible—follow these steps.
1. Start Now. It’s not your imagination; retailers really are starting their holiday sales earlier and earlier in the year. The practice is known as Christmas Creep, and it means that you don’t have to wait until after Thanksgiving for the best deals. “You can often do better with pre-Black Friday sales than you will on Black Friday itself,” says Edgar Dworsky, founder of the Web site consumerworld.org.
Many retailers also offer a price drop guarantee for a few weeks after the sale. That means if the price is lowered after you’ve purchased the item, you can go back to the store and request an adjustment for the difference.
2. Get Organized. Before you even begin shopping, write out a list of your gift recipients as well as how much you’d like to spend. Include not only family and friends, but also folks like teachers or coworkers. While you’ll likely spend less individually on the latter group, the cost of all those small gifts can really add up. Sticking to that list while you’re out will help keep you from overspending. An item may be listed at a great price, but if it breaks your budget, it’s not a bargain.
3. Price Match. Most large retailers will match competitors’ advertised prices, which can save you both money and time. Rather than sifting through circulars or driving from store to store, download an app (like RedLaser or ShopSavvy) that can find the best deal for you, instantly.
4. Never Pay for Shipping. High shipping fees can easily erase the savings on getting an item at a great price. Dozens of stores offer standard free shipping for holiday sales as long as you don’t need rush delivery. You may also be able to find free-shipping coupon codes via sites like RetailMeNot.com. “If you’re still paying for shipping on online orders, you’re doing something wrong,” says Rebecca Lehmann, of BradsDeals.com.
5. Consider Return Policies. Even if you’re confident in your gift-selecting prowess, your recipient may need to return the item. Especially if you’re shopping early in the season, make sure the return policy will extend until after you’ve given the gift. For online purchases, you’ll want either free shipping on returns or the ability to bring the item back to a brick-and-mortar store.