Every year we know the holidays are approaching. How could we miss it? Our Costco trip took much longer last week because our daughter was browsing the toy aisles picking out her Christmas presents. She asked me when we'd be putting up our tree. Fair question, given that the holiday decor is already showing up there and elsewhere.
The signs may be here that Christmas is near, but why is it that every year we're still shopping up to the last minute and spending more than we should? (Myself included.) I'm sure a lot of people will be watching their spending this year. How can you save money? I rounded up ideas from shopping and money experts. If some of this advice sounds obvious, just consider it a valuable reminder!
Make a List & Budget
Santa does it. You should, too. "Make a gift list-knowing what you want to buy empowers you to find the best deal on that product. There is no room for impulse buying on a strict budget, so write out gift ideas and price limits before you start shopping," says consumer savings expert Regina Novickis.
"The most effective way to save money during the holiday season is to learn how to make a budget beforehand and then stick to it. Many people overspend during the holidays simply because they have no self-discipline, not because they are unable to find great deals," explains Andrew Schrage, Editor of Money Crashers .
Start working on your list and shopping now. Waiting until the last minute means you're more likely to make bad decisions. You won't have the luxury of comparison price shopping and you might feel pressured to buy something because time is running out.
"Like" your favorite retailer's Facebook page or follow them on Twitter. Social media sites are often the first place to find out about savings and specials. "Last year on Black Friday, we saw things announced ahead of time on social media," says Christine Frietchen, Editor-in-Chief of ConsumerSearch.com . Once the holidays are over, you can simply stop following or "unlike" them.
A word of caution, though. Scammers like social media, too. Joe Mason the SVP at Intersections Inc. warns, "The biggest threat to be wary of this year is the "Tweet Trap" - a message that appears to be from a trusted friend or follower passing on some great news, a real bargain, or a worthy cause, but instead hides spam, phishing fraud, or a malicious download. Consumers should be cautious about Tweets or Facebook messages about great holiday deals, must-have gifts, or hard luck stories, even if they are coming from 'friends.' If they sound interesting, do your own research to see if they're genuine, but don't click or download!"
Your phone can help you find what you're looking for at the best price."Your smart phone provides a host of free frugal shopping apps right at your fingertips. Gone are the days of clipping coupons, now you just scan a barcode and coupons, sale prices, even advice from friends and experts appears like magic on your phone screen. It's simply the smartest, fastest and easiest way to get the best prices available this holiday season," says Tech Expert Jenn Jolly .
"Most stores will let you use a coupon right on your phone, so you don't have to clip coupons or worry whether you forgot to print that voucher you purchased," explains Melanie Heywood of SmartySaver.com .
There are plenty of free shopping apps including Amazon Mobile, Coupon Sherpa, Fast Mall, RedLaser, ShopSavvy and Tecca.
Skip Black Friday
Black Friday is a holiday ritual for many people. The good news for those of us who prefer not to get up early and stand in line (me!) is that you no longer have to shop on Black Friday in order get the best deals. Frietchen says, "I think it's a monumental effort with very little reward for most people." She anticipates deals that rival Black Friday in the weeks surrounding it.
Another advantage? "Shop from the convenience of your home and compare deals among several retailers to find the best Black Friday offer," recommends Novickis.
Know The Return Policy
As hard as you try to pick the perfect present, it's inevitable you that you'll end up returning something. "In general, return policies become a big deal around the holidays," cautions Frietchen.
A good deal now can bite you later if you can't return it or have to pay to return it. Make sure that you can return the gift if necessary. Find out if you have to pay for return shipping to an online retailer.
Pay With Cash
Paying with cash forces you to stick to your budget. It's much easier to push the spending limits when you're making purchases on a credit card. Schrage likes cash because, "Once the cash is gone, you have no more money with which to shop."
Wondering how to pay with cash when purchasing online? "I suggest that you open a PayPal account and put in the amount you want to spend on your holiday purchases. Moreover, using PayPal will also make your online purchase checkouts quicker and easier as well as secure," advises Schrage. "If you are making a purchase from a site that does not accept PayPal, pay with your credit card and transfer the exact amount from your PayPal account to your bank account or credit card to offset the purchase amount. This will keep you in budget for the holiday season."
Use Online Codes
"Online coupon websites like PromotionalCodes.com , CouponWinner.com & PromoCodes.com organize thousands of online coupons and promotional codes for top brands like. Use these sites to navigate through the online clutter so you don't miss out on a single offer," says Novickis.
Another online savings secret? "Stack codes and stock up to increase savings," says Novickis. "Some retailers allow you to use multiple coupons or codes on the same offer. For instance, use a 25 percent off coupon along with a free shipping code to maximize savings. Additionally, purchasing more may qualify your order for a better value coupon. Considering purchasing multiple gifts from the same retailer to benefit from the deal or to qualify for free shipping."
Lastly, think about making gifts. Not only can it save you money, but it adds a personal touch. "Many people also really appreciate homemade gifts, such as cookies and seamstress work, which are also much cheaper to make," adds Shrage.
Spending wisely can help you avoid at least one hangover come New Year's. Got any money saving ideas to share?
More from GalTime.com:
- Be the Best Guest this Holiday Season
- 5 Tips for Winterizing Your Home
- How to Find the Best Credit Card for You
- Save the Date! Your Holiday Savings Calendar