By Cameron Huddleston, Columnist
The cost of holiday gifts, decorations and food can quickly add up and put a big dent in your budget. In fact, the average consumer is expected to spend $805.65 this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.
To keep these costs down, take advantage of coupons. GOBankingRates asked coupon experts to share their strategies for finding and making the most of coupons during the holidays. Here are their 16 best holiday shopping tips:
1. Sign Up for Alerts
If you know which stores you plan to shop at during the holidays, sign up for coupon alerts ahead of time, said Kyle James, founder of coupon site Rather-Be-Shopping.com. You can sign up at sites such as Rather-Be-Shopping.com and Offers.com to receive notifications when retailers are offering coupons.
And if you visit a retailer's site and get on its email list, you'll typically receive a first-time subscriber discount, such as 15 percent off or $25 off a $100 purchase, said Kendal Perez, a savings expert with Coupon Sherpa. Sign up to receive these notifications using a separate email account created just for promotional messages so it's easier for you to keep track of these offers, she said.
2. Text to Save
Many stores are taking email list sign-ups a step further by requesting your phone number to send text alerts. And, most will offer a coupon as an incentive to sign up for text alerts, Perez said.
For example, Perez said she was given a card while shopping at The Limited that offered $5 off a purchase if she signed up for text alerts. Other retailers offering this deal include Lane Bryant, Macy's, Dollar General, Staples and more.
3. Use Social Media
Like email newsletters, following brands on social media can alert you of sales and deals before they debut -- which is key to having the upper hand during the holiday season, Perez said.
Shopping expert Trae Bodge also said you should follow savings gurus on Facebook and Twitter for access to coupon codes. She recommends following Josh Elledge of SavingsAngel.com -- who has more than 5,000 curated coupons on his site -- and Jackie of JackieDeals.com, who offers exclusive coupons from premier brands.
4. Use a Coupon App
Coupons don't just come in the Sunday paper anymore. You can easily access them while you're out shopping with free coupon apps such as Coupon Sherpa and RetailMeNot, which provide instant access to retailers' coupons.
"The best part of all, there's no clipping needed," said Jennifer Schreiner, publisher of InspiringSavings.com. "Just pull up the image on your smartphone, and give it to the cashier to scan. Voila! You just saved money by using coupons this holiday season."
5. Find Online Coupon Codes
Retailers often list coupon codes on their websites that can be used to score instant discounts at checkout. But, you shouldn't rely solely on these codes because they might not be the best or only discount a retailer is offering, said DealNews.com coupon editor Sarah Jones.
"Doing an internet search for the store name and 'coupons codes' or 'promo codes' will bring up a variety of websites that provide information on other available offers," she said. Or, you could visit coupon sites such as Coupons.com, DealNews.com and Slickdeals.net directly to see if they have codes for retailers where you want to make a purchase.
6. Stack Your Savings
When shopping online, you can increase your savings by stacking coupon codes on top of sale prices to get even deeper discounts, said Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com. Or, use coupon codes when shopping on cash-back sites such as BeFrugal.com, Ebates.com and FatWallet.com, which partner with hundreds of retailers to let consumers earn back a percentage of what they spend on qualifying purchases. Then, you'll get cash back on top of any discounts.
When shopping in stores -- at drugstores and supermarkets, in particular -- make sure you look for store coupons that you can combine with manufacturer coupons for the steepest discounts, said Teri Gault, CEO of grocery savings site TheGroceryGame.com. She said you often can find stocking stuffers marked down at drug stores that you sometimes can get for free when combined with coupons and instant rebates.
7. Keep Expectations High for Coupon Code Discounts
For clothing and accessories, you shouldn't settle for coupons offering discounts of 25 percent off or less. It's not uncommon to see coupon codes for these items in the range of 30 percent to 50 percent off or more during the holiday shopping season, Jones said.
However, be aware that retailers usually don't offer coupon codes for across-the-board discounts on tech items. "If they do, it is more likely to be a smaller discount, perhaps 5 percent to 10 percent," said Jones. "But most retailers discount prices for tech on an item-by-item basis, either by lowering the price or releasing a code specific to the item."
When it comes to electronics and computers, it's more about looking for great sale prices on individual items.
8. Check for Coupons Often During the Holidays
It's not uncommon for retailers to release short-term discounts -- such as free shipping with no minimum purchase -- for one day only, Jones said. These limited-time coupon codes tend to be for deeper discounts, or they might be a combination of offers that normally aren't available simultaneously.
So if you visit a retailer's site and aren't impressed with its current promotion, "wait and watch for something better if you can," said Jones. "And be sure to check on Cyber Monday, which is when many stores release their best coupons."
9. Always Try More Than One Coupon Code
When shopping online, always try several coupon codes before you check out because some retailers allow you to use more than one, Perez said. Kohl's and Victoria's Secret are examples of stores that allow multiple coupons.
It isn't always obvious that this can be done. If you enter a code and still see the coupon code box open, it's possible that another one can be entered, Jones said. Be aware, though, that you typically can't combine more than one general percent-off or dollar-off code. It's more likely that a retailer will allow you to combine one of these codes with a category-specific or free shipping code, said Jones.
10. Use the Live Chat Option
If you can't find a coupon code on a retailer's site or through an internet search, that doesn't mean you're out of luck. Many big online retailers employ live chat operators who are standing by to help you with your holiday shopping, James said.
You should take advantage of this option to ask if a retailer has a coupon to help lower the price of your purchase. "You'll be amazed how many operators have a list of coupon codes on their desk ready to hand out to those who ask," he said.
11. Join Loyalty Programs
If you shop at a store regularly -- especially during the holidays -- join its loyalty program if it has one. This is a good way to get exclusive coupons and discounts, Bodge said. For example, members of Macy's Star Rewards will often be greeted with surprise offers when they check out, she said.
To avoid missing out on savings, Bodge recommends scanning your loyalty cards into the Stocard app, which holds all of the information electronically. When you're in a store, simply open the app so your card can be scanned.
12. Look for Coupons in Magazines
Pay attention to all the paper inserts in magazines because some are valuable coupons for subscribers. Perez said she once paid $10 for a $50 pair of pants from New York & Co. using a coupon she received in Glamour magazine. She also found a $10 off coupon to Sports Authority from her subscription to Yoga Journal. "Keep your eyes peeled for these deals, and use them during the holidays for extra savings," she said.
13. Use a Coupon Clipping Service
A great way to save at the supermarket when stocking up for holiday parties is to use a coupon clipping service. Maura White, founder of HappyDealHappyDay.com, said sites such as Coupon Dede's charge a small fee but tend to offer coupons with higher values than those that arrive in the mail or can be found in your local paper.
"Coupon purchasing is cheap," she said. "Depending on the value of the coupon, I pay usually between 10 cents and 20 cents per coupon -- well worth it if it means bringing home multiple freebies."
14. Get Warehouse Club Coupons
If you plan to take advantage of your warehouse club membership to get holiday deals or buy food and beverages in bulk for a holiday gathering, don't overlook the opportunity to score additional savings, Bodge said. "Look for coupons on the store's site or on your favorite coupon site before heading out the door," she said.
15. Don't Overlook Black Friday Coupons
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is known for the deep discounts retailers offer. But you shouldn't assume that just because stores are having sales that they aren't offering coupons as well, said Mary Hoover, founder of MissionToSave.com.
"Be sure to check the current promotions at your favorite stores during this weekend," she said. "You may find percent-off coupons, gift card offers and promo codes that are still valid during this prime shopping weekend -- and you will save even more."
16. Coupons Aren't Always the Best Way to Save
Don't be blind to better savings opportunities just because you've found a coupon code. For example, using an online coupon code on a smaller purchase at Store A might only cover the shipping charges. Meanwhile, Store B doesn't have a coupon code available for the item you want to buy, but it might have a comparable sale price and offer free shipping.
This article, 16 Holiday Shopping Tips From Top Couponing Experts, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.
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