Retail Experts Share Their 11 Best Tips For Saving Money On Holiday Shopping

From "buy now, pay later" options to shipping memberships, these experts have great ideas for cutting costs this year.

Holiday shopping will look much different this year thanks to the coronavirus. Not only are retailers changing the way they operate during the holiday season, but shoppers are, too.

The pandemic has placed financial strain on so many families, and budgets are undoubtedly tighter this year. So if you’re planning to do a bit of spending in the coming months, make sure you maximize every dollar. Below are a few ways to save money on everything from gifts to shipping.

1. Don’t feel rushed to make a purchase

Holiday shopping deals probably won’t work the same way they have in past years. But that can be a good thing. Fewer doorbuster deals and longer sale periods mean you have more time to compare products and prices to get the most bang for your buck, according to Gabrielle Pastorek, a shopping analyst at Finder.com. Take your time to research purchases and don’t feel pressured to jump on a particular sale.

2. Review price-matching policies

Historically, many stores paused their price-match guarantees during the Black Friday shopping window, Pastorek said. However, with earlier and longer sales expected this year, more stores may offer price-matching through the holidays. Again, take your time to review these policies and see if you can use price-matching to your advantage as retailers compete for business this year.

3. Consider interest-free BNPL options

Buy now, pay later options have become popular among shoppers who would prefer to split up the cost of their shopping carts rather than pay for it all upfront. Though these interest-free financing options can encourage you to spend more than you would otherwise and carry hefty penalties if you miss a payment, they can be a great money-saving tool when used with caution, Pastorek said. Some of the popular no-interest financing options that you might run across include Affirm, Afterpay and Klarna.

4. Opt for previous-generation tech

These days, there are not a ton changes from generation to generation on items such as smartphones and smart-home gadgets. “If you know someone has been eager to introduce Alexa to their home, opt to give them a third-generation Echo Dot rather than the fourth-generation one,” said Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews.com. “It’s still a solid piece of tech from last year, but we expect it to be on sale for both Prime Day and Black Friday, whereas it’s doubtful we’ll see really great deals on the newest one (though we do expect to see some).”

5. Look into shipping memberships

If you’re going to rely mostly on online shopping this year, it may be a good idea to take advantage of free trials of Walmart+, Amazon Prime or ShopRunner. “Free trials of these programs will give you the opportunity to enjoy all their free perks throughout the holiday. Just set a reminder on your calendar to cancel before the expiration of the trial since you will likely be auto-enrolled and billed for a paid subscription afterwards,” said money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.

6. Use money-saving browser extensions

Woroch said you can expect retailers to constantly vary prices and release new deals this year. As a result, it can be overwhelming and confusing to figure out where to shop and who has the best deals. “That’s why I’m all about automating my savings with browser tools and other apps that do the bargain hunting for you,” she said. Popular options for finding coupons include Honey and Wikibuy.

7. Track price changes

Another way to use technology to your advantage is by using free price tracking tools that notify you when an item you’re interested in goes on sale. It’s great for jumping on deals, but if you miss the sale, you can also take that information to the retailer and ask for a partial refund on your purchase.

Woroch said she’s a fan of Edison Mail’s Price Alert tool, while CamelCamelCamel is another popular tool that tracks Amazon prices specifically. You can also use the Popcart browser extension to get pop-up notifications if something you are eyeing is sold at another retailer for less, and the ShopSavvy app to scan barcodes for instant price comparisons.

8. Collect cash back

If you’re going to be spending the money anyway, why not earn money back on your purchases? “Make sure you are maximizing cash back with your card and use cash-back apps to get even more back on your purchases,” Woroch said. In addition to using a rewards credit card for holiday purchases, sign up for any bonus cash rewards offered through your credit card (just be sure to log into your account first to opt into any special deals). Finally, use cash-back tools such as Rakuten, Swagbucks or Fetch Rewards to earn additional cash back on purchases at certain retailers.

9. Don’t be afraid to tighten your belt

Even though it’s easy to get carried away with shopping for loved ones and scoring great deals, setting a budget for gifts and other seasonal expenses is the best defense against taking on debt. “With our current economic situation, it’s more important than ever to have conversations with loved ones ahead of the holidays to discuss gift expectations,” Woroch said. This may be the year to set up a Secret Santa exchange or potluck instead of giving tons of individual gifts. Chances are, you won’t be the only one relieved to spend less this year.

10. Pare down your gift list

If your budget is smaller this year, one of the easiest ways to cut back on costs is to cut back on your list of gift recipients. “This might be tough, so it’s better to do it in stages,” Ramhold said. “Divide your list into sections and start with those you consider essential to buy gifts for, followed by those you’d like to include and then those that would be nice to buy for, but you don’t consider necessary.” Make it a priority to shop for your essential list, and don’t worry if you have to cut a few lower-priority recipients.

11. Consider DIY gifts

Giving homemade gifts is often a more affordable alternative to traditional holiday shopping. But they don’t have to look amateur or cheap. “Consider baking something nice for your recipients, or even putting together a small care package with winter favorites like hot chocolate, marshmallows and candy canes along with a festive mug,” Ramhold said. Stores such as Aldi tend to have seasonal mugs for relatively cheap, as do dollar stores. “Target and Walmart will have affordable options if this is something you’d like to pursue,” she added.

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