When the holiday season comes around, no topic receives more attention than shopping. Sales and deals abound as more people take to purchasing gifts, whether they be from brick and mortar stores, or online marketplaces. As more money is spent, though, the holidays are increasingly being seen as ‘make or break the budget’ times instead. There are many opportunities to trim your holiday spending, and stay within an established line. You just have to be creative, and do a little research to stretch your holiday money. Here are 10 tips that can help you out.
1. Don’t Just Buy – Research
All to often, an item is bought that could be purchased somewhere else at a cheaper price. I don’t know how many times this has happened to me, and I do quite a bit of researching. While this method isn’t fool proof, you can usually find the cheapest price if you check out at least 2 different stores, preferably more. Also, make sure that you check out online reviews of the item you are buying. Amazon and CNET are perfect sites for this. If people don’t like the item, why would you?
2. Don’t Get the Extended Warranty
When purchasing any big ticket items, you can expect to be asked about purchasing additional warranty coverage. Anything from appliances to televisions falls into this category, and purchasing this coverage is often seen as just a suckers bet. Do a little research for yourself, and you will find that most consumer experts warn against it. Most times, items never break during the warranty period anyway, and if they do, the repair cost is often in line with the cost of the extended coverage. Purchasing extended coverage is basically paying for the repair before the item even needs repairing. Remember the phrase, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”? Perfect example.
3. Be Cautious of In-Store Credit Cards
Stores are counting on consumers to fall for the trick of saving anywhere from 30-40% on their purchase, just by applying for and placing the purchase on an in-store credit card. What they don’t advertise is that, often times, these cards carry interest rates much higher than traditional cards, often as high as 28-30%. Carrying the balance for longer than a month could effectively wipe out your previous savings. I don’t know about you, but I find it more difficult to manage my finances if it’s spread across multiple accounts, making it much more likely to forget about this in-store account. Do yourself a favor, stick to one card, and pay off the balance each month.
4. Pay Attention to Return Policies
Every store is different, and the most deceptive will not advertise their return policy out in the open. Many are set at 30 or 90 days, but some stores are moving to a 7-15 day return policy. Ask about it when making a purchase. Many electronics stores carry shorter return periods, and will often times charge you a fee if the item is opened. If you don’t want something, you better keep it in the packaging, or be prepared to pay extra.
5. Ask For a Better Deal – Haggle
People wouldn’t even consider not haggling on the price of a car, so why shouldn’t you haggle for the price of a TV or a refrigerator? Stores are much more willing, during the holidays, to lower the price of an item, by as much 5-10%, if you bring it up. Research on this has shown that consumers who haggle over the price of a computer or a TV have saved as much as $100-$150. What’s the harm? It’s just a question to ask.
6. Do Your Shopping After the Holidays
It’s a fact that the best deals of the holidays can be found after all the celebrating is over. Companies will always have more than enough product on hand to last through the season, and will want to get rid of it by lowering prices. Take the opportunity and do next year’s holiday shopping, right after this year’s season. You could save up to 50% of off next years costs. Another benefit of shopping right after Christmas is that you don’t have to join the financially stressed out crowd next year. You can just wait until after the holiday again, and save more money.
7. Use A Credit Card With Points
Earlier I advised not to use in-store credit cards, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use a credit card to make your purchases, if you are smart about it. The biggest drawback to using in-store credit, is that it’s easy to forget about. This isn’t the case, if you use one card for everything. So many credit card companies offer rewards programs today, that the majority of card holders probably have one in their possession. Use your rewards program card, and you will save, at minimum, 1% cash back on every purchase. Many programs, especially by Discover Card, offer up to 5% cash back. If you spend $300-$500 on holiday spending, you could earn a total of $15-$25 back. Just remember not to make purchases on your credit card just for the points. Make a list, stick to it, and absolutely pay back your balance at the end of the month. Holiday shopping is notorious for getting consumers deeper into debt, and any interest on the balance would effectively wipe out your rewards.
8. Become Aware of Price Protection
This shopping benefit is becoming more prevalent. Often, stores will offer a program that will allow you to get money back on an item you purchase, if the price of the item drops within a certain time frame after you make the purchase. This time frame is the trick to the entire deal, however, since it varies anywhere from 7 to 30 days, depending on the store. Write down the last date that price protection applies on your receipt, and check back every now and then. Especially take note of dates that extend just past the holidays. You are almost guaranteed to get some money back on these items.
9. Create a Holiday Budget
As with everything financial, plan out exactly what you are going to spend. This doesn’t need to be as complicated as your usual budget. Make a simple list of who you need to buy for, and an amount to spend on each.
10. Don’t Shop On Weekends
Whatever you do this holiday season, don’t do your shopping on weekends. This includes Friday night through Sunday night. This is the defacto shopping period every week during the year, and the amount of people shopping will more than double during the holidays. Do your shopping on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening, or maybe take a day of vacation if you work during the day. Shopping with less people around will allow you to focus more on finding great deals, and will drastically reduce your stress. Don’t do what I did last weekend, and go shopping at the area’s biggest mall on a Saturday afternoon.
How do you deal with holiday shopping?