This weekend, I was asked to give a little presentation to my church moms' group about saving money at Christmas. Of course, it's getting to the point when most people are finishing their shopping, but I did think of a few tips that still seemed useful.
Here are the six tips I shared:
- Stick to a budget - Obviously, everyone's budget for gifts will be different and your own budget might be different for different recipients. However, the important thing is to set aside a certain amount of money for each gift and to stick as closely as you can to that amount. Also, that amount may be lower than you think. To get really specific - for gifts for people not in my immediate family, my budget is often $15. I find that with savvy shopping, you can get surprisingly nice gifts for that amount. You can almost always find a book, CD, DVD, clothing item, or toy for $15 or under. Let go of the pressure to spend a certain amount; the important thing is that you're thinking of the recipient.
- Track prices for items you plan to buy - Around the holidays, practically everything is on sale or has some kind of promotion. However, "regular prices" are sometimes artificially marked up, and it's hard to know if you're really getting a good deal. Also, sometimes it's hard to know whether to jump on a sale or wait for a better one (although this close to Christmas you should probably just jump on it!). So try to get an idea of the base price of items (especially larger ones) for which you're in the market. A great site that I just became aware of is CamelCamelCamel. This site tracks prices for specific items on Amazon over the past weeks or months, so that you can get an idea of for how low it has sold. You can also sign up for alerts for when a specific item reaches your target price. Amazon generally has competitive prices for most items, so looking at their prices will give you an idea of what to expect at other retailers as well.
- Try not to pay for shipping/look for coupon codes - When buying online, my goal is to never pay for shipping. I don't always succeed, but around Christmas you can probably avoid paying shipping at least 4 out of 5 times. Here are 5 ways to avoid paying for shipping:
1) First of all, always look for online coupon codes at sites like RetailMeNot and MyCoupons. Even if you don't find a free shipping code, you might find a 10% or 15% off that is roughly equivalent to free shipping.
2) Choose retailers like Amazon that have free shipping options every day. (Sign up for Amazon Mom if you haven't already to get a free temporary membership in Amazon Prime.)
3) Sign up for the email newsletter of companies from which you plan to purchase. You'll be alerted to promotions and sales, such as free shipping days.
4) Combine orders to reach minimum order for free shipping - combine your orders into one or combine with a friend.
5) Time your orders to certain days - Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Free Shipping Day (Dec. 17)
- Shop online through cashback sites - When shopping online, you're missing out free money if you don't shop through cashback sites like Ebates and ShopatHome. These sites, which are paid for by advertising, give you a small percentage of cash back if you click through their sites to get to the online retailer that you're using. You receive a check from the sites once your reach a certain amount of cash back. You can get cash back from most major online stores, including Target, Walmart, many clothing stores, and photo sites like Snapfish and Shutterfly. Since you don't get the cash right away, I don't think of the cash back as a discount on my purchase; instead it's a like a teeny bit of free extra money that I get periodically. Starbucks money!
- Stock up for the rest of the year - The holidays bring the best discounts on pretty much everything - from toys to appliances to electronics. So if you have a big non-Christmas purchase that you were planning to make, now is a great time to do it. (Of course, that can be hard with all the holiday expenses, so it does take some planning ahead.) Also, there may be smaller items that are on great discounts this time of year that you can stock up on. For instance, most grocery stores have their best deals on baking items this time of year ($.99 flour at Wegmans), so I try to stock up for at least the next six months. I also got a great deal on Black Friday on some expensive cloth diapers.
- Plan ahead for after Christmas clearance - Some of the items that I stock up on during after Christmas clearance sales are wrapping paper and supplies, Christmas decor items, stocking stuffers, winter clothing and accessories, birthday and next Christmas gifts, toys. In my opinion, shopping the day after Christmas is overrated; I prefer to relax anyway. Instead, I wait until clearance is at least 75% off, unless I am looking for something very specific. There is so much Christmas merchandise out there that there is usually a pretty good selection, at least of fairly generic items, at 75% off.
What are your best tips for saving on Christmas shopping?