Last year was the first time I fully appreciated the power of online shopping portals, deal forums, and online deals. I discovered sites like SlickDeals and FatWallet, which posted astonishingly great deals, and sites like Ebates, which give you cash back on your online purchases (read my Ebates review). I learned that if I monitor my favorite deal sites, I can give awesome gifts while saving hundreds of dollars. As this year’s holiday shopping season swings into full gear, I offer some shopping tips to save you as much money as possible:
Establish a budget. Know how much you can afford to spend this holiday season. Don’t go into debt. Enough said.
Establish your priorities. If your goal is to save the most money, then you should be prepared to devote your time to hunting down the best deals. But if time is more precious, then be prepared to spend a little more money in exchange for saving some time and stress.
Get comfortable with the best deal sites. Spend some time on SlickDeals and FatWallet to become familiar with how they post deals, before the sheer number of deals posted becomes overwhelming. My personal preference is to subscribe to the forums via Google Reader, but that only shows me the first post in each thread so I probably miss out on some deals that are posted within threads. (I’ll click through if I have reason to believe there’s valuable information within the thread.)
Find sites that specialize in deals on the things you’re interested in. For example, I like to keep an eye on toy deals at Amazon, and last year, I found that Bargain Hunting Moms did a pretty good job of highlighting some real bargains.
Decide if you’re going to shop on Black Friday. I might skip Black Friday this year, but I’m still keeping an eye on the posts at GottaDeal.com. They post previews of Black Friday deals as they become available, which is helpful in planning your Black Friday shopping trip. If it’s your first Black Friday, try to find out what to expect. It’s been my experience that lines form outside the electronics stores and Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving Day, while the early bird at the mall has it pretty good. If you plan to hit an insanely busy store like Wal-Mart or Best Buy, do a Google search to learn how others handle the experience.
If you shop online, don’t forget to take shipping charges into consideration. Shipping charges can turn a great deal into a terrible one, so always make sure you’ve factored them into your decision on whether to make a purchase.
When shopping online, always shop through a rewards portal. There are very few sites that don’t offer a reward of some kind. Alas, one of them is my favorite online store – Amazon. But except for Amazon, I have always been able to earn a reward on my purchases. My favorite portal is Ebates, because it gives me cash back each quarter. But I’ve also used Upromise and my credit card issuer’s “shopping mall.” There are dozens of other rewards sites, so there’s no excuse for not getting something in return for your online purchases.
When shopping online, always look for coupons, discounts, and promotion codes. I try to never shop online without some kind of discount, because I can almost always find a code that gives me free shipping, a dollar amount or percentage off, or a free item. For example, when I bought some items from Oriental Trading Company for Tyler’s upcoming birthday party, I went through Ebates and got 6% cash back (it was their Double Cash Back day) and free shipping, saving myself over $15. Ebates lists coupon codes and automatically applies some of them when you click through to the merchant. You can also find discount codes at sites like RetailMeNot and UltimateCoupons.
Keep track of your purchases. This is especially important if you have to buy a large number of presents or if you have a tendency to forget what you’ve already bought. You don’t want to accidentally buy two gifts for Aunt Maggie when you only need one.
Similarly, keep track of your expenditures. See the first point in this list and don’t go overbudget.
If you follow all of these tips, you’ll have a houseful of affordable gifts, which should make your holiday season brighter. Happy shopping!