You’ve made your list—and likely checked it at least twice—so now it’s time to get down to the task of buying those holiday presents. While staying sane amid the crowds of rabid shoppers is certainly a priority, so too is staying on-budget. Here are some smart strategies to keep yourself from overspending—and even save a little dough this holiday season.
Before You Buy
Gather pricing intel on the items you plan to purchase. You don't even need to leave your couch to do this, but it can save you a bundle, says personal finance expert Jon Lal, CEO and founder of BeFrugal.
Downloading shopping and sales apps is a good place to start. Lal suggests checking out PriceGrabber, an app that will tell you which online or brick-and-mortar retailer has the lowest price at the moment on a given product.
Next, review local big-box sales flyers that come to you via snail mail; these will let you know if a gift on your list is about to hit the sales rack ... so you know the best time to hit the store. Signing up for promotional emails from your favorite go-to retailers will also clue you in to what's getting price-chopped soon. (If you’re worried about spam, create a separate email account solely for discount offers, so you can sift through it when you've got holiday shopping on the brain.)
When You’re Ready to Buy
For wallet-friendly internet shopping, install Honey, a browser extension that automatically searches for coupon codes as you check out of a given retail site and then applies the most money-saving coupons to your order. This plug-in saves you time; no more combing through coupon websites or copying and pasting multiple codes to see which ones are actually valid. And it can also help you save cash—for example, netting you 20% off an item or free shipping.
Lal also suggests using a cash-back shopping website when purchasing items online. These are portals that let shoppers earn a portion of what they spend on qualifying purchases with certain retailers. Setting up an account is often free and quick.
“You just find the store where you want to shop and click through to shop as normal,” he says. “Then you collect the money you earn via check, PayPal or gift card.” Check out Cashbackholic, a resource that compares the rates offered by different cash-back websites, to find one that fits your needs.
While you’re filling up your digital cart, try not to pay for shipping if you can help it. Take advantage of Free Shipping Day on December 15 this year, when a number of retailers—including Target, Kohl's and Bloomingdale's—waive shipping fees and minimums to qualify for free shipping, with promise of delivery by Christmas Eve.
If the thought of waiting too long to start shopping for this year’s must-haves puts you in a cold sweat, Lal suggests shopping now and choosing “ship to store” upon checkout to avoid shipping fees, if that’s an option.
Not only is the service generally free, your item might arrive in the store faster than it would hit your front door. (You'll get an email notification when your purchase is at the store, then pick it up at your leisure.)
After You Buy
Score cash back after your shopping is done by taking advantage of price-matching. “Many large-box stores will offer a policy to match prices of their competitors,” Lal says. The specifics of each policy vary by retailer, so check the details on a store’s website or ask the service desk. It may take a little effort to organize your original receipts, but doing so can mean getting an adjustment on a purchase.
You can also download Paribus, an app that connects to your email to track online purchases and reimburse you if prices fall. It does the work of contacting stores on your behalf when the price of an item you bought drops within the allotted price match window set by the retailer. While it doesn’t work with every store, it’s supported by many of the big ones, including Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Macy’s.
This article was updated on November 20, 2017.