holiday shopping
Money Matters

Money-Saving Tips for Holiday Shopping

The average U.S. household debt stands at a whopping $15,706, and with the expensive holiday season upon us, it’s important for Americans to find new ways to save money and finally get out of debt. Here are my top holiday shopping strategies and favorite money-saving tools for the holiday season and beyond.

Boost holiday budget by selling & trading in.

Increase your holiday cash savings by decluttering and selling items you no longer use. Furniture and large appliances are best sold through Craigslist or via local Facebook buy-sell-trade groups. Gently-used clothes can be sold online at RecycleYourFashions.com or thredUp.com. Finally, sell old gadgets at Gazelle.com or NextWorth.com, or trade them in at Target or Amazon for gift cards that can be used toward holiday purchases.

Create and budget and track it.

Knowing what your bank account can handle before battling the bustle of holiday sales is key to staying in budget. Keeping that budget at your fingertips is also helpful, especially if you spread out your purchases. Santa’s Bag (iPhone) or Christmas Gift List (Android) are free apps that allow you to make a budget, create a gift list, cross off items as you purchase them and track your spending so you know exactly how much of your budget is available.

Load up on discount gift cards.

Websites like GiftCardGranny.com help you find the best discounts on gift cards to popular retailers, with savings of up to 25% off. You can also sell any unwanted gift cards for cash, and get up to 92 percent of the card’s value back to put toward holiday gifts. Using discount gift cards on top of sales and coupons ensure you get the very best deal!

Defend against dynamic pricing.

Retailers will fluctuate prices throughout the holiday season and knowing when items are at their highest or lowest price can be hard to determine. Defend yourself against such fluctuating prices by using price tracking and comparison tools. The ShopSavvy app provides instant price comparison on products you’re browsing in store; TrackIf.com tracks price drops and histories; the SnapUp app allows you to set sale alerts; and the Invisible Hand browser extension alerts you when items you’re reviewing at one website are sold for less at another.

Redeem rewards and points.

$16 billion in credit card points go unredeemed every year and that’s a total waste of free money! Tap into your credit card and loyalty program perks during the holiday season and redeem rewards for gift cards to give as gifts or use to supplement your holiday purchases.

Always review return policies.

Return fraud cost retailers $8.9 billion in 2012 according to the National Retail Federation, of which $2.9 billion occurred during the holidays. In response, some retailers are limiting the number of returns a single customer can make during a certain time period. While many retailers extend their return policies to accommodate holiday shoppers, it’s best not to assume you can return something that doesn’t work and review the policy beforehand.

Sign up for free shipping trials.

Avoid rush shipping fees by taking advantage of free 2-day shipping program trials during the holidays. Sign up for free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, a free 30-day trial of ShopRunner and a free 90-day trial of Shop Your Way MAX from Sears and Kmart. Just make a note of when you signed up for these trials so you can cancel them before they start charging you!

Apply coupons for deeper discounts.

Consumers are bargain hungry around the holidays, a trend that began during the great recession and that has continued well into the recovery. Before buying anything, consumers should look for coupons to increase their savings, whether shopping in-store or online. Free mobile apps like Coupon Sherpa provide digital coupons right to your phone, or head to CouponSherpa.com for printable and online coupons to thousands of stores.

Sign up or follow brands for deals.

Get an email subscriber coupon for signing and be privy to flash sales featuring one-day only doorbusters. Follow favorite brands on Facebook and Twitter for updates on exclusive promotions and special coupon codes. These offers will be plentiful during the holiday season, so it’s best to be in-the-know through as many outlets as possible. You can always unsubscribe and unfollow after the holidays.

Keep receipts organized.

When shopping for any item over the holiday, request a digital receipt which you can store in your email for easy access when trying to make a return or exchange. Otherwise, use the OneReceipt app to scan gift receipts and categorize by store for quicker access at the exchange counter.

Avoid restocking fees.

Retailers often charge restocking fees at 15 percent of the purchase price on electronics, appliances and big-ticket items. Read the fine print before you make your purchase and keep items in original packaging. Stores like Sears will waive restocking fees on unused consumer electronics if they’re returned in the original box and contain all the accessories and instructions.

Keep your payment info safe.

When shopping online, use a secure, password-protected network and avoid those you can access for free at coffee shops, public parks or airports. Look for the “https” in the address of the checkout screen, and never click on or shop from promotional emails that you don’t recognize. Be vigilant about reviewing your checking account and credit card statements for any suspicious activity.