9 Tips For Smarter Holiday Shopping


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This year the holidays are going to be different for most of us, but one thing hasn’t changed: being smart about holiday shopping will help you avoid financial regrets come January.

To help you out, here are nine tips to turn you into a shopping pro, plus five bonus hacks and even a handy worksheet. The longer your gift list, the more helpful this could be.

#1 Create your gift giving plan:

Since many people don’t embrace the idea of a budget, consider this your gift giving plan. Setting a limit to how much you spend is a very important first step. Think about an amount you can afford to spend and that will not interfere with your other goals. Follow your plan and you’ll be able to buy gifts for the people on your list, stay within your limits, and hit your new year financial goals in stride.

#2 Make a list, check it twice:

Put together a list of people you want to buy for, gift ideas if you have them, and how much you want to spend on each one. It’s a simple “who, what, how much” framework that will help you keep track of your spending. And make sure you check it twice so you don’t miss anyone or so you can remove someone (when is the last time I saw Uncle Joe anyways?).

#3 Categorize your gifts:

This is the year to get creative with your gifts. A good starting point is to sort your gift list of family, friends, and associates into three categories:

  • Individual gifts: These are your standard gifts, and generally the larger ones, for the people at the top of our list. Make sure you plan for shipping this year!
  • Group gifts: Generally smaller items that you can share with multiple people, such as small gift packages that are more personal. One personal favorite is small snack packs so you can share the same treats while hanging out on video.
  • Personal letters/notes/pictures: Never has there been a better year to send a personal note or picture to reconnect to those closest to us in our lives. 2020 is a year where we need to feel more connected and a simple “I am thinking of you” can go a long way.

#4 Create your “cash savings” calendar:

The holidays provide us with plenty of opportunities to buy things on sale. But if we don’t plan, we won’t save. With your list from above (did you skip that step?), match gifts with sales to get the most bang for your buck. Put these dates, and the items you can buy, on your calendar.

#5 Use your credit card points wisely:

Credit card providers offer no shortage of deals for their preferred retailers, but make sure you aren’t sacrificing points that would be better spent elsewhere. For example, if your points are worth 1.5x if you use them for travel, but only one point if you use them to shop, you’re sacrificing points. Your points might buy, say, $300 in merchandise but $450 in travel.

#6 Avoid “buy now, pay later” programs:

Whether the offer is a layaway program or one of the new installment plans, this is equivalent to running up your credit card balance. Try your best to only buy what you can afford to pay right away or in January. Payment plans can come with interest rates north of 15%. Even plans that promise no fees and no interest come with fine print. If you miss one payment, they can charge hefty fees and back interest.

#7 Keep your receipts:

Exchanges and returns are quite common. Keeping your receipts will make the process stress-free and help you avoid “store credit only” returns. It’s also a good way to do one final tally of how much you spent and how you did compared to your gift giving plan.

#8 Give yourself a little something:

While you’re thinking of others, give yourself a little gift to reward yourself if you accomplished something important this year. Whether you created a budget, paid down debt, started a retirement plan, or whatever, put a few dollars aside to say “Thank you, self. You are pretty awesome.”

#9 Giving back as an added way of giving:

Don’t forget the organizations and causes that are important to you. This year they’ve cancelled many fundraising events and faced unprecedented challenges. Whether you plan to give a lot or a little, make sure you plan for your charitable gifts along with everything else.

#10 Five bonus hacks:

  • Buy gift cards in the amounts you want to spend: Worried you might spend a little too much? Buy yourself a gift card. It creates a hard cap on how much you can spend and keeps you within your budget.
  • Shop around: Before making a final purchase, always check at least two retailers. The Internet is a powerful tool when it comes to finding the best price. Don’t forget web browser extensions such as Honey that can help you find discounts, coupons, and the lowest price.
  • Check for coupon codes, promo codes, shipping codes: Don’t stop there. With a quick Google search, you can sometimes find $5 or $10 or even 5% or 10% off. Spend a few minutes for major purchases and you may just find a few extra dollars.
  • Check for price guarantees and price matching: Feeling overwhelmed by all of the sales (we feel it, too!)? Ask if they have a price guarantee or price matching program. If you find the item at a lower price, you can get some money back.
  • The 24-hour shopping cart rule: If you aren’t 100% sure of a purchase, leave the item in your online shopping cart for 24 hours. It will force you to think twice before clicking “proceed to checkout.”
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