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Despite inflation driving consumer prices up, we all still have to do some holiday shopping, right? Whether you want to surprise your kids with the top item from their wish list or treat yourself to something you've been coveting when it's finally on sale, the fall and winter are still some of the best times of the year to snag deals.
It's always ideal to start saving money for holiday shopping in advance so you don't find yourself in December without enough set aside to cover your higher-than-usual spending. There are also plenty of ways to be a savvy shopper and make holiday shopping more affordable, such as timing your shopping on big sale days, seeking out online coupons and cash-back opportunities and other tricks we'll cover below.
1. Shop on Sale Days
Retailers slash prices on popular items during holiday sales, so strategically plan your shopping around those to get the best deals. Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) are typically the two biggest days for savings. But stores often have sales over that weekend or week, and even other occasional one-day blowouts.
Despite global economic turbulence, the 2022 holiday season will still have loads of sales as retailers face a glut of inventory and need to break through shoppers' inflation concerns. Visit the websites of the retailers you plan to patronize so you can see when they're advertising sales and specials and shop accordingly.
You'll also find big sales around federal holidays, such as Labor Day, Veterans Day and Indigenous Peoples' Day/Columbus Day. If you plan ahead, you can do your holiday shopping early and space out your spending. While consumers used to have to wait in long lines and shop in person, now you can typically find the same deals online.
2. Look for Coupons
Online coupons or promo codes that actually work aren't always easy to find, but if you nab one that's valid, it can save you loads of money. One of the best ways to find coupons is to check out aggregator sites, like RetailMeNot.com, or use browser extensions like the ones from Rakuten or Capital One Shopping to automatically find coupons and shop with cash back opportunities.
You can also get coupons directly from retailers. It's now common for retail websites to have pop-ups that offer a one-time coupon code for first-time shoppers or for those signing up for their email list. If you plan to shop from a specific brand or store, try going to their website to see if you get a pop-up or if you see anything offering a discount for signing up for emails.
3. Use Your Credit Card to Get Rewards
Use a cash back credit card for your holiday shopping, which effectively gives you a discount on every purchase you make since you'll get a percentage back. Alternatively, you can use a rewards credit card for your shopping, then later cash in your points or miles for gift cards or travel.
Some credit card issuers also have their own online shopping portals, where cardholders can access exclusive sales and opportunities to earn bonus points or cash back. Consider going through these for holiday shopping to access sales and maximize your credit card rewards.
If you plan to spend a large amount at a single retailer, you might also consider opening a store credit card, since retail credit cards usually come with a large initial discount. Just be aware that these cards typically have high interest rates, so carrying a balance is costly, and opening a new credit card can temporarily ding your credit.
Regardless of what type of credit card you use for your holiday shopping, just make sure you can pay off the balance in January. Don't view plastic as a way to spend beyond your means; if you spend more than you can pay off within a month, you'll end up paying interest, which could negate your savings and leave you in debt.
4. Follow Retailers' Social Accounts and Emails
Retailers often use their social media accounts and email lists to market to their most loyal customers and announce sales and specials. Sometimes, you might get lucky and see a sale that's not advertised anywhere else. If you're interested in a specific product or retailer, make sure to follow their social media accounts and sign up for their email lists to stay posted and get notified of any flash sales.
5. Look for Community-Specific Discounts
Find out if you're eligible for any special discounts with retailers. For example, some retailers offer special pricing for teachers, students, first responders, military service members and their families, doctors and nurses, government employees or senior citizens.
There are also some websites that consolidate deals for specific communities. One is ID.me, a newer service that verifies your identity and helps you find discounts. They have a portal for the general public, but they also let you filter by employment or identity category (like those listed above).
Keep Your Credit in Mind
As you look for ways to save money while shopping, don't forget about your credit and how it can be impacted by overzealous holiday gifting. It's easy to go wild with your credit card when you're feeling the holiday spirit, but if you spend beyond what you can afford, you might start the new year in debt and inadvertently harm your credit.
Aim to spend wisely, and if you do end up taking on some debt from holiday shopping, sign up for free credit monitoring from Experian to track how your credit is impacted and learn how you can improve it.