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Save Money Without Clipping Coupons

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There are plenty of articles about how to slash your holiday spending. Sure, you can clip coupons, make retailers play "match the markdown price" and spend your Thanksgiving evening loitering in some dark, damp parking lot guarding your place in line so you can snag those Black Friday door buster deals.

Alternately, you could try a more cerebral cost-cutting strategy. Here are five ways to psych yourself into saving money.

1. Sweat the big stuff
No need to drive around all day to find the best price on wrapping paper and snowglobe stocking stuffers (unless you're really sick of rewashing the dishes just to avoid the in-laws). Concentrate your cost-cutting first on high-dollar purchases -- big-ticket items where saving 20% puts some real cash back in your pocket. Then tackle the smaller stuff as time, energy, and sanity allows.

2. Do some retail recon before you shop
You won't know whether you're getting a real bargain or a dud deal unless you have some pricing history for comparison. Many stores don't include an item's original price in their advertising circulars. If the original markup was helium-high, even 50% off is hardly a "sale." Keep a folder for sales circulars on items of interest, so you aren't suckered into buying something that seems like a good deal until you get it home.

3. Don't fall for the upsell
Skip the extended warranty, which can pad the price of the item by 10% to 30%. With just a few exceptions -- such as treadmills and big-screen HDTVs -- warranties are rarely worth the extra price, according to Consumer Reports. If you feel the need to purchase extra protection, pay no more than 15% of the product's price, and buy the manufacturer's warranty, not the store's version. Same goes for all those extra doodads that are displayed near the only item that's actually on your list. It's called an "up-sell" for a reason -- it drives up your tab and the store's profit margins.

4. Shop with blinders on
Avoid last-minute upgrades by picking the must-have features and target price range for more complex goods such as electronics and small appliances. Studies show that the more choices shoppers are given, the more likely they are to trade up to a fancier (an unnecessary) model. So weigh the merits of each product independently. Compare like with like -- and erase from your mind the alternatives that don't fit your criteria.

5. Go on an all-cash diet
Yes, credit cards are convenient -- they offer purchase protection, rewards, an easy way to track your spending (albeit after the damage is done), and they take up less wallet room. But they're also too convenient. Studies show that people spend more -- and more impulsively -- when no actual cash changes hands. Plastic makes us devalue what we spend because we don't experience the immediate loss of buying power that we do when we pay with cash. (Why do you think they use poker chips and not actual currency in Vegas?) If you tend to overspend, leaving your credit cards at home during the holidays can be a serious boon to your bottom line.

More Foolishness:

Dayana Yochim has qualified for the bargain shopping team for the Olympics in 2012. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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