The holiday shopping season is well under way, and that means consumers are flocking to stores and online sites to get that something perfect for their someone special. But just because shoppers are hunting for great gifts, that doesn't mean they can't be hunting for ways to stretch their holiday shopping dollar, too. We asked three Motley Fool analysts to share with us their favorite money-saving holiday tips. Read on to learn what Foolishly savvy money moves they're making this holiday season.
Selena Maranjian: The easiest way I'm saving money this holiday season, and throughout the year, is by using credit cards that reward me with cash. Right now I'm using the American Express (NYSE:AXP) Blue Cash Preferred card -- which is offering a free year of Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime to new accounts. Its main selling point is, 6% back on supermarket purchases, 3% back on gas station and select department-store purchases, and 1% back on everything else. (There's a $75 annual fee, but that's probably worth paying.) If you've got a family and you spend, say, $100 per week at supermarkets, that amounts to $312 in cash back. Spend $150 per month on gas? Get $54 back. Spend $1,000 per month on all kinds of things? Get $120 back for the year. All together, that's $486 in cash back, quite painlessly. And that's enough to pay for lots of holiday gifts. Do a little digging and you'll find lots of cards that offer different kinds of rewards that can really add up. If you travel a lot, seek out travel-oriented cards. If you spend a lot at gas stations, you may find a card that offers 5% back, saving you a lot. A few hours spent thinking about how you spend much of your money and reading up on available credit cards can soon have you saving a lot of money automatically.
Patrick Morris: I couldn't agree more with Selena about the use of credit card rewards as a great way to save in during the holidays and throughout the year. And one more great way to save is comparison shopping to ensure you're actually getting the deal you think you are.
This may not be the most revolutionary piece of advice in the world, but the tools you can use to ensure the best deal sure look pretty revolutionary. Before you add something to your cart online this Christmas season, a simple search of the product on Google Shopping could save you hundreds.
For example, one jacket from The North Face retailed at $220 on its own website, but a simple search of the jacket's name on Google Shopping revealed that Nordstrom was selling the identical jacket for 25% off, representing a $55 savings.
In addition, for consumers wanting to comparison shop in-store, apps such as Quick Scan and RedLaser allow you to scan the barcode of a product to see whether it's available at a lower price online at a variety of retailers. And while the Amazon app barcode scan functionality only shows whether the item is available at a lower price on Amazon, it also gives users the ability to comparison shop by taking a picture of the product, not just the barcode alone.
Looking through the Sunday ad pages in the newspaper used to be the only way consumers could ensure they were getting the best deal possible, but these days, comparison shopping couldn't be any easier. Your wallet will be sure to thank you.
Matt Frankel: There are many good ways to save money during the holidays, and Selena and Patrick both gave good advice.
Still, in my experience, the best way to make sure the holidays aren't too tough on your wallet is to make a budget for all of your holiday expenses, and stick to it. How many times have you told yourself "I'm going to spend $500 on gifts, and that's it!" -- only to actually spend much more?
When making a budget, the two most important things you need to do are to be realistic and to account for all of your expenses. Make sure your budget is a realistic estimate of what you could actually spend on gifts, not just an unreasonably low amount. That can set you up for failure.
And don't forget to include other expenses such as gift wrapping, batteries (don't give toys without them), and any stocking stuffers you might buy.
Making a budget for your holiday expenses forces you to think about the money you're spending, which can help you keep your purchases at a sensible level.