How to Do Your Holiday Shopping on a Budget

Two smiling women dressed in warm clothes window shopping for holiday gifts.

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Don't let holiday costs ruin your holiday spirit.

The holiday season can always leave your budget feeling uncomfortably tight. This year, the season feels even more foreboding than normal thanks to COVID-19. But that doesn't change the fact that gifts still need buying. Here are a few smart shopping tips you can leverage to get everything on your list without taking on holiday debt.

1. Start shopping early

Starting early gives you more time to shop around for the items on your list. You can compare prices at multiple stores to see which offers the best value. You might even catch some sales -- deals that could vanish into thin air as we approach the traditional holiday shopping season.

Also, sometimes, in-demand items sell out as it gets close to the holidays. Starting early gives you better odds of actually finding what you need. If you wait until the holidays are almost upon you, it might be tougher to find everything on your list. And the few stores that still have what you want? Well, they may charge extra -- just because they can.

2. Take advantage of sales

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are usually the first holiday sales to come to most people's minds. But they're not the only big holiday sales. Stores can run sales at any time between now and the gift-giving holidays. You just have to watch for them.

Keep an eye out for ads about upcoming sales. Also, consider subscribing to your favorite stores' email newsletters. These can help you stay in the loop about current and upcoming promotions. As a bonus, the store may slip a few extra coupons your way.

3. Use coupons

Store newsletters are one place to find coupons, but you can also find them by doing a quick internet search. To save time when shopping online, consider a browser plug-in that automatically tests out all coupon codes for a given site. That way you don't have to try them all manually.

4. Use credit card rewards

Check your credit card statements or online accounts for unused credit card points. Often, you can turn these into cash or gift cards. You can use that cash (or those gift cards) to buy your items -- or give it as a gift itself.

Using a rewards credit card to make your holiday purchases can help you rack up even more rewards, which you can put toward future purchases. Just make sure you don't charge more to your card than you can afford to pay back at the end of the month or you'll end up with costly debt.

5. Use layaway

Some popular retailers allow you to put items on layaway. To do this, you go to the store, fill your cart with all the things you want to buy, and then take it to the layaway department. Rather than paying for it all at once, you pay in regular installments. Once you've paid for the full amount, you return to the layaway department and pick up your purchases.

Every store has its own rules when it comes to layaways. Some charge fees and may require a down payment. Nevertheless, this is still a better option than racking up credit card debt.

6. Take advantage of free shipping (or shop in-person)

Online shopping is convenient, but it sometimes involves pricey shipping costs. Sidestep these by shopping on websites that offer free shipping for orders of a specific amount (even some small businesses offer this perk). You can also look for websites that allow you to pick up your order in-store or at a local pick-up point for free or reduced shipping.

Of course, you can also shop in-person to reduce shipping costs. Just make sure to wear a face mask and shop at off-peak times to promote community health.

7. See if stores will price match

If you find a better deal on an item at one store, but you'd prefer to buy it at another because it's more convenient, see if the other store will match their competitor's price. This can save you from having to shop at dozens of different stores to find the best values.

Show proof of the competitor's lower price at your preferred retailer. Ask for a price match. Not all stores will comply, but some might to keep your business. Worst case scenario: The manager says no. And you'll never know until you try.

These holiday shopping tips aren't just useful in a pandemic year. Keep them in the back of your mind for future holiday seasons or for any time you need to do a lot of shopping. Even if it only saves you a few dollars, that's extra money you can keep in the bank or use to buy something nice for yourself.

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