The holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, but this season can also be one of the most expensive. Luckily, there are simple ways to save money without skimping on your holiday gift ideas — so we asked top shopping experts for their best advice on how to save money on holiday shopping. Frugal Santas, take note.
1. Time your purchases carefully.
Snagging a stellar sale often boils down to when you shop. Bold-face shopping days Black Friday and Cyber Monday are famous for deals on certain items like tablets, kitchen appliances and video games; and some retailers also offer flash sales or drop prices on certain items, like toys, in the days leading up to Christmas. But you can also luck into some bargains based on the day of the week you shop, according to Courtney Jespersen, retail analyst at Nerdwallet.com. For example, "Department stores tend to host appliance sales on the weekend, and airline tickets are best bought at the beginning of the week."
Of course, sweet deals aren't just exclusive to the holidays, so it pays to make your list early and check it as sales pop up. "Just because you'll be giving the gift in the winter doesn't mean that a grill or bicycle isn't on a loved one's wish list," points out Regina Conway, consumer expert Slickdeals, an online deal-sharing community. Check end-of-season sales for deals on gifts on your list throughout the year.
2. Get clever with coupons.
Go beyond the clip-and-save with these shopping tips from Conway: "If you can't find a coupon online, wait until you get to the checkout page and start a live chat with a site operator," she suggests. "It won't always work, but some of them are sitting there with coupon codes on hand. So ask nicely and you may get additional savings."
By the same token, when shopping in a store, always do a quick online search on your phone to see if there's a coupon for the product you want. Conway does this regularly, and has scored in-store items at a sale price—plus a significant discount on top of that—with a coupon code.
3. Stock up on discounted gift cards.
Some web sites sell gift cards at a discount, which you can then use when purchasing gifts. One caveat: The value on the cards may only be guaranteed for a specific time period, so be sure to buy what you need within that window of time.
4. Tap into social media.
Sure, there are scores of apps, online trackers and websites to help you find the cheapest prices for your holiday gift ideas, but don't forget to go straight to the source. Sign up for email sale alerts from your favorite companies or stores, and be sure to follow them on social media. Many will offer exclusive deals to their Facebook fans or Twitter followers.
5. Do your research.
The holidays are synonymous with attention-grabbing deals, each one proclaiming to be better than the next. The best way to suss out the real bargains? "Know what you want to buy and what a good price is before you ever step foot in a store or visit a retailer's website," says Jespersen.
Jespersen also advises that since retailers are sometimes guilty of inflating the so-called original price to make their discount appear bigger, don't just look at the advertised percent-off price cut — look at the actual price of the product.
It also helps to track the price of the items you want to buy, says Conway. "I recently monitored a pair of boots, for example," she says. "On the same website, they went from $245 to $210 to $170 in three days, then bumped back up to $245. If you buy without tracking, you may pay well over the lowest price."
6. Don't gloss over the details.
As great as holiday deals are, many of them come with strings attached, like tacking on restocking fees, offering store credit instead of cash on returns, and making you pay for shipping on returns. Always read the fine print before you buy, says Jespersen. "Pay attention to how many offerings of a certain deal will be available," she says. "For example, some doorbusters are sold in extremely limited quantities, so if you're not at the front of the line on Black Friday you'll likely miss out."
Also note whether you'll have to do extra work, as with mail-in rebates, to lock in the discount. "If you don't think you'll hassle with filling out and sending in one of these rebates, you may end up paying more for the product than you originally bargained for," says Jespersen.
7. Take advantage of credit card rewards.
Make the most of your credit card by tapping into rewards to pay for holiday gifts. With many programs offering you cash back or points that can be redeemed towards future purchases, you could have amassed enough rewards through the year to cover almost everyone on your list.