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The holiday season can bring good cheer, but it can also bring debt. Americans will spend an average of about $700 each on holiday shopping this year, according to the National Retail Federation.
While it might be fun to play Santa, that credit card bill can turn your jolly “ho ho” into a big “oh no.” If you want to avoid overspending, ’tis the season to shop smart. As mentioned in the video above, there are plenty of ways to save:
- Make a budget. Start out by making a list and checking it twice: Who do you have to get gifts for? Big hint: Not you. The National Retail Federation says we spend more than $100 snatching up good deals for ourselves while out shopping for others. Once you have a list, figure out how much you can afford to spend and divide it up to set limits for each person. If you feel really guilty about the amounts, ask your recipients to set the same or lower limit for your gifts.
- Use your bonus points. Many credit cards will allow you to spend reward points on gift cards or certificates: Check out our story My Credit Card Company Buys All My Christmas Presents. If you don’t have a rewards-eligible card, consider getting one for next year. Start with our credit card search, and if you make a lot of purchases at Amazon.com, definitely check out their card.
- Make use of technology. You can find a lot of the best deals before you ever leave the house. Many sites gather up all the Black Friday ads and post them: Dealnews does a good job of this. There are also Black Friday smartphone apps to help you sort out the deals, and apps that scan barcodes in stores for an instant price check. Be sure to check out a deals search engine for additional discounts and coupons. And if you’re shopping online, you can get rebates or “cashbacks” by purchasing from a variety of major retailers through sites like FatWallet.com.
- Shop early – and late. We all know that Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year, but it’s not always the best one. Retailers are increasingly trying to spread out the savings so they can make more money and avoid people getting trampled or otherwise having a bad experience. Look for deals all through Thanksgiving week and the week after. One extra day in particular has become popular enough to earn its own name: Cyber Monday, when the best deals are online.
- Regift with gift cards. If you got gift cards last year – or on your birthday – that you haven’t fully spent, you can use those to purchase gifts or give as gifts. Just make sure you check the balance and the expiration date before handing them off.
- Use your imagination instead of cash. Sometimes the best gifts are homemade. You can bake and decorate cookies or cakes and present them in a holiday-themed tin. You could make a photo album or a thousand other things. Here’s 76 Homemade Gifts for Her, and a bunch of tips for homemade gifts for men. If you’re willing to spend a little bit of money, consider making your own gift baskets with items from the dollar store. You can easily “theme” these to suit different people. Example: For a movie theme, buy a popcorn bucket and include popcorn, cheap candy, and some discount DVDs or a Netflix gift card.
A few more thoughts: If you’re buying gifts for a circle of friends or workmates, you could try talking them into a Secret Santa set-up so you only have to get one gift. And used gifts aren’t always in bad taste, especially if they’re rare, hand-crafted, collector’s edition, or vintage – like out-of-print or autographed books. Check antique stores and pawn shops.