How to Shop Smart This Holiday Season

by on October 16th, 2010
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Looking for ways to save on holiday shopping this year? Unfortunately, there is no magic to it. Saving money requires a little planning, and sometimes a little restraint.

While many of the tips out there are common sense, here’s a quick refresher to help you get on the right path before holiday shopping season begins.

1. Make a list. Check it twice or more. List each person, the gift you plan to buy for that person, and the dollar amount you plan to spend on each gift to help you stay organized and stick to a budget. Make your list early (more on this below) and refer to it often. Stick it next to your computer and use it whenever you are on deal sites, said Jeremy Kugel, founder of, which combines flash sales with group buying.

2. Shop early. As in a year early. Post-holiday sales can mean discounts of 50 percent to 90 percent as retailers try to clear out winter merchandise. Keep your list handy throughout the year so you can jump on deals when you see relevant items on sale.

3. Do your research. Don’t get sucked into the mega-sales advertised on Black Friday and throughout the holiday season. Sometimes it pays to comparison shop. Take the time to do an online search on comparison shopping sites to see if a desired item turns up cheaper. Which brings us to …

4. Shop online. In one test, experts at Consumer Reports found an online discount store selling an electric percolator for almost 50 percent less than the “door buster” price at a walk-in retailer. Just be sure to add any shipping and handling charges to the price when comparing online sales to those at walk-in stores.

5. Be wary of gift cards. This is often the default gift when you don’t know what else to give. The Federal Trade Commission recently did a series of cases on gift card issues, said Cindy Liebes, assistant regional director for the commission’s Southeast region. While federal rules now limit fees and expiration dates, there are still some concerns, including fees charged to the purchaser and the fact that many people never use gift cards. If you’re clueless about what to give, Consumer Reports experts suggest the gift of cash instead.

6. Know when a bargain is really a bargain. Liebes said the FTC has encountered some cases where items are always on “sale,” which of course means they never are. The FTC also points out that “buy one, get one free” means nothing if you don’t need two items. And “free gift with purchase” is useless if you can’t use the gift.

7. Check coupons. Coupons can help you save money on things you are already planning to buy. Think you can’t use an expired coupon? Think again. Not only will some retailers take expired coupons, FTC experts say retailers also might take coupons from competing stores.

8. Track your purchases. During the holiday season, merchandise is always going on sale. Track all of your purchases in case something you buy at full price later goes on sale. You might be able to get a store credit or refund for the difference. Websites like will send you an alert when the price of items you specify is reduced.

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