Budgeting for the Holidays

Nearly half of shoppers have already started checking off items on their holiday shopping lists. But shoppers faced with early sales may need to do things a little differently this year to get the best deals. Kelli Grant, Senior Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com, gives tips on how to stay on budget this holiday season.


Look beyond the discounts this year. After three years of economic turmoil, big sales have become almost a given. But retailers are trying to ease up the discounts with mixed results. Shoppers should also consider value-adds like reward points or package deals, which can often yield more savings than a sale. Best Buy and Amazon recently offered $50 gift cards to shoppers who bought an Xbox 360 game console.

Hold out on your purchase until you can get free shipping. There's almost no reason to pay for shipping this year. Shop.org expects that 93% of retailers will offer free shipping promotions. But the devil is in the details: many retailers are offsetting the cost of free shipping by excluding certain items or requiring a high minimum purchase. Delivery deals shift as regularly as sales, so wait for a better offer if the current free shipping deal isn't to your liking.

Make sure you have your smartphone with you. You can use it to comparison shop right on the spot. Plus, more retailers are offering special sales and discounts that you can't access without a phone - deals exclusive to Facebook fans, Twitter followers and mobile alert subscribers. You just need to show your phone at checkout to claim the savings. The trade-off, of course, is that you'll get emails year round, so carefully consider which you sign up for.

Rethink your Black Friday plans. With more big retailers including Best Buy, Kohl's, Macy's and Target planning to open their doors at midnight, stores are likely to be more competitive on door busters. Figure out whether you'll get the best deals by staying up late or getting up early. Keep in mind that a lot of door busters are available online at midnight, too, which could further sway your plans.

Don't rely on Cyber Monday. As retailers push online sales more aggressively throughout Thanksgiving week and even earlier in the season, Cyber Monday may lose some of its luster. Amazon opened its "Black Friday Deals" store Nov. 1, and we're seeing more big online sales during the whole week leading up to Black Friday. That's not to say it isn't worth looking on Cyber Monday. Just don't wait until then to buy thinking you'll get a better price.

For more information on holiday shopping and other consumer tips click here.

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