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Holiday tips from the pros

DealPros talked money-saving tactics at a recent conference. Got any to add to our list?

By Donna_Freedman Nov 22, 2010 10:22AM
I recently spent a few days in Chicago at the Save Up 2010 conference, sponsored by Savings.com. All of us DealPros shared tips on holiday shopping and celebrations.

I took notes.


Do this right now

  • Sign up for store newsletters because they will include exclusive coupons. Start a new e-mail account for this.
  • If you're the parent or caregiver of a child, sign up for Amazon Mom because it includes a free three-month trial of Amazon Prime (in other words, free two-day shipping).
  • Make a list of every person for whom you want to buy and start reading the leaked Black Friday ads.
  • Decide how much you can afford to spend for everything. This includes charitable donations, special holiday meals and any entertaining you plan to do.
  • If your family hangs up stockings, don't forget to allow for the cost of stocking stuffers. Otherwise you'll go over budget the week before Christmas.
  • Talk to extended family about gift-giving, and ways to reduce the pressure. For example, have each person draw a name, or declare that Christmas is only for those under 18 or over 80. If it's too late to do this for 2010, bring it up in mid-January 2011. By then the relatives who overdid it will be looking at credit card bills and possibly interested in changing their profligate ways.
  • Order discounted gift cards to pay for purchases from certain stores. You'll save an extra 3% to 30% on top of other discounts (more on those below).
  • Watch circulars for coupons on toys, games and DVDs. They're in there among the cents-off toothpaste and pasta.
  • Planning a debt-free Christmas but worried about carrying too much cash? Open a separate bank account and get a debit card. Shop with the card. When it stops working, you're done.

Get ready, get set … shop!

  • Buying online? Start at 12:01 a.m. on Black Friday -- or even earlier depending on the retailer.
  • Look for online coupons and discounts. Some sites allow you to stack them.
  • Order through a cash-back shopping site if possible. But do not use a coupon code you found elsewhere because this may void the cash back.

  • Shopping in person? Bring the ads with you and ask for price matches. You might be able to get all your good deals in one place.

  • Tag-team shop. Bring a buddy so you can divide and conquer, i.e., each of you looking for specific deals. You can also talk each other out of overspending.
  • Cash rules! Take your budgeted funds (or your new debit card) along with you. When you're out, you're out.
  • If you're using a credit card: Track your spending, either on paper or with a phone app.
  • Consider a gift's financial ramifications. For example, a cell phone requires a monthly bill, and a game system needs games.
  • Dazzled by gadgetry? Sure, it's shiny. But buy only if it will really make a difference in someone's life. Otherwise it's just more clutter.
  • Electronics prices will likely improve as Christmas gets closer.
  • Picking out an Angel Tree item? Don't buy the gift right there in the mall. Use the shopping tips noted above.
  • Take advantage of hot deals on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but remember that good sales will be announced right up until the last few days before Christmas. Don't feel you have to buy it all on one or two days.
  • If you overspend, take a few things back. That is, as long as no one has tried to put them together yet.

Party tricks

  • Don't spend money mailing invitations. E-mail, use a service like Evite, or set up an event on Facebook.
  • Co-host a holiday party with a friend or relative. It takes the stress off and you will meet new people.
  • Make it a potluck. Ask people to bring their recipes for those who want to make these dishes for themselves.
  • Decorate with things you already have. Put a clear glass bowl of red and green apples on the table, or a few wrapped Christmas gifts (or empty boxes covered in holiday paper), or five or six candles grouped together and lit.
  • Hit the dollar store for decorations and certain food items (pasta, gingersnaps, fancy marinated vegetables, cookie decorations).
  • One "signature" drink can work for everyone. For example, apple cider can be enjoyed by all ages. Heated, it makes the house smell really good (kids might want it cold, though). I've seen cinnamon sticks at the dollar store, so why not put them out for stirring? These stirrers would work well with hot chocolate, too.

Once the dust has cleared

  • Recap your holiday -- what worked, what didn't -- and take notes for next year. It will keep you from making that side dish that no one liked, or from buying anything made with animal products for the niece who recently became a vegan.
  • Begin next year's decoration- and gift-buying at the post-holiday clearance sales. Keep it up throughout the year. I'd also suggest checking yard sales and thrift stores, where you can often find like-new items or items that are still shrink-wrapped.
  • Inventory your purchases. Next fall you'll look at that list and be happy to note how much decor and wrapping paper and how many presents you already have on hand.

Readers: Got any hot shopping/saving/decorating tips? Please share!

 

Donna Freedman is the MSN Money Living With Less columnist and also blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

 

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