Years ago, when my kids were little, I never seemed to have enough time to Christmas shop - other than December 23rd and 24th. I’d plan a one-and-half day marathon shopping trip. I'd head to the stores as soon as they opened, with my list of what to buy for whom in hand, finishing up on Christmas Eve around 2pm - usually completing my mission with a few minutes to spare.
That is, until the year I woke up on December 24th with a stomach bug. I’d felt it coming on while shopping the night before, but figured it was just stress symptoms. But nope, I was definitely sick and there was no way I could hit the stores to finish my shopping. Thankfully, my husband (who hates shopping) filled in for me and got the job done.
It was then, that I realized I needed to be a little more organized and plan ahead. I also started thinking about the amount of unnecessary money I probably spent during those ‘marathon shopping’ sprees. A little patience and planning could have left more dollars in my bank account.
It’s never too late to start being a smart shopper
In fact, I could probably do even more today and save even more money, while still finding awesome gifts for my family and friends. With this thought, I began asking around, getting tips from people I know who are great ‘bargain’ shoppers. Below are a few saving tips I’m trying this holiday season – after all, it’s better late than never.
Do you know someone who gives great presents, but spends very little? They know how stay within their budget, but not give up quality? I do – my friend Erin Stephens, president of the non-profit organization, Lulangilo. I can't count the number of times she’s shown me an item, saying something like, “Can you believe it? I just bought this for $7, it retails for $50!”
Wanting to know her secret, and figuring many others do too, I asked Erin how she does it. She was more than happy to share some of her holiday savings tips, which I’m passing on to you. Before I share her words of wisdom, I need to give a disclaimer, “Any retail store mentioned is not an endorsement, I am simply sharing the tips Erin provided.”
Erin's 'Smart Shopper Tips'
Tip #1: Create a quantity limit for gifts to buy each person
Erin once read about a 4-gift limit (for immediate family members): something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. Even her 4-year daughter talks about the ‘somethings’ they give/get at Christmas.
You will see this concept mentioned often by others – sometimes as a 3-gift limit and with other themes, such as the ones Lauren Greutman, consumer savings expert, mentions in her blog post The 3 Gift Christmas Rule – How and Why to do it.
Think about what will work best for you this year and see if you can start a new tradition.
Tip #2: Use stores’ apps and wait until something you want has a coupon
Erin mentions, “I shop a lot at Target and use their circle app – and usually wait until something has a coupon before I buy it. This year, I’ve already filled [my daughter’s] stocking with sale finds from Michael’s – a stationary kit that was 60% off, two tutus that she really wanted were 80% off after Halloween, and a couple other craft items from their 60% off bin that I knew she would love. I try to buy it when I see it on sale.”
As she walks through Target she scans and adds to her Target Circle app ‘cart’ for ‘order pick up.’ She gets the online price, plus the 5-15% off the items by using the pick-up today. For example, Erin saved 37% on a pair of boots with her tried and true method of using her Target app. The final price of the boots shown below was $15.77!
Erin explains “They (Target) will usually give you the online price at the checkout lanes, but if there’s an online coupon, you can order pickup and then pick it up later at the lower price. You also get a percentage back in Target cash towards purchases.” For additional tips on saving money with online apps and more, check out The Crazy Coupon Lady's blog post 23 Hidden Ways to Outsmart Retailers and Save Money Shopping Online.
Tip #3: Shop at Goodwill (or other thrift stores)
The other day I stopped by a local thrift store, Savers, to donate some quality items that I no longer needed. While I was there, I decided to see if there was anything at the store my sons could use – they were headed back to college and needed a couple furniture items. Since it was for college living, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. What I discovered, while walking through to find the furniture, was that some of the products sold were brand new, in the original packages!
This was confirmed by Erin. She explains that her “local Goodwill also gets Target clearance, broken boxes or overstock.” This means, the products are brand new. Last year she “found a brand-new Garmin kids watch for $3!” It was in it’s original packaging. The store “even found a Melissa and Doug shopping cart – brand new in the box” – for $17. The full price, if she was to purchase it in a retail store, would have been $40-$50.
Cost savings isn’t the only benefit of shopping at Goodwill. Another plus is that “when you shop at and donate to your local Goodwill, you… help provide job placement and training opportunities for people in your community… Last year, sales from Goodwill stores funded employment training, job placement services, financial education, youth mentoring and more to 36 million people in the United States and Canada.” What better way to save money and support your community!
Note: I visited both a Goodwill store and two Savers near my home. The Goodwill store did not have any brand-new products, but the Savers did – with one having a lot more than the other. It all depends on the location – so be sure to check yours out.
Tip #4: Check online for lower prices
When you’re shopping at a physical store – or online – and you find that ‘must have’ item, be sure to do comparison shopping online, before taking it to the register to buy. You may find the same item for less, and with free shipping. If you haven’t waited until the last minute to purchase that gift, you can order it online and have it shipped to directly to your house.
This happened to me the other day – but I was online. I found a t-shirt that was the perfect gift. It was $24.99. I quickly did a search for the shirt and found the same one for $17.99 and free shipping. Which one do you think I purchased?
Be patient and resist the urge!
As Erin states, “You have to be patient and not be an impulsive shopper.” Stick to your plan, budget, and gift limit. It’s easy to impulse buy, especially when crunched for time. A little planning, knowing what’s available, and comparison shopping will help you save money this holiday season – and you won’t have buyer’s remorse.
Question: What tips do you have for saving money when buying presents on a shoestring budget?
Written by Lori Narewski