Want to save some cash on your holiday shopping? Four money-saving experts, all South Florida moms who run websites about frugal living and smart shopping, have plenty of advice for you.
Their first tip: Start now.
“Retailers have been starting their sales earlier every year, so planning ahead is very important,” said Melissa Cid, who runs www.savingmomsmoney.com. “Making a list is the best way to stay on track and keeps you from splurging on unnecessary items.”
Know everyday store prices of items on your list so you can spot a good deal when the sale ads show up at your door, said Cid, a Miami Lakes mom of two.
“Some retailers try to trick consumers by marking up prices and then advertising a discount,” she said. “Knowing the everyday price of an item will make you a smarter consumer.”
Save in stores
Check out Black Friday ads early at sites like www.bfads.net, Cid said. “Use these sites to your advantage to plan early and compare prices,” she said.
Look for sales that offer bonuses with purchase, said Mary Pat Pankoke, of www.couponclasses.com. Stores like Target and Best Buy frequently offer a gift card bonus when you purchase a particular item, she said. Search online for printable coupons you can use in-store, Pankoke said. “Use layaway plans offered by stores like Walmart and Kmart to buy items on sale, then pay for them over time with no interest, picking them up in time for holiday gift giving,” she said.
Familiarize yourself with a store’s couponing and price matching policy, which allows you to bring in a competitor’s ad and have a lower price matched, Cid said. Pay attention to stores that alter their price-matching policies during the holidays, Pankoke said. For example, Walmart will match the prices found in competitor’s print ads, but not online pricing — including pricing on their own website, she said. Target offers price matching, but has exclusions on Black Friday through Cyber Monday deals.
“Sign up for store reward programs. Certain stores will let you redeem those loyalty points or dollars for future purchases,” said Whitney Zimet of www.iamthemaven.com. “This is especially nice at toy stores where you can easily spend major bucks, and where you know you’ll need to return again and again for future purchases.”
Some retailers offer store credit cards with a percentage off a first purchase, or all purchases discounted, said Zimet, a Coral Gables mom of two. One example is Target’s store card, which offers five percent off all purchases.
“Just be careful with these,” Zimet said. “Pay off those cards each month because the interest rates are huge.” Also ask the store when they have customer appreciation days — usually a percentage off storewide — or if they offer free gift wrapping.
Stick to your list and don’t buy items you don’t need, said Leanette Fernandez of www.teachme2save.com. “Check the clearance aisles for really good deals and pricing,” she said.
Don’t forget to use your smart phone for on-the-spot price checking, Cid said. “And hold on to your receipt in case you come across a better deal at another store,” she said.
Look for extra holiday coupons in the Sunday newspaper and on sites like www.coupons.com, Cid said, “but also keep your eyes peeled for in-store holiday coupon books at grocery stores, drug stores and retailers like Target. Know the store’s coupon policies before you shop to prevent problems at the register, because lines can be very long this time of year.”
Double up on savings by using manufacturer and store coupons for the same purchase, a practice called “stacking,” Pankoke said. Save even more with “total order” coupons, like $5 off a $30 order, she said. On buy-one, get-one free offers in stores, you can use two coupons — one for the paid item and one for the free item, Fernandez said.
For costly gifts such as salon packages or pricey restaurants, buy discount gift certificates from sites like Miami Herald DealSaver and Groupon, Cid said. “You may be able to score a nice gift that would be too costly to buy on its own,” she said.
Skip long lines in stores and shop online, where you will find many of the same deals, Cid said. “You’ll also be saving on gas, as well as saving your sanity from dealing with long lines, traffic and parking during the busiest retail time in South Florida,” she said.
Do a Google search or look at www.retailmenot.com or www.couponcabin.com for discount codes for shipping or merchandise before checking out a store’s website, Cid said. Check prices and product reviews at Amazon.com. Use rebate sites like www.Ebates.com and www.ShopAtHome.com to earn cash back on your online purchases. “You log on to the rebate site and then click through to the online retailer to get the rebate credit,” Cid said.
Whitney Zimet likes to travel, so she uses the American Airlines e-shopping portal, www.aadvantageeshopping.com, to buy from shops like Petco, Gap and Land’s End, and get up to 10 miles per $1 spent credited to her frequent flyer account. The site www.Upromise.com offers money back for online purchases that can be applied to a college savings plan for your child, Pankoke said.
Look for free shipping offers with no minimum order requirement during the holidays, a perk that used to be reserved for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Cid said. Another way to avoid shipping charges is to check to see if the retailer offers free in-store pick-up, Pankoke said.
Sign up for your favorite retailers’ email newsletters and follow them on Facebook to learn about store promotions, coupons and special offers for fans. “You will be the first to know of their latest discounts and free shipping days,” Cid said.
For one-stop shopping, try sites like Amazon, which has lower prices, tax-free purchases and fast shipping, Cid said.
Shopping online will “save money because you can comparison shop, save time because you won’t have to go store to store trying to get it all, and save money since you won’t be tempted to buy anything else,” Fernandez said. “Just be sure to use credible websites.” Look for web addresses that start with “https” rather than “http” to find a secure site.
Zimet makes extra cash for holiday shopping by taking large, expensive toys that her kids have outgrown, like a wooden dollhouse or electronic keyboard, to a children’s consignment store like The Children’s Exchange.
“The money I get from the sale of those toys I will use toward their new gifts,” she said.
Fernandez keeps an eye on clearance aisles all year to stock up on low-cost gifts for kids Hannah, 6, and Caleb, 4.
Cid’s sons, Manny, 4, and Noah, 2, are into Lego Duplos, so Cid is constantly on the lookout for good deals, such as the Toys ‘R Us “buy two, get the third free” deal typically offered during the holidays.
Pankoke, who has two grown children, likes to take advantage of bonus purchases on restaurant gift cards. For example, Outback Steakhouse and Carrabbas Italian Grill offers a free $20 gift card with every $100 in gift cards purchased.
And don’t forget about the power of something made from the heart, Fernandez said.
“Homemade gifts are not only a great way to save more, but they are also, in most cases, the gift that will be cherished the most — maybe even kept the longest.”