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5 Easy Ways to Shop Holiday Sales Like a Financial Expert

published Nov 27, 2020
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2020 has proven to be plenty overwhelming in emotional, physical, and financial ways—and if you’re looking to create one last sense of joy before 2020 is over, the holidays can serve as a perfect window to happiness and cheer. Black Friday sales started earlier than ever, so it’s also likely that you’ve got your eyes on a number of cost-conscious deals for everyone on your list. In fact, in the first ten days of November, Adobe Analytics saw a 21 percent increase in online sales compared to last year, and the company predicts those numbers will only rise as Black Friday and Cyber Monday arrive in full force. 

Participating in these sales may appear to be a productive solution when money is tight, but jumping on every deal that comes your way can get out of hand quickly. A new survey from American Express Pay It Plan It found that 86 percent of millennials (aged 23 to 38) spent more money on holiday shopping than they planned. They’re not the only ones: “The reality is, even as a money pro, I still can fall victim to the retail and marketing traps out there during the holidays,” money savings expert Andrea Woroch told Apartment Therapy. To help you avoid overspending, we asked financial experts like Woroch to share how they approach the holiday sales. 

Plan ahead and track your gift list

Before approaching the holiday sales, create a plan and budget to keep your spending in check. “I find it crucial to plan ahead and organize my shopping list so I don’t end up buying a bunch of things I don’t need just because they’re on sale,” Woroch shares. She keeps her budget simple by creating a list of who she wants to buy gifts for, along with ideas for each person. “I then research prices for those products to determine if those are reasonable gifts or if I need to cut back,” she explains.

But Woroch also notes her most important tip is to track your shopping. She recommends tools like Santa’s Bag and the Christmas Gift List app to manage their gift lists and track their expenses. Meanwhile, debt expert Jackie Beck takes a different approach: “Once I’ve bought something for a person, I stop buying for that person,” she says.

Kimberly Palmer, a finance expert at NerdWallet, does the same by only buying one special gift for each person. This year, she plans to buy gifts she knows will be of use during the pandemic, like a Lego set or a sewing machine. 

Don’t be afraid to comparison shop

Throughout the holiday season, prices are constantly fluctuating online. Both Palmer and Woroch note they always compare offers from competitors to look for additional savings. Online retailers are marketing special offers in small print, so it’s worthwhile to look for them. For example, Target will match the price of an item purchased from them if it lowers before Dec. 25. 

If you want to save time on comparison shopping, Woroch recommends the browser extension and iOS app Popcart. The company provides instant price comparisons from online retailers, so you can always find the best price without having to run a separate search. Woroch also uses Cently, a free browser extension that automatically applies any available coupon codes to your online cart.

Credit: Sylvie Li

Take advantage of cash rewards

Many credit card companies offer cashback reward programs to incentivize users. Depending on the credit card, you can receive anywhere from 1% to 6% cash back on your purchase. Palmer uses a credit card that gives her 5 percent back on all her Amazon purchases, which is where she plans to buy the majority of her gifts. (She also plans to use the card to purchase holiday meals from Whole Foods, which also offers a 5 percent cashback benefit.) 

Cash-back rewards may sound like a great option, but if you don’t pay off the purchases promptly, then your balance can soon become unmanageable. To avoid this dilemma, Woroch treats her cash-back reward card like a debit card, meaning she only purchases what she can pay off immediately. 

Cut unnecessary expenses where you can

One piece of advice personal finance advisor Ramit Sethi swears by is to “spend extravagantly on the things you love, as long as you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.” By cutting out unnecessary expenses, you can create more room in your budget for your holiday spending. 

Woroch advises reviewing credit card and bank statements to pinpoint which ongoing expenses can be cut or put on hold. “Focus on those ‘luxury services’ you can do yourself such as manicures, car washes, and dog grooming,” she says. “Sure, it’s nicer to have someone else do it, but for now it’s better to do these things yourself and put the money you would have spent on it toward your holiday shopping!”

Keep your priorities in check

Everyone approaches the holiday season differently, but this year especially is a perfect time to recognize and honor your priorities. Palmer says her family will spend less on travel because of the coronavirus, and she plans to put more money toward making the holidays feel extra special for her children, who are used to spending the holidays with their grandparents. 

“We are planning to purchase a larger-than-normal Christmas tree, more elaborate advent calendars (the Harry Potter Lego Advent calendar), scented pine-cones, and scented candles,” she says. “We will also bring out our decorations (stockings, tinsel, holiday lights) earlier than normal so everyone can feel excited.”

Many people’s budgets are also smaller than usual this year, often to no fault of their own. To account for that, it may be useful to DIY gifts or gift experiences instead. Beck tells Apartment Therapy that she reuses the same decorations every year. “If something looks like it will need replacing, I wait for the after-holiday sales where you can get things for up to 90 percent off,” she adds.

The pandemic has left many reconsidering their priorities, including financial expert and creator of Money and Mimosas, Danetha Doe. Instead of spending the holidays at home, she and her fiancé plan to road-trip to Sedona, Arizona. The couple will rent an Airbnb for two to three months to indulge in nature in favor of buying gifts. As she puts it: “My recommendation to others is to do whatever fills your soul and gives you a solid foundation to start the New Year.”