Veteran shopping pro: My top 10 tips for saving hundreds of dollars this holiday season

I've been a shopping expert by trade since 2011. I got my start writing budget-friendly content as a freelancer for a few different websites, then served as the consumer spokesperson for a deal site for three years. After I was laid off in 2015, I set off on my own. 

So I talk about shopping all year long. But this time of year is my favorite because I can use my arsenal of tools that I've tried and tested over the years to save on holiday gifts and help others do the same.

Here are 10 of my favorite holiday saving tips. 

1. Utilize credit card points.

Many financial experts suggest paying for everything in cash. It is wise to be wary of spending beyond your means, but if you pay solely in cash, you can't earn points on your purchases. I use credit cards for just about everything and apply the points I earn, but I make sure to only buy what I can pay off in full each month. 

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I learned the importance of paying off my credit cards each month in my early 20s when I dug myself into a financial hole, which took years to resolve. 

If you're unsure about which type of credit card is right for you, I'm a fan of a site called GigaPoints. It's a free platform that can tell you which card can help you earn more rewards based on the way you spend.

2. Buy secondhand.

Even if you're celebrating only with the people you see every day, or over Zoom, you still might want to wear something festive this year. Rather than buying new, try secondhand. I'd guess that I've saved thousands of dollars over the years buying secondhand, especially because my daughter, who is 14, is an avid thrifter, too. 

There are ways to safely buy secondhand during the pandemic, but make sure to take the proper precautions before making any purchases. But there are a number of online platforms for great finds, and for something a little fancier, I'd try Poshmark, eBay, and Etsy.

3. Don't underestimate good timing.

Timing can make all of the difference, especially if you are buying something more expensive. A couple of years ago, I used my outdated TV for longer than was ideal so I could purchase a snazzy new Vizio on Cyber Monday. My patience saved me almost 30% off.

Another year, I wanted to get my mom and mother-in-law tablets to help stay connected with us, but once I realized Amazon devices would be deeply discounted through Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I waited until I could snap up some reduced-price Amazon Fire tablets.

4. Go faux.

For less expensive items, you'd be surprised at the markdowns you'll find come December 26, even on Christmas decorations. About 10 years ago, right after the holidays, I bought a deeply discounted artificial tree that lasted until 2018, and I just replaced it with a new one.

Video by Mariam Abdallah

5. Set deal alerts.

Deal alerts are a particularly handy tool for pricier items. I use a site called Slickdeals.net. I enter the name of the item I have my eye on, I go about my business, and the site notifies me when my item is on sale. 

An example of how this has worked for me: I'd wanted a robotic vacuum for ages, but I waited until I received a deal alert and saved over 30%. This can help during the holidays if you're looking for big gifts, like a new laptop or an Xbox for your favorite gamer.

6. Use free digital tools to help save online.

Online shopping has increased steadily over the last several years. Since the pandemic, many sources predict a steep incline, including Discover, which found that 74% of consumers will be shopping more online this year. 

If you plan to shop online for the holidays, installing a free browser extension can help you keep on top of savings opportunities. One of my favorites is the Sidekick by CouponCabin.com, which often has stackable deals like cashback and a percentage off and extra loyalty rewards.

By using tools like this, I've saved over $200 in the last few years. As you browse, the offers just pop up. Click to activate them and shop as you normally would.

7. If you're shopping in-store, plan ahead.

I don't know about you, but if I must buy something in-store right now, I don't want to extend my time there by fussing around with coupons or bar codes to save money. That's one reason I love the Rakuten app. 

I link my credit card to the app and enter a store name for current offers. When I shop with the credit card that I've linked to the account, my cashback is automatically calculated. Rakuten also has a very user-friendly site and browser extension.

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

8. Create your own sale.

If the item I want to buy is not on sale, I try to create my own sale by shopping with a discounted gift card from a site like GiftCardGranny. Right now, for instance, Gap gift cards are 8% off. If I buy the discounted card and use it at Gap, I automatically save 8% on my purchase.

Last year, when my daughter and I were shopping at Gap for her back to school clothes we used this trick, and we saved even more by shopping in the clearance section.

9. Buy in bulk.

It doesn't make sense to buy all of your holiday groceries in bulk, but I do like to buy things that I use a lot, like soup stock, beans, olive oil, minced garlic, grab-and-go snacks in bulk. I've found that bulk buying saves me 20%-40%.

I either shop at Costco, where I have a membership, or on Boxed.com, which doesn't require one.

10. Don't worry about the Joneses.

Ultimately, try not to get caught up in what other people are spending. I spend modestly on holiday gifts, regardless of my financial situation.

It takes some effort to ignore the voice that says, "But they sent you something pricey last year." But my best advice is to give based on your pocketbook and your values.

The article "10 Tips for Saving Hundreds of Dollars This Holiday Season" originally published on Grow+Acorns.

Trae Bodge is an accomplished lifestyle journalist and TV commentator who specializes in personal finance, saving money, and shopping smart. Trae has been named a Top Voice in Retail by LinkedIn and a top personal finance expert by GoBankingRates and FlexJobs.

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