The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to climb to $655.8 billion this year, an increase of 3.6 percent over the numbers for last November and December. Yet, many consumers are looking for ways to trim holiday spending.
Here are six tips that will help you get a head start on your financial resolutions for 2017 without seeming like Scrooge.
1. Shop Black Friday sales at Amazon, Target and more.
Don’t wait until the Thanksgiving turkey is thawing to study Black Friday sales circulars — and don’t neglect shopping online. Benjamin Glaser, features editor for DealNews, said savvy shoppers should take a cue from Santa and start making their lists and checking them twice.
“DealNews already has its Black Friday predictions out, and major stores will release their holiday ads in early November,” he said. “These should give you a good idea of what popular gifts will cost so you won’t get fooled by a price that is advertised as a discount, but is more expensive than at another store.”
Additionally, shoppers should check retailers’ websites for online deals before hitting the stores. The odds are good that you might not need to brave the Black Friday fray.
“Online shopping is a great way to compare prices at a huge range of stores,” said Glaser. “And it helps that many of the most competitive deals are at online retailers these days. Though a handful of doorbuster deals are available only in stores, almost all are now available online as well.”
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Indeed, the best Black Friday deals might not be at brick-and-mortar stores at all, despite doorbusters and other holiday hoopla.
“According to our records, Amazon has been the top store for the best Black Friday deals for many years, and 2016 will be no exception,” Glaser said. “However, Target, Walmart and Best Buy are also regularly in the top five. If you want to act quickly and snag deals before they’re gone, you might want to stick with these major players.”
So, for those who prefer the full-contact sport of holiday shopping at the nearest strip mall, it probably pays to start at big-box stores and national chains.
2. Earn cash or credit at GameStop and Amazon by trading in.
Several retailers, including GameStop, Amazon, Staples and Best Buy, offer trade-in programs that allow you to earn money toward new items, usually in the form of store credit or gift cards.
For example, GameStop accepts used games, game consoles, phones, tablets and related accessories. And with the holidays approaching, its website is showcasing several trade-in deals that offer extra credit toward hot items, including the PlayStation VR, a virtual reality headset for the PS4 game console.
Amazon customers who trade in electronics, books, CDs and other eligible items can get gift cards good toward new Amazon purchases. Savvy shoppers can check the Trade-In store for a list of eligible items and print free shipping labels to send off their used stuff. Trade-in programs at Staples, Best Buy and other retailers work in much the same way and might also be available at the retailers’ brick-and-mortar locations.
3. Search for shipping deals from Target, Macy’s and others.
Study up on shipping policies in order to devote those dollars to gift buying and other holiday expenses. Retailers, including Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, have generous shipping policies with both upscale department stores shipping almost everything available online anywhere in the U.S. for free — with no minimum purchase required.
Target offers free standard shipping for online orders over $25 and relaxes minimum purchase requirements for Target REDcard holders. Additionally, Macy’s offers free shipping for beauty products and other online orders of at least $99 and provides some special shipping discounts to select store credit card holders.
But there’s no need to stop at saving on shipping. If you’ve used online shopping sites like American Airlines’s AAdvantage eShopping mall, you know that portals can help you pile up travel rewards points. But there are similar sites that offer perks, such as free shipping and discounts, to help fund holiday shopping.
As its name implies, FreeShipping.com features free shipping offers from more than 1,000 retailers, including Target, Best Buy and Macy’s. It also offers registered users 10 percent cash back, free return shipping via FedEx Ground, exclusive coupon offers and low-price guarantees on purchases made through the site.
“We also hold special promotions during peak shopping periods throughout the year — Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, Free Shipping Day, Labor Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend and the back-to-school season, to name a few — when members can earn 20 percent cash back either sitewide or at the top retailers in a specific category,” said Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, the e-commerce solutions provider that owns FreeShipping.com.
4. Find coupons, promo codes and other discounts.
According to polls conducted through Winq, a social polling app aimed at millennials, 41 percent of respondents believe taking advantage of price-cutting promo codes is the best way to save money at big retailers this holiday shopping season. And with the abundance of apps, websites and browser add-ons available these days, finding coupon codes has never been easier.
Mike Catania, chief technology officer of PromotionCode.org, said he’s seeing about 20 percent more coupons listed on the site now compared with this time last year.
“Further, though Black Friday and Cyber Monday garner most of the headlines, we’re seeing exponential growth in offers for the niche holidays: Green Monday Deals, Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday,” said Catania. “‘Niche’ is a somewhat relative term, of course: 2015’s Green Monday tallied over a billion dollars in retail sales. There are less-known sites that specialize in these one-off sub-holidays, like GreenMondayDeals.com and AmEx’s ShopSmallNow.com.”
Green Monday promotions often follow an environmentally conscious theme. As the last day to order online from most retailers without having to pay express shipping, the event falls on Dec. 12 this year, so few sites have specific deals posted yet. But retailers, including Walmart, Best Buy and Overstock.com, already have their Green Monday sites set up.
In addition to these specialized sites, there are add-ons and apps that can help shoppers save on everything from holiday gifts to groceries for family feasts. PriceBlink is a free browser add-on that automatically searches the web while you’re shopping to find better prices, coupon codes or free shipping on the items you’re investigating online.
“Users save an average of 15 percent to 20 percent every time they use the tool while shopping online, and it even has a new price alert feature that lets users know when a specific item has gone on sale at any of the 21,000 websites that PriceBlink monitors,” said Karl Quist, president of PriceBlink.
The PriceBlink site also offers a feature that lets shoppers search for coupon codes from retailers, even when they aren’t actively cyber shopping.
Flipp is a mobile app that shows shopping circulars from more than 800 retailers in one place. It also aggregates virtual coupons offering savings of 20 percent to 70 percent for groceries, household products and other items that are easy to “clip and organize” within the app itself — especially for users who already have loyalty cards at retailers that partner with Flipp.
5. Book holiday vacations through Costco or Sam’s Club.
The warehouse stores aren’t just places to stock up on paper towels and snag free food samples. Both have travel services that offer club members deals and discounts on vacation packages and other travel-related services.
For example, Sam’s Club Travel is currently advertising $40 off bookings at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, among other offers.
Costco Travel also features discounts at select hotel chains and even has a page devoted to discounted holiday cruise packages, many of which offer shipboard credit or Costco Cash Cards as part of the deal. Costco members who hold a Costco Anywhere Visa credit card can also earn 3 percent cash back on eligible travel purchases, even if they aren’t through the warehouse club’s travel service.
So, whether you’re planning to take to the seas for the holiday season or are simply looking for a room at the inn, consider investing in a warehouse club membership.
6. Take advantage of Kohl’s Cash and other retailer rewards programs.
Many stores offer rewards programs and perks year-round. Those savings sometimes stack up even faster during the holiday season, when retailers are wooing shoppers with store credit and gift cards aimed at encouraging generous gift giving — and holiday spending sprees.
“One particular store with a great rewards program is Kohl’s. They regularly offer store credit — Kohl’s Cash — with purchases throughout the year,” said Glaser. “But, during Black Friday, they offer Kohl’s Cash at a higher rate. Just be careful — you have to use the Kohl’s Cash soon after your initial purchase during a specified redemption period, or it will expire.”
Target offers discounts through its Cartwheel app, which features a redperks program in some cities that lets users earn points toward free merchandise.
“For years, coupon sites’ apps dominated those of retailers, but Target led the way in bringing back the in-house app with Cartwheel, the hands-down best retailer app,” said Catania. “It’s free to download and covers every aspect of shopping at Target — down to the aisle location of the product you need to buy.”
Target’s website also runs a $5 off $50 deal around the holidays, he added.
“But, since there’s no incremental increase, break your order up into $50 chunks and take — for all intents and purposes — 10 percent off your order.”
Plus, the retailer frequently doles out Target gift cards when shoppers buy certain advertised items. If you haven’t already, download the retailer’s Cartwheel app to start clipping virtual coupons on everyday items. Then, use the Target gift cards, savings and redperks you garner to buy stocking stuffers — or maybe a little something for yourself.