Pandemic-weary Americans are eager to enjoy some of their holiday traditions — shopping included. Most shopping is expected to happen online to a greater degree than ever this year as retailers scale back in-store events. But consumers who want to venture to stores will find plenty of deals and fewer people competing for them.
However you plan to shop this year, it’s a good idea to come up with a strategy for making the most of your budget. With that in mind, GOBankingRates has come up with 29 ways to help you save on holiday gifts this year.
Last updated: Dec. 8, 2020
1. Buy Discounted Gift Cards
It sounds tacky, but don’t worry — no one’s suggesting you actually give a used gift card to loved ones. Instead, “buy discounted gift cards from your favorite stores, and then use those discounted gift cards to buy actual gifts for your friends, family and loved ones to open on Christmas Day,” said Debt Free Guys’ John Schneider and David Auten. “This strategy can save as little as 1% and as much as 25%.”
Check out one of several popular gift-card exchanges such as Gift Card Granny and Cardpool. According to estimates from Schneider and Auten, a shopper could cut $10 to $250 from a $1,000 shopping budget.
2. Shop With a Rewards Credit Card
Don’t do your holiday shopping with any old credit card. Shop smarter by using a rewards credit card that pays you back.
Depending on which rewards would be most useful to you, do all your holiday shopping with a card that offers them.
3. Cash In on Gift-Card Special Promotions
Many retailers and restaurants aim to lure a high volume of shoppers in December with extra gift-card freebies. Buy a $50 gift card, for example, and get a $10 bonus. Merchants such as the Gap, Applebee’s, Jamba Juice and The Children’s Place have used this strategy, DealNews.com reported.
With businesses still feeling the sting of pandemic-related losses, promotions might look a little different this year. But a savvy shopper can use freebie gift cards and bonuses to buy additional gifts or to give as tokens of teacher appreciation during the holidays. In either event, bonus cards make for a fast and easy way to save on holiday shopping.
4. Buy Bulk Gift Cards at Warehouse Stores
Many huge warehouse stores, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, offer multi-pack gift cards at a steep discount. Although fewer people are dining out because of COVID-19, Costco still offers cards to major restaurants such as McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant and Carrabba’s Italian Grill for 20% to 25% off. So for a $100 gift card, you might only have to pay $75.
Sam’s Club also offers discounted gift cards to major retailers and eateries ranging from Philly Pretzel Factory to Morton’s The Steakhouse.
5. Shop Via a Cash-Back Site
“One way I save money on holiday gifts is to use cash-back sites while shopping online,” said personal finance writer Louis DeNicola. The sites have links to many major retailers’ websites.
How does it work? You click on a link through a site such as Rakuten or BeFrugal, and then shop as you normally would. The sites receive commissions from retailers, and in turn, they share a portion of that commission with you in the form of cash back. “You usually get between 1 and 5% percent of the purchase price back, but sometimes you can get as much as 10 or 20%,” DeNicola said. “Plus, it stacks with any credit card rewards you earn.”
6. Take Advantage of Kohl’s Cash
Kohl’s shoppers know the discount department store regularly offers $10 Kohl’s Cash for every $50 in purchases. Turbocharge your savings by combining Kohl’s Cash with coupons and promotional discounts.
For example, a recent coupon code gave customers 20% off online orders. A product promotion slashed $10 off a minimum $40 purchase. A customer who spent $100 on the promoted products would’ve saved $20 with the coupon code and $10 with the product promotion, gotten another $10 off by redeeming Kohl’s Cash — and earned another $10 in Kohl’s Cash to spend on a future shopping spree.
7. Skip the Gift Exchange Altogether
Even under ideal circumstances, the entire process of shopping for, exchanging and perhaps returning unwanted gifts can be a huge hassle. And with millions of people suffering from personal and financial hardships stemming from COVID-19, this holiday season hardly can be considered ideal. So why not skip the entire gift exchange altogether?
“Give your friends and family the gift of no gifts,” said Teresa Mears, publisher of Living on the Cheap. “Free them from the burden of shopping for things you don’t need and they can’t afford.” Not buying gifts is probably the fastest and surest way to save on holiday spending.
8. Collect Cash for Completing Online Surveys
A number of sites, such as Harris Poll Online and MyPoints, offer consumers rewards in exchange for filling out online surveys. How does it work? Spend a few minutes taking an online survey, and you can receive points that then can be traded in for a gift card from one of several well-known retailers, including Amazon, iTunes and Starbucks.
Amanda Abella, personal finance expert and author of “Make Money Your Honey,” said she likes the site Swagbucks, which rewards members for watching videos and shopping online. Abella uses the site all year long and then cashes in her points at year-end for gift cards, saving her money on holiday shopping. “By the time the holidays come around, you should have enough points to exchange for gift cards — which means you don’t end up spending anything on gifts,” she said.
9. Give Someone an ‘Experience’ Gift
Subscriptions and memberships are gifts that people enjoy long after the holidays. But they aren’t always cheap. Even so, a high-quality “experience” gift doesn’t have to break the bank.
Deal sites such as Groupon and Living Social are fantastic resources, said money expert Stefanie O’Connell, author of “The Broke and Beautiful Life.” “The variety of experiences offered fit just about any interest, and the prices fit just about any budget. I’ve gifted everything from walking chocolate tours to whale watching cruises to zip lining — all for half the price (or less) of retail,” she said.
COVID-safe experience gifts run the gamut from outdoor scavenger adventures to admission to a petting farm. If home-based activities are more suitable for the people on your gift list, consider giving them a virtual painting class, or schedule a group escape game you can play together online.
10. Take Someone on a ‘Date’
If running around the city on a scavenger hunt is too adventurous for your friend or family member, or out of your budget, show someone you care with a free version of a date. Jackie Lam, former publisher of Cheapsters, suggested a homemade card with a proposal for something the two of you can do together later in the year.
“It can be simple and doesn’t have to cost too much money, such as a trip to the zoo or a picnic in the park,” she said. “You’ll get to spend some quality time with them and won’t have as much debt or stress during the holidays.”
If you live in a city with a free zoo, such as Chicago, you could spend time together at no cost. Consider that instead of a zip-lining tour for two and save about $125.
11. Go Holiday Shopping Early
The most popular holiday gifts won’t be on sale around the holidays, said Grayson Bell of Debt Roundup. “The best and most cost-effective way to save money on holiday gifts is to shop early and often throughout the year,” he said.
By starting early, shoppers can track product costs throughout the year, swooping in to buy cheap holiday gifts when prices are at their lowest.
12. Host a Holiday Gift Exchange
Those with large families have the most to save on holiday shopping by finding a way to streamline the process. Debt-free life coach Lauren Greutman suggests that costs can be cut by hosting a holiday gift exchange instead of buying a gift for every person in the family.
Of course, the times being what they are, you’ll have to work together to pull off the exchange. Each family member can mail the gift to its recipient — or shop online and have it delivered to the recipient’s home. Once all the gifts have arrived, you can gather online to open them together.
13. Take Advantage of New Credit Card Perks
If you aren’t struggling with credit card debt and don’t have too many already opened, you might want to consider opening a new credit card this holiday season in order to save money on your shopping.
14. Sign Up To Receive Emails
Many major retailers offer loyalty coupons to frequent shoppers. Sign up to receive emails from your favorite retailers, and you’ll be notified when clothing drops by 40%, housewares are 20% off or craft supplies can be snatched up for half off. Some retailers even allow shoppers to stack coupons or double up.
15. Use a Coupon App
If you can’t be bothered to collect and carry coupons when shopping, there’s an app for that. Log onto a coupon aggregator app, such as RetailMeNot, and automatically find current coupons for retailers in your immediate geographic location. You also can access coupons using apps from retailers such as Michaels or Walgreens.
16. Leave Your Shopping Cart Unattended
When shopping online, it can pay to leave your items in your shopping cart overnight — as long as you’re registered with the site where you’re shopping. “If their marketing team is decent, you will receive an email within the next 24 hours or so with some kind of incentive to come back and purchase the item,” said Chenell Tull, formerly with Bright Cents.
According to online coupon site Rather-Be-Shopping.com, sites that typically engage in this practice include Bed Bath & Beyond and J.C. Penney.
17. Keep a Year-Long Holiday Gift List
“I have a list of folks I know I’m going to get gifts for,” said Jim Wang of WalletHacks.com. “Throughout the year, if I see something I know they’ll enjoy on sale, I’ll buy it and store it in a closet.”
This is a strategy that requires foresight and hinges on the ability to dedicate storage space. But even so, it can help a savvy shopper save on holiday spending.
18. Share a Meal
There’s little need to exchange a gift with someone if you’d rather just spend time with them. Eric Rosenberg of Personal Profitability likes to replace a gift exchange with a meal with a friend.
“Rather than exchange gifts, I ask my friends to go grab lunch or dinner sometime around the holidays,” he said. “We each pay for ourselves and enjoy a little one-on-one time during a busy time of the year. As a bonus, it saves them a little cash on their gift budget, too.”
COVID-conscious individuals can skip the restaurant and share a meal over Facetime or Zoom. Depending on where you dine and what you drink, you easily could save $40 to $50 or more while relaxing in the safety and comfort of your own homes.
19. Shop Local Seasonal Consignment Sales
Savvy moms have been shopping at local kids’ supply swaps for years, but there’s no reason everyone else can’t score cheap holiday gifts the same way. The secret that many don’t know about consignment sale shopping is that often, new items can be found with tags still attached. That’s a real score for those who want to save on holiday shopping.
Consignment sales often are conducted “pop-up” style, so shoppers will need to be in the know. Local listings can be found on several sites, including Consignment Mommies and Just Between Friends. Savings potential varies by location of the sale, how early you arrive (hint: the earlier, the better), and what’s available when you arrive.
20. Shop Online Consignment Sales
But, you don’t have to leave the house to find a good consignment sale. “I’m a big fan of online consignment for kids’ clothes,” said Josh Elledge, syndicated columnist, TV consumer expert and founder of Savings Angel.
You’ll find gently used and new items at consignment sites such as Kidizen, which specializes in clothing for children. ThredUp, which bills itself as “the largest online consignment & thrift store,” has clothing and shoes for women and kids, with both mall and premium brands among its offerings.
21. Shop Your Local Drugstore for Stocking Stuffers
“Filling Christmas stockings can be almost completely free when you simply take advantage of offers from national drug chains like Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid,” Elledge said. “As Christmas nears, you can find items that end up free after receiving a coupon back — good like cash — on your next shopping order. You’ll have no problem finding 90 to 100% savings on various products.”
Elledge suggested stockings can be stuffed for almost nothing with toothbrushes, gum, mints, sticker books and lip balm — even hand sanitizer, if you’re lucky enough to find it in stock.
22. Shop Big-Box Stores
“If you’re looking for kids’ gifts, then Costco is a place to look,” said Glen Craig at Free From Broke. “They tend to have good prices on toys, but what’s better is you can find toy sets that give you more than what you would find in a toy store.”
Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale sell similar holiday toy sets, but Craig likes Costco the best. “My kids, and wallet, have been happy with their selection,” he said.
23. Make Homemade Confections
Kathleen Celmins, former managing partner at Stacking Benjamins, is no stranger to gifting homemade confections. “My family loves them,” she said. “I send salted caramels or salted caramel sauce plus some other handcrafted treat, along with a note.”
Baked desserts also make delicious gifts — good news for anyone who baked their way through pandemic lockdowns.
24. Propagate Your Houseplants
Most common houseplants can be easily divided to create more plants, just by rooting the cuttings. If you have an aloe plant, Philodendron, spider, begonia or geranium, you can try this at home. It’s an inexpensive way to create gifts for family members, teachers, coaches and friends. The best news: The more cuttings you propagate, the more money you save.
25. Get Crafty
Instead of pulling out your wallet, check out what you have in your house and figure out how to upcycle the stuff you already own into lovely gifts for your loved ones. Metal tea tins can be turned into candles, old jars into snow globes and old buttons into rings.
The cost? Minimal. Pick up a few odds and ends to fill out your projects, and you’re on your way to one of the most cost-effective strategies to save on holiday shopping.
26. Reduce the Number of Gifts You Buy
There has been a real gift proliferation in recent years. Suddenly, it seems we’re required to give everyone a gift. But your BFF from high school who you see twice a year? No doubt, she’d be OK if you didn’t exchange gifts. Even service gifts aren’t obligations, although you might want to remember those who’ve gone above and beyond during the pandemic.
Even so, don’t feel you have to give a gift. Bake cookies or some bread. Use your kitchen dough to save the dough in your wallet.
27. Stick To Your List
It’s easy to add a few extras to your shopping cart when hitting the stores or shopping online. By writing a list — and checking it twice — you’re keeping yourself from being naughty and overspending on holiday gifts.
Impulse shopping easily can double a shopping bill. Instead, create a plan and stick to it.
28. Save All Year Long
Chris “Peach” Petrie of Money Peach suggested holiday shoppers start the new year with a separate holiday savings account and schedule automatic deposits so that the money is there for them when the holidays roll around.
“Shoppers also avoid the financial stress of the holiday because they no longer are wondering, ‘How am I going to pay for that?’” Petrie said.
29. Shop After-Holiday Sales
The pandemic might keep you from seeing your loved ones over the holidays, so there’s no shame in taking advantage of after-holiday sales, which tend to be the most attractive of the entire season. “It may be taboo for most people to even consider this, but shopping after Christmas is an excellent opportunity to get many items at 50% or more off,” said Kirk Chisholm, wealth manager and principal at Innovative Advisory Group. In particular, high-end items often are offered at huge discounts on Dec. 26, he added.
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Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.