[This article about holiday sales may contain affiliate links at no cost to you]
The holidays are a wonderful time of year although this year they might be a bit different. For many of us, it’s a time where family and celebrations are front and center. It’s always nice to see the people you rarely see even if it has to be over Zoom this time around. That certainly helps take your mind off the cold weather and skies that darken way too early. However, it’s also a time of wonderful holiday sales for those of us who like to shop.
The holidays, beyond being a time to celebrate have always been a huge time for shopping. However, it seems like each year, this part of the holidays just gets bigger and bigger. There are gifts to get and massive sales that draw thousands of people to stores out on specific days.
The internet has made accessing these sales easier than ever and entire days have sprung up around massive sales that customers can take advantage of each year. There’s Black Friday, a day known for massive discounts but now these big sales are moving online even more this year and often last far longer than one day.
Cyber Monday, Singles Day and all sorts of other names have been thrown around for the great deals you can find during the holiday season. However, the reality is that the holiday sales last throughout the holiday season now. Sure, some of the best deals might happen on those days, but it’s often also true that many great deals exist beyond them.
The best thing about the internet is that it can help you find and make the most of those deals when they pop up. However, that can lead to some troubles too. The easy of buying items make it very easy to overspend on things you didn’t really plan on buying.
After all, these sales are designed to make you impulse buy. Often, there’s a short time period for the offer and many have a ticking countdown when they expire. Oh no, better buy before it runs out!
Sure, holiday sales are great BUT they’re not so great if you end up buying ten things you didn’t mean to buy. On top of that, since you’re already spending a lot of money, it’s important not to overboard.
However, that can be tough. That’s why I’m here with seven ways to take advantage of all these holiday deals, save more money while doing so and not overspend.
Make a List of Things You Want and Set a Budget
This one is simple but very important. It’s really the key strategy to make sure you don’t overspend!
Right now, the holiday sales season hasn’t really started. That gives you plenty of time to sit down with a piece of paper and make a list of all the things you actually want to buy. You can do this on your phone too if it’s easier to keep track of those things there.
The idea behind this is simple. If you want or need something, it shouldn’t be too hard to put it down on a list. After all, at this point you should have an idea of what you’re actually looking for. That can be things you want yourself or gifts you want to buy for others.
As you’re listing these things, keep an eye of the estimated value of these items. It’s very easy to just list 80 items but you have to be realistic and work within your budget. I can’t tell you how much you should spend on the holidays. It’s an individual question. However, it’s important not to put yourself in a spot where you’re paying off holiday bills and stressing over money well into next year.
If you want more flexibility on your holiday budget, maybe cut back on other items. Want to spend more on gifts then cut back on that daily lunch at work or make the coffee at home.
Don’t just put new TV, new fancy bag, new computer if you don’t actually need those things and/or can’t come close to affording them. However, be reasonable and allow yourself some want items as well as long as they don’t take you outside of the realm of affordability.
Also, you don’t have to be overly specific unless it’s absolutely important that you get a specific item. A winter jacket might be a more reasonable item than specific brand specific model jacket. After all, it’s a lot easier to find a sale on a winter jacket than one specific model. However, certain things will naturally need to be specific. If your nephew wants a Batman toy, he won’t be too happy if you get him the knock off Ratman figurine.
Think hard about what you may want to buy in the next month because this list will be important. Once you’re done, put it away for a day or two and then come back to it. This break will let you think and see if you missed anything. You can even remove stuff if you don’t really feel like you actually want it.
I find that sometimes waiting a day may make you change your mind one way or the other when it comes to buying things. It’s important to be thorough as this part matters.
Once the list is done, lock it in and move on.
After that, the list becomes your guidepost for what you’re going to buy during the holiday season. In essence, after this, you’ve taken the decision making process out of the shopping experience.
Think about it this way. If you can’t think of an item you want during this period, do you really want it? You’ve given yourself two days to think and ponder and this is the list you came up with. Do other things matter?
Naturally, things may need to be added. Sometimes, you simply forget someone. It’s OK to allow yourself some flexibility around the list but make it limited, a few items at most.
Need an example? Here’s a simple template you can use. Just print it out and start filling it out.
Downloadable Holiday Shopping List Template
There’s a spot for yourself, gifts for others and any extras you may forget. This should be more than big enough to get everything you want and more. I would keep the extras area limited to a few items and potentially only those you forgot to see how many items were added after your initial thoughts.
Sounds restrictive? It’s really not because after all, you were the one to decide what you want. How likely is it that you’ll be a different person one month from now who wants something new? If you need more than a few days to think about it go for it but try to finish before the big sales start.
Yes, there’ll be some items that come up for sale where you’ll be like ‘ah crap, I really want that’ but did you really? If it didn’t make your list then did you really want it or are you buying into the holiday sales mania. After all, you define the things you want and need to buy during the next month. Those are the things you should be buying and nothing else.
It’s very easy to buy crap just because it’s 50% off but 50% off is still more than $0 if it’s an item you didn’t really want.
Look at Websites that Aggregate Deals for You
Now that you’ve defined your lists, you want to keep an eye out for these items and see if they go on sale.
There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is to simply check the stores that offer them and keep track of when items go on sale. This is easiest to do via wish lists and checking those during big sales(Cyber Monday, Black Friday, etc.).
However, that’s not very easy to do which is why I prefer other methods.
First, sign up for an account on the slickdeals website. It’s an awesome website where many many deals are posted. On top of that, the forums are one of the best resources online when it comes to finding amazing deals any time of year. The deal sleuths there will make it easy to figure out where you want to shop whether it be now or on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Honestly, any time I plan to buy something big, I check slickdeals to see if there’s a big sale on it somewhere.
If you do plan to brave the stores on Black Friday, slickdeals has amazing guides for what’s good at each store.
Second, check out CamelCamelCamel. This is a price tracker for Amazon that shows you the historical prices for any item sold on Amazon. It can give you a good idea if items ever go on sale and whether it’s worth waiting for a drop or if the current price is as good as it gets. I almost always use camelcamelcamel when buying smaller items. They have an extension you can add to Firefox or Chrome that makes it really easy to check any item you’re buying.
Check out Reddit
I know what you’re thinking. Reddit? Isn’t that the website where people with meaningless jobs waste away their workday?
First of all, how dare you judge me. Second of all, yes but it’s also a great source of deals!
If you’re looking for deals on certain items, sign up for a Reddit account! Reddit, the front page of the internet is a great time waster. However, it’s also a surprisingly amazing way to stay up to date on deals online or in store. The below are my favorite subreddits for various things you may want to buy.
- r/frugalmalefashion for men’s clothing
- r/frugalfemalefashion for women’s clothing
- r/deals for random deals
- r/dealsreddit for more of randomness
- r/buildapcsales for all your PC part needs
- r/gamedeals for all your gaming gifts
- r/buyitforlife as a catch all when buying expensive thing you expect to last a long time(not really deals but great for asking questions and getting opinions on quality items)
I’m sure you can find more depending on what type of items you’re looking to buy.
The reason I like Reddit is that you can follow all of the above and then just have a page full of deals on at all times. The subreddits vary by quality. However, I almost never buy clothing without checking or seeing a deal on one of the fashion subreddits anymore. I also almost always check out buyitforlife for advice on quality items. The people on a lot of these are very helpful. You can often find coupon codes as well to save even more money!
Overall, slickdeals and/or reddit should give you a fantastic head start on making that list become a reality. Naturally, you won’t find everything on your list on sale but these websites do a fantastic job of aggregating the many holiday deals out there. On top of that, you can see whether these items ever go on sale(some don’t) and buy accordingly.
However, there’s still more savings to be had even if you strike out there.
Find Coupon Codes!
One of the best parts about shopping online is the additional savings that can come with it. You not only get the savings from the sale but you can get even more.
You should never buy anything online or in store without first searching *store* coupon code on google. It’s an simple step to check for the availability of coupon codes that will save you money or at least garner free shipping. Not all stores will have coupon codes but many will. Any time you’re checking out and see a spot for a coupon code, you should definitely do the search.
Another way to go about this is to use extensions like Honey or Wikibuy. Both of these extensions can be added to your browser and automatically search for and apply coupon codes for you. It’s a great alternative if you want to be lazy.
They also have other benefits. Wikibuy for example will tell you if an item you’re looking at is available elsewhere at a lower price. That’s very useful!
Use the Right Credit Cards
Next, make sure to check your credit card rewards and use the correct cards when shopping at different stores. Most rewards cards these days will pay 1% at most stores and some cards have as much as 6% cash back on certain categories so it makes sense to use them wisely.
If you have a card that gives 5% back at department stores, you should be using that card there. Just make sure to pay off the bill before it comes due so you’re not paying interest charges. Remember, credit cards are not free money. You are borrowing cash for the short term with a very high interest rate so it makes sense to pay them off ASAP. If you get 6% cash back but have to pay a 21% interest rate, that’s not a good deal for you.
The other perk that comes with credit cards beyond cash back is that many of them have offers now! This is a less well known benefit of many credit cards but it makes sense to log onto your credit card website and see if you can spot any offers.
For example, my American Express card has 100 offers available to me. Spend $50 at J.Crew and get $10 back? If I’m shopping there already then that’s a free $10 for me. Hell, there’s even one right now that has 15% back at Starbucks up to $5. I know a lot of people stop there each morning so make sure to take advantage of that if you can!
Since I’ve had my card, I’ve gotten $197 in cash back offers from American Express. 99% of the offers they have don’t appeal to me but if I’m already shopping at a store, I’ll take it. My most recent reward was $30 for my regular purchases of medicine for my older puppy.
My Chase credit card has similar offers as well with a variety of 10%-20% cash back offers right now. These might not directly tie in with any holiday sales but it never hurts to check.
Remember, credit cards are great and have awesome benefits. However, some people can lose control and you certainly don’t want to carry large balances month to month due to high interest rates. It may make sense to use cash(or paypal) at times if you can’t manage this part well.
Utilize Cash Back Websites and Apps
There’s a variety of websites out there that do this. The basic premise is that these websites offer a % of your spend at certain stores if you access the store through their app, website or extension.
They’re able to do this because of affiliate agreements(or advertising agreements) with stores or brands that pay them a portion of sales. They then share a portion of the gained revenue with you. This is in addition to any cash back you get through your credit card as well so that’s a nice double bonus.
My favorite of these websites is Rakuten. I like it because it’s simple, non-invasive and easy to use. You sign up, install an extension to your browser and Rakuten will tell you when you’re on a store where they have a cash back offer.
Here’s what it looks like when you access a website that Rakuten supports.
You hit activate cash back, it loads the page through their portal and you get 5% cash back on your purchase. If you don’t want to use the extension, you can also just go to their website and load a store from there.
On top of that, you can also access stores through their app or even shop in stores if you add them online before hand.
The reason I like it so much is that it’s super easy to use and it doesn’t bother you with many pop-ups like some other websites of this type I’ve tried. It also doesn’t require you to do any annoying tasks(like adding coupons) to access the cash back. I want something that takes no effort and gives me money back! I also want something that won’t annoy me too much if I’m not actively shopping.
Rakuten does both. Activating it is very easy. Plus, if you’re just browsing, you hit activate later and that’s it, no further bother. If you want the cash back, you activate it and there it goes. Money back in your pocket!
The best part is that the offers are actually quite good and change often. On top of that, they rotate double cash back on a variety of stores and the rewards can get as high as 15% in some stores. That’s a big chunk of change back. Combine that with a holiday sales and some credit card cash back and you’re really saving money.
However, the reality is that most of the offers are much smaller. Still, I’ve gotten 2-5% on average and that ain’t bad. They even have the big name stores like Walmart or Amazon but those often have limited categories.
I’ve gotten cash back at Amazon, Walmart, Kohl’s, 1-800-PetMeds, Chewy, Priceline, Nike, Puma and other stores and it all adds up to a decent chunk of change in the end. It won’t make up for bad spending habits but my latest check was $18.59 for a quarter of frugal spending so I won’t complain.
If you’re not yet a member, here’s a link that will get you $10 after you spend your first $25 using Rakuten.
I’ve made my way through all the cash back apps and this is really the best and simplest one. I use it every time I shop.
Track Your Spending and Remember Your Budget
You made a list, you set a budget and you’re utilizing the above tools. Now, it’s time to track your spending and see how it compares to your budget.
If you did it right, the budget should cover your spending. After all, you’re saving money using a variety of websites so you should be fine.
The key thing with spending is to be realistic about what you can afford.
I’ve talked about credit cards and cash back and deal websites and that’s all great. However, it’s very easy to let the holiday shopping get out of hand. That’s why it’s important to set a clear budget when you make your list and stick to it.
You should have a general idea of what the things you want for yourself and others cost at full price. If that’s within your budget then you’re all set. Otherwise, you might have to revisit your holiday shopping list and remove some things. There’s got to be some items on there that are worth less than others and it’s important to spend within your means.
I can’t tell you what your budget should be for the holiday season. That’s up to you to decide. If you allow yourself to spend more here and make up for it throughout the rest of the year then you’re fine. However, if you know that spending too much on holiday sales will have you panicking about credit card debt later in the year, you might need to be more strict about it.
In either case, it’s key that you track your spending closely. I believe tracking spending is one of the best approaches to sticking with a budget. I think it’s especially important during the holiday season.
It’s very easy to let costs get away if you’re just not looking at how much you’re spending. Out of sight, out of mind. However, if you add the cost of every item you buy on a spreadsheet and see how it compares to what you’ve budgeted, it’s very easy to think again about buying that item that might not have made your list.
The list is important but so is tracking what you’re actually buying. However, it’s still important to take time and appreciate all that’s happening around you.
Enjoy The Holidays and The Holiday Sales!
Hopefully, these seven tips will get you started on a path of reasonable spending.
The goal here isn’t to limit you but to make you think about the items you buy and whether you actually need them. As I said before, the holidays aren’t about spending money as much as the stores may want you to think that’s the case. Remember, most of these items will bring you little value. Think about all the things you own right now that you rarely use. What are the odds that all these new purchases will meet the same fate?
At the end of the day, the holidays are about spending time with the people you love. It doesn’t hurt that you can benefit from sales on things you actually need. If you want to take advantage of the holiday sales season, you have to be smart and patient. There’s a lot of amazing tools on the internet to help you save even more money and I’ve listed most of them here.
That’s why I love shopping during the holidays. The patient shopper can be rewarded immensely with sales that are much better than any other time of year. However, it’s important to be wary of overspending and watch yourself because it’s easy to get sucked into the shopping frenzy that exists out there.
I think these seven tips can help you do that. You start with a list, set a budget and utilize the myriad of tools available to get cash back and find sales. After that you track your spending and stick within your budget. If you do all that, you’ll be able to kill it during the holiday sales season and prevent overspending.
The best part about these tips is that they still work even after the holidays are done. You can still find sales, get cash back and take advantage of great offers all year round which is real nice.
Here’s to a happy, healthy holiday season and good luck finding deals out there during all the holiday sales.