10 Money-Saving Holiday Shopping Tips

REAL SIMPLE. REAL LIFE. financial whiz Farnoosh Torabi explains how to make the season merrier for your wallet.

Photo by Aya Brackett

Ask for a discount.
Go on, don’t be shy: It’ll work more often than you think, especially in troubled economic times when businesses are struggling to unload inventory. Before you check out, ask a salesperson whether there are any advertised sales you’re unaware of―stores often keep extra coupons on hand. And always push for an additional 10 to 20 percent off slightly damaged items, floor models, and high-ticket purchases such as sofas, plasma TVs, and luxury goods.

Pay it forward.
Instead of buying friends and relatives yet another reindeer sweater or DVD, make a donation in their names to a charitable organization. (Search for your favorite causes at sites like changingthepresent.org, guidestar.org, and charitynavigator.org.) A personalized greeting card will announce the contribution to them―without revealing the actual dollar amount.

Keep your receipts.
Sales crop up throughout the holiday season, and there’s a good chance the item you buy today will be discounted―sometimes as soon as the following week. Most major retailers will give you a price adjustment up to ten days after the original purchase, as long as you have the paperwork.

Use cash.
Credit cards have a funny way of blurring how much you’ve spent, whereas doling out greenbacks allows you to keep track of exactly where you are within your budget. Plus, some mom-and-pop stores will offer up to a 10 percent discount for cash purchases―since they’re sick of getting squeezed by their banks with a 2 to 3 percent interchange fee for credit card transactions.

Shop online.
Many websites have exclusive holiday sales that aren’t available in stores. To get the most bang for your buck, focus on sites like zappos.com and revolveclothing.com that offer free shipping―even on returns.

Scour the web for coupons.
Type the name of your chosen retailer plus the phrase “coupon code” into your search browser, and you’re likely to find deals that range from a percentage off the total purchase to gratis shipping.

Don’t discount discount chains.
Pricey brand-name merchandise that doesn’t sell in stores often ends up at markdown meccas like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and Loehmann’s, as well as online discount stores such as overstock.com. (Outlets, including Nordstrom Rack and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, are also great destinations for high-end merchandise at a fraction of the original price.) Remember: a Polo shirt is a Polo shirt, regardless of what it says on the box.

Consider buying in bulk.
Snapping up more than one or two of the same item―such as books, clothing, and cosmetics―may earn you a discount, especially at stores that are liquidating. Besides, buying ten candles in your favorite scent is a great way to knock out no-brainer gifts for Secret Santa exchanges, your hairdresser, and the like.

Avoid opening store credit cards.
Stay strong when the salesclerk offers you a discount on your purchase for opening up a store card. While it may be tempting in the moment, the interest rates on those cards tend to be steep, and opening up lots of accounts can affect your credit rating down the line.

Gift a favor.
Time really is money―just ask all those frazzled people on your list. Wrap up a hand-made I.O.U. promising your pal a weekend of babysitting, pet care, or house-cleaning. Then make sure to keep insisting that they take you up on it.