Sure, Black Friday deals were good. But what about the next enticing round of sales?
You know, the ones that start the day after Christmas, when a new round of price cutting starts as stores try to offload excess holiday inventory and make room for spring items.
But is it really worth heading to the mall, especially when you’ve probably already stretched your December budget to the breaking point?
We asked money-saving consumer expert Andrea Woroch for her advice on navigating those post-holiday sales. She told us what to buy, what to pass on–and, more importantly, how to outsmart stores to keep your spending in check.
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1. Make a List
“It’s just like holiday shopping,” Woroch says. “Bring a list, so you can avoid impulse purchases.” This is especially important now since you probably already spent a lot of money in December on gifts, charity and travel.
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2. Swap Those Gift Cards
Did you get any not-so-awesome gift cards for the holidays? Luckily, December 26th is Gift Card Exchange Day, when you can swap unwanted cards for cash using this website.
And even if you don’t have a gift card to turn in, you can still snag deeply discounted ones. “After Christmas, you’re going to have a lot of gift cards available through sites like Gift Card Granny or Cardpool,” Woroch says. You can find cards for up to an 87% discount that you can use at retailers, restaurants and even hotels.
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3. Shop Department Stores
If you want to find steep discounts, the clearance section of department stores is your destination, where “you can find quality, brand-name merchandise, instead of generic brands offered at big-box stores,” Woroch says. And places like Kohl’s and Macy’s will offer coupons to bring down the prices even more.
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4. Eye That Winter Merchandise
Retailers are trying to clear out sweaters, boots and coats before spring goods come in, so they’ll drop prices even further. If you could still use a puffy jacket or a cashmere sweater, now’s the time to get it. Just avoid high-end merchandise. You won’t find discounts on items like Apple electronics, North Face jackets and other luxury brands. These discounts would have come before the holidays.
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5. Exchange Wisely
Stores know that you’ll be coming in to make exchanges–and they’ll try to capture your dollars while you’re there. So first check to see which online stores offer free returns, so you can avoid the mall or store altogether.
If you have things that you need to return in person, make a list of what you want and need to keep focused as you pass those loud sale signs on the way to the register. And don’t forget to check out the clearance section to see if you can get more for less of your exchange dollars.
“If there’s not necessarily something you need right now, you might want to get a store credit to give yourself time to think about what you want,” Woroch says. “And don’t feel like you need to spend a gift card because it won’t expire for five years.” Of course, if you can get cash back, that’s ideal.
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6. Stock Up on Holiday Items
Focus on getting things for next year’s holiday season, like decorations and wrapping paper–they’ll be priced to move … and quickly. Just make sure that you’re buying what you’ll definitely use next year–not because they happen to be “cheap” or a “bargain.” Instead, pick up twinkle lights to replace the ones that short-circuited or get decorations that weren’t quite in your budget this holiday.
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7. Beware of Tricky Deals
“You’re going to see lots of buy-two-get-one-free deals,” Woroch says. “But it’s important to note that you’re likely to spend an extra $25 you wouldn’t have.” Translation: If you only want one sweater, but you end up paying for two to get the third free, you’ve overspent on merchandise you weren’t looking for in the first place.
Also watch out for those “Limited Time” or “Today Only” deals that will fill up your email inbox post holidays. They create a sense of urgency, potentially convincing you to spend on unwanted stuff that you really didn’t need (you got enough of that from Aunt Claire!) just to get a great deal.