Holiday Shopping Tips and Tricks

With the holiday season approaching, the future is bright with shopping trips, hot chocolate, and an abundance of food and family time. Shopping for the holidays can be both fun and stressful, especially because the holidays are one time during the year when wallets may be stretched and overspending is common. It can be especially difficult for college students to check off every gift on the list without burning a hole in their pockets. The following tips can help your spending savvy set in the second you hit the stores for your first shopping trip of the season.

Make a list and budget.

As always, budget! Before you hit the stores, know how much money you are comfortable with spending. Make a list of the items you are looking to buy, research their price and where you can get the best deal, and create your budget to match your financial needs, as well as your list. While you are shopping, use a discount calculator, available on the App Store and Google Play, to calculate discounts and better understand the prices you’re paying, and to better stick to your budget.

Use cash.

Holiday shopping can sometimes be a burden with the spending that occurs and the number of bills that begin to pile up. An easy way to track your spending and to save money during the holiday season is by using cash. One way to be savvy with your cash is to make an envelope budget. Withdraw only the amount of cash you need and for which you have budgeted, put it in envelope, and write down the gifts you have budgeted for and their price on the front of the envelope. As you purchase each gift, use the cash in the envelope and cross each item off the list. Once the cash is out, your shopping is done!

Explore coupon and shopping apps.

In theory, coupons are great when trying to save. However, who wants to sort through their email, the newspaper and magazines to print and clip coupons? Don’t want to spend your time searching for coupons when you could be out shopping? Download a coupon app! Apps like, Shopular, and RetailMeNot can show you all the sales in your favorite stores, and provide coupons on the spot for both online and in-store purchases. With the quick swipe, you can score deals while in the checkout line.

Similar to coupon apps, shopping apps can help you score deals faster than you can even think of what gifts to buy. Shopping apps like ShopSavvy can help you find the best deals just by scanning a QR or barcode. Once you scan the product’s barcode, the app will generate a list of stores and websites that have the same item, but for a better deal.

Look online before you buy.

Where can you get the best bang for your buck? Instead of going in and out of stores to find the best deal on the perfect gift, check online! Research the gifts you are looking to buy, their reviews, and where the best price is offered. Sometimes you can save by buying gifts online with additional discounts and promotions around the holidays.

Don’t forget to look out for price-matching! Many retailers offer a price-matching guarantee, and they will match a lower-price of the same item if you can find a deal at a competing store. Retailers like Target, Best Buy and Wal-Mart are notorious for their price-matching policies. Use your online and technology resources to shop for the best deals and save with price-matching.

Use credit card rewards.

If you have a credit card, claim rewards over the holiday season by shopping with your credit cards that offer perks. Make sure you know which rewards are offered with each of your credit cards, especially cash-back cards. A cash-back credit card can provide up to 2% back on all purchases, with more cash back for certain purchases like at the gas station or grocery stores. Rewards credit cards can also yield larger rewards from certain stores, products or websites. Making use of these perks can help put a little extra cash in your pocket around the holidays, a time when everyone needs it!

Hold a gift swap.

If you and a group of friends or family members always find yourselves exchanging gifts, consider a gift swap. Instead of purchasing a gift for each of your friends and family members, you can purchase one gift and everyone will still be covered! Gift swaps are an easy way to make sure everyone receives a gift without breaking the bank. Set a price maximum to ensure one gift is not much more expensive than another. This way, everyone on your list will receive a gift, and you will still save!

Cut back on your own spending.

It’s always hard, but cutting back on your own spending will save you money to put towards gifts, or even towards other expenses you have during the holiday season that may be tough to manage. Skip that morning Peppermint Mocha and search for alternative, less expensive ways to stay festive. Checking out local holiday light displays, tree lighting ceremonies, public holiday carols, or holiday parades can keep you in the spirit while also saving you some cash.

Written by Melissa Marchetti ’20, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Smart Money Coach

Some of the information in this article was referenced using the following sources: