Spending willy-nilly will only cause you more stress.

Mika Mackenzie Dunn
Updated Dec 02, 2020 @ 12:58 pm
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The holidays can be stressful for a lot of reasons, whether it’s navigating tricky family dynamics, having to find a new way to celebrate due to the pandemic, or, most commonly, figuring out how you’re going to get (and afford) gifts for everyone on your list. Recently released consumer spending data from financial company Marcus by Goldman Sachs revealed that half (50%) of Americans think that holiday gift-buying is the most financially stressful event of the year. Couple that with the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and you’ve got yourself an extra taxing 2020 holiday season. Per the data, of the people surveyed who think they’ll spend less on holiday gifts this year, more than half (54%) said it will be because they have less money to spend due to the pandemic. Boy, do we feel that. 

The good news is that if you’re looking for ways to save money while holiday shopping, you’re not alone. For tips on how you can still give to those you love without breaking the bank (and hopefully stay sane in the process), we tapped financial experts and deal-finding pros. Here’s what they had to say. 

How to save money while holiday shopping:

1. Create an actual holiday budget.

Too often when we start our holiday shopping, we spend willy-nilly. Sure, a few gift exchanges with a $25 limit may not sound like much, but it can definitely add up. In fact, studies show that the average American spends close to $1,000 on gifts every holiday season—from your office’s virtual "secret Santa” to the long list of friends and family you want to spoil. That’s why Carmen Perez, a financial advocate for Varo, says it's important not just to set a budget but to be really brutally realistic about it. 

“Before you create a budget, buy gifts, and start decorating, the best thing you can do is figure out how much you can realistically save and by what date you can save this money,” she says.  For example, if you have four weeks left to buy gifts and you get paid bi-weekly, figure out how much money you can potentially put aside from paycheck after all essential bills are paid (like rent, car insurance, utilities, etc.). Once you know how much you can safely save, you can start making a budget. As Perez tells us, "This is a great way to curb impulsive buying and stay focused." 

Just don’t forget to include things like holiday food/groceries for virtual or in-person potlucks, wrapping paper, decorations, donations (remember those are tax-deductible), and other incidentals. Then, Perez tells us to be diligent about tracking your spending, as this will help you stay accountable. "I like to keep my holiday budget with me (on my phone or on paper), especially when I am out and about, so I don’t get carried away when shopping," she says.

2. Make a list and check it (more than) twice.

Next, Perez suggests creating your gift list and organizing it from highest priority to "would be nice to send something, but not critical." According to her, this allows you to focus on your gifting and not buy presents just because. “Once you organize your list, research the gift you would like to get the person and make sure you deduct it from your budget,” she says. Once you've spent all your gift budget on paper, that's it! No more spending.

Obviously, this isn’t meant to take the fun out of shopping for your loved ones but rather incentivize you to be more mindful about what you’re giving and to whom. If you need help creating a budget, certain apps like Mint and Goodbudget provide simple tools that can get you started. We've listed a few more budgeting apps below, too.

3. Avoid last-minute shopping.

Ricardo Flores, a financial advisor at The Product Analyst, recommends shopping early if you can to make sure that the gifts you plan to buy are in stock and can be delivered in time. “Waiting until the last minute and panic spending is an easy way to shell out more money than you intend to,” he tells us. 

4. Get social.

Flores also recommends checking out your favorite stores and retailers on social media. "The majority of brands today have moved to social media to stay connected to their customers," he says. "So follow your favorite brands and retailers, and sign up for their emails and newsletters to receive notifications on any sales, flash deals, and other ways you can
save some money for your holiday shopping." This way, you can be sure to get your gifts at the best possible price and cut down on buyer's remorse later on.

5. Use cash-back apps and coupon browser extensions.

When it comes to saving money while holiday shopping, technology is your friend. And the fact that more people plan to shop online this year could add big benefits when it comes to sniffing out under-the-radar discounts. Browser extensions like Cently and Honey automate coupon code savings at checkout, while cash-back apps like Dosh—which is recommended by consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch—link to your credit card and automatically give you cash back when you shop at partner retailers including Walmart, Sephora, and Instacart.

“When you’re done shopping, you can also upload all your receipts to apps like the Fetch Rewards app to earn points good towards free store gift cards to retailers like Target, Walmart, or Amazon,” says Woroch. You can even earn 4,000 points for referring friends to the app, which translates into $4 worth of gift cards instantly! According to Woroch, these are both options that are savvy and convenient ways to save.

Best apps for saving money during the holidays:

  • Honey - Thanks to the Honey web plugin, you can get coupon codes for any item without really trying. All you have to do is install the plugin to your browser and shop on your favorite sites, and discounts will automatically generate for you.
  • Raise - Instead of letting unwanted gift cards go another day unused, you can sell them on Raise. On the flip side, you can also purchase discounted gift cards from popular retailers such as Macy’s, Nike, and Sephora to regift or use towards your shopping!
  • Intuit Mint - This app allows you to see all of your finances in one place by connecting your checking, savings, and other financial accounts through the mobile app. You can also set financial goals for yourself within the app and track your progress.
  • CashApp - A great way to stick to your budget is by utilizing a payment service, like CashApp, as a temporary holiday expense account. You’re probably most familiar with CashApp from using it to send and receive money directly through the app. But did you know you can also sign up for a loadable CashApp card that you can use as a temporary debit card?
  • Groupon - From experience gifts to discounted beauty products like this DevaCurl No-Poo & Conditioner set, Groupon is a great place to get deals on presents. All you have to do is browse the site’s categories until you find something that interests you.
  • Afterpay - Credit cards are no longer the only way to make a purchase without paying upfront. Afterpay is a service that allows you to buy items and pay in four interest-free installments.
  • Klarna - This is yet another service that allows you to purchase items and pay in interest-free installments. Here’s a full list of brands that accept this service—some of our favorites being Asos, PrettyLittleThing, and Planet Blue.
  • Krazy Coupon Lady - Thanks to the art of couponing, you can still buy extravagant gifts at deeply discounted prices. Krazy Coupon Lady is an app that makes “obsessive” couponing enjoyable and accessible directly from your mobile device. By using this app, you gain access to couponing tips and deal alerts, resulting in unbelievable discounts.

Smart shopping is happy shopping. Best of luck!