Here are 10 shopping tips that I personally use, which will help you save a considerable amount of money buying gifts, without having to give less. Most people are very generous during the holiday season as they naturally want to show thanks & appreciation to their friends & family by getting them something nice for Christmas. But when January arrives, there is anxiety about the size of the credit card statement.
During the last few years people have been going through tougher economic times, and the pressure has mounted to spend less, and cut back on things that are not necessary. Budgeting and belt tightening are very important and necessary for personal finance. However, the initial solution that seems to come up for reducing the total expenditure is almost always either to give less, or give lessor gifts. This has left people feeling guilty for spending less on their loved ones. No one should feel guilty about cutting back and sticking to their budget.
There are other ways to achieve the same reduction in expenses without reducing the number of gifts you will be putting under the tree, reducing the size, or lowering the quality of the gifts you give. The ideas I present entail using a combination of taking advantage of the many opportunities out there, as well as being a bit more thoughtful & creative. They will let you sleep well and feel good about giving, without the huge post-Christmas credit card bill. I’ve used these strategies successfully and will explain how you can be very generous to friends & family, without breaking the bank.
Note: There is no particular ranking associated with each number:
1. Non-tiered Cash Back Credit Cards
• Try to pay for purchases using a non-tiered cash rebate credit card instead of using cash, and purchase from participating retailers.
• The credit card you are using should offer a non-tiered cash back system (not based on minimum purchase amounts or spending levels). This ensures you are getting full percentage points back for each and every dollar you spend.
• Use the credit card that offers the highest cash back rate with no annual fee.
• Depending on the specifics of the card, purchase from participating retailers where the card may give higher percentage points, as much as possible.. Obviously you need to take into account the actual price of the item from retailer to retailer as well.
I currently have an MBNA Smartcash credit card that give 3% cash back (non-tiered) on purchases made at gas stations and grocery stores (up to limit of $600 worth in spending at gas stations & grocery stores per month), and 1% everywhere else (no limit). If I am purchasing a gift card with no and cannot find any other promotional discount greater than the 3%, I will buy it from the grocery store or gas station and get 3% cash back accumulated onto the credit card’s rebate balance. There are also other items that can generally be found at your local mega-mart / superstore. Most carry a handful of the most popular board games, toys, cookware, kitchen appliances, cosmetics, etc.
2. Online Cash Back Rebate Programs & Websites
• Purchase online using rebate programs / websites. Typically these programs will pay you an extra 2-8% cash back for purchasing from a well known retailer, by first clicking through their site using their referral link.
• Rebates are usually calculated on top of whatever the retailer’s prices are.
• These programs work independently from your cash back credit cards, which means you are stacking the percentages.
• Often sites will also have coupon codes that you can apply to your purchase to save a bit more as well.
• Note that different cash back programs award different rebate amounts for the same retailer, so check and pick the program you want to use for a specific retailer (usually you will want to use the one with the highest rebate). I signed up for two different programs and compare before buying. Check shopping forums for the most popular programs available. In Canada, Mr. Rebates and GreatCanadianRebates are trusted programs with good record of payment, ease of use, and customer service. Those are the two I use.
• For those who collect airline loyalty type flyer miles, the loyalty programs usually have their own retailer referral sites as well. Some airline e-commerce referral sites include Airmiles Shops, Aeroplan eStore, and US Airways Skymall.
• From my experience, the cash back rebate sites offer a higher percentage back than the airline loyalty programs do in points (if we convert number of points awarded back to equivalent dollars).
• Many popular retailer chains from in a wide range of categories participate in these programs. Some popular retailers include Sears, Ebay, LaSenza, H2O Plus, Barnes & Noble, Chapters, Toys R Us, Dell, Overstock.com, MyJewelryBox.com, Home Depot, etc.
Mr. Rebates Canada offers 3% from purchases made on Ebay.com, while GreatCanadianRebates offer 2%. I first sign in to my Mr. Rebates account, click on the Ebay.com referral link, and bid on an item I’ve had on my watch list or Buy-It-Now, like normal. After winning and paying for the item, the 3% rebate awarded for the transaction is posted in my account after a few days. I pay for my items like usual using credit card via Paypal. What would be just 1% from the credit card, and 3% from the program, becomes a total of 4% combined.
Affiliate links (rebate sites, etc):
If you found my suggestion helpful, it would be much appreciated signing up through my referral links below.
3. Promotional Gift Card Offers
• Take advantage of promotional gift card offers made available directly from retailers. Each year many retailers sell gift cards directly from their company website at 15-20% off the face value!
• Purchase the gift cards and either use the promotion to purchase an item as gift, or give the gift card itself. Either way you will save money!
• Note that usually the promotions have a minimum purchase amount of $25 worth of gift cards, or minimum of $25 on each gift card.
• Recently SIR Corp in Canada, the parent company that operates the popular restaurant chains Jack Astors, Alice Fazooli’s, Canyon Creek, etc. was offering 15% off the face value of their gift cards!
• Cineplex Odeon, the largest movie theatre chain in Canada, annually releases its promotional movie ticket holiday gift package. In previous years, it offered discounted movie tickets packaged with concession stand vouchers. It also included a few coupons from partner retailers (Chapters, etc) as well. Unfortunately, this year there is no discounted tickets. However, through the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) the holiday package that includes the tickets can be purchased at a discount.
• AMC Theatres in the US is offering a slight holiday discount with a $10 Concession Card for every $50 worth spent on AMC Gift Cards.
4. Know What To Look For & Shop Early
• If you know in advance, what someone would like for Christmas, it will give you ultimate flexibility as you can start looking for the best deal throughout the year.
• Take some time to find out what people want or need (or might need a few months down the road). Talk with people throughout the year and be good listener. Or you can casually bring up the item in conversation with some information gathering questions . It might go something like this: “I’ve been thinking of getting item X for so and so (someone else’s name), do you have one of those? If you received one of those would you be happy? Do you think its a good idea?”
• Try to purchase gifts you know they would use, keep, and unlikely to return. This gives you flexibility in shopping months earlier for the best deal, and storing the gift until Christmas.
• If you don’t know what type of gift to get someone, gift cards and commonly needed items are good ideas.
• Start looking in August and early September even if you don’t know what to get. It allows you to sit and wait for the better deals, as well as capitalize on deals that may occur earlier (summer sales, etc). Being proactive by looking early also helps to generate ideas, as you may come across pretty good deals that may make you think of a friend who would be interested in the item.
• I have a friend that trains mixed martial arts (MMA) with me, so in this case something related that would be useful to me, would be also be suitable as a gift for him. Some ideas would be a pair of new gloves or other gear, as it will almost certainly be kept and used.
• If friend recently moved into a new place, towels, sheets, bakeware, cookware, etc., would make good gifts.
• Certain electronic items such as portable drives, USB keys, and SD memory cards ( cameras, phones), are some popular and commonly needed items these days. They are good if you don’t know what to get someone. There are a variety of interesting designs and features that suit a range of purposes and styles (sleek, colourful, compact, extra security, portability, ruggedness, etc).
5. Take Advantage of Special Sales & Deals
• As much as possible, take advantage of retailer’s special sales and to get the best discounts.
• Don’t limit yourself to just Christmas or advertised sales. Take advantage of sales of all types to pick up gifts:
– Black Friday.
– Buy-one-get-one (BOGO) type deals.
– Friend & family.
– Retailer fan-club / email list / Facebook “fan” sales.
– Grand opening.
– End of season.
– After hour.
• The more sales & deals you come across, the more you can compare and get the biggest discount on items. Not only that, but there is usually a larger selection of items than there is closer to Christmas (when popular items sell out).
Wolverine, Batman Dark Knight, I Am Legend, Robin Hood, blurays were all purchasable for a total of about $35 from Amazon.com during this week’s Black Friday sale. Tomorrow, there may be better deals on top selling releases (such as Iron Man 2), that could top off a gift package suitable for any action movie lover.
6. Price Matching (Retailers & Credit Cards)
• Take advantage of price matching policies from the retailers. Most retailers will match the price of competitors within 30 days of making a purchase, and give you a tiny further discount (usually 10% of the price difference). Purchase items at the retailer with the highest price and making them match the retailer with the lowest price to make the extra discount (10% of the difference) a significant one.
• Take advantage of the unknown and little used price protection / guarantee policies offered by credit cards. Some major credit cards offer price protection, that is included as part of the card holder’s free services. The credit card company will adjust the transaction if you find a lower price within 30-60 days. If a retailer won’t price match, your credit card might (if your card has this policy)! Check your card’s policy statement and list of services.
• Walmart in the United States has announced it will be price matching Black Friday deals!
• Most major retailers such as Best Buy, Staples, Future Shop, Sears, etc. have price matching policies.
• Many MasterCard credit cards offered by Capital One, Citibank, etc have price protection policies.
• Various VISA credit cards including Chase, Citizens Bank, Charles Schwab, etc have price protection policies.
7. Warehouse Sales
• Take advantage of warehouse sales held by the manufacturer. These sales offer deep discounts usually in the range of 30-75% off retail prices.
• Not all warehouse sales are the same and there are huge differences between the manufacturers. Some manufacturers may sell very old items, unpopular sizes, slightly damaged, slightly imperfect, or odds & ends. The better ones will sell items that have just gone out of season, in season but are overstocked and that will go out of season soon, large selection of quality items, and perfect items (no different than retail).
• Check with shopping / deal forums and read people’s past experiences to find out which manufacturers hold the best warehouse sales in your local area. Some forums even post a schedule of upcoming sales.
• Batch shop for gifts at warehouse sales, in order to apply the deep discounts across a large number of potential gifts. This will not only save you money but also time.
• Lining up early will help you get the best selections.
• Be slightly prepared with ideas of what you may want to look for and how much you might be willing to pay. This will allow you to move more quickly through the area and increase your chances of obtaining most of what you are interested in buying. Not having any idea and simply browsing through the whole sale, will likely end in disappointment, as other people will snatch up all the items you might be interested in. If something looks slightly interesting, take it first and think about it later, because everyone else will do the same.
• Popular manufacturers include Under Armour, Lululemon, Umbra, Crocs, Puma, Paul Frank, etc.
• Only go to those that are worth while and are selling quality items, where you are likely to purchase a larger number of items. Avoid random liquidation and warehouse sales that sell a variety of different brands. Typically (not always) those types are usually NOT hired or held by the manufacturer, and do not have quality products or good prices (Samko & Miko Toy Warehouse is one exception).
• I attended the Under Armour warehouse sale last year, and was able to find some great items at ridiculously low prices. I was able to get my hands on a Heat Gear summer jacket that regularly costs $100 for only $20. I also found a popular hoodie that is regularly $60 for just $15. As you can image those made really great gifts!
• Each year I visit the Samko & Miko Toy Warehouse in the Greater Toronto Area. This year, like every year, they have a range of popular brands, and large selection of toys & books ranging from Dora, Bob The Builder, Transformers, Barbie, Hasbro, Mega Bloks, Fisher Price, Play Skool, Little Tikes, etc, for close to 50% off retail prices. I’ve been shopping at Samko every Christmas for 9 years now, accumulating the savings!
8. Spend Less On Wrapping
• The total cost of packaging and presentation which include cards, gift bags, wrapping, paper tissue, and stuffing, add up to be a significant and unnecessarily high expense. On a per gift basis, the cost typically falls between $9 to $15.
• Spend less on packaging & presentation and more on the gift. People usually throw out cards, wrapping, etc. but that does not mean you need to lower the quality of the packaging or ignore the presentation aspect. Focus on getting more for your money in this category as well.
• Take advantage of early and end of year sales to purchase these items for next year. Christmas cards, bags, etc. all get massively discounted at the end of the season typically up to 90% off regular prices. I don’t suggest waiting for the 90% as you may not be able to get it, due to how quickly they will sell out, but 50%-70% is a pretty deep discount.
• If you are creative, making your own cards, wrapping, etc. using craft supplies from your local art / craft store (like Michaels) is cheaper and more memorable.
• Costco sells great looking high quality cards (thicker, brightly coloured, attractively designed). If my memory serves me correctly a typical a box of Paper Magic Group cards contains around 50 cards for about $35. Less than $1 per card.
• You’ll be surprised how nice, a plain solid coloured wrapping paper, with a simple ribbon around it looks!
9. Bundle Smaller Gifts
• Purchase multiple smaller gifts and bundle them together, rather than purchase one single large expensive item.
• This works if you are able to obtain a discount on a large number of items such as movie tickets, gift cards, dvds, etc..
• This doesn’t have to be your typical gift basket of cookies, and jam. Be creative and mix it up.
• A gift package comprised two or three different gift cards that were purchased at discounted face value.
• A gift package comprised of a bluray obtained from Black Friday deal, a gift card, and movie ticket package.
10. Gift Registry Completion Discount
• Set up a gift registry a few months ahead of time, and use discounts from the gift registry completion sale to pick up items at a great price. Some major retailers and department stores allow gift registries to be set up for any occasion (random, personal, no specific event), and then hold a completion sale for people to complete the purchases on their gift registry.
• Different retailers offer different gift registry completion sale discounts, while others do not offer them at all. Check with your local retailer, and ask for people’s experience on shopping forums to find out which offer the best discount.
• The Bay (The Hudson Bay Company) stores in Canada usually have gift registry completion sales where they give an additional 30% or more on top of the lowest marked prices! So for example if a set of pots were regularly $100 and were on sale for $70, they may offer an additional 20% completion discount, making the total purchase $56 (44% off).
• Other retailers include Sears, Pottery Barn, Target, Babies R Us, Crate&Barrel, etc.
• Redeem your collector program points such as miles, rebates, points, etc.
• Take advantage of other membership discounts. For example discounts at retailers if you are an AAA or CAA member, etc.
• Buy items on ebay at a discount. Buy from trusted sellers (99% feedback or more, feedback rating more than 100, no negative feedback or unresolved issues within last 3 months). Paypal sometimes has promotional discounts as well.
• Use manufacturer promotional coupons especially on new release video games and movies (for example Disney usually has $10 off their blurays).
• Use trade-in programs to trade in your old video games / dvds / blurays for credit towards new ones. This helps to get rid of ones that are collecting dust while helping pay for a gift.
Use Tips & Strategies In Combination
• Don’t just use these tips individually, combine them as much as possible.
• Taking advantage of a 25% off sale at H2O Plus:
– GreatCanadianRebate = 4.0%
– Mr Rebates = 6.0%
– Credit card = 1%
– Sale = 25% off
Total discount = 32% off regular price (using Mr Rebates).
• Lets generalize to make a simple overall example. Lets assume we get the following cash back or discounts on average:
– 1% from credit card
– 3% from a rebate programs
– 15% from retailer sales / discounts
That is an average savings of 19% on gifts. Assuming your yearly Christmas gifts expenditures are costing you $3000, your savings would be $570! Need a new laptop?
• As you can see, with a tiny amount of effort, you can save a lot of money across all gifts for your friends and family. You can give gifts generously without breaking the bank!
Thanks and Happy Investing!