7 Unusual Holiday Shopping Strategies to Stay In Budget

Don’t let last-minute buying send you into the New Year broke. Trying these often overlooked savings strategies.
Financial Expert
Managing Editor

With the shopping days until Christmas winding down, holiday shoppers may be feeling crunched for both time and money.

If you still have names to cross off your list and only a little money left in the bank, it may be time to move past the traditional savings strategies and try out some lesser known options.

“Using a coupon, coupon code or promotional code is fairly common these days,” says Josh Elledge, founder of savings site SavingsAngel.com.

He says those who really want to save cash this Christmas need to think outside the box.

Here are seven unusual strategies to save money during the holidays:

1. Check your closets for gifts from last year’s sales

The absolute fastest and cheapest way to finish off Christmas shopping is to look for giftable items that may be lurking in your home already. Too often people buy items during the after-Christmas sales or during the summer, intending for them to be gifts, only to forget about them in December.

Even if you don’t have gifts squirreled away, you may have brand new items you purchased but never used. A co-worker might like a scented candle from your stash or your niece might rock the scarf you realized wasn’t your style once you got home.

2. Shop with discounted gift cards

When shopping, make the most of coupon codes and use them along with a discounted gift card.

“You can accomplish this during the holiday shopping season by buying e-gift cards from sources such as GiftCardZen.com and Raise.com,” Elledge says, “or by purchasing with a special offer or coupon from grocers and retailers.”

To find the best deal on a discounted gift card, consumers can use GiftCardGranny.com, which lists the inventory from a number of sites offering reduced-price cards. However, read the fine print before buying to see if the cards can be used online, in-store or both. Many websites verify the value of a card before its sale, but if you’re purchasing from a private party or off eBay, check the seller’s past customer feedback before handing over your money.

3. Always buy through a rewards portal

This strategy may not save you money upfront, but it can help you earn cash back for your savings account or gift cards toward future savings or purchases.

“You can earn hundreds of dollars cash back or in free gift cards just by doing the things you already do online and on your phone,” says consumer advocate and author Elisabeth Leamy.

The catch is that you need to make your purchases through a rewards website or portal to earn cash back or points to be redeemed for gift cards or merchandise.

Leamy is a fan of Swagbucks.com, a rewards site with which she partners.

“An active member can easily earn as much as $600 per year, and super users can earn even more because there’s no cap on the points you can accrue,” she says.

Meanwhile, Elledge suggests Ebates.com for cash back rebates. There are also plenty of other options, including rewards portals attached to frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs where users can rack up extra miles and points for travel.

4. Layer on the discounts

Look for ways to combine existing coupons or discounts with other spending strategies that will keep more money in your savings account.

“Truly savvy shoppers never utilize just one savings strategy at a time,” Leamy says. “Instead, they layer multiple strategies together.”

She recommends the following four methods for layering rewards:

  1. Using a cash back credit card for purchases made through a rewards website.
  2. Buying deeply discounted daily deals from sites like Groupon or Living Social through a rewards website.
  3. Accessing online travel agencies through rewards websites when making holiday travel arrangements.
  4. Applying a coupon or sale in conjunction with a rewards website.

Elledge suggests consumers triple dip their savings by using both a discounted gift card and a coupon code to make a purchase through a cash back website.

“Shopping this way can save you an additional 40 percent or more when it’s all said and done,” he says.

Be aware some rewards sites won’t award points or cash back if you use a coupon code found on a different site, such as RetailMeNot.com. However, many do offer their own coupons and promotions. For example, SwagBucks has a SwagButton that can be installed to alert shoppers when a coupon code is available to be combined with a points offer.

5. Make the most of store loyalty programs

With the holidays nearly here, online shopping may not be an option, given some shipping times. In that case, store loyalty programs may be your best bet to increase overall savings.

“Instead of using a cash back website, use the store’s points or loyalty program,” Elledge says. “Most stores have one, and points or purchases accumulate and can be translated into cash back or special coupons.”

As with online rewards, this strategy may not save money upfront but can be helpful for future purchases. For example, you could combine loyalty coupons with after-Christmas sales to get a jump on next year’s birthday or holiday shopping. Just be sure to use any coupons before they expire.

6. Buy refurbished goods

If electronics or appliances are on your list, buying a refurbished item is one of the best ways to get a bargain. While refurbished goods sometimes get a bad rap as being defective, these aren’t necessarily items returned for being faulty. In some cases, they are simply open box returns from people who changed their mind. What’s more, many companies test refurbished goods thoroughly prior to sale.

You can find refurbished products in many places, but the most convenient may be the Warehouse Deals section of Amazon.com. You won’t find this department listed in the quick links on the front page, but it’s easy to get to by searching for “warehouse.” Once you get to the page, you’ll find everything from DSLR cameras to Kindles to coffee makers.

7. Stay out of the store and off shopping sites

Lastly, the most commonly overlooked strategy to save time and money in the weeks before the holidays is to simply stop shopping.

Once you have everyone on your list crossed off, delete all the sale emails from your inbox, stop window shopping on the Web and stay out of the stores. If you continue to scout out the deals, you’re bound to find something else to buy or others to add to your list.

Plus, staying off shopping sites and skipping the store may do more than simply help you reach 2016 with money in the bank. It may also have you feeling a little less stressed and a little more merry.

Comment: What are you doing to save money on holiday shopping? Are you a master coupon-clipper or rewards earner? 

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Maryalene LaPonsie is a Michigan-based freelance writer specializing in education, personal finance and retirement topics. She is a weekly contributor to U.S. News & World Report, and her work has been featured on MoneyTalksNews, MSN, FOX Business, CBS News and elsewhere online. Prior to writing full-time, Maryalene spent 13 years working in the Michigan Legislature as a legislative staff member.