30 days of holiday shopping tips
Tip 1: Shop for Home Goods on Black Friday
Some of the best household products (including big-ticket purchases like dishwashers and HDTVs) get big discounts the day after Thanksgiving. This is the perfect time to replace tattered essentials before the holiday guests arrive. Check out the Good Housekeeping Research Institute's picks for towels, comforters, coffeemakers, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, and even washer and dryer sets.
Tip 2: Snag a Cheap Camera on Black Friday
Tired of snapping photos on your phone? Black Friday sales offer a great excuse to upgrade to a digital camera. When shopping, don't obsess over megapixel counts; instead, look for a camera with good low-light sensitivity and optical image stabilization. The GHRI likes the Canon Rebel T3i ($614, amazon.com).
Tip 3: Make a Holiday Budget (and Stick to It)
Determine your holiday budget and don't forget to factor in the cost of decorations, travel, party essentials, and, of course, gifts. Make a list of everyone who's getting a present from you this year and assign each person a dollar amount (more for the nice ones and less for the naughty ones). Helpful tip: Use Manilla.com (or one of its highly rated apps) to track holiday spending. Manilla will also remind you when bills are due or when daily deals and travel rewards are about to expire, so not a dollar goes wasted.
Tip 4: Support Small Businesses
Support independent storeowners and hit up local shops in your community on Nov. 24. Last year, more than 100 million people visited a small business on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To find independent shops near you, visit SmallBusinessSaturday.com.
Tip 5: Get More on Cyber Monday
Still looking for a good deal? Check out CyberMonday.com for coupons, free shipping, and free gifts for more than 700 online retailers. Remember to read the return policy before finalizing your purchase. And look for the "https" in your browser -- the "s" means your transaction is secure.
Tip 6: Take Advantage of Layaway Plans
Layaway is back! Consider this option if you aren't ready to pay in full and don't want to charge your credit card. Here's how it typically works: First, you make a down payment that ranges from 10 to 20 percent of the total cost of the item. You also pay a non-refundable service fee, usually $5. Then you agree to an installment plan and a deadline (30 to 90 days away) by which you'll pay for your gift in full before picking it up. Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Toys "R" Us, and T.J. Maxx offer layaway plans for popular in-store purchases such as toys, electronics, small appliances, and jewelry.
Tip 7: Always Pay the Lowest Price
You'll never have to wonder if you overpaid with the Amazon Price Check app (available on iOS and Andriod). This free app lets you compare prices among brick and mortar stores as well as online retailers. Just type in the product name, scan the barcode, or snap a photo to start searching. See more of our favorite free shopping and deal apps.
Tip 8: Explore a Holiday Market
Sip some hot cider while you meander through the stalls at your local Christmas market. Many cities host makeshift shopping villages where you can search for unique, handmade gifts that support local artisans.
Tip 9: Give an Experiential Present
Consider treating a friend to an experience the two of you can enjoy together. Sites like Groupon, Living Social, and Google Offers sell gift certificates and activity vouchers, often discounted 50 percent or more, to local venues. Plan a spa day, take a fitness class, try a new restaurant, or see a live performance with a friend. The coupons are typically valid for a few months after the purchase date, so there's no rush to cram another event into a busy holiday schedule.
Tip 10: Redeem Credit Card Points
If you’ve racked up your fair share of credit card points, now could be a great time to redeem them. Most rewards programs offer discounted gift cards and merchandise ranging from fashion to food and wine. Chase Freedom, for instance, prices gift cards at 10 to 20 percent off the face value while American Express lists "sale" items such as jewelry and electronics at a 10 percent discount.