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How to Spend Smarter This Holiday Season

This article was written by in Consumer. 24 comments.

Over the next couple of weeks, six finalists will be auditioning for the opening of “staff writer” at Consumerism Commentary. Each will be providing two guest articles to share with readers. After the six writers have shared their guest articles, readers will have an opportunity to provide feedback before we select the staff writer.

This article is presented by Kelly Whalen, a mostly stay-at-home mom who writes about personal finance at The Centsible Life.

News that the recession may be over has many retailers hoping that American consumers will open their purses and wallets and spend more this holiday season.

Frugality has been popular during the recession, so retailers are targeting your frugal side to make sales. This holiday season will see a rash of new promotions and coupons aimed at your frugal side.

Several retailers are starting to offer “Pre-Black Friday” deals. for instance offered several electronics deals on November 7th. Even upscale retailers such a Pottery Barn are offering more items with free shipping, and a larger selection of sale items to draw more consumers. While many retailers, like Crate & Barrel, have free shipping on purchases over a certain dollar amount. Crate and Barrel’s offer is free shipping on orders over $100 between Oct. 15 and Dec. 22, 2009.

Despite the draw of deals, most Americans will be spending less this year on holiday gift giving. Of those I informally polled, no one said they would be spending more than they had in the past, and the majority of people had 3 methods for reducing spending this year:

  1. Shorten the list: Shopping for fewer people topped the list of ways to reduce holiday spending. Co-workers, hostess gifts, and other small gifts can really add up.
  2. Handmade gifts: Most people will understand your budget is a tight, and would rather have your award winning brownies than $20 worth of too pretty to use speciality soaps.
  3. Smarter spending: The best way to save money this holiday season (and year round) is to spend smart. I’ll share 10 ways you can be giving this holiday season without sacrificing your savings.

10 ways to spend smarter

I’ll share my top 10 ways I shop smarter, which are helpful for the holiday season and beyond.

  1. Make a list whenever you leave the house. Make a list, check it twice, don’t leave home without it!
  2. Use coupons and discounts, but only for things you need. Coupons are a great way to save money, but look for coupon codes or discounts for things that are on your list. You are NOT saving money spending on things that you don’t need.
  3. Create a “sale mail” email account. Set up an email account and sign up for emails from your favorite or most frequently shopped stores. Ignore it unless you are shopping, and check it before you make a purchase.
  4. Plan ahead for big purchases. Use this list as a guideline to find the best time of year to purchase most goods.
  5. Eat before you shop. Pack snacks or a meal if you will be out for a long time. Make sure to pack water as well. This not only saves money when food shopping, but also when you are doing other types of shopping as well!
  6. Choose quality over quantity. Use Consumer Reports, or other reviews to find a product that will last you longer than a cheap one.
  7. Institute a waiting period. Whether it’s a 30 day waiting period for larger purchases or a day long waiting period for small purchases, a waiting period is a great way to control your budget.
  8. Use your budget. Shop within your means. Simple, I know but difficult for some people (including me) to practice.
  9. Look online before you buy. Knowing the price of something online saves you time (no running from store to store), and you can guarantee you’ll know the cheapest price. Many stores offer price matching, so it’s a great incentive to spend 5-10 minutes searching the web.
  10. Don’t be afraid to bargain. Flexo had success bargaining, and saved $85 on a computer. It may seem difficult to do, but it’s worth trying, and could save you a ton of cash.

What’s your holiday budget this year? What ways do you save on holiday shopping?

To keep track of deals online for the holiday season, keep track of current Black Friday Deals at and find out about free shipping day, or find free shipping deals on

This is a guest article by Kelly Whalen, one of six finalists interested in being Consumerism Commentary’s staff writer.

Photo credit: stevendepolo

Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published November 13, 2009.

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About the author

Kelly is a mostly stay-at-home mom to four kids. You can more of her articles about personal finance at The Centsible Life. Also, you can follow Kelly on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Great idea on the “sale mail” email account. Lets you control your life! Very efficient!

Our budget remained the same as we have an established Holiday fund that money is diverted to throughout the year. However, we are working to leave money “on the table.” Key changes: Wife and I are not buying anything for each other, we really don’t need anything. Also, this year if the kids want to buy something for mom and dad, they will out of their allowance instead of the traditional “mom buys and puts kids name on it” thing.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

I’m big on keeping my email simple. I hate email overload.

It’s great that you have a good baseline, and are saving actively. That’s something we will tackle next year. We have a bit of extra money coming in at that time of year, so our budget is based on a portion of that money. Sticking to it is the tough part!

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Great article. I love making homemade gifts – esp. for teachers, etc.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Homemade gifts mean a lot to the recipients. Some of my favorite gifts are handmade or consumable. Cookies, anyone?

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avatar 5 Anonymous

This is like two posts in one. Strategies and tactics. Bam. Pow.

Seriously, I like the combination of simple practicality (like eating before you go out) and deep psychology (who ever heard of a sale mail account?) Come to think about it, this could have been three posts. I’ll be making my list later today.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

Thanks! I like to give you a lot of bang for your buck. :)
I’m surprised no one else has a sale mail account! I’ve been doing that for years.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

What terrific tips!!! This year we’re planning our spending carefully and doing lots of research online to get the best prices. I can’t wait to check out all these links you shared as well!
thanks for a great article!

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avatar 8 Anonymous

You know, i’ve needed to set up a “sale mail” (thats the first time i have ever referred to it that way) e-mail account for a while. But i think if i did, i would never check it. Maybe an auto-archive with a filter for the stores i like to shop at most would be smart. I guess i know what i am doing while at work this morning.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

You can set up filters for each company. that way they dump right into folders and your inbox remains “clean”.

I check mine once a week or so and just mark everything as read.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

#10 is intriguing, and kind of a lost art in commerce. I don’t have the personality to do it, unfortunately, but I’m certain it can work still today. Stores, many of them, are so desperate for sales that you should easily be able to get the sales rep to either knock a few bucks off the price or get something else thrown in for free (say, a free blu ray movie when you buy a blu ray player, for example).

Nice article, some helpful tips in here. Thanks.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

Thanks Jeff.
I admit I’m not good at negotiating, but I’m learning!
I saw another tip on Remodel This Life ( where Emily mentioned finding a lower price in a lower income area that she had matched at her local Sears. This is one of those things I never thought of!

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avatar 12 Anonymous

Marvelous tip list. I especially loved #3 and #4! Thanks for sharing such useful information.

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avatar 13 Anonymous

Thanks Nancy!

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avatar 14 Anonymous

Great post! I especially like the idea of setting up a “sale mail” account and eating before you shop.

If I decide to spend any money for Christmas gifts this year, it won’t be more than $50. There’s no room for adults in that budget. I feel like adults should understand why they’re not getting any thing.

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avatar 15 Anonymous

I’m not big on buying adult gifts, but I admit I feel obligated since some “grownups” do so much for us. It’s the one time of year I take a bit of time to say thanks with something special. I wish I could do it more often!

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avatar 16 Anonymous

I love: Institute a waiting period

This is a big thing that many consumers do not take in consideration when making a big or even a semi-big purchase. If consumers would follow this one rule, they could save loads of money – especially during the holiday season.

That’s one of the reasons why I don’t like to shop during the holidays because they offer such discounted prices, they dont give you a chance to wait 30 days.

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avatar 17 Anonymous

I think it’s important to plan purchases way in advance.
I have some things that have been on my list for months! If I have the money saved up, and a good deal comes along during Christmas I don’t mind spending it then.

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avatar 18 Anonymous

Good tips. If you manage to put ll that into practice I would be very surprised. Spending patterns are dictated as much by what is expected of us as what we expect from ourselves. Hence we feel bad if we’ve been used to giving expensive presents but this year we can’t, or we feel bad if we receive less. Spending is predicted to be down about 20% this christmas anyway though, so regardless of peer pressure or self-inflicated pressure, it will likely be accetable to make serious cutbacks.

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avatar 19 Anonymous

I admit I don’t put it all into practice ALL the time, but that’s the beauty of using these kinds of tips. If I’m doing it 90% of the time then the other 10% shouldn’t effect my bottom line too much.

We usually spend more than necessary on the kids, so we’re figuring out ways we can cut back without making it a blah Christmas.

I like that you mentioned spending patterns, I’m really interested in the psychology of spending, since both my husband and I ten to be spenders.

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avatar 20 Anonymous

I love the idea of a “sale mail” email account or filter / folder. Thanks.

This year I’m going to try to buy as many of my gifts as possible from shops / websites run by friends. Shopping local / supporting friends is another nice way to give to your community during the holiday season.

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avatar 21 Anonymous

I love supporting local businesses too. I try to find friends who run small or home based businesses for some of the items on my list.

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avatar 22 Anonymous

Kelly, I cut down my shopping list this year and it’s really helped me with my goal of a debt-free Christmas.

As you indicated, your list of 10 ways to shop smarter is good any time of the year. I always make a list for stores to keep me on track.

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avatar 23 Anonymous

I think a debt-free Christmas is a great goal, and one I think more and more people are embracing.

We always shop with a list now, since we have one car and going to the store multiple times won’t happen.

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avatar 24 Anonymous

This year my wife and I instituted a strict limit on how much we can spend on gifts. It just gets too crazy and we all end up going overboard. And the sin is its usually a bunch of stuff none of us really need.

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