Given the shaky job market, holiday budgets are tighter this year. According to a survey by PriceGrabber.com, 53 percent of consumers are planning to spend less on gifts. Retailers are anticipating greater demands during the holiday season because of higher-than-expected Halloween purchases this year, says Ken Burke, the founder of MarketLive, which does E-commerce research. Already 30 percent of those surveyed have begun their holiday shopping, with 22 percent having started in October. So to avoid the winding lines and sold-out merchandise, here are 10 tips to save you time and money as you kick off your holiday shopping:
1. Comparison-shop online
Left with excess inventory last year, retailers are going to sell fewer items in stores this holiday season. As a result, more people are going to go online for research, price comparison, and convenient shopping, says Burke. In PriceGrabber.com's survey, 70 percent of consumers said they're planning to research and comparison-shop online for the holidays. One way to do that is through sites like ComparisonShopping.com, which aggregates product search results from the 10 leading websites for price-comparison shopping, including BizRate, PriceGrabber.com, NexTag, and Shopzilla. These sites have vendor prices, reviews of vendors and items, and product descriptions. Also, visit FreeShipping.org, which provides free shipping coupon codes for more than 1,710 stores. Other websites have threshold free shipping, where shipping doesn't cost anything after a minimum purchase; Amazon.com, for example, provides free shipping for members whose purchases are over $25.
2. Homemade gifts, cards, and wrapping paper
Get crafty. Homemade gifts and cards are not only affordable but also fun projects for you and your friends or family to do together. Clip craft stores' weekly coupons, or visit cheap art supply websites, such as CheapJoes.com, to save on supplies. Instead of buying expensive cards and wrapping paper, make them with colored paper and art supplies. You can put your kids to work with craft ideas from KidsCraftWeekly.com. If you aren't so artsy, buy homemade artwork, jewelry, and clothing at Etsy.com, as well as unique art supplies, says Michelle Madhok, an online shopping expert and founder of shopping websites SheFinds.com and MomFinds.com. If you're a baker, recipe sites like Epicurious.com have a plethora of seasonal recipes from cookbooks, chefs, and home cooks. Holiday-themed treats are tasty and inexpensive gifts for your friends and family members with a sweet tooth.
3. Shop at a discount
Not surprisingly, half of those surveyed by PriceGrabber.com plan to shop at discount stores this year. Those include Marshalls, T. J. Maxx, Tuesday Morning, and Filene's Basement, which sell overstocked brand-name and designer clothing at a discount. There are even more discount options online at sites with massive inventories like OverStock.com and SmartBargain.com, Madhok says. When shopping, keep your cellphone or PDA handy to access ShopLocal.com. The website compares the price of the item of the local store you're visiting with the prices at retail stores nearby. If the store you are shopping in has a policy of matching a competitor's price, you get immediate savings. Just as important as where you shop is when you shop. PriceGrabber.com found that 79 percent of those surveyed planned to make a purchase on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). Madhok says you should be on your computer at midnight before Black Friday for special online deals. She also recommends signing up for your favorite stores' E-mail newsletters, as well as following their Twitter and Facebook fan pages, because they provide special discount news.
4. Make a pocket shopping guide
Planning ahead can save you in the end. Make a list of people, and then prioritize. This list will also be your gift shopping budget for the holidays. You can even share your holiday gift lists with family and friends online at KeepandShare.com. For budgeting tips, go to Mint.com and check out its easy budgeting tools. Now carry the list and budget with you on your shopping sprees, and stick to it!