Every year, I offer a list of holiday shopping tips intended to help shoppers avoid overspending their budgets. Since the holiday season starts earlier and earlier each year, I’m moving up my tips post. According to the National Retail Federation, the holiday season actually started in October.

So, here are my 2013 shopping tips as a checklist:

√ Set a budget (total and by person) and stick to it.

√ There will be sales every day leading up to Christmas.

√ Try not to buy ANYTHING at full price.

√ Understand what the word “sale” means (a discount from the REGULAR price not the LIST or SUGGESTED price).

√ The best “sales” days are typically December 10 to December 24, not Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Retailers want to sell merchandise before the holiday to avoid even bigger markups thereafter.

Look online for customer reviews. Sites like Amazon.com show customer reviewers for virtually every product.

Comparison shop for big-ticket items, including online.

Don’t be snobbish about shopping at mass merchants such as Wal-Mart; less ambience often means lower prices.

Trading down is OK, such as buying a digital camera with fewer pixels or an Amazon Kindle Fire vs. an iPad. There are big bargains on technology.

Look for AAA, AARP, student, and other discounts.

Understand what 0% financing really means. (Know when the full price must be paid off without incurring high interest charges which may accrue from the date of purchase).

Be careful in buying gift cards. Understand their terms, especially with regard to unused balances.

Don’t succumb to sales pressure for extended warranties. (For some retailers, the profit on these warranties can be larger than the profit on the sale of the items themselves.)

Know each store’s return/refund/exchange policies.

Be aware of an “open box” policy which results in a restocking fee for returns. Best Buy stopped doing this a while back after many customer complaints and the competition from online firms such as Amazon.com.

If shopping online, look at the total price (including shipping).

More sites are offering free shipping this year with low or no minimum purchase amounts. Amazon Prime includes free two-day shipping.

Look for ads AFTER purchases of big-ticket items; some retailers match prices up to 30 days after.


23 Replies to “Be a Smart Customer: 2013 Holiday Shopping Tips”

  1. These tips are very useful. I have seen a piece of news saying there are already people bringing tents and starting to wait outside best buy NOW, still a week before Thanksgiving day. WOW. For me, I dont really care about black friday or so. Because things that I am interested in never participate in sales and things that participate in sales are not what I am interested in. So maybe I will just buy something for my parents. And thats it.

  2. This post was actually really helpful! I plan to do so much of my holiday shopping over the break so it’s great to read all these tips even though I know I will never stick to budget. I definitely plan to read most reviews before purchasing anything this year considering there is so little time between thanksgiving and christmas. I also liked the reminder to check for restocking fees because I think those are completely ridiculous and I don’t want to get stuck with any of those this year. Price matching is one of my favorite things about the holiday season so I always keep track of what I’ve bought and try to make sure no one is getting a better deal. Overall holiday shopping is one of my favorite things to do for the year so I’m glad I have these tips going into the process this year.

  3. I really liked this post and found it very helpful. Right off the bat I was drawn in because I read that the holiday shopping season started in October. I can’t believe how early the holiday season began, because I was in the mall BEFORE Halloween and saw the workers putting up the huge Christmas tree. Other than my complete shock of the crazy holiday season, I thought the tips were really helpful. Since I shop for a lot of people, I really need to have a budget for everyone I am shopping for. I’m glad this was posted pre Thanksgiving break because I plan to use it, and I’ll definitely be passing this on to my family members.

  4. Love these tips! Even before I go into a store to buy a certain item I will research it online to read reviews. I want to make sure the product I spend a good amount of money on is worth its price! Knowing each store’s return and exchange policy is very important! Some stores take advantage of the holidays to put more restrictions on their policies, so make sure that if your gift recipient does want to return the gift, that he or she will be able to exchange it for something else or receive a refund. Holiday shopping is always an adventure. It tends to bring out the worst in people, so going in with these tips and a game plan are sure to make this exciting time less stressful.

  5. These tips are great; the ones that really stick out to me are sticking to your budget and remembering that sales will be happening every day up until Christmas. Me walking into a store with a a large amount of money will and always has ended in disaster. I often rush into purchases without much research on the product because I think that this deal will only last for a limited time. I will definitely use these tips with my holiday shopping in hopes of getting more for my money and making better purchases.

  6. Your tip that states that the best sales are NOT on Black Friday and Cyber Monday really surprised me! I figured since those were the most hyped up sale days of the year that they would hold the best money-saving deals. I wonder why then that Black Friday is such a big deal if you could wait a week later for better deals and less chaos… The only reason I could think of is the fact that he Dec. 10 to Dec. 24 period may be a bit last minute. Either way, I’ll be shopping during that last minute period because..well, I always do. But now that you stated that this is when the better deals can be found, I have more of a reason to go last minute shopping.

  7. This article has changed the way that I’m going to approach Christmas shopping this year. I had previously thought that all the best deals happened on Black Friday and the prices just stayed fixed. Knowing the information that I do I’ll probably hold off shopping till a few weeks into December, I figure that this way the prices will have dropped a considerable amount. I believe that the reason companies become so desperate to sell merchandise quickly because they over predicted their holiday sale figures, leading to overstocking, with the new shipment of products coming in January, the companies will be severely overstocked if they over anticipated their sales by even a little bit.

  8. I think this is a good way of giving people tips on saving some cash this christmas and holiday season. Obviously people wont want to trade down to cheaper or less expensive gifts, but hey, sometimes you got to do, what you go to do. People wont call you out on getting them less expensive gifts unless theyre real stingy where in that case, they shouldnt have gotten anything at all. I also like the whole free shipping idea. People need to execute the whole free shipping thing as well. I think with a few of these tips, someone can get themselves to save more than a few hundred bucks.

  9. I agree with the other comments, in that this post provided some very helpful tips for this holiday season. The tip that I found to be most shocking was that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are NOT the best sales days. I always assumed that since these are the most talked about, they were the best. I’ll be sure to pay attention this year and perhaps hold off on my holiday shopping until December 10-December 24.

    1. A select number of heavily discounted items on Black Friday and Cyber Monday are good buys. However, the other thousands of items in the store or online are not. The idea is to lure you with a great deal on something you want and keep you at the store/online to buy other things. DON’T do this. 🙂

      And remember, if you buy something and see a better price within 30 days after this, most retailers will refund the difference. Be on the look out for follow-up ads and keep your receipts!!

  10. All these tips are clearly very useful and can be very beneficial to shopping but i think a lot of them were fairly common sense. All the tips those are defiantly very key ways to be more successful in anyone’s holiday shopping to get the best deals for the best products and to not get ripped off. The one tip that did surprise me a lot was the best sales you are going to get are going to get are between December 10 and December 24 and black Friday or cyber Monday.

  11. The holiday season can be such a hassle especially when trying to purchase gifts and stay on a budget. I’m going to make sure I am extremely careful on black friday and cyber monday to make sure I don’t get sucked into buying items that aren’t on sale. I also think its a really good tip to set budgets for each person or each item you want to buy. Then you will be able to keep a watch on all the money you spend and won’t be surprised when you see how much money you spent throughout the season.

  12. Holiday shopping can be very hectic. Everyone is running from store to store with so much to buy in limited time, and that can often lead to people spending more than they had planned. I think the tips given in this blog are great. I think they are helpful and organized. With the holidays so close together this year, especially Thanksgiving and Hanukah on the same day, people have to start their shopping earlier. It can be a stressful time of the year but with a plan, and tips like these, shoppers can enjoy their holiday more.

  13. I am very surprised to hear that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are not the best days to shop during the holiday season, because it normally is when my family does most of the holiday shopping. They tips were really helpful and they are definitely something that I will be keeping in mind while shopping. I am also very shocked as to why the best time to go shopping would be so close to Christmas…. I would think that the stores would want more people to go shopping before that way they are not stuck with a ton of extra items in their warehouses. But after reading this article I will be re-evaluating how I spend my time shopping this weekend!

  14. This will be my first year of actually fully participating in Black Friday, instead of getting all the left over sales. I love getting new stuff, but the shopping process is just a big headache, so these tips will definitely help the shopping experience be a little more organized. My mom is coming with me and she takes forever to shop. I’m definitely going to be making a plan before our shopping trip, like what we are looking for and how much to spend. I always research my items before buying something, so I will be applying that to my Black Friday shopping. Also, now that I know that the best deals aren’t even during Black Friday, maybe I’ll save up my money and buy some stuff on different days!

  15. These tips are very helpful especially for college students looking to spend the least amount of money on the best gifts. It’s very shocking to read that the best sales aren’t on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but it makes sense that the best sales are from December 10 to December 24. Another tip for online shopping is if you do buy from Amazon.com, leave the item in your shopping cart/bag for a few days and Amazon will give you a discount on that item. Not sure how big the discount is, but it helps for saving money.

  16. One more tip: Most people shouldn’t buy on credit but if those of you who have credit cards (who of course pay them off in full every month), credit cards themselves will price match anything you bought on credit for up to 30-60 days depending on the card. Every major credit card purveyor offers this service on most all cards so even if you don’t think you have it, it cannot hurt to check.

    I love this list and will bookmark it for future keepsake.

  17. Im inclined to print this out and use these tips for my christmas shopping! I find every year I regret at least ONE of my purchases. The tip about not buying anything full price really struck me. I always thought of this time period of shopping as the opposite, meaning that brands could get away with making you pay full price since everyone has to buy gifts either way. I will certainly make sure to focus on sale items and look out for special deals. I am also very glad I did not take advantage of today’s cyber Monday, I only wish I could say the same for black Friday!

  18. I think these tips are very useful. For me, I save my shopping until about two weeks before Christmas since that is when most businesses will want everything out of the store and put on better sales that Black Friday and Cyber Monday. As a college student, I want to save money on every purchase. These tips will definitely help me in over the next couple weeks leading to the holidays.

  19. With finals coming to an end, I can finally start to focus my attention towards shopping for the holiday season. Even though the holiday season starts in October, I’m finally starting to shop now. These tips are definitely going to be helpful, I’m really going to have to budget, and look for online deals to compensate for shopping last minute.

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