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40 Easy Ways to Save for Holiday Shopping

Andrew DePietro
·18 min read
happy couple window shopping on cold winter night
happy couple window shopping on cold winter night

The holidays are upon us and that means it’s time to make your list, check it twice, and then venture out to the stores (wear a mask!) or power up your laptop to start shopping online (a much safer choice).

This year is different: The pandemic has made things more difficult and many are struggling to stay afloat financially. Though gift-giving will still be a major part of the holiday season, it seems like everyone is looking for ways to spread cheer while saving money.

The good news is you can keep your spending small with the right shopping plan. Here are 50 relatively painless money-saving tips to prepare you for holiday shopping.

Last updated: Nov. 18, 2020

woman pointing to date on calendar
woman pointing to date on calendar

1. Divide and Conquer

Before you do anything, you need to come up with a plan to allocate your finances in the most cost-effective way.

“Determine how much you’ll spend during the holidays, and divide it by how many weeks you have left,” said Michelle Schroeder of MakingSenseofCents. “Then, save that amount each week. It’ll make saving money for the holidays sting a little less.”

Put It in the Bank: 15 Ways to Save $100 to $1,000 With Minimal Effort

man sorting change
man sorting change

2. Earn (and Stash) Cash Back

Shopping expert Kendal Perez of CouponSherpa.com encourages shoppers to turn their cash-back reserves into a holiday gift fund.

“You can earn cash back while grocery shopping or shopping online and stash that cash to offset holiday shopping,” she said. “Apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51 offer cash back on select groceries,” plus apparel, cosmetics, restaurants and more.

Additionally, Rakuten is an online shopping portal where you can earn up to 25% cash back from more than 2,000 retailers. Some stores are offering double cash back for Black Friday. Plus, there’s a $10 bonus when you sign up.

closeup of woman's hand holding phone
closeup of woman's hand holding phone

3. Sign Up for Coupon Alerts Now

If you have a general plan for which retailers you’re going to visit on Black Friday, sign up for the stores’ deal alerts.

“By doing so, you’ll get in-store and online coupons sent to your email inbox for those stores that you can redeem on Black Friday and beyond,” said Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com. “Basically, you’re automating your savings and guaranteeing you shop with a coupon in hand.”

Save More Now: The 11 Best Coupon Apps

smiling woman under christmas decorations
smiling woman under christmas decorations

4. Shop for Decor Now

If you want to get home decorations on the cheap, it’s important to start shopping early.

“Often times, decor isn’t discounted until the week of the holiday or even after the holiday has passed,” said savings expert Kerry Sherin of Offers.com. “[However], sites like Michaels are continuously offering early discounts and 40 percent-off-one-item coupons. Shop early, and stock up on your decorations to avoid paying more later.”

gift voucher graphic on tablet
gift voucher graphic on tablet

5. Buy a Gift Card Each Week

If you want to reduce the holiday shopping burden, start buying easy-to-store items like gift cards now.

“Think about where you will shop for the holidays, then buy a gift card a week until the holidays,” said Shelley Hunter of GiftCards.com. “This will help spread out your holiday shopping expenses. Planning a big toy store haul? Start buying gift cards now, and you’ll be all set when it’s time to shop, or use those gift cards on Black Friday deals.”

Give the Gift of Choices: The Best Gift Cards to Buy This Holiday Season

woman sitting outside while on laptop
woman sitting outside while on laptop

6. Schedule E-Gift Cards Early

If you have a lot of people to buy for this year, consider scheduling electronic gift card delivery now to make your life easier later. These are easy and cheap Christmas gifts that everyone on your list will love.

“You can schedule e-gift cards for delivery up to six months in advance or more,” said Hunter. “Buy one e-gift card a week, and schedule them for delivery on any day you choose. Plus, sending digital saves you postage costs.”

gift card stack
gift card stack

7. Buy Discount Gift Cards in Advance

Discount gift card sites let you buy other people’s unwanted cards for less than they’re worth. If you buy a $200 gift card to Best Buy, for example, but you paid less than that for it, you’ve got yourself a nice little bonus. And you can buy more gift cards with all the money you save!

“Buy a set of discount gift cards with every paycheck, and you’re good to go,” said Hunter.

woman handing card to cashier
woman handing card to cashier

8. Remember to Cash Out Your Gift Cards

Similarly, you can visit sites like Cardpool to sell old gift cards you received for stores that you don’t like.

“Cash it out now. Sell it to a gift card seller (Cardpool), or use it to buy presents for someone else,” said Hunter. “Though you might have every intention of using it, let’s be honest — you haven’t. So, get the cash off those gift cards, and put the money to use.”

mysterious looking woman with head garb and sunglasses on inside store
mysterious looking woman with head garb and sunglasses on inside store

9. Become a Mystery Shopper

If you love shopping, apply to be a mystery shopper before the holiday season.

“Consumers might be surprised to learn they can get paid to shop or try new restaurants,” said Perez. “In exchange for unbiased feedback from everyday consumers, retailers, restaurants and other companies contract with mystery shopping agencies, and consumers can earn anywhere from $8 to $25 per assignment.”

Make sure that the company you’re signing up with is legitimate, though! It shouldn’t cost you any money to join and the company shouldn’t ever ask you to send them money — online or by wire transfer — or buy gift cards.

Get Paid: 24 Ways to Make Money Off Your Shopping

filled change coin jar
filled change coin jar

10. Open a High-Interest Savings Account

If you’re looking to find the best high-interest savings accounts, online banks tend to offer better yields than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. That’s because online banks don’t require much overhead to operate and can afford to give more money back to their members.

couple sitting on couch and happily looking at laptop
couple sitting on couch and happily looking at laptop

11. Open a Christmas Account or Sub-Savings Account

“There are many studies showing that the amount of savings increases when associated with a specific goal,” said Megan Brinsfield, a financial planning director at Motley Fool Wealth Management.

“Consider opening a new savings account that would only be used for gift-giving. This could be implemented for the holidays, but would also help year-round as you get invites for weddings, baby showers, birthday parties and housewarmings.”

While they might sound like gimmicks, Christmas Club accounts have actually existed for decades, said Bobby Lee of 2 Minute Finance.

“Opening a savings sub-account or a ‘Christmas Club’ account is still very useful,” he said. “Save up $10 or $20 a month throughout the year, and put it in this specially created savings account. Then, cash out when it comes time to go holiday shopping.”

woman on phone in coffee shop
woman on phone in coffee shop

12. Open an Online Checking Account

There are both benefits and drawbacks to using a checking account to save money. Because checking accounts don’t usually set limits on withdrawals, rates tend to be lower than those for savings accounts.

Still, online checking accounts can offer competitive yields, such as the 0.25 percent rate available with online bank EverBank’s YieldPledge checking account. Explore the benefits of internet banking and learn the best checking account interest rates in every state.

woman on laptop
woman on laptop

13. Open a Short-Term CD Account

People often think of certificate of deposit accounts as long-term savings options. However, banks also offer CDs with terms as short as a few months. As an added bonus, these certificates are insured by the FDIC.

Just remember you usually can’t take money out of a CD without incurring a penalty.

stock market graph
stock market graph

14. Get a Money Market Account

Opening a money market account can be a safe and smart investment option in the current market. Although some short-term investments are meant to develop over a few years, you can use a money market account to grow your money in less time.

The FDIC insures your money market account, which can be opened online or in person at a bank branch. Money market accounts tend to require higher minimum balances but are designed to be short-term investment vehicles.

man on tablet
man on tablet

15. Use the Coupon Sherpa App

“Shop smarter by using coupons for groceries, retail purchases and restaurant bills and transfer whatever amount you saved to your holiday savings account,” said Perez. “You can download the Coupon Sherpa app for instant access to coupons to national retailers and restaurants, as well as local shops, eateries and service providers through the ‘Nearby’ tab.”

Perez recommends searching online for coupon codes and printing grocery deals before hitting the stores.

woman on tablet
woman on tablet

16. Use Swagbucks to Get Gift Cards

Frugal living expert Lauren Greutman recommended this tip for scoring gift cards on the cheap.

“Shop online through Swagbucks.com and earn points, which you can trade in for gift cards — then use these gift cards to purchase Christmas gifts,” she said.

But shopping isn’t the only way to earn points. Swagbucks also lets you take surveys, watch videos and perform other tasks to earn points. As of November 18, 2020, Swagbucks had awarded more than $471 million to its members.

google on tablet held by woman
google on tablet held by woman

17. Use the Google Chrome Extensions

Many sites have their own Google Chrome Extensions, including Offers.com, which lets you save on thousands of online stores with little to no effort.

“This extension allows you to see savings right from your Google search,” said Sherin. “Whether you’re looking up a new product or shopping at your favorite store, you can see your potential savings right away.”

man on phone inside clothing store
man on phone inside clothing store

18. Use a Price-Match App

Before venturing out to shop, arm yourself with the latest technologies available.

“Price Match at stores using the Flipp app — this app brings up store flyers and then allows you to compare prices across stores,” said Greutman. Other price-matching and comparison apps include ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner, ScanLife Barcode & QR Reader and Purchx.

Best of all, these apps will come in handy when it comes time to start Christmas shopping. Find out where to find the most inexpensive Christmas gifts without sacrificing quality.

facebook application on an iphone smartphone
facebook application on an iphone smartphone

19. Follow Favorites on Social Media Now

To maximize savings for holiday shopping, get social with your retailers, both online and in traditional stores.

“As social media reaches more and more of the masses, almost all national retailers are using it as an effective way to interact with loyal customers,” said James. “If you do, be sure to ‘Like’ their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter as a great way to be kept in the know of new promotions and exclusive content and coupons.”

#LikeandShare: 7 Best Banks and Credit Unions to Follow on Social Media

person online shopping on phone
person online shopping on phone

20. Abandon Your Virtual Shopping Cart

You can score online coupons for desired items in a very clever way.

“During the weeks leading up to Black Friday and beyond, try filling your online shopping cart with merchandise and then log out of your account,” said James. “By doing so, in many cases, it will trigger an automated coupon sent to your inbox pleading for you to come back and complete your purchase with the coupon. Coupons are often for free shipping, 10 percent, 15 percent and even 20 percent off your purchase.”

“The key is to register with the site so they have your email address,” he added.

cyber monday keyboard button
cyber monday keyboard button

21. Take Advantage of Cyber Monday

In recent years, Cyber Monday has become one of the biggest shopping days of the year. You can use this new holiday to exploit Black Friday sales you might have missed by scoping out eBay on Cyber Monday.

“Why? Because countless ‘wannabe entrepreneurs’ snatch up the Black Friday leftovers and put them up on eBay for a quick profit,” said James. “But the good news for you is that with the saturated eBay market, you’re going to score a deal and end up paying only slightly more than if you had stood in line.”

Fashionably Belated: Best Things to Buy the Day After Christmas

woman grocery shopping
woman grocery shopping

22. Make Groceries Pay for Gas

“Buy gift cards for the stores you plan on shopping at for Christmas from a grocery store that gives you gas points,” said Greutman. “You might as well earn a few tanks of free gas if you’re going to be spending that money anyway.”

garage with a lot of junk boxes
garage with a lot of junk boxes

23. Declutter and Sell

Perez notes that selling unwanted clothing and other items can be a great way to make some cash for the holidays.

“Sell clothing at local consignment shops or online at ThredUp, RecycleYourFashions or TheRealReal (designer labels only); sell old gadgets and electronics at Gazelle, NextWorth or Glyde; and sell furniture and other big items locally through Craigslist or OfferUp,” she said.

woman on phone looking at financial statements
woman on phone looking at financial statements

24. Reevaluate Your Phone Plan

Similarly, reassessing your cellphone plan is a key step in preparing for holiday shopping.

“The average user spends $90 to $111 a month on their phone plan. Cellular providers haven’t made it easy for cost-conscious consumers to rein in their spending, either, with complicated billing plans that are difficult to decipher,” said Benjamin Glaser, features editor of DealNews.

“However, it’s worth at least trying to untangle, as you might be able to cut back on your spending without having to change your usage.”

woman signing up for something on laptop
woman signing up for something on laptop

25. Save Money With Rewards and Sign-Up Bonuses

You can begin saving money for the holidays now by applying for a rewards card with a sign-up bonus.

“By getting the card now, you can start building cash back you can use to offset your holiday spending,” said Holly Johnson of Club Thrifty, adding that some cards offer cash to customers who spend a certain amount of money within the first three months.

“With a signup bonus alone, you could have as much as $500 to spend on holiday shopping this year.”

person swiping card on phone card reader
person swiping card on phone card reader

26. Use Credit Cards Responsibly and Redeem Rewards for Gift Cards

Perez notes that using a credit card responsibly can actually help increase your holiday budget. “If you typically use cash or debit card to pay for everyday essentials, consider switching to your reward-rich credit card to collect points which you can redeem for gift cards to use as gifts or as currency for holiday purchases,” she said.

Just make sure you don’t miss any payments!

person writing in notebook
person writing in notebook

27. Cut Down on Impulse Buys

“To avoid wasting money during the holidays, record every impulse product you considered but didn’t buy and transfer that amount to your holiday savings and watch your fund grow,” said Perez.

woman handing cash to older cashier
woman handing cash to older cashier

28. Pay With Cash

Paying with cash is great preparation for the coming holidays.

“Pay for everything in cash or debit card for a few months to avoid a credit card bill during the holiday shopping season,” said Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.

clock calculator abacus pencil and graphs
clock calculator abacus pencil and graphs

29. Start a Countdown Fund

Creating a countdown fund is another forward-thinking way to save for the winter holidays.

“This is where you put a specific amount of money aside each paycheck into savings designated for holiday shopping,” said Deacon Hayes of Well Kept Wallet.

“For instance, if you get paid every two weeks, set aside $200 [every pay period] until Christmas. In this example, after three paychecks, you would have $600 in savings. The earlier you get started with this plan, the better.”

You Don’t Need A Lot: The Best Christmas Gift I Ever Bought for $20 or Less

person stacking coins
person stacking coins

30. Save Up Your Cash Back

“If you have acquired cash back in your account at a website like BeFrugal, wait to request a payment until it’s time to start shopping for gifts. The money can add up significantly if you use a cash-back shopping website every time you make a purchase online,” said Lal.

$5 bill in front of stack of $1 bills
$5 bill in front of stack of $1 bills

31. Round and Save

Financial experts recommend rounding payments and saving the extra cash.

Said John Schneider of DebtFreeGuys.com. “When we’re paid, we subtract whatever balance makes our pay an even $10 or $100 and transfer it into an account we’ve set aside for savings. If we’re paid $225, we send $5 to our savings. If we’re paid $1,225, we send $25 to our savings account.”

woman doing work on her laptop
woman doing work on her laptop

32. Cultivate a Freelance Side Hustle

Paula Pant of Afford Anything suggests that full-time workers earn extra cash for the holidays by freelancing. The right weekend job or side gig will provide a good income boost.

“Ideally this business should allow you to work from home, structure your own flexible time and set your own prices,” she said. “Ultimately, you have three options: earn more, spend less or both. Focusing on earning more offers limitless potential.”

Perez notes that individuals with writing or web design experience can find jobs using sites like UpWork. “Businesses big and small use this site and other services to outsource specialized tasks,” she said. “Freelancing your skills is a great way to make extra money for the holidays and start a side hustle that can serve you for years to come.”

bright colorful dresses on clothes hangers
bright colorful dresses on clothes hangers

33. Clear Out Kids’ Closets and Sell Stuff on eBay

“Right now is a great time to sell gently used toys and clothing on eBay,” said James, adding that you can use this money to fund your gift-buying efforts. Action figures, educational toys and board games are among the most popular toys sold on eBay.

man handing car key to another person
man handing car key to another person

34. Participate in the Sharing Economy

If you have a spare room, parking spot, car or bike to rent out, you can take advantage of the sharing economy to amass more money for the holidays, said Perez.

“Getaround is a good source for renting your car. Airbnb and HomeAway are good options for renting a room or your home,” she said.

If you’re looking for apps to rent your driveway or parking spot, check out platforms such as MonkeyParking, SPOT and JustPark, according to The Penny Hoarder.

family cooking a healthy dinner together
family cooking a healthy dinner together

35. Do More Meal Planning

Cutting costs on meals can give you more money to spend around the holidays.

“Spend less money on food by meal planning and then put these savings towards your holiday spending,” said Schroeder.

person looking at grocery receipt
person looking at grocery receipt

36. Cut Your Grocery Bill

Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game, offers tips on cutting expenses in preparation for the holidays.

In order to save $100 a week, “hit the web before you hit the supermarket and stock up on sales. Just shopping smart without coupons could cut your grocery bill in half,” said Gault. “If you want to use coupons, you could save an average of 67 percent and reap average savings of over $100 a week.”

Additionally, little changes when shopping can help you save money during each grocery trip. Try setting (and sticking to) a budget, paying only with cash and sticking to the basics to cut back on your spending.

coworkers eating tupperware lunches together
coworkers eating tupperware lunches together

37. Brown Bag Your Meals

Most people know that eating out can drain their bank accounts. But few realize how much they could save by packing their own meals.

Just by cutting back on a couple of meals out or making your own coffee, you can save upward of $100 a month — and that’s just the beginning. If you dine out more frequently, cutting back will save you even more. The savings are so high, partially because Americans are actually spending more money eating out than they are on groceries.

Gault recommends buying frozen meals at the grocery store, making coffee at home instead of stopping at Starbucks and filtering your own water instead of using disposable bottles.

pile of coins
pile of coins

38. Make Saving Automatic

Automatic banking processes can make saving for the holidays a breeze. If you’re looking for easy ideas on how to save money, this one is basically a no-brainer.

Just set up an automatic withdrawal that will move money from checking into savings every month. That way, you can save money for the holiday season all year long.

couple eating a bowl of food with chopsticks in their living room
couple eating a bowl of food with chopsticks in their living room

39. Have a Date Night at Home

Money plays a big role in your love life, and that includes dating. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays, reducing your date nights out on the town can help boost your budget. There are lots of creative ways to have free date nights instead.

“Instead of buying two tickets to the movie theater, overpaying for popcorn and cokes, stay home,” said Gault, who also recommends borrowing DVDs from friends or libraries. “By watching at home, and making your own popcorn and treats, you can save $35 to $50 on date night.”

woman cutting up credit card
woman cutting up credit card

40. Pay Off High-Interest Debt

In order to reduce your stress level during the holidays, consider getting rid of your most pressing debt now. Focus first on paying off the debt with the highest interest — not the highest balance. But take note that you should pay the minimum balance on all your other debts, according to the book “10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.”

More From GOBankingRates

Kaitlin Willow contributed to the reporting for this article.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 40 Easy Ways to Save for Holiday Shopping