HThe holiday shopping season officially kicks off this week with Black Friday sales on November 25th. Normally the busiest shopping day of the year, the sale has escalated into a multi-day promotion, stretching into Cyber Monday for many retailers to encourage e-commerce-driven purchases — and sometimes beyond.
Navigating through these sales for bargains and holiday gifts can be stressful with multiple competing deals and offers to sort through. Meanwhile, some buyers are finding that they end up getting remorse from buyers if they get carried away with chasing deals.
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TIME spoke to shopping and personal finance experts on how to make sure you’re spending wisely. They shared their advice on how to get the best deals without stress.
Be realistic and budget
Much of the stress surrounding the holidays comes from wanting to live up to expectations of giving gifts to those you care about. But especially when you have children, it is important to make sure that you do not overwhelm yourself.
“It’s really important that people call back and focus on what they can personally afford this year and stay in that space,” said Trae Bodge, Smart Shopping Expert at truetrade.com.
“Give yourself mercy,” says Tori Dunlap, entrepreneur and person behind the @herfirst100k account on TikTok. Budgeting doesn’t have to be a strict constraint, but a guideline that ensures you’re shopping on target. “It’s the permit, you have to spend money without feeling guilty,” says Dunlap.
Budgeting during the holiday season can be as simple as a list of who you need gifts for, potential gift ideas, and the amount you’re willing to spend on the gift. If you see that you don’t have the income to buy a gift for all family members, be honest with family and friends about how things are financially, or suggest alternatives like a secret Santa or white elephant says bog
To gauge how much to spend this year, Dunlap suggests that shoppers look at last year’s budget and how they handled it. She says considering whether you’ve taken on credit card debt this year and how your financial situation has changed can help determine how much you’re likely to spend in the upcoming holiday season.
Several major retailers such as Target, Walmart, and Best Buy are offering their Black Friday deals online ahead of Thanksgiving. If you’re worried about not being able to purchase items due to increased online traffic and possible website crashes, you might want to check out the deals ahead of Black Friday. For example, Target offers daily and weekly deals, some of which are exclusively available online. Daily deals will run through December 24 while supplies last, the retailer said in a statement.
Shoppers can also take advantage of curbside pickup for select items and store locations such as Macy’s, Kohl’s and JCPenney. Same day or next day delivery is also available in certain department stores.
While shopping in person is useful for products that need to be seen firsthand, online shopping often offers a wider choice of items in terms of size or color and makes saving much easier.
Bodge and Dunlap both recommend downloading the Paypal Honey browser extension, which finds coupons and other deals for shoppers. Honey also tracks an item’s historical prices, making it easier to see if an item’s price has actually dropped over the Black Friday weekend.
The Paypal Honey extension is also available for mobile browsers like Safari as well as via an app.
PayPal Shopping vice president Greg Lisiewski told TIME that he recommends using the extension if you’re just browsing online, while the app is more useful if you know exactly what you want to buy. “You can actually type in the product name and we’ll do the pricing at different retailers…instead of having to jump from page to page.”
If you choose to order online, Bodge recommends placing your order by December 14th, as this is the last official day retailers can guarantee your order will arrive before the holidays.
Make business policies work for you
Holiday return policies vary from store to store, but most retailers allow shoppers to return items purchased during this time of year through January. Best Buy, for example, allows customers to return any gifts purchased between October 24 and December 31 through January 14, while Amazon extends returns through January 31.
It’s also worth considering joining a retailer’s free loyalty program, which grants upfront access to exclusive discounts.
Stores also offer fixed price guarantees, which lower the price of an item if you find an identical item cheaper at a competitor’s retail store. This can be done at the time of purchase or often after the product has been purchased – you would normally need to provide proof of purchase for this. Stores like Target also match Target.com prices to in-store purchases.
Though the special deals are already available and lasting through the holidays, Bodge says Black Friday is a great time for shoppers to find the best deals on small home appliances like security cameras and robotic vacuums. Electronics (laptops, tablets, etc.) bargains are strong from Black Friday through Cyber Monday.
Take a swipe — and watch out for predatory behavior
Retailers can often create a sense of urgency with doorstep sales or ads indicating that supply is limited. This can tempt shoppers to panic buy and overspend on things they don’t need, Bodge tells TIME.
“Setting a budget for yourself can [also] can be really helpful,” says Bodge. “If you don’t have yourself on your list and set a budget for yourself, you could fall into it [a trap] of a [gift] For them, for me, that makes a lot of people go over budget.”
Dunlap also asks people to think strategically about how they spend their money. Responsible users should use their credit cards as the primary method of purchasing items in order to maximize the number of points, Air Miles and other potential cashback offers at select stores.
However, buyers should not rely on credit cards or online offers such as “buy now, pay later” if they cannot pay back the borrowed item within a reasonable time to avoid interest.
Dunlap also advises against purchasing credit cards from stores unless shoppers are actually buying or spending heavily from those retailers.
“Please note that many of these businesses, when they present you with their credit card, call it something like a rewards card. It’s not a rewards card,” says Dunlap. “This is a credit card, and business rewards cards tend to have higher interest rates. So if you are a person who has not been able to pay off the credit cards on time and in full, a bonus card will hurt you.”
Do your research and look beyond the big retailers
Customers should also look at their existing accounts to ensure they are getting the best deals. “Make sure you know what your credit card offers are,” Bodge tells TIME.
It’s also worth looking into perks and offers that retailers might be offering to entice customers to choose them over their competitors even if the items are the same price, such as . B. an additional gift card for your purchase, says Bodge.
Now is also a good time to start thinking about supporting smaller retailers while also striking a deal, and maybe even finding something more unique than you’d get elsewhere. Small Business Saturday, a marketing initiative aimed at encouraging buyers to support these sellers, falls on November 26 this year. “You have more spending power during the holidays than any other time of year, and small businesses, women-owned businesses…[these] People need those dollars the most so they can vote with their dollars every day of the year, but especially during the holidays,” Dunlap tells TIME.
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