Happy Cyber Monday, Everyone! Alright, I know that this is hardly the most festive of holidays, and frankly, I’d argue that it doesn’t count as a holiday at all. Nor, for that matter, does Black Friday; times known only for major amounts of shopping, and increasingly, numerous sales, shouldn’t be holidays. Regardless, Cyber Monday provides major opportunities to those of us who will do a large portion of our shopping online, and it marks that our Christmas shopping season has well and truly commenced. (That it is already December 2nd doesn’t hurt matters either.)
All of this is my way of saying that if you aren’t one of those rare few people who have already completed all your holiday shopping, it’s good to review your shopping plans and make sure that you are making plans that will allow you to provide goodies to everyone while still keeping your expenses low. Some of the pieces of advice I provided for Black Friday is just as applicable to the rest of your holiday shopping; you can just as easy do things like haggle and ask for price matches any day of the year. For some other ways to keep your holiday costs low, try to follow these
Online Holiday Shopping Tips
1. Create (and Stick To!) a List – It doesn’t matter how much of a deal you can get on it, if you don’t need it (either for yourself or as a gift), you shouldn’t buy it. By creating a list, you can help to organize your purchases and keep your spending to a minimum. Of course, your list is only as good as your ability to stick to it; if you end up getting dozens of things that aren’t on the list, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on (even virtually). Figure out who you are giving gifts to and what to give them, and don’t buy anything more than that. (I’d suggest you do a gift name exchange among coworkers and extended family, as I have before, to keep the number of people on your list to a minimum.)
2. Compare the Purchase Prices – This is much easier to do when shopping online; checking price differences is as easy as using some of the price search engines out there. You can find plenty of different people selling an item for a variety of different prices, and with numerous different conditions associated. You can get pretty hefty discounts for used items (for that frugal gift recipient) or find obscure versions at a higher price (for the collector geek). You can go for the very cheapest price for the item available, or consider some of the other factors involved in your expenses, including:
3. Look For Free (or Discounted) Shipping – One of the biggest expenses with your online purchases, in some cases costing more than the items themselves, will be the shipping. If you can keep your shipping expenses low, in many cases you’ll save more than opting for the least expensive items and paying a small fortune to have it delivered to you. Some online stores will even allow you to ship your goods for free if you meet certain conditions; Amazon, to cite one example, allows you to get free two-day shipping if you are a ‘Amazon Prime Member*’ and buy your goods from the appropriate vendors. You won’t always get the best price, but when you factor the shipping costs in, you get things as cheaply (or close to it) by going for the Prime eligible option.
3. Try Using Coupon Codes – There are coupon codes that various websites will accept in exchange for a discount on various products. Doing a little searching can help you to find sources that will enable a substantial amount of savings. I can’t provide a complete list, since there are hundreds of sites that provide codes and dozens more that organize and attempt to distribute said codes. To get started, try CurrentCodes, RetailMeNot, and the aptly named Coupon.com. While I remind you again that you shouldn’t buy things simply because you can get them on sale, it’s worth checking to see if anywhere you’d like to shop has coupons available.
5. Consider Rewards Sites – So, you’re going to be shopping. And you’ll end up spending a good amount of money in the process. Why not get some money back in the process? There are rewards sites available that increasingly allow you to buy your items and get some money back, in the form of gift cards, college savings, or yes, even cash. So long as you aren’t buying anything you wouldn’t buy otherwise (notice a theme?), you could benefit from these rewards sites. (Just make sure that you compare the costs when going through a rewards site; you always want to go for the best deal, unless the rewards make up the difference.)
6. Use Secure Sites – If you’re going to be ordering online (and I’m guessing that you’ll do at least some of your shopping online nowadays), you’ll need to make sure that the site you are using is secure. When you look up at the web address, check to see that there is an ‘s’ after the ‘http’ portion; that is, make sure that web address begins with ‘https’. That will help to ensure that the transaction is encrypted and the purchase information is kept secure. (In most cases, it’s best to simply stick with the sites that you know and are familiar with and/or that come well recommended.)
7. Monitor Return Policies – Regardless of what you order, you might find yourself needing to return the gift. Sometimes the item is damaged, sometimes it isn’t what you ordered, and sometimes your intended gift recipient just doesn’t want it. In any event, it’s important to know how (and for that matter, if) you can return the item should the need arise. Most sites will make it pretty easy to find their return policy; being able to return defect or unwanted items is highly desirable, and most websites go out of their way to promote that sort of benefit. Although, if you’re hoping to take advantage of a return policy (or numerous other benefits), you need to ensure that you
8. Keep Good Records – I know that you’re probably going to be making many purchases during the holiday season, but you should be sure to keep good records. You’ll need to keep receipts from your purchases (many will be mailed with your purchases, but others need to be printed), watch your credit card statements (check them online if need be), and don’t delete any emails from sellers until everything has been given away (and all your recipients love their gifts). There’s lots of records to keep, for sure, but better to do that than run into trouble down the road if you need to return something.