The Christmas season is once again bearing down relentlessly upon us. Malls are sprouting calendar kiosks, photo studio elves can be spotted smoking around the sides of buildings, and everybody is starting to agonize over a growing gift list and a shrinking budget. If it seems like you should have started planning your 2013 Christmas shopping back in January, you’re not alone.

For most of us, shopping is something we don’t think about much until we have to. There are, however, people who have turned saving money on shopping into an art form that they share with readers of their blogs and books. We talked to three of these professional deal hunters about how they keep their gift giving within budget.

Time Your Purchases
“One of the big mistakes I see people making is loading up on toys on Black Friday,” says Carrie Rocha, author of "Keep More of What You Make" and PocketYourDollars.com, “Toys have traditionally dropped in price as Christmas nears, so the deal you're getting on Black Friday isn’t as good as the one you’ll see in December.”

Embrace Technology

Technology has also changed the smart shopping landscape, with more and more shopping taking place online. Rocha swears by the ShopSavvy app. “It allows you to scan the barcodes in-store and compare that price with the prices offered at other online and brick-and-mortar retailers. This is especially powerful when there is a price matching guarantee offered by the store you are at.”

Find Coupon Codes

Crystal Paine, author of the upcoming book "Say Goodbye to Survival Mode" and the blogger behind MoneySavingMom.com uses a combination of online resources to manage her gift shopping. “My husband and I have a policy to never purchase anything without first finding a coupon code to use. All you have to do is go to one of these sites, search for the store you’re planning to shop from, and ta-da! Some sites even offer user ratings that help you sort through the coupon codes.”

Groupons and Rebates

“There are so many online resources out there that can save you a lot of money over time.” Paine explained, “There are the social deal sites like Groupon, Living Social and Zulily that can save you money on brand-name items or as gifts in and of themselves. Then you have rebate sites like ebates.com and MrRebates.com that work with the online retailers to give you back a percentage of your total purchase.”

Outsource Your Search

Paine also follows sites such as JungleDealsandSteals.com that monitor Amazon.com for the best new deals, and she uses CamelCamelCamel.com to get alerts when prices drop on the products she is targeting. “There is no point in monitoring this yourself when someone else is willing to do the work and email you.”

Don’t Pay For Shipping!

Both Rocha and Paine emphasized that shipping is one thing you should never be spending on. Rocha said, “I avoid paying shipping on Amazon by signing up for free Amazon Mom or Amazon Student accounts when I plan to do a lot of online shopping. Both come with free Amazon Prime trials offering free 2-day free shipping with no minimum purchase. After signing up you can log right back into your Amazon Prime account and opt-out of the auto-renewing feature so you are never charged for it.”

Paine advises that people check FreeShipping.org to find free shipping codes and offers available at thousands of stores online. “Many stores offer free shipping year-round on a minimum order or they offer free shipping codes at various times throughout the year.”

Play the Field

There is still some value to be found in brick-and-mortar shops – especially when it comes to encouraging some healthy competition. “Walmart is really upping their game this year,” notes Josh Elledge of SavingsAngel.com. “Not only are they starting their sales earlier, they are promising to retroactively price match on any purchase made between Nov. 1 through Dec. 24. Bring in the receipt and the competitor’s ad, and they will issue a gift card for the difference.”

Best Buy, another large retailer, is actually encouraging customers to use its stores as a showroom for online retailers. The retailer's plan is to make the sale by offering in-store price matching combined with knowledgeable customer service. So don’t be shy about playing brick-and-mortar shops against their online competitors.

Keep an Open Mind

We should never forget that the thought still does count. “One of the best ways to save on gift giving is to rethink your idea of what a gift is,” says Elledge. “Maybe it’s not something you can unwrap. Maybe it is taking a friend out to coffee or raking your elderly neighbour’s yard. People think ‘well, that’s not much fun to receive,’ but if you buy a beautiful card and include a handwritten note, I bet it will be more meaningful that anything money could buy.”

The Bottom Line

One thing that all three shopping experts agree on is that it has never been easier to cut your gift-giving costs. The days of physically clipping coupons and flipping through catalogues and flyers are gone, replaced by alert services, deal sites and shopping apps. So, make your list, check it twice and then let the Internet do the rest. 

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