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7 Money-Saving Tips for Holiday Shopping

Buying presents for family and friends can be expensive. These strategies could help you save money as you search for the perfect gifts.

THE HOLIDAYS ARE, ABOVE ALL, A TIME FOR FAMILY to enjoy time together. And exchanging gifts is a big part of that experience. Some people plan months in advance to buy the perfect gifts for everyone on their list; others love waiting until the last minute, certain that serendipity will lead them to some unexpected treasures.  

Bargains, of course, can be harder to find when you wait, which may be why the majority of holiday gift givers get an early jump on their shopping. According to a September 2018 survey from the Berkeley Research Group, 87% of respondents planned to start that year’s holiday shopping before December—and 73% by early November or before1. If you're a procrastinator, or just haven't had the time to hit the stores, never fear. The following tips can help you survive the last-minute rush without going over budget.

1. Make a list—and check it twice. Write down everyone you plan to give gifts to—from your nearest and dearest to the mail carrier. Then put a dollar figure next to each name. Having price limits in mind makes it far easier to avoid overspending.

When you spot a deal at the mall, use your smartphone to see if you can get the same item for a better price elsewhere.

2. Go big by sharing the expense. By splitting the cost with family or friends, it’s easier to buy presents you may not otherwise be able to afford. Zelle®, in the Bank of America and Merrill mobile apps, lets you send and receive money with friends and family and makes it easy to share expenses.

3. Protect your credit cards. The greatest expense of the holiday season could be what a scam artist or hacker extracts from your bank account. One way to keep your credit cards safe is to check your account balances online on a regular basis, so that if there’s an irregularity you can spot it right away. When shopping online, you should avoid sharing card details unless you know the vendor and how the payment will be used. And if you’re shopping over the phone, never give out your card information unless you’re the one who made the call. (For more ways to help stay safe online, read “Be Cyber-Secure: Do’s and Don’ts for Your Family.”)

4. Bring your smartphone. When you spot a deal at the mall, look before you pounce. Use your phone to see if you can get the same item for a better price elsewhere. If the store has a price-match policy, you can cash in on extra savings right then and there.

5. Get something back. If you’re using a credit card to buy, think about paying with a card that offers cash back or other rewards like retail discounts or travel deals. After all, it’s money you’re going to be spending anyway. Just make sure to pay off your balance before interest charges add up. 

6. Resist temptation by shopping online. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research by researchers at UCLA and the University of Wisconsin–Madison shows that holding an item can boost your desire to buy it—and your willingness to pay more for it2 . But be sure to factor shipping charges into the overall cost. Keep an eye out for retailers who ship for free and search for coupon codes for free shipping.

7. Take a break between purchases. Collaborative research from Yale, Duke and Stanford, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, found that making one purchase can trigger what they call the "shopping momentum effect"—a psychological impulse to buy more items.3 To counteract this, just walk away from the store or computer screen for a few minutes after making each purchase.

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1 BRG 2018 Holiday Outlook and Consumer Survey.

2 Joann Peck and Suzanne B. Shu, “The Effect of Mere Touch on Perceived Ownership,” Journal of Consumer Research, 36(3): 434–447., October 2009.

3 Ravi Dhar, Joel Huber and Uzma Khan, “The Shopping Momentum Effect,” Journal of Marketing Research, 44(3): 370–378., August 2007.


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