Then Black Friday, which tumbled right into Small Business Saturday. And then? It was Cyber Monday.
And it’s only November.
With that in mind, here are 10 tips to keep your holiday shopping season a little more jolly and a lot less jarring on the wallet.
1. Makin’ a list: One of the best ways to avoid overspending is to write down a list of everyone you want to give to, from your kids to your haircutter. Decide what you can comfortably spend for each person.
“(A list) helps you prioritize how much you can realistically spend for the season,” says Casey Bond, managing editor for GoBankingRates.com, a personal finance site based in El Segundo, Calif. “Sit down, make that plan: This is how much I really want to spend.”
2. Embrace technology: A number of new tech tools make it easier than ever to snag holiday bargains, says Jake Gibson, chief operating officer of consumer finance site NerdWallet.com in San Francisco.
One of his favorites: Passbook, an iPhone application through which you gather all your gift cards, boarding passes, digital tickets, rewards cards and coupons on your smartphone.
“It’s a pop-up notification on your phone… If you walk into Sears or Old Navy, it’ll alert you that coupons are available,” said Gibson. “I use it every day to buy my coffee because my Starbucks’ gift card is loaded onto Passbook.”
Another bit of shopper tech, he noted: Target’s mobile shopping tool for top-selling kids’ toys. In a Target store, you scan the toy’s QR code and it can be purchased and shipped via your mobile phone.
3. Credit, cash or debit? We all know that credit card spending can spiral out of control, which is why many experts recommend using cash or a debit card.
But the holidays can be different, says John Ulzheimer, consumer education president with SmartCredit.com. With identity thieves “working overtime” during the holidays, he said credit cards offer more ID theft protection, especially if you dispute fraudulent charges.
“If you have the self-control to not spend more than planned, credit cards are a safer option.”
4. Be card wise: “If you can’t afford to pay off your credit card in November, then you can’t afford to add a lot more to it in December,” says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com, a credit card comparison site. “If you must use a credit card to pay for Christmas, make sure you can pay it off by Easter.”
If you have more than one card, use the one with the highest limit, so holiday purchases don’t push you into debt ratios that can hurt your credit score.
5. Skip the store cards: Avoid those tempting store credit cards offered when you’re standing at the cash register. Their discounts — 10 percent to 20 percent off everything you’re buying — are enticing. But the cards often carry some of the worst terms out there, says Ulzheimer, with interest rates as high as 24.99 percent and low credit limits of $1,000 or less.
6. Shop thrifty: Be creative and check out local thrift shops that sell “gently used” goods to benefit various charities. It’s a very “green” way to pick up bargain gifts, many of which are new and unused, from sports equipment to fine china to appliances.
At Second Season, a shop that benefits the Assistance League of Sacramento, the like-new holiday decorations, linens and clothes have “just flown off the shelves and racks” this year, says Katie Kunz, a longtime volunteer.
7. Gift card trading: Want to buy or sell your gift cards? Sites like Cardpool.com, GiftCardRescue.com or PlasticJungle.com let you sell unwanted gift cards for cash or buy other people’s cards at a discount. The gift cards are from hundreds of well-known brands: from Sears to Victoria’s Secret, from Macy’s to Home Depot.
Say you want to unload a $100 gift card from American Eagle Outfitters. Cardpool, a San Francisco-based site, will pay you $79 — by check — if you mail in the card; for a $100 Babies R Us card, they’ll pay $82.
If you want to buy gift cards, they’re sold at discounts of up to 30 percent off. At GiftCardRescue, for example, you’ll pay $22.50 for a $25 Sunglass Hut card or $45 for a Pottery Barn $50 card.
8. Play it safe: One of the worst ways to lose money during the holidays is theft. When out shopping, follow these common-sense reminders:
Don’t carry more than one credit card, in case your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Don’t leave packages, laptops or cellphones visible in your back or front seat; if you don’t have a trunk, bring a blanket to throw over valuables. Keep your purse tucked under an arm and strapped across your torso; stick your wallet in a front pocket. Don’t pull out a wad of cash at the register. Always be aware of your surroundings and park in well-lit areas.
And a final note: Go easy on yourself during the seasonal spending spree.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the consumer side of the holidays,” says Bond. “The best thing is to stick to your budget and not set yourself up for a debt hangover in January. Just because it’s a great deal doesn’t mean you need it.”
©2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services