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Be Thrifty AND Generous With This Budget-Minded Shopping Checklist

If you're on a tight budget for holiday shopping, every penny counts. Here's a handy checklist to make sure you're not spending more than need be.
Image: A consumer looks at Cyber Monday sales on her computer
A consumer looks at Cyber Monday sales on her computer.Paul Sakuma / AP, file

With the average shopper predicted to spend around $1,440 on gifts and holiday-related items this year, every penny counts.

Luckily, it’s getting easier to save during the holiday season, thanks to a slew of apps and websites that allow shoppers to price compare, strategize and plan ahead. Combine this with some good old-fashioned common sense and tips from our shopping experts, and you’ll make it through the season with your wallet – and sanity – intact.

Make a list

Write up a list of people for whom you need to buy gifts. If scribbling names and numbers on a piece of paper works best for you, go for it. If not, try an app such as Santa’s Bag, Gift Planner or Christmas List Snowball.

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These handy tools can help you keep track of holiday spending by recipient, amount or store, update you with tracking numbers for online orders and even remind you where you hid the gifts and whether you wrapped them or not.

Stick to the plan

Create a realistic gift budget for each person on your list -- and stick to it, said Hitha Herzog, chief research officer at H Squared Research.

"Download budgeting software like, which alerts you to when you are going over budget,” she recommended.

Don’t wait for Cyber Monday

According to Adobe’s Online Shopping Prediction report, Thanksgiving Day will offer the lowest online prices this year, with an average discount of 26 percent.

Cyber Monday is still expected to bring in a record $3 billion in sales nationwide. Visit to learn of the daily and hourly specials that top online retailers such as Amazon, eBay, Target, and Wal-Mart will be rolling out on or before Nov. 30.

Don’t pay for shipping

Free shipping is no longer a perk, it’s a requisite, with 72 percent of shoppers citing it as a factor in selecting an online retailer, according to the Deloitte 2015 holiday retail survey.

“You could probably get through the entire season without paying to ship your items,” noted Herzog.

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Visit for a list of retailers who are offering this service on Dec. 18, for delivery by Christmas Eve.

Use online coupons

Before checking out, run a quick search using the store name and the word “coupon” or “promo code” to see if the site has hidden discounts.

You can also use couponing sites such as or to find current deals posted by retailers and fellow shoppers.

Know a deal

During the competitive holiday season, don’t settle for 15 percent off. Only go for a coupon or code or retail discount of 25 percent or higher. During this time of year, it’s not uncommon to see discounts of between 30 and 50 percent.

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However, for those “must-have” items, don’t hem and haw over a $10 price difference. Once an item is sold out, it’s sold out.

Just ask

When shopping online, use the Live Chat pop-up box to speak to a representative. In many cases, they are more than happy to match you up with a coupon code from the multiple discounts on offer.

Buy refurbished

If Apple products are on your list, consider buying a refurbished device. You can save up to 33 percent, and all items are Apple-tested, certified, and repackaged with a brand new battery and outer shell.

Buy your Christmas tree early

If you’re looking for a fresh-cut tree, the best time to buy it is right after Thanksgiving -- or, for the true procrastinator, on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

For those who prefer the artificial, pre-lit variety, make your purchase in the first two weeks of December, advises the Peaceful Mom, noting “Most folks are more focused on starting holiday shopping, so trees are priced lower to increase sales.”

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Shop on Small Business Saturday

Support independent storeowners and neighborhood businesses and get deals by shopping locally on Nov. 28 this year. Visit, or stop by a holiday fair and buy homemade crafts direct from the artisan.

Choose debit over credit

Sure, you won’t accrue your cashback or bonus points, but you will be forced to stick to your budget. A debit card only allows you to spend what you have in your bank account, and removes the temptation to overspend. And whatever you do, don’t use overdraft protection if you have it on your account.

Do the math

Just because you spot a lower price in store does not mean that your final price is going to be better than buying online with a coupon code or free shipping.

Use a price comparison app such as ShopSavvy, which allows you to upload a bar code and receive prices across a spectrum of retailers.

Gift wrap for free

When you’re checking out at a store, ask about free gift wrapping. At the very least, most major retailers will give you seasonal packaging such as a holiday gift box, even a ribbon.

Unsubscribe from email alerts

Marketing surveys show that consumers who receive e-mail offers spend 138 percent more than those who did not sign up. So if you’re truly planning on sticking to your budget, check the unsubscribe box.

Plan for next year!

The week after Christmas is the time to stock up on gift wrap, cards, holiday decorations, candles and other seasonal items. Retailers discount these products as much as 75 percent in order to restock with new merchandise.