The Holiday Shopping Guide for Hard Times

Whether you’re unemployed, underemployed or self-employed -- or if you just haven’t gotten a raise in a while -- you’re probably feeling the effects of this economic downturn in one way or another. And yet the holidays are the holidays; you can’t just buy crappy gifts and tell people you’re broke. Well, you can, but wouldn’t you rather get great gifts that seem a lot more expensive than they are? Herewith, Andrea Woroch, a consumer-savings advisor for Kinoli, Inc. (owner of several money-saving websites, including freeshipping.org and giftcardgranny.com), reveals her top tips for shopping smart this holiday season.

1. Shop Online
Internet shopping over the holidays is expected to reach an all-time high as more consumers trust e-retailers and look to the Web to avoid massive crowds. The Internet also makes it easy to compare prices and find online coupons from sites like PromoCodes.us for additional savings.  Merchants are aware that e-commerce is on the rise, and are putting a lot of effort into it. Look for more online deals this season than ever before.

2. Download Apps
Smartphones can turn you into a smarter shopper. Before heading out to shop, download the following apps to help you detect deals and score discounts more easily:

  • Barcode scanning app RedLaser instantly provides price comparisons at online retailers and nearby stores           
  • CouponSherpa searches for digital coupons at stores near you
  • SalesLocator tells you what’s currently on sale in local stores

3. Socialize
Follow retailers on Twitter, like them on Facebook or check into their stores on FourSquare to stay on top of the latest deals and discounts. Many brands also release special offers exclusively to their social media fans.

4. Use Discount Gift Cards
Buy other shoppers’ unwanted gift cards for less than face value (some can be had at half price) from sites like GiftCardGranny.com. You can find discount gift cards for almost everything, from restaurants and department stores to travel services and movie theaters. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

5. Research Prices
Knowing how much a product costs before shopping any sale will help you determine the best values. Without this knowledge you could fall for a misleading promotion that really isn't much of a deal at all! So do your homework and compare prices. Try Google Shopping online or its smartphone app.

6. Price Match
Stores like Walmart and Best Buy have been offering price match guarantees for a long time. Sears and Home Depot are taking it a step further: The retailers will price match and offer an additional 10 percent off! You also want to watch out for price drops after you buy. Walmart recently announced that they will give credit to any shopper who found a better deal on a recent purchase from their store with a gift card worth the difference.

7. Buy from Flash Sale Sites
Flash sale sites typically offer high-end products at a huge discount. Gilt.com, for example, sells designer clothing for both sexes, as well as home and foodie items and travel discounts. If you have champagne taste on a beer budget, these sites can help satiate your designer craving without breaking the bank. However, it's easy to get caught up in the hype and urgency, and end up overspending on products you wouldn't otherwise buy. Patrons of these sites should have a list of what they really want and apply tunnel vision when searching for deals.

8. Join the Club
Shopping clubs are a trend this year, with retailers like Toys R Us and Kohl's offering benefits for shoppers who join their exclusive programs. The danger: Shoppers often have to spend a certain amount in order to get worthwhile rewards, which may turn into overspending.  However, if you regularly shop with a retailer offering one of these programs, go for it!

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/pierredesvarre

by Caroline Kinneberg