Stores are already full of Christmas merchandise and Thanksgiving is days away, so this looks like a good time to share some of my favorite money-saving holiday shopping tips.
In addition to planning ahead, staying on budget, and watching for sales and discounts, there are many opportunities to save money. That's true whether you're buying gifts, or just shopping.
Here are some examples:
Discount gift cards: Gift cards may be purchased as gifts, but they can also be used to make your own purchases. If you're planning to do a lot of shopping, or dining, at a particular place, check out reputable online resellers of gift cards, and you could get one at a nice discount to face value.
Gift cards are just another form of money. If you can get a $100 gift card for $90, you made money. Just make sure to only buy gift cards you'll use.
Some discount examples I found: You could buy a $100 gift card for Bass Pro Shops for $88 (cardcash.com), a $75 AutoZone gift card for $67.50 (raise.com), or a $50 P.F. Chang's gift card for $39.75 (cardpool.com). Note that, sometimes, gift cards are sold in electronic versions that can only be used online.
Gift card bonuses: Keep an eye out for bonus offers that can multiply your money. Restaurant chains, drug stores and even specialty retailers usually offer deals during the holiday shopping season in which the gift cards you buy may be worth 10 percent to 30 percent more than you paid for them.
That's helpful for gift-giving, or to save money at places you regularly shop or dine. Note that a "gift card" does not expire, but a bonus might come in a different form that could have an expiration date. So, you might buy a $50 restaurant gift card that doesn't expire, and also get a $10 "bonus card" with an expiration date.
Membership discounts: Say you want to give some movie tickets as gifts. If you're an AAA or AARP member, you can buy them at discounted prices.
Credit/debit card cash-back: Many credit and debit cards provide rebates in the form of cash-back, or points. Some offer larger rebates at particular stores, and many offer even larger rebates for online shopping launched from their website's online shopping portal.
Get in the habit of launching your online shopping from your credit or debit cards online shopping portal, and you'll save more money. If you're a member of an airline loyalty program with miles or points that can expire, use the airline's shopping portal to shop and you'll reset the expiration date on your mileage program.
Valuable protection: Take the time to know the benefits provided by different credit and debit cards, so you'll know the best ones to use.
American Express' "purchase protection" will cover a purchase if it's stolen or accidentally broken within 90 days — a great benefit, which I've used in the past, that's particularly helpful for purchases of small electronics that will be gifted to young people. Dropped your new smartphone in a lake? No problem.
Citi "price rewind" will let you register a purchase, track the price, and give you money back if better deals turn up. Some cards will automatically extend a warranty, or the time period when returns are allowed.
Speaking of credit cards, shoppers are likely to be solicited at checkout, both in person and online, with offers to immediately save money on their purchase by signing up for the store's credit card. Weigh such offers carefully, because store-branded credit cards typically offer lower incentives for signing up, come with fewer benefits and carry high interest rates.
Signing up for a credit card shouldn't be an impulse decision. Some store-affiliated cards may make sense if they have no annual fee, you shop there often and they provide ongoing discounts. As with any credit card, store-branded cards are only a good thing for people who avoid interest charges by paying off the balance due each month.