Now that you've completed Part 1 and made your list, I want to share the strategies that can help you save a substantial amount of money on the “big ticket” gifts you want to give this holiday. I'm guessing that for most of you, the biggest gifts will go to the people in your “absolute” category: probably your spouse and kids. Do you have any gifts in mind for them already? I haven't come up with anything brilliant yet for my husband; my son just had a birthday so I'm not thinking about him yet; but I'd been thinking that my twins would love a dollhouse since they enjoy role playing and interacting with each other (sssh! Don't tell them). It really helps to have these particular gifts in mind early so you can get the best possible price:
- Do your research. What's the regular or shelf price for the item you're wanting to buy? Check online or look in stores when you happen to be there. It's important to know what the base price is so you'll know a good sale price when you see one. Bonus tip: in the case of an iPod or game system–anything with an MSRP that doesn't fluctuate–your best bet will be the gift card tip below.
- Keep an eye out for coupons. Coupons? For major electronics? Sure! Check out Slickdeals or FatWallet for announcements about printable coupons for Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Depot and Staples. I've received coupons via email from Staples for $20 off $100 just for being part of their rewards program. Often, the only restriction is that it cannot be used on computers, but check the fine print. Office Depot and Staples sell a lot of the same electronics that you'd buy at the other stores (GPS systems, digital cameras, MP3 players), and you'll be able to apply those coupon savings.
- Redeem pharmacy coupons and points for gift cards. I'm a broken record on the pharmacy coupons, but any opportunity you get to shop with other people's money helps your bottom line. Just in the past two weeks, Target had a $10 GC coupon in their weekly ad (it expires this month). They're likely to offer it again, and you're likely to have someone sick between now and the holidays! Fulfill that one-time antibiotics Rx at Target and use the $10 towards the toys or electronics you have your eye on. If you have a points program through your bank, credit card, or newspaper subscription, redeem the points for a GC at a store you're likely to shop, like Target or Toys R Us.
- Open your mouth. If you have a particular gift in mind, like a Thomas the Tank Engine set or a dollhouse, start talking about it with friends. Ask people where they've purchased theirs (and if you dare, ask what they paid!). They may recommend an online vendor with great sales or let you know when they hear of a promotion that will help you. In my case, I had been asking about recommendations for a dollhouse, and a friend in my Multiples Club let me know that her daughters had just removed all traces of “little girl” from their rooms and she was planning to list an entire Dora dollhouse with rooms full of furniture on Craigslist. That leads me to my last strategy for saving big…
- Consider buying it used. When I buy the Dora dollhouse and accessories from my friend, I'll spend a fraction of what I'd spend buying it new, and I know it's in excellent condition. When you can get exactly what you want and it's in new or like-new shape, why not save the money? Plus, you'll avoid the hassle of opening that space-age packaging to get the toys in ready-to-play mode for the kids. Just the thought of avoiding those sharp plastic edges and twist ties makes sugar plums dance in my head.
As you can see, there are a lot of smart ways to save money when you know exactly what you're looking for. So take that list you made and start putting gift ideas next to the names. By starting early, in September and October, you'll have plenty of time to track prices, keep your eyes open for deals, and make your purchases when you're confident you're getting a great deal.