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Make Christmas Shopping Affordable, Starting Now

Early Christmas shoppingThis post is from regular contributor, Kyle James. He has some great tips on saving money on holiday shopping!

I remember it like it was yesterday, driving around in the pouring rain looking for a place to park at the mall. It was December 23rd, and like the young fool that I was, I hadn’t done any of my Christmas shopping and was forced to brave the elements. The elements being the weather, the cranky sales people who wanted to go home, the long lines filled with kids who wouldn’t stop whining about wanting a Snickers, and of course the “full retail” price tags. I knew then there had to be a better way and over the years I have developed a more stress-free and cheaper strategy for doing my holiday shopping. Here are my seven favorites tips.

1. Make A List and Budget

This is obviously the first place to start your Christmas gift buying. Write down everyone you are planning on buying for and set a budget you are comfortable with for each person. This is going to be your go-to piece of paper to make sure you don’t end up with a surprise credit card bill in January. My wife and I also like to write down clothing sizes and any potential gift ideas on our budget guide in case we stumble upon a great deal throughout the year.

2. Shop All-Year Long

Once you are armed with your shopping list and budget, be on the lookout for bargains on gift ideas all year long. By shopping year-round you avoid the ridiculous stress of trying to finish your Christmas shopping by the 24th. After all, who wants to be at the mall on Christmas Eve fighting the crowd and more than that, being held hostage by whatever price the store wants to offer? No thanks, I’ll pass. I’d rather be at home with my family, sitting by a warm fire and drinking ridiculous amounts of egg nog.

3. Where Stores Hide the Best Deals

So, when looking for deals on gifts always check the aisle end-caps at stores like Target and Walmart. Not the end caps facing the front of the store, but the end caps way in the back of the store. You may have to step over a homeless person and work your way around a pallet jack, but believe me, it’s well worth the effort. This is especially true at Target as they notoriously stuff their back end-caps with some amazing clearance deals on toys, home decor, and household appliances.

While we are taking about clearance items at Target, another little secret is to check the actual price of item. It the price ends with .98 the item will soon be marked down even further, if the price ends with .04 it is a final markdown and the savings won’t get any better. Snatch up the .04 deals like they are the last Thin Mint in the box knowing that the Girl Scouts won’t be around until next year.

4. When Shopping Online, Always Think Ahead

Just last week I was buying a new pair of jeans and sweater at American Eagle, and before I completed my order I clicked on the ‘Clearance’ tab to see what they had. I found a couple University of Nebraska winter hats for $9.99 (regularly $29.95) and bought one for my Dad, who is from Nebraska and a huge Cornhusker fan, and one or my son who is also a big fan. I, of course, was shopping with a 25% off coupon so I got the hats for $7.50 each and they’ll both make great Christmas presents. The moral of this exciting little story is to always think ahead whenever you are shopping online and check the clearance section for possible gift ideas. You may even be able to bring your order amount up to the threshold to qualify for free shipping or a percentage off coupon. Win-win.

5. Popular Gifts: Educate Yourself

Growing up, I had very frugal parents, but for whatever reason, my Mom always got caught up in what the hottest toy of the Christmas season was. Because of it, I am a 39 year-old man with a male Cabbage Patch Kid and a Furby stored away in my attic somewhere. I think part of it was she enjoyed splurging once a year on a popular “pop-culture” item. If you have a propensity to do the same, be sure to do some research ahead of time so you can pre-order the item and save money. Whether it be a gaming system, or a red stuffed animal that hugs you, you can pre-order and get some cool rewards like free accessories. But the best part is you can lock in your price and aren’t subject to the price-gouging that goes on closer to Christmas morning.

6. Check Thrift Stores

I am always amazed at the number of brand new items I stumble upon at my local thrift store. From clothing, to home decor, to books, there are many new items to be found as well as stuff that has some age to it that would also make a great “vintage” gift. The bottom-line is don’t forget about thrift stores when doing your Christmas shopping this year, they are a great place to find some gifts at very low prices.

7. “Stock-up” Items Make Creative Gifts

I’m not talking about toilet paper and cans of tomato sauce, but rather items like wine, cookbooks, candy, and unique dry goods. When you find a great deal, stock up, and set the items aside in your home and use them to make some really unique and thoughtful gift baskets. For example, if you have a friend who loves to cook, you can combine a cool cookbook with some wine, pasta, and spices to make a gift basket. Let your imagination guide you.

What tips do you have that help you get your Christmas shopping done in a way that alleviates stress and insures you save money? I look forward to your comments.

About the Author: Kyle James is the big cheese at Rather-Be-Shopping.com which has been helping families save money with coupons along with creative frugal living tips since way back in 2001.

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Young

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I suppose it’s that time of the year again. I like your tip about shopping at the end caps at the back of the store. I never really thought of it, but it’s true that there are some awesome deals if you go all the way to the back. That has to be the hardest place to push product, so it makes sense.

  2. “I found a couple University of Nebraska winter hats for $9.99 (regularly $29.95)” Oh know, you’ve got Husker fans in your family… 😉 I am a K-State guy living in Omaha and HATE this time of year. 🙂 Seriously, though, we do many of these things – especially the planning throughout the year and shopping throughout the year. I did not know that about the Target pricing, thanks for the tip!

  3. I just bought my kids some stocking stuffers at the grocery store yesterday. Barbie accessories on clearance for $1! =)

  4. I always wish I had shopped ahead but never do it. Maybe this will be the year? Haha. It’s definitely a good idea though.

  5. I had no idea about the .98 vs the .04. I’ll be on the lookout for that when shopping from now on!

  6. I love online shopping. I always get the best deals and I hate shopping in stores. These are some really great tips for people who like to shop.

  7. I’m so happy that Christmas is getting closer and closer. It’s my favorite time of year! I have no started shopping yet though.

  8. You are a woman after my own heart! I start Christmas shopping as soon as birthday shopping is done 😉 I loathe shopping in December. It’s so stressful and usually more expensive. I had a lot of good luck at the library booksale last week, where I found a lot of new children’s books for $1-$2 each.

  9. Thanks for the Target clearance tip – I had no idea the difference .98 and .04 prices. Good info to know! I definitely put together a list and budget too. It makes it so much easier. Plus, like you said, you can also shop year-round and snatch up great deals as you see them. And I love that your Mom bought you a Cabbage Patch Kid and Furby. Hilarious! 🙂

  10. We’d like to get out of the whole “buying presents” thing completely, but I doubt it’ll happen. Hopefully we can at least keep it to a minimum this year!

  11. Great recommendations! We always say that the key to any financial success is planning. You have planning for Christmas detailed perfectly. We will implement these in our lives. Thanks for the suggestions!

  12. My wife shops all year and makes some gifts too.

  13. YES! I love someone else championing year round Christmas shopping. And I completely agree that you can find the coolest gifts for people this way too. My Christmas list changes very little from year to year and I love seeing a bargain in some random bin in July that’s absolutely perfect for my best friend or my brother or mother, etc. I get to find them something they’ll love instead of just some obligation gift AND get it at a good price. And I love avoiding the Christmas rush and panic at the mall. I just pick a random day and calmly wrap my gifts with free Christmas music playing on Pandora (with wrapping paper bought the previous January for 1/10 of the price it was a month before) and drinking my free sample hot chocolate.

  14. I just bought my daughter a tablet last week because that’s her Christmas wish. It has %30 discount that’s why I grabbed it immediately, I purchased it online and was delivered in 2 days. Thanks for sharing your creative ideas!

  15. It is that time of year when people should starting shopping for Christmas presents. I always find it helpful to start earlier so you are not rushing around a week before Christmas. Also, getting a head start gives you more time to get those special online deals. Sites like DealDash are unique ways to get great presents for cheap. These deals offer a lot of expensive stuff for less money then you would find in the store.

  16. Thanks for the info on the Target .04 price tags and the end caps! I’m looking forward to checking that out.

    Last November, I stumbled on a fantastic deal on King Arthur flour and bought several bags. For Christmas, I used the flour to make homemade mixes. One of the gifts I gave to several members of my family was a big container of muffin mix and a container of biscuit mix, along with a cookbook (Make-A-Mix) of recipes using the mixes. I love baking, cookbooks, and King Arthur flour so it was a natural, heartfelt, yet surprisingly inexpensive gift to give. I hope something like that appears for me again this year!

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