I’ve been a dedicated bargain hunter since I was a kid with not much spending money. So this year, like every other year, almost all my holiday shopping was finished before the stores started putting up Christmas decorations. On Thanksgiving day, I enjoyed a long and leisurely dinner with my family. No post-turkey trips to the mall, thank you very much. And on Black Friday, I did not rush to any stores to join the crazy pre-dawn crowds primed to buy, buy, buy. In fact, I only did one thing that cost me any sleep and I was able to do that in my pajamas. But more on that later.
How do I manage a relaxed and festive season, confident that my gifts are purchased and wrapped so far in advance? I just do my holiday shopping year-round — and believe it or not, I get cheapskate prices on just about everything. I shop clearances, end-of-season sales and the daily deals I get by email every single day. That means I have to delete a zillion emails offering unwanted deals from Groupon, Living Social, Gilt, etc. — but I also find terrific bargains on the gifts I want to buy. And finally, I sign up for daily alerts from BradsDeals, Amazon and similar sites. That means more emails to delete — but these alerts often bring me really super deals.
The first thing I do when the new year rolls around is shop for holiday wrappings and cards. I don’t do this early in January, but a few weeks later, when the discounts have gone from 50% off to 70% and 90% off in when stores like Kmart, CVS and others. True, the selection is often limited by this time, but the bargains are amazing. Think $1 for a $10 box of cards — or 30 cents for a three-pack of gift boxes that was marked $3.
During the year, I check the daily deals for hair services at high-end salons; my daughter and a couple of friends love getting services at places they couldn’t normally afford. I also check for fabulous meals at high-end restaurants. My son especially enjoyed a dinner I gave him at the David Burke restaurant in NYC. For the $79 price I paid, both he and his girlfriend enjoyed a multi-course meal, a bottle of wine — and glasses of port after dinner.
Other good gift items I’ve scored during the year: a high-tech electronic facial cleanser (normally $200) for $59 — for a friend who has wanted one for a long time. For the dog owner in the family, the gift was a retractable leash with a light (for late-night walking); it was only $10 (regularly $29). Spa products, luxury lingerie, electronic equipment — and even car detailing — have been among my favorite purchases. (I always check the shipping charges before I hit “Buy” — just to make sure those costs don’t cut too deeply into my savings.)
Did I mention I also buy holiday gifts for myself this way? This year I wanted a 24-inch Toshiba flat-screen TV. A month before Thanksgiving I got a deal alert for the set I wanted on Amazon; the price was $169, with free shipping. Bingo! I guessed that the price wasn’t going to get any better and I was right. On Black Friday, Amazon was selling the same set for $199! So I saved $30 by not buying the TV on Black Friday.
And now for what I actually did buy on Black Friday: A family member needed a new computer but couldn’t afford it, so other family members and I decided to chip in for this big purchase. On the pre-BF alert from Dell, I saw that a terrific all-in-one computer would go on sale at 3 a.m. — with a $150 reduction. That was worth losing a little sleep for — and I did the deal in my pajamas. Holiday shopping complete.
My cheapskate tips:
1. If you avoid the stores, it’s easier to avoid those point-of-purchase temptations — and you won’t get carried away by the buy-buy-buy energy of the holiday crowds.
2. Know the retail prices of the things you want before you make any purchases; that way you can judge any true savings.
3. Know that what’s marked “sale” isn’t always a sale — and that a real cheapskate makes sure he or she buys the best stuff at the lowest prices.
4. Make sure that merchandise that turns out to be defective can be returned or exchanged.
5. If you give a service, make sure it has a long expiration date — and it’s something the recipient will really love.