This time of year can get pretty stressful, as shoppers start to feel the pressure of holiday deadlines. At the same time, if you can keep your sense of urgency in check, the final weeks of December and start of January are full of great opportunities for scoring deals.
To help you wade through the promotions that are no doubt clogging your inbox, we asked deal-hunting experts to break down the best (and worst) year-end shopping choices consumers can make. Charis Brown, a deals producer for Clark Deals, and Alex Sadler, managing editor of the personal finance site Clark.com, shared their top tips for deal hunting immediately before and after the new year.
The Best Deals Right Now
In the few days preceding Christmas, shoppers will have their pick of sale-priced toys, tools and jewelry, Brown said. Selection may not be at its best, but big retailers like Target, Kohl’s, Walmart and Costco have a slew of promotions geared toward procrastinating gift givers. You can even find a decent offering of discounted gift cards on daily deals sites if you’re at a loss for what to buy someone.
What to Watch Out For
Shopping with a time crunch can interfere with your decision-making senses, and a bombardment of promotional emails doesn’t necessarily help you make good choices.
“Price check everything, and don’t buy it just because it’s a good deal,” Brown said. “Buy it because you actually want to buy it or it would be a good gift for somebody.”
To minimize the chance you’ll feel buyer’s remorse, make a list of what you need and set a budget before shopping. Brown also emphasized the importance of understanding return policies.
“Keep your receipts [and] organize your receipts just in case you do need to bring anything back,” Brown said.
Between Christmas & New Year’s: What’s Good?
As soon as Christmas ends, retailers try to get rid of their holiday inventory. If you want to plan ahead for next year, this is the time to stock up on wrapping paper, decorations, greeting cards and holiday gift sets.
And if you’re in the market for a bigger purchase, you might be able to get a good deal on a new car. Dealers often try to make room for new inventory by discounting the current model year, Brown said. (As with any holiday shopping, don’t forget to set a budget before heading to the car lot. Even with end-of-year discounts, buying a car is a major financial decision: Here are a few tips for how to save on your next car.)
Wait ‘Til January for These Deals
Big January sales include winter clothing, linens and older models of electronics, Brown said.
“Probably the best time to buy a TV is right before the Super Bowl — retailers have a lot of competition. They want to move out inventory,” Brown said. “Workout equipment, too — you know people want to pursue their New Year’s resolutions.”
The newest technology for TVs, laptops and workout equipment will likely be high priced, so look to the previous year’s model for a deal, she added.
On that note, Brown advised not buying jewelry, luggage and winter sports gear, because there aren’t many deals in those departments in January.
Strategies for Saving Money
Whether you’re cramming in a bunch of shopping before the holidays or waiting to pounce on new-year deals, don’t forget the importance of planning.
“Price comparison is one of the best strategies to make sure you’re actually getting a deal,” Sadler said. It’s easy to shop around and check competitor prices online. The same goes for searching deal sites and looking for coupons: Taking the time to do a little research can have a significant impact on your budget.
That’s another thing: Set a budget. A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions to improve their finances, but overspending in December can make that a difficult resolution to keep. And when you’re setting that budget, remember to allot some money for fun. “Don’t forget to include yourself,” Sadler said.
One way Sadler and Brown suggested staying on budget is to use cash, because credit cards can make it easy to give into the temptation to spend more money than you have. Overspending on your credit card can also damage your credit score. That being said, credit cards can be a great tool for managing your holiday spending, as long as you’re disciplined and stick to your spending plan. (You can keep tabs on how your credit card spending affects your credit by getting two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
The bottom line: As appealing as a deal can be, if it doesn’t fit in your budget, it’s probably not worth buying.
“You never want to feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve put myself in a hole,’ ” Brown said. “I would encourage people to not overspend … There are other ways to show people you care without overspending.”