According to retail reports from Black Friday, shoppers were more than happy to get up early and pound the pavement, but ultimately they were unwilling to open their wallets for anything but true bargains. If you were one of the millions who went to the stores that Friday but came up short, or if you were one of the millions who stayed home, don't fret, because there is still plenty of time to get your gifts buttoned up — and stick to your budget. We consulted Amy Suardi, founder of Frugal-Mama.com, a blog dedicated to helping busy moms stretch their dollars further, and together we've rounded up ways for you to save on gifts this holiday, all from the comfort of your own armchair.
Amy's advice: Don't wing it. She explains, "As with saving money in general, planning ahead is the best way to save money. First, time affords you the luxury to really think about what someone needs or wants. Thoughtful gifts can get away with being less expensive because they are more satisfying to both the giver and the receiver. Second, when we are rushed and stressed, we tend to throw money at the problem. If we take the time to research the person's interests, we are less prone to grabbing high-priced items to fill the void. Finally, homemade gifts, the least expensive of all, usually require time and effort. If you want to make a memory book or a collection of your child's artwork, you'll feel better if you've got it in hand ahead of time (and less likely to drop the idea when time gets tight)."
With that in mind, we've broken down how to bargain hunt into a few simple steps.
1. Start with a list and a budget. Know what you can spend before you start shopping. Do not — we repeat, do not — go shopping without having taken this step. Allot a specific dollar amount that you can spend on a gift for each person. If your budget is tight this year, don't forget to include dollars you may have sitting on unused or half-used gift cards. Credit-card points are another source of hidden "dollars." If you're scratching your head as to how to put together a holiday budget, we have created some free downloadable budget forms for you at www.getbuttonedup.com/tools.
2. Brainstorm and research. Don't give someone the gift you want to receive. Take the time to figure out what he or she wants to receive (within your budget constraints, of course). This is the really fun part. Take a few moments to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. If you're feeling "stuck," log on to a mega-retailer's site (like Amazon.com), grab the stack of catalogs that has been accumulating in your mailbox, peruse the circular ads in your most recent newspaper and search for gift guides online from bloggers you love. Have fun and let your mind go! The beauty of the Internet is that it's so easy to get ideas and make sure those ideas are in the right price range.
3. Research deals. Once you have your list, go to a comparison-shopping site like Shopping.Yahoo.com — one that lets you see the items in a grid and lets you compare the features/prices for products. Another good one is bizrate.com. Scan which stores are carrying the items you want for the lowest price. If you want to skip the research and wing it, download a nifty little iPhone App called SnapTell for free. It uses the camera feature of the iPhone to snap pictures of any book, CD or video game, and, within seconds, gives you a rating, description and links to sites like Google, YouTube, IMDB, eBay, Barnes & Noble and more. That makes it very easy to comparison shop on the fly, something almost impossible to do before.
4. Ditch the need to find the one, perfect deal. Don't stress about finding the "perfect" deal. First of all, there will always be another deal on something juicy down the line. As long as you are sticking to your overall budget, you can relax. Secondly, the holidays aren't about any one thing, but rather the joy of remembering those you love with tokens of your affection. It's not the token that matters so much, but the affection with which it is given.
This being the season for sharing, we've also rounded up some special savings for readers.
You can find gifts that are both sophisticated and silly at www.SpoonSisters.com. They are offering a special Buttoned Up discount on their vast selection of stocking stuffers, gag gifts, party favors and unusual presents for brother or best friend. Use code BUTTONSPOON for 15 percent off the entire site, valid through Dec. 31, 2009.
The eco-chic site www.GreenWithGlamour.com carefully curates an Earth-friendly selection of clothing, jewelry and home goods. Our readers can take advantage of an exclusive 30 percent discount by entering code BUTTONEDUP30 at checkout. The coupon code is valid until Dec. 23, 2009, on regularly priced items.
The organizational-products company Buttoned Up (www.ShopGetButtonedUp.com) is offering a special deal on the perfect gift for moms. Imagine 20 "get out of housework free" cards that you can use any time during the coming year. Get out of doing laundry. Get out of doing the dishes. Get out of running errands. It's like having a genie grant her much-needed free time. Readers of this column can save 30 percent on ButtonedUp.coupons when they buy 3 for $10. Use code: BC3410 at checkout. The offer code expires Dec. 23, 2009.
The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to email@example.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.