The holiday season is upon us and let's face it, it can be a season of excess. Too much food, too much snow, too much time with family and for many people, too much money spent on gifts.
And why not? Tis' the season to be jolly after all. Even the biggest Grinch lights up seeing the joy of a child that just opened the perfect present.
But all too often, these warm moments in December leave empty bank accounts in January -- when the credit card bills roll in.
According to the American Research Group, the average American household will spend $998 on gifts this holiday season, but you can cut back significantly by having a plan before you click "Buy" or hit the mall.
Just 10 years ago you'd have from go store to store, or rely on the Sunday papers to get the best deals. Today, you can find out about the best deals instantly on the web.
Thanks to new technology and best-deal websites, there have never been so many resources available at your fingertips.
1) Have a Game Plan
Seems simple, but how many times do you aimlessly walk into a store with a vague idea of what you want to purchase only to realize later that you bought something you don't really need or that you've spent too much?
This time, make a game plan: Write down a list of whom you want to purchase gifts for and calculate a budget for each person. A plan will stop you from buying on impulse, and a budget will force you to get real with how much you can actually afford.
After you have a gift list and a budget plan, you can start your research.
2) Research the Gifts Before You Buy
So, you know that dad wants a new television, but there are dozens of televisions on the market -- so how do you know which one to get?
Start with your gift budget for each person. That should narrow your options immediately (go ahead and scratch that 80" flat screen off the list).
Next, prioritize the features you want: Is television size, a flat screen or resolution most important?
Third, after you've narrowed down your search options, see what other people are saying about the products you're looking at. Consumer Reports is a good place to get unbiased reviews product quality from electronics to appliances and mattresses. They even have great car reviews -- if you want to be a showoff and put a big red bow on it for Christmas. Consumer Reports is subscription based, but you can usually access the magazine for free at your local library.
3) Use Deal Sites and Apps to Find Rock-Bottom Prices
The holidays are busy enough with work parties, family obligations and travel. Why spend your valuable time going from store to store when technology will do it for you?
Once you know the gifts you want to give, you can search for the items on a number of deal-searching sites. Slickdeals, Fat Wallet, Deal Catcher, Deal News, My Bargain Buddy and Ben's Bargains all display the best deals from around the web. The deals offered on these sites can sell out quickly though, so you'll have to act fast!
Use "app" technology to your advantage: The web app automatically compares prices from more than 600 retailers while you're viewing a product on your browser. For example, if you're shopping on Amazon for a TV, the will display a better deal (if one exists) offered from another site at the top of your screen -- guaranteeing that you get the absolute best deal on what you're looking for. The add-on can be downloaded for use with any of your existing internet browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer).
Have you ever bought a electronic gadget or video game only to see its price drop a week later? There's a smart phone app that solves that problem. Decide lets you know if an electronic device is expected to drop in price in the near future -- so you'll know just the right time to buy that new smart phone or TV.
Bonus Tip for Online Shoppers: If you're planning on mailing a gift to a special someone, ship the gifts directly to them from the online store. You'll save time and avoid the unnecessary extra shipping cost. Many retailers will even ship for free.
The Investing Answer: Being a smart shopper means developing a plan and utilizing all the powerful technology that's available to you. Take note of your budget, find gifts that fit in that budget and go get the best deal! We also hope this allows you to spend time with the most important part of the holiday season -- your family.
Photo from Flickr: L'Amour Olivia