The holidays are upon us – so get ready to kiss your sweet money goodbye.

ALSO READ: 4 Traits of Unsuccessful Investors

Ok, that was pretty pessimistic. But while the holidays are a wonderful time to be with family and unwind…it also means one other thing: spending money. And spending a lot of it.

In fact, during this holiday season, the average American will part with nearly $900. And that’s just on gifts alone. We’re not even taking into account the money you’ll spend on social events, home decorations and donations.

holiday shopping

So what’s a money-conscious shopper to do?! It’s not like you can just hide away in a cave somewhere.

Well…I guess you could…but it doesn’t sound like too much fun. Does that cave even have Wi-Fi?

What you can do is have a plan of attack. So before you rush off to the stores like a headless chicken, use the steps outlined below to make sure you get the maximum impact out of your money this holiday season.

Remember, a little preparation goes a long way.

Create a budget

Before you leave the house it’s best to make a budget. You should also make a list and check it twice ;)

Who are you buying gifts for? Write down the names of everyone you’re getting a gift for and also write down the total amount you’re willing to spend. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Seriously. Remember, gift giving isn’t about how much money you spend. Yes, buying gifts will involve the parting of ways with your money…but why does it have to be $900?!

Once you’ve got your total amount set, you can break it down further by the individual person and how much you want to spend on each. Having this stuff written down will help you down the line, ensuring that you don’t go rogue in the aisle of a Toys R Us somewhere.

Stick to the budget.

Buy in bulk

We’re familiar with the idea that buying in bulk is cheaper than getting individual items. That’s why businesses like Costco and Sam’s Club attract so many customers. So…why not apply that to your holiday shopping?

This may sound counter-intuitive, but to save money you should be buying your gifts in bulk.

Think about it: maybe you have a few people on your list that you were planning on getting the same gift for, or perhaps there are a few people who you’re not super close with but need to get a present for. In either case, why not buy a few items from a warehouse club and then mix and match to create wonderful gift bags for your friends?

You get to take advantage of the lower cost per unit offered by establishments like Sam’s Club and offer your friends multiple gift items at the same time. Sounds like a win-win.

If used effectively, this can be a great way to save money!

Buy marked-down gift cards

The average American will buy 19 gifts during the holiday season, of which 5 will take the form of a gift card.

The strange thing though is that every year there’s a ton of gift cards that go unused. According to Marketwatch, last year there were $750 million in gift cards, just sitting in their plastic casing, waiting to be used.

There are a number of reasons why so much money in gift cards goes unused.  People receive gift cards to places that they don’t usually shop at or don’t necessarily like. In economics, this is called a matching problem.

holiday shopping

Luckily for you, there are a number of online market places that attempt to fix this matching problem. People who have unused gift cards are able to sell their cards on web sites such as Card Cash, Raise, or Card Pool.

These sites can be a boon to the money-savvy shopper and you can pick up unused gift cards at discounts up to 35%.

Just make sure to read all the terms and conditions!

Apply the 4-gift rule

It’s easy to lose track of yourself and your budget when you’re out shopping. If you’re the type to get carried away or just love to buy tons of gifts for the people you care about then it’s probably a good idea to establish the 4-gift rule.

holiday shopping

This rule has been around for a while and is mostly used by parents shopping for children…but there’s no reason you can’t use it to help save money this holiday season.

It’s pretty simple, the idea is that no single person gets more than 4 gifts and each gift is distinct from each other.

Basically, you get someone

1. What they want

2. What they need

3. What they will wear

4. What they will read

Get a head start

When do the best sales happen?

If you answered Black Friday, you’d be wrong.

The best sales actually take place around the start of the school year. That’s right, the back-to-school sales are numero uno when it comes to saving money – they just aren’t as hyped and lauded as Black Friday.

We know it sounds like a hassle to start shopping for holiday gifts in early September or even late August…but do you want to save money or not?!

The idea here is to start early. Like, way early. It’s not like you’ll only know who you need to get presents for in December anyway, so why wait?

If you take advantage of sales in the months leading up to the big holiday season then you’ll not only save money but you’ll also skip the long lines and stampedes. Do yourself a favor and get your shopping done early.

If you start early enough you could even also set up price alerts online that tell you when the item you are looking to purchase drops in price, or when a big sale comes through.

So, like we said, follow the steps above and we guarantee you won’t just be an average shopper this holiday season. You’ll be sitting at home, curled up in front of the fire with a warm cup of hot chocolate and chuckling at all the unfortunate people who have to go out into the cold to get their gifts and fight with all the other shoppers.

Stay warm and be merry!

holiday shopping

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