As we're being bombarded with bargains, we're all wondering: Just how do you play Santa when your wallet screams Scrooge?
Most everyone is feeling the pinch - and retailers are pushing deals harder than ever. Yet how do you save money besides rushing out at 3 a.m. on Black Friday?
- Be a frugalista, not a fashionista.
Ever shop resale?
The extra-tough economy this Christmas, some say, could lead to stronger holiday sales for some resale shops.
Vintage jewelry or handbags are being pitched as good gifts. Or a cool trendy T-shirt could work for a tween.
One woman put a fur coat on hold at one resale store, as a possible gift for her mother.
If not done right, though, I'd admit this idea could be a turkey.
"I think it's kind of weird to give something as a used item unless they are very into thrift store shopping in the first place," said Nicole Freund, co-owner of Regeneration New & Used Clothing in Pleasant Ridge, Mich.
Freund's store last week had a Beatles T-shirt for $6.50, a jean jacket with a fake fur collar for $13 and a stunning black-and-white mink and leather coat for $300.
But she warns that you really need to know a person's size and tastes. Return policies can be less generous at a thrift shop than a department store, as well. She suggests a gift certificate at her store.
And some shoppers may want to raise some cash by selling off unloved but lovable gently worn clothing.
Consignment stores have different policies and may offer 50 percent or less of the proceeds, if the item sells.
Freund pays cash on the spot but you don't get a lot. If someone is trying to unload a Talbot's shirt that might fetch $10 in her used clothing store, she'd pay the person selling that shirt $3. It's 30 percent cash of the sales price - or 45 percent if you want store-trade to get something else at the store.
Freund offers this idea: "You bring in your own clothes, you trade and then you could buy gifts for other people."
- Buy as many turkeys as will fit in your freezer.
OK that money-saving tip is definitely a dud if your family cannot stand to eat turkey even on Turkey Day.
Teri Gault, founder of the Grocery Game, a membership service that tracks advertised and unadvertised sale prices, offers the turkey tip, noting the bargain prices around the holidays.
And if your family does not like turkey, she notes that general idea can apply to other promotional holiday prices on flour, pie crusts and even butter.
"Butter is at rock-bottom prices," Gault said.
And bargain butter is a good investment because it can be frozen up to four months.
When you think of gifts, you're not necessarily thinking of butter. Even if you're not cooking the big holiday meal, though, you can save money if you buy deep-discounted staples.
"One of the biggest mistakes people make is buying everything you need in one week," she said.
Stock up on groceries as they're on sale. Then pull out a recipe and use the items you already have at home.
"There's no reason to rush out and pay full price for anything," Gault said, whose Web site is www.thegrocerygame.com.
Gault reminds people to pay attention to coupons in the Sunday newspaper, grocery inserts and online coupons. Another tip: If you can, consider using that coupon on the smallest package to save the most money per ounce.
- Pay more attention than ever to your credit cards.
Did your credit card company just send you a notice that they're canceling your card? Do you have any points or rewards left on that card?
"Use up your rewards now," said Gerri Detweiler, adviser for Credit.com.
We know someone who visited relatives by getting an airline ticket with rewards that he had earned on a Home Depot Rewards MasterCard. He was motivated to research those rewards after he got a letter noting that the card was being discontinued and his card would be closed.
Some credit card issuers, even if they're not canceling some programs, could soon be requiring more points to get the rewards that you want. Or some issuers could start imposing an annual fee for some customers with rewards cards. Or you could have to pay an extra fee if you're late and want to reinstate your rewards.
"Issuers are getting more stingy with the rewards," Detweiler said.
Be extra careful about opening up new credit cards at stores to get a tempting discount. Many retailers, including J. Jill, have told customers recently about rate hikes on their credit cards, too.
- Be sure to look in odd spots for coupons.
Entertainment books, often sold as fund-raisers for school programs, might be an obvious spot for discounts on dinner. But the books also have coupons for retailers, including $10 off a $50 purchase at Aeropostale and some online coupons, such as 15 percent off online purchases at Dick's Sporting Goods.
- Go to a store's Web site and look for discounts, especially this weekend. Some Web sites: www.Dealnews.com and www.offers.com.
- Save coupons in the paper. Look in your wallet for coupons the store already gave you when you bought something earlier.
- Scout out free shipping promotions that could work for you.
- Sign up for e-mails at stores to get discounts.
- Pay attention to unusual promotions. Dress Barn is offering 15 percent off a single full-priced item, if you bring a new unwrapped toy to the store for Toys for Tots through Dec. 15.
- Buy some sale items in bulk. It's OK to give hats or puffy vests - especially if bought on sale - to more than one person.
- Don't go overboard on extras - such as renting too many movies during the holidays, ordering pizza too often on a whim, buying a $5 item just because it's clever or cute, and getting tickets to every holiday show.
- Cut misfits off Santa's list - the dog does not need another sweater. He might not like it, anyway.
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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