- This holiday shopping season might not end up being as bad as advertised, but it won’t be great.
- To get what you need, shop early, be flexible, and expect to pay more for must-have items.
- Use your credit card rewards and cash back strategically to offset the cost of inflation.
- Read more stories from Personal Finance Insider.
approaches, alarm about the impact of the supply chain crisis on holiday shopping has reached a fever pitch. But is the panic overblown?
Kristin McGrath, editor and shopping expert at RetailMeNot, is withholding judgment. “I think it’s one of those things where we’re not going to see how it’s going to pan out until all the Black Friday sales go live next week,” she says. “Even in normal years, things sell out very quickly online. It’s always a bit of a race anyway.”
So here’s your guide to surviving a holiday shopping season that might be even wilder than usual — with your bank account and sanity intact.
1. Don’t wait for better deals
McGrath expects Black Friday deals to offer even lower prices than last year — but don’t hesitate, or the bargains might disappear. She has this warning for bargain hunters: “If they’re not ready to check out and get that item the moment it goes live, they’re probably going to miss out.”
In past years, retailers have sometimes offered price drops later in the season, and McGrath says that could happen this year, but there’s no guarantee. Because of supply chain glitches, merchants might not be able to refresh their inventories before the end of the year. So, even if an item you want gets further markdowns, you might not find it in the size or color you want.
“Given restocking issues, given supply chain issues, if you find something at the right price,” she says, “snap it up when you see it.”
2. But there will be better deals if you’re flexible
If you aren’t picky, and particularly if you’re shopping in-store and not relying on overbooked delivery companies, you might be able to score last-minute deals.
“It’s possible a retailer might drop a really good deal on something later in the season,” McGrath says. “Right at the end is when stores are going to be dropping prices on board games and toys.” Retailers will want to offload items aimed primarily at the gift-giving market, so you might find that scented candle for your Aunt Enid at a bargain-basement price.
3. Expect to pay more for your must-have items
But what if the absence of a Paw Patrol fire truck under the tree will stoke a daylong tantrum on December 25? Or if giving a PlayStation instead of a Nintendo Switch will make you the worst tween parent in the history of the universe?
If you can’t grab a deal, your next best option is to pay a bit more. Expect higher prices, particularly for electronics, because of inflation as well as supply chain issues. “When it comes to inflation, shoppers don’t have much control and are likely to experience sticker shock when they check out with their cart full of items,” she says. “People might have to stretch their budgets a bit to check all the items off their list.”
But McGrath has a strategy for stretching your dollar, even with higher prices.
4. Use rewards and cash-back offers to make your holiday dollars go further
“People need to look into maximizing rewards and cash back on their purchases, because you can’t change that price tag,” McGrath says. Rewards programs give you money for a later shopping trip that can offset higher prices on holiday gifts.
However, rewards and cash-back programs come with caveats. “Don’t get sucked in by rewards programs that are hard to redeem,” she says. “Look at the fine print. Make sure that the rewards are flexible enough.” If there are too many strings attached, or you won’t be able to use your rewards during the redemption window, a cash-back program won’t save you money.
McGrath likes Target Circle because of its simplicity. It gives shoppers 1% back on everything, offers weekly deals with cash-back bonuses, and provides gift cards with some items.
Kohl’s is another retailer with lots of cash-back offers. “Kohl’s is known for offering Kohl’s Cash promos throughout the holidays,” she says. “This rewards currency usually has a short redemption window, but if you can plan a future trip to Kohl’s to finish up your holiday shopping, you can put that cash to good use.”
McGrath advises caution if you rely on credit card rewards to offset higher holiday prices. “The most important thing to think about if you’re trying to maximize your credit card rewards during the holiday season is that you’ve got the money in the bank to pay it off,” she says. If you end up paying interest on your purchases, that will wipe out the benefit of any cash back or rewards the card offers.
5. Consolidate online purchases to reduce shipping costs
“Before the pandemic, shoppers got spoiled with retailers lavishing free shipping offers on them during the holiday season,” McGrath says. “I don’t think we’re going to see that this year.”
In the past, online retailers often gave free shipping on every order during the holidays. You’re more likely to save on shipping this year if you order above a certain minimum amount. The free shipping minimum is minimal for some stores. For example, McGrath notes that Target and Walmart offer free shipping on orders over $35.
So, don’t checkout as you check items off your list. Instead, figure out which items you can get at the same store and buy them together. Consider free shipping your holiday bonus.
Tips for last-minute shoppers
If you can’t shop early, you don’t have to be that person who picks up the last pair of slippers in the store and then wraps them in birthday paper because there’s no Christmas wrapping left. Consider giving an experience instead.
“Those can make thoughtful gifts where you’re not fretting about whether it’s actually going to arrive on time,” McGrath says.
If you want to gift a travel experience, “I don’t think the airlines and cruise lines and hotels are where they were last year when they were trying to get anybody to book anything,” she says. She advises waiting till
to see what travel discounts pop up, but be aware of restrictions on booking dates.
Instead, she suggests giving a digital subscription to a
service or an online learning platform. That’s a great way to treat someone special to a service they might not splurge on for themselves.
McGrath says this is not the year to get into the mindset that you need to “win” and get the absolute best deals. But, if you keep an open mind and are willing to try something new, you might be able to create a meaningful and fun holiday experience without busting your budget.