(NerdWallet) – This holiday shopping season is shaping up to be longer, pricier and in some ways more chaotic than in previous years, which makes it easy to overspend. But there are also opportunities for significant savings if you know where and how to search for them.
“There are supply chain issues, inflation, major retailers reducing inventory — when you put all of that together, it looks like a recipe for disaster,” says Jill Cataldo, a consumer coupon expert based in Chicago. Her solution? “I started shopping now. If you see something and it looks like a good deal, it’s time to pick it up.”
That’s because while prices are higher overall, retailers have already launched the holiday deal season, spreading out discounts and sales over the final three months of the year. Given that complicated background, here are the best ways to save money this Black Friday season:
1. Shop early and often
It might sound counterintuitive, but starting early can ease the impact on your budget and allow you to score the best deals. “I watch prices, see which retailer is offering the best price and always look for coupons before I buy — anything is better than paying full price,” Cataldo says. When she makes an early purchase, she keeps the receipt handy in case the price drops. Some retailers offer price matching, or you can buy the better deal and return the higher-priced purchase.
2. Be relentless about comparing prices
Apps, browser extensions and other tools that will help you track and compare prices abound; you just have to pick the one that you like using most. You can find choices that scour the web in the background while you shop and alert you to lower prices, coupon codes and cash-back opportunities.
For example, the shopping app ShopSavvy will follow price changes on specific items. John Boyd, co-founder and CEO of Monolith Technologies, which owns ShopSavvy, says he uses that feature for things he has his eye on, like a digital single-lens reflex camera. “I want to get an alert the second those things get marked down, because it might only be on sale for a few minutes and then the quantity runs out,” he says.
The Camelizer app performs a similar function for Amazon prices specifically.
Greg Lisiewski, vice president of PayPal Shopping, which includes the shopping browser extension Honey, says when he wants to buy something, he looks up the retailer in the PayPal app to see if any discounts are available (under the “Deals” section).
Those discounts are especially valuable now because PayPal Honey reports that toys and games are 11% more expensive this year compared with last year, coffee machines have increased 7%, and cycling gear and equipment is up 9%. The company also reports that the biggest discounts this holiday season have been in cosmetics, musical instruments and general department stores.
3. Layer on coupon codes and cash back
Getting a good deal isn’t only about price: You can add on other savings with coupon codes and cash-back offers.
Cataldo takes advantage of cash-back offers, which are available through apps like Rakuten, CouponCabin and Ibotta. “It’s just one extra step if you are going to buy online, and then you receive a check,” she says. “I like things that are easy, and that’s very easy.”
Scott Kluth, founder and CEO of CouponCabin, says stores with excess inventory will often have discounts of 10% to 15%, and cash-back offers range from 3% to 20%. “Stack all of those savings on top of each other,” he says, adding that sometimes online retailers accept multiple coupon codes plus provide free shipping.
4. Get to know your local stores
Deborah Weinswig, CEO and founder of Coresight Research, a retail research and advisory firm, says that getting to know your local stores and attending in-person events can be the way to score the biggest deals. “Store managers are being given the ability to negotiate and price match or price beat,” she says, especially when they have excess inventory in stock.
She suggests joining livestreams, following your favorite brands on social media and signing up for brand loyalty programs to be the first to hear about discounts or sales. “Some codes are only good for 24 hours and some prices are only good for four hours,” she says, so if you want the best deals, be ready to move quickly.
5. Talk to friends and family about scaling back
With so many people feeling the strain of rising prices, it’s a good year to talk with family and friends about setting limits. For Sarah Schweisthal, social media manager at the budgeting app You Need a Budget, that means creating a gift exchange with family members so each person purchases just one gift within an agreed-on spending cap. “We used to all buy gifts for each other, but there are a lot of adults in our family. It just took one of us to say, ‘Hey, this doesn’t feel sustainable,’” she says.
Schweisthal estimates that the gift exchange approach has saved her family hundreds of dollars — and this year especially, it’s more important than ever to budget for the holidays.