Make it through the holidays debt-free with 10 budget-smart tips
You know shopping online is convenient, but you might be surprised at the many ways the Web can help you spend less. From cash-back offers to free shipping deals, the Internet is where budget meets ease. You just have to know the right sites to make shopping pay off. With this guide, you can have money and time left over to savor the season.
Many retailers will mail purchases at no cost on December 17, guaranteeing delivery by Christmas Eve. Find participants and restrictions at freeshippingday.com.
Before you start shopping, decide what you can afford to spend. Then list all the people you purchase gifts for and assign a dollar amount to each. Organizedchristmas.com has a free downloadable budget form that lets you track your holiday expenses (including nongift expenses, such as food and cards). Or for $6, invest in a budget that you can update online at mychristmasbudget.com.
To nab an easy bargain, buy discounted gift cards for stores you frequent during the holidays. Check in regularly at PlasticJungle.com, where you can buy a verified gift card at a discount (up to 40 percent). If you have an old card you don't want, you can sell or swap it on the site as well.
There's no reason not to make a habit of doing your shopping through a rebate or cash-back site, which refunds a percentage of your purchase (generally between 2 percent and 20 percent), often in the form of a check. Shopping sites to try include bing.com/shopping, ebates.com and fatwallet.com.
Net bots compare and sort prices, including taxes and shipping, on items from thousands of online merchants. To find the best deal, check at least three different bots, such as shopzilla.com and its affiliate bizrate.com, shopping.com and pricegrabber.com, which can e-mail you when the item you want comes down to a better price.
Don't click "Buy" until you've searched for a discount or free-shipping code at one of these popular sites: retailmenot.com (you can also find coupon-alert tools here), dealio.com, couponcabin.com or currentcodes.com. Cheapstingybargains.com has coupon codes for computers and other electronics, and wow-coupons.com features printable coupons that work in retail stores.
Sign up for your favorite store's e-mail newsletters and you'll be ready to pounce the moment your item is marked down. Or sign up at pronto.com, input the brands you like and receive a message when they go on sale.
With people unwilling to put more on their credit cards, this thrifty practice from the 1950s is making a comeback. Unlike credit cards, the idea of layaway is to pay off the merchandise in installments before you take it home. See something you like at Kmart but can't afford it right now? Put a down payment on it through Kmart's layaway program, make biweekly payments in the store and take it home at the end of eight weeks. The only interest you'll pay is a $5 fee. Sears has a similar program. See the stores' Web sites for details. More than 1,000 retailers use elayaway.com, which deducts monthly payments from your bank account and charges a 1.9 percent transaction fee, much better than a credit card interest rate. For an extra fee, the site waves the transaction fee and files a positive credit report every time you make a payment on schedule.
Used to laying out upward of $50 on your holiday cards? Instead, spend $10 for a year's supply of e-cards from hallmark.com or $18 annually for musical cards from jacquielawson.com. If you want something more customized, download free software at smilebox.com to design your own e-mail-ready photo cards set to music.
At shopdebtfree.com, you can make purchases without sharing your credit card number or other financial information. From the home page, click the link to a favorite retailer. When you check out, click the eBillme icon, then go to your online bank to pay the site as you would any other bill. Amazon.com accepts payments directly from your bank as well, and with a PayPal account you can buy at many sites (check ppaccepted.com).
Make buying as a group easier with edivvy.com. Choose a gift and designate the recipient―then everybody contributes toward the present. Simple!