How to Distinguish a True Bargain During the Holidays

holiday shopping

It’s the holidays, and time for the great American national sport: shopping. We’re already deep into the holiday shopping season, and it’s about to get worse with Thanksgiving falling so late in the year. In fact, the traditional period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one week shorter than usual.

Retailers have been preparing for the last quarter all year, so be prepared for lots of marketing pitches and so-called deals intended to lure you into spending money. Before you get sucked in, let’s take take a look at some tips on how to really get a bargain during the holidays – and how to avoid spending more than you expect.

Timing is Crucial

Sales and bargains are often at their best when you don’t have to fight through the crowds. In retail, timing is a very finely calibrated art, and you can often score better bargains throughout the year than during the holidays.

This handy month-by-month breakdown gives you an idea of the kinds of bargains you can expect. For instance, while most of us know that September is a great time to score back-to-school bargains, did you know that June is when appliance makers bring out new models? That makes June a great time to pick up last year’s model.

Black Friday Isn’t Always the Best

Black Friday — and now also the infamous “Grey Thursday” — gets all of the press because it was traditionally the day retailers went “into the black” (making a profit) for the year. There are also highly advertised “doorbusters” that bring in the crowds. What Black Friday does do is play on customers’ fears of missing out on a bargain. However, these are often available in only limited quantities, so if you aren’t the first person in the door, it’s not likely you’ll be able to score that particular bargain.

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In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, you may be able to find better bargains at other times of the year. They found that Black Friday prices were replicated throughout the year, and in some cases, there were better prices to be found.

My recommendation? Stay at home and enjoy the time with your family. If you need to get specific gifts, you can always look for deals online — just remember that the same rules apply: don’t make any impulse purchases and don’t buy without comparing prices.

Alternatives to Black Friday

If you aren’t planning on braving the madness of Black Friday, where can you find bargains then?

Look for Gifts Throughout the Year – Of course, the best time to shop is after a major holiday or during a change in season when retailers need to turn over their merchandise and when there are consequently major sales.

Factory Outlets and Discounters – I’m a huge fan of factory outlets and stores such as Marshall’s and Nordstrom Rack. You can often score major bargains at these stores, year-round. Just be sure to go in with a specific list or specific budget so you don’t end up overspending.

Flash Sale Sites – While these can sometimes be siren songs for bad deals, sites such as Groupon do have regularly discounted goods, which can help if something on your list happens to be one of their sale items.

Automate the Bargain Hunting – On Glimpse, you put in the details of what you’re looking for, and when your item goes on sale, you’ll get an email.

Finally, if you want a real bargain during the holidays, avoid shopping, period. Get creative with gift-giving. Make homemade gifts. Upcycle what you already have. Give each other the gift of each other’s company. There will always be more stuff on sale at some time of the year, but time with your loved ones is priceless.

Image Credit: Chris WItte

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  • Lisa Kovac

    If you have a smart phone, download the app called ShopSavvy. You can scan the barcode and it’ll compare prices in your local area as well as the internet for the best deal. I saved over $100 on a TV using it. Good stuff and FREE.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Great advice, Lisa! Thanks for the heads up about this app.