How to Navigate Your Holiday Shopping On a Budget

An expert shares her top tips for stress-free savings.

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For some, holiday shopping is a fun and festive experience indicative of the beginning of “the most wonderful time of year.” For others, it’s a stress-inducing time suck that’s best enjoyed virtually—from the couch, with a glass of wine in hand.

If you fall in the latter camp, and hearing the words “Black Friday” is enough to strike fear into your heart, don’t panic: We tapped RetailMeNot’s shopping and trends expert—and all-over retail savant—Sara Skirboll, to get her expert tips on finding the best deals and minimizing stress this upcoming holiday shopping season.

Broadly speaking, what are your general tips for shopping on a budget?

My biggest piece of advice is to prepare and plan ahead of time by creating a list of what and whom you are buying for, as well as setting a budget with a little bit of wiggle room. The earlier you get started, the higher the chances are of you crossing every item off your list, and then having some time left over to spend with friends and family closer to the actual holiday.

How can people tell when to splurge versus when to save? Are there any types of items that are worth spending on?

There are certain items that are always worth the splurge, such as long lasting staples [made from] good quality materials—like bags, shoes, and even computers. Things you’ll have for a long time.

That being said, I always recommend waiting until certain times of the year to pick up these staples. For instance, Black Friday is the best time to buy computers and home electronics, as you will see really great sales this time of year.

Are there any tricks people can use to find secret discounts or deals?

Be sure to follow all your favorite retailers on their social media accounts, as well as sign up for their email newsletters. Oftentimes, retailers will post special sales and offers exclusively for their loyal followers and customers.

What are your thoughts on popular sale “holidays” (such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday)? Are they worth it? Any tips for navigating those?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are definitely worth taking advantage of. Many retailers provide deep discounts on items that you will be looking to buy for the holidays, and it’s always better to buy on a discount to not break your bank. Additionally, use the RetailMeNot app, so you can find the best deals before you buy.

Looking specifically at shopping for the holidays, what are your tips for sticking to a budget?

I recommend purchasing a discount gift card with the amount you intend to spend on holiday gifts, and leaving your credit card at home so that you’re not tempted to overspend.

How else can people use discount gift cards to maximize savings?

Shoppers should work to get the best deal possible by combining offers for the maximum discount. While this consists of a bit more leg work, the savings can be significant! “Stacking your savings” consists of finding a promo code or coupon, using a cash-back offer, and making the final purchase with a gift card bought at a discount. Easy as 1-2-3!

What can people do to minimize the stress around holiday shopping?

Plan, plan, plan. By creating a list and doing your research beforehand, you have a better chance of knocking off all the items on your list in advance of the holidays. Avoid holiday burnout by taking advantage of weekdays, when stores have less foot traffic and kids are in school. If checkout lines are the bane of your existence, make your holiday purchases online and use websites that offer in-store pick ups or have free shipping promotions. No one wants to stress the week of Christmas, so do your research and shopping in advance so that you can really take advantage of quality time with friends and family.

See more shopping tips:

How to Hit Estate Sales and Antique Shops Like a Pro This Summer Five IKEA Shopping Secrets We Learned From an Employee How to Navigate French Flea Markets Like a Local

Elly Leavitt

Writer and Editor

Elly enjoys covering anything from travel to funky design (tubular furniture, anyone?) to the latest cultural trend. Her dream apartment would exist on the Upper West Side and include a plethora of mismatched antique chairs, ceramic vessels, and floor-to-ceiling bookcases—essential to her goal of becoming a poor man’s Nora Ephron. You can probably find her in line at Trader Joe’s. You will never find her at SoulCycle.