Try the 4-Gift Rule to Keep Your Holiday Spending in Check

This strategy sets clear boundaries on what types of gifts to get and caps how much you buy. It’s a great family tradition to adopt if you want to reduce the financial stress of the holiday season.
These tips for using the four-gift rule will help you stay within your holiday budget and avoid post-Christmas shopping regrets.
This gift category is a way to sneak in learning opportunities for your kids, but you can make it fun too. Even if your children aren’t major bookworms, they might love a book based on their favorite TV show or a new movie that’s coming out. Graphic novels and comics count as books too!
But really though — socks and underwear. Do it.

What Is the Four-Gift Rule?

Or go for something a little more exciting, like headphones, hats or headbands.
Just make sure to set a spending limit for this gift — whatever works best for your budget.

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

If you’ve got room in your budget, don’t forget about jolly old St. Nick! You can opt for one Santa gift for the whole family — like a game — or get each kid one present from Santa that you know they’ll love. Look for small trinkets at the dollar store or somewhere similar to fill up the kids’ stockings.
Fortunately, the solution to keeping the kids happy without going overboard with your spending comes down to an easy gift-giving strategy called the four-gift rule.

See, there’s more to this category than just socks and underwear.

Something They Want

This one is quite easy if you save it for last and see what’s left in your budget. It can be as simple as a paperback, or as grand as an e-reader.
You buy one gift per category — that’s it.
Those of us who have fond memories of opening stacks of presents under the tree on Christmas morning want to re-create that same magical feeling for our kids when the holidays roll around.

Something They Need

You can get creative with this category and find something that you and your kids both agree they need.
What we don’t need, of course, is for our eyes to grow wide when checking our credit card statements and our hearts to sink with disappointment when realizing it’ll take months to pay down all the holiday debt.
Using coupons and shopping sales can really help you score a gift from this category without spending hundreds of dollars.

Something to Wear

Your kids may not have included any clothing items on their wish lists, so think hard about what would be exciting for them to get — like a shirt with their favorite cartoon character on it or a personalized piece of jewelry.
This is a no-brainer if your kids play sports and their gear is getting a little worn. Maybe your children are shoe fanatics and would really appreciate a new pair. Or perhaps your little one loves playing dress-up and could use a nice jewelry box to store their many accessories.
If you were under your budget on your shiny “want” gift, maybe you could package up an entire outfit.
Trim your holiday spending budget by finding free books for your kiddos. This article shares 14 ways to get free kids books.

Something to Read

This is where you can make kids’ wishes come true. Go ahead and get the gift they circled in that catalog or saw on a TV commercial. It will be your shiny present with a bow on top, so make it count. Meghan McAtasney is a freelance writer. Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
Ready to stop worrying about money?

Bonus: One Gift From Santa

By following the four-gift rule and sticking to one present from Santa, the meaning of giving goes a little further instead of letting Santa get all the credit.
The four-gift rule is super simple. It even rhymes, so it’s easy to remember.
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Without being overwhelmed with a plethora of presents, the kids will be able to really focus their attention on the gifts they receive. The magic of Christmas will remain intact — without the extra financial stress. <!–

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How to Get the Best Price on a Rental Car – 10 Simple Steps

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Additional Resources

Do you recognize this scenario? You’re planning to rent a small car for a vacation or business trip. Yet somehow, when you walk away from the car rental counter, you’re holding the keys to a much bigger car with a much bigger price tag. 

If this has happened to you, it was no accident. You were a victim of upselling — one of the many tricks car rental companies use to squeeze more money out of you. They lure you, scare you, or badger you into driving away with a bigger car than you planned. 

To save money on car rentals, you need to beat the agencies at their own game. First, do some research to figure out exactly what car you need. Then, shop around and use discounts to make sure you pay the lowest possible rate for it. 

How to Get the Best Price on a Rental Car

Getting the best rate on your car rental is largely a matter of doing your homework. You have to know what kind of car you need, when to book it, and where to shop for the best prices. You also need to know how to avoid tricky upsells and hidden fees.

1. Know What You Need

If you’ve ever rented a car before, you know rental companies often try to upsell you. When you arrive to pick up your vehicle, they don’t hand over the keys right away. 

Instead, they suggest you upgrade to a larger model than the one you booked. Often, they say it will offer more comfort, more power, or even better gas mileage. 

That last statement is unlikely to be true. In general, bigger cars use more gas than smaller ones. If you let the rental clerk talk you into a bigger model, you’ll end up paying more for gas and the car itself.

As for the extra room and extra power, they probably don’t matter. If you’re driving by yourself or with just one or two other people, a compact car should have enough space. And you’re unlikely to need more power unless you’re planning to drive up steep mountain roads or in deep snow.

If there’s any doubt in your mind about how much car you need, do some research before you book. Look for reviews of the model you’re considering and see what owners say about its comfort, mileage, and power. 

Then, when the clerk starts trying to sell you on a bigger model, you can say with confidence that the one you booked is just fine for your needs.

2. Book Early, Especially During Peak Travel Times

Car rental companies have a limited number of cars in their fleets. During peak travel times, every vehicle is in demand as customers flock to travel destinations. And when demand outstrips supply, prices go up. That’s simple economics.

So if you’re traveling during a busy travel season, reserve your car as far in advance as possible. You’ll avoid paying a premium for booking during the busy season or, worse still, finding the vehicle you want is unavailable.

3. Take Advantage of Discounts

Never pay full price for a rental car without checking for discounts first. There are all kinds of programs that can offer you a better price on a rental, including:

  • Military Discounts. Many car rental companies, including Alamo and Budget, offer discounts for military service members and veterans. Some also have special deals for other government employees or first responders, such as firefighters and police. If you belong to any of these groups, always ask about discounts when booking a rental.
  • USAA Rates. If your spouse or parent is in the military, you could get a discount through USAA. This financial provider serves active military members, veterans, and their spouses and children. Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz have special USAA rates. 
  • Senior Discounts. Several rental car agencies work with AARP to provide discounts for older adults. AARP members can save up to 30% at Avis, Budget, and Payless. And all travelers over 50 can get lower prices from Hertz through its Fifty Plus program.
  • Corporate Codes. Many businesses have partnerships with car rental companies. Their employees get better rates, and the agencies benefit from the extra business. Check your corporate travel site to see if your company has such a program. 
  • University Codes. Universities also cut deals with rental car agencies. Both students and alumni can get lower daily rates and other perks, such as a free additional driver. Check the student benefits or alumni deals page for rental car discounts.
  • Frequent Flyer Programs. Some frequent flyer programs can get you a reduced rate on a car rental. For instance, United MileagePlus members enjoy discounts and earn bonus miles when they rent through Hertz.
  • AAA. Being a member of AAA gets you discounts on all kinds of services, including rental cars. Currently, members can save between 8% and 20% off the base rate with Thrifty, Dollar, or Hertz. Check your local AAA website for the latest deals.
  • Costco. This warehouse club offers discounts on a lot more than groceries. One of the many benefits of Costco membership is its discounts on car rentals from Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. Visit the Costco Travel site to access the latest exclusive deals.

4. Join a Loyalty Program

Many rental car agencies have loyalty programs that offer various discounts and perks. Most loyalty programs are free to join, and it takes only a few minutes to sign up.  

Joining one of these programs could get you benefits like:

  • Free upgrades
  • The ability to skip the line when you pick up your rental
  • A guarantee the car you sign up for will be available
  • An account that stores your rental preferences for future use
  • Rewards points you can cash in for free rentals or upgrades

And there’s nothing to stop you from signing up for multiple programs. You could join one for each rental agency you use. In fact, if you’ve already reached elite status with one company, you can usually carry over that status when you sign up for another agency’s program as well.

Some agencies, such as Avis and Hertz, also have special programs just for small-business owners. If you own a small business, these programs can give you a percentage off the base price every time you rent a car.

5. Compare Prices

Joining a loyalty program doesn’t mean you have to be loyal to one car rental company. It always makes sense to shop around and see if another company can offer a better price.

You could do that by calling several companies for quotes, but you don’t have to. There are several websites you can use to check rental prices across multiple agencies. 

One leading comparison site is AutoSlash. This free site factors in discounts from AAA and Costco and searches for online coupons to cut your rental price. It even notifies you if the rental rate drops after you book your car. That allows you to cancel it and rebook at the lower price.

However, AutoSlash isn’t the only site in the business. Other places to look for deals include CarRentals.com, Kayak, and Priceline.

6. Check Smaller Car Rental Companies

When you’re comparing prices, don’t limit yourself to the major rental car agencies. Small off-brand agencies such as Fox Rent A Car can offer significantly lower rates than the big companies.

These small agencies aren’t available everywhere, and they may not show up in results from sites like AutoSlash. But if there’s one in your area, it’s worth a call to see if they can beat the big companies’ prices. To find small local agencies, search the Internet for “car rental near me.”

7. Look for Coupon Codes

When you’re searching for rental car prices, do an extra search for coupon codes you can tack on at checkout. With the right code, you can save as much as 50% off the regular rental rate. 

On top of that, you can often combine these coupon codes with other discounts. For instance, they sometimes stack with savings from loyalty programs or frequent flyer programs.

If you shop through AutoSlash, it automatically seeks coupon codes for you. Other places to look for deals include Groupon and LivingSocial. Also, money-saving browser extensions like Capital One Shopping search for coupon codes and apply them every time you shop. 

8. Read the Fine Print

It’s not unusual to see online ads promising car rentals as low as $15 per day. These prices sound too good to be true — and they are. The price you pay is usually much higher due to taxes and fees excluded from the advertised rate. 

You can’t avoid all these extra fees. However, you can at least be aware of them to avoid any surprises. And you can always say no to extraneous car rental fees.

When comparing prices, look at the final price with all taxes and fees included. That way, you know you’re comparing apples to apples. 

9. Prepay

Most car rental companies offer two different daily rental rates: one for prepayment and a higher one for paying when you pick up the car (or simply renting on the spot). For instance, Budget charges rates up to 35% less when you pay ahead.

But despite the savings, prepaying isn’t always the smart move. If you prepay for your car and have to change your plans, you could get hit with a hefty cancellation fee. 

For instance, Alamo charges $50 for canceling a prepaid rental or $100 if you cancel with less than 24 hours’ notice. Canceling a regular reservation is only $50 with less than 24 hours’ notice and free if you cancel earlier than that. 

To avoid these fees, don’t prepay for your rental unless your travel schedule is fixed.

10. Use a Rewards Card

Once you’ve decided which car to rent and where, there’s still one more way to save: by choosing the right card to pay with. Many travel rewards credit cards, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer special perks and discounts on car rentals. 

Depending on the card, you could pay a lower daily or weekly rate or earn extra rewards points. You could also get perks like free upgrades, free rental car insurance, a free additional driver, or a grace period on late returns.

Moreover, if you already have rewards points on one of these cards, you can sometimes get a bonus by cashing them in for travel deals, including car rentals. If your card offers a 50% bonus on travel, you could book a $30-per-day car rental with only $20 worth of rewards.


Final Word

There’s one tip that could potentially save you more than anything else. When planning your trip, think carefully about whether you need a rental car at all. 

In some cases, you can get by without a car. Instead, you can rely on a combination of rides from friends, public transportation, and ridesharing. 

That works particularly well if you only need the vehicle to get to and from the airport. In that case, paying by the ride is probably cheaper than renting a car that will spend most of the trip parked.

Another option is to take advantage of the sharing economy. It’s often possible to get a car through a peer-to-peer service like Turo for much less than a traditional rental. 

These services can offer access to vehicles rental agencies don’t have, such as sports cars or electric vehicles. And you don’t have to deal with any high-pressure sales tactics at the rental counter.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

Second-Hand Shopping: How to Save at Thrift Stores and Consignment Shops

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Additional Resources

Over the past two years, my husband and I have spent less than $400 per year on clothing. Our secret? We buy most of our clothes secondhand.

And clothing is just the tip of the iceberg. We prefer to shop secondhand whenever possible for nearly everything we buy — furniture, books, tools, even materials for home repair. No matter what we need, we always check out secondhand sources like thrift stores, yard sales, and Craigslist before resorting to buying new.

Shopping that way isn’t just good for our budget. With each great find, we’re saving money and helping the environment. And with the right shopping strategies, you can do the same.


Where to Shop Secondhand

There are many kinds of secondhand stores specializing in different types of goods. On top of that, there’s a wide variety of apps for buying and selling used stuff, both in your local area and across the country. 

With so many options, it’s possible to pick up almost anything secondhand if you know where to look.

Thrift Stores

There are two primary kinds of thrift shops: for-profit and nonprofit. For-profit thrift stores, like other retailers, are in business to make a profit. 

For-profit thrift store chains include Savers (known as Value Village in the Northwest), Red White and Blue, MyUnique.com, Plato’s Closet, and Once Upon a Child. Chains like these often focus on higher-quality merchandise that’s more likely to sell.

Nonprofit thrift stores are run by charitable organizations like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In my experience, these stores usually charge lower prices than for-profit ones. For instance, at a local church thrift shop, I’ve bought T-shirts for $1 and jeans for $2. However, a lot of the garments on the racks are worn or damaged.

The most common item sold at thrift stores is clothing. However, most stores sell other types of goods as well. Nearly every thrift shop I’ve ever been to had at least a shelf or two loaded with dishware, little knick-knacks, and household goods like pots and pans. Depending on the store, you may also find books, videos, toys, games, and even furniture.

Consignment Shops

Like thrift stores, consignment shops typically specialize in clothing. But they operate on a different business model. 

At thrift stores, people can either donate their garments or sell them to the store at a low price. At consignment shops, people give their garments to the store in exchange for a cut of the sale price.

Along with clothes, consignment stores sometimes sell small furniture and home decor. They generally deal in higher-quality merchandise than thrift stores, making them an excellent place to buy designer clothing on a budget. However, their prices are typically higher than most thrift shops’.

Goodwill Outlets

At the opposite end of the price scale for secondhand goods are Goodwill Outlet Stores. 

These are locations where Goodwill unloads all the merchandise that hasn’t sold in its retail stores. After they’ve been on the shelves a specified length of time, local Goodwill staff ships them to an outlet location to be sold by the pound to thrifty buyers.

Goodwill Outlet Stores aren’t like ordinary thrift shops, where merchandise is sorted onto racks or shelves by type, size, and color. Instead, everything’s usually just piled into huge bins you can rummage through. 

They’re not the best place to hunt for something specific. But they’re a fantastic place to find cheap goods you can resell online as a side hustle.

Vintage Stores

Vintage clothing stores deal in the garments and accessories of past decades. Some focus on garb from a specific era, such as the 1960s, while others offer clothing spanning a wide range of periods. But everything in the store is at least 20 years old. 

Unlike thrift stores, vintage stores typically feature rare goods that command a higher price tag. They often focus on well-known brand names, including retired brands like Gunne Sax. 

Vintage stores charge a lot more than thrift stores. But shop wisely. In some cases, their garments cost more than brand-new ones sold at regular retail stores, though you can find few-of-a-kind garments for less than high-end designer duds. 

For women’s clothes, one thing to watch out for when shopping vintage is the sizing. Women’s clothing sizes have changed over the years, so your size in vintage clothing is likely several sizes larger than in modern clothes. 

Antique Stores

Antique stores take vintage to the next level. They sell goods from bygone eras, including furniture, home decor, clothing, and jewelry. While the merchandise in vintage stores can be as little as 20 years old, antique stores deal primarily in goods that are at least 100 years old.

Like vintage stores, antique stores aren’t usually a good place to shop if your main goal is to save money. But you can find some unique pieces that are cheaper than buying new high-end goods if you know how.

Flea Markets

A flea market, also known as a swap meet, is a big open-air market where lots of vendors set up booths to sell secondhand wares. Furniture and home decor are the most common goods sold at flea markets, but you can find a vast array of other stuff as well, from clothing to musical instruments. 

Flea markets vary widely in size, selection, and prices. Some markets are vast tent cities covering acres of ground, while others are merely a dozen or so booths set up in a warehouse. Depending on the market, you may also find vendors selling new or handmade wares, such as artwork.

Reuse Centers

If you’re seeking materials for a home remodeling project, check out reuse centers such as Habitat for Humanity ReStores. They carry furniture, appliances, and building materials like lumber, tile, and paint for around half the retail price. 

Some supplies have been torn out of demolished or renovated buildings, while others are left over from building projects.

Architectural salvage stores are similar to reuse centers, but they skew a bit higher-end. They specialize in antique furniture and fixtures you can’t find in a typical home center, such as carved woodwork and vintage lighting fixtures. 

They’re a fantastic place to look if you’re renovating a period home and want to find materials that match its original style.

Specialty Secondhand Stores

There are many other kinds of secondhand stores that focus on specific types of goods. For instance, used bookstores sell secondhand paperback and hardcover books at prices that can often beat Amazon’s. Used record stores deal in secondhand vinyl LPs, and some offer CDs as well.

Online Resale Sites & Apps

There’s a huge variety of websites and apps devoted to connecting sellers of secondhand merchandise with buyers. You can find an online secondhand market for almost anything you want to buy.

Clothing

If you can’t find the right garment in the right size at your local thrift store, try shopping online thrift stores and consignment stores like ThredUp and Swap.com. These sites offer a more extensive selection and make it easy to search for exactly what you want. 

Some online resale sites specialize in specific types of clothing. For instance, Tradesy, Poshmark, and The RealReal deal in designer clothes at prices up to 70% off retail, while Stillwhite provides a market for used wedding dresses.

The biggest downside of shopping at online thrift stores is that you can’t try on clothes before buying. You have to rely on the description and measurements provided by the seller. Most sites accept returns, but you usually have to pay a shipping or restocking fee. 

Furniture

You can find vintage furniture, home decor, and artwork online through Chairish. This site focuses on high-end appointments costing hundreds or thousands of dollars, so it’s more useful for finding unique pieces than for saving money. 

There are several ways to search listings on Chairish. You can look for a particular category, such as rugs or rocking chairs, or a particular style, such as art deco or midcentury modern. 

You can also narrow your choices by price and by location. And with the Chairish app, you can get a preview of how a piece will look in your home before buying. And once you choose, you can have purchases shipped to your home or arrange a pickup with a local seller.

Electronics

It’s hard to be sure used electronics work. But you can eliminate any purchase risk by choosing certified refurbished. The manufacturer or a reseller has thoroughly repaired them to ensure they work like new for a fraction of the cost. They even come with warranties.

Good sites for buying refurbished gadgets include Back Market, Decluttr, and Gazelle. You can also buy refurbished electronics directly from manufacturers like Samsung and Apple and retail sites like Amazon Warehouse.

Another site worth checking out is Swappa. While Swappa doesn’t technically refurbish the devices it lists, it reviews them to ensure they’re functional and meet company standards.

Books

There are several good sites for buying books secondhand. You can find used copies of many volumes at online booksellers like Amazon and Alibris, and ThriftBooks deals in used books specifically. 

You can also swap your old books for new books from other users at PaperBackSwap and BookMooch.

To save money on textbooks, look to sites like Amazon, eCampus.com, CampusBooks, and Chegg. You can buy textbooks for up to 90% off the cover price and resell them when you complete the course to recover part of the cost.

Everything Else

Practically anything is available on eBay, including clothing, household goods, art, electronics, toys, and office equipment. It’s also a fantastic place to look for rare vintage finds. But eBay sellers also stock new goods, so check the listing before adding it to your cart.

Another good marketplace for all kinds of secondhand goods is Mercari. Like eBay, it offers both new and used goods in a wide range of categories. For oversize merchandise that’s too heavy to ship economically, such as furniture, you can use Mercari Local.

Local Listings

You probably already know about Craigslist, a marketplace for secondhand goods of all kinds from sellers in your local area. However, there are several other peer-to-peer marketplaces for local sales, including Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, and 5Miles.

Users can buy and sell almost anything through these sites. But what’s available through your local group depends on where you live and can vary daily. Prices also vary widely depending on the item and the location. 

One nice perk of buying local is being able to see the merchandise in person before handing over your money.

Pawnshops

A pawnshop is a store where people can trade their high-value goods for quick cash. The store pays only a fraction of their value, but it gives the borrower the right to reclaim their belongings within a month for a fee. If they don’t, the merchandise goes up for sale.

Pawnshops are an excellent place to find higher-end items. Jewelry, electronics, bicycles, firearms, power tools, and musical instruments all show up on their shelves. 

The prices on the tag aren’t always that much cheaper than retail. However, it’s usually possible to haggle. And pawnbrokers are more willing to offer you a good price if you pay in cash.

Yard & Garage Sales

Yard-sale shopping is a hit-or-miss proposition. You can find all kinds of stuff at great prices — typically no more than one-third of what you’d pay for a similar new item. However, the selection and pricing vary widely from sale to sale. 

The downside is that you can never be sure of finding exactly what you want at any given sale. But if you visit enough sales, you’re almost certain to find something interesting at a reasonable price.


Going to a resale shop or yard sale isn’t like shopping in a department store. You can’t decide what exact item you want to buy down to the model number and color. 

Think of secondhand shopping more like a treasure hunt. On some trips, you may search the shelves for an hour and find nothing useful. But the occasions when you strike it rich — finding the perfect sweater for $5 or a great end table for $10 — make it all worthwhile.

Moreover, there are ways to improve your chances of finding treasure. By adapting your shopping strategies and behaviors, you can find the best values and make the most of your shopping excursion.

1. Choose the Right Store

Just like a real treasure hunt, a successful thrifting excursion starts with knowing where to look. If you’re looking for brand-name clothing, a consignment shop is probably the best place to search. If you want the lowest prices on kids’ clothes for back-to-school, you’re better off shopping at a nonprofit thrift store or yard sale. 

For books, try a secondhand bookstore. For jewelry, try a pawnshop. And for home furnishings, consider flea markets, antique stores, and reuse centers.

The location can also affect the selection. Stores in wealthier parts of town tend to carry higher-end merchandise, while shops in working-class neighborhoods are more likely to have rock-bottom prices.

If the stores in your neighborhood don’t carry the kinds of goods you’re looking for, try branching out to other parts of town. Ask friends about secondhand stores in their area, or do an online search to see what’s available. Then check online reviews to learn more about what each store has to offer.

2. Know Your Local Store

You can shop more efficiently when you’re familiar with your local secondhand options and their policies. Useful things to know include:

  • Store Layout. If you know how the store is organized, you can go straight to the section that carries your size or the type of goods you’re looking for. That saves you time on every shopping trip.
  • Return Policies. At many secondhand stores, all sales are final, even if an item is defective. If your store doesn’t accept returns, it’s good to know that upfront so you can be extra careful about what you buy.
  • Sale Schedule. Some resale shops have end-of-season clearance sales. Others sometimes give you a flat rate to fill up an entire bag. Some, like Goodwill, regularly mark down the oldest wares. By learning when and how sales work, you can show up on the right day to score the best deals.
  • Delivery Schedule. Some stores always receive or put out new merchandise on a specific day and time, such as Monday mornings. Learning when new goods show up lets you get there before other shoppers have picked them over.
  • Available Discounts. Some shops reduce their prices for older people, students, or military members and first responders. Others offer a discount when you buy a lot at once. Always ask about discounts so you get the price you’re entitled to.

There are several ways to get the inside scoop. If they have a contact list, sign up to receive email or text alerts about sales and special deals. You can also follow the store on social media.

But perhaps the best way to know what’s going on is to make friends with the staff. Take a little extra time to chat and get to know them instead of just bustling out with your purchases. 

If they know and like you, they’re more likely to let you in on secrets other customers don’t know. They may even be willing to set stuff aside for you or at least give you a heads up if they know what you’re looking for.

3. Join the Loyalty Program

Some secondhand stores, such as certain Goodwill and Habitat ReStore branches, offer customer loyalty programs. Members earn points they can cash in for coupons or discounts.

If your local thrift store or resale shop has a loyalty program, it’s definitely worth signing up for it. In fact, if you shop at multiple stores that all have loyalty programs, there’s no reason not to sign up for all of them. It costs nothing, and it allows you to earn rewards every time you shop.

4. Use Teamwork

It isn’t always easy to find what you want at resale stores. Racks and shelves can be disorganized, and the selection changes frequently. If you’re not in the right place at the right time, you could miss out on the exact product you’re looking for.

That’s why it helps to have a partner — or several — in your thrifting endeavors. Let your friends know what’s on your shopping list, including details like the brands you like or the size you need, and learn the same about each of them.

That way, whenever you hit the secondhand store, you can shop for each other. If one of you finds something that’s on a friend’s wish list, you can text them a photo to let them know where to find it. They can come in for a quick look or ask you to pick it up for them. 

Another perk of teamwork is that it gives you a fresh perspective. Sometimes, your friends alert you to finds that aren’t on your list — perhaps even things you wouldn’t have thought to buy for yourself. But as soon as you see them, you realize they’re perfect for you.

5. Inspect Merchandise Carefully

Since most secondhand goods are sold as is, you have to scrutinize them before you buy. If you’re buying clothing, check it for rips, stains, odors, or missing buttons. Minor damage isn’t necessarily a deal breaker since you may be able to repair it. But you should take the problems into account when deciding how much you’re willing to pay.

When buying furniture, the most important thing to check is whether it’s sturdy and well made. Examine all the joints to see if they feel secure, and open drawers to see if they glide effortlessly. Sit in chairs to check their comfort. Basically, test it out the way you’d use it in your own home.

With anything that runs on electricity, it’s essential to plug it in and test its function. Check the power button and all controls, and ensure all the accessories and attachments are included and work. If possible, put the item to a full test right there in the store — for instance, put a record on the turntable you want to see how it plays.

6. Only Buy What You’ll Use

If you’re new to secondhand shopping, it’s easy to be bowled over by the amazingly low prices. You can end up loading up a cart with stuff you don’t need just because the prices are so irresistible. 

Then, you get it all home and realize you have no use for a slow cooker, you’re never going to wear a bright-orange sweater, and those jeans are so tight you can’t sit down in them.

Keep your needs and your preferences firmly in mind while you shop. Consider the clothes in your closet and the furnishings in your home, and think about which colors and styles you love the most. Focus on those, and don’t be tempted by “bargains” that aren’t right for you.

Likewise, be careful about falling for clothing that doesn’t quite fit. If you find a slightly too-big garment you love, a tailor may be able to take it in for you. But if it’s too small, don’t buy it hoping to lose weight. Chances are it will just sit in your closet making you unhappy every time you see it. 

If you’re trying to lose weight, wait until you’re down a size before hitting the resale shops. That way, you can try on everything. And since prices are so low, you can pick up a whole new wardrobe for your smaller size without blowing your budget.

7. Shop Out of Season

If you’re shopping for clothing, you can sometimes find better deals on off-season clothes. If you’re shopping for shorts in summer or sweaters in winter, you’re competing with other secondhand shoppers looking for the same garments. The merchandise at thrift shops and yard sales is picked over, and anything you find is likely to be more expensive or less desirable.

To save money, switch it up and look for cool-weather clothes in summer and warm-weather clothes in winter. You’ll have more pieces to choose from, and they’ll probably be cheaper.

This strategy doesn’t work everywhere. For instance, some thrift shops and consignment stores rotate their selections, displaying only season-appropriate clothes.

However, you can still improve your odds of finding good clothes by shopping around the start of the season. In September, when the cool-weather clothes have just appeared on thrift-store shelves, you’ll see everything they have. Wait until February, and you’ll be left with other shoppers’ dregs.

8. Avoid Big Names

When shopping at antique stores, you’re likely to pay more if you focus on big-name manufacturers. For example, an authentic Thomas Chippendale sofa is likely to cost more than a sofa of comparable age and quality from a maker who’s less well-known.

Likewise, at vintage stores and consignment shops, designer clothes and well-known brands are likely to have higher price tags than similar styles from no-name brands. By choosing a knockoff, you can get the look you want for less.

9. Give In to Impulse Buys

Most of the time, impulse buying is a bad idea. If you see something you like but don’t need, it makes more sense to skip it. Often, after taking a few days to think about it, you decide you don’t want it. And if you still want it, you can always go back and buy it.

But at the resale store, you can’t count on today’s great deal to be there tomorrow. These shops usually only have one of each item in stock, so if you leave something behind, someone else could buy it before you have a chance to come back.

That means getting the best values when secondhand shopping sometimes means giving in to impulse purchases. If you see something you love and know you’ll use and the price is right, grab it while you have the chance. 

Even if you end up deciding you don’t love it, you’ve only lost a few bucks. That’s better than spending the next several years searching the stores for that one perfect item you missed out on. And if you decide you don’t want it, you can resell it to recover the money you spent.

10. Negotiate

At many secondhand stores and nearly all pawnshops and yard sales, it’s possible to negotiate a better price than the one you see on the tag. That’s particularly true with oversized items like furniture or appliances. If they’ve been sitting unsold for a while, the manager may decide they’d rather free up the floor space than hold out.

However, stores that allow haggling don’t always advertise it. The only way to find out for sure is to try it. For example, if you’re buying $13 worth of goods, ask if they’d accept $10 for all of it. The worst they can do is say no, and if they do, you haven’t lost anything.

Note that in some establishments, only the owner or manager has the authority to change the prices. If a clerk says no, you can try asking to speak to a manager. But if they’re not available, don’t press the issue. But if you find yourself dealing with a different person on your next visit, try again. You might get a different answer next time.

11. Be Patient

When you shop secondhand, you can’t be sure you’ll find what you’re looking for. Sometimes, you have to walk out empty-handed because there wasn’t a single pair of pants in your size or a single chair that was comfortable to sit in.

Experiences like that can be frustrating, but you shouldn’t let them sour you on thrifting in general. For every frustrating trip, there’s another when you magically seem to find everything on your list — or something amazing you weren’t even looking for.

The key to making this resale magic happen is to give yourself as many opportunities as possible. Stop by your local thrift shop often, whenever you’re in the neighborhood. That gives you more chances to see new goods as they arrive and grab that special piece before it disappears. And hit the brakes for every yard sale you see.

It also helps to keep an open mind. Don’t get stuck on a specific idea of what you want, such as “navy blue L.L. bean turtleneck with whale pattern.” 

Instead, think in general terms about what you need, such as “turtleneck shirts.” That frees you up to consider more goods and find something that wouldn’t have been on your radar otherwise.


Final Word

The thrill of finding bargains at the resale shop can be intoxicating. But it’s best not to get carried away. 

It’s not a good idea to buy used every time. For example, used bike helmets and car seats may present safety hazards. In these cases, stick to brand-new items.

But for many things, secondhand shopping is an easy way to save money. It’s a particularly smart move for people who want to choose sustainable clothing but can’t afford eco-conscious brands. By making your local thrift store your first stop for clothes shopping, you can keep your wardrobe green while sticking to a budget.

If you want to take your secondhand shopping skills to the next level, expand your searches to include secondhand goods that cost nothing at all. By visiting free stores, swap parties, and websites like Freecycle and the Buy Nothing Project, you can get new-to-you stuff for no money at all.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

31 Ideas for Doing Thanksgiving Inexpensively

If you’ve ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner, you likely know how easy it is for costs to spiral. Between appetizers, drinks, the turkey, sides, and pies, you can easily rack up (multiple!) large tabs at the grocery store.

Even if you’re just traveling to have Thanksgiving with family or friends, you can end up putting a big dent in your spending account. Airlines and hotels often charge a premium during high-demand times like Thanksgiving weekend.

To avoid overspending just a few weeks before gift-giving season, read on. We’ve got 31 ways to keep your Thanksgiving costs under control.

Thanksgiving on a Budget: How to Save

Here are some simple strategies for doing Thanksgiving inexpensively this year. Bonus: They can also help you save time — and stress.

1. Stocking Up as Stuff Goes on Sale

Throughout November, stores typically have different Thanksgiving dinner items on sale. Grabbing nonperishables whenever you see them on discount can save a bundle, and also help spread out the cost of the meal.

2. Making It a Potluck

Whether you’re celebrating with family or friends, you can make Thanksgiving inexpensive by asking your guests to each contribute a dish. You can coordinate who is bringing what in advance to make sure there are no overlaps or gaps.

3. Checking Coupon Sites

Before heading out to the grocery store, you may want to check out coupon websites like Coupons.com , LOZO , and CouponMom to find deals on the items on your shopping list.

4. Going to Manufacturers’ Websites

A few major brands likely produce many of the items on your Thanksgiving shopping list. It can be worth checking websites like Butterball and General Mills for coupons and seasonal promos.

5. Getting Your Grocery Store’s App

Many supermarkets have apps that offer coupons and deals. Sometimes you can get a reward just for signing up.

6. Hitting More Than One Store

Going to just one supermarket is obviously more convenient. But if you check the circulars, you may see different items on sale at different stores. Going to a few different grocery stores could lead to significant savings.

7. Buying a Store-Brand Frozen Turkey

Typically, a turkey makes up about 40% of the cost of the Thanksgiving meal. Opting for a store-brand frozen bird, rather than a fresh one, can significantly lower your total outlay for the meal.

8. Splitting the Costs

You may want to consider teaming up with a sibling or other family member to co-host this year’s gathering. That way you can spit all of the costs, rather than foot the entire bill.

9. Buying Basics in Bulk

Buying staples like flour, potatoes, eggs, cream, and butter from a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club can help you spend a lot less on food, as long as you’re not buying more than you need or will use up after Thanksgiving.

Recommended: How to Buy in Bulk: Beginners Guide

10. Going Generic

Many times, generic or store-brand products are just as good as the brand name version, and the only real difference is price.

11. Asking Guests to BYOB

Wine, beer, and other alcohol can add up quickly. One easy way to save money is to ask your guests to bring their favorite beverage. That way, everyone will get to sip something they love, and you won’t have to shell out all that extra money.

12. Sticking With Seasonal Produce

Vegetables that are in season in November, such as sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, and white potatoes, will typically cost a lot less than out-of-season picks, such as corn, asparagus, and green beans.

13. Going With Frozen Veggies

If you want to use veggies that aren’t in season, you may want to choose the frozen versions, which are generally much cheaper than fresh.

14. Baking Your Own Bread

Baking bread can be fun, and typically involves spending a lot less than buying rolls or loaves at a bakery. You can also make bread ahead of time and stick it in the freezer until the big day.

15. Going Simple with Sides

It can be tempting to try a new gourmet recipe you saw online or in your favorite food magazine, but fancy recipes often require specialty ingredients — and can end up costing a lot to make.

16. Not Going Overboard

You may love the idea of giving your guests a cornucopia of options, especially when it comes to appetizers and sides. But making a lot of different dishes can lead to a much longer and costlier grocery bill. And, much of that food may end up going to waste.

17. Getting a Bigger Turkey Than You Need

Yes, this sounds like a way to increase costs. Going with a larger bird, however, can pay off by giving you several additional meals, like turkey sandwiches and turkey pot pies, you can make later without going back to the store, or spending another dime.

18. Considering Pre-Made Dishes

Sometimes store-made dishes and desserts can actually be cheaper than buying all of the ingredients and making these things yourself. It can be worth doing some quick math at the store. This move can also save you time, as well as stress.

19. Shopping Your Pantry

You may already have quite a few shelf-stable items in your pantry (maybe even from last Thanksgiving) that you need this year. It can be well worth the time and effort to give your cabinets a once-over before you head to the market.

20. Watching a Movie at Home

Though many people have a tradition of going out to the movies on Thanksgiving, theater tickets and concessions can be pricey. Instead, you may want to consider renting a movie from a streaming service (or finding a free one) that everyone can watch together on Thanksgiving night.

21. Not Going to the Mall

The average American dropped about $312 going shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2020, according to the National Retail Federation . If you don’t want to be tempted by Black Friday bargains, your best bet may be to avoid stores and stay off-line.

Recommended: How to Cut Back on Spending

22. Using Up Airline Points

If you need to travel by plane over Thanksgiving, you may want to consider using any points you’ve racked up with the airlines or on your credit card to score a free or discounted ticket.

23. Going on a Staycation

While taking a vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday can be fun, it could add up to thousands of dollars between the flights, hotels, and rental car, depending on where you go. You may want to consider staying home and planning a series of local adventures instead.

24. Staying in an Airbnb

If you normally stay in a hotel when you visit family or friends over Thanksgiving, you may be able to save by going with an Airbnb instead, especially if you can share it with other people who are coming in from out of town.

25. Checking Warehouse Clubs for Travel Deals

Before you book any Thanksgiving travel, you may want to check for deals offered by your local warehouse club. If you are a member, you may be able to access discounts on hotels, rental cars, vacation packages, and more.

26. Asking for Travel Discounts

Whether you’re renting a car or staying in a hotel over Thanksgiving, it can be a good idea to ask if you are eligible for any discounts when you book. You may be able to score a lower price if you’re a AAA member, a student, a resident of the state, a member of the military, or over age 55.

Recommended: 27 Tips For Finding The Top Travel Deals

27. Making a Budget

Whether you’re hosting or heading out of town, it can be a wise idea to come up with a total amount you can afford to spend on Thanksgiving. You can then make a list of expected expenses, and determine how much you can realistically spend on each item.

Recommended: Building a Line Item Budget

28. Going DIY with Decor

A fun way to save money on Thanksgiving is to recruit the kids in the family to create your decorations. They could collect and paint pine cones, create cut-out turkeys (using their hands to trace them), or make a craft paper tablecloth where everyone can write or draw what they are thankful for.

29. Handing the Reins to Someone Else

Hosting can be fun and rewarding, but if you need a reprieve from the work — and expense — you may want to see if someone else wants to step up this year. You can offer to bring your famous balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts and garlic mashed potatoes to make the host’s job easier.

30. Going Out to Eat

Local restaurants may be offering Thanksgiving specials to bring in customers. You could save big if you go out to eat (and split the tab) rather than host everyone at your home.

31. Volunteering for the Holiday

Helping out at a local soup kitchen can be a great way to get into the holiday spirit and have a chance to focus on giving back, rather than spending.

TheTakeaway

You can enjoy Thanksgiving (and the upcoming December holidays) without running up expensive credit card debt that you may struggle to pay back.

One great way to keep your holiday costs under control is to set up a simple budget and then make sure you stick to it by keeping track of your expenses as you go.

With a SoFi Money® cash management account, you can easily track and categorize your weekly spending right in the dashboard of the SoFi Money app.

Learn how SoFi Money can help you keep tabs on spending this holiday season.

Photo credit: iStock/GMVozd


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Source: sofi.com

25 Tips to Save Money on Christmas Decorations This Year

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

For all its joy and cheer, Christmastime pulls us in many different directions — physically, emotionally, and financially. It can be tough to keep up with all the demands, including your holiday budget.

You can’t control the cost of perfect gifts for everyone on your list. You can’t control the unpredictable expenses that always seem to come with the season. But you can go out of your way to save money on Christmas decorations, leaving plenty left over to spread holiday cheer. There are plenty of ways to deck the halls in style for less. 

Ways to Save Money on Christmas Decorations

You can save money on holiday decorations with these tips for proper planning, smart sourcing, and strategic shopping. 

Plan Before You Go

Planning your holiday decor before you start shopping gives you more opportunities to think strategically and find savings. 

1. Start Planning Early

The further ahead you plan your holiday decorations, the more time you have to set up chances to save. 

You can shop around, buy just what you need, and avoid last-minute markups. You’re also more likely to find what you’re looking for instead of making do with whatever’s left on the shelves. 

If you wait until mid-December, you have to hastily buy what’s available without any research. And you’re often stuck at a specialty or big-box store just when they’ve marked up prices the most. 

2. Pick a Theme

What do you want your holiday decorations to look like this year? You have lots of options. 

You can go classic with a Dickens theme. Or focus on the religious meaning with a peaceful Nativity scene. Or perhaps your kids or grandkids are all about the latest Disney princess.

No matter what you decide, once you’ve settled on a theme, it narrows the types of decorations that make sense. It doesn’t matter how cute a novelty or bauble is. If it doesn’t fit the theme, it stays out of the cart.

3. Decide Where to Decorate

Themes and goals do little to help you save if you fill your cart with vaguely appropriate stuff you’re unsure how you plan to use. Go through your house and decide what kind of thing might go in each location. 

You don’t have to make final decisions yet. Just know what space you have available. 

That open spot on the side table might accommodate a wicker basket filled with clove-spiked oranges or a holiday-themed candy bowl. But a taper candle or nutcracker will be dwarfed by that space.

Take notes. Use online images to help you envision the final look. You can even take pictures of your home and use a graphics editor like Photoshop to create mock-ups. 

4. Set a Budget

Run the numbers for your holiday budget. Don’t forget to include what you’d like to spend on holiday gifts, travel, entertaining, and fun. From whatever’s left over, set a maximum amount to spend on decorations this year. 

Then remember the saying. “It’s called a budget because you don’t budge.” This budget is a promise to yourself, so keep that promise. 

5. Make a List

Going grocery shopping with a list can save you big on food bills. And the same applies to your Christmas decoration shopping. 

Once you have a plan and budget, write down the things you need and how much it’s likely to cost. Don’t forget to include related expenses like batteries and tea lights. 

If the things you want send you over budget, rethink each decoration. Put anything you decide to cut on a wish list. You may be able to get them if you get a fantastic deal or find an alternative before you go shopping.

Otherwise, once you’ve got your list under budget, stick to it to ensure you don’t overspend, no matter what cool upgrade shows up in your decor shopping journey. 

Think Before You Shop

You have a plan, but you’re not ready to shop yet. Before you head to the store, think about how you can get the most bang for your buck, how fancy your decorations need to be, and alternatives to buying brand-new decorations.

Every decoration you can save on or get for free is a decoration you can move from your wish list to the shopping list.

6. Embrace the Power of Showrooming

“Showrooming” is a term retailers use to describe going into a store to physically interact with a product only to buy it cheaper online. Retailers hate showrooming because it cuts into their profits. 

But for a consumer, showrooming is a fantastic opportunity. Many online listings fail to give a good enough sense of the size, colors, and quality of the product. The wait for shipping can mean receiving a disappointing decoration with little time to do anything about it. 

Don’t just walk away once you’ve settled on a product. Many big-box stores match Internet pricing if you can show them what’s available. But don’t just buy it, either. Wait until you’ve seen what’s out there.

7. Invest in Quality Where It Counts

Imagine you have to choose between a $120 door wreath and a $12 one. If the cheap one lasts just one year, and the expensive one lasts 10 years or more, the expensive wreath is the better choice. 

It’s better to buy just one or two quality things each year and amass a stellar collection over time than buy lots of cheap stuff you continuously replace. So aim to buy a few high-quality pieces each year instead of large collections of cheap baubles that will break or wear out. 

Your tree is one of the best examples. A quality artificial Christmas tree lasts 10 years or more and costs just two to three times as much as a live tree of a comparable size. That means it’s between three and five times as good a deal before you even consider the fire hazard or costs of watering and disposal.

That said, some things, such as fads and kids picks your children will outgrow, are better cheap and disposable. You can pick those up at the dollar store or a budget retailer. 

As you’re making your plan, decide what needs to be an investment piece and what you can cheap out on.

8. Opt for Multitaskers

Items that serve just one purpose are the bane of budget-conscious shopping. Decorative ones are the worst of the lot. They get used once each year and spend the rest of the time in storage. 

A Christmas tree is a must in most households. But consider forgoing the Santas, reindeer, and candy canes for more general decorations. For example:

  • Pine boughs and holly, which can stay up for most of winter
  • White lights instead of multicolored, which you can string outside all summer
  • Snowflake and winter art celebrating the weather more than the holiday

As you map out your Christmas decoration plan, incorporate as many of these elements as possible.

9. Shop Your Home First

Before you set foot in a store, go through your home. Pull out all the Christmas decorations, winter equipment, and general decorations. Look in your donations box and the toy trunks. 

You may find exactly what you need or things that are close enough. You may even find something that’s even better than you planned.

Depending on how established your household is, it can cut half or more of the items off your shopping list. As a bonus, it means you have fewer new things to find a home for when the season is over.

10. Shop Your Neighbors & Family

After you’ve run through the potential decorations in your home, check with people you know. Find out if they can lend you anything for this year’s plan and offer to return the favor.

Better yet, set up a neighborhood decoration swap. At a swap, participants meet to exchange their unwanted stuff for things they need without spending a dime. 

11. Team Up With Friends & Family

Warehouse clubs, retail supply outlets, and large online lots sell goods in bulk at a discount. During the season, you can find decorations like wreaths, tree baubles, and lights among those deals. 

The problem is you only need one household’s worth of decor. Buying the bulk package for everything you need won’t save you money.

Fortunately, nearly everyone you know probably wants or needs them too. So go in on the bulk purchase and split it. That helps you save on your purchase without ordering more than you need. 

Take this one step further by getting together with three to six other households. Plan several Christmas decoration themes you all like. You need the same number of themes as you have households. 

Avoid fads and pop culture phenomena. A “Frozen” Christmas theme may look dated in three to six years (or your kids may have lost interest). 

You each buy the decorations for one theme, then trade at the end of every season. That gives all participating households several years’ worth of Christmas decor for the cost of just one year’s supplies. 

Just ensure you set a budget range to ensure everyone feels they got their money’s worth each year. For example, every household should spend a minimum of $75 but no more than $100. You can also establish rules like avoiding tall pieces that don’t fit in every house.

12. DIY It

Before you buy anything, look into what you can make yourself. Homemade decorations ranging from popcorn strings to paper snowflakes to small wrapped boxes can save you a surprising amount of money over buying something comparable. 

Or come up with something unique. For example, string last year’s Christmas cards on twine for an attractive, meaningful garland you can update every year. 

You can turn the whole project into family time with the kids. Each age group has something to offer, and they can be proud of the finished product knowing they contributed.

But note that some DIY projects cost more than just buying the alternative. For example, you could easily copy that wine bottle message display you found on Etsy, but when you can’t buy in bulk like the original designer, the cost of supplies adds up fast. It’s cheaper to buy it from the Etsy shop.

Do your homework and choose homemade only when it saves money. 


Shop Smart

Knowing where to shop (and not shop), how to get discounts and earn rewards, and when and how to compare products can save you a lot if you take the time.

13. Start at the Thrift Store

Thrift shops can be an excellent source of clothing, books, games, and toys. But many also put out seasonal items when the time is right. Some might need some TLC, like a touch of paint or stitching up a tear. 

Even if you can’t find holiday decor, you might find some inexpensive supplies for a seasonal DIY. For example, pick up a well-loved doll or broken jack-in-the-box for your Isle of Misfit Toys display.

14. Shop the Dollar Store

While quality is essential for decor you need to last, the Christmas season often calls for stuff you can only use once, such as fake snow or tinsel strands. 

You can also find inexpensive candles, jars and vases, artificial flowers, and baskets to fill with holiday-themed baubles like pine cones and Christmas balls. Things like these should last for years if you take care of them. A creative mind can turn them into eye-catching decorations on a budget. 

While dollar store selection varies by retailer and location, many carry a surprising variety of Christmas-themed goodies for less than big-box retailers. For example, Target sells Christmas stockings for $5 and up, but my local Dollar Tree sells perfectly good ones for a buck. 

But if you need more than a few pieces, check other options for decoration sets. For instance, Target offers several packs of multiple decorations for $25 to $30. If that pack contains more than 25 or 30 individual pieces, you’d spend more replicating it at the dollar store.

15. Shop at the Craft Store

When you’re picking up supplies for your family night DIY, don’t overlook the craft store’s other finds.

In addition to craft supplies, you can often find Christmas-themed components that can serve as decorations. For example, you can nab scented or glittery pine cones, miniature reindeer and Santas, and assorted season-themed picture frames. And they tend to cost a fraction of what you’d pay for something similar in the Christmas aisle elsewhere. 

16. Be Careful at Big-Box Stores

Big-box stores like Home Depot, Target, and Best Buy can be a blessing or a curse for saving money on Christmas decorations. They carry some products at prices lower than other retailers but tend to mark up other items substantially. 

Their general profit model is to bring you in for a good deal. Then, once you’re inside, they bet on you noticing other things you want or need. And you pay more than you should because it’s convenient.

Stick to your list and only take advantage of the good deals when shopping at these locations. 

17. Avoid Specialty Stores

Local holiday pop-up stores appear every season in unused storefronts or holiday markets. 

They’re almost always far more expensive than big-box stores and the Internet. Sometimes, they have really neat, exclusive decor, but they’re rarely worth the extra cost. 

Closely related are the year-round specialty shops like Hallmark and Disney stores. Their price tags are similarly out of proportion with other options. 

18. Run Everything by Amazon

Amazon has immense buying power in multiple industries, meaning they can outprice almost all their competition on a multitude of products. 

So before you buy anything from another retailer, check to see if Amazon can do better. If they can and you can receive it in time, that’s the better choice. That’s especially true for Prime members, who get free shipping on almost everything on the site.

This plan is especially frugal if you have an Amazon rewards or Amazon Prime rewards credit card. Both cards offer cash back on every purchase. But stick to your budget and avoid a standing balance. 

19. Leverage Customer Loyalty Programs

If you have loyalty rewards cards at stores that sell Christmas supplies, now is the time to use them. For example, the Kohl’s rewards you racked up in November could get you discounts on mantel decorations or lights and garlands.

Run the numbers first. Stores with rewards programs typically have slightly higher prices than the competition. So ensure the savings provides a lower final price than you’d pay elsewhere.

20. Remember Shipping

When you shop online for decorations, don’t forget to account for shipping costs. A discounted online purchase can cost the same or more as an in-store buy after you cover the cost of transportation.

It’s crucial to keep an eye on shipping costs with large objects like inflatable yard decorations or an artificial tree. Shipping them costs the retailer real money, and they pass that cost on to you. 

If possible, stick to retailers that offer free shipping, like Amazon and Overstock. 

21. Don’t Skip Black Friday & Cyber Monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are best known for deep discounts on high-ticket gifts. During these events, you can find good savings on decorations or related products like craft supplies, LED candles, and batteries.  

22. Learn to Love Singles’ Day

Singles’ Day is a popular Asian shopping holiday that falls on Nov. 11. Although it’s a newer phenomenon, it already dwarfs Black Friday in terms of overall dollars spent. Singles’ Day sales are only available from Asia-based retailers. So look closely at shipping costs and estimated shipping times to avoid nasty surprises.

23. Use Cash-Back Apps & Browser Extensions

Cash-back apps like Ibotta and Rakuten give you cash back on purchases made at member stores. It’s the equivalent of using a coupon at the register. These deals focus primarily on groceries and restaurants but include retailers who deal in holiday decor. So you can find deals if you look.

Each transaction is only worth a small amount, but the savings accumulate into a single larger periodic payment. Depending on the app you choose, you can receive it via a cash-transfer app like PayPal, check, or free gift card.

You can get similar results online from browser extensions like Capital One Shopping or Honey. These interact with your shopping cart, automatically scanning the Web for coupons to reduce your price for whatever you buy.

24. Pay With Cash-Back Credit Cards

Use cash-back credit cards to pay for all your Christmas purchases, including decorations. When you use one of these cards, a percentage of your purchase becomes a rewards credit on your account. 

Later, you can redeem those rewards to reduce the balance on your card or receive a cash payment or gift card. Some cards have other options, like airline miles.

When buying Christmas decorations with cash-back cards, use the one with the best rewards for your needs. 

For example, say you have two credit cards. The Capital One Quicksilver card offers 1.5% back on all purchases, while the Costco Anywhere Visa gives 1% cash back everywhere and 2% at Costco. So opt for the Quicksilver when you’re at most retailers, but switch to the Costco card when you’re in the warehouse store.

You can also look at reciprocal discounts from your credit card-associated frequent flyer plan. For example, American’s Simply Miles program offers discounts or extra miles for purchases at 30 retailers. Some of yours might give blanket discounts or other deals at shops where you want to buy your decor. 

But use caution. Spending too much on credit cards can saddle you with debt for months to come. The interest can cost more than the value of the rewards. Only spend what you can afford to pay back immediately, and pay off the balance as soon as possible. 

25. Stack Discounts

You can save even more by stacking discount opportunities. 

For example, you might look at Ibotta and find it has a 7% cash back offer at Michaels craft store for purchases of up to $100 in value. With that in mind, you find they have an inflatable snowman yard decoration for just over $100. 

After a little more research, you find a 20% off coupon on the Michaels website. Between that and the Ibotta deal, you’re at a total of 27% saved. 

But don’t stop there. At the register, pay with a 2%-cash-back credit card to get even more rewards. 

Discount stacking requires research and planning but can add up to hundreds of dollars unspent or returned to you over a holiday season.


Final Word

If you really want to save money, take this year off. Use what you have or leave your home undecorated. Take the money you would have spent on Christmas decor, and put it in a savings account until January.

With the holiday season in everybody’s rearview mirror, whatever stock stores still have goes on deep discount. You can pick up all your Christmas cheer for pennies on the dollar. It’s something you can do every year. Use January’s purchases at the end of the year, then buy upgrades in January.

You can’t use this strategy to save on Christmas decorations this year, but it’s a strong strategy for budget-friendly holidays for a lifetime. 

.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-table-of-content-wrappadding:30px 30px 30px 30px;background-color:#f9fafa;border-color:#cacaca;border-width:1px 1px 1px 1px;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-table-of-contents-titlefont-size:14px;line-height:18px;letter-spacing:0.06px;font-family:-apple-system,BlinkMacSystemFont,”Segoe UI”,Roboto,Oxygen-Sans,Ubuntu,Cantarell,”Helvetica Neue”,sans-serif, “Apple Color Emoji”, “Segoe UI Emoji”, “Segoe UI Symbol”;font-weight:inherit;text-transform:uppercase;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-table-of-content-wrap .kb-table-of-content-listcolor:#001c29;font-size:14px;line-height:21px;letter-spacing:0.01px;font-family:-apple-system,BlinkMacSystemFont,”Segoe UI”,Roboto,Oxygen-Sans,Ubuntu,Cantarell,”Helvetica Neue”,sans-serif, “Apple Color Emoji”, “Segoe UI Emoji”, “Segoe UI Symbol”;font-weight:inherit;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-table-of-content-wrap .kb-table-of-content-list .kb-table-of-contents__entry:hovercolor:#16928d;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-table-of-content-list limargin-bottom:7px;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-table-of-content-list li .kb-table-of-contents-list-submargin-top:7px;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-toggle-icon-style-basiccircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:after, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-toggle-icon-style-basiccircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:before, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-toggle-icon-style-arrowcircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:after, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-toggle-icon-style-arrowcircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:before, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-toggle-icon-style-xclosecircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:after, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_03170d-d1 .kb-toggle-icon-style-xclosecircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:beforebackground-color:#f9fafa;

Source: moneycrashers.com

Buy the Dip Meaning – Pros and Cons of Stock Purchases After a Market Drop

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

The expression “time is money” is true in most senses, but nowhere more so than in the stock market. 

The amount of money you make or lose when you actively trade often depends on your market-timing skills. If you time things right, you’ll buy low and sell high, making a profit. If you time your investments wrong, you’ll buy high and be forced to sell low, reaping losses. 

So, when is the best time to buy? Often, the answer is when a dip takes place. 

What Does “Buy the Dip” Mean?

The equities market is a self-balancing system based on the law of supply and demand. When there are more buyers who want a stock than sellers who want to sell it, its price increases, enticing more sellers to get involved. On the other hand, when there are more sellers than buyers, the price of the stock must fall to get buyers excited. 

In the market, you see quite a few peaks and valleys as the supply and demand equation works to find fair values of equities. 

A dip means that the price of a stock is down, but likely for a short period of time. Buying the dip is a short-term trading strategy that gives day traders the ability to exploit these short-term price drops for a profit. 

Essentially, traders buy stocks at lower prices when dips take place in hopes of turning around and selling their shares shortly after the purchase, when the price of the stock normalizes back to higher levels. The difference between the purchase price and the later sale price becomes the profit (or loss) for the trader. 


Why Are Dips Seen as Buying Opportunities?

“Buy low, sell high.” The expression is the basic premise of investing — the idea that when you buy a stock, your goal is to buy in at a low price and sell when the price increases to make a profit. 

Dip buying is a faster-paced version of doing just that. Many dips usually only last for a portion of a trading session — sometimes only a few minutes — making them perfect opportunities for quick profits from day trading. 

When a dip happens, investors who buy in enjoy a discount to the general price the stock should be trading for. It’s like finding a coupon for a product you wanted to buy anyway. And while coupons limit the amount of the product you can buy using the offer, when you find a discounted stock, you can buy as many shares as you’d like and enjoy the discount. 


Pros & Cons of Buying the Dip

At first glance, buying the dip seems like a great way to go for any investor, but you should never judge a book by its cover. As with any other investment strategy, there are potential upsides and potential downsides to consider. Here are some of the most significant pros and cons to think about before diving into dips in the market.

Pros of Buying the Dip 

Buying the dip has become a popular idea for several good reasons. Some of the most exciting benefits to taking part in the strategy include:

1. High Potential Profitability

Long-term investors don’t tend to worry about peaks and valleys in the market. Instead, they buy equities they intend to hold for a while, no matter the short-term ebbs and flows seen in its price. 

However, technical analysis pros who have the ability to time dips in the market have the potential to beat the returns of long-term investors by wide margins. After all, if you can get in at a discount, you stand to make compelling gains when the uptrend in the value of the stock commences. 

2. Dips Happen All the Time

Dips happen regardless of whether Wall Street is in the midst of a bull market or bear market. While the market is seen as a balanced system, it’s actually a constant battle between the bulls and the bears that’s always using supply and demand to work out inefficiencies. 

As a result, short-lived peaks and valleys are far more common than most newcomers to the investing community think. That means there are always opportunities somewhere.

3. Excitement

There’s a bit of excitement that comes along with a discount. After all, you work hard for your money, and if you can spend less than you expected, the transaction is going to make you feel good. The same is true whether you’re buying a new pair of jeans or shares of Apple stock. 

Cons of Buying the Dip 

At this point, you’re probably pretty excited about trying your hand at dip buying, but don’t let the allure of big profits fool you — it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Before you decide to take part in the strategy, consider the following pitfalls:

1. Volatility

The market is filled with volatile price movements, and even pros at technical analysis get it wrong from time to time. Attempting to make a quick profit in just about any space can end in a headache, and the market is no different. 

Finding the right time to jump into a stock that’s experiencing volatility is a challenge for even the most experienced traders. Beginners hoping to score a quick profit just because a stock’s price is down could be in for a bumpy ride. 

2. History Isn’t Always an Indicator of the Future

It’s a widespread saying that history repeats itself, but it’s not always true, especially when you’re talking about the market. 

The idea of buying the dip is based on the premise that a stock’s past performance is indicative of what you can expect in the future, but that’s not always the case either. 

Unfortunately, this false premise is why even the best of the best traders often make losing trades. When a dip appears, you may think it’s a good time to buy, but there’s no telling when or if the dip will correct itself. Sometimes a stock’s price goes down and stays down — or goes even lower.

3. There Could Be a Reason for the Dip

Unwarranted declines are commonplace in the market, but that doesn’t mean every dip you see is unwarranted. Sometimes, there are serious underlying issues in the business represented by the stock that causes investors to abandon ship, leading to a dip on the chart. 

Unfortunately, with buying the dip being such a fast-paced process, traders don’t always have the time to do adequate fundamental research before executing their trades. Instead, they may dive in on stocks that have fallen due to issues that aren’t likely to resolve themselves in the near term, leading to losses. 


Who Should Buy the Dip?

Buying dips in the market may seem like an exciting way to turn a profit, but most investors shouldn’t be chasing fast-paced gains in the market. For the right trader, though, buying the dip can be a good trading strategy. You may be a prime candidate for buying dips if:

1. You Are Risk-Tolerant

As mentioned above, there are significant risks that come with attempting to make meaningful profits in the market over a short period of time. The prime candidate for the strategy would be someone who isn’t afraid to lose a few bucks here and there in search of the treasure trove. 

2. You’re Skilled in Technical Analysis

Technical analysis is the process of analyzing trends in a stock chart to determine where the value of a stock is likely headed. Swing traders use indicators like support and resistance to create a theoretical range in which the value of the stock should stay, and they take advantage of various other indicators to tell them where in this range the stock is and the direction it’s likely headed next. 

The best candidate for this strategy is one who has a deep understanding of technical analysis and is able to use it to make fast-paced decisions in the market. 

3. You Don’t Care About Income From Investing

Because buying the dip is a fast-paced process, investors and traders who take advantage of the strategy will rarely hold a stock long enough to collect dividends. If you’re a long-term investor who depends on income from your investments, this strategy simply won’t fit the bill. 


Take Part in Dollar-Cost Averaging When Buying a Dip

When using the buy-the-dip investment strategy, one of the best ways to protect yourself from significant losses is to employ dollar-cost averaging. 

The reality is that when you buy a dip, you’re buying a stock that’s trending downward, and there’s no 100% accurate way to tell where the bottom is. As a result, if you’re making a large purchase into a dip, it’s best to spread your purchase over time by making multiple smaller purchases. 

For example, say you notice a stock is on a downtrend and you believe the trend will last no more than a couple of trading sessions. Instead of buying 100 shares of the stock right now, you might decide that you’ll buy five blocks of 20 shares, with each purchase taking place an hour apart. 

In doing so, if the price of the stock continues to fall after the first purchase, the later purchases at lower prices bring the average price you pay for all the shares down, increasing your overall earnings potential when the dip subsides and the stock makes its way back up. 


Can Long-Term Investors Benefit From Buying the Dip?

While most dips in the market tend to be incredibly short term, making them best for traders rather than long-term investors, there are some instances when long-term focused investors can benefit from buying the dip and using dollar-cost averaging in the process. 

One of the best recent examples of this was during the coronavirus pandemic. When the pandemic set in, the overall market experienced painful declines as the global economy took a major hit. During this time, countless individual stocks quickly became undervalued. 

The declines during the pandemic started in late February and found the bottom by late March. Even long-term investors who weren’t trading stocks daily had time to put extra money to work in the market. After the month-long market bloodbath, stocks began to recover. Investors with a long-term outlook who took the opportunity to buy new shares as prices were falling started to benefit greatly. 

So, while the buy-the-dip concept is generally seen as a trading strategy, in some cases, it makes for a great investing strategy as well. 


Final Word

Buying the dip is an exciting concept. After all, who doesn’t want a discount on a product they’re purchasing, be it a toy for their kids or a share of stock? 

However, the concept can also be dangerous. After all, when stocks fall, there are often reasons for the declines, and the dips seen in the stock chart could become long-term headaches. 

Nonetheless, with a little research, you’ll be able to tell whether there’s a serious reason for the declines or if the dip is likely to be short lived. So, when taking advantage of the buy-the-dip strategy, as is the case when making any other investment decision, it’s important to do your research and get an understanding of what you’re buying before you make the purchase. 

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Source: moneycrashers.com

Top 22 Black Friday and Cyber Monday Shopping Apps for Android & iPhone

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Whether you skip into the holidays on a cushion of unbridled glee or grudgingly face it with stoic resignation, you know what you’ll be doing at some point between the middle of November and the last week or so of December: steadily accumulating gifts for family, friends, coworkers, and people to whom you’re obligated for one reason or another.

If you’re a savvy shopper, you know that using a little modern technology can go a long way.

The Right App Makes All The Difference

Holiday shopping is now an omni-channel affair. The vast majority of holiday shoppers now do at least some of their shopping online, whether with all-digital retailers like Amazon or hybrids like Walmart or Best Buy. Of the millions of shoppers who still hit the stores in November and December, most bring their smartphones. Deloitte’s 2017 holiday shopping survey found that 40% of holiday shoppers planned to use a retailer’s shopping app that year, and another 36% planned to use a mobile payment app. holiday shoppers use mobile devices to enhance the in-person retail experience.

Mobile aids really come in handy on the two most hectic days of the early holiday shopping season: Black Friday, the day immediately following Thanksgiving and the purported genesis of the “doorbuster” sale; and Cyber Monday, the original digital shopping holiday the following Monday.

All the apps listed here have features designed to simplify and enhance the holiday shopping experience, especially on chaotic, deal-ridden days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A few are specifically designed for the two big days, but most are just shopper-friendly digital aids that offer clear advantages over desktop e-commerce sites.

Unless otherwise noted, these apps are all free to download and require no ongoing membership fees. Some retailers or app owners may have paid membership programs and clubs, but app users are under no obligation to join.

While you’re at it, please take a few minutes to read our tip sheets for better shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping.

Retailer Apps

These apps are all backed by major U.S. retailers. All pair up with brands mentioned in our twin holiday shopping guides: the Black Friday 2019 shopping guide and Cyber Monday 2019 shopping guide.


1. Amazon

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Amazon’s main shopping website isn’t very mobile-friendly. That hasn’t stopped Amazon from growing into North America’s unquestioned retail behemoth, but it’s a deficiency nonetheless.

Good thing there’s the Amazon app, a mobile-friendly distillation for iOS (including Apple Watch) and Android. Newer versions of the app are equipped with Alexa, Amazon’s voice-modulated AI assistant, making for a (nearly) hands-free experience.

Check in the day before Thanksgiving, and again on Black Friday itself, for the complete lineup of Thanksgiving weekend deals. Don’t miss Amazon’s Cyber Monday and Cyber Week sales, which stretch through the week following Thanksgiving.


2. eBay

Enjoy bidding for holiday gifts, but not willing to park at your desktop for the second half of November and most of December? The eBay app for iOS and Android can help.

The eBay app’s handy price and bid alerts put an end to superfluous logins – you’ll know when it’s finally time to pull the trigger and when you need to bid again (if your budget can handle it) without checking your eBay account or even opening your email suite. Use the watchlist feature to check in on your gifting shortlist – and, when the time is right, bid or buy.

If you need some extra cash this holiday season, you can always downsize and declutter your life while padding your holiday gift budget. For more, check out our guide to selling stuff on eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon.


3. Best Buy

The Best Buy app is one of the slickest and most comprehensive on this list. Unlike many retail apps, it’s clearly built with the brick-and-mortar shopping experience in mind. That makes it a great addition to your Black Friday arsenal.

Some of my favorite Best Buy app features:

  • A QR scanner that you can use to call up detailed product information in-store and build a gift registry or wishlist
  • Full e-tailing capabilities
  • Detailed product ratings and reviews
  • Access to daily deals and promotions, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday discounts
  • Secure Touch ID sign-in
  • Comprehensive help channels, including text and talk

4. Target

The iOS- and Android-compatible Target mobile app is pretty handy. Like the Best Buy app, it’s clearly designed to augment the in-person shopping experience. I’m particularly pleased with:

  • Detailed product listings that include aisle locations in your preferred store (which you set in the app) – a huge time-saver in large-format Target stores
  • User-supplied product reviews
  • Up-to-date store maps
  • Cartwheel, Target’s in-house coupon and deal aggregator
  • Weekly sales flyers, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday scans when available
  • Barcode scanner to pull up product listings

5. Walmart

The Walmart mobile app is also iOS- and Android-compatible. Notable features include:

  • Weekly flyer scans, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday when available
  • Walmart Pay, a house-made mobile contactless payment app that you can use to check out without help from a human or fixed self-scanner
  • Internal receipt storage for easy budgeting and returns (both clutch during the holidays)
  • A mobile pharmacy ordering and pickup app-within-an-app – not directly relevant to Black Friday, but still useful
  • Discounts on in-store pickup for select items – order online, swing by at your convenience
  • Order tracking for ship-to-store and ship-to-home purchases

6. Macy’s

The iOS- and Android-compatible Macy’s shopping app comes with a sweet kick-off bonus: 25% off your first order placed through the app. Other useful features include:

  • Barcode scanner to reveal detailed product listings and check availability on variants (such as different colors or sizes)
  • Online ordering in-store after you try it on – just scan the product code, use your saved payment card information to complete the transaction, and arrange shipping to your home
  • Store directories and maps (though nothing as comprehensive as Target’s aisle directory and map)
  • Weekly flyer scans, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday when available
  • Real-time deal alerts based on your location within the store – if you walk by something Macy’s thinks you’ll link, you’ll know about it

7. Home Depot

The Home Depot app facilitates home improvement projects in any season, but it really shines during the holidays. It does a few things better than most other retail apps I’ve seen:

  • Detailed store maps with exact item locations in aisles – if you’ve ever wandered, agape, through one of these cavernous stores, you know how important this is
  • Near-real-time item availability by product and department
  • Image search – just snap a picture of an unfamiliar item and the program will return a list of probable matches
  • Side-by-side product comparisons with detailed specs
  • Barcode scanner for in-depth reviews and descriptions
  • Create project- or person-based shopping lists – perfect for holiday gift-getting or post-holiday remodeling

8. Lowe’s

Lowe’s has multiple mobile apps, but the flagship is the appropriately named Lowe’s mobile app. It’s compatible with iOS and Android. Highlights include:

  • An in-store product locator with basic aisle maps and a storage system for flagging and “bookmarking” your favorite items
  • Quick Lists, or user-friendly shopping and watchlists ideal for the gifting season
  • Barcode scanners for comprehensive product information and add-to-list functionality
  • Store-specific shopping lists
  • MyLowe’s, a free loyalty program that stores your discount card and Lowe’s credit card (if you have one), plus keeps track of your purchase history

If you’re planning a major home improvement project, or simply want to imagine what could be, don’t miss the Lowe’s Creative Ideas app. It boasts a project database with step-by-step instructions, ideas and tips from Lowe’s network of influential bloggers, and an interactive makeover tool that lets you “remodel” your house on your phone.


9. Menards

The iOS- and Android-compatible Menards app is a comprehensive retail aid that’s equally useful at home and in the store. My favorite features:

  • An augmented reality tool that lets  you visualize Menards products in your home – for instance, a new microwave in its natural kitchen environment or a new lounger just where you want it on the patio
  • Product calculators that tally up the amount of raw materials (and their cost) you’ll need to complete your next home improvement project
  • Barcode scans revealing detailed product information
  • Lists that you can organize by gift recipient, project, or trip
  • Customizable gift registries – definitely a help around the holidays
  • In-store maps with detailed aisle renderings

10. Overstock.com

Overstock.com doesn’t have a physical store to show off in its app, but that doesn’t stop this award-winning, iOS- and Android-compatible product from shining on Black Friday and beyond. Features that really grabbed my attention include:

  • A stunning augmented reality tool that lets you visualize how Overstock products will look in your living space
  • Daily deals (including Black Friday specials) and virtual “scratch and win” coupons that gamify the savings
  • Personalized in-app and email notifications
  • 10% off your first in-app purchase
  • One-click ordering with Apple Pay and Android Pay

11. Wayfair

Wayfair has iOS and Android apps offer targeted access to what Wayfair claims is “the largest online catalog of home furniture and decor.” With more than 7 million SKUs in all, who am I to argue?

The Wayfair app’s most notable features include:

  • Access to daily, time-limited deals, beginning at 12pm Eastern every day
  • Interactive Idea Boards, where you can post and swap decorating and home improvement ideas with fellow Wayfairers
  • App-optimized checkout
  • An augmented reality feature that maps potential purchases on existing indoor and outdoor spaces around your home

Deal-Finding and Discount Apps

Deal Finding Discount Apps

These mobile coupon apps aren’t limited to a single retailer. The deals are all that matter.

12. Capital One Shopping

Capital One Shopping is a free browser extension that helps shoppers save money on online purchases. With just one click, Capital One Shopping searches for better offers from other merchants when you browse a particular online seller. After testing all available coupon codes from hundreds of retailers (including big names like Costco and Target), Capital One Shopping applies the best coupon code from the group and displays the total potential savings.

Capital One Shopping also automatically searches for better offers from other retailers when you browse Amazon. When Capital One Shopping finds savings on a particular product, you’ll see the better price or prices with a summary of the matched product, including:

•  Total price with tax, shipping, and active coupons
•  Price history
•  Return policy
•  Delivery estimate
•  Related product deals from other Capital One Shopping users
•  Product reviews and rankings

Capital One Shopping is available for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Safari.

Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the Capital One Shopping extension using the links we provided.


13. Ibotta

Ibotta is a cash back app that’s compatible with some of North America’s top retailers, from ubiquitous giants like Walmart and Amazon to regional superstores like H-E-B, apparel and home goods retailers like Under Armour and Kohl’s, and even third-party travel vendors like Travelocity and Booking.com.

Ibotta works year-round, but the volume of available deals and discounts definitely ticks up ahead of the holidays. Unlike many other cash back apps, Ibotta’s money-saving power isn’t limited to digital purchases: You can snap a picture of your in-store receipt to claim your discount retroactively. Use the Pay With Ibotta feature to claim cash back at a wider range of retailers than those found in the classic app.


14. Rakuten

The Rakuten app delivers discounts up to 40% (and higher, in some cases) from more than 2,500 retailers nationwide, including hundreds with blowout Black Friday promotions. The range of opportunities is impossible to do justice in a short blurb, but here’s a sampling:

  • Deep discounts from top online and brick-and-mortar retailers, such as Amazon, eBay, and Samsung
  • Special discounts on Lyft rides – great for beating Black Friday mall traffic
  • Push notifications when new deals come online
  • Exclusive coupon codes and discount opportunities not found anywhere else
  • In-store cash back when you securely add your credit card to the app
  • A $10 welcome bonus with your first order and a $25 referral bonus per new customer referral

15. RetailMeNot

The RetailMeNot app is one of the original digital discounting apps, and it’s still clearly among the best. With up to 70% off on select instant discounts and up to 15% cash back with select partners, RetailMeNot may offer the deepest discounts of any Black Friday app out there. It’s made all the better for its vast aperture: about three dozen shopping categories, ranging from restaurants and groceries to electronics and travel. Highlights include:

  • Up to 12% bonus value when you redeem cash back for a gift card
  • Targeted local offers through the Near Me function
  • Weekly in-store and online coupons, with volume ramping up around the holidays
  • Printable coupons for shoppers who don’t want to rely on smartphone screens

16. BeFrugal

BeFrugal has cash back relationships with more than 5,000 individual retailers and offers coupons with some 50,000 shops and stores, where users claim up to 40% off select products. Like its fellow discounting apps, BeFrugal boasts a wide range of partners, from travel and restaurant vendors to top apparel and electronics brands. Entertainment is a big business here, too, with exclusive offers from StubHub, Ticketmaster, and Fandango. Spread cheer this holiday season with a $10 bonus for each successful referral.


17. Drop

Drop is a user-friendly cash back app that rewards shoppers for direct purchases made in the app – an impossibly easy setup that makes earning rewards as easy as clicking “Check Out.” No receipt scanning or plugin activation required. Drop works with hundreds of top retail, dining, and travel brands, and boasts a slew of value-adds:

  • Themed collections tailored to shoppers’ personal preferences, reducing time spent at individual retailers’ websites on Black Friday
  • Opportunities to earn bonus cash back by watching videos or unlocking achievements
  • Referral bonuses for new Drop users
  • Opportunities to redeem rewards for gift cards, which make great last-minute holiday gifts for hard-to-shop-for recipients

18. DealNews

The DealNews app works on iOS and Android operating systems. The app works year-round, of course, but it really shines from Black Friday through Cyber Week, when the typical deal volume (some 300 per day) spikes. DealNews deals are all evaluated by professional deal-spotters who do this stuff for a living, so they’re much likelier to be worth your while than the random deals you’ll find with a cursory Google search.

Though Dealnews’s app isn’t quite as comprehensive as the desktop website, many essential features remain:

  • Today’s Best Deals, a trove of expert-vetted deals curated from around the retailsphere
  • A sophisticated deal-saving feature that lets you save non-time-limited opportunities for later – DealNews spins this as a helpful way to avoid buying products on mobile-unfriendly partner sites
  • A slew of coupon codes for hundreds of partner retailers
  • Shareable deals – perfect for spreading holiday cheer (and alerting people on your gift list)

19. Flipp

Flipp doesn’t go dormant from January through October – it was conceived as a one-stop shop for weekly flyers and ad scans. But its reason for being is definitely the holiday shopping season. Use it to collect and study Black Friday and Cyber Monday flyers as soon as they’re released to the general public: typically a few days before each holiday, depending on the retailer. More than 800 retailers participate, including big guns like Walmart and Macy’s.

The customizable shopping lists and digital clipping feature help you organize your gift list and trim your expenses – though, to be totally honest, there are more efficient apps for these purposes. Check out the coupons stash, which features rotating discounts ranging from 20% to 70% off. Flipp integrates with many retailers’ loyalty cards – just load your digital coupons and save automatically at checkout.


20. Shopkick

Shopkick is an iOS- and Android-compatible shopper loyalty app that earns real rewards on every purchase you make with participating retailers. Reward points – “kicks” – are redeemable for gift cards from Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, and more. Use the barcode scanner for in-store purchases and the mobile checkout feature for at-home buys.

Earning rates vary by retailer, but Shopkick claims that many new users earn their first gift cards within one week of sign-up. Not bad, considering it costs nothing to take the plunge.


21. Brad’s Deals

The Brad’s Deals app is a bridge between the more impersonal coupon apps of the world and the hard-to-use Consumer Reports-style aggregators of the world. The real value here is at-a-glance access to guaranteed best prices on the latest online deals, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions. Trawl the deals while you have a spare minute at work or during your commute, then save your favorite and buy later at your convenience.


22. TGI Black Friday

The TGI Black Friday app is made for Black Friday – literally. The headline is its vast collection of accurate, up-to-the-minute Black Friday ad scans, but some other features are worth calling out too:

  • Searchable, current-year Black Friday deals database
  • Personalized shopping lists that are sure to help with your holiday gift logistics
  • Push notifications for new ads released by your favorite retailers
  • Price comparisons to ensure you’re getting the lowest advertised price anywhere

Final Word

These aren’t the only apps likely to prove useful this holiday shopping season. While researching this post, I came across a whole bunch of retail apps that weren’t quite discount-y enough to make the Black Friday cut, but still clearly had utility for harried gift-getters.

Like the Santa’s Bag app, courtesy of Clay Pot Software. With intuitive budgeting and storage features, Santa’s Bag is one of the cleverest shopping management apps I’ve ever seen. If your holiday gift recipient list is long, and you have a compatible iOS device, check it out – it’s a big improvement over handwritten lists or boring Excel spreadsheets.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

100+ Birthday Freebies — Celebrate With Free Stuff!

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Hooray! It’s your birthday!

The last thing you should do is pay for stuff. So we’ve put together a list of 100 places where you can get birthday freebies, updated for 2021.

Most of these places require you to sign up for their email list or join their rewards club at least seven days before your birthday.

So get busy now and enjoy the free birthday stuff as it rolls in on your big day.

103 Places to Get Birthday Freebies

These restaurants and retailers will provide you with free treats for your birthday. Be sure to sign up in advance.

Food & Drink

1. A&W All American Food

Get a free root beer float on your birthday by joining the Mug Club.

2. ABC Liquor

Sign up for ABC Liquor Access to get a “birthday gift.”

3. Abuelo’s

When you join the Mi Abuelo’s Rewards program, you’ll receive “special offers” on your birthday. You’ll also receive a special offer upon joining.

4. Acapulco

Sign up for the Acapulco eClub and get a free entree on your birthday. Plus, you’ll get a free appetizer with the purchase of an entree just for signing up.

5. Applebee’s

Sign up for the email club, and get $5 off when you spend at least $25. You’ll also get a free dessert on your birthday when you spend $15.

The exterior of an Arby's fast food restaurant.
Photo courtesy of Arby’s

6. Arby’s

Sign up for Arby’s emails and get a free small milkshake and curly fries on your birthday when you buy any sandwich. You’ll also get 50% off the sandwich or wrap of your choice when you sign up.

7. Au Bon Pain

Join the Eclub, and get a free coffee and pastry on your birthday. You’ll also get a travel mug just for signing up.

8. Auntie Anne’s

Download the Pretzel Perks app, and get a free pretzel on your birthday.

9. Baja Fresh

Sign up for Club Baja to get a “special offer” on your birthday.

10. Baskin Robbins

Create an account, join the Birthday Club, and get a free scoop of ice cream on your birthday.

11. bd’s Mongolian Grill

Get a free meal on your birthday when you join the bd’s Rewards eClub, plus get a $5 coupon just for signing up.

12. Benihana’s

Register for the Chef’s Table, and you’ll get a $30 birthday certificate.

13. Big Boy

Joining the I Love Big Boy email club gets you a free meal on your birthday.

14. BJ’s Brewhouse

Join Premier Rewards Plus and get a free Pizookie for your birthday. What’s that? It’s a big, warm cookie smothered in ice cream… yum. What’s even better is you don’t have to wait for your birthday – you’ll also get a free Pizookie just for signing up.

15. Black Angus Steakhouse

Join the Prime Club to get a free steak dinner on your first birthday as a member.

16. Bojangles

Get a free Bo-Berry Biscuit with a purchase on your birthday as a member of the Bojangles’ eClub.

17. Bruegger’s Bagels

Members of the Bruegger’s Bagels Inner Circle will enjoy a free bagel and cream cheese on their birthday, and another free bagel and cream cheese just for signing up.

18. Buca di Beppo

You’ll receive a free pasta after signing up, as well as a $20 birthday gift for joining the eClub.

The sign of Buffalo Wild Wings is photographed.
Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder

19. Buffalo Wild Wings

Sign up for Blazin’ Rewards to get free birthday wings during your birth month.

20. Carvel

Join Fudgie Fanatics to receive a free treat for your birthday. You can get a small soft serve birthday cone, take $2 off any cake (except for a small square) or take $3 off any sheet cake.

21. Chevys Fresh Mex

Members of the eClub get a free entree on their birthday, as well as a free appetizer for signing up.

22. Chick-fil-A

Join Chick-fil-A One to get a “birthday reward.”

23. Chili’s

Get a free dessert for your birthday when you join My Chili’s Rewards Club. Plus, as long as you spend $5, you get free chips and salsa or a non-alcoholic beverage with every visit!

24. Chipotle

Join the Chipotle rewards program to get free chips and guacamole on your birthday when you make a purchase of $5 or more. When you sign up and make your first purchase, you’ll also get free chips and a choice of guacamole, queso blanco or salsa.

25. Cinnabon

Subscribe to Club Cinnabon to get a free iced coffee on your birthday and a free order of BonBites for signing up.

26. Cold Stone Creamery

Get a BOGO coupon for your birthday by signing up for the My Cold Stone Club. You’ll also get a BOGO coupon just for signing up!

Two sundaes at Culver's.
Photo courtesy of Culver’s

27. Culver’s

Enjoy a free sundae on your birthday when you sign up for MyCulver’s. You’ll also get a BOGO value basket when you sign up.

28. Del Taco

If you join Del Yeah! Rewards, you can enjoy a regular-size premium shake for your birthday. If you’ve racked up more than 1,500 points, you’ll get your choice of a shake or any dessert — except for Caramel Cheesecake Bites.

Plus you’ll get two free The Del tacos when you sign up.

29. Denny’s

Sign up for Denny’s Rewards program online or via the mobile app. You’ll get 20% off your next visit, plus during your birthday month you’ll get your choice of a free dessert or a free Birthday Slam, which includes pancakes, eggs and your choice of bacon or sausage.

30. Dippin’ Dots

Get free Dippin’ Dots for your birthday when you join the Dot Crazy! Email Club.

31. Dunkin’ Donuts

Get a free beverage on your birthday by signing up for the DD Perks Rewards Program.

32. Edible Arrangements

Join Edible Rewards and receive a free 12-count chocolate dipped fruit box (valued at $29.99) during your birthday month as long as you’ve spent at least $29.99 in the past calendar year. You’ll also get a $5 coupon for signing up (valid for 30 days).

33. Einstein Bros. Bagels

Get a free egg sandwich with a purchase on your birthday when you join the Shmear Society — not totally free, but hey, you’ll need something to help wash that sandwich down. You’ll have 14 days to claim your reward.

34. Famous Dave’s

Join the Famous Nation and get a free dessert with a value of up to $9.00 for your birthday.

35. Firehouse Subs

Sign up for Firehouse Rewards for a free medium sub on your birthday or in the six days that follow it.

36. First Watch

Get a BOGO breakfast, brunch or lunch for your birthday as a member of the Sun EClub.

37. Friendly’s

When you become a BFF Club member, you’ll receive a free birthday sundae.

38. Godiva

As a member of the Godiva Rewards Club, you’ll get a free birthday chocolate offer every year.

39. Habit Burger Grill

Be sure to join Habit Burger Grill’s CharClub to enjoy a free Charburger on your birthday.

40. Hooters

Get 10 free boneless birthday wings when you sign up for Hootclub. You’ll also get a free appetizer of $8.99 or less when you sign up — and after every eighth visit..

41. Houlihan’s Restaurant and Bar

Email club members get a free birthday entree, plus $10 off just for joining.

42. IHOP

Sign up for MyHop and get free pancakes on your birthday. You’ll also get free pancakes on the anniversary of your sign-up.

A woman smiles as she holds up a drink and a sub she got for free from Jersey Mike's Subs.
Robin Hartill scored a free birthday sub she got from Jersey Mike’s Sub in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder

43. Jersey Mike’s Subs

Get a free birthday sub when you sign up for the email club.

44. Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme Rewards members receive a free Original Glazed Dozen. You’ll also get a free doughnut when you sign up.

45. Longhorn Steakhouse

As a member of the Longhorn Steakhouse’s eClub, you’ll get “special offers and coupons” on your birthday. You’ll also get a free appetizer with the purchase of an entree when you sign up.

46. Marie Callender’s

Join the eClub, and get $5 off the purchase of two entrees, plus two free slices of pie. You’ll also get a special dine-in offer for signing up. The company also sends special offers for your wedding anniversary and allows you to add family members so they can get birthday rewards.

47. Moe’s Southwest Grill

Sign up for Moe Rewards and get a coupon for a free birthday burrito, plus a free cup of queso just for signing up.

48. Nothing Bundt Cakes

Join the Nothing Bundt Cakes eClub and get a free Bundtlet on your birthday.

49. Olive Garden

Get a complimentary dessert on your birthday. No signup necessary..

50. On the Border

Join Border Rewardsand get a ‘special surprise’ on your birthday. Plus, when you sign up, you’ll get a free dessert with the purchase of an entree.

51. Pei Wei

Sign up for My Wei Rewards and choose from these birthday freebies: crab wontons, traditional edamame, vegetable spring rolls or pork egg roll. The reward will automatically appear in your app seven days prior to your birthday.

52. Perkins

Members of the MyPerkins Club receive a “special gift” on their birthdays. Plus you’ll get a 20% off coupon for signing up. You will also be able to add your children ages 12 and under so they can get birthday rewards, too.

53. Pinkberry

Sign up for a Pinkcard or download the app, and receive a free yogurt on your birthday.

54. Pita Pit

Sign up for the Pita Pit Rewards Club and receive a free pita on your birthday.

The exterior of Pizza Hut.
Photo courtesy of Pizza Hut

55. Pizza Hut

Join the Hut Rewards program to get a “birthday reward.”

56. Planet Smoothie

Join the Planet Smoothie Club and receive a free smoothie for your birthday.

57. Red Lobster

Enjoy a “birthday reward” when you sign up for the My Red Lobster Rewards program.

58. Red Robin

Register for the Red Robin Royalty Program, and get a free birthday burger.

59. Rita’s

Get a free Italian ice on your birthday when you download Rita’s Ice App.

60. Romano’s Macaroni Grill

Sign up for the email club, and get a free dessert on your birthday with the purchase of an adult entree.

61. Ruby Tuesday

As a member of So Connected, you’ll get a choice of a free burger or a free garden bar entree on your birthday. You’ll also get a $5 off coupon for signing up.

62. Sbarro

Become a member of the Slice Society to get a birthday surprise. You’ll also get a free New York slice when you buy a beverage after signing up.

63. Sonny’s BBQ

Get a free Big Deal Combo meal on your big day by joining the ‘Q Crew, plus a $5 coupon just for joining.

64. Sprinkles

Receive a free cupcake (make that a baker’s dozen if you’re a Red Velvet tier member) for your birthday when you join Sprinkles Perks.

Robin Hartill, an editor at The Penny Hoarder, sips an iced coffee she got for free on her birthday at Starbucks in Saint Petersburg, Fla.
Hartill sips an iced coffee she got for free on her birthday at Starbucks in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder

65. Starbucks

Get a birthday beverage or food item as a member of Starbucks Rewards.

66. Subway

Sign up for the Subway MyWay Rewards program and the sandwich-making company will give you “something special” on your birthday.

67. TCBY

Sign up for TCBY emails, and receive your first 3 ounces free on your birthday — as long as you’ve spent $100 at TCBY over the past year.

68. Texas Roadhouse

Sign up for the email club and you’ll get a free appetizer or a sidekick of ribs on your birthday.

69. The Melting Pot

Members of Club Fondue will get a “birthday voucher.”

70. The Spaghetti Warehouse

Join the Warehouse Club, and get a free meal on your birthday, plus a free appetizer with an entree purchase for becoming a member of the club.

71. Tijuana Flats

Become a Flathead and receive a free dessert for your birthday. You’ll also get a free Tijuana Trio when you sign up.

72. Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Download the Tropical Smoothie Cafe app to be eligible for a birthday reward. What you get depends on your loyalty tier, but it ranges from a $2 reward to a free menu item.

73. Uno Pizzeria & Grill

Join the Uno Extras program, and receive a birthday coupon, as well as a free individual pizza.

74. Waffle House

Make sure you’re a member of the Waffle House Regulars Club to receive a free waffle on your birthday. You’ll also get free hashbrowns when you sign up. Additionally, Regulars receive an Anniversary Bacon Coupon, seasonal coupons, and other offers throughout the year.

75. Wienerschnitzel

Join the Wiener Lovers’ Club, and get a “free food” each year on your birthday, plus a free chili dog for joining.

76. Zaxby’s

Sign up for the Zax Club and get a free “birthday surprise” , plus a free signature sandwich for signing up.

Entertainment

77. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Join Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Victory program and get a free movie ticket on your birthday every year. If you visit Alamo Drafthouse Cinema more than 50 times per year, you’ll get two free tickets for your birthday.

78. AMC Theatres

Become an AMC Stubs Insider to get a free large popcorn during your birthday month. If you’re a Premiere or A-List member, you’ll also get a free large fountain drink.

People wait outside Best Buy on Black Friday.
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

79. Best Buy

My Best Buy members get a “birthday gift.”

80. Harkins Theatres

Sign up for My Harkins Rewards and receive a $5 birthday coupon to use at the concessions.

81. Hard Rock

Sign up for Hard Rock Rewards to get an “annual birthday offer” from the cafe and shops.

82. Redbox

Sign up for Redbox Perks and receive a free birthday rental (it must be used within 60 days). If you have made 50 purchases or rentals, you’ll get two free birthday rentals.You’ll also get a free one-night rental for signing up (that offer is valid for two weeks).

Clothes & Shoes

83. Anthropologie

As a member of the Anthro Loyalty program, you will get a “special treat to celebrate your birthday.”

84. Banana Republic

When you sign up to receive Banana Republic’s emails, you can opt to also get a “birthday gift.”

85. Columbia

Members of the Greater Rewards program get a “birthday gift” in addition to a welcome gift from the sportswear and outdoor gear retailer.

Penny Hoarder senior writer Robin Hartill knows how to score the freebies on her birthday. Check out her haul.

86. Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW)

Join the free DSW VIP Club to get a $5 birthday reward. You’ll also get $5 on your birthday if you spend $200 annually as a VIP Gold member, and you’ll get $10 if you spend $500 annually as a VIP Elite member.

87. Famous Footwear

Famously You Rewards members get a $5 birthday cash reward. You’ll also earn double points on all of your purchases during your birthday month.

88. JCPenney

Receive a birthday gift when you sign up for JCPenney Rewards. If you are not a JCPenney credit card member, you must have earned points within the last 12 months. If you are a credit card member, you must have made a purchase with your JCPenney Credit Card within the past 12 months.

The exterior of a Kohls store.
Getty Images

89. Kohl’s

Members of the Kohl’s Rewards program get a “special birthday gift.”

90. Old Navy

When you join Navyist Rewards, you’re eligible for one free “birthday surprise.”

91. Torrid

Sign up for Torrid Rewards and get a coupon for $10 off during your birthday month.

92. Uniqlo

Download the Uniqlo app to get a birthday coupon during your birthday month.

Beauty & Jewelry

93. Aveda

You need to pay $10 to join Aveda’s loyalty rewards program, but you’ll receive a birthday gift valued at $23, as well as double points for your next Aveda purchase.

94. bareMinerals

Sign up for the Friends and Benefits loyalty program to get “birthday gifts.”

95. Kendra Scott

Kendra Scott offers a 50% birthday discount on one fashion jewelry or color bar item. It also offers a 25% discount on fine jewelry, sterling silver jewelry or gold vermeil jewelry. You can also get 25% off a home goods item. Find out more information here.

96. Pandora

Members of the Pandora Club get a 15% discount during their birthday month. This offer can only be used one time and is valid on regular-priced jewelry only.

97. Sephora

Beauty Insiders are eligible to choose a free makeup or skin care gift for their birthday.

98. Ulta Beauty

As an Ultamate Rewards member, you’ll get a free gift. If you’ve spent enough money to be a Platinum ($500) or Diamond ($1,200) member, you get an additional bonus gift.

During your birthday month, you’ll earn double points on all of your purchases.

Miscellaneous

99. Ace Hardware

Ace Rewards members get $5 off for their birthday at participating locations. If you’ve spent $750 at Ace Hardware over a 12-month period, your birthday rewards get bumped up to $10 off, regardless of location.

100. Container Store

Join the POP! (Perfectly Organized Perks) program to get a birthday gift.

The exterior of a CVS is photographed in Florida.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

101. CVS Pharmacy

As a member of the ExtraCare program, you’ll get a free, $3 Extrabucks reward on your birthday, as well as 2% back every time you shop.

102. Swagbucks

As a birthday reward, “you’ll receive a Swag Up for a 55 SB credit when you redeem your next gift card.”

103. World Market

Members of World Market Rewards get a “surprise offer” on their birthday, plus a 15% coupon for signing up.

The Penny Hoarder Staff

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How Much Should I Spend on Groceries a Month?

How much you should spend on groceries each month will depend on factors such as the number of people living in your household, your lifestyle and even your dietary preferences. There’s no way around the fact that food is a significant line item when it comes to budgeting, but there are ways to make it easier on your budget than throwing caution to the wind and getting takeout three times a week.

Whether eating at home or out on the town, it’s helpful to give yourself some guidelines so that you and your bank accounts are on good terms. We cover some rules of thumb for how much to spend on food a month so you can better ensure you’re staying on track with your budget.

What Is the Average Cost of Groceries Per Month?

The average U.S. household spends $7,316 on food every year, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) consumer expenditure survey . That amount — about $609.67 a month, or $152.42 each week — represents nearly 12% of consumers’ income.

Of course, the amount people spend on sustenance can vary widely, depending on age, household size, dietary restrictions and where they live. For instance, the consumer expenditure survey noted that single-parent family households with children spent more on food compared to single folks. Your eating habits, including how often you dine out or order in as well as a penchant for impulse grocery buys, also affect your bottom line.

What Should My Monthly Grocery Budget Be?

When it comes to how much you should spend on groceries each month, the answer will depend on your situation. However, you can use the following guidelines to help you develop a reasonable monthly allowance for your grocery budget.

By USDA Guidelines

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a series of monthly food budgets that represent the cost of a healthy diet at four price levels: thrifty, low cost, moderate cost and liberal. These budgets can serve as a benchmark against which you can measure your own monthly spending on food.

Keep in mind that the USDA assumes that all meals and snacks will be prepared at home, and that costs will vary by age, gender and family size. It updates each plan to current dollars every month using the Consumer Price Index for food.

For example, in August 2021, the USDA pegs the monthly cost of food for a female who is 20 to 50 years old at $209 for the thrifty plan. For females ages 19 to 50, it’s $225.30 for the low-cost plan, $275.40 for the moderate-cost plan and $352.10 for the liberal plan.

The USDA budgets more for couples within the same age ranges. For instance, a household of two might spend $459.80 on a thrifty plan, $495.66 on a low-cost plan, $605.88 on a moderate-cost plan and $774.62 on a liberal plan.

By Household Size

Your household size should determine how much you spend on groceries each month. As you saw in the USDA guidelines above, different household sizes as well as the ages of individuals affected the amount spent on food each month.

Let’s say you are a family of four with one child aged 6 to 8 and another between the ages of 9 to 11. According to the USDA guidelines, you might spend $842.70 a month on a thrifty plan, $885.60 on a low-cost plan, $1,093.20 on a moderate-cost plan and $1,339.40 on a liberal plan.

The USDA guidelines can provide a starting point for a food budget, but they don’t consider all the variables that can affect cost. That’s why building a personal food budget while using these numbers as a benchmark is best. To do so, you can look at your past monthly spending on food and then compare that number to the USDA food budget guides.

If your spending is much higher than the USDA’s estimates, it’s essential to determine why. It could be due to unavoidable factors like where you live, or it may stem from discretionary decisions, such as eating out at restaurants. If it’s the latter, it may be helpful to look for ways to cut back on spending, so you can redirect money to other goals like building an emergency fund.

How Dining Out Fits Into the Equation

The USDA’s budgets only consider food prepared at home, yet a food budget will likely also need to account for meals eaten at restaurants. The BLS reports that the average household spends $4,942 a year on food at home and $2,375 a year on food away from home (note that the food away from home figure was a decent amount lower than in previous years, likely due to the pandemic).

Eating at restaurants is more costly than preparing food at home, so restaurant spending can be an excellent place to start making cuts when looking for wiggle room in a food budget.

Strategies to Keep Track of Your Food Spending

There are a number of budgeting strategies that can help you keep track of your spending. Here are some to consider if you’re trying to keep better track of your food spending:

The 50/30/20 Rule

The 50/30/20 rule is a simple strategy for proportional budgeting that breaks down a budget into three categories of spending. Here’s how it works:

•  50% goes to essential needs. These are necessary expenses, such as rent, groceries and health insurance.

•  30% goes to discretionary spending. These are fun purchases that you don’t technically need to survive.

•  20% goes to savings. The 50/30/20 method separates discretionary spending and saving for financial goals, such as retirement, a down payment on a house or paying off debt faster.

The 50/30/20 rule is a relatively simple form of budgeting, so it can help individuals keep their eyes on the big picture and avoid getting bogged down in minute details. That said, because it isn’t detail-oriented, it can be hard to pinpoint problem areas, such as places where overspending occurs.

The Envelope Method

The envelope method seeks to make budgeting more concrete by limiting most spending to cash transactions. It works by allocating a set amount of cash each month to different spending categories, such as groceries or entertainment.

At the beginning of the month, write each category on individual envelopes. Decide how much you want to spend in each category for the month, and put enough cash to cover that amount in each respective envelope.

This method takes discipline. You can only use the cash in each envelope to make purchases in that category. When the money’s gone, it’s gone for the month. That means you can no longer do any spending in that category.

Zero-Based Budgeting

A zero-based budget is one in which you assign each dollar of your income a specific purpose. For example, you may decide to spend $1,000 on rent, $325 on food, $200 on student loan payments, $100 on savings and so on, until there are zero dollars left without a job to do. While this type of budget can take a lot of effort, it can help you think carefully about every dollar you spend and be mindful of setting aside savings.

By getting your budget on track, you’ll have enough to work toward financial goals, like paying off student loans and saving for retirement.

Tips to Help Reduce Your Food Spending

Whether your food budget has gone out of control or you’re interested in spending less in general, there are several ways to lower your food budget.

Try Meal Prep

Shopping at a store without a plan can be a budget-buster, as it can lead to unneeded purchasing. To stay on track, create a meal plan that lays out breakfast, lunch and dinner for every day of the week.

Once you’ve created a menu, check to see what ingredients are already in the kitchen. Make a list of the items you’re missing and the amounts that are needed. Buy only those items at the store.

Consider planning some meals that have overlapping ingredients, as buying ingredients in larger quantities can be cheaper. You’ll also want to consider preparing meals you like and can cook relatively quickly. That way, you’re not tempted to get takeout one day when you’re tired and don’t feel like cooking.

Take Advantage of Coupons

Using coupons can help buyers save money at the checkout counter. Grocery stores or major brands often offer discounts in coupons — look for them online, in a grocery store flyer or in the mail.

Before you buy, however, make sure you actually need the food item. If there isn’t anyone in your household who will drink that carton of oat milk, it’s better to leave it on the shelf than to cash in your coupon.

While taking advantage of an individual coupon may not add up to much savings, using many coupons over time can start to open up space in your food budget. The same is true of buying store brands, which may be a dollar or two cheaper than their name-brand counterparts. Over time, and multiple purchases, those couple of dollars can add up to significant savings.

Freeze Meals

Having meals or ingredients ready in the freezer encourages you to eat at home instead of making the excuse of having nothing to eat in your house. It can be as simple as buying frozen vegetables, some form of protein or straight-up frozen meals (it’s still cheaper than dining out). You can even make your own freezer-ready meals by cooking additional portions of meals — eat some for dinner, then freeze the rest for later.

Shop at Discount Grocery Stores

The cost of food can vary widely from store to store, so consider visiting different stores to find budget-friendly prices. A great way to check if a grocery store offers lower prices is to look at their weekly flyer. You’ll be able to find sales and other advertised goods and identify which stores offer the best deals on items you’re most likely to purchase.

Some stores may offer certain foods in bulk, such as grains, nuts, coffee and dried fruit, which can be cheaper than buying the same packaged food items.

Getting a handle on how much you spend on food can help you build a larger household budget. That way, you may be able to set aside money for savings or other financial goals.

The Takeaway

As you can see, there’s no hard-and-fast rule for how much you should spend on groceries each month, as that varies based on your unique situation. However, everyone can likely benefit from giving their grocery budget a hard look and seeing if there’s anywhere they’re overdoing it.

Envelope and spreadsheet averse? Another way to track your grocery budget is with SoFi Relay, which lets you easily set monthly spending targets and see where you’re spending the most.

See how your current food spending fits into your overall budget.



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Source: sofi.com