I was reading the New York Times the other day, nodding my head as I scanned the headline “To Buy Gifts, Mothers Do Without.” It’s not really news that moms sacrifice for their kids. But I found it interesting to read about surveys that quantify just how selfless moms plan to be this year with the country stuck in a stubborn economic downtown. The story pointed out that 61 percent of mothers told questioners from the NPD Group that they would shop less for themselves this year, compared with 56 percent of all women and 45 percent of men. Over the last several weeks in my role as Web Life Editor for Yahoo!, I’ve been spending some time looking for ways to help families save money this season using the Web. Here are a few tips for moms looking to squeeze more out of family budgets. Perhaps you’ll still have a little left over to treat yourself to something nice, too. You deserve it.
Strategize Before You Sign On
We all know that shopping online saves time. But if you have a game plan in place, you can really stretch your dollar this season—especially because retailers are looking for any way to prop up the potentially dismal season. The number of discounts and deals you can find online is infinite and can be overwhelming. So before you dive in, figure out your budget and your gift list. A great resource is practicalmoneyskills.com. It’s a financial-literacy website created by Visa that features a Holiday Spending calculator; you can plug your annual income into it, and it will suggest a budget for you. You can also create a very useful Gift Log in which you enter each person’s name, the amount you plan to spend, and the actual amount you spend when you purchase that person’s gift. The log will calculate what you are laying out so you know if you are on target with your budget.
Once you have your list and spending priorities in place, start comparison shopping. It takes just a couple of minutes to search for prices by opening up a few browser windows on your computer. Start with the major shopping portals, including shopping.yahoo.com, shopzilla.com, and shopping.com. Then plug in the specific item you want, with as much detail as possible. If you are searching for a generic pink cashmere sweater, you aren’t going to find the best deals. This works best with toys or electronics or name-brand clothing or cosmetics. When I decided to look for the Tinkerbell DVD I purchased at Target for $19.99, I found a range of nineteen different online prices, from a low of $13.98 on Amazon all the way to $21.79 on deepdiscounts.com (with a 25 percent off coupon). Be cautious, though, of e-commerce sites you have never heard of. You can quickly check on a site’s reputation by looking on the Better Business Bureau’s site, bbb.org.
But before you click and purchase what seems like the best deal, do a quick search of coupons. For example, if you go to Yahoo! Deals on shopping.yahoo.com, you will find a coupons tab. Look for the merchant. You may be able to find a code to give you free shipping, wrapping, or a rebate with your online purchase. Better yet, if you still love the tradition of scouring the mall, look for in-store coupons, too. But remember, if you buy at a brick-and-mortar store, depending on where you live, you will pay sales tax. Many times, you will not pay sales tax when you buy online—unless the retailer has a physical presence in your state. You can also do a simple search by plugging in the retailer’s name and “50 percent OFF” or “discounts” and see what pops up. There are a bunch of other new coupon sites to check out, too, such as dealnews.com.
If you’re expecting a house full of company, you can also find ways to save. Take a look at coupons.com for some savings on household staples. If you can’t stand clipping coupons out of the weekly circulars, you will really enjoy the ease of clicking on the coupons you want and printing out the page at home. The key is making your list before you scan for deals.
Check Your Email
Yes, those promotional emails from stores clutter our inboxes—but this time of the year, it might pay to open up the correspondence from Williams-Sonoma, Disney, and other merchants. Often, the newsletters feature coupon codes that will help you trim your costs, too. Remember, with the dismal economic climate, retailers are trying very hard this season to offer attractive incentives to buy.
Consider Sending Ecards
Of course it wouldn’t be the Christmas (or Hanukkah, Kwanza etc) without writing up your family’s annual holiday letter and mailing out cards. But between printing costs and postage, you can spend a lot of cash. There are a few really nice e-card sites that allow you to customize your greetings for free. Check out postcard.fm, on which you can upload a photo of choice and select a song to go with it. I also really like designhergals.com. It’s a site that lets you choose your own digital doll with outfits, accessories, and even hairstyles to personalize your holiday message. Not only will you save money—but going electronic is also eco-friendly.