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In popular holiday films, the sense of urgency to shop for last-minute items is a scene inspired by reality. Whether it’s that last holiday ham or toy, money is no object on the screen. In everyday life, it’s a different story, of course.
With inflation-hiked prices, there's only so much you can spend. Still, that eleventh-hour pressure can make it easy to cave in to paying full price for those must-have items. But even when you’re down to the wire, there are still ways to save if you’re willing to be flexible.
Here’s how to get more value for your purchases this holiday season.
If you're jetsetting this holiday season, then the flight has probably been booked by now. But if you still need holiday accommodations, deals may exist.
Some websites and apps, like Priceline and Hotwire, offer last-minute deals for mystery hotels if you’re willing to be spontaneous. You don't get to know the exact name or location of the hotel until after it’s booked. You may see only the price, number of stars, limited photos, a general overview of the location, amenities and review scores.
For something more predictable, explore last-minute savings on an app like HotelTonight.
Whether you’re cooking up latkes or tamales, holiday meals are another expense that can easily add up. Roxanna Gonzalez, a couponer and influencer at MamiCouponz on TikTok, is planning to cook the latter among the several holiday meals she's preparing. She plans to save money by using digital coupons.
“Mostly every single place that you grocery shop, like the big-box retailers, have their own app, and then on the app, they have extra coupons or a ton of deals,” says the Vancouver, Washington-based mom of two.
In a recent shopping haul for everyday purchases, she says she applied this strategy to a total of $108 to drop it to $52.
Gonzalez stretches her savings even further by using apps like Ibotta. You can browse offers that earn cash back for different products at specific stores and claim them by taking a photo of the receipt and uploading it. “Between stacking the store promo, the store coupon and rebate, it comes out to be super cheap,” Gonzalez says.
Also, consider exploring a salvage store or outlet for groceries. A quick search online for “salvage grocery stores near me” may alert you to savings in your area, if these stores are available. In some cases, the food container might be dented, near or past the expiration date, or in perfectly good condition.
Tamara Dean, a content creator at the YouTube channel SouthernWife EverydayLife, saves money annually by shopping for groceries at these stores around her town in Glasgow, Kentucky.
“One of the ones I go to is connected to an Amish bakery, and so they have a lot of baked good ingredients — like I can get flour in bulk and other ingredients — that I might use for my holiday baking,” she says.
Dean estimates that compared with retail prices, this strategy can sometimes shave half the cost off of a receipt, depending on the products purchased.
If it’s necessary for your budget, add a creative spin to traditional meals to further stretch savings. For instance, last Thanksgiving, Dean tried an extreme budget meal challenge. She served turkey deli slices wrapped around stuffing and drizzled gravy over them. It was paired with convenience foods like canned carrots, crescent rolls and potatoes. The budget also included an angel food cake for dessert, which wasn’t a hit with her husband and 8-year-old, but the turkey roll-ups were.
“I’ve actually had several family members tell me that they’ve made that since then and that they liked it,” she says. “They are so simple and budget-friendly.”
She says it created four to six servings for $18.
Similar tactics can be applied when shopping for gifts. Some salvage or liquidation stores carry discounted items from retailers like Target, Walmart and others. They may even offer rewards programs that allow you to shave more off the price. Items are typically final sale, so keep in mind a store’s return policy when using this option.
For traditional retail stores, compare prices and look for discounts whether you’re purchasing a gift or a gift card. Some ways to pile on the savings include:
Collecting cash back on products or gift cards by shopping with certain merchants through an app or website like Rakuten or Be Frugal.
Using a rewards credit card, if you have one, for the purchase to scoop up more savings (and paying off the balance in full to avoid interest charges).
Exploring whether your credit card issuer offers discount programs when you use the card to shop with select merchants. (You typically must activate or opt in to such offers before you shop.)
Seeing whether your credit card issuer has any promotions that allow you to redeem rewards at a discounted rate for gift cards.
Looking for discounts on gift cards through retailers like Sam’s Club and Costco.
Taking advantage of promotions through retailers like Target to earn gift cards by meeting spending requirements.