(NerdWallet) – This holiday shopping season is going to be longer, more expensive, and somewhat messier than previous years, making it easy to overspend. But there are also opportunities for significant savings if you know where and how to look for them.
“There’s supply chain issues, inflation, big retailers are reducing inventory — when you put it all together, it looks like a recipe for disaster,” says Jill Cataldo, a Chicago-based consumer coupon expert. Her solution? “I’ve started shopping now. If you see something and it looks like a good deal, it’s time to collect it.”
That’s because while prices are higher overall, retailers have already kicked off the holiday season, spreading discounts and sales over the last three months of the year. With that complicated backdrop, here are the top ways to save money this Black Friday season:
1. Shop early and often
It might sound counterintuitive, but getting started early can reduce the impact on your budget and allow you to score the best deals. “I watch the prices, see which retailer is offering the best price, and always check for coupons before I buy—anything beats paying full price,” says Cataldo. If she makes an early purchase, she’ll have the receipt ready in case the price goes down. Some retailers offer a price match, or you can buy the better deal and return the more expensive purchase.
2. Be relentless when comparing prices
Apps, browser extensions and other tools to help you track and compare prices abound; You just have to choose the one you like to use the most. You can find choices that scour the web in the background while you shop, alerting you to lower prices, coupon codes, and cash back opportunities.
For example, the shopping app ShopSavvy tracks price changes on certain items. John Boyd, co-founder and CEO of Monolith Technologies, which owns ShopSavvy, says he uses this feature for things he has his eye on, like a digital SLR. “I want to be notified when these items go on sale because they may only be on sale for a few minutes and then run out,” he says.
The Camelizer app performs a similar function specifically for Amazon prices.
Greg Lisiewski, vice president of PayPal Shopping, which owns the Honey shopping browser extension, says when he wants to buy something, he looks for the merchant in the PayPal app to see if any discounts are available (under the “Deals” section).
Those rebates are especially valuable now that PayPal Honey reports that toys and games are up 11% year over year this year, coffee makers are up 7%, and bike gear and accessories are up 9%. The company also reports that the biggest discounts this holiday season have come at cosmetics, musical instruments and general department stores.
3. Create voucher codes and cashback
A good deal isn’t just about the price: you can add further savings with coupon codes and cash back offers.
Cataldo uses cash back offers available through apps like Rakuten, CouponCabin, and Ibotta. “It’s just an extra step when you shop online, and then you get a check,” she says. “I like things that are simple, and this is very simple.”
Scott Kluth, CouponCabin’s founder and CEO, says stores with excess inventory often have discounts of 10% to 15%, and cash back offers range from 3% to 20%. “Stack all those savings on top of each other,” he says, adding that online retailers sometimes accept multiple coupon codes and offer free shipping.
4. Get to know your local businesses
Deborah Weinswig, CEO and Founder of Coresight Research, a retail research and advisory firm, says getting to know your local businesses and attending in-person events can be the path to making the biggest deals. “Store leaders are given the opportunity to negotiate and match or undercut the price,” she says, especially if they have excess inventory on hand.
She suggests participating in live streams, following your favorite brands on social media, and signing up for brand loyalty programs to be the first to know about discounts or special offers. “Some codes are only valid for 24 hours and some prizes are only valid for four hours,” she says. So if you want the best deals, be ready to act fast.
5. Talk to friends and family about a reduction
With so many people feeling the strain of rising prices, it’s a good year to start talking to family and friends about setting boundaries. For Sarah Schweisthal, social media manager at budgeting app You Need a Budget, this means setting up gift exchanges with family members so each person only buys one gift within an agreed spending limit. “We all used to buy each other gifts, but there are a lot of adults in our family. It only took one of us to say, ‘Hey, that doesn’t feel sustainable,'” she says.
Schweisthal estimates that the gift exchange has saved her family hundreds of dollars — and this year especially, planning for the holidays is more important than ever.