The holidays are a special time of year, but with higher prices for most everyday items, many people are trying to find ways to spread holiday cheer more cheaply this season.
Retail analysts say that consumers are stretching out their holiday shopping and hunting for deals to counter inflation. Shoppers are being helped by the over-ordering of some retailers earlier this year, a misstep that led them to cut prices early to move bloated inventory.
"Consumers should expect big discounts as retailers continue to work through inventory and try to differentiate themselves amongst all the inflationary pressures on discretionary spending," said Chris Walton, co-founder of the Third Haus retail lab in Minneapolis and a retail trade blog called Omni Talk.
Here's a rundown on how you can get the most for your money this holiday season:
Plan in advance
Budgeting is an easy way to make sure you don't spend too much. Not only should you budget for gifts for other people, you should also budget for how much money you plan to spend on items for yourself like that coffee maker you had your eye on that finally went on sale, said Lisa Baker, founder of blog TwinCitiesFrugalMom.com.
"Know your budget and what you're shopping for now and stick to it," Baker said.
Baker recently released her site's annual Black Friday Price Comparison Sheet to help shoppers plan and compare prices on numerous gifts.
Keep track of receipts
Many consumers are expected to start their holiday shopping sooner this year. Already, Amazon, Target and Best Buy have begun their holiday sales. With so many promotions spread out over such a long period of time, it can be hard to keep track if you're truly getting the best deal, said Anne Mezzenga, the other co-founder of the Omni Talk blog and Third Haus retail lab.
Her advice is to create a folder in your inbox storing the receipts for any holiday shopping you do. You can bring those receipts in to most retailers who are matching prices if they go lower between now and the end of the year at their stores or if another retailer has the same item for cheaper.
"If you have the time and the patience, having one spot to reference prices will be helpful," Mezzenga said.
Shop unusual places
Morgan Molitor of Minneapolis-based Construction2Style interior design and remodeling firm hunts vintage stores once a week. Some of her favorite spots are the Goodwill in Chanhassen and a string of vintage stores in Elk River. She also suggests shopping your own home for the holiday for a quick refresh of decor by moving pieces around and reusing items for decorations.
Need a cheap tablescape? You can often find it in nature, Molitor said. She sometimes grabs pampas grass from ditches and hydrangeas from her yard to add to her table centerpieces. Pro tip: Spray plants with hair spray to help them last.
Give gifts others can give away
One of the best holiday gifts Molitor has recently received were cute containers of lefse that her friend made and gave as gifts with enough that Molitor could give away whatever she didn't use as gifts to other people.
Putting things like puppy chow, cookies and even soup in multiple giveable containers so the receiver can have some and share with others is a cheap and considerate way to make sure your gifts don't go to waste, she said.
Don't buy a large number of cheap toys
"If you're feeling budget constraints this year, resist the urge to buy lots of cheaper goods," said Erika Olson Gross, co-owner of Kinoko Kids in Minneapolis. "Kids don't need a million presents."
She suggested it would be more cost-effective to buy a limited number of quality, open-ended toys such as wooden blocks that could provide a longer period of evolving play time and will hold kids' interest beyond just the holidays.
Take advantage of free activities
Remember that during the next two months the Twin Cities has plenty of events that are free of charge that can keep your family entertained. Cities often host festivals, markets, and park celebrations that are free to attend. Just in the last month, Baker's website posted dozens of free events on its calendar including a Halloween celebration at the Union Depot in St. Paul and a dance party at Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America.
Different dates, different savings
Every month there are different sales themes. For example, in November, Halloween items go on clearance as do baking supplies for the holidays and wedding gowns that boutiques are trying to clear out, Baker said. In December, retailers like Target often offer discounts on gift cards. On Dec. 14, it's National Free Shipping Day, which takes place every year in mid-December. Not only should shoppers know the sales, but they should also keep track of what produce is in season as they put together holiday recipes.
Handmade gifts get the job done
There are so many inexpensive and handmade gifts people can give that children will love because for many kids the experience of opening a gift is half the fun, Baker said. She said people should consider giving bubble wrap or wrap a variety of small gifts in layers of plastic wrap that the receiver has to unweave. Another suggestion is edible gifts like homemade hot chocolate bombs.
"I do think that people are focusing more and more every year ... on buying things that are locally made and sourced," said Mich Berthiaume, a local retail expert who has helped organize pop-up markets across the Twin Cities for years.
This season, Berthiaume is in charge of hosting local markets at the Dayton's Project in downtown Minneapolis, Viking Lakes in Eagan, the Four Seasons Hotel in Minneapolis, and the Market at Malcolm Yards, off University Avenue near the border of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Berthiaume said to prepare ahead of time for seasonal markets by visiting Facebook and Instagram to check festival and fair schedules and see which vendors are going to be at which market. Berthiaume said she wouldn't haggle at the markets, but makers often run promotions shoppers can find on social media. Many local shops also wrap gifts for free.