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35 Days of Holiday Shopping Tips

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Save money on electronics by trading in your old gadgets

Here, easy tips to help you stretch your budget and stress less every day between Black Friday and the day after Christmas.

Nov. 21: Shop for Home Goods on Black Friday
Some of the best household products (including big-ticket purchases like dishwashers and HDTVs) get big discounts the day after Thanksgiving. This is the perfect time to replace tattered essentials before the holiday guests arrive.

Related: Good Housekeeping Research Institute's Black Friday Picks

Nov. 22: Snag a Cheap Camera on Black Friday
Tired of snapping photos on your phone? Black Friday sales offer a great excuse to upgrade to a digital camera. When shopping, don't obsess over megapixel counts; instead, look for a camera with good low-light sensitivity and optical image stabilization. The GHRI likes the Canon Rebel T3i ($614, amazon.com).

Related: Black Friday Shopping Tips

Nov. 23: Make a Holiday Budget (and Stick to It)
Determine your holiday budget and don't forget to factor in the cost of decorations, travel, party essentials, and, of course, gifts. Make a list of everyone who's getting a present from you this year and assign each person a dollar amount (more for the nice ones and less for the naughty ones). Helpful tip: Use Manilla.com (or one of its highly rated apps) to track holiday spending. Manilla will also remind you when bills are due or when daily deals and travel rewards are about to expire, so not a dollar goes wasted.

Nov. 24: Support Small Businesses
Support independent storeowners and hit up local shops in your community on Nov. 24. Last year, more than 100 million people visited a small business on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To find independent shops near you, visit SmallBusinessSaturday.com.

Nov. 25: Get More on Cyber Monday
Still looking for a good deal? Check out CyberMonday.com for coupons, free shipping, and free gifts for more than 700 online retailers. Remember to read the return policy before finalizing your purchase. And look for the "https" in your browser - the "s" means your transaction is secure.

Related: Cyber Monday Shopping Tips

Nov. 26: Sign Up for Amazon Prime
With no minimum order size, it's hard to resist the lure of free two-day shipping (which usually ranges from $5.99 to $12.49) on millions of items sold on Amazon.com. The $79 annual fee also gives you access to unlimited streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime Instant Videos. Not ready to commit? Sign up for a free one-month trial. And if you're a mom (or dad), consider registering for Amazon Mom. You'll get the same benefits as Amazon Prime plus a 20 percent discount on diapers and wipes subscriptions.

Nov. 27: Take Advantage of Layaway Plans
Layaway is back! Consider this option if you aren't ready to pay in full and don't want to charge your credit card. Here's how it typically works: First, you make a down payment that ranges from 10 to 20 percent of the total cost of the item. You also pay a non-refundable service fee, usually $5. Then you agree to an installment plan and a deadline (30 to 90 days away) by which you'll pay for your gift in full before picking it up. Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Toys "R" Us, and T.J. Maxx offer layaway plans for popular in-store purchases such as toys, electronics, small appliances, and jewelry.

Related: What to Know About Layaway

Nov. 28: Always Pay the Lowest Price
You'll never have to wonder if you overpaid with the Amazon Price Check app (available on iOS and Andriod). This free app lets you compare prices among brick and mortar stores as well as online retailers. Just type in the product name, scan the barcode, or snap a photo to start searching.

Related: Free Shopping and Deal Apps

Nov. 29: Explore a Holiday Market
Sip some hot cider while you meander through the stalls at your local Christmas market. Many cities host makeshift shopping villages where you can search for unique, handmade gifts that support local artisans.

Nov. 30: Trade In Old Electronics
If you want to offload an Apple device, try Gazelle.com, a site that will buy your retired Mac products. (An iPhone4 in tip-top condition recently sold for $145 cash or $152.25 on an Amazon gift card.) Gazelle will mail you a pre-paid box to send in your gadget - and wipe your data for free. Not an Apple junkie? No worries. Gather up your old PC (or other gizmo) and head to your nearest Best Buy. There, you can sell used electronics for a store gift card. Estimate the value at bestbuy.com/tradein (a 10-inch 32GB Samsung tablet in good condition is worth $114).

Dec. 1: Give an Experiential Present
Consider treating a friend to an experience the two of you can enjoy together. Sites like Groupon, Living Social, and Google Offers sell gift certificates and activity vouchers, often discounted 50 percent or more, to local venues. Plan a spa day, take a fitness class, try a new restaurant, or see a live performance with a friend. The coupons are typically valid for a few months after the purchase date, so there's no rush to cram another event into a busy holiday schedule.

Dec 2: Redeem Credit Card Points
If you've racked up your fair share of credit card points, now could be a great time to redeem them. Most rewards programs offer discounted gift cards and merchandise ranging from fashion to food and wine. Chase Freedom, for instance, prices gift cards at 10 to 20 percent off the face value while American Express lists "sale items" such as jewelry and electronics at a 10 percent discount.

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Getting free shipping on online purchases can help you stay within your budget

Dec. 3: Search for Free Shipping
Love the convenience of online shopping but hate paying for shipping? Log onto freeshipping.org to find coupon codes and sites with waived fees. Some retailers, such as Amazon.com, Macy's, and Apple, mail gift cards for free.

Dec. 4: Prevent Overspending
If you frequently find yourself tempted to overspend during the holidays, choose debit over credit. You may have to sacrifice some benefits like credit building and purchase protection, says personal finance expert, Carmen Wong Ulrich, but for the big spenders, the tradeoff is worth it. Just make sure you don't go into overdraft!

Related: 10 Common Money Questions

Dec. 5: Find Local Deals on Your Phone
GeoQpons is a robust coupon app (available on iOS, Android, and BlackBerry) that lets you search for discounts on food, products, and services by zip code. The free app also serves up daily deals from sites like Groupon and Living Social.

Dec. 6: Spoil a Child in Your Life
Don't waste money on the latest toy craze. Instead, select one of the 24 picks from the Good Housekeeping's Best Toy Awards. Our panel of experts - 140 boys and girls - helped choose favorites from 135 contenders, that were also tested for safety and durability. The winners range from an $8 moldable plaything (that transforms from a flamingo into a scorpion into a robot!) to a $71 K'Nex Atomic Coaster.

Related: Good Housekeeping's 2012 Toy Awards

Dec. 7: Sell an Unused Gift Card
Each year, Americans fail to redeem billions of dollars in gift cards, according to industry estimates. If an unwanted gift card is occupying space in your wallet, trade it in for cash. Sites like plasticjungle.com and giftcardrescue.com will pay up to 92 percent of the face value for unused cards.

Related: Spend Less on Holiday Shopping

Dec. 8: Stock Up On Stocking Stuffers
Grab a few inexpensive presents in case you need something at the last minute. From tea tins to beer cozies, we've got you covered.

Related: Gifts Under $10

Dec. 9: Save Calories and Cash at the Food Court
Don't blow your Christmas calories or holiday budget eating at the mall. Look for affordable, healthy options, such as brown rice sushi or a salad with grilled protein like chicken or salmon. "Hold off on the shredded cheese, bacon bits, and creamy dressings," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, and author of Doctor's Detox Diet.

Dec. 10: Resist Shopping for a New Dress
Save money and skip the new outfit for this year's holiday party. Instead, dig out a little black dress from your closet and glam it up with some glitzy accessories like a beaded clutch or statement jewelry.

Related: Jewel-Toned Holiday Fashion

Dec. 11: Pick Up a Hostess Gift
Heading to a party? Bring the hostess a set of quirky coasters or a modern terrarium.

Related: Gift Ideas for the Home

Dec. 12: Give Out Your Email
Sign up for email newsletters at your favorite stores. Many fashion and home retailers offer a discount on your first purchase and will notify you of sales throughout the month.

Dec. 13: Adopt a Family
Through the Salvation Army, you can provide a family in need with the utilities, food, clothing, and toys on their once-in-a-lifetime wish list. Ask your children if they would be willing to forgo one present in order to give to those who are less fortunate. Or, consider making a donation in the name of friends or relatives instead of buying them a gift.

Dec. 14: Save On Apple Devices
If your teenager is begging for a Mac product, consider buying a refurbished good at apple.com. You can save anywhere from 13 to 33 percent. Apple tests, certifies, and repackages all devices. Regardless of their history, which varies from opened and unused to tuned-up, products come with a one-year limited warranty and free shipping.

Related: Shop Smarter This Holiday Season

Dec. 15: Stay Sane While Parking
Don't get flustered if you forget where you left your car. Next time you park in a crowded garage, snap a pic on your phone to remind yourself. And if you hate circling for a vacant spot, consider valet parking. A few dollars might be worth your time and sanity.

Dec. 16: Save on Shipping
Mailing a heavy gift? Get a flat rate box from the USPS or compare postage at shippingsidekick.com.

Dec. 17: Do You Even Need to Buy a Gift?
With so many important people to acknowledge during the holidays, it's hard to know whether to shop for a personal gift or pony up some cash for the individuals who have served you well over the past year. Tip your dog walker one day's pay, says etiquette expert Peggy Post. Give your regular sitter one to two evenings' pay plus a small present from your child.

Related: A Guide to Holiday Tipping

Dec. 18: Shop for Power Tools
Buy power tools for a special man or handy friend in your life. They tend to go on sale in December. If your favorite fella isn't so into DIY, spend a little now and splurge on a Father's Day gift instead - grills are marked down in June.

Related: Gifts Under $20

Dec. 19: Take Advantage of Free Gift Wrap
Inquire about complimentary gift wrapping when you're paying at the register. If that's not available, at least ask for a box (and a gift receipt). Some retailers will hand out seasonal boxes with holiday ribbon, which may be a pretty enough that the package won't warrant wrapping paper.

Related: Kitchen Gift Ideas

Dec 20: Plan a Family Game Night
Keep the kids entertained for hours when they're home for winter break.

Related: Best Board Games of 2012

Dec. 21: Watch for Price Adjustments
Take advantage of price adjustments, typically within seven to 10 days of purchase. Many retailers will refund the difference if your item goes on sale. Some retailers like Target and Wal-Mart will match the price listed in a competitor's ad. Bonus: Target is extending its holiday price match through Dec. 24 - and honoring prices found on select online competitors such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com, and ToysRUs.com. Home Depot will even give you 10 percent off the competitor's price.

Related: Price Match Guarantee Policies

Dec. 22: Map Your Route
With Waze, a mobile navigation app that offers real-time traffic updates and turn-by-turn directions, you'll never get caught in holiday traffic again. This free app (available on iOS, Android, and BlackBerry) calls on registered users to report traffic jams and car accidents, to help you find the fastest path. While you're optimizing your route, fill up on cheap gas thanks to GasBuddy, another free app (available on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows) that compares prices at pumps near you.

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For Christmas Eve shopping, make sure to get an early start

Dec. 23: Curl Up with a Holiday Movie
Forget Miracle on 34th Street and pick a flick that celebrates the season without having to hear anyone groan "Not again!" Watch a non-traditional holiday movie, like The Polar Express or Little Women. Pop some corn and snuggle up on the sofa, because a movie night at home is much cheaper than 4 tickets to the cinema.

Related: Best Christmas Movies

Dec. 24: Make the Most of Christmas Eve
If you're going to brave the crowds on Christmas Eve, get an early start. Plan to arrive to the mall when it opens. You may even strike it big at the sale rack, as many stores are trying to unload inventory as the holiday season ends.

Dec. 25: Prepare for Post-Christmas Sales
Take stock of your home and jot down the seasonal items you'll need for next year. Then stick to the list! Snag holiday decorations, Christmas cards, wrapping paper, ornaments, and more at bargain-basement prices (if you can stomach one more day of mall madness).

How do you save time and money while holiday shopping? Let me know in the comments!

By Angela Kwan

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