Smart phones, Facebook and social media are giving holiday shoppers new ways to find the best deals. But no matter how you shop, a smart and measured approach can keep the holidays from plunging you into debt.
First, set a budget. Make a list of everyone you plan to shop for, and how much you can spend on each. Add it up and revise downward if necessary.
Then do some research. Study store ads and jot down prices of items that interest you. Watch for enticements like price-matching, free shipping, limited-time specials or discount coupons online and in the newspaper. You can also find daily deals online through group-discount sites such as Groupon.
Tech-savvy shoppers can benefit from some additional tools.
Stores use Twitter feeds and Facebook pages to offer special deals. For example, Kohl's has Friday flash sales exclusively for its Facebook fans. Stores also send sale alerts to shoppers' smart phones.
This holiday season you can shop at Target by using a mobile phone to send a text or scan a QR code from a catalog, bus shelter ad or television spot.
And there are websites and apps that can help you compare prices while you shop, such as Nextag.com and SnapTell Explorer. You can use your smart phone to snap a photo or scan a barcode and find out what the item costs elsewhere.
Decide.com offers advice on the best time to buy electronics and other products, using data to predict model and price changes. And yes, it has a mobile app.