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Our best tips for smart spending on your holiday shopping

The Select team thinks about shopping and spending money every day, so of course they know a thing or two about how to spend smartly during the holidays.

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Holiday shopping is equal parts exciting and stressful. For many people, that stress isn't just about running around figuring out what gifts to get their loved ones — it's also about making sure their finances don't take a serious hit as a result of increased spending.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers' Annual Holiday Shopping Intentions survey, the average holiday shopper plans to spend $637 on gifts and other holiday-related expenses this year.

So to help you manage your holiday budget and get the best deals possible, members of the Select team chimed in with their best tips. Here's what they shared:

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Set price alerts for specific products

If you plan to do most of your holiday shopping on Amazon, one of the easiest ways to make sure you're not overpaying for a particular product is to set up an alert so you know when there's a price drop. Morgan Greenwald, Select's SEO editor, uses a browser extension called CamelCamelCamel to receive alerts when Amazon products she's shopping for have lower prices.

This can come in handy if you already have specific gifts in mind for your loved ones (or for yourself) but don't have time to manually patrol the product pages every day for price changes.

Use a combo of rewards apps and credit cards to try reward stacking

Reward stacking is when you combine several shopping rewards programs to maximize the discounts, points and cash back you receive on a purchase. This could mean buying a gift using a credit card that allows you to earn cash back and using a browser extension on top of that to earn cash back there as well.

Ashirvad Parikh, CNBC's e-commerce compliance manager, takes this approach with his shopping. For example, he might use one credit card to get a complimentary membership for a grocery delivery service then use a rewards app to find items he can get cash back on. From there, he might purchase those items with another credit card offering grocery rewards to earn additional cash back.

There are many reward shopping services and credit cards that can help you earn as many rewards and cash back as possible. Personally, I love the Rakuten browser extension for getting cash back since it's simple to use — just add it to your browser and click the "activate" button when you're on an eligible website. There are hundreds of retailers that participate. From time to time, the cash-back percentage for different retailers may temporarily increase or even double, which gives you an opportunity to earn even more for items you were going to purchase anyway.

And when it comes to credit cards, the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card gives you 2% cash rewards on all eligible purchases with no limit to how much cash back you can earn. And new cardholders can take advantage of the welcome bonus: Earn $200 in cash rewards after you spend $1,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

On Wells Fargo's secure site
  • Rewards

    Unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months

  • Annual fee


  • Intro APR

    0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate

  • Regular APR

    17.24%, 22.24%, or 27.24% variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Introductory fee of 3% ($5 minimum) for 120 days from account opening, then up to 5% ($5 minimum)

  • Foreign transaction fee


  • Credit needed


See rates and fees, terms apply.

If you prefer rewards related to travel perks, the Discover it® Miles card offers unlimited 1.5X miles for every dollar spent on all purchases. And Discover will automatically match all the miles you earn at the end of your first year of using the card. So for example, if you rack up 35,000 miles within the first 12 months, Discover will match you with 35,000 miles. That's a total of 70,000 miles or $700 toward travel.

Discover it® Miles

On Discover's secure site
  • Rewards

    Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.

  • Welcome bonus

    Discover will match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year.

  • Annual fee


  • Intro APR

    0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases.

  • Regular APR

    14.24% - 25.24% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Foreign transaction fee


  • Credit needed

    Good / Excellent

*See rates and fees, terms apply.

Organize a holiday gift exchange and set a price limit

If you have a large family or friend group, holiday shopping can sometimes be more costly than you'd like when you have to purchase a gift for every single person. This is where holiday gift exchanges can come in handy and alleviate some of that pressure.

Elizabeth Gravier, a personal finance reporter for Select, recommends doing gift exchanges with friends. This way, everyone in the group gets just one gift for one person, which can save you money but still allow you to have an exciting gift giving experience. She also recommends you set a spending limit for the gifts, which can take away some of the pressure of feeling like you need to get someone a super pricey gift.

Save up for a holiday shopping fund throughout the year

This year, I decided to start saving up some cash for holiday shopping early on. I wanted to give myself an extra cushion of money to use when buying gifts, and since I was saving throughout the year, I was able to put away small, non-intimidating amounts of money — think $5 one week, $10 another week — and it really added up.

I ended up with around $300 saved for gifts, which I can use in addition to any other amount of money I decide to budget for holiday shopping. The extra money I saved takes some of the pressure off of my budget.

It might be too late to start a holiday savings account this year, but you can make it a point to start one in January for holiday shopping next year. Use any savings method you like, but be sure to put the money into a high-yield savings account — like the Marcus by Goldman Sachs Online Savings Account or the Ally Online Savings Account — so you can grow your savings a little bit faster thanks to the higher interest rate the accounts carry.

Shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday to see if you can get anything on your list on sale

Shoppers eagerly await Black Friday and Cyber Monday each year so they can score the best deals of the season. This might require some planning ahead so you'll know exactly what kinds of products you're looking for. And this year, some retailers have actually already begun doling out discounts.

  • You can get up to 50% off select beauty products and up to 50% off women's and men's shoes from Macy's.
  • Shop up to 20% off select board games at Target.
  • Crate & Barrel is giving up to 20% off select Breville Ovens and 60% off select furniture styles.
  • You can get up to 70% off jewelry at JCPenney.

Don't wait until the last minute

Sticking to a budget during the holidays is already hard enough, but if you wait until the last minute to start shopping, you run the risk of having to pay extra for expedited shipping and getting stuck with buying super pricey items just so you have a gift to give.

If you haven't already, start by jotting down a list of everyone you need to buy a gift for and some potential ideas for each person. This way, you'll know when the product is on sale and when it would be most worthwhile to make the purchase. And you'll be able to allow for a little extra delivery time so you won't have to pay extra for faster shipping. Just don't wait too long, the holidays will be here before we're ready.

Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal financetech and toolswellness and more, and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

Information about Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the banks prior to publication. Goldman Sachs Bank USA is a Member FDIC.

For rates and fees for the Discover it® Miles, click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
Plenty of rewards and benefits including 4X points per dollar for dining at restaurants worldwide
Enjoy an intro APR on purchases plus, Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year.