Shop Smart This Holiday Season

Christmas carols on repeat, long lines, bright lights, screaming toddlers—it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re shopping for holiday gifts.

Save some cash (and your sanity) with these strategies for maximizing your gift budget.

Hot Gifts

Mundelein mom and bargain hunter Rita Cangialosi is the founder of Chi-Town Cheapskate, a blog where she posts coupons and money-saving tips. Her advice for getting deals on hot gifts like the XBox is to research prices before buying. Sign up for a service like Amazon Price Tracker or subscribe to a blog like Cangialosi’s to get alerts when prices drop.

Cangialosi says you can also save on holiday gifts with a strategy “extreme couponers” use to slash grocery bills: stack store coupons with manufacturer coupons. She says she recently was able to purchase board games for just $1 at a big-box store by combining store and manufacturer coupons with rebates.

Gift Cards

If you’re giving gift cards, Cangialosi recommends purchasing them at supermarkets. Many grocers carry gift cards to top retailers like Best Buy and iTunes, and may offer gift certificates you can use for groceries when you purchase a gift card. Another little-known way to save: use the right credit card. Cangialosi says one big-box retailer recently offered 20 percent off iPads purchased with Discover cards.

Daily deal sites, such as Groupon, are a great way to score gifts like spa services or theater tickets at deep discounts, but subscribing to all of the deal sites can clog your inbox. That’s why Brent Shelton, a spokesperson for FatWallet.com, recommends his site’s local deals section. “The section basically aggregates all [daily offers from] Groupon, Living Social, Saveology, Angie’s List, etcetera, in one place, allowing visitors to quickly scan each day’s offers and keep their inboxes uncluttered.”

Local Deals

Downtown Chicago and the Internet aren’t the only places to buy gifts. Don’t forget about shopping in your own back yard. Gina Speckman, executive director of Chicago’s North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, says there are plenty of deals to be had at North Shore boutiques and malls.

Visit downtown Winnetka on December 2, when retailers will host special sales, Speckman says. Mark your calendar for December 15, which Speckman says is the first-ever “Shop Evanston Day,” when many local stores will have holiday promotions. Highland Park is encouraging visitors to shop local on December 7 and 8, with holiday festivities supporting the retail district. Check destinationnorthshore.com for updated information on local sales. Our own, makeitbetter.net also lists holiday sales as well activities like menorah lightings and breakfasts with Santa in our events section.

If you want the tactile experience of a brick-and-mortar store and the low prices you find online, Speckman says you may be able to get both. “A lot of retailers have gotten smarter,” she says. “If they have an online presence, they may offer same deal in the store.”