Nearly three-quarters of Americans still have gifts to buy as of December 18—but don't throw caution to the wind just because you're short on time. Shopping and finance experts spill their secrets for maximizing a deal and paying off holiday bills in record time.
Andrea Woroch recommends , an app that allows you to get instant cash back on purchases from big box stores, department stores, restaurants, and more. Link your credit or debit card to the app, "then use it for your holiday purchases and apply the cash to help pay off your credit card bill later," she says.
Sign up for a free trial of or . For 30 days, you can enjoy free two-day shipping from both companies and free returns from ShopRunner. If you decide to cancel, set a reminder to do it before the trial expires to avoid being charged.
If you're a member of Costco or Sam's Club, purchase a gift basket and divvy up the contents. "Last year, Sam's Club sold a set of five coffee tumblers, with cocoa mix and marshmallows, for $20," says Kendal Perez. "That's just $4 per gift!"
For the truly last-minute shopper, Walgreens and CVS offer same-day pickup for gifts like photo books and calendars at very affordable prices.
To save on online shopping, install a free plug-in on your Internet browser. Bobbi Rebell is a fan of , which automatically finds and applies the best coupons and deals at checkout. You can also use Gumdrop to give to charity. Look for the "activate donation" button while you're shopping online.
Merchants including , , , , , and offer gift cards via email within minutes of purchase, meaning you can wait until the absolute last minute to send a gift.
If your child is asking for a big-ticket item that is beyond your budget, organize a group gift. Rebell recently discovered , a free service that allows kids and parents to request donations from other family members and friends toward a dream gift, like a trip to Disney World or a new computer.
Joanie Demer is a fan of the for price-matching. "Even if there's no time left for , scan any item at Best Buy, Toys R Us, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, or Target using the app, and if the price is lower on Amazon, simply request a price match at the register," she says.
Before you shop, look at deal sites like and for coupons and promo codes.
Think of the as an automatic financial adviser. The app will find discounts to lower bills, alert you to paid subscriptions that you never use, and help you stick to budgets and save toward a goal (like paying off that shopping debt).
To break your debt into more manageable chunks, choose a specific date, say three or six months from now, by which you hope to pay it off. "This approach will help you calculate how much money you should put toward your debt every pay period," says Perez.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly one-third of our food dollars go toward eating out. Add one homemade meal per week until you're eating every breakfast and almost every dinner at home and brown-bagging your lunches at least three times a week. Put that savings toward your bills. "Hopefully, you keep the habit and apply the money you save toward next year's holiday celebration," says Donna Freedman.
Several banks offer free ways to save without thinking about it. Bank of America's Keep the Change program rounds up each purchase to the nearest dollar and transfers the difference from your checking account to your savings account. With Wells Fargo's Save as You Go option, $1 is transferred from checking to savings every time you make a purchase or pay a bill with the bank's online bill-pay service.
If you don't have the extra funds to pay more than the minimum on your credit card each month, pay half the minimum twice a month, which will help you save on the interest being charged. Set up automatic payments to avoid having to think about dates.
Don't be fooled by store credit cards' big initial deals, which often charge high fees to offset the discounts. Instead, use the points on your current card to save.
After the season of giving, you may be tempted to blow cash gifts on a little something for yourself, but use that extra money to pay off some of your bills instead. Take it from Cameron Huddleston: "The best gift you can give yourself is to start the new year debt-free."