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16 Last-Minute Ways to Save This Holiday

Posted by MoneyKey on December 24, 2018
Have you been procrastinating all season?

Every year, you make a promise to yourself: never again. Never again will you wait until the last minute to shop for holiday presents. And yet, here you are empty-handed, another year with precious little time before the holidays arrive.

There’s no use in beating yourself up about it. The sooner you move past your procrastination, the sooner you can get out there and tick off the people on your list like Old Saint Nick himself.

And here’s just the list you’ll need. As a trusted source for online loans and financial savings tips, we have the ultimate last-minute guide to the holidays. Here, you’ll find shopping tips and traveling tricks, as well as some gift ideas you may buy at the very last second.

Think of it as your eleventh-hour pep talk to get you ready for the last shopping and traveling days of the year. So what are we waiting for? Let’s dive in!

1. Shop during off-peak hours

Just like the congested roads featured in our previous post about the average commute, the mall experiences its own kind of rush hour during the holiday season. Nearly 70 percent of holiday shoppers wait until the last week before Christmas to buy their last gift of the season.

holiday shopping mall with large christmas tree people shopping in background

Although a congested mall likely won’t have honking horns or exhaust fumes, it may be just as frustrating as a long commute in other ways. If you want to skip the crowds, try shopping at unusual times — like as soon as the mall opens or during your break.

If you get there early, you may be the first one to shop after the night crew restocked the store. With the first pick of the shelves, you may have a better chance of finding what you need.

Once you have the perfect gift in hand, you may fast track through the cash, too. As one of the few shoppers in the mall during off-peak hours, you might not have to wait in a long line.

2. Know what you want

When you don’t know what you need or where you need it from, a crowded mall is a daunting place to be. You might end up running around like the proverbial chicken without its head as you rush in and out of stores.

A plan of attack may help you shop methodically with a lot less stress. In the past, we’ve touted the benefits of using a list as one our favorite tips for saving money at the grocery store, and we’re suggesting it again because it may help you focus on what you should buy and ignore what you shouldn’t.

Spending some extra time to figure out where you might find each of the items on your list may help you stay on track — and on budget. It may also save you a lot of grief; with a list in hand, you’ll know which stores to visit and which ones to skip — potentially getting you out of the mall faster.

3. Have a backup plan

Your plan may unravel if an item is sold out by the time you arrive at the store, but it’s not time to panic just yet. Sold out stock won’t phase you if you have a backup gift or two waiting in the wings for situations just like this.

Having a backup is a great rule of thumb for most things in life, including your finances. Think of living within your means and contributing to your savings as your ‘Plan A’. In the case of a bad month full of repairs you weren’t expecting, a loan from an online lender may be your ‘Plan B’ if your savings fall short. These loans are ideal for emergencies — like a minor, non-recurring wintertime repair — that make it hard to stick to your ‘Plan A’. If you’re interested in this type of financial product, click here to learn about alternate options to payday loans.

4. Resist the “extras”

Walking into a mall decked out with all the sights and sounds of the winter holidays may be a magical moment — even if you’re racing against the clock. The decorations, the carols, and even the people might get you in the mood to celebrate — and to spend!

Between special two-for-one deals, add-on items conveniently placed next to the line for the cash, and employees skilled at upselling and cross-selling, you may arrive at the register with a few items that aren’t on your list. You might even convince yourself you deserve a small treat for shopping during such a hectic time.

Put those items back where you find them! You shouldn’t stray from your list, even just once. Impulsive shopping might puncture holes in your budget, causing it to hemorrhage money you need to pay for other things.

These small yet seemingly irresistible items are what we warn against in our budgeting and savings guides, as they may add up to take a larger portion of your income than you realize. To find other tips like this and more, check out our ultimate budgeting guide before you leave for the mall.

Keeping these purchases to a minimum means you’ll have more of your income leftover to put into savings. An emergency fund and other savings may help you take on unexpected purchases, repairs, or even medical emergencies you can’t ignore this winter. These funds are an ideal way to cover these issues on your own, while an installment loan is a convenient backup if you ever find yourself short in your time of need.

Unlike traditional loans, they’re practical for urgent bills and repairs — even over the holidays. Because we make online loans simple, you may be able to get an installment loan before the New Year if you act soon.

5. Ask for a gift receipt

If the shelves in every store are picked over by the time you arrive to shop, you can’t afford to be picky. With no time to wait for more stock to come in, you may have to do the best with what you have. Sometimes, that means buying something that isn’t exactly what’s on your list or something that isn’t in the recipient’s size.

In the ideal world, your loved one will appreciate anything you give them — even if they didn’t ask for it. But just in case they don’t, ask for a gift receipt. It’s your get of jail free card this holiday. They can use it to exchange the present for another item they actually want.

The gift receipt may be a sensitive topic, even if you ask for it, so here’s a quick tip: tuck this receipt into their present before you wrap it. This will save them from wondering how they can ask for it without hurting your feelings.  

6. Use the buddy system

You know how they say “misery loves company”? In this case, asking another procrastinator to go shopping with you may actually boost your spirits.

Having a friend or family member accompany you can help you keep your cool in the face of a busy mall. They may be able to provide practical help, like holding your place in line while you go pick up something you forgot or help carry your bags to the car. They may also be able to provide moral support, like keeping you on track by vetoing expensive or unnecessary gifts.

7. Redeem points

There’s a reason why you pack your wallet full of stamp cards and loyalty rewards cards. It’s so that you can show up to the cash register and earn your reward. Getting a free item or redeeming points into cash is nothing to scoff at — especially during the holidays when you’re typically spending more than you normally would. These loyalty cards might boost your holiday purchasing power considerably! If you have points cards or any credit cards with cash back benefits, the holidays are the perfect time to use and collect them. Check to see if you’re close to having what you need to cover all or part of your shopping bill. If you do, organize your trip so you can take advantage of these credit cards.

A credit card might be a practical financial product to have in your wallet for its cash back benefits, but don’t confuse it for a line of credit. Although they both have ‘credit’ in their name, credit cards and our personal lines of credit are two different kinds of financial products. To see how it differs from the common credit card, check out what we offer and learn about the benefits of a line of credit through an online lender.

8. Shop online

Shopping online is a fast and convenient alternative to shopping in-store. With a few clicks of your mouse or taps of your fingers, you can visit several stores without ever leaving your seat. This technique is far less stressful than navigating the busy malls with other desperate shoppers. You can choose a comfy spot on the couch, set up your favorite Spotify playlist, and shop with a tasty snack nearby. Now that’s what we call shopping in style.

9. Find free shipping

A banner at the top of your webpage promising “Free Shipping!” is a thing worth celebrating this holiday season. It saves you the frustration of seeing your total increase with shipping fees when you click “proceed to checkout”. 

Some of the biggest names in online shopping have boosted their free shipping game specifically for the holidays, including:

  • Amazon: For the rest of 2018, Amazon is giving all customers — not just Prime members — free shipping throughout the holidays with no purchase minimum.
  • Target: Between November 1 and December 22, Target is removing its $35 order minimum on its 2-day free shipping.
  • Walmart: With a few exceptions, Walmart is offering free 2-day shipping on select orders of $35 or more. It’s also facilitating free in-store returns for third-party items purchased through the Walmart store.

10. Shop online, pick up in store

If an item you just have to have comes with expensive shipping fees, contain your sigh of frustration; you may not have to delete it from your cart just yet. There may be an option to buy online and pick up your order in-store to avoid shipping fees. Walmart, as well as these 30 online stores, offer similar services all year round.

This is how in-store pick up typically works: you shop online as you normally would, but when you complete the purchase, you’ll click the option to pick up in-store rather than to have it delivered to your address. Based on your order, one of the store’s employees will reserve your item(s) at their location. In some cases, you might be able to pick up your order the same day (or even within the same hour) you purchased it online.

If you shop from a store with this service, check to see if there’s a brick-and-mortar location within a reasonable distance from your home. You’ll feel like a VIP shopper when you walk straight to the counter to pick up your stuff and leave without flashing cash or credit.

11. Wrap up an e-gift card

Let’s say you’ve exhausted stores with free shipping, and you can’t find anything worth picking up in-store. Now’s not the time to slam your laptop closed in defeat. There’s still hope in a gift card to their favorite store, service, or streaming site.

E-gift cards are a great idea if you’re shopping for someone who’s very picky, as it gives them the freedom to choose what they want — and saves you the worry of accidentally getting them something they’ll hate.

Companies that offer them will send the e-card to your recipient in the form of an email that contains a code they can redeem in-store or online as they like. With nothing to ship, they typically won’t add delivery fees or delays.

Name a company and they’ll most likely offer e-gift cards, including popular streaming services like Netflix, PlayStation Plus, and Audible. These companies send a special code in an email that you can share with your loved one.

Whether gifting a streaming service or an e-gift card, double check to see if you have any gift cards of your own lying around. It may be worth checking the balance of old gift cards. Even if there’s only a few dollars remaining on these gift cards, it’s a fewer out of pocket dollars you’ll have to spend.

12. Be flexible with travel dates

Airlines, just like retail shops and online stores, see a rush during the holidays. Last year, as many as 51 million people were projected to take to the skies during the holidays. The laws of supply and demand dictate this surge in passengers results in higher fares, making the few days preceding and following Christmas some of the most expensive times to purchases flights.


Timing is everything when it comes to finding more affordable flights over the winter holidays. While it’s true you’ll likely find the biggest sales between October 8 and November 19 you might still be able to avoid some of the worst prices by avoiding flying on the most popular travel dates.

Back in the summer, CheapAir released its annual Holiday Flights Report. It analyzed 11,000 holiday itineraries to find the average cost of flights during the season. In addition to releasing the daily fares, the 2018 report shares the best days to book when you’re on a budget.

  • You can expect to find the cheapest flights if you depart on December 18 and return on December 28.
  • Don’t panic if you can’t justify a 10-day vacation this year. Passengers may still save by shortening their trip, saving an average of $76 by switching their departure date from December 22 to December 24.
  • Return flights on December 28, December 31, and January 3 are likely to result in the deepest discounts for your return flight.

Play around with the dates to see if you can lower what your ticket costs, and if you find a more affordable fare, don’t wait while you mull it over. Cheap flights tend to go quickly, so you won’t have a lot of time to act.

13. Try alternative airports

When going through the motions of booking flights online, you’ll typically see a drop-down menu asking you to choose your departing airport and arriving airport. Rather than specifying the airports, try typing in the cities you’ll be travelling to and from instead. Different airports may post lower fares for the same route you wish to take.

For example, MoneyKey offers installment loans to borrowers in the state of Texas. Let’s say you live in Round Rock, Texas. The nearest airport to you would be the Austin Bergstrom International Airport, but there are four other airports within roughly 80 miles of Round Rock — one of which is the San Antonio International Airport. For those of our readers flying out of this city over the holidays, it might be worthwhile comparing the flights from all five airports to see which one offers the cheapest fares.

14. Experiment with return and one-way fares

In addition to your choice of airline and airport, you may see a difference in fares depending on how you arrange your flights when you purchase them online. In some cases, a return trip is often the cheapest way to fly. However, it’s worth checking to see if purchasing one-way tickets from different airlines offer deeper discounts.

You may also find extra savings by choosing flights with layovers. Although a layover will add to your travel time, it may be worth it if you’re able to score significant savings.

15. Join a fare club

Some airlines offer fare clubs. For an annual fee, these clubs provide frequent fliers discounted fares and member-only sales. One such fare club is Spirit Airlines’ membership, which costs roughly $60 for the year. A membership gives you access to members-only flash sales, exclusive vacation packages, discounted seats, and savings on baggage fees and other add-ons. These benefits cover up to eight other people booked under your name.

On average, members save $75 per flight, potentially offsetting the cost of the membership in one trip. The potential for savings increases if you’re flying with a large family, or if you’re a regular flier throughout the year and not just during the winter holidays.

16. Use a travel fare aggregator

In the travel industry, travel fare aggregator is a fancy name for services like Expedia, Trivago, Google Flights, and KAYAK. These online services automate the search for fares and compare the prices on your behalf, finding you the best possible price for your travel window.

In other words, it does all the hard work for you by organizing online prices from least to most expensive. All you have to do is supply the dates and location of your travel.

As these services evolve, their predictive capabilities are improving. Many of these services can track vacations for you and send you emails alerting you when fares are especially cheap.

Have you ever hovered your mouse over the buy button, hesitant to reserve the flights in the off chance the price may go down? Many of these services, including Google Flights and KAYAK, offer estimates on how much the listed price will rise or fall, which may help you decide if you should lock in at the current fare or wait to see if it will drop. Check out this comparison of these two services to see which one you might like more.

Stay calm and shop on

Although the season’s hustle and bustle often makes it seem like it’s all about the last-minute shopping frenzy, the true meaning of the season is spending time with the people you love. So take a moment to smell the nutmeg.

Sure, you may have left some or all of your holiday shopping down to the wire, but that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck picking over somebody’s leftovers or spending too much on expedited shipping fees. This guide might help you tackle the last of the holidays with your budget and sanity intact.

So try to put the ticking of the countdown to the back of your mind — however, close it may be. Some of our tips won’t take much time or effort at all. With a few clicks of the mouse or taps of your fingers, you’ll be able to shop for your loved ones and book flights to hand-deliver your gifts to their door. And if it’s not shopping advice you need but financial assistance, give us a call to learn more about how we can help in an emergency.

Good luck to all our last-minute shoppers and have a happy holiday!


Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and does not constitute financial, legal or other professional advice. For full details, see MoneyKey's Terms of Use.

Posted in: Financial Tips Holiday Tips

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