Experts offer tips on how to stretch your budget this holiday season amid ‘staggering’ inflation

SEATTLE — If you noticed stores kicked into holiday gear earlier than ever, back in late September this year, give yourself credit for noticing a historic trend, guided by economic trends.

Stores started Christmas and holiday promotions and displays after they became bloated with inventory — while staggering inflation was dragging us all backward.

“Everybody, including us, are more broke for sure, so maybe we’ll get a little less this Christmas,” said Jennifer Shapaka, while she considered her shopping list.

According to the National Retail Federation, 43% of people in a national survey said that because of inflation, they don’t earn enough to buy all the gifts on their list this year. So to keep up with prices and demand, 32% plan to take on more credit card debt, as interest rates rise.

A total of 22% even plan to sell assets just to pay for gifts this year.

“You definitely feel the pinch,” said Steve Harper, who brought his two sons to Seattle from San Francisco, figuring holiday deals might be a little better here.

Harper said he’d made a firm list and vowed to get the best deal for the computer and gaming systems his sons Cade and Emerson are asking for, and he’s not going to smother these brothers with more “stuff.”

“I’m going to be a little more specific about what I get, and make sure it counts,” he said.

Harper leads us to pro tip number one. Budget experts recommend using a gift tracker app, to help you track priorities, pricing and total expenses.

“I might still buy a larger ticket item, but not just whatever I want, when I want,” he said.

Harper is also part of a major new trend this year: starting holiday shopping before Halloween.

According to Leah Logan, a retail expert with Inmar Intelligence, 40% of consumers are planning to shop earlier than they did last year, which brings us to the next pro tip: This year, you’ll likely find your best deals well before Black Friday. Backlogs of pandemic supply-chain constrictions were unleashed in August, filling inventories — often beyond a store’s capacity.

“The early shopper is the smart shopper,” she said. “It’s because the retailers are offering the promotions now and the product is available now.”

“Black Friday isn’t really Black Friday anymore,” she said. “It’s kind of Black Fridays and Cyber Weeks!”

Target and Walmart started Black Friday sales more than a month ago on Oct. 10, which is about three weeks earlier than they’ve ever done before.

Amazon threw in a second Prime Day that same week.

“Ninety percent of consumers would be basing their purchase decisions on the availability of discounts and promotions,” said Logan.

And that’s our next pro tip: Making sure you’re getting the best price can be as easy as scanning a barcode with your phone.

Price comparison apps like ShopSavvy can be a real weapon to fight inflation. They track price changes over time and where to find the best price.

The Camelizer app does a similar type of price comparison and trend analysis when you shop on Amazon.

Pro tip number 4: financial advisers recommend making a budget, giving your list some spending limits — which a lot of people find is really hard.

“Budget? That word is not in my vocabulary, said Tanya Butler, a shopper visiting Seattle from Arizona.

Experts say inflation is causing a lot of us to rethink gift giving to giving less quantity.

“There seems to be more focus on creating the right family experiences, maybe taking mini trips,” said Logan.

Oil prices fueled an explosion in the cost of travel. Since November 2021, airfares have gone up by 43%.

“Unfortunately, the consumer is getting squeezed at every end,” said Yannis Moati, of Hotels by Day, a company that offers daytime deals — with amenities — at top-rated hotels at a fraction of the nightly rate.

Moati offered some pro tips. You may have heard shopping for plane tickets “incognito” on your browser is a good idea.

Yannis says using a VPN to hide where you’re shopping can get you cheaper airfare. “Some flight search sites offer dramatically different prices based upon your location.” he said.

“If you were to have an Apple computer and you’re based in California, and you have a history of purchasing something at a high rate, you might be offered a rate that is slightly higher than somebody else in another place in the country,” Moati said.

Moati added to avoid booking on a Friday or Saturday. The best day to book a plane ticket, according to Moati and the Airlines Reporting Corporation, is a Sunday. The reasons behind this tip are complicated, but some travel experts suggest you could save 5% to 15% by shopping online on a Sunday, at the beginning of the week.

Moati also gave us a hack that could save you 30% on a hotel stay, and this is a tough one for planners: He says to try booking a hotel at the last minute.

“Book last minute with a hotel and by last minute, I mean 48 hours of the place you’d like to stay,” he said, admitting you must be location flexible, and be patient.

Whether you do holiday shopping early or late, the National Retail Federation says most people will not cut back on the amount they spend, despite the inflated prices.

“I think they’re spending the same amount — I think they’re just getting less,” Logan said.