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How Target, Costco and Other Stores Can Help You Afford Christmas

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Holiday sales are predicted to climb to $655.8 billion this year, an increase of 3.6 percent over the numbers for last November and December, according to the National Retail Federation. Yet, many consumers are looking for ways to trim holiday spending — this is where holiday deals and savings come into play.

Here are 15 tips that will help you get a head start on your financial resolutions for 2017 without seeming like Scrooge. Give these pointers a try to find great gifts without breaking the bank.

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Shop Black Friday Sales Online

Don’t wait until the Thanksgiving turkey is thawing to study Black Friday sales circulars — and don’t neglect shopping online. Savvy shoppers should take a cue from Santa and start making their lists and checking them twice for cheap holiday deals, according to Benjamin Glaser, editor for DealNews.

“Major stores will release their holiday ads in early November,” said Glaser. “These should give you a good idea of what popular gifts will cost so you won’t get fooled by a price that is advertised as a discount, but is more expensive than at another store.”

“Online shopping is a great way to compare prices at a huge range of stores,” Glaser added. “And it helps that many of the most competitive deals are at online retailers these days. Though a handful of doorbuster deals are available only in stores, almost all are now available online as well.”

In fact, the best Black Friday holiday deals might not be at brick-and-mortar stores at all. “According to our records, Amazon has been the top store for the best Black Friday deals for many years, and 2017 will be no exception,” he said.

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Hit Black Friday Sales in Person

Check retailers’ websites for online deals before you hit the stores on Black Friday so you go in with a game plan. Big-box stores can offer some fantastic deals, according to Glaser.

Target, Walmart and Best Buy are also regularly in the top five. If you want to act quickly and snag deals before they’re gone, you might want to stick with these major players,” said Glaser. So, for those who prefer the full-contact sport of holiday shopping at the nearest strip mall, it pays to start at big-box stores and national chains.

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Trade-In at GameStop

Saving money by trading in stuff is simple at GameStop. Whether you have games, systems or electronics, all you need to do is visit your nearest GameStop location and trade in what you don’t want for credit toward what you do. You can also check out the GameStop website to find offers for extra credit toward hot holiday items like the PlayStation 4 Pro.

Find Out: The Best Christmas Gift I Ever Bought for $20 or Less

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Trade-In at Amazon

Amazon customers who trade in electronics, books, CDs and other eligible items can get gift cards good toward new Amazon purchases. Savvy shoppers can check the Trade-In store for a list of eligible items and print free shipping labels to send off their used stuff.

It’s easy to trade at Amazon: You send in your item and it gets appraised. Within two business days, you’ll receive an email informing you if your items were accepted. If they made the cut, you’ll see the amount you received as a gift card balance. You even get a free, pre-paid shipping label to send things in.

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Search for Shipping Deals

To save money, study up on shipping policies. That way, you can devote your dollars to gift buying and other holiday expenses.

Retailers, including Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, have generous shipping policies with both upscale department stores shipping almost everything available online anywhere in the U.S. for free — with no minimum purchase required.

Target offers free standard shipping for online orders over $25 and relaxes minimum purchase requirements for Target REDcard holders. Additionally, Macy’s offers free shipping for beauty products and other online orders of at least $99.

As its name implies, FreeShipping.com features free shipping offers from more than 1,000 retailers — including Target, Best Buy and Macy’s. It also offers registered users 10 percent cash back, free return shipping via FedEx Ground, exclusive coupon offers and low-price guarantees on purchases made through the site.

“We also hold special promotions during peak shopping periods throughout the year — Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, Free Shipping Day, Labor Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend and the back-to-school season, to name a few — when members can earn 20 percent cash back either sitewide or at the top retailers in a specific category,” said Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, the e-commerce solutions provider that owns FreeShipping.com.

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Use Your Rewards Points

Use your credit card rewards points to shop for great merchandise and gift cards to give as gifts. If your rewards program offers magazine subscriptions, that’s a great way to give a gift that will remind the receiver of you each time they get an issue.

Or, save money by taking advantage of any rewards programs that are giving sign-up bonuses during the holidays. If you’re going to spend money on Christmas shopping anyway, rack up some bonus rewards for doing it.

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Find Coupons

With an abundance of apps, websites and browser add-ons available these days, it’s never been simpler to save with coupon codes. Mike Catania, chief technology officer of Promotion Code, said he’s seeing about 20 percent more coupons listed on the site now compared with this time last year.

“Further, though Black Friday and Cyber Monday garner most of the headlines, we’re seeing exponential growth in offers for the niche holidays: Green Monday Deals, Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday,” said Catania. “‘Niche’ is a somewhat relative term, of course: 2015’s Green Monday tallied over a billion dollars in retail sales. There are less-known sites that specialize in these one-off sub-holidays, like GreenMondayDeals.”

Green Monday promotions often follow an environmentally conscious theme, and the event falls on Dec. 11 this year.

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Use Add-Ons and Apps

Add-ons and apps that can help shoppers save on everything from holiday gifts to groceries for family feasts.

PriceBlink is a free browser add-on that automatically searches the web while you’re shopping to find better prices, coupon codes or free shipping on the items you’re investigating online. The PriceBlink site also offers a feature that lets shoppers search for coupon codes from retailers, even when they aren’t actively cyber shopping.

“Users save an average of 15 percent to 20 percent every time they use the tool while shopping online, and it even has a new price alert feature that lets users know when a specific item has gone on sale at any of the 21,000 websites that PriceBlink monitors,” said Karl Quist, president of PriceBlink.

Flipp is a mobile app that shows shopping circulars from more than 800 retailers in one place. It also aggregates virtual coupons offering savings of 20 percent to 70 percent for groceries, household products and other items that are easy to “clip and organize” within the app itself — especially for users who already have loyalty cards at retailers that partner with Flipp.

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Book Discount Holidays Through Costco

Costco Travel also features discounts at select hotel chains and even has a page devoted to discounted holiday cruise packages, many of which offer shipboard credit or Costco Cash Cards as part of the deal. Costco members who hold a Costco Anywhere Visa credit card can also earn 3 percent cash back on eligible travel purchases, even if they aren’t through the warehouse club’s travel service.

So, whether you’re planning to take to the seas for the holiday season or are simply looking for a room at the inn, consider investing in a warehouse club membership.

Book Holiday Vacations Through Sam’s Club

Warehouse stores aren’t just places to stock up on paper towels and snag free food samples. They also have travel services that offer club members deals and discounts on vacation packages and other travel-related services.

For example, Sam’s Club Travel offers travel experts with whom you can book a trip 24 hours a day as well an app that can help members save up to 50 percent on hotel bookings. In addition, you can buy a number of travel-related items at the warehouse to help you save money, like Southwest Airlines, Uber and Hotels.com gift cards.

Take Advantage of Kohl’s Retailer Rewards

Many stores offer rewards programs and perks year-round — there is rarely a week that you can’t find one to use. Those savings sometimes stack up even faster during the holiday season, when retailers are wooing shoppers with holiday offers in the form of store credit and gift cards aimed at encouraging generous gift giving — and holiday spending sprees.

“One particular store with a great rewards program is Kohl’s. They regularly offer store credit — Kohl’s Cash — with purchases throughout the year,” said Glaser. “But during Black Friday, they offer Kohl’s Cash at a higher rate. Just be careful — you have to use the Kohl’s Cash soon after your initial purchase during a specified redemption period, or it will expire.”

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You might not know you can haggle at stores, but you can, particularly on electronics. Be polite, ask to speak to a manager and state your case — and make sure the manager knows you’re serious about buying. If you can’t get the price you want, try asking for some free accessories.

Negotiate Like a Pro: Ways to Bargain at Walmart and Other Major Retailers

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Buy in Bulk

If you have a fun gift idea that would work for more than one person, buy in bulk at a warehouse store and break it up into individual gifts for holiday savings. For example, say you want to give your child’s teachers some candy for Christmas. Buy a few boxes of bulk items from Costco, then divide them up to make cute, individual packages.

Or, buy a 10-pack of AMC movie tickets at Costco for $89.99. Give five people two tickets each for an instant “date night” — perhaps they’ll even see a Christmas movie.

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Sign Up for Store Emails

You can easily sign up for your favorite store’s email list and get advance notices of sales, loyalty and Christmas coupons and maybe even ways to score some free stuff. For example, sign up for the Gap’s email list and get 35 percent off nonsale items on your next order, get 15 percent off for registering for Kate Spade emails or score 15 percent off your next order of $100 when you sign up for Macy’s emails. Right now, if you sign up to receive Lands’ End emails you’ll get 30 percent off one nonsale item and free shipping on orders of $50 or more.

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Open a Store Credit Card

Lots of retailers roll out tempting deals for those willing to open store credit cards, like free shipping, special sales, no-receipt returns and even cash bonuses. For example, Target REDcard holders get 5 percent off purchases and TJ Maxx’s TJX Rewards Credit Card holders get unlimited 5 percent rewards and 10 percent off their first purchase online.

Using a store credit card is a good way to save money on holiday shopping, but there are some downsides. Store card interest rates are typically higher than traditional credit card rates and if you don’t pay off your balance in full each month you could end up paying way more. If you take this holiday finance route, make sure you pay your bill down as much — and as fast — as possible.

Up Next: 50 Easy Ways to Save for Holiday Shopping

Barri Segal contributed to the reporting for this article.