11 Brilliant Ways to Holiday Shop Without Breaking the Bank

iStock
iStock

The holiday season is all about love, family, and spending all your hard-earned money. Well, ideally it’s less of the latter. Although it’s safe to say you won’t escape the most wonderful time of the year without slightly lightening your wallet, there are loopholes to keep even the most zealous shopper from maxing out their credit cards. Below are a few consumer-savvy tricks to make like Santa Claus without dipping into your savings.

1. DO THE BULK OF YOUR HOLIDAY SHOPPING RIGHT AFTER THE HOLIDAYS ARE OVER.

Sure, it won’t help you this year, but if you hit up stores a day or two after a holiday—whether it’s Mother’s Day, Halloween, or Hanukkah—you’ll find these seasonal items relegated to the back of the store with a major clearance sale. Stock up on greeting cards, wrapping paper, and decorations, and this time next year, you’ll have everything you need already.

2. LOOK BACK AT YOUR SPENDING LAST YEAR.

Before you start writing out your shopping lists, consider how much you spent the previous holiday season and think about if you had any regrets. By reviewing credit card statements and receipts, you might start to detect patterns—a lot of last-minute expenditures, for instance— that you can be sure to avoid this time around. 

3. CREATE A STRICT SHOPPING LIST.

Before you even think about window-shopping, make a list of the people you plan to buy gifts for along with a rough estimate of how much you’d like to spend on each person. This will be the beginning of a holiday spending budget and should help you stay on track. So, if you end up going overboard on a sibling’s present, you might need to minimize how much you spend on a few friends to make up the difference.

4. COMPARISON SHOP IN THE STORE.

Resolve to not buy something the minute you discover it. Instead, snap a photo of the price tag and do some research. You can even do some digging from your smart phone while you’re still in the store. See if you can find the item cheaper either online or at another establishment. If you don’t feel like making the trek, show a manager what you found and see if they’ll meet the same price.

5. COMPARISON SHOP ONLINE.

Just as you do in a brick-and-mortar store, spend time researching potential gifts, particularly big-ticket items, online. It’s a prime place to learn more about product features—the most expensive brand-name camera isn’t always the best!—and discover if particular models, while priced higher, offer benefits like rebates or free shipping that will keep overall costs down.

6. SUGGEST ALTERNATIVE GIFT EXCHANGES.

Instead of giving every cousin on your list an individual gift, consider cutting back on quantity in favor of quality. Suggest a “secret Santa” exchange in which everyone pulls a single name from a hat. If more kids are added to the family each year, perhaps it’s a good time to reserve gifts for children, not adults. However you offer to limit the laundry list of recipients, likely other family members will be relieved as well.

7. GET GIFT CARDS AT A DISCOUNT.

There are a host of gift card exchange sites that allow recipients of unwanted gift cards to sell them to people who actually want them in exchange for cash. They are usually all available for at least a marginal discount if not a major one. In fact, sometimes you can get a gift card to a department store for half of the card’s value, which will make you look especially generous to whomever you give it to.

8. TIME YOUR SHOPPING OVER THE COURSE OF THE YEAR.

There’s a prime season and an off-season for everything, consumer goods being no exception. Winter coats, for instance, are most expensive in the fall months, but come February, they’re usually marked down significantly. Furniture and linens are cheapest in January, April is the best time to buy digital cameras or laptops, and August is prime time to buy, of all things, paint.

9. BE REALISTIC ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD.

The last thing anyone wants is for you to go into debt buying them gifts. It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit and strive to be overly generous, but set some boundaries so that you don’t overspend, especially when paying with plastic. It’s no fun to start the new year in the red.

10. IF YOU PLAN TO SHOP ON BLACK FRIDAY, HAVE A GAME PLAN.

Although it’s a day on which many people prefer to avoid the malls altogether, there’s no denying that some of the best deals of the season happen during that 24-hour period. If you plan to brave the crowds, go in with a firm strategy mapped out, literally—have a list of where you want to be when, and precisely what you plan to get at each stop. This isn’t the time for browsing!

11. REMEMBER WHAT THE HOLIDAYS ARE REALLY ABOUT.

In the end, the holiday season is about more than beautifully wrapped presents. Know that your loved ones will understand if you can’t afford to give lavish gifts, or any gifts at all. Consider writing thoughtful cards to those on your list or crafting homemade gifts; baked goods straight from your kitchen are never a bad idea, either.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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10 Operatic Facts About "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Queen Official via YouTube
Queen Official via YouTube

"Bohemiam Rhapsody," Queen’s classic "mock opera," was released on October 31, 1975. Though the song was met with skepticism when played for preview audiences, it ended up spending nine weeks at number 1 on the UK charts in 1976. It currently ranks as the third best-selling UK single of all time (behind Elton John’s Princess Diana tribute “Candle in the Wind” and Band Aid’s holiday-made “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”) and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004. Here are some facts about the iconic song to consider the next time you’re hitting those “Galileo” high notes along with your car radio.

1. Freddie Mercury started writing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in 1968.

The story of “Bohemian Rhapsody”—or “Bo Rhap,” as it is known by Queen fans—began in 1968, when Freddie Mercury was a student at London’s Ealing Art College. He had come up with an opening line—“Mama, just killed a man”—but no melody. Because of the Old West feel (in his mind) to the lyric, he referred to his work in progress as “The Cowboy Song.”

2. Queen's producer was skeptical of "Bohemian Rhapsody"'s opera-like composition.

Roy Thomas Baker, who produced the band’s A Night at the Opera album, first heard the framework for "Bohemian Rhapsody" when he picked Freddie up at his Holland Road flat in London one evening before going out to dinner. Freddie led him to the piano to play the song he’d been working on. As Baker recalled of the scene, Freddie played the opening ballad section of the tune then stopped and exclaimed, “And this is where the opera section comes in!” Baker laughed at the time, but when Freddie came to the studio days later armed with various pieces of paper with notes and doodles outlining his composition, the producer determined to use all his talent and equipment to capture Mercury’s vision on tape.

3. Freddie Mercury was always adding another "Galileo."

In 1975, “state-of-the-art” recording meant 24-track analog tape. The harmonies on the opera section (all sung by Mercury, drummer Roger Taylor, and guitarist Brian May) required 180 separate overdubs, and eventually the tape had been run over the recording heads so many times that it became almost transparent. In the end it took three weeks (Mercury was always adding “another ‘Galileo,'” Baker explained) and five different studios to complete the track.

4. Elton John thought "Bohemian Rhapsody" was too "weird" for the radio.

Prior to its release, Queen’s manager played a rough mix of the song to one of his other high-profile clients, Elton John, to get his opinion. “Are you f*cking mad?” was the singer’s reaction after listening to the nearly six-minute song. His verdict: it was too long and too “weird” for radio.

5. The huge success of "Bohemian Rhapsody" is due in part to one DJ.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” owes part of its success to British DJ Kenny Everett, who had a popular morning radio show on Capital Radio. In early October 1975, EMI was still pressuring Queen to release “You’re My Best Friend” as the first single from A Night at the Opera. Everett got his hands on an early pressing of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with strict instructions not to broadcast it (wink, wink). Somehow, strictly by accident (his finger must have slipped), he played the song 14 times over the course of two days. Callers flooded the radio station and local record stores with requests for the song, so the suits at EMI relented and released the magnum opus as a single.

6. Promoting "Bohemian Rhapsody" proved problematic.

After it was decided to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single, the band was faced with a bit of a dilemma: At the time in England, it was traditional for bands to appear on shows like Top of the Pops to promote their latest hits. But Queen was scheduled to begin a tour soon, plus (as Brian May admitted) they’d feel self-conscious miming to the operatic section. They solved the problem by filming a promotional film, or “pop promo” as it was called in the industry lingo of the time, that could be shown not only on UK music shows, but also around the world in other markets, such as American Bandstand.

7. It took just under four hours to film the video for "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The band arrived at Elstree Studios (using the same stage they were using to rehearse for their upcoming tour) at 7:30 in the morning, and were finished and relaxing at the local pub by 11:30 a.m. The total cost of the video was £4500, or about $2025. This was the first music video directed by Bruce Gowers, and the success of that clip eventually prompted him to move to Hollywood, where he went on to direct such TV programs as the MTV Movie Awards, the Primetime Emmy Awards, the People's Choice Awards and the first 10 seasons of American Idol.

8. The "Bohemian Rhapsody" scene in Wayne's World took 10 hours to film.

The classic scene in the 1992 film Wayne’s World, on the other hand, took 10 hours to film. Dana Carvey didn’t learn the lyrics ahead of time, and if you watch closely you can see that he’s often just randomly moving his mouth while “singing” along. (And all the actors complained of neck pain after headbanging through so many takes.)

9. A symphonic gong was added to Roger Taylor's drum kit for "Bohemian Rhapsody."

When the band launched their tour to support A Night at the Opera, Roger Taylor’s drum kit was outfitted with a 60-inch symphonic gong (which had to be cleaned, packed, and set up on each date) just so he could strike that final note in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

10. A blue vinyl pressing of "Bohemian Rhapsody" is worth more than $5000.

The Holy Grail in terms of Queen collectibles is a 7-inch limited edition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that was pressed in blue vinyl. In the summer of 1978, EMI Records won the Queen’s Award To Industry For Export Achievement (that’s “Queen” as in Her Majesty Elizabeth II). The label’s primary reason for sales in far-reaching territories that lacked manufacturing facilities was Queen, as in the band. To celebrate their prestigious award, EMI pressed 200 copies of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in blue vinyl, each of which was hand-numbered. Numbers one through four went to the band members, of course, while other low-numbered copies were given to friends and family members. Bona fide copies from this original pressing currently sell for upwards of $5000.

Additional sources: Queen: As It Began, by Jacky Smith and Jim Jenkins Is This the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen, by Mark Blake Queen: The Story of Bohemian Rhapsody
The Making of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’”

This story has been updated for 2020.