7 ways to get the best values this holiday season

Unfortunately, there isn't a single retailer that you can rely on for the best price on everything. Instead, getting the best deal requires you to shop around and execute money-saving strategies each time you shop.

While these savings strategies aren't necessarily difficult to employ, they are often underutilized. That's too bad, because the time you spend to save a few bucks is well worth it -- and you'll be in high spirits once you see how much you can slash your final bill.

Here are seven ways shoppers can find the best values this holiday season:

1. Stick to a budget -- and reward yourself for doing so. Take a look at your bank account and figure out exactly how much you can afford to spend on holiday shopping. Then build in a little extra to the budget -- whether it's $50 to spend guilt-free or permission to buy one of the items on your own wish list -- to reward yourself. As you shop, subtract the price of each item you purchase with the goal of having enough left over to afford the reward.

2. Buy gift cards at a discount. You can buy discounted cards at PlasticJungle.com, GiftCardsAgain.com, or GiftCardRescue.com. Get a $25 Jamba Juice gift card for $21.75 - a 13 percent discount - at GiftCardRescue or a $50 Foot Locker gift card for $40 - a 20 percent discount at PlasticJungle. Rates vary so comparison shop.

3. Sign up for retailer emails. Retailers frequently reward their most loyal customers (i.e. those who are on their email list) by tipping them off to sales or sharing coupons. If the emails start to annoy you, you can always unsubscribe.

4. Don't fall for mail-in rebates. Consumers actually redeem a fraction of eligible rebates. The more hoops you have to jump through, the less likely you are to get your money back. Find out exactly what you need to do to get the rebate before justifying the post-rebate price. And remember, rebate checks take weeks to arrive in the mail.

5. Seek out coupon codes. When buying online, use a coupon code. Many sites, including RetailMeNot.com and Savings.com, aggregate online coupon code offers. You can also search for the name of the product and the word "coupon" on Google. For extra savings, shop through a cash rebate site, like eBates.com, Cashbaq.com, or Extrabux.com. Register for free on these sites then shop through their links. The sites track what you spend and give you a certain percentage back. The rebates vary widely, especially during promotions, so compare before you buy.

6. Don't be afraid to ask for a discount, just be discreet and be willing to walk away. It helps if you have pricing info from rivals, shop when a salesperson has time to work with you, and are friendly. If they cannot offer a price cut, check if they can sweeten the deal with an extended warranty, free installation, or a coupon for future use.

7. Buy gift cards from retailers that are performing well. When buying gift cards, stick to retailers that are in good financial shape, like the Apple Store, Target, or Best Buy. The reason? If the retailer goes bankrupt, that gift card may become worthless. Just to be on the safe side, let the recipient know they should use the card within one month.

Disclosure: Savings.com sponsored activities on my personal blog, BargainBabe.com.

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