Like it or not, we're plunging headfirst into the 2015 holiday shopping season. Black Friday sales -- which used to mark the beginning of the season on the day after Thanksgiving -- have now smeared into a weeklong event for many retailers, starting as early as the Monday before Thanksgiving.
Are you ready for the savings? If you aren't equipped with a tool belt full of apps and websites, you'll be giving away money you could be saving this year.
Your first stop should be at the big-box stores you're going to shop at. Best Buy (BBY), for example, has already published its Black Friday webpage, so bookmark it now and browse for possible savings. Target (TGT) has its own Black Friday page in place, and the retailer wants you to stay connected to its many holiday deals via its mobile app.
One way to save money this season is by making your money cheaper. That's exactly what you can do at sites like Raise and CardCash. They're online marketplaces for discounted gift cards, which you can leverage to make your own holiday purchases. Find cards for stores you're planning to shop at and buy one at a small discount.
While it's possible to find cards for as much as 20 percent less than their face value, you'll more commonly get between 2 percent and 5 percent off, depending on the store. With both Raise and CardCash, physical cards will either be mailed to you in about a week, or you can get electronic cards within 24 hours that you can redeem via the sites' respective mobile apps in the store.
A number of apps are great resources for coupons and promo codes as well. CouponSherpa offers a mobile app that lists hundreds of retailers alphabetically and offers in-store coupons and promo codes. The app can also advise you when retailers near your current location have coupons available (though you should be aware that not all retailers are equipped to accept coupons displayed on your phone).
BeFrugal is similar. It offers searchable coupons on both the Web and in its mobile app, though it's not location-aware like CouponSherpa. But BeFrugal adds extra savings by offering cash back on qualifying online purchases. So, it can be well worth the effort to make your purchases through BeFrugal rather than directly at the online store.
Are you getting the best price? One way to find out is with SlickDeals, a site that relies on its rabid community of users to find deals and coupons, which get shared and promoted on the site. Another option: a price comparison tool. Paste a link from Amazon (AMZN) into PriceJump, and it'll tell you if it finds any better prices elsewhere on the Web.
If you're already in the store, try SnipSnap's Scout feature, a sort of deal-finding concierge service. Here's how it works: Use the SnapSnap app to photograph the product you want to buy. The app then finds the product in its database and looks for the best deal it can muster from around the Web -- coupons, rebates and price-matching guarantees.
What's unique, though, is that SnipSnap intelligently analyzes the results against the store you're standing in, so it shows you only prices that are compatible with that store's price-matching policy. It'll even display that policy -- in case you need to educate your cashier.
SnipSnap is a weird hybrid app that can include some interaction with an actual human on the other end of your phone, and the results aren't quite instant (they can take several minutes). But given what SnipSnap's Scout can deliver, it's probably worth the wait.
Photo courtesy SlickDeals