Xmas gift shoppingIt’s crunch time. But don’t panic. You can still get some bargains on gifts if you do a little research.

It´s so easy to overspend during the holiday season. You get caught up in the joy of gift giving, but in order not to be in debt coming into 2013 you need to have a plan.

When to shop

Timing is the key to savings. Some stores make markdowns on certain days. “Online retailers change prices on hot items constantly–they are usually higher on the weekends, so shop online during the work week,” reveals Bob Wilkins, CEO of FreePriceAlerts, a money saving web app.

But the biggest savings come in planning ahead—way ahead. “It might sound counterintuitive to go shopping after the holidays, but the only discounts deeper than those before the holidays are those directly after,” explains Nicole Lapin, founder of Recessionista.com and of multimedia production company, Nothing But Gold. “Score some gifts for next year–plus wrapping paper, holiday cards, and ornaments–at 60-75% off. This time next year you’ll be glad you did.” Karl Quist, president of Priceblink.com, which aims to find the lowest prices when you shop online, agrees. “Hold off on brand name electronics and apparel, which generally favor the procrastinator as prices on these items tend to fall over time and are often lowest after Christmas,” he adds.

Where to shop

Certain stores are having deeper discounts than others. Check online, use some of the various shopping apps available. “This year, Sam’s Club has been especially aggressive in lowering prices, particularly on electronics,” says Wilkins. “Smaller retailers are also coming on strong with price savings this year–Wayfair, in particular has been popular because of their great deals on gifts for the home.”

If you are heading to the shopping center, don´t wander around and go store to store—you are more likely to impulse-buy this way.  “Master the mall,” declares Lapin. “Save time–and your sanity–with FastMall. The app features maps of tons of malls all over the country, so you can strategize your shopping route before you even leave home. Bonus: FastMall can help you find parking close to the end of your route for an easy exit.”

How to save

There are various saving programs this holiday season. Do some research on the Internet. For example, tell your friends about great deals you find on Spreadsave.com and get cash back. “Spreadsave.com is a new social shopping website that brings you all the best deals and offers on the Internet in one place and pays you cash back on every purchase,” explains Lapin. “The site pays you even more when you share these great deals and offers with your friends and family. Every time you buy something through Spreadsave, the site gives you a percentage of that purchase as cash back.”

Don´t take cash and leave the credit card at home. Instead, buy yourself a gift card, such as an American Express gift card, or load a prepaid debit card. “Instead of grabbing up deals right and left, consider the amount you want to spend on someone, then put it into a store gift card or prepaid debit card,” advises Vincent Turner, CEO of Planwise.com, a new online financial planning site. “This allows you to track your budget and allocate every dollar accordingly, while giving recipients the full value of the card to use when price gouging isn’t as much of a concern, or to go nuts on the post-holiday markdowns.”