I woke up at 5:15 this morning to do my Cyber Monday shopping. Within an hour I had purchased everything on my holiday gift list while coming in $37.36 under budget.

(I also bought myself an Instant Pot, but we’ll get to that.)

This means my holiday shopping is done, aside from some confectionery I need to buy for a few upcoming events—and it also means it’s time to share my Cyber Monday shopping secrets.

Here we go.

Set a budget

Yes, I know. This is the first tip in every single holiday shopping guide and you know it already—but when you’re facing down a screen full of sale prices and countdown clocks, you’re going to lose your nerve.



Remember, “saving money” on holiday shopping doesn’t count if you go over budget. No matter how irresistible the deal is.Think About Your Finances in Terms of What You’re Not Buying

The best way to stick to the budget is to know what you’re going to buy in advance, which brings me to:

Make a list

Do not go into Cyber Monday with the idea that you’ll “see what’s on sale.” Go in knowing what you want, with the understanding that it will probably be offered at the lowest price of the season.

I bet you already know how to make a shopping list, but here are my personal holiday list hacks:

  • Write down every individual and/or event that requires a gift. Family, friends, pets, White Elephants, Secret Santas, you get the idea.
  • Ask yourself how many gifts each person (or pet) needs. Some people get one gift. Some people get multiple gifts. You might be part of a family that does the “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read” thing. You might be part of an office or friend group where you need to come up with escalating Secret Santa trinkets. You’ll know your gift-giving culture better than I will.
  • Divide your budget by person and by gift. A lot of you will already be familiar with this. It’s the whole “I want to spend $10 on the White Elephant thing but I need to set aside $300 to buy my daughter a Nintendo Switch.”
  • If you don’t know what to buy someone, that’s okay. You’ll take care of them during the Cyber Monday shopping process. Keep reading.
  • If possible, pre-game Cyber Monday by checking the prices of what you hope to buy in advance. Put those prices into your holiday shopping list. Then, on the Cyberday itself, you’ll save a few bucks on nearly every item you buy and come in under budget.
  • If you do in fact come in under budget, stick that cash in your savings account (hahahahahah right) or use it to buy that one irresistible deal that I warned you about at the beginning of the post.

Now that we’ve got the list and the budget in place, we can move on to the more advanced strategies.

Avoid online storefronts

Do not—and I repeat do not—go to Amazon Dot Com.

Or Walmart Dot Com.

Or Best Buy Dot Com.

If you even take a glimpse at an online storefront, your entire face will be blasted with a series of carefully calculated product advertisements, offered at their lowest price of the season, for a very limited time.

In many cases, they’ll even be algorithmically customized—so you’ll see exactly what you didn’t even know you wanted.

Stay far away from online storefronts on Cyber Monday. Search for the products you want to buy and follow the search results to their respective Amazon or Walmart or Best Buy listings. That way, you’ll avoid as many ads, sales, countdowns, and purchase-inducing dark patterns as possible.How Dark Patterns Change Our Behavior

Avoid all Cyber Monday shopping articles (except this one)

This is where I will admit that I made a tactical Cyber Monday error that resulted in the purchase of a $49 Instant Pot Duo. I bought the Instant Pot because The New York Times told me I needed one, and then told me it would be offered at the lowest price of the year.

Which, okay, I know that Instant Pots are great and I had been thinking about getting one for, like, three years.

But I had also been surviving just fine without one for three years.

And then the NYT told me I needed to grab one RIGHT NOW, and the Cyber Monday pressure cooker did its work, and I can only hope that the Instant Pot lives up to the hype.

So stay away from those “10 Best Cyber Monday Deals” articles unless you want to end up with nine additional items in your shopping cart.The First Seven Things You Should Make With a New Instant Pot

Use purchase minimums to fill in the gaps on your shopping list

Remember how I explained that if you didn’t know what to buy someone, you’d figure it out during the Cyber Monday shopping process?

Well, if you end up on a reputable, non-big-box website that requires a purchase minimum to unlock extra discounts or free shipping, you can use that as an opportunity to find something for the person who’s hard to buy for.

This is the one time you have permission to browse. (I mean, you always have permission to browse, I can’t tell you what to do, but it’s the one time when it makes sense to browse.)

Keep your holiday purchases and your personal purchases separate

I know that a lot of us use Cyber Monday to do both our holiday shopping and make a few purchases for ourselves. If everything is theoretically at the lowest price it will be for the entire year, of course it makes sense to grab your socks or kitchen appliances or iPads or whatever.

Here is my one request:

Put your personal purchases in a separate shopping cart.

Logistically, this means buying all of your holiday gifts first and all of your personal items second (or vice versa). Luckily, sites like Amazon do not care how many shopping carts you fill up in a single day, as long as you keep on filling.

Why do you need to keep the candles and body wash you’re buying for your cousins separate from the candles and body wash you’re buying for yourself?

Because mixing everything in the same cart makes it harder to tell how much you’re spending. If you are trying to stick to a budget, you need to know when you’ve hit your “holiday gift” spending limit and when you’ve hit your “personal shopping” spending limit. (Yes, the Instant Pot fit into my personal budget for December.)

You should also keep your holiday and personal purchases separate because it’s way, way, way too easy to think “it’s okay to buy this much, the holidays are about giving!” and then, two days later, open a package that’s, like, 85% gifts for you.

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