Smart tips to get you the best holiday shopping deals

There are so many traditions that go along with the holidays: big meals, family get-togethers, watching classic movies, office parties and, of course, giving gifts. Shopping is probably No. 1 on your holiday to-do list, and you’re not alone, as the lines at check-out counters will attest.

Shopping online, many consumers are finding, is one way to save cash and avoid hours and hours of running between stores and waiting in line.

Even in the sluggish economy of 2009, figures show that Americans spent as much as $29.1 billion shopping online during the holiday season. It’s difficult to predict what the numbers will be for this year, but it seems certain that people will continue to flood e-commerce websites with their holiday shopping dollars.

If you’re planning on logging on to check off all the items on your gift list, follow these tips to make shopping easier and to make your dollar stretch further.

* Pick your dates wisely. Remember the rush of the crowds to stores on the day after Thanksgiving? If the flying elbows and jockeying to get the right sizes stopped appealing to you long ago, hit the online sales on Black Friday. You’ll still get great deals, without all the headaches of going from store to store. If you miss the big day, keep checking stores’ websites to see if they’re offering any deals.

* Don’t pay full price. Shopping sale days is just part of saving on online purchases. The Internet has made it easier than ever to do price comparisons, letting you know which stores have the best prices on the items you want. When you find the best option, search sites like to get coupon codes that can give you everything from a percentage off your purchase to shipping savings.

* Don’t wait. It can seem like online retailers might have an endless supply of goods, since they’re not limited to one bricks-and-mortar location. However, at this high-demand time of year, products can sell out in popular models. For instance, if you want to buy your student athlete a new pair of sports shoes, there’s a risk that common sizes will run out quickly. You could save on the pair you want and get it in the exact size you need by using Finish Line coupons early in the shopping season. If you make your purchases early, you’ll have the best selection to choose from, and you won’t have to worry about sky-high shipping rates for things you buy at the last minute.

* Make sure it’s secure. Shopping from a trusted website is the most important step in protecting yourself from online fraud. The Better Business Bureau recommends making sure that the Web address at the top of the page on which you’re entering your credit card information starts with “https:” rather than “http:” which is a sign that the page is encrypted. Don’t assume that it will be hard to get the best deals by shopping on the websites of major retailers – they are just as eager to give you enticements to buy. It’s actually easy to find deals from trusted retailers so you don’t have to worry about your personal information being stolen or spending too much.