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While the term "retail therapy" indicates some find shopping a gratifying task, others grumble like Scrooge at the very thought of scouring the internet or trekking to a mall or big box store to buy the stuff they need.

Whether holiday shopping brings you joy or pain, here is a roundup of our top tips for saving money and avoiding hassles.

Most sale prices and discounts are bogus

Consumers' Checkbook's researchers spent 33 weeks tracking sale prices at 25 major retailers and found that most stores' discount claims aren't really discounts because the same items are almost always on sale. Even if a retailer promises savings of 60% or more, it's probably not a genuine discount — and likely not the lowest available price. Shop around to make sure you're not overpaying.

Compare prices

There are dozens of apps and websites that can help you shop for the lowest prices quickly, including Honey, PriceGrabber and ShopSavvy. Amazon's price-checking tool is integrated into its mobile app. CamelCamelCamel, which tracks price histories of items sold by Amazon for the past year, is often helpful. An internet search will usually help you determine if a store is offering a low or high price. Also check prices offered by the store's main competitors.

Be a promo code pro

When checking out online, you'll often see spaces for coupon codes. Do an internet search for codes. Several websites track these deals; we most often check CouponCabin, RetailMeNot and SlickDeals. We sometimes find expired codes, but a few minutes of effort is worth the savings. We recently cut $20 off a $100 Foot Locker buy and snagged 40% off at Gap.

Ask about special discounts

If you're a senior, military or veteran family, or a teacher, student, or first responder, check whether you qualify for a special discount. Some retailers only give these discounts in store, but others apply the discount to online orders after a verification process.

Try cash-back shopping portals

Many online retailers pay referral commissions to businesses that send them customers. Online shopping portals including BeFrugal, CouponCabin, Rakuten and Mr. Rebates give their customers a cut of those. Adidas was recently offering 15% cashback via Rakuten; Nike was offering 10%. That extra coin can make a significant difference in your total spending. You must click through to the retailer's website via the portal's website (or install the portal's browser extension, which most of them offer, to connect automatically).

Get social

Connect with retailers on social media and sign up for promotional emails, which retailers use to share discount codes and deals. Many stores offer one-time discounts of 10% to 25% when you agree to sign up for their email lists. Following Instagram influencers can also pay off when retailers partner with them to offer special deals.

Keep an eye on your snail mail

It may seem passé, but many retailers still hit mailboxes with catalogs and coupons. The trick is to avoid temptation for things you don't need and only save the ones you know jibe with your shopping list. If there's a coupon code, snap a pic with your phone and trash the catalog to avoid a junk pile.

Ask for a price match

If you're shopping in-store, and find a lower price elsewhere, ask a salesperson or cashier for a price match. Many stores will honor lower prices offered by their competitors, and we find most stores make it quite easy to do.

Don't snooze on price adjustments

Keep an eye on retailers' sites for a couple of weeks after you've shopped to see if prices have dropped. Many stores will refund the difference. Check policies on websites — some stores offer an adjustment within seven days of purchase, some 30 days or longer.

Pay with a credit card

When you pay with plastic, you get strong consumer protections. If you're a victim of fraud, get a defective item or service, or otherwise encounter problems that the seller won't make right, you can dispute the charge and likely will get your money back.

Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook magazine and is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers. See all our ratings and advice free of charge until Jan. 5 at