In less than 2 months, it’s Christmas! Are you already planning for your holidays this year? Do you know all your gift recipients and have a budget for presents? According to Gallup Polls (2015), Americans budgeted an average of $830 on Christmas presents. That’s a lot of money, and many of us spend the rest of the year trying to pay off that debt. Let’s look at ways to get through the holidays without going broke.
I. List Your Gift Recipients
Make a list of everyone you want to give a present from your family like mother, spouse, children to the mail carrier and garbage men. Write a budget for each present – how much are you planning to spend on each gift. The total gives you your holiday gift budget. Try to stay within budget for each present. See Country Christmas Gift List Printables, for free Christmas Gift List printables.
II. Check The Prices
If you find the perfect gift for a loved one but it’s above your budget, check out prices online using your phone or laptop. The same gift may be available at multiple stores with varying costs. If your favorite store has a price guarantee of matching a lower price, you might not have to go to another store.
III. Plan Your Shopping Ahead
It never fails to amaze me that my sister and her husband were usually still gift-shopping 2 days before Christmas. The crowds and stress can make you buy every present over budget. I have always bought presents as I found them throughout the year. My sister and sister-in-law were always the easiest to buy for. If I found a sale item in July that screamed “I’m for Pat”, I bought it and put it aside. The men are harder to buy for but sometimes I found a perfect gift in September and October for them. Several years ago I found beautiful handmade mugs with an Gaelic design on sale and bought three for my brother and his two grown sons. (We’re Murphys you know.) A hit at Christmas for all three! That year I had 90% of my shopping done by Thanksgiving at great prices.
IV. Buy Last Year’s Tech Gifts
Last year I wanted a new laptop for myself. I was waiting for Black Friday deals until I found the perfect laptop at Walmart online in November. I found reviews for it written in February when it was selling for $699. In November, Amazon had it for sale for $399. But Walmart had reduced it to $275. It wasn’t the latest computer but had all the speed and memory I needed. Of course I bought it and got free shipping. Since I was willing to pick it up at the store, they gave me a $2.99 credit. Such a deal!
V. The Truth About Holiday Sales: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
According to a studies by The National Retail Federation (2014) and Boomerang Commerce (2015), special one day sales like Black Friday are not hugely different from regular holiday sales. In other words for most items you do not have to go at 5 AM and stand in line to get a good deal!
VI. Monitor Your Spending
Monitor your spending by regularly reviewing your accounts online or with an app. Pay your bills regularly and balance your accounts. If you use credit cards, use one with cash back or other rewards like travel or gift certificates. These rewards can be used for holiday gifts.
VII. Make Your Own Gifts
For many of my friends, my chiropractor, and my mailman I usually make gifts. Baking homemade pumpkin bread, cookies, or other treats is usually my first choice. The first year out of college I knew I needed to remember my neighbor in the apartment next door, my co-workers, and friends but my budget was very low. So I made sugar cookies in cute designs and gave them as gifts to lots of people. They all loved them and knew I remembered them. The bottom line was I stayed in my little budget and didn’t feel like Scrooge.
VIII. Save Up For Gifts
When I was growing up, my mother always had a Christmas Club savings account where a specified amount went from every payroll check. Interest was almost none existent but it was a way to save for gifts and keep charges down in December. Today it’s mostly credit unions that still have some kind of Christmas savings program but the idea is a good one. Whether you need to save for a new car, a flat screen TV, or just all the holiday gifts, savings accounts for a specific purpose are a great way to go. Save for big expenditures.
If you’d like to keep a portion of your savings earmarked for gifts, travel, parties and decorations, a Christmas club account might be a good choice. With auto-deposit, you set aside money without having to think about it. When it’s time to start spending, you’ll have built a nice pot of fun money with minimal effort.
If you can’t find a dedicated Christmas club account, you could keep it simple and open a savings account at your current bank. Label the account “holiday spending,” and set up a weekly or monthly auto-transfer from your checking account. Perhaps you want to save $500 by December 1. If you start saving in February, you’ll save for 10 months at $50 a month to reach that goal.
IX. Beware Shopping Traps
Retail stores are set up to entice you to buy and this is especially true at the holidays. Beautiful displays, music, and lighting are used to hopefully fuel impulse buying. Research has shown that once you start buying, you are more likely to keep buying. It’s called “shopping momentum effect.” Keep to your list and resist urges to buy more than your budgeted amount.
X. Remember Shipping Costs
Many of us buy online for lots of items and gifts. No matter how great the deal is remember to look at shipping costs. That can make a “great deal” not such a great price when compared to retail stores. I often look for free shipping items on websites. I want a good price with free shipping whenever possible. Besides Amazon and Ebay, many retailers online offer free shipping like my laptop deal from Walmart. (See IV. for more information.)
I hope these tips will help you have a wonderful holiday and remember the gift of self is still the best gift.
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