The holidays are a time to be enjoyed with family and friends. Stress, though, can keep you from having a good time, and nothing puts more strain on the good times than money. There are plans to be made, decorations to be put up, and of course, presents to buy. All of these can really bust your budget, especially the last one. However, using the following expert tips will help you spend wisely, so you can enjoy the holiday season to the fullest.
Make a List
It works for Santa, right? Figure out who you want to buy gifts for and set a budget. Then decide what kind of gift you have in mind for each person on the list and the cost. Make your list early, and stick to it. Having this information handy will help you find bargains on some items and reduce the chances that you’ll make an impulse purchase that goes over your budget. In addition to your gift list, decide how much you can spend on other holiday related items and activities.
Track Your Spending
Now that you have your list and budget, make sure you stick to it. Track what you spend on gifts, activities, and other holiday related expenses. Don’t forget things like gift wrap, postage, and cards. Bringing a dish to work party? Be sure to include that on your tracking sheet.
Watch Those Credit Cards
Many experts advise that you shop only with cash, check, or a debit card. This helps you stay on budget, because you can only spend what you have. Carrying a lot of cash, particularly around the holidays, isn’t advisable. Things get hectic and thieves of all manner abound. Better to use checks or a debit card. That being said, many stores offer discounts for using their credit cards. If you have one already, that’s helpful. If you have to apply for one, think carefully. A newly opened charge account becomes part of your credit report, so make sure it really is worth the savings. Most importantly, set aside the money to pay it off immediately. Some stores even allow you to go ahead and pay the card balance on the spot. You can also do this with your bank credit card of course, but payments sent without a statement are sometimes lost by credit card companies. You may have to call them to track it down and see that it was properly applied to your account.
Many stores will match a competitor’s advertised price, so save all of those circulars from the Sunday paper. Also, check the store’s website. Occasionally the online price is cheaper. If this happens, grab a screen shot and print it. Stores will also price match themselves. This is commonly known as a price adjustment. The best time to employ this strategy is on Black Friday. But beware of the fine print. Some stores have gotten wise to this and forbid price adjustments on Black Friday deals and so-called “door-busters.”
Speaking of the Internet, many sites let you price shop for the best deals online and off. Online retailers also offer incentives like free shipping, no-hassle returns, and extra merchandise. Save even more by hunting for promo codes. Simply type the name of the retailer, and the words “promo code,” into your favorite search engine and see what comes up.
Use your talents to make someone a gift. This can be a craft, or a piece of art. Write a song, create a video, or compile a collection of photographs. Several websites allow you to easily create books at a reasonable price. Children of course don’t need anything that fancy. They can make a book and record themselves reading it to the recipient. Not confident in your creative talents? Give your time. Babysitting, snow shoveling, landscaping, house cleaning—the possibilities are endless.
Plan for Next Year Now
Once the holidays are over, stores can’t get rid of holiday merchandise fast enough. They usually start marking items down by 50% the day after Christmas, going down to as much as 90% within a week or so. Check back often, as holiday-themed items can be bought at tremendous savings. This is a great opportunity to pick up wrapping paper, cards, and decorations at fraction of the original cost. Be judicious though. Even at 90% off, it’s not a bargain if you can’t really use it.
With a little discipline and a bit of tenacity, you can keep holiday expenses in line. You’ll feel relaxed and in control, which will allow you to get the most out of the holiday season.
Coffey, Laura T. “Avoid financial hangover this holiday season.” MSNBC.com. Web. 2 October, 2012. http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/15718948/ns/today-money/t/avoid-financial-hangover-holiday-season/#.UG2BYZjA-Rg Arthur, Dani M. “Tips for stretching your holiday budget.” BankRate.com. Web. 2 October 2012. http://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/tips-for-stretching-your-holiday-budget-1.aspx Hobson, Mellody. “10 Tips For Holiday Shopping On a Budget.” ABCNews.go.com. Web. 2 October 2012 http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=86850&page=1#.UG2BMZjA-Rg Dutton, Melissa Kossler. “Trim the Tree, Trim Your Budget: 10 Tips For Saving Money During the Holidays.” Parentdish.com. Web. 2 October 2012. http://www.parentdish.com/2009/11/11/trim-the-tree-trim-your-budget-10-tips-for-saving-money-during/