Are you financially prepared for the holidays? Here are a dozen ways to keep your spending under control as you navigate through the most wonderful—and often most expensive—time of the year.
Planning and preparation
- Make a budget. Be realistic about how much you can afford to spend and resolve not to spend more.
- Make a gift list and edit it twice—or even three times. Do you really need to give a gift to your cousin Shirley whom you see only once a year? Are you still buying presents for all of your grown siblings, their spouses and their children? Tell people now that you’re limiting your gift list this year; they’ll probably be just as happy as you to stop the exchange.
- Start new (less expensive) traditions. Make a rule in your extended family that only children under 18 will get gifts. Start a Secret Santa gift exchange, where you draw out the name of just one person and buy a present for them. Set a maximum spending limit per gift.
- Plan your shopping trips. Finding bargains can be fatiguing so map out the best route for your day. Make sure to plan some breaks during your shopping marathon. Resting and refueling will help you resist the urge to grab something unsuitable just so you can cross another name off your list.
- Do some online research. Even if you’re planning on buying in brick and mortar stores—and it’s good to support local businesses--it pays to do some homework ahead of time. When you see an ad for a camera or a toy, check it out on some websites to make sure that the model advertised has the features that you want. You can also check to see if that advertised price really is a good deal.
- Resist the urge to splurge by being selective. There’s nothing wrong with buying a holiday decoration that you know you’ll treasure for years—maybe a special ornament for the family or for each child that commemorates something special that happened during the year. But do you really want to spend hundreds on decorating “stuff” that you’ll throw out on January 2nd?
- If you tend to go overboard with your credit cards, leave them at home and write checks or use your debit card. Or limit yourself to one credit card so you don’t lose track of how much you spend.
- When you get home from a shopping expedition, total up what you’ve spent and see how you’re doing with your budget. And if you’ve found the perfect gift for someone at a really good price, don’t feel compelled to buy more just because you spent less than you had originally planned.
Frugal ways to have fun
- Find creative ways to spend time with friends and family—a holiday craft party, for example. Look at upscale magazines and store displays to decide what decorations you like, and then hit the craft and dollar stores to find ways that you can recreate them for less. If you’re not crafty, offer to do something for a friend—wrap presents or bake cookies—in exchange for their creative skills.
- Host a holiday potluck and BYOB. Ask your friends to bring a casserole, side dish or dessert that holds special holiday significance for them—and invite them to tell stories about their own holiday traditions. Or hold a Christmas caroling party and just serve desserts and hot chocolate.
- You can pay to see one of the animated light displays, or you can save money by touring your neighborhood—on foot or by car—to check out the holiday lights and decorations. (Just how many inflatable Christmas figures has that neighbor managed to fit on their lawn?!)
Start saving for next year
- Beginning on January 1, 2014, put money aside each paycheck in a special fund designated for holiday gifts. You’ll be glad to have that cash next fall when it’s time to start shopping again. Better yet—look for deals throughout the year so that you can have most of your shopping completed by next December!