I know the holiday season must be here because the day after Halloween I saw Christmas decorations at our local Walgreens. It feels like Thanksgiving kind of got lost in the mix but be that as it may, holiday time is at hand. Most of us will soon be embarking on our Christmas shopping and that’s where the danger lies. We all want to do great things for our family members and friends but this can come at a severe price – if we’re not careful about our spending. So here’s the dichotomy – how do we do everything we want to do in gift giving without breaking the bank? Here are six fairly painless things you could do to manage your holiday spending.
Keep records of your spending
There are a number of smart phone apps available that will c versus your budget so that you’ll know how you’re doing. We like Mint.com as it’s very easy to use and will both track your spending and help you develop a budget. If you overspend in any category – whether it’s gift giving or grocery shopping – Mint will send you an email alert so that you can adjust your other categories accordingly. When you keep track of your spending, you will better manage it and also keep from duplicating gifts or, worse yet, not having enough money left in your budget to buy a gift for an important relative or friend.
Check out your debt before you make your shopping list. Do you have some savings put aside or an emergency fund? It’s best to start your holiday shopping by understanding what you owe as this can help you determine how much you can afford to spend. If you haven’t done this recently you should sit down and spreadsheet your debts with their minimum monthly payments, due dates and balances. You might find that you could pay down some of them, which would reduce your monthly payments and free up additional money for gift buying.
Once you know where you stand financially, make a budget and a shopping list that will keep your gift buying under control. That way you won’t wake up on January 1 with a “holiday shopping hangover.”
Note: If for some reason you think you might need additional credit to fund your holiday shopping be sure to first get your credit score free on a site such as CreditKarma.com or CreditSesame.com. While this won’t be your true FICO score it will be close enough for you to know how potential lenders would view you.
Cut out some of the people on your list
We understand it’s tough to cut kids off your gift list. Christmas is just such a special time for them. However, you might be able to cut some of the adults off it. For that matter, if you have limited finances, you could ask your adult family members and friends if they would consider a gift drawing where you put everyone’s names in a hat and then each person draws a name and buys a gift for that person. This way instead of having to buy small gifts for, say, 10 people you could buy one really nice gift for one person. Or you could suggest forgoing gifts entirely with some of your friends or “minor” relatives. You might be surprised to find that they think that this is actually a very good idea.
Don’t buy until you’ve browsed
Once you’ve made your gift list, go online and browse your favorite stores. Use this information to make a gift budget. Next, you will need to decide exactly how much you’re willing to pay for every item. For those gifts that are “must haves,” you might have to buy before Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday and Cyber Monday to get both selection and price. And when you’re figuring out your budget don’t forget to include holiday entertainment and holiday meals.
If you’re not buying at least 50% of your gifts online, you’re losing money. Sites such as Amazon.com, eBay and Overstock.com usually have better prices than what you’ll find at your local retailers, plus you probably won’t have to pay your state’s sales tax, which could be as high as 7% – depending on where you live. If your state sales tax is just 4%, do the math. If you spent $500 online vs. buying locally, you’d save $20, which might be enough to buy something for your great aunt Martha. Be a careful shopper and you should even be able to get free shipping.
Cut your other spending
It’ll be easier to buy gifts without breaking the bank if you cut your other spending so you have more money for Christmas. This could be easier than you think if you follow these six tips.
Comparison shop on the spot with tools such as RedLaser
Comparison shopping is always a good idea and thanks to today’s smart phones it’s now easier than ever. There are apps available such as RedLaser that allow you to comparison shop right in the store. It’s available for free on Android, Apple and Windows phones. All you do is scan the product’s barcode and RedLaser will show you where you can find the lowest price – online or in stores. We know of people who say this little app has saved them thousands of dollars.
Dine out less
You can have more money available for holiday shopping without busting your budget simply by eating out less. A $10-grass fed hamburger at your favorite pub is really enough to buy about six hamburger patties you could cook at home. If there is some reason why you must eat out, use coupons.
Cancel unused memberships
If you stop to think about it you might remember that you have some memberships you are no longer using. They might be for a gym, a health club or some online service. Canceling them could save you $50 or more that you could then use to purchase a special gift for your spouse or partner.
Buy store brands
We learned some time ago that grocery store brands can be just as good as their more expensive counterparts but cost far less. If you don’t believe store brands can be just as good as big-name brands, consider this. In one recent study 80% of those surveyed said that these brands were “just as good as national brands.” And the savings that you gain when you buy them adds up. In fact, this can be as much as $30 a week on $120 grocery bill. You can also save a bundle at the grocery store by using coupons. Here’s a short video courtesy of National Debt Relief, with the Coupon Coach that shows how to save with coupons …
Download your music from Amazon or buy used CDs
iTunes is a fun and easy way to download your music. However, it’s much costlier than Amazon. In fact Amazon downloads generally average 78% less than the same music on iTunes. Another way to save money on your music is to buy used CDs then transfer the songs to your iPod, iPhone or your other music player. This will save you about 50% off retail. And if you don’t mind listening to periodic commercials, there is Pandora where you can create “stations” based on your favorite artists and listen to music all day for free.
Choose generics at the drugstore
You don’t have to buy brand-name stuff at the drugstore any more then you need to buy brand-name groceries. Drugstore generics work just as well as the higher-priced name brands. You should be able to save big on items like ibuprofen, vitamins, mouthwash, vitamin E and so forth. For example, the name Acetaminophen might be a real mouthful but it’s the same as Tylenol but a lot cheaper.