It’s that time of year to start holiday shopping. If you’re like most of us, you’ve created a budget and darn it all! You’re going to stick to it this year. You’ve made a list of everyone you need to buy for and you’ve assigned a dollar amount to each. Right? Well, probably not. Again if you’re like most of us you’re probably not that well organized. You might have a budget in terms of what you want to spend in total but then you get all caught up in the Christmas spirit and the urge to spend kicks in and you end up blowing your budget by spending a lot more than you had planned. You’re not alone, either. One recent study showed that the average consumer plans to spend $804 this year on holiday gifts for family, friends and others. In addition there are those decorations, holiday meals and other holiday paraphernalia. The bills come rolling in in January and ouch! You find you spent a lot more than you ever intended. I call it Christmas shopping remorse. So, what you can do to avoid this.
Make some new traditions
If the tradition in your family is to give each another expensive gifts you may want to try to start a new tradition. For example, instead of gifting one another you could take everyone out for a really great dinner during the holidays. It probably won’t take long for this annual dinner to become a family tradition. Part of the fun is introducing your family members to restaurants they wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Since you’re doing this dinner in lieu of a lot of lavish presents you could afford to spend a fair amount of money and take the family to a really upscale restaurant such as Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Morton’s Steakhouse, the Melting Pot or the Palm. The Melting Pot could be a particularly good choice because it would be a way for all of you to spend three or four hours together in a fun environment dipping, eating and visiting.
For most people it’s not enough to just set a goal for their holiday spending. What you really need is a set of financial objectives that you can then align with your holiday spending. Let’s suppose that you and your spouse set a goal for buying a sailboat. You could then agree not to buy each other expensive gifts but to put the money away for that larger goal instead. You could feel a lot better about putting that money away to achieve that bigger goal then spending it now on a few lavish gifts that would likely be forgotten in just a few months. You might also think about making and giving homemade gifts. If you’re a guy that’s handy with your hands you might make your friends and some of your family members customized birdhouses. Women could knit or crochet something or bake up a batch of cookies or brownies and then put them in a decorative tin wrapped with a gift bow. I mean, who wouldn’t love to get homemade cookies?
Now that Black Friday is out of the way would be a good time to set expectations with your friends and family members. If your family insists on a gift exchange you might suggest instead of gifts you all make donations to a charity. This could be far better than gifts. We know of one family that decided to do this instead of exchanging gifts and ended up raising thousands of dollars to help provide clean water to people in Indonesia that hadn’t been able to access it. Alternately, you could get creative and give a gift such as a bottle of wine or coffee from a local roaster or experiences that can be shared like tickets to a concert, the cost of which might be a lot less than a lavish gift and yet would mean an unforgettable evening
There was a time when the whole idea of gift giving probably made good sense. But one thing you might do is ask yourself whether it still makes any sense. In this day and age it might not make much sense at all. It might feel more like a requirement that a true heartfelt kind of thing. The best gift could be a shared experience such as the family dinner mentioned above. People tend to remember shared experiences more than actual gifts. If you don’t believe this, try to remember the gifts that you received as a child. Now think about the actual holidays themselves. What stands out most in your mind – the gifts you received or those holiday meals and parties with your family members? If you’re typical what you’ll remember most vividly are those holiday meals and not the dozens of gifts you received.
How about consumables?
The real fact is that most of your friends and family members probably don’t really want anything you could afford to give them. The things they probably would like are stuff they typically can’t buy themselves like an Apple® or Windows® notebook computer or tablet, a 72” HDTV or a pool table. Once you understand this you can save a lot of money and yet please your friends and family members by making a donation to a child’s college fund, that charitable donation mentioned above or a consumable like a four-pack of their favorite wine or a gift basket from Omaha Steaks or Harry and David’s. One of the best things about giving a gift such as this is that one gift can cover an entire family. For example, if you have a brother that’s married and has two children, a box from Omaha Steaks could be a great gift for the entire family and yet cost $70 or less. Compare this to the $30-$50 you might have to spend on each of them and you can see why this type of gift could make good sense as well as dollars and cents.
Track your spending
If you feel you really must give gifts to your friends and family members make sure that you track all of your spending against whatever budget you made. Sit down every few days and review what you have spent and how much you have left in your budget. If you find you’ve spent 80% of your budget and have six people left you want to buy gifts for, you may have to find ways to cut back on their gifts. We understand this is hard to do because after all it’s Christmas and you do want to make everybody happy. But as you have read there are ways to make people happy – especially friends – without lavishing them with expensive gifts. Handmade items can be especially good because you’re not just giving a thing you’re giving a part of yourself in terms of the time you spent making it. In addition, the right handmade gifts tend to have a longer “shelf life” than stuff you just buy. If you consider the gifts you’ve received over the years, the odds are that you still have that knitted sweater, homemade tool box or handcrafted ceramic bird from 20 years ago while that expensive shirt and tie set you got just five years ago is long gone to the trash pile or Goodwill.
Finally, here courtesy of National Debt Relief is a helpful video with tips about controlling your holiday spending …