The 10 Best Budgeting Strategies for the Holiday Shopping Season
With a little over two weeks remaining before Christmas, holiday shopping – whether in-store or online – has exploded. The year 2015 has already embarked on a record-setting pace for the most holiday spending in history, the most notable event taking place Black Friday, which reported the highest single-day sales revenue in history! These numbers are evidence that both shoppers and retailers alike are expressing confidence in a recovering economy; however, regardless of the economy’s current condition, many shoppers are still looking for ways to either save money, or at least spend it more wisely. So, we’ve provided a few holiday spending tips to help keep your season bright this year:
1. Make a List – Check It Twice
Seems like with every Christmas, your Nice List gets a little bit bigger; whether it’s due to an expanding family, a new significant other, your friends, your friends’ kids, your kids’ friends–there is an almost unending list of people you feel you need to buy presents for. But if you’re really trying to budget, you might try to keep the list shorter, or at least prioritize the kind of gifts you give out.
Check out this helpful chart as you make revisions to your Nice List:
|Christmas Gift Priority List|
|Gift Recipient||Priority||Gift Suggestion|
|Your Own Children||High||Most of your budget should go here.|
|Parents||Medium – High||Honestly, just being there and telling them you love them is usually enough (but get them something anyway).|
|Siblings||Medium – High||Something slightly better than what they got you (requires research).|
|Significant Others||Medium – High||Something nice
(don’t screw this up.)
|Friends||Medium||$10 or under|
|Neighbors||Low||Something they can eat (not something they can wear).|
2. Avoid Impulse Buys
Speaking of lists – STICK TO YOURS! Nothing will cause your holiday debt to rise faster than falling prey to the dozens of in-store sales promotions waiting for you. Most people set a budget prior to going Christmas shopping, but giving in to impulse shopping will almost always break any budget, no matter how solid. As you prepare your wish list, do your homework on where the best deals are. Most retailers are posting their holiday deals online now, so you can know ahead of time what kind of deals and discounts to expect. Staying within your budget is like giving a gift to yourself – the gift of not accruing more debt.
3. Secret Santa/Gift Exchange
On that note, another excellent budgeting idea is to conduct a Secret Santa or Gift Exchange for Christmas. This is not to be confused with a White Elephant gift exchange, in which everyone looks for the least desirable gifts imaginable, and where gifts can be “stolen” during the exchange. This is an opportunity to pour all your resources into a single gift. If the budget is particularly tight for everyone, this burden can be significantly lifted if they are only required to buy a present for one person, instead of several. This also allows each gift-giver to put more thought into the present.
There are a number of great sites that will do the random sorting for you, and send text or email notifications to all the participants. Or you can do your gift exchange. Just remember to set some ground rules (e.g., spouses can’t buy for each other, or no gifts over $25). Because without those rules, something like this could happen (starts at 1:41. Bear in mind, this is back when iPods were both really expensive and relevant).
4. The 0% Credit Card
If your list is particularly big and/or expensive this year, you might consider investing in a 0% interest credit card. These credit cards will usually provide you with a 12- to 15-month grace period during which you won’t have to pay a cent in interest. And if you’re confident you can have the card paid off before that grace period is up, this might just be the money-saving strategy for you.
5. Layaway Programs
Another option that’s become more and more popular for the more expensive items on your Christmas list is layaway programs. The logic behind a layaway program is rather simple: rather than paying for an item completely upfront, you make periodic payments on the item over time.
Once the item is completely paid off, it’s yours. Most stores require some kind of down payment before making incremental payments, which can be weekly, biweekly, or monthly, depending on your circumstances.
There are certain pros and cons to this method that you should be aware of:
- Interest-Free Payments: Payments made for items on layaway are interest-free, meaning you only have to worry about paying for the price of the item, without additional fees being attached to the total purchase price.
- Multiple Options: Even if you don’t have a credit card, you can still participate in layaway programs; however, these alternative methods will vary by store.
- Get High-Demand Items First: With layaway, you can start making payments towards hot Christmas items long before the holidays roll around; it’s one way to guarantee you’ll get exactly what you want. Many stores also provide layaway of online items.
- Easy to Qualify: You don’t need good credit to qualify for layaway; just proof of identification, and you must be at least 18 years old.
- Fees: A number of fees come with layaway, such as a service fee, cancellation fee, and restocking fee. Be aware that some or all of these fees may be assessed to your purchase.
- Down Payment: While you sometimes get to choose what your down payment amounts to, other times, this amount will be determined by the store. Stores can charge up to 10% for a down payment, which for more expensive items, can be a lot.
- Strict Terms: In order for the layaway program to really benefit you, it’s important to make sure you are making your payments on time; failure to do so could result in additional fees.
- Limited Availability: Layaway is usually not available for every item in the store.
6. Receipts, Receipts, Receipts
When it comes to saving money over the holidays, you can never underestimate the importance of your receipts. Receipts often carry important information, such as the store’s return policy, as well as proof of purchase. Nothing is worse than buying an expensive Christmas gift that 1) the recipient either can’t use or doesn’t want and 2) you can’t return. Be sure to hold onto your receipts until you’re absolutely certain you don’t need them.
Another tip is to take advantage of gift receipts. Most of the time, the responsibility to return the purchase in the same condition in which it was paid for, as well as to provide the method of payment (i.e., credit card, etc.) is on the original buyer; but by using a gift receipt, that responsibility is transferred to the recipient of the gift. This allows the recipient to receive store credit equal to the purchase amount should decide to return the gift. This method also ensures that none of your money is wasted.
7. Post-Christmas Shopping
While few things can compete with the site of a plethora of unopened presents under the Christmas tree, if you’re on a budget, you might consider pushing Christmas back a day or two.
Several stores and retailers hold massive post-Christmas sales on select items such as beauty products, electronics, holiday items, and even some luxury brands. Just remember, many of the best sales don’t take place until the end of January – but it’s better that Christmas come late than not at all.
8. The Amazon Discount Finder
Amazon is arguably the most successful and popular online retailer of all time. And thanks to MoneySavingExpert.com, you can know exactly where all Amazon’s hidden online discounts can be found. Users have reported finding discounts as high as 75% through this tool. Keep in mind, however, that as Amazon gets updated everyday, the deals may not always be accurate, nor may they always be bargains. Check prices elsewhere before going through with your purchase.
9. Experiences over Gifts
Rather than stressing yourself out over sales, brands, locations, and inventory, you might consider ditching retail altogether and opting for an experience-based Christmas instead. If you’re thinking a vacation as a possible alternative, you will have to plan it out several months in advance, no later than the first week of October. After that time, you will airline ticket prices start to gradually increase each day.
If you find that it’s too late to get optimum travel rates, don’t worry. There are a number of creative activities and experiences you can plan without having to travel great distances. In the long run, your children will not likely remember exactly what they got for Christmas in a given year as much as how they spent that Christmas – and who they spent it with. That is what is important, isn’t it?
10. Feed the Hungry
Speaking of doing things together as a family for Christmas, there are few activities more rewarding, or more centered on the true meaning of Christmas than volunteering at a soup kitchen, orphanage, or shelter. It’s often easy for us to forget how fortunate we really are. And while everyone has their struggles, there is always someone who has it a little worse. Taking the day to provide Christmas dinner, read stories, or donate your time or material means to the less fortunate will not only make you feel great, but it will also provide an excellent teaching opportunity to your kids. This isn’t something you have to do every year, but try it once, and you’ll see how fulfilling and memorable your Christmas can be.