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Before the jack-o-lantern candles have even burned out, holiday music begins trumpeting from every store, their shelves overstuffed with the latest toys and gadgets, and silver and gold decorations magically adorn everything. The holidays bring an excess of excesses: excess food, excess spending, and excess stress at the top of the list.
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, people planned to spend $1,007.24 this holiday season, up 4.1% from last year. Something about the gift-giving season makes it so easy to spend money. Not going overboard with your spending takes some serious dedication.
1. Make a List
Make sure to include everyone, and stick to it. It’ll help you avoid impulse buys that can burn through your budget quick.
2. Limit Yourself
Decide on a limit for each person on your list, as well as a total amount that you want to spend on the holidays. Don’t forget your food budget. If you’re bringing something special to a party, or you’re hosting your own gathering, it’ll add to your holiday expenses.
3. Check Prices
Look up items with an app on your phone before you buy something. Driving to a different store might be worth the trip. Better yet, look for the best price before you go out. You’ll not only get the best deal, but you’ll also save a bit of gas money.
4. Find a Useful Holiday App
Look for Christmas shopping apps to help you remain organized. Many, such as The Christmas List, are inexpensive or even free and allow you to create lists and stay on budget.
5. Look for Coupons
Many stores offer coupons and rebates around the holidays to entice you. You can find them in flyers, on store websites, and via coupon apps.
6. Look for Bonuses
Some restaurants offer free $5 or $10 gift cards when you purchase ones at higher denominations. You can use it to treat yourself, or use it as a separate gift altogether.
7. Buy Online
Every year, more and more people do their Christmas shopping online. It’s usually cheaper than at the stores, you don’t have to fight the crowds, you’ll save on gas, and it’ll save you the stress of finding a parking space. If there’s free shipping, even better!
8. Don’t Forget Shipping Fees
If the plan is to spend $20 on someone and you buy something online that costs $10 just for shipping, you’ll likely end up over budget. Many online retailers offer free shipping for certain periods leading up to Christmas, so it pays to be on the lookout.
9. Don’t Procrastinate
If you’re a last-minute shopper, you’ll most likely spend more. Buy ahead of time so you have time to shop around for the best price and get what you want. Nobody likes receiving a deck of cards from a convenience store, and you won’t like that you paid $10 for it.
10. Make Gifts
The internet is full of inventive ideas for fun and cheap gifts to make that people would love to receive. If you’re not crafty, make some yummy treats!
11. Have an Old-fashioned Yankee Swap
Everyone brings one wrapped gift, usually within an agreed-upon price range. The host puts numbers into a hat (one for each gift) and guests all pick one. In order, each person gets to pick a gift and open it. This is where it gets fun. The guest gets to decide whether to keep the gift or exchange it for one that’s already been opened. At the end, the person who drew #1 (who didn’t have a choice) gets to choose from all the gifts.
12. Have a Potluck
If you usually host a holiday party, consider asking your guests to bring something. You’ll save money and your guests will enjoy the opportunity to show off some special holiday recipes.
13. Redeem Reward Points for Gifts
Many credit cards have rewards programs that offer gift cards for stores, restaurants, and even gas stations. If you’d prefer personal gifts for family members and friends, these make great gifts for teachers, your mail person, your regular hairdresser, or anyone you typically tip around the holidays.
14. Don’t Use Credit Cards
If you’re putting the cost of gifts on credit, you’re paying for the cost of the gift plus interest for every month you don’t pay the balance. If you have to use cards, avoid using store credit cards, as they tend to have notoriously high interest rates. If you’ve recently acquired a card with a 0% introductory offer, this would be a good time to use it, in moderation of course. After all, you need to ensure you can pay off the entire balance within the introductory period.
15. Take Advantage of Free Gift-wrapping
If you’re buying online or in a store offering free gift-wrapping, take advantage of it. It’ll save you both time and the money it would cost you to wrap it.
Pro tip: Many stores allow charities to come in and offer gift-wrapping services for a donation. Don’t confuse the two and end up denying a charity.
You don’t have to be Ebenezer Scrooge to save money during the holidays. However, you don’t have to spend money as if you’re a Vegas high roller, either. If you decide what you can reasonably afford to spend on your loved ones and make a concerted effort to stick to it, you won’t experience the “sticker shock” that many people feel when the Christmas bills begin to roll in. With a little ingenuity and planning, you’ll have no surprises, but just a fun, more relaxed holiday season.