Christmas is the time of year to have fun while enjoying the holiday with family and friends. However, the magic can also be extinguished by the mad rush of stressful shopping, vacation planning and other obligations. It’s no wonder that the holiday season is actually one of the most stressful times, especially from a financial perspective. Smart spending and creating a Christmas budget can reduce the financial burden and alleviate some of that unwanted stress. It’s way too easy to get caught up in the shopping mania of this season and find yourself in a freshly dug hole in January.
Here are some money-saving strategies and tips:
Have a plan
Christmas is not an emergency. It happens every year, so have a plan. Don’t use this as an excuse to overspend and buy things you can’t afford. In your Christmas planning, you need to set boundaries. Remember, you can’t buy everything for everyone. Yes, Christmas is a time to show certain people your concerns, feelings and gratifications about them. It’s easy to use expensive gifts to express sentiment, but it’s important to set a realistic budget ahead of time.
Create a budget and a list for holiday spending and gift giving in advance of buying. Include possible gifts, dollar amounts and alternative choices. Don’t forget expenses like holiday decorations, wrapping paper, cards and postage, plus extra food costs for parties and family gatherings. Knowing how much you can truly afford to spend is a crucial first step in controlling costs. Establish spending limits for gifts for each person on your list and start looking for bargains early. Make a list of people you plan to give gifts, and write down what you expect those gifts to be. Get organized in this manner as early as you can, and include prices on your list so you can see how much you’re on track to spend.
Having the gift list with you when you shop can help you avoid impulse purchases. Make the attempt to pay with cash and limit using credit cards. Charge cards tend to encourage more spending than what we have budgeted, and we can get a shocking surprise when the credit card bills arrive in January or February. In addition, over spending via your credit cards will mean interest payments on top of what we spend. Your goal should be to begin the New Year with no new debt as a result of holiday spending. You can also check out www.everydollar.com/christmas-budget, a free online budgeting tool to help you easily keep the holidays from wrecking your finances.
Take advantage of shopping early to find better deals, and avoid last minute purchases that can be costly. Time constraints and last minute occurrences do happen, so plan your time accordingly. Use coupons and be on the lookout for sales and clearance items. Take advantage of stores and online sites that offer free gift-wrapping and shipping services. If you need to mail gifts, do so early to keep shipping costs down. To save on children’s gifts, head to flea markets, yard sales and consignment stores. Many toys and games can be found in their original packaging for much less. Liquidators, buying clubs and factory outlet stores usually offer lower prices. Bulk buying with other family members or friends can also yield savings. Shop at off-peak times such as early morning or mid-week to avoid crowds and pressure.
Research & keep track
Online sites such as eBay, Letgo and Offerup are great places to find local bargains, but be aware of how much similar items cost at retail. Many retailers have clearance sections on their shopping sites where you can save big. Shop prices before committing to a purchase. Don’t buy from the first store. Take your time and really look around. Utilizing the internet and other various comparison shopping engines via your phone or other mobile devices will help you to find the best deals. Keep an eye on brochures and discount coupons. This will help you save on everything you need for a great Christmas.
When making online purchases, have you ever spotted those little areas where you can enter a promotional code, discount code or coupon? That’s a sign to open a web browser in another window and do a quick Google search for the retailer’s name along with the same catch phrase used on that retailer’s web site. You could find a coupon code in seconds and save on the purchase you’re about to make.
Don’t go through all of the trouble of creating a budget, making a list, researching prices and shopping around, only to lose track of your progress. Be diligent about tracking your progress by recording all of your shopping and holiday related costs. Being informed about your financial situation is the key to being financially healthy.
If you have a skill or hobby, consider making some of your gifts. Use jars, tins, boxes and craft bags with pretty ribbons and trims to make a nice presentation for your hand-crafted gifts. Use last year’s holiday cards as gift tags and the Sunday comics to wrap children’s presents. Consider gifts of your time, such as planting a garden, doing carpentry or plumbing work, or pet sitting for a long weekend for your relatives and friends. Make more of your gifts at home. Handmade craft items, special desserts or breads and other “goodies” can help stretch a holiday budget. Replace traditional greeting cards with paperless e-cards and electronic mail. Take a photo of your family and send that electronically with a personalized message or use one of the many ecard services online. Try to save gift bags, decorations and other reusable holiday supplies. Give some homemade gifts, such as cakes, cookies or gift certificates for your services. Such services could include babysitting, running errands, cooking a nice dinner, doing handyman work, repairing or detailing a car, or helping someone build a web site, to name just a few possibilities.
It is tempting to make unplanned purchases during the holidays. We are inundated with holiday displays and merchandise beginning in early October. There is constant pressure to spend, and advertisements convey that the more expensive and extravagant gift you give, the better. Stores set up their holiday displays as triggers for you to spend more. Giving in to these pressures is an emotional reaction but a powerful one. Being well rested and nourished when you shop will help you stick to your budget and avoid merchandising triggers. Try to avoid running around on your lunch hour or evenings after work to do the bulk of your shopping. This can be exhausting and stressful. Purchase gifts online or through catalogs to help you save time and money while avoiding stress and impulse purchases.
Having a plan before the Christmas season and to the best of your ability following that plan will help you survive the holiday financially, and I pray give you fiscal peace. The benefit of employing even a few of the tips discussed can be worth a lot of money and stress. It’s important to not to lose your financial disciplines, to improve your financial health and, of course, enjoy the holidays. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!
Jeffery Masters, President of Jeffery W. Masters & Associates 954-977-5150
Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Independent Financial Partners, a registered investment advisor. Independent Financial Partners and Jeffery W. Masters & Associates are separate entities’ from LPL Financial – Jeffery.Masters@LPL.com