Enjoying the Holiday Season on a Budget

Enjoying the Holiday Season on a Budget
Eileen St. Pierre, The Everyday Financial Planner

Attractive Woman Holds GiftsYeah, I’ll admit it. I used to be one of THOSE people who started their Christmas shopping on December 26th and had most of it done by Thanksgiving, taking advantage of sales throughout the year. I kept a running inventory of what I’ve bought and for whom, as well as how much I’ve spent. However, I found this harder to accomplish in recent years as my work travel increased. Having nieces and nephews with constantly evolving tastes has also made this task much harder to achieve.

If you haven’t heard them yet, get ready for the media predictions on how retailers will fare and how much the average consumer will spend this upcoming holiday season. Try not to listen to any of it. Here are some tips to keep your budget under control but at the same time allow you to enjoy the holidays with your family and friends.

Establish a budget and stick to it.

Determine the total amount you can afford to spend this year on gifts. If you think you’ll use your credit cards a bit too freely, transfer the amount of your budget into a savings account and just withdraw the cash when you go shopping. Leave the credit cards at home.

Make a list of everyone on your gift list. List a price range next to each person. You probably spend more on gifts to immediate family members than on those for your co-workers or neighbors. Cross the person’s name off when you finished shopping for that person. When you are buying gifts for young children in the same family, you need to give all the children the same number of gifts. They don’t understand about the cost. If one of my niece’s gifts cost more than the others, I’ll buy an inexpensive gift like a Tootsie Roll bank or some lip gloss so that she will have the same number of gifts as the others.

Beware the unexpected expenses!

There are a lot of other holiday expenses we don’t think about like wrapping paper, postage, extra gas and other travel expenses. And let’s not forget the 3 dozen cupcakes you need to magically produce for your child’s school function tomorrow. All that holiday baking and entertaining can send your grocery bill through the roof if you are not careful. Stock up on the groceries you know you’ll use over the holidays when they are on sale. Get your coupons organized.

We tend to eat out a lot more during the holidays. Getting together with friends is a gift in itself. Swap memories, not gifts. Setting up an online photo directory of your get-together doesn’t cost anything and everyone gets to share their comments.

Be an educated online shopper.

It would be hard to find someone who has not purchased something online. Shopping online is great for hard-to-find gifts. A list of my purchases on eBay reveals a strange array of automotive tools and parts from eBay Motors for an overjoyed husband. You can also comparison shop online before making a major in-store purchase. The convenience of shopping in your pajamas can come at a price if you are not careful of shipping and handling charges. The time spent searching for promotional codes that offer a discount or free shipping may pay off for an online purchase.

I’ll just give a gift card.

I find gift cards to be a godsend when shopping for relatives who are much more tech savvy than I will ever be. Shipping costs have really gone up, and that reason alone may warrant sending a gift card. People do tend to spend more on a gift card than they would on an actual item. Since the amount of the gift card is listed, people don’t want to seem cheap. Try to look at it this way – your gift card will help the recipient purchase something he/she really wants. If my nephew wants to buy a new video game, our gift card to him will help offset the cost. Try to stick with gift cards from major retailers or restaurant chains that you know will not be going bankrupt in the near future.

During these tough economic times, many of us are cutting back on those little luxuries that we once indulged in such as watching a movie in an actual movie theatre or enjoying a real cappuccino that does not come out of a dispenser at a convenience store. Freshly baked bread or a homemade dessert may be deeply appreciated by a friend who has to work two jobs to make ends meet. Allowing a loved one to enjoy a little luxury during the holiday season may be the perfect gift of all.