When you think of the holiday time, what is the thing that stresses you out most? Most people immediately jump to something related to money. This year, it’s likely to be more of an issue than in the past. The pandemic has financially crippled many with job loss and wage cuts. For myself, it was neither- which I am thankful for, but I can’t pretend being pregnant isn’t a huge dent in my finances even when we planned for it.
To be completely honest, I’m an over-doer when it comes to gifting. I get in an internal competition and try to out-do previous years but who is that really for? Instead, I’m changing my attitude a bit this year because the holidays aren’t about the presents anyway. Of course I’m not skipping gifting all together but I am taking a different approach to my budget planning. I figured I’m not the only one stuck in this boat of needing to be more careful about my wallet this year while still trying to be generous to loved ones, so I came up with a plan to share.
Ready to be gift-smart this year? Stick to this, and I mean really stick to this, and we should be feeling a lot better about our financial standing come December 26th.
1. Literally Put Value to Your Relationships
This probably sounds weird. Put a monetary value to your relationships? But this is going to help you out in more ways than one. The most effective way to do this is through a couple of steps. First, list out every single person you intend to buy a gift for. Second step is see if there are any that you can clump together. Could you do a couple’s gift for a pair of friends instead of two gifts? Could you gift something to a family instead of doing something for each member? Third, you need to then rank in order of significance. Don’t overthink that one. This is just to help with the next step which is to assign the monetary value to each person or group’s gift. If you rank everyone, it makes this step a lot quicker. If your partner is your #1 then they would get the largest spending amount. Let’s say $200. After that it’s probably parents or a best friend which you now know will be valued under $200, so on and so forth.
You are assigned a dollar amount as a CAP, not as a starting point. That is the max you’ll spend on a gift for that person. Stick to it if you want this to work. Not only does it set a spending limit, which is helpful but it also allows you to add everything up when you’re done creating your list and letting you see ahead of time how much you will be spending this year.
If you take this a step further, you can even plan out how you will pay for it all. Debit vs. Credit vs. Cash etc and get yourself started on a mental payment plan.
2. Price Check
It’s something SO easy for us to do with our handy-dandy smartphones but we often get so excited when we find the perfect gift that our impulse control flies straight out the window and we buy it on the spot. DON’T.
Even if it says it’s on sale. DON’T! (I know, that’s so hard. I struggle to not get excited over an unexpected “sale.”) If it says “sale” that’s actually when you should price check it the most. You’ll probably find that it’s on sale at other retailers too! Maybe it’s priced the exact same but you could have a coupon for that other retailer sitting in your email inbox. These are decisions that can end up making a big difference in your final spending amount for the year!
To price check, simply Google search (or whatever search engine) the name of your item. See what pops up. Maybe even add “discount” or “sale” next to it. Once you find some retailers offering good prices, open up your email and search the name of the store to see who has sent you a coupon recently. If you’re unsure where the best deal lies between the sales and the coupons, just open up a few tabs and act like you’re checking out from those retailers and see where the price lands in the end for all the options. Don’t forget about shipping costs!
BONUS TIP: We all HATE junk mail, especially in our email inbox but from October – January do not delete any offers being emailed to you. Around this time of year they will let you stack coupons. Don’t miss out on saving $20 here and there just to clear your inbox. $20 off per gift could end up being HUNDREDS saved by the end of the holidays. I say this with personal experience!
3. Buy Early to Space Out Your Spending
If you indulged me and did tip #1 then this one just got a lot easier.
Buying early is key to feeling good about your wallet at the end of December. Don’t wait on Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. I worked retail for years. Want to know a secret? Stores like to change the price to be higher than normal before offering you the 30% off or whatever the deal. The real sale happens after their big blow outs because all of a sudden no one is buying anymore. Of course waiting till after Black Friday can be a risk inventory wise but normally there is AT LEAST one more shipment due to hit the store to replenish supplies before Christmas. You can also ask if they have more of what you’re looking for online and try to wait it out for a good online sale, beware the risk of that too but really can be a lucrative save.
This year Black Friday is earlier than ever. Sales have already started! This is mainly to discourage a swarm of people at the mall Thanksgiving night because of the pandemic so I do appreciate this approach. However it does through a wrench into spending plans because you feel like you need to buy it NOW before it’s gone.
Don’t buy it NOW if it’s a major retailer. They will restock. Instead buy the things NOW that are more locally made and truly may not be back in stock by the time Christmas (or your chosen celebrated holiday) rolls around.
Buy early what needs to be bought early. Space out other things. This will take some mapping out but it is a worthwhile step.
Again, if you did the first tip, you can really plan out your spending. Break it down by paycheck. How much do you have set aside each paycheck to spend on gifts? I would advise to first set some of the spending money aside to save up for one of your large purchase items. Then use what is left from that pay period’s spending allotment to knock out one or two of the smaller items.
If you think ahead enough (maybe plan to do this next year) have “x” amount of money pulled out from each check and have it tossed into a savings account specifically for holiday spending starting in the summertime when your everyday spending is typically lower. Even just tossing $30 a paycheck into an account like that can really add up by the time November rolls around. Suddenly, you don’t have to budget nearly as hard to provide a generous and stress free holiday.
4. Push Notifications From Your Bank/Credit Card
This doesn’t take much explaining. Turn on the push notifications for your banking apps. This way, once something goes through, you’ve got a reminder on how much you spent.
It’s so easy to not even listen to the clerk say your total and just swipe the card. You’ve already made up your mind about buying it so you just swipe away. Getting that notification is a nice reminder that you did just spend some money.
Also remember some purchases take a while to show up! So you think you have more money than you do but in reality, a charge just hasn’t hit yet. Be wary of that as you go into gift buying so you don’t have to pay an overdraft fee.
On top of receiving a push notification, it’s helpful to physically keep track of your spending by writing it down. In your planner, on a whiteboard in your kitchen, wherever you’ll actually see it- so probably not the ‘notes’ section on your phone.
5. Get Crafty
A thoughtful gift is always be more remembered than an expensive one. Spend some time really thinking of something special for your loved ones. It’s easy to say “oh well I’ll just get them this new tech,” and hey, if that’s within your budget, go for it. But no one cried and told stories about the time they got an Xbox for Christmas. They said “oh wow, cool!” and then ignored you for months while they played it. *I joke* *kind of*
Now I said “get crafty.” And one way to lower your spending is to make some of your gifts! This isn’t everyone’s favorite idea… not all of us are artists. And depending on the craft, it could be more expensive than just buying the item you’re looking for. The best crafts that save money are the ones you can make multiple gifts out of. Ideas include: Christmas ornaments, homemade nutcrackers, handmade picture frames, paintings, photo collages, DIY cookie jars and synthetic wreaths/centerpieces.
But getting crafty doesn’t have to mean a homemade gift. It can be how you go about finding your gift. This year, don’t hit the generic stores. Find a local gem. They offer incredible pieces that you won’t find elsewhere that will immediately make you think of someone on your list. Now instead of buying someone 3 pairs of pants and a shirt, you found one item that is of significance. Maybe even something that ends up being passed down to generations.
Maybe COVID has you skipping the storefront shopping this year. If you’re shopping online hit up stores like Etsy for something you can make unique to your loved one. One of my favorite online shopping techniques is to type in what you’re looking for on Google and skip the first page of results entirely. Go to the next page or even page 5, look from there! You’ll probably find a cool retailer you’ve never heard of. From doing this I’ve found little shoppes on the other side of the country that ship their specialty items all over the country!
6. Set Limits
Blah blah blah. Set spending limits blah blah. But it’s true. And it’s not just about the money exactly. Yes, set your spending limit but also limit the amount of people you’re buying for.
Not everyone needs a physical gift. Sometimes you just need to give the gift of time. Not every person you know is going to appreciate a gift. Don’t for overboard trying to include everyone. It’s the holidays! Just send some love.
Set limits with your plans. Making plans can just be just as expensive as buying gifts for everyone. You don’t need to travel to see everyone, although of course it’s nice to do. Just like you don’t have to attend every party. Attending a party? How does that cost money. Well around the holidays you tend you want to bring the host a gift. Maybe a new outfit to fit the theme? Plus it’s BYOB. Maybe you also volunteered to bring a plate. Did you have to buy tickets for this party? These are all things you don’t think about but do significantly cut into your spending. It’s okay to take a weekend to yourself and not attend something.
Set limits this holiday season and don’t spread yourself too thin.
7. Make Cuts in Normal Spending
Something not talked about a lot around this time of year is budgeting for the holidays by making everyday cuts. This might not be an option for everyone but for many, when you stand back and take a look there are some spots where this works. For one, cut the booze. Ughhhh, I know this year has been so hard but being in debt next year is going to be hard too. If you aren’t the type of person who can cut the booze entirely. Cut back. Buy the cheaper brand and limit yourself to weekends.
Other places to cut are lunches out, purchasing specialty coffee on the way to work, and other small spending you do during the week. This isn’t a lifestyle haul over. Just do it for a couple months to give yourself some holiday padding.
8. Stick to Your Lists
The biggest cut I normally make is my groceries. I’m notorious for going to the store and just getting whatever looks good. It’s time to make a list and check it twice and then STICK TO IT! I can save up to $50 a week doing this. Plan out your meals for each day before you go and only buy what you need. This will also cut down on the amount of produce you throw out because it goes bad which is an added bonus!
Other lists to stick to? Your gift list. Don’t add on gifts this year. You already got a great gift! Quantity is not the spirit of the season. Not only do you not need to add gifts, don’t add people onto the list either. The longer you think about it, the more you think to add. If you didn’t think about that person the first 10 minutes you sat down to make your holiday list, do they really need a gift or would a card/phone call/letter work just as well for that person?
9. Propose a Friends Gift Exchange
This probably initially sounds like you’re buying MORE now. A gift exchange? UCK!
But no! This is going to save you money. It’s also a great way to get everyone together (even if it’s via Zoom) and celebrate without putting emphasis on the amount of things you’re receiving.
So the way this saves you money is by doing it with a group of people you’d normally be buying for. So not like a gift exchange at your work where you weren’t going to buy anyone anything but now you’re stuck buying for someone that works on a different floor you don’t even know. Do a gift exchange with your friend group. You now go from buying 10 gifts to buying one really thoughtful one with a spending cap everyone has agreed on. Or maybe convince your family to do one this year! That can REALLY cut down on how much you spend. Plus, it’s about time with your family not what they buy you or how much they spend. Setting a gift exchange can be a great reminder of that.
10. 24 Hour Hold Rule
For impulse shoppers, this one is tough! I try to follow this rule all year round when getting things for myself and not just for holiday budgeting.
Think you found the perfect something but also tend to be someone that still searches for something “even better”? The 24 hour hold rule is for you! Find the item, put it in your online basket (this works best for online shopping as most storefronts have time limits to holding items before they must be placed on the floor again,) and then just wait. Go to bed and sleep on it. If you have forgotten about the item entirely… it probably wasn’t as amazing as you thought. Now you have no problem skipping over it.
Another great thing about letting items sit in your online cart is that if you have account with that particular retailer and they see you haven’t made your purchase, in a couple days you could get an email telling you that the price suddenly dropped or offering you some sort of promotion that makes the item cheaper. Good things come to those who wait!
Let’s save ourselves the stress of spending this season because there is already plenty to be stressed about without our credit card bill looming over us. Take charge of your spending this year with just a little extra thought and planning so you can start 2021 feeling more confident than ever about your finances. No one wants to start the New Year in debt anyway.