December brings celebration and good cheer, but this month also puts many people at risk of overspending. Here are a few tips to help you keep your budget under control, yet still enjoy the holidays:
Pare down your gift list. Are there people you exchange gifts with every year out of obligation? And then the items you receive end up in a garage sale or Goodwill bag? Opening presents is fun for the children in a family, and who wants to take that away? But do all the adults really need to exchange gifts as well? Perhaps a nice Christmas card or get-together would suffice. Some large families save money by drawing names, so everyone will still get a nice gift but no one will feel overwhelmed and over-extended.
Consider charitable donations. Some people on your list may be difficult to buy for, since they appear to “have everything.” Is there a cause near and dear to a friend’s heart? If so, ask if you can make a contribution in the person’s name. No extra clutter for the recipient, and a possible tax write-off for you!
Consider homemade or perishable gifts. If you have the talent and energy, why not bake cookies or make other holiday comestibles? The recipients can enjoy them with family and friends over the season, and not have to worry about more clutter coming into their homes. Or perhaps a wreath, plant, or other holiday decoration?
Ship early. If you are shopping for people who live out of town (and you won’t be getting together with them over the holidays), ship your gifts early to avoid paying expedited shipping rates or rush fees to guarantee delivery by Christmas. Of course, this also requires getting your shopping done early. Some people collect gifts year round—when they travel, or when they see something on sale a loved one would like. If you do this, just remember where you put that “perfect item” you bought last May.
Save money on shipping. If you shop online, have the gifts sent directly to the recipient instead of to you, to re-package and mail. Most vendors will allow you to include a personalized message, and also to track your package. Double up purchases where practical to take advantage of free shipping offers. If you are mailing packages yourself, consider gifts such as books or CDs that can be sent via the media rate.
Shop around. Take advantage of sales. Retailers are clamoring for your business, so don’t pay full price. Look for promotions, coupons, competitor matching. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. And just because an item is located at the head of the aisle, with a big SALE sign, or just because it is sold in an outlet or warehouse store, doesn't mean it's a bargain. Have an idea of what you should expect to pay before making a major purchase.
Pare down your Christmas card list. Are you sending cards to people you haven’t seen or heard from in years? Maybe it’s time to cut them off. And consider emailing holiday greetings where appropriate instead of paying the postage to mail an actual card. It arrives faster and cuts down on clutter for the recipient.
Be cautious about gift cards. If you don’t know what to buy someone, but you know that person loves a particular store or restaurant, a gift card might be a wise choice. It’s flexible, easy, and economical to mail. But make sure you understand--and communicate to the recipient--any restrictions, expiration dates, inactivity fees, etc., that could dilute its value.
Be cautious about surprises. We all dream of surprising that special someone with the perfect gift, but in reality, many surprises turn out to be unwanted. (Especially live ones.) A direct conversation with the recipient might take some of the fun out of the holiday, but could save time in the Returns department on January 2.
Go easy on the food and drink. Holidays are the time to indulge, but be sensible. No need to jeopardize your health by overdoing the sugar and fat, or to get a D.U.I. after too much spiked eggnog.
What tips do you have for holiday savings? I would love to hear your comments.