It's here. That time of year when suddenly, all of our money is gone and we don't know why. Well, okay... we do know why, yet we just can't seem to stick to a budget when the holidays hit. But getting through the next month without going deeply in debt can be done. Try doing these things before you head for the stores, and you'll come back home with a little more in your wallet!
Determine Your Holiday Budget
Hopefully you've got your regular month-to-month budget figured out before making a holiday budget. (No? Find out how to create a budget here!) Once that's done, have a look at what your monthly disposable income is (how much you have leftover to spend each month after paying the usual bills and expenses.) From there, take some time to figure out what a comfortable amount of money to spend, that you wouldn't normally be spending in a month, is for you. Consider what you can cut back on for a few weeks that may help you save up quickly, take out a small personal loan if you're in a financial situation to do so, see what you can afford to pull from your savings, or try supplementing your income with these creative methods.
Make Your Lists + Check Them Twice
Before you even start browsing the stores for holiday gifts "just to get an idea" (we all know how that ends up), make a list. Actually, make a few lists and keep them with you AT ALL TIMES from now until your last holiday shopping day. I'm a list person. For everything. Maybe you are too. Maybe you aren't. But I promise that doing so around the holidays will work wonders! Personally, I keep lists in my purse from mid-November through Christmas that include:
- Who to Buy For: For several years there, I was going all out. Like, to a point of buying for people I hardly knew, just because I felt obligated or saw something that reminded me of them while I was out and thought they just had to have it. Make a list of those people you absolutely must buy something for and stick to it. If you want to surprise your co-workers, youth group, or another organization you're involved with, try doing a Secret Santa or bring in baked goods for the entire crowd instead of buying something for each individual.
- What to Buy: Next to each individual listed, jot down a gift that they've told you they want or need, or a detailed description of what you should be on the lookout for. Having a solid idea in mind instead of just strolling through the stores and waiting for the perfect thing to jump out at you will save lots of time and money.
- A Price Limit: Create a price limit per-person as well, especially if you have a lengthy list of people to buy for. By giving yourself a dollar amount for each person and sticking to it, you'll know just how much you'll spend at most and not go into complete shock when you review your receipts afterwards.
It may sound silly to have a list for holiday food necessities when you don't really need to buy ingredients or platters until the week of or night before, but let me just tell you about the countless number of times I've gone out a couple of days before a family gathering only to have to research a new recipe in the middle of the fifth store because every place is out of EVERYTHING. It stinks. Big time. If you start stocking up on less-perishable food items that you know you'll need now, and constantly see that list up to the last minute, you'll likely be far better off and remember to grab what you need with time to spare. Plus, it leaves a little extra time to catch the best deals.
Those little things like driving through the park to see the holiday lights and donating to your favorite charities are what make the season bright, but they likely also sneak your money away without you even realizing it. Make a list of the typical things you do during the holiday season - from taking part in your company bake sale to dropping change into the red kettle, from buying a Christmas tree to getting holiday portraits taken, and paying extra to mail them out - so that you're better prepared to budget for these little joys and not be left wondering where those extra few dollars escaped to.
Do Your Research
Great, now you've got your lists. But WAIT! Before you leave the house for the stores or Proceed to Checkout from your online shopping cart, make sure you've found the best deal on the items you know you're buying for sure. Research the item online and see if places like Amazon or eBay have it for a lower price than mass-retailers. Also, see if any of what you're buying is included in the much-loved (or loathed), upcoming Black Friday sales (don't worry, you don't have to brave the crowds... many stores offer online Black Friday sales, too!)
Sign-Up for Member Rewards, Use Discounts + Clip Coupons
This is the time of year that signing up for your pharmacy rewards or other store memberships and mailing lists can really pay off. Make sure you're checking your mail and e-mail, as well as your mobile apps for any and all stores you've subscribed to in one way or another and see what kind of deals they're offering. This is also a popular time of year for stores and online retailers to offer special discounts for new members, so start signing up if you haven't already! And don't forget to scour the Internet as well as newspapers and magazines for coupons.
Withdraw Cash + Ditch the Card
It may seem way easier to just swipe your card from purchase to purchase instead of handling and keeping track of bills and change, but taking out a set amount of cash and using only that to shop for the holidays will help you to stop and think before grabbing "just one more stocking-stuffer" or taking advantage of all of the "cheap deals that won't do much harm." Oh, the lies we tell ourselves while behind a shopping cart!
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Whew! It might seem like quite a bit to do before even getting around to the shopping part, but if you make sure you've taken all of these steps before diving into the holiday spending craze, you'll find that you can save much more than you ever thought possible during gift-giving season.
Happy holiday shopping, readers!