We’re already into the third week of November and the holiday season is in full swing. While the holidays can fill us with joy from singing carols to drinking hot chocolate, they also fill many with stress from excessive holiday spending.
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans plan to spend an average of $935.58 on holiday shopping this year. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans will purchase items for themselves during that time. Gifts, parties, purchases for one’s self, travel, and other expenses can lead to overspending during the holiday season. Here are some tips to help you keep spending (and your stress) in check.
1) Set a spending limit
Take a survey of your finances and determine how much you can comfortably spend this holiday season. If you’re lucky, you’ve been saving all year and have a reasonable amount set aside now. If not, do some calculations and determine the exact amount of money you have available. Whatever that amount is, commit the number to memory and stick to it!
If you’re even more enthusiastic about keeping your spending in check, think about a spending GOAL instead of a spending limit. Thinking about reaching a goal feels much better than feeling constrained by a limit. Instead of setting your maximum limit at $500, set a goal of spending only $400. You’ll probably think more carefully about your gift selections in order to meet your goal and feel good about yourself when you do meet it.
2) Make a list and check it twice
Make a list of everyone to whom you’d like to give a gift. Then review it and cut it down. If you’ve done this before for a wedding, then you know it can be hard but necessary.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, brainstorm ideas for what you’d like to give each person. Do some research to determine how much your potential gifts cost and if they fall within your total budget. If they don’t, think of other gifts that are less expensive and would substitute well. If you have your heart set on giving a specific gift, consider reallocating money from other gifts or cutting your list down further.
Also, recognize that it’s okay to accept a gift without reciprocating. If an acquaintance gives you a gift, a warm thank you and heartfelt appreciation will do. Don’t feel obliged to give a gift to everyone who gives one to you.
3) Price check everything
Check the price of everything by searching for items online and viewing store advertisements. Take advantage of sales, promotions, and free shipping offered on days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you find something for a lower price elsewhere, many stores like Target will match those lower prices found at other retailers.
Be sure to also check sites such as eBay, Craigslist, thredUp, and Poshmark. These sites are typically thought of as containing second-hand and used goods, but many sellers list brand new items with tags still on them. You may be able to locate hard-to-find items, out-of-season items, or whatever else you’re looking for at reasonable prices.
4) Combine gifts and regift
Consider giving fewer gifts overall by giving one gift per couple or one gift for a family. For example, a cookbook is a nice present for a husband and wife who like to cook instead of giving a sweater to one and a gift card to the other.
If you want to give to a group of people, how about providing in a sharable treat or buying in bulk and dividing the items? Bring an office-wide sweet treat like a pumpkin loaf for co-workers to share, or buy a large set of individually wrapped chocolates and arrange them into smaller gift packs.
While regifting may have a bad reputation, it’s reasonable to give a gift you previously received if you know the recipient would really like it and use it.
5) Give the gift of time
How often do we wish for more time for ourselves and to spend with others? If you have someone you’d like to see more often or know someone who misses socializing, an inexpensive gift is to spend time with him or her. An afternoon visit or an offer to run an errand or have a meal together can be inexpensive but a valued gift for its recipient.
6) Reallocate money in your budget
If you have money set aside for other categories of your budget (e.g., entertainment, eating out, shopping), consider reallocating your money for the month to put more in the holiday spending category. Try cutting back in the other categories by wearing a dress you already have instead of buying a new one for holiday parties. Skip eating out one week in favor of eating lower cost home-cooked meals. The dollars will add up.
7) Simplify gift wrapping and holiday decorations
Gift wrap is pretty but often thrown away without much thought after gifts are opened. Take a survey of the wrapping supplies you already have at home. See if you can reuse past gift bags and ribbons. Try wrapping gifts in a few layers of tissue paper, fun print newspaper or holiday colored scratch paper. If you have to buy supplies, discount and dollar stores often have great deals.
As for decorations, search your house for last year’s decorations and use what you can. Try borrowing from family and friends who may not be decorating this year. Ask family members, especially children, to join you in making inexpensive holiday decorations such as popcorn strings, construction paper wreaths, or even decorated pine cones collected from the park.
8) Remember the true meaning of Christmas
Christmas is really about spending quality time with loved ones. Depending on your family or friends, you may know that they appreciate gifts but value your company most of all. Consider proposing more modest ways of celebrating together. Secret Santa, in which each person is responsible for providing only one gift instead of several gifts, is popular in many social circles. You can also decide to give gifts to only the children and seniors that you know.
Bottom line: While keeping to a holiday budget may be tough, the tips above can help you to make the most of it. Think about how happy you’ll feel come January 1st having stayed within your budget or even met your spending goal!