Like almost everything else these days, the holidays have become a barrage of options and choices, with nearly limitless opportunities to overspend. Here are some tips to help you make sure your family's spending remains in check this holiday season.
Develop a spending strategy
First and foremost, develop a budget. Involving family members will help you establish and maintain realistic expectations at the outset. Remember to include not just gifts, but also holiday meals and parties, travel, greeting cards and stamps, gift wrap, decorations, and any other category you deem necessary. This is also a good time to commit to using cash or charging no more than you can pay off in one month.
Next, devise a method of tracking all your purchases, receipts, gift recipients, and the locations of hidden gifts that you might otherwise forget about. This will make life easier as the chaos ramps up.
Review your credit cards to see if you have any perks. Could you use earned points for travel, or cash-back and gift card rewards to help defray costs?
Track down old gift cards and put them to use now. If you think you'll never use them, trade them in for cash on a discounted gift card website. There, you can sell your old cards and even buy new e-gift cards at a discounted rate, which you can then give as gifts or use for your own purchases.
Put technology to work for you. You can find apps that offer cash back if you shop online; alert you to online coupons available at nearby stores; round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and put the difference into a savings account; and track your online purchases, scan other stores for better prices, and then automatically email the original stores on your behalf to take advantage of the price-match guarantees. There are myriad options available, so be sure to check reviews and privacy/security measures before downloading.
Gifts. Take time to carefully scan all promotional materials before you head out the door or open a browser, because great deals are often available for limited periods of time. For example, some stores have offered generous gift cards in exchange for buying certain products on Black Friday.
Consider giving experiences rather than gifts, which happiness experts say could lead to more sustained levels of well-being. In fact, you may find that you'll spend less overall by giving one or two memorable experiences instead of the usual pile of items.
Create meaningful yet inexpensive gifts, such as photo books, calendars, and family recipe books, using online apps and services. This idea is especially appropriate for gifts from children to older family members.
For larger or extended families, make a game out of gift giving. Consider a "Yankee swap," or implement a gift exchange, where everyone is randomly assigned a person for whom they buy one special gift. Or consider having the entire family chip in a certain amount per person and donating to a favorite charity or sponsoring another family in need.
Food. Nonperishable holiday-related goods typically go on sale in late fall, so plan ahead and stock up. Also keep an eye out for specials; for example, some grocery stores offer a free turkey around Thanksgiving when you spend a certain amount on groceries.
Party planning, decorations, gift wrap. Consider buying the bulk of these supplies at deep-discount stores and splurging on a few special highlight items, such as napkins with an elaborate design, centerpieces of fresh flowers, or fancy bows. If you live in an area where evergreens, autumn berries, and pine cones are plentiful, take advantage of this potentially sophisticated, yet completely free, decor. Or create even more memories by hosting an ornament-making party. Use old costume jewelry or other items to make ornaments and decorations with sentimental value.
Travel. During one of the busiest travel times of the year, deals can be hard to find. Here are some tips:
- Be flexible. If you can postpone your celebration until after the holidays, you may be able to save substantially on travel costs. (You can also shop the post-holiday sales for gifts!)
- Avoid airline baggage fees by using carry-on luggage.
- Use fare-tracking apps to find the best deals.
- Cost-compare alternative modes of travel, such as train and ridesharing.
It's never too early to start saving
Finally, get a jump on next year's festivities by stocking up on supplies during post-holiday sales, opening a savings account with a goal of saving at least as much as you spend this year, and shopping as early as possible to spread spending throughout the year.