Budgets and Bargains

Black Friday and Cyber Monday blazed a trail through our wallets and purses only to become a fading distant memory of the current holiday shopping season. While we’re all busy deckin’ the halls and hittin’ the malls keep in mind that the big day is happening in 23 days.

Whether you’re buying or not, it’s hard not to get sucked in to the deals to be had, sales, and the frenzy of yummy delights gracing the office, parties, and at our own homes. We start thinking about our new year’s resolutions, family and friends we haven’t seen, and we start really noticing that time is flying by.

Keeping the two B’s in mind — budgets and bargains — during the holiday season and all year through is a great way to keep things in perspective. Condition yourself to have holiday willpower, as in “I will power my way through the holidays without blowing my budget” and “I will power my way through without having to pay for this year’s gifts the entire way through the next.” 

If you’re serious about wanting to avoid the bill chill come January, keep the following in mind:

  1. Pre-season prepping. Did you set up a Holiday/Christmas Club at your financial institution to help you save money throughout the year for your seasonal shopping?
  2. Payday countdown. Have you figured out how many paychecks you have coming in before the big day?
  3. Lists. Did you make a list of people to buy for and how much you can spend on each one? While shopping, pay attention to the dollar limits you’ve set. You  may need to re-evaluate your intended gift idea in order to stick to your budget.
  4. The office. How are you planning to handle office events – do you feel obligated to contribute to gift collections, parties, etc. or do you politely decline? What is your work policy regarding these sorts of events?
  5. Added extras. Did you factor in the added extras when planning your budget – stamps, wrapping paper/gift bags, bows and tape, packing supplies, cards, shipping expenses, gift tags, the tree, any new trimmings/decorations you want, and so on?
  6. Eats. What about your holiday meal or party? What are you planning to have and provide or will you provide the main dish and ask your guests to bring a dish to share to help cover expenses?
  7. Make it about you.  If you don’t budget yourself into your spending mix you may begin to feel resentful as you’re spreading love and joy to others. Do something nice for you.
  8. Pay using cash. When making your list and establishing your gift spending limits, consider putting that specific dollar amount per person in individual envelopes with their names on them. As you shop, you can only use the money placed within the designated person’s envelope. When their budgeted money is gone, you’re done shopping for them. Factor in any cards or stocking stuffers when establishing your per person budget.
  9. Charge or no? If using credit, remember it’s a loan. It doesn’t matter if its VISA, MasterCard, Discover, Boscov’s, Macy’s, Sears, Victoria’s Secret or whoever’s card. It’s a credit card. It’s a loan. It means monthly payments, potentially high interest rates and the potential to carry a monthly balance. That translates into the potential to spend more money both pre- and post season. If you use a credit card, make sure you earn rewards like an annual cash-back rebate on purchases or you pay it off immediately when the statement comes.
  10. Bargains. Take the time to read through sales flyers. Compare between stores. Check out online bargains. The closer to Christmas Eve, the better the bargains.
  11. Timing could be everything.  Is there a law that says your holiday shopping must be done by midnight on December 24? Not that we are aware of. Why not spread out the holiday gift season between Christmas and New Year’s? While we all love getting our gifts on Christmas Day, isn’t it fun to get a gift later, too? Start new traditions. Spreading it out over the holiday week not only allows extra time to prepare, but you may also be able to take advantage of the even bigger “day after” sales for some of your gifts.
  12. Big heart, small wallet? Contrary to popular belief, gifts do not have to cost money. How many times do you hear, “Oh, you don’t need to buy anything for me. I don’t need anything. If I want it, I go buy it. I have a house full of stuff, I don’t want any more stuff.” Ok then, don’t buy anything. Gifts can be intangible — think of the immeasurable value. Do chores for others. Fix their car. Offer to paint their house. Babysit for free. Offer to make dinner for your favorite friend couple and bring them a “dinner date” to their house while you babysit their kids at your house. Volunteer to pet sit. Offer to do a top to bottom cleaning for someone.  The intangible gift-giving ideas are endless and there’s no right or wrong gift idea here!
  13. Learn to say no. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Don’t choose to feel guilty about saying no. If extravagant gifts mean the difference between paying your rent or mortgage next month and holiday overspending, then this is a no-brainer. You can always do something thoughtful for someone post-holiday like treat them to lunch, a coffee outing, etc.
  14. Think quality — as in quality time. Creating priceless memories with family and friends is far more valuable than the gimme, gimme, gimme, get me, get me, get me of the season.
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