It is less than two weeks to Christmas. All the major shopping malls have been decked out in holiday splendour since Halloween. Yet many of us are just starting or still doing their Christmas shopping. As you are doing your annual holiday shopping, take a moment and consider how last year went and if you learned anything.
Did you spend more than you planned? Bought more gifts than you needed? Or bought less and then had to cram last-minute shopping and pay higher prices as a result? Take note of all the painful and costly lessons to make sure this year’s shopping will go better. Here are some strategic ways you can save money while shopping for the holidays.
Set a budget
Look at the money you have on hand, and you can also add money you are sure will be coming your way. This would include any cash you saved up for the holidays. Don’t count bonuses that may or may not be given to you. Then remember how much you spent last year and whether you ended up paying for holiday bills well into the new year. Stick to a reasonable budget that will not make you go into debt, and that includes credit card spending.
Make a list (and check it twice)
If you still have your gift list from last year, that’s a good place to start. You can remove names and add, depending on your interactions with people this year. A good rule is not to include people you did not see in the last 12 months, or even last 6 months. You can still remember them, maybe with an electronic card or greeting but not necessarily a physical gift. Then try and see if there are people you can put into groups, so you can just give one gift instead of several personal gifts. When your list is ready, look at your total budget and assign gift prices for each.
Consider the gift of choice
One practical gift is to present them with shopping or dining certificates. You will find that this puts less pressure on you – instead of having to gift an aunt a purse that will cost $150, a $50 gift shopping certificate will let her decide what to buy and add to it if needed. With dining vouchers, they can decide when to eat out and with whom. What’s more, when you buy gift certificates in bulk, some stores offer you a discount to the face value allowing you to stretch your limited budget.
Redeem credit card loyalty points
It’s become a bit of a personal tradition to sweep all the rewards points I earned in my credit cards for all the spending I did in the past year to reward myself. This has allowed me to either get extra spending money thanks to electronic gift cards, purchasing fuel, or my abundant hotel stays. So if you missed adding your name to your holiday list, do it now. You deserve a gift as much as anyone in your list. Or if you are truly selfless, you can redeem anyway and add to the gift pile you will distribute.
Beware of pay later dates
Don’t welcome the new year with debt. A pay later plan is a double edged sword. On the one hand, you can be grateful for the reprieve and the chance to shop now and meet your holiday “obligations” and postpone your worries until later. But that’s the key word – later – as the bill will still come and the last thing you want is to be paying for your holiday shopping well into March, April, May or June. You should aim for welcoming the new year with no debt from holiday spending, and that will really be a happy New Year.
Use store delivery
Many stores these days offer online shopping and even better, free shipping for a minimum purchase. Try to take advantage of free delivery as much as you can – as it’s one less thing on your holiday to-do list. If it’s free or cost is low (or lower than if you arranged the delivery and got stuck in traffic), that’s one deal you should grab with both hands. Make sure you can track delivery though, and have a way of confirming that the gift reached your intended recipient.
Get ready to haggle
Get ready to haggle because this is the best way to get bargains. If you plan to do your shopping in Christmas markets or community fairs, you can indeed haggle. Never accept the first price quoted unless it is already much lower than you expected or saw in other stores. Vendors understand that haggling is a way of life and very few will take it against you if you ask for a discount. If you are bulk buying, the more aggressive your haggling should be.
Gift what your want to receive
Shopping fatigue can happen to anyone, but know that it shows. When you get a generic or poorly planned gift, you can’t help but feel that you were not important enough to the giver. Contrast this to when you get a thoughtful gift that you like and will find useful, and that’s a gift that makes a lasting impression. While you may have saved money on the former, you lost too as that gift will likely end up in a recycle pile or tossed at the back of a closet somewhere. If you plan your shopping well, there’s no reason for you not to find a tasteful gift that’s priced within your budget.
Get two birds with one gift
The holidays tend to bring out the best in everyone, and generosity is easily displayed through the gifts that we exchange. But how many pens, notebooks, vase, scarves, wallets do you need? One practical thing would be to consider a donation in your receiver’s name to a charity that means a great deal to them and/or to you. These gifts are almost always welcome – anything from a donation that will allow a family to enjoy a Christmas meal or a deserving child to receive a gift, a tree to be planted, or an animal rescue organization the list can go on and on. Who knows? Your gift may spark more interest and you will drive your family and friends to pay it forward.
Its that last suggestion that goes a long way for me. Most of us have more then we need or can afford to share the Christmas spirit with the less fortunate. Its true that your gift may spark interest and get family and friends to pay their generosity forward. There are other methods like family gifts and exchanging names that allow you the joy of receiving a Christmas gift and allowing others to as well, those who may not otherwise. After it’s the Christmas spirit that’s important in Keeping Life Current.