As that time of year rolls around again, it’s hard not to feel our blood pressure spike at the mere mention of Christmas shopping. A lot of times when we think about stress related to Christmas shopping, we associate it with a time constraint, and less often associate it with a financial constraint. The holiday season is a financially taxing time of year that not only places strain on our budgets, but our emotional and mental well-being.
I have 100% been there, as I’m sure many others have. Perhaps it was a financially taxing year and the budget falls short of what we need it to be. The list of people we have to shop for seems to have grown exponentially and we don’t have anything started yet. This opens the door to over-spending on gifts because we are in a rush, and perhaps need to be rush ordered in order to make it on time. This leaves us feeling rushed, overspent and drained, feelings which linger long after the holidays and trickle right into January (especially once we see the bills).
As a society, we have turned on the materialistic view of Christmas to full blast, and instead focus less on the time we get to spend with family and the memories we will be making. As the obvious answer to saving the most amount of money would be to boycott gifts altogether, it’s not exactly the most feasible solution.
However, this does not mean you have to go out and spend more than you make and stress yourself out entirely. The holidays are a time of joy and we shouldn’t be sacrificing our emotional well-being to provide joy to others. Below I have created a list of suggestions you can use to cut your costs and not overspend this year that I hope you find helpful.
Create a Budget (and Don’t Go Over it)
I know, groundbreaking. I’m sure you’ve heard of this one many times. Perhaps you may have created a budget in the past and maybe still went over it. Creating a budget is the key no-nonsense way to save money during the holidays (and everyday life, but we’ll just focus on the holidays for this post).
A budget is going to look different for each person, but it really is best to sit down and look at what you can truly afford to spend this Christmas. Can you find a way to allocate more money from other areas without creating trouble for yourself? Can you pay your bills and still have money left over to shop this year? If your state of living (i.e. food, rent, bills) are going to be compromised, then the budget for gifts will not work. You will need to be reasonable with yourself and set a realistic budget based on what you can afford to spend. From there, you will be able to allocate money accordingly to how many gifts you need to purchase from your list.
The key here is to not go over the budget. As soon as you do, you are borrowing money from other areas that it was not originally allocated to in the first place. This is where you run into problems for next month, as you will be shorting yourself this month.
Create a List
Again, groundbreaking. But seriously helpful in the long run. Sit down and gather all of your information needed to make one master list. By creating a list, you can roughly assess whether you will be able to stay within your budget. It’s also handy to have your information all in one place so that when you do start shopping, you won’t miss anything and you will be able to keep track of your purchases.
Ask for the Details
When asking the people on your list what they would like as a gift, ask for specifics. Is there a specific website you need to purchase this from? Do they have more than one gift idea? What do they really need this year?
Personally, I have started asking two simple questions each time I gather information for a gift. 1. Is there something you need or would really like to have 2. Can you give me 3 gift ideas. These questions sort the wants from the needs, and also give you options. By asking for at least 3 ideas, you aren’t stuck with one gift choice only. By asking for 3 ideas, you can choose one that fits within your budget, and it will take the guesswork out of you having to find them the perfect gift as it is something they will actually use.
The more details you can get the better. This ensures the gift will not go to waste, and that you will be able to find out exactly what they would like and how to go about purchasing said gift.
Start asking for gift ideas in November. There’s nothing worse than getting down to the wire the week before christmas. In addition, this gives you time to look for upcoming sales (including Black Friday). The more time you have to plan, the more flexibility you will have with finding the price that fits into your budget.
If November is still too late for you, ask your family and friends to update you with gift ideas throughout the year as they have them. This will also give you flexibility with watching for sales and price changes with plenty of time to spare before Christmas (and depending on the store’s policy, you may be able to take the receipt and item back for a further discount if the sale begins after you’ve purchased it).
Put in the time and effort to research the product across many different platforms. Although time-consuming, you can see variances in prices simply from scouring fliers on your everyday purchases. Gift shopping is no different. Use your research to look for who’s hosting the lowest price, or whether you will be able to get a lower price through price matching. After learning this trick, it feels irresponsible to my wallet if I purchase something in the first store I see. I usually check a minimum of 3 websites before making a purchase to ensure I’m getting the best price.
Sales, Store Loyalty Programs and Open Box
Sales are self-explanatory. Simply watch the sales of the product and jump when the price is right. This can be tedious but if you want the lowest price you’ll have to pay attention to prices. Most stores have weekly price changes and mark-downs so it’s key to keep an eye peeled if you have your sights set on an item.
Store loyalty programs are a great way to earn points that later save you money off later. Although it’s a tempting mindset to save the money on yourself, it really makes no difference if you use the money towards a gift for someone else or a purchase for yourself. If you end up using the money back, you can extend your budget for Christmas, or even end up saving some money. This is a great trick for if you happen to be hosting a dinner or party. Use store loyalty points at grocery stores to get free groceries (in addition to coupons and flyer searching) for your party. This will keep your hosting costs low and allow you to allocate that money somewhere else into the budget.
A lot of electronic stores have ‘open box’ items (someone opened the box and returned the item, but they must sell it as an open box). Often the product has been minimally, if at all, used and comes with a warranty that guarantees coverage of your item. The ‘open box’ items are a great way to get a lower price on electronics (especially since they’re essentially risk free due to the warranty).
One of my personal favourite tricks to saving money. If there is a high-priced item a family member or friend is desiring, attempt to get a sibling or a friend to go in half on said product. This way the person still gets the product they desire without you breaking the bank to do so. At the end of the day, the person receiving the gift is not going to be upset that you personally didn’t spend the full amount, but they will be thrilled about the amazing gift they are receiving.
Opt for a Gift Exchange
For those with large friend groups or families, gift giving can get pricey if you are expected to give gifts to all 12 of your aunts and uncles and umpteen cousins. Instead of breaking the bank and spending a ridiculous amount, suggest to your family or friends the option of holding a Secret Santa or a gift giving exchange. This way everyone will receive a gift, and people can swap gifts as they so please. Set a budget everyone is comfortable with and end up saving by only purchasing one gift.
Do What Makes You Comfortable
At the end of the day, you are your own referee when it comes to your budget and how you spend money. Only you will be able to know how your feeling in regards to spending, and whether you are personally able to afford it. Sometimes this means saying no, such as saying no to being included in your 5th Secret Santa, or saying no to a holiday party where you need to provide a dish. Set your own limits and say yes to what you can afford. Be honest with yourself, because come January you will still be responsible for your everyday expenses. It’s easy to get swept up in the holiday spending craze, but planning and diligently sticking to your budget can help prevent the typical overspend.
I hope this helped ease some of the holiday stress. Did any of these tips make you think? What tricks do you use to keep your spending in check around the holidays? Let me know in the comments!