Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tips For Having a Merry Christmas (And Not Going Broke) Part 1

This post is for those who get overwhelmed with the outward flow of cash that happens this time of year. If you're looking for tips on being "happy" this Christmas, this is a start, but not a complete list beyond how to save some money. If you've got kids, this post is for you. If you buy gifts every year, this post is for you. I think we can all benefit from using a few tricks up our sleeve so we can survive the holidays without having to sell our house by January.

The holidays are expensive. No doubt. The average American spends roughly $800 a year on presents alone (according to Not to mention all the upcoming travel expenses, gatherings at our home, decorations, food for all the parties, our electricity bill and do we really need to get our pet a Christmas gift, too!?? Yes, it would be nice and hopefully with a few of these tips you'll be able to have something for your furry friend under the tree this year, as well.

Tip #1: Make a Plan

Set a budget. Figure out how much you want to spend on your kids, mother-in-law, your neighbor next door, or child's teacher at school (by the way, Starbucks gift cards are always a hit with the teachers ;). If you walk into any shopping situation without a plan you are asking for spending troubles. So sit down with a pen and paper and write it all out. List all the people you would like to give gifts to and plan out the costs of those gifts. You can see what you're big picture total looks like and if you need to scale down a little. Or - hey, wouldn't this be great- add a little more!

Tip #2: Prioritize

A gigantic list is pretty intimidating to anyone thinking about a spending budget for the holidays. It's essential to prioritize who you focus allocating all those precious dollars to, like your spouse and children, for example. For some people, the thought really does count with a handwritten note in a card or sincere letter of appreciation. People make jokes of Aunt Ida's (name changed to protect the innocent) Christmas knitted sweater, but handmade gifts are wonderful to give when appropriate and geared toward the individual. Just because you feel disappointed that you can't BUY some friends, family, neighbors, (you fill in the blank) something doesn't mean you have to leave them off your list entirely. Tis' the season of giving...not just buying.

Tip #3: Pay with Cash

If you regularly use credit cards make a vow not to shop this holiday season with them. Why? Because with all the spirited music in the background and shoppers all in a frenzy to find the perfect gift, it's very easy to get sucked into spending more than what you planned on spending. If you have cash set aside, it creates more discipline. I do this with my groceries as well. I use cash. When you have to hand those twenties to the cashier it makes you really think about how much that particular item costs - more so than a quick swipe of the credit card. You'll be amazed at how powerful this tip alone is to your spending habits.

Tip #4: Start Early

How early? Well, it all depends at how good you are hiding those Santa gifts from the kids. So lets just say that's entirely up to you. I personally begin setting things aside for loved ones for Christmas and birthdays in September, since all our birthdays kick off at the beginning of October and it's a whirlwind from there! It helps to break up the cost of all the presents so you're not hit with them all in the same paycheck. Not to mention, you can really score some great deals on items that go on sale since you'll have an idea what you're looking for with your plan.

Tip #5 : Use Coupons

I love all the toy coupons out right now. Pair them with store coupons and a great sale and you're looking at some really inexpensive toys - and a very happy wallet. You need to grab those deals asap since you'll be competing with the 'big dog' couponers for those items. Get to the store early. If you don't see any more of the item you're looking for call around at other local stores and don't give up! Also see if they can offer you a raincheck (that typically locks in the sale price and some stores will honor expired store coupons with the raincheck item). That's why I always advise to snag high value coupons when you can, because not only can you miss out on the item not being available -if you wait too long- the coupons might be out of print as well. Make good use of coupons when you get them to give more room in your budget for the other things on your list.

Tip #6: Price Match

My favorite price matching utilizes Amazon and Target. Did you know Target with price match Amazon items? Make sure you go in there with your iPhone or iPad ready to show proof. You can save some big money doing this. This is great to do with store ads as well. Walmart, Target, and Toys 'R' Us are all examples of stores that will price match a competitor store. Check with your store's policy to be sure - before you shop! Always good to either call or ask for it in writing on your next trip so you can be confident with your newbie cashier when they give you a blank stare. You can smile and ask for a manager to explain what you're trying to do. It's a great learning experience for everyone.

Well, that's it for Part I. For Part II click here!

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Got a suggestion on saving money during the holiday season? Please share with us in the comments below! I may even add it to my Part II list, so be sure to include your name!

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