Here, some basic tips to cut costs this holiday season without feeling like Scrooge.
The holidays are here … along with the high costs and expectations. We’ve got some basic tips to make the “season of giving” a memorable one without blowing the budget.
1. Make a list (and check it twice): It’s good advice any time of year — develop a budget and stick to it. Start by making a list of holiday expenses (like food, travel and gifts) so you can estimate your costs. Next, devise a plan to cover them — preferably without going into debt. Put the plan in writing to keep spending — and expectations! — in check.
2. Set limits: Whom to buy for and how much to spend can be touchy subjects, but now is the time to have some frank conversations. Is it time to buy for the kids only, draw names out of a hat or go with a theme like “gag gifts”? Should you put a cap on spending, or have a “buy nothing” celebration? Chances are friends and family members are also feeling the pinch and may be more open to alternatives this year.
3. Plan early: Many people rely on credit cards to see them through the holidays, then end up compounding the problem with interest charges (pun intended). Rather than sacrificing in January, start cutting back on non-essentials now and put money aside for the holidays.
4. Pay cash: It’s a great visual reminder to spend smart and avoid impulse buying. Some research shows that when we pay cash we often spend less and put more thought into decisions. If you’re buying big ticket items, ask the store if they offer a discount for paying cash or debit. Some stores offer a modest discount to avoid paying fees to credit card companies.
5. Shop online: If you’re shopping for someone across the country or across the globe, retailers can often ship items for less than it would cost you at the post office. You can also bypass customs and other aggravations by ordering through the local version of a company.
In many cases shipping for orders over a certain dollar amount is free, especially if the receiver has the option to pick up the item from the store instead of home delivery.
6. Give experiences: We’ve all seen the research — memories often mean more to us in the long run than “stuff”. It may sound trite, but sometimes the perfect gift is time with loved ones. For example, have a holiday brunch with friends, take a day trip with the children in your life or have a do-it-yourself spa date with a loved one in a nursing home.
7. Offer services: You can’t put a price tag on an evening of baby-sitting, cooking lessons, gardening help or handyman services, but they can be invaluable to someone who wants them.
If you’re going the services or experience route, remember two key points: presentation and follow-up . Print up a fancy certificate for the gift, and after the holiday chaos wanes call your recipient and set up a date.
8. Use your rewards: Are you amassing points on your rewards cards? Now is the time to cash them in. In many cases, you can use them to buy items or gift cards from a variety of retailers. If you don’t feel comfortable using rewards to purchase gifts, use them to offset other holiday-related costs like groceries and travel.
9. Follow the bargains: Why pay full price when there are bound to be sales? Once you’ve got some gift ideas in mind, start clipping coupons and checking online for deals and discounts.
10. Use a gift card: Re-gifting is a controversial topic for many people, but surveys should many people have one or more unused gift cards kicking around. Why not use them to purchase gifts or other necessities?
For added protection when shopping online, purchase a gift card in store and use it in lieu of a credit card.
Note: If you’re going to use rewards points or gift cards, find out what the return policy is before you buy. Make sure the recipient can return items for cash or store credit.