Monday, December 5, 2011

Holiday Budgeting/Shopping Tips

With the holidays quickly approaching (can you believe it’s December already!?), it’s very easy for our budgets to be thrown out the window.  Smart, money-conscious people plan ahead and will save money throughout the year so they don’t blow their budget.  Unfortunately, others will rack up credit card balances that will take the entire year to pay off.  The holiday time does not need to be stressful on your mind or your wallet as long as you make conscious decisions.  I’ve summarized a couple key things to keep in mind over the next month that I hope will help you out.
Use your credit card ONLY if you can afford to carry a balance or can pay off the balance next month.


The beauty of credit cards is that you can buy presents for your entire entourage without having to carry around cash or be that person holding up the checkout line because you’re writing a check.  While cash and checks keep our spending in our check, they don’t reap the benefits that come with a rewards credit card (cash back, points).  Just remember, if you’re using a credit card—avoid the embarrassment of credit card denial by checking your balance OFTEN.  Don’t forget that you have a budget to stick to.  It is quite easy to forget your per-person budget when shopping with a piece of plastic.  If you’re going to use a credit card, please use it responsibly.
If you’re strapped for cash, use cash!
It all boils down to the fact that you can’t spend what you don’t have.  If you don’t have the cash, then you can’t make the purchase.
Create a gift budget.
To keep your holiday spending in check, create a gift budget.  First, identify who you plan on buying gifts for.  Next, figure out what your holiday gift budget actually is.  Then divide your holiday gift budget by the number of people you plan on buying gifts for.  This will give you a rough estimate of how much money you can spend per person without going over.  Now, we all know you might want to spend more on a gift for your parents than your extended family that you don’t see very often.  Prioritize your giftee list and adjust your gift-budget allocations accordingly.  Make sure if you want to spend an additional $10 on your husband, you reduce how much you’re spending on Uncle Tim by $10 or you can split it amongst Cousin Timmy and Tommy.
Create a Gift Plan
With your list of giftees in hand and corresponding budget, it’s time to start thinking about how to spend that money.  Unless your giftees are all under the age of 10 and they hand you a copy of the Toys R Us catalog with everything highlighted or if they provided you with a detailed Wish List—sometimes trying to figure out what to get them can be a daunting task.  Throughout the year, take notes of things that interest them by things they say or buy for themselves.  The Gift Plan can be as detailed as you need it to be.  If it needs to be make/model/color specific, that’s fine.  If it needs to be fairly high level, then that’s fine too (Buy Uncle Sam a new top hat).  There are pros and cons to each level of detail.  Remember, an audible can be called at any time.  So you have to be prepared for it.  Be flexible.  Talk to others who may have the same person on their giftee list.  Make sure you’re not getting them the same thing (your giftee will thank you when it comes to not having to stand in the customer service return line).
If the perfect gift blows your budget, make it a joint gift.
Let’s face it….perfect gifts are becoming more and more expensive.  Everyone wants a tablet PC, computer, e-book reader, gaming console, car, and jewelry.  But we aren’t all Oprah Winfrey who can grant everyone’s wishes.  If you really want to get their dream gift, pool your money together.  Nobody said joint gifts were a thing of the past.  They’re all the rage!
If you can’t afford a 64GB WiFi + 3G iPad for all your giftees, but you know they are going to be getting one—you can score big while keeping within your budget.  Every iPad needs a cover, plastic screen, carrying case, or iTunes gift card.  These things don’t cost a lot of money—but they will burden the giftee post-holidays when they have to accessorize their electronics.  Just a little advice…make sure they don’t open your accessory gift before they open the gift that needs accessorizing.  You kind of blow the element of surprise if they open the iPad smart cover before they’ve unwrapped the iPad.
When in doubt, gift card it up.
Some people claim gift cards are impersonal and that they show little to no effort by the gifter.  If you know they are a Starbucks junkie, give them a Starbucks gift card.  They will appreciate you feeding their addiction.  If they like to go out to the movies, give them movie passes or a gift card to the concession stand.  You know these are things that they like and are actually useful.  Just don’t give your brother a Victoria Secret gift card (unless you’re trying to drop hints for his significant other).
Group Coupons
Group Coupons (Living Social, Groupon, Eversave, etc.) are great (as long as you use them!).  If your giftee loves going to the spa and you see a deal—gift it!  Yes, they will know you probably didn’t spend a lot of money on them—but what the heck—it’s FREE for them.  It’s the thought that counts.  Sometimes there are deals for stores (like right now, there is a $20 Gift Certificate for $10 at the Body Shop).  Snag these coupons and buy your presents this way.  Who doesn’t need body scrub or lotion?  I’ve seen a couple deals for lift tickets for a local resort (skiing/snowboarding is NOT a cheap hobby).
Do you make a bangin’ chicken pot pie that is absolutely to die for?  Or maybe you are the next great pastry chef?  If you know that people loves your food—gift them a meal of their choice.  Not only will they LOVE it, but you will be saving that family time/money.  It’s an easy gift for an entire family (maybe even gift a cooking lesson to the kids) that won’t cost you very much.  Are you a crafter?  There are so many design/crafting blogs out there.  Everyone loves something a little homemade, especially if it’s useful!
Email Lists
If you’re like me, then you know how much I am addicted to online shopping (as long as I get free shipping of course).  Before making a purchase online, do a quick online search for coupon codes.  There are always coupon codes floating around out in cyber space that can get you free shipping or discounts.  Sign up for the store’s email list.  When I was young and na├»ve, I used to pay full price for clothes at the Limited, Express, or even Banana Republic.  But I don’t anymore.  Why?  Because they are ALWAYS having sales or coupons.
Cash Back Websites 
And most importantly, use cash back websites (like ebates) when shopping online.  Make ebates your homepage this holiday season so you don’t forget to use them.  The catch to using cash back websites is that you have to navigate to the store website THROUGH the cash back website.  For example, you have to go to the ebates website first—search for your store—then click on the link so you can activate the cash back session.  YOU MUST DO THIS EVERY TIME.  They will send you a check every 3 months, as long as your cash back balance is greater than $5.01.  If you’re new to ebates, sign up here.  Did you know that you can even earn 3% cash back on Groupon purchases through ebates?

How do you budget your money during the holiday season?  Do you have any tips/tricks?

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