It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most difficult when forced to stick to a budget. From hostess gifts to new decorations for the tree, holiday marketing temptations are everywhere. When it comes to your holiday budget, it’s best to have a defined game plan. Here are a few steps to celebrate the holidays without going broke during this “merry and bright” season:
- Write it down. Make a list of everyone you plan on buying gifts for and set a specific dollar amount. While shopping, you will no doubt find countless gift ideas for people outside of your list, but make a commitment to stay on course. You will be thankful for your restraint when your January credit card statement arrives in the mail.
- Shop online. It is far easier to avoid the lure of impulse buys and glitzy holiday marketing when you are sitting behind a computer in your pj’s. Invest some time in checking multiple websites before deciding on a purchase. Scope out deals and coupons and take advantage of free shipping to help you stick to you holiday budget. Take a look at the return policy before hitting “purchase”.
- Don’t feel pressured to give dollar for dollar. Your annual gift from your flashy cousin will soon arrive by UPS, but you have options. You can let your cousin know you are scaling back this year and putting a priority on other forms of gift giving such as volunteering and donating to charities. Or, you can give what you can afford, and not feel bad about the price tag of someone else’s gift not matching your own.
- If you receive a gift from someone not on your list, resist the urge to scramble for a last minute gift to reciprocate. Simply thank them for the gift, and leave it at that – it’s not necessary to run to the gift closet or out to the store. Repeat after me, “A gift is a gesture of goodwill, not a competitive sport.”
- Concentrate on making memories. Instead of focusing on tangible items, put the emphasis on spending time with friends and family for a night of games, a season of potlucks, or an ugly sweater contest. Start a new tradition such as an ornament exchange, a fun way to celebrate the season without going broke. Make sure to state the gift giving rules early so there will be no confusion.
- Be creative. Thoughtful, inexpensive gifts include herbs from your own garden, craft items such as soaps you make yourself, a basket of fruit, baked goods, homemade liqueurs or an invitation to your family lake house. A quick search on “DIY Holiday” on Pinterest returned hundreds of ideas. Don’t forget the presentation, which is as important as the gift itself.
- Re-gift with caution. Regifting is only an option when the circumstances are right; you have a brand-new, never-used item that you know the recipient would appreciate. Don’t jeopardize a relationship just to stay within your holiday budget. Also, regift outside of the social circle where you received the gift. The gift must be in its original box from the store that is on the packaging. If any of this criteria is missing, skip it. And, there is nothing wrong with the truth when regifting an item. Say, “I received this beautiful candle and it’s not my scent, but it IS your favorite. I would like for you to have it.”
- Start today. Desperate last-minute scrambling is not conducive to saving money. The more time you give yourself to do your shopping, the more choices you have and the smarter you can be about making the most of your budget.
As you are making your holiday gift list, don’t forget to include those who have provided loyal service to you and your family members this year. My Holiday Tipping Guide has recommendations for everyone from the babysitter to the dog groomer. Or, download a print and screen-friendly PDF here.