The holiday season is a time of cheer, family, and of course, high spending. Yes, it’s that time of year again — the time to break open the checkbooks, fight for position in at the crowded shopping centers, and pray that you still have enough money in the bank to keep the heat on when all is said and done. This year it’s time for a change. Being frugal during the holidays is tough, but it can be done. Below are several tips to help you save money this year and still put a smile on the faces of your loved ones.
Set A Holiday Budget
The single most important decision you can make this holiday season is exactly how much you can afford to spend on gifts. Many people make the mistake of hitting the stores without having set a budget, and this leads to serious overspending. An effective holiday budget should include a total spend number that is set before you even begin thinking about the people you’re buying gifts for.
Once you know what your total budget is, you can begin to divide it among the people on your list. Plan this out on paper, allocating a specific amount of money to each person. Visually seeing what shopping will cost you this holiday season will put your mind at ease and prevent you from going broke at the local department stores.
Decide On Gifts Before You Shop
Okay, so you’ve got your budget in place and know how much you will be spending on each person. Time to hit the stores, right? Actually, a better idea is to go one step further and pick out specific gifts for each person before you even leave your house.
Sometimes when we don’t know what to get a person, we go shopping and figure well find something they’ll like once we’re in the store. This time of year, the malls are glimmering with huge sale displays, flashy advertisements, and alert sales people all aimed at making you spend more than you planned. If you don’t have specific items in mind, you will be buying on impulse alone, which could easily cause you to spend way over budget.
Use Creative Wrapping Paper
Of course, presents aren’t the only expense of the holiday season — you need something to wrap them in. This year, avoid the fancy Hallmark gold foil wrapping paper and consider using something more cost efficient. You children and family members are only going to tear it apart as they anxiously open the gifts anyway, so why waste money on it?
If you have stacks of old newspaper laying around, use this to wrap your gifts. Alternatively, you can recycle old gift bags that you received from past holidays. No one at your holiday party will ever stop to critique your choice of wrapping paper when they know there’s a gift beneath it for them.
Use Comparison Shopping Sites
If you’ve followed the advice above and decided on specific gifts to buy for your friends and family, why not avoid the crowded stores altogether and buy online? Not only will this save you time and energy, you will never be temped to pick up last minute items hanging from attractive looking shelves.
Comparison-shopping websites such as PriceGrabber and NexTag are a great start and could potentially save you hundreds of dollars over retail prices. Simply enter in the items you wish to buy, and the website will scour the Internet for the lowest prices around. You will then have the chance to pick the price you find most reasonable and buy it right there.
Put Up Less Lights
Electricity isn’t cheap, and leaving bundles of holidays lights running all day and night can certainly be a drain on your utilities budget this time of year. Of course, showing holiday spirit by sprucing up the house with festive illuminated decor is a part of the joy of the holidays, so you don’t want to become a scrooge and leave the lights off all year.
To meet somewhere in the middle, consider putting up half the amount of lights, perhaps by hanging them only on the side of the house that faces the street. Turning the lights off during the day helps to keep the bills down, as do low energy holiday lights that consume less electricity than traditional bulbs.
Try Buying Used
If you’re on a tight budget this year, consider buying some of your more expensive items used. Many people on eBay and Craigslist routinely sell very slightly used electronics at fractions of the retail price. These flat screen TVs, game systems, etc, may have only been turned on a handful of times and work just as good as new, but because they’ve been taken out of the box, you can get them at a steal of a price.
Of course, you must exercise good judge on these networks, as there are plenty of sellers out to scam unsuspecting shoppers this time of year. Remember the if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. This means that the ultra-wide screen HD-TV selling for $50.00 is probably not the real deal — steer clear of these sheisters.
Avoid Opening Store Charge Cards
A big temptation around this time of year is to open a handful of new store charge accounts to do the shopping with. It seems so appealing, because you’ll get your shopping done without having to come out of pocket right now. The problem with this approach, however, is that store cards generally carry extraordinary high interest rates.
If you are slow in paying the cards back later (as many consumers tend to be) your gifts could end up costing you double what you paid at the time. This is the trap of consumer debt — don’t be tricked into the illusion. If you can’t afford everything you want to buy, cut your losses and leave, no one will like you any less after the holidays are over.
About the Author: Diane Ferraro is the Advertising Director for Robbins Brothers. Robbins Brothers provides a huge selection of rings so customers can find the perfect engagement ring. Started back in the 1920’s, the core value of the company is still “love the customer.”