The holidays are upon us and “must have” advertising is at its strongest. Many retailers 4th quarter business will determine if they have profits or losses for the year creating a marketing environment that is particularly aggressive. With the move to e-commerce, not only do you get bombarded with advertising and “buy me” from every store you pass, but also all across the web.
These enticing commercials are designed to weaken your resolve to stay on budget and cause you to overspend. Here are 10 effective strategies to keep your finances on track and eliminate the January hangover that occurs when impulse buying takes control over your holiday spending.
1) Holidays are about family and friends not necessarily gifts. It is natural to want to shower loved ones with gifts and give them everything they want. Children beg for the latest toys and gadgets based on the commercials they see. Generally, by the time the next year rolls around you have no idea what gifts you gave or received. The toys are broken and everyone has moved on the next popular “thing.” You are much more likely to remember who you spent time with rather than what gifts you received. Keeping the purpose of the Holidays in mind will help prioritize spending and keep you from regrets.
2) Make a list. Shop with that list. There is something about writing things down that helps you stay on track with buying. Shopping with a specific list reduces impulse purchases and can help check your gift-list off when items are on sale. You can create a written list in a small notebook or on a convenient app so you having it handy as you venture out. Apps are available that can help you maintain a list of things you want to buy as well as tracking spending.
3) Calculate all Holiday costs, not just gifts. When you put together a holiday budget it is common to only budget for gifts. Holiday costs can take many forms. This might include travel to see family, entertaining, holiday parties at work, and decorations. When these costs are not built into your budget it can result in spending more than you anticipated. Once you have a budget established look for ways to reduce everyday costs so debt is not increased during the holidays. For example, maybe you choose not to eat out as often in November and December to free up more money for entertaining.
4) Know non-sale pricing for the items on your list. Prices are different from store to store and a discount store might have a lower everyday price than a department store’s sale price on the exact same item. When you are an informed consumer you are able to recognize the best deals and can capitalize on them as they present themselves. There are “comparison websites” as well that will help you locate the best sale price on any given item.
5) Know the total costs. Shipping, sales tax, and cash back offers can blur the lines on what items actually cost. During the holidays many companies offer promotions such as $10 off when you spend X amount of dollars, 20% off your total order, or cash back that can be used on the next visit. Online sales may not require state sales tax but may charge shipping. Online purchases closer to the holiday may require expedited shipping which can eat up savings.
6) Use coupon codes. With online access and apps, it is easy to search for current coupon codes for particular stores as well as specific items. Use the technology available to find additional discounts and savings. Companies offer discounts to encourage loyalty and the codes are designed to entice you to spend more and can include spending thresholds to qualify for the discount. Also consider generic or off brand items instead of the name brand. Sometimes the features and benefits are about the same but the cost could be significantly less. Google “discount or coupon codes” for your specific product and try the list at checkout.
7) Last minute shopping is more expensive because you don’t have the luxury of time and can create an environment of stress resulting in over-spending. The selection is reduced and you can no longer count on sales to get the cost down. You may find yourself compromising not only on what you want to buy, but on how much you need to spend. Holiday sales start early and planning ahead gives you the leverage to wait until the items you want goes on sale.
8) Double check the gift list or Re-invent gift-giving. Reducing the number of giftsyou buy will directly impact the budget. Drawing names or putting a dollar limit on family gifts are popular choices to keep everyone’s costs at bay. Some families forgo adult gifts and focus on the children, while others eliminate the gift exchange altogether. For those who still want to exchange gifts consider making gifts or offering services instead of spending money on store bought gifts. Pinterest is a great resource for amazing ideas on a shoestring. It won’t feel like you were “cheap” and the gifts will be a lot more personal. In a time when everyone seems to want gift cards and money, a personalized gift will be more appreciated than ever.
9) Don’t jump when offered a discount to open a credit card. Companies push credit card sign ups over the holidays. Save an additional 10% and it only takes a minute. Even online stores have joined the game. Saving a few dollars just to get a credit card can encourage overspending.
10) Use cash or a single credit card will help you manage the budget more efficiently. When you charge purchases on several cards it is hard to know exactly what has been spent. Take one card and only use it for holiday spending. That way you can see online exactly where you are and how that compares to your designated budget at a glance. Using cash instead prevents you from accumulating any new debt and eliminate those dreaded bills in January.
The holidays can be a nostalgic time of the year. You want your life to resemble some imaginary scenes from the movies where everyone gets along, everyone has enough money and creativity to offer amazing presents to each and every person you care about. Then there is the reality that says there is not enough time to relax and enjoy the season. There is not enough money to buy all the things you want and everyone does not always put their best foot forward at holiday dinners.
Proactive behavior offers more control over the holiday experience and enables you to enjoy the opportunities to spend time with family and friends without the pressure to overspend on yourself and others. Being stressed does not bring the nostalgic joy you imagine the holidays to represent. Knowing you have only spent what you budgeted reduces stress and will give you a lot more peace come January first.