Tips from Real Life 101

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10 Tips for Staying on Budget During the Holidays

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10 Tips for Staying on Budget During the Holidays

For many people, the holiday season can be a stressful time when it comes to gift giving.  Every year it seems like there is more people to buy for and less money to spend.  We’ve prepared a list of tips to help restore a little financial sanity to the holidays.

10. Determine what you can comfortably spend.

Don’t try to be a hero to everyone on your list; figure out how much you can spend without undue sacrifice to other areas of your budget or piling up credit card debt.  Try to remember, it’s not about how much you spend but how thoughtful you are in what you give.  Some of the most memorable presents I’ve received were inexpensive items that really showed how well a person knew me or how much they cared.

9. Just like Santa, make your list and check it twice.

Write down everyone you plan on buying gifts for, and double-check it to make sure you didn’t forget anyone.  If you already know what you intend to buy for a person, make sure you don’t forget things like batteries, carrying cases, or other accessories you think you might need.  Those extras and impulse purchases can add up quickly and turn a $100 purchase into a $200 budget-buster.  Worried about getting the wrong thing?  Gift receipts make exchanges easy, so the recipient can get the color or size that is perfect.

8. Consolidate your list if you need some extra room.

If you need some extra room in your gift-giving budget, look for ways to consolidate your purchases.  Can you buy a couple or family gift rather than individual presents for certain people on your list?  Can you go in on a gift with others to increase the value of your gift without overspending?  If you have a large family or group of friends, try drawing names for a secret santa gift.  This way, everyone gets a gift but doesn’t have the burden of buying for everyone on the list.  By applying a little creativity and thought, you can make some extra room in your budget.  How about a family bowling night for the neighbors?  A shipment of fresh fruit or a tin of popcorn can be enjoyed by all.

7. Avoid the big-ticket fad items.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  You drive all across the city, fight traffic and irritable shoppers, and finally land the hot holiday item everyone’s talking about.  On the big day, the gift is opened, played with for about 15 minutes, and it subsequently finds a home on a shelf where it lives untouched until it’s sold in a garage sale two years later.  Fortunately, you put the item on your credit card, so you had the pleasure of paying it off for six months.  Remember with fads: what everyone wants today, nobody wants tomorrow.  If you have to endure outrageous expense or effort to obtain it, it’s not worth it.

6. Don’t wait until the last minute to do your shopping.

At Real Life 101, we always say it’s better to buy from a position of want than need.  When you give yourself time, you can figure out what you want to buy after doing your research: evaluating product options, reading consumer reviews, comparison shopping, etc.  When you finally make your purchase, you will know you’ve made the best decision.  If you wait until you need to get something, you don’t have the luxury of time.  Instead, you will take the first thing you find regardless if that is the best product or price.

5. Look for the perks.

What happens when you plan ahead?  You can take advantage of all the special offers and incentives retailers create for the holidays.  From free shipping or accessories to gift cards and rebates with purchase, there are loads of bonuses out there to help you stretch your gift-giving dollar a bit further.  If you are taking advantage of rebates, be sure to read the offer carefully and keep your receipts.  Also, it can take over 2 months to get your rebate check, so make sure you don’t spend more than your finances can handle waiting on a check.

4. Gift cards are for gift-giving weaklings.

Nothing says “I have no idea how to buy you a meaningful gift” like a gift card.  Not all gift cards are cop-outs; a music-lover may appreciate a gift card to iTunes or CD Baby, and it may be the best way to give them access to the music they love.  However, most cards scream laziness and desperation.  My advice: if you’re going to go gift card – go big, or go home.  A $100 card to a mega-store is infinitely more valuable than five $20 cards to various places, or worse, twenty $5 cards.  Instead, take a moment to find fun gifts that fit: a pocket multi-tool for the handyman, a book light for the avid reader, or a favorite movie poster framed for the film buff.


3. Re-think what a gift can be.

Our budget doesn’t always allow us to give everyone a present every year.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to make our friends and family feel special at the holidays.  Sharing a conversation over coffee, inviting friends over for dinner, a thoughtful card, or a phone call may do more for someone than any gift you could buy.  This is particularly true for older friends and relatives who may be alone or unable to get out of their home for the holidays.  Everyone always enjoys yummy, homemade gifts as well.  Look here for our favorite gift-giving recipes.

2. Make it, or think local.

Hand-made, personalized gifts can be treasured by their recipients for years and even generations.  One of holiday gifts I continue to cherish is a quilt my grandmother made for my wife and me the year we were married.  There are other, equally valuable items we hold dear that were made specifically for us.  However, if you are making something as a gift, it’s important not to overestimate your skill or underestimate the time involved.  If you lack the skill to make something nice, or you give a rushed or unfinished product, the receiver may interpret your efforts as a lack of care.  When in doubt, find a local artisan who can help translate your vision into something truly special and unique.

1. It’s never too soon to start thinking about next year.

According to my calendar, Christmas will be December 25th again next year, so you can start planning accordingly.  Begin your list and your budgeting process January 1.  Look at what gifts were successful as well as what interests and desires for gifts were expressed over the holidays.  This way, since you know how much you will spend and the types of things you want to buy, you can take action anytime you come across that perfect gift online or at a particular boutique.  The likelihood of you being able to remember where you saw something – or perhaps even being able to get it – is extremely low if you wait until the next holiday season rolls around.

Hopefully these 10 tips can help reduce the anxiety you may feel over gift giving during the holiday season.  Everyone can give great gifts regardless of how much or how little they have to spend.  With a little thought, planning, and effort, you can give the best gift under the tree even if it’s not the most expensive.

Written by Real Life 101, Inc.

December 14, 2010 at 11:49 am

One Response

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