“The holiday season is still a few months away, but I’m already stressing about how I’m going to manage everything. I want my family to have a good experience, but I’m barely making ends meet as it is. Help!” – Helena from Bakersfield, CA
As the first round of holiday advertisements emphasize, don’t let the holidays sneak up on you – especially when it comes to spending. While it may seem early to be thinking about end-of-year spending in October, making a game plan now can help you – and your wallet – be less stressed come December.
Here are 10 ideas for managing your holiday spending this year:
- Set your shopping list and budget now. Unless a new love interest breezes into your life in the next few months, you most likely already know who you need to shop for. Make that list now and determine how much you can afford to spend on each person.
- Manage gift-giving expectations. If you have a big family or an extended circle of close friends and colleagues, gift-giving can easily get out of hand. Setting some guidelines – such as giving baked goods to non-family members or having large families draw names for a gift exchange — can help temper expectations that everyone will get (and give) store-bought presents.
- Start saving. Put a portion of each paycheck you receive from now through December in a special holiday fund and make a commitment to not dip into that fund until the holidays. Also look at expensive habits – such as buying lunch out every day – that you can curb for a few months to help save some extra cash.
- Plan to use credit wisely. If you know you’re going to need to rely on a credit card to get you through the season, be smart about it. Consider choosing the card that has the lowest interest percentage rate or one that offers cash back rewards or other perks that help you make the most of your spending activity.
- Make your handmade / DIY gifts. When the December flurry hits, all of our good intentions about making that scarf for your sister or golf club cover for dad can fall by the wayside when we know we can pick up a quick store gift instead. Planning and creating your cost-effective handmade gifts now can help you avoid stress and stay on budget.
- Give your time instead. Remember that the most meaningful gifts often cost nothing. Make a booklet of handmade coupons offering things like a night off from watching the kids, a weekend of doing all of the chores, a 30-minute foot massage, etc. that can be redeemed throughout the year.
- Consider gift cards. When buying physical gifts, it’s easy to go overboard and spend more than anticipated. That $200 camera can easily turn into much more when you get a carrying case, extra memory card, etc. Not only do gift cards keep you within the budget to which you’ve committed, they’re also preferred by many recipients and ensure your hard-earned money goes to something they actually want.
- Shop – or at least research – online. Before buying any big-ticket items in the store, do some research to see if you can get a cheaper deal elsewhere. Apps like Quick Scan or ShopSavvy (among others) allow you to scan the barcode of an item you see in a store and compare the price of that same item at other retailers. You can also use sites like PriceGrabber.com to compare prices.
- Book travel as early as possible. Planning on traveling to the relatives via plane or train? Need to stay in a hotel? Remember to book your tickets as early as possible to get ahead of the seasonal fare hikes. This is also a great time to look at any existing airfare or hotel points you might have that can be redeemed for a discount on your travel or hotel stay.
- Decorate on a dime. If you’re tight on funds, don’t waste your money on buying new items to decorate your home or office. Use last year’s decorations, hand-make items like paper snowflakes or popcorn garland, or hit your local thrift store to pick up some discounted items for holiday DIY décor.
Readers, what other tips do you have for saving money around the holidays? Share your suggestions in the comment section below.