Christmas is a time for giving, and it’s easy to get caught up in the spirit. Giving feels so good that it can easily result in overspending and sometimes stretching your credit to the limit. That means you might spend several months after the Holidays just taking care of debts you built up while the spirit was upon you. The good news is, you can take some steps right now to make sure your funds will match your generosity.
Make Your List Now
Planning is the obvious first step in managing anything centered on finances, but the Christmas list isn’t usually an early priority. We all know shopping early has many advantages, but many of us never seem to get it done. Go ahead. Stop what you’re doing right now and write or type out a list of the people you intend to buy gifts for. Then start filling in gift ideas beside the names. If you can’t think of the right gift for someone right now; that’s ok; just make sure you get the names down. Then, take the list with you when you leave the house. Just having those names with you will provide you with savings opportunities you may otherwise miss.
“Lose” Some Money in the Checking Account
This is one of those sneaky ways to save money and there are a few ways to do this. You can round your deposits down when you balance the checkbook. You can also round all the check amounts up to the next dollar or five dollars. No matter how you do it, if you start “forgetting” about a little money now, you’ll have built up some shopping funds by the time the Holiday crunch arrives. If you can drop just $15.00 per week starting in June, you’ll have an extra $390.00 in your checking account just before Christmas. Better yet, move the “lost” funds to your savings account at the end of the month so you’ll draw a little interest.
Start on Projects
Lots of families and friends save money by creating gifts instead of buying them. Woodworking, crafts, sculpture, painting – no matter what your talent, you can probably make gifts for many of the people on your list. Those gifts are often the most treasured. The trick is to make sure you have the time to make the gifts, so start now. Chances are, you’ll also get to buy the project materials over time, which can help reduce the impact of the costs.
Sell Now, Buy Later
There’s nothing quite like a spring garage sale to bring in a little extra cash and help clean up the old homestead. Gather up those unneeded items now, get them organized, and have a yard sale. Put the proceeds in whatever fund you’re using to do your Christmas shopping. Voila; free shopping money! In most regions, winter is too late to think about this one.
Compare Online Pricing
More and more retailers are encouraging online buying by offering internet-only pricing for merchandise. It makes sense for them because they move the products with reduced overhead. It works for you because you save money. Check the items on the list you made in step one (You DID make the list, right?) and see how much you can save by purchasing from the website. Don’t forget to calculate in the cost of shipping. If you start now, you have plenty of time to wait for specials and choose the slower, cheaper shipping methods.
Now’s the perfect time to have some fun on the online auction sites. Get your list (You remember the list, right?) and start searching for the items you’ve jotted down. You can save a bundle on many new items if you’re careful. Know the value of what you’re looking for and don’t get caught up in winning. As with any online shopping, keep shipping costs in mind.
Reap Some Online Rewards
If you’re the kind of person that has extra time on his or her hands to surf the internet, look into rewards sites. You can earn cash or points toward purchasing rewards at major retailers several different ways. MyPoints.com, for instance, sends you email offers and provides points for visiting websites and/or responding to offers. Accumulated points can be redeemed for gift cards. Use the cards to apply to your Christmas purchases.
Make Non-PIN Purchases
Most of us use our debit cards in lieu of writing checks or using cash at the checkout. Most of us also just punch in the PIN when it’s asked for. There’s a good chance you can save money by selecting the “Credit” option when you swipe your card. My favorite debit card, for instance, pays a flat 1% cash back on all non-PIN purchases at the end of the month and I use it to do all my shopping. A typical month’s cash back amount is about $30.00. That goes right into the Christmas shopping account.
Have a Few More Meals at Home
Eating out is fun, easy, and expensive. If just you and your spouse have a restaurant meal once a week, chances are that’s around $50.00 per week you could be putting toward gift shopping. Even fast food is likely to set you back at least $20.00 with drinks. Let’s see: 26 weeks to Christmas at $20.00 per week? That’s $520.00 in shopping money.
Buy Your Plane Tickets
If you’re flying for any reason, buying tickets in advance will save you money. Ticket prices tend to increase around the Holidays, so you can probably save money if you reserve your flight now. Thanks to online booking sites, it’s easy to find out anytime what you’ll save by booking early. A quick search on Travelocity.com shows a savings of more than $200.00 on the cheapest flight for 2 people from my home to my son’s home if I book today.
None of the ideas above will make you rich, but hopefully combining a few of them will help you save a few dollars on your Holiday shopping. You can also take it a step further and buy Christmas gifts that save money for the recipient. Just remember, the time to start is now. (And remember the list!)
(Photo courtesy of waferboard)