Top 5 Tips to Manage Holiday Spending

Can you believe it's already the second week of November? Every year it feels like time is speeding by faster. I don't want to holidays to pass me by, so I'm spreading out the holiday cheer and spending a little longer this season. Over the next couple of months I'll be sharing lots of holiday inspiration (don't worry there will plenty of normal posts too!), but for now, I think the most useful holiday tidbit is how to keep gift giving expenses in check. I spread purchases out over several months (read: pay checks) to avoid using credit cards, but another great option is a Christmas club, which allows you to save up money over the entire year, earn interest, and spend it down in December. Check with your local credit union to see if they offer one. Once you have the funds and a budget in mind, use these five tips to keep your spending in check.

1. Make a list and stick to it

When it comes to loved ones, it's easy to want to buy everything that makes you think of them. While it makes you both feel good in the short run, the financial strain from going over the budget will create longer lasting headahces. Before shopping, make a list and stick to it. Have specific items with price points written down for each person on the gift list.  If you find the perfect gift, but it's not on the list, remove something of equal value from that person's list.

2. Stalk, stalk, stalk

As I've mentioned before, I have expensive taste with a very limited budget, neither of which I can compromise on. The way I make it work is with a lot of price stalking. At least a month in advance, I start researching prices of items. Where is the item sold? Does the item frequently go on sale at one or all of these places? When it goes on sale, what is the typical discount (10% off, 30% off, etc)? Collecting this information over time helps determine the best purchase point. Start by signing up for their emails, so you know when the sales are without having to check stores/sites frequently. Google alerts are also helpful for goods that are sold across multiple sites, like toys.

For example, if you're shopping at Loft for the first time, you might think 40% is a good deal, but they offer that deal every other weekend. If you wait it out, chances are good a 60% sale will come. When it comes to seasonal purchases like fashion, waiting it out also probably means the item will be marked down for further savings. The more you know, the more you save.

3. Buy the cheaper items first

I read this a long time ago and it really works. When you buy the expensive items first, you experience a bit of sticker shock even if it's a good deal. After shelling out the big bucks, you become less sensitive to smaller price differences. Those little differences, say spending $10 versus $15, add up and can bust the budget. Buy the cheaper items first when you can still focus on the smaller figures.

4. Don't feel obligated to get everyone something

You plan on buying gifts for your immediated family members, but then you remember uncles, aunts, cousins, teachers, bus drivers, co-workers, hair dressers, and the list goes on. Just because it's the holidays, doesn't mean you have to get everyone you know a gift. The number of gifts and the amount spent can quickly escalate. Have a clear idea of who you plan on giving gifts to and don't feel bad about it! I keep a handful of inexpensive homemade gifts at the ready for when someone unexpectedly gives me a gift. For the rest of the important people who don't make it on the gift list, send a card or email to let them how much you appreciate what they do all year round. This brings me to the last point.

5. Remember gifts aren't about the money you spend (and neither is Christmas)

It's easy to get caught up in the energy of holiday shopping and want to buy the biggest, most expensive gifts. If your budget allows for it, great. If not, don't whip out the credit card to make it possible. Some of the best gifts I've both received and given cost very little, but were thoughtfully selected with a heartfelt meaning. This year I'm planning on doing a lot of homemade gifts and I hope my family enjoys them. Don't worry, I'll be sharing plenty of tutorials :) I'll leave you with one of my favorite holiday quotes from Dr. Suess' How the Grinch Stole Chistmas.
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?" "It came without packages, boxes or bags!" "It came with out ribbons! It came without tags!" Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore." Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!" "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."

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