Ten Top Ways to Keep Holiday Spending in Check

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With the holiday season just around the corner, you’re probably already concerned about being a good gift giver and not a Grinch. Holiday shopping can be stressful and is not a spectator sport. In these difficult economic times, here are a few tips to help you keep more green in your wallet while giving appreciated presents to your loved ones and friends.

Set a budget and stick to it.
Yes, it’s boring but sage advice. Tried, true and trusted to work, the key to this number one way to curb holiday overspending is to be realistic and stick to it. Another alternative to good old-fashioned green is to set up a holiday savings account and deposit a little bit of your paycheck into this special account every month. By the holidays you’ll have accumulated a nest egg specifically for this purpose so shopping won’t send you into debt.

Look at your list twice for the necessary and nice
This shouldn’t need to be stated but somehow we tend to spend on everyone! Thoughtfully examine your list and make prudent cutbacks. Do this painful process early and, if need be, prepare people. Suggest a gift exchange within your own extended family so you don’t have to buy for everyone or limit the presents to the children. Buy food and libations at warehouse stores to give to your hairdresser or mailman. Finally, don’t forget to shop with your pared-down list in hand or on your Smartphone.

Buy more gift cards.
Think of the time you’ll save not scouring the mall and impulse buying; not to mention the postage you’ll save by mailing a gift card to that special person instead of a package! No more standing in line at the post office to mail that huge box. Added bonus: this versatile gift gives the recipient more freedom to choose whatever she wants at her favorite store.

Aim for simpler things in life
Try doing a family member’s dreaded chores for a week, organizing cookie exchanges with your neighbors, or planning a white elephant gift exchange with coworkers. With just a bit of creativity and thoughtfulness, you can give a more meaningful, unique gift that can’t be purchased anywhere. Create memorable times with your kids by going to see the holiday lights in other neighborhood or watching Christmas flicks, complete with hot cocoa and popcorn, at home.

Buy online and avoid the malls.
This will save you time, money and aggravation. Forget about the thrill of the bargain hunt; many retailers artificially inflate prices and then mark them down for “sales.” A recent California Institute of Technology study proposed that shoppers are willing to pay nearly 50 percent more for merchandise in stores, where they can touch and see the goods, than online. Find online bargains using social media pages of the stores you and your family love. If you’ve been to Black Friday, enough said about avoiding aggravation!

Buy in advance and after the holidays.
Plan ahead for those loved ones you know you’ll need to purchase a present for by keeping a running list of their interests. It’s easy to do, especially for children, because they usually latch onto a favorite character or object (Elmo, trains) all year, making Christmas buying in July a reality for you. For adults, think the staples, such as gourmet coffee, interesting socks or a leather-bound journal. After-the-holidays sales are first-rate ways to save big bucks on presents.

Use coupons or Groupons.
And everything else in your arsenal of discounts! The Internet has made this tip easy to follow. Explore the websites of everyone’s favorite stores for coupon codes. Check your mailbox for flyers and coupons, as well as that neighborhood news magazine that you usually toss in the garbage.

Organize group volunteering.
Instead of the normal, ho-hum holiday party, you’ll feel better performing a good deed at the local soup kitchen or cleaning up the beach, and so will your co-workers. Bring along your camera and make memories dressed as Santa’s helpers.

Give DIY gifts.
Besides being more affordable, these presents are definitely more meaningful. If you’re handy with repairs, fix that neighbor’s leaky faucet. If technology is your thing, help a friend create a website. Babysit, dog walk or rake grandma’s leaves for no charge; you can even make your own gift certificates for these services and tuck them into their stockings.

Skip buying extended warranties on electronics and appliances.
Unless you’re buying new, untested technology, there’s no real reason for buying an extended warranty. In most cases, the cost of a repair usually equals the price of this unnecessary piece of paper.

With party obligations, decorating dilemmas and relatives taking up temporary residence in your home, at least gift giving will be less stressful. With a bit of planning, introspection and determination, you’ll be able to ring in the New Year holiday debt free. Who knows; you might have enough cash left over to treat yourself to a much-needed massage or a stress-relieving facial. HLM

Sources: kiplinger.com, investopedia.com and today.com.