November 25th, 2013 7:30 AM by Eileen Denhard
The holidays are a fun time for sure. But it shouldn't be about putting yourself in debt. If you're accustomed to buying extravagant gifts for family and friends, it could be time to refocus and remember what the season really means. Set aside more time to be with those near and dear to you, and make a plan for spending. Most people get into financial trouble during the holidays when they don't budget in advance. Then they have months and months to regret the credit card bills which come due in January. If you're a bit more realistic about what you can afford to spend, you'll be well on your way to having a more peaceful New Year. Here are some guidelines for shopping smarter this holiday season.
Finding the BestHoliday Gift Deals
If you've got a big shopping list this holiday season, start early enough that you don't panic and overspend at the last minute. Certainly, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the hot times to shop, but even if you're ready to brave the real and online crowds, it still pays to think ahead. Check out these ways to get the most for your holiday shopping buck.
Getting the Most Online
Before you click, check out the websites which list all the deals to be had online. A survey by the National Retail Federation showed the average shopper planned to do about 40 percent of his or her holiday shopping online. A lot more shoppers use online information to find deals and compare prices before venturing out to the actual stores.
There are a number of sites that aggregate all of the discount codes, free shipping offers, and sales, such as CouponCabin.com, RetailMeNot.com, DealNews.com, and CyberMonday.com. Don't get frustrated and give up if you find some discount codes which don't work. With a little time and effort, you're more than likely to find some really good discounts out there.
More for Less at theBrick & Mortar Stores
Some people like the hustle and bustle of Black Friday. But if you're planning to brave the crowds, figure out your strategy before you shop. Go online and know what's on sale and where you can find the best deals. Size up your favorite store's print ads before Black Friday.
Set a Budget
The best way to give gifts and not put a big dent in the wallet or pocketbook is to set limits before you enter a single store. Rethink charging items you're not going to be able to pay for in full when the bill comes due. If you tend to charge now and think later, maybe it's better to leave the credit cards in the drawer and shop with cash till the holiday fever passes. Set a total amount you can realistically afford to spend and stick to it. As much as possible, think through each gift before you shop so you don't blow your budget on impulse purchases.
Don't Forget the Hidden Costs
Whether it's holiday decorations, cards, or gift bows and paper, the totals mount fast, even for incidentals. A common trap is to buy a little of this and a little of that, especially early in the season. It seems harmless enough to throw another package of lights or ornaments into the basket, but in the end you waste money. Are you the person who, every year, buys a package of ornament hooks "just in case?" Then you get home and find you now have a total of six unopened packages of hooks, none of which you need? Better to take a quick inventory first of what you have and stick to your list.
Here's a tip for next year. After this holiday season when you are putting away your decorations, make a list of what you have and what you need and keep it where you can easily find it before you shop again for the 2014 holidays. Maybe some of the "needs" can be found in a post-holiday sale this year and then you can cross them off next-year's list.
Don't forget to factor shipping costs into your gift budget. Before you buy the heavy bottle of bubble bath for your niece, will it cost more to ship than to purchase? If so, is it really worth it?
If you're a frequent Amazon.com shopper, it might make sense to become an Amazon prime member. This allows free shipping (on most, but not all purchases) and is good all year. It will save you in the long run on shipping costs. You can pay a little extra and have items sent gift-wrapped from Amazon, with a personal note.
Make it Special
Gifts should reflect the interests of the person you're shopping for. Adjust your spending plans and be a bit more creative and frugal when it comes to shopping this year. Sometimes the best options aren't about cost, but about sentiment. Giving a modest gift which shows you really know the recipient goes a lot farther than an expensive gift which misses the mark. And of course, homemade gifts are always welcome and memorable.
If you are stuck for an idea and tempted to overspend, especially at the last minute, stop! A gift card may sound impersonal, but in a survey of shoppers by the National Retail Federation, a full 60 percent of respondents said the gift they most want this year is a gift card. The personalization comes in knowing the favorite store, restaurant, or interest of the gift card recipient.
Be Realistic & Have Fun
If you've got a big family and a ton of friends, the instinct is often to give more than you have. Why not suggest a large potluck holiday party and dinner. Instead of buying a gift for every person there, incorporate a gift swap. Or buy a family- style gift, like the latest board game or a puzzle which reflects the interests of the recipients.
Whatever holiday you celebrate, the season should really be about the festivities and not the gift. Refocus your energy and efforts on what the holidays really mean to you, your family, and friends. At the end of the day, it's very unlikely your cousin will remember the sweater you bought for her a few seasons back. But she will remember the fun holiday party or the homemade gift.
You Better Shop Around
Before you buy, if you have an item in mind make sure to do some serious comparison shopping. Check the stores against prices you find online. Give yourself some options. Don't get stuck on one gift idea or brand. If you're open to a number of possibilities, you're more likely to find a great deal in the process. Plus, let technology be your guide. There's a ton of great shopping apps out there, including ShopSavvy and Google Shopper, which can help you look for the best deals on a variety of products.
Give it time. Some shoppers ask family and friends to provide them with gift lists, well ahead of the holiday. Then they check out the items online, and keep checking back to keep an eye on the prices or for free shipping deals which may crop up. It's a great way to squeeze a dime till it buys a dollar's worth of goods.