6 Tips for Staying On Budget This Holiday Season
There's no need to break the bank—or even a reasonable budget, experts say.
‘Tis the shopping season and your gift list is long. The holidays don’t have to break your budget, however. Maria Pippidis, county director and extension educator for family and consumer sciences at the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, shares some ways to spend money more effectively during the season.
1. Make a list and check it twice
Pippidis recommends making a list before going shopping. Consider who you’re shopping for, how much you’re thinking of spending and, of course, some gift ideas.
“That kind of puts some thinking behind your shopping list before you go shopping,” she says.
In addition to that, staying organized is important.
“Sometimes people say to me, ‘Oh gosh I got home and I totally forgot that I bought this person a gift already,’ they’re in such a frenzy,” she says. “Keeping an inventory of where you are on your shopping list is important.”
2. Set a spending limit
Take a look at the list of people you are shopping for and set a limit on how much you are willing to, and can, spend.
“There are a lot of stats that say that people overdo it and they use their credit card then they spend the next six months paying off the credit card,” she says. “I caution people in terms of using that strategy because that really taps out their future spending plans.”
She recommends looking at their means and what their income can handle before spending.
3. Plan your shopping around sales
If you start preparing now, Pippidis says, you’re ready for when the sales actually happen.
“It is often a great time to get great buys on all sorts of things,” she says, as November marks the pre-holiday sales. “As you’re making your shopping lists, think about what you may need in your own household.”
Similarly, she recommends looking online and in store to determine which is cheaper. For more efficient searching, there’s an app for that. Downloading the Amazon app allows you to price check items while you are out shopping to see if the item is available on Amazon and at what price. The ShopSavvy app allows you to plug in what you’re looking for so you’ll be notified when it goes on sale, but also tells you where and when the sales are. Similarly, the Shop It To Me app lets you plug in all your favorite labels and sizes and will inform you when the items you like go on sale.
“Certainly, we should be supporting our local businesses, that’s really important, but sometimes you have better deals online,” she says. “And, sometimes, you have way better customer service if you have to return things in a local store.”
4. Don't compartmentalize your shopping
Pippidis says that people have the impulse to separate the cost of gifts versus other holiday purchases. Consider the cost of food, table and lawn decorations, stocking stuffers, wrapping paper and other trinkets.
“They impact our budget the same way,” she says. “The money has to come from somewhere.”
She suggests building those costs into your holiday budget and recommends inventorying your decorations and holiday supplies so duplicates aren’t purchased.
5. Have conversations with your family members
“There’s oftentimes a lot of pressure to get the perfect gift,” Pippidis says. “Having conversations before everybody starts shopping can reduce that tension and set guidelines to spending.”
For instance, Pippidis says that she and her sisters decided last Christmas that they wouldn’t spend more than $15 on each other. This relieved the pressure of getting the best gift, she says.
She also suggests putting money into doing an activity together. Instead of buying something tangible, she recommends the gift of experiences.
“Family time, spending time together and creating a positive experience for family members are most important,” she says. “People can come to an agreement, ‘OK, so this year for our presents, let’s all do this thing together, and contribute to a pot that’s going to cover the cost of this activity.’”
6. Remember what's important
Of course, Pippidis says, it’s important to focus on each other during the holiday season.
“It’s not always about money and how much we spend on each other,” she says. “Don’t let the rush of the holidays and the millions of buying signals that are thrown at us get us lost and off track from what’s important. Stay grounded in what the holidays are about.”