Underneath all the glitter, the glamour, the bright lights, the merry carols and gifts, the true spirit of the holidays has always been about spending time with friends and family members. It’s about being grateful for what you have — your loved ones, your health, your good fortune — and sharing that good fortune with others.
While we always encourage our customers to be charitable in their communities, there’s a difference between giving back and overgifting. Sometimes, we forget that not everyone needs a special gift, and more importantly, our bank accounts can’t always handle giving so generously. When January rolls around, we’re left with a lengthy credit card bill and a feeling of “What did I even buy?”
According to Investopedia, the average person is projected to spend $920 on gifts in 2019. If you have a big family, then you might hit that average or even go over it. With kids, it’s likely you might hit that limit if they want the latest video games or even phones and other electronics.
Now with Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us, you might think that your chances for staying on budget this holiday season are over, but all is not lost. While some deals may in fact be deals for specific items, most items will probably be marked down for the majority of the holiday season. If you’re a savvy shopper, you can find all of your gifts without having to break the bank.
Let’s face it: The holidays come with enough expenses other than just gifts. There’s holiday food, travel and decoration expenses to be charged as well. But if you budget well, this holiday season could leave you seeing green rather than red.
Here are our best tips for holiday shopping on a budget.
Set dollar amounts for each person
It may seem a little crass to think of friends and family members in terms of dollar signs, but if you’re trying to stay on budget this holiday season, then you need to start by assigning a dollar amount to each person and then estimating your total cost by adding up all of the amounts. This will give you a clear-eyed view of what you’ll probably spend on gifts for the holiday season, so when you see that pair of boots you want, you’ll remember your budget before you hand over your credit card.
So make a list of everyone you plan to give gifts to during the holiday season from your spouse and children to your in-laws to your secretary to your pet and assign a dollar amount to each person. Be honest with yourself and realistic. For most people, spouses and children will probably get the bulk of the spending — which is perfectly reasonable — and the rest will flow down to everyone else.
As you’re going through your list, be reasonable with your spending. You don’t need to buy the dog $20 worth of toys. If the kids want more expensive gifts this year, it’s okay to spend a little less on in-laws and parents.
Get shopping right away
Ten years ago, Black Friday used to be the holiday shopping event of the year. People got up early to camp out in front of Best Buy and Walmart to get the very best deals on expensive electronics, but these days, those deals are mostly available online all season long, with some actually starting after Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
If you have an idea of what you want to give and where you want to get your gifts, start signing up for the store’s email newsletters and even text alerts. For first-time shoppers, some stores will offer great deals like 10% off. It’s an easy way to save a little cash here and there.
You should also be on the lookout for upcoming sales. From now through the end of December, most stores will be running a few promotions at the same time, so if you have something specific in mind, you might be able to get a good deal on it.
The bottom line, however, is to not wait until the last weekend to do your holiday shopping. You’ll probably end up paying full price, and you might have to pay extra from expedited shipping. If you don’t want to be the one stuck at Walmart on your way to a party scrambling to find a gift, start your shopping early.
Look for gifts you can put off
For some people, like your mom or sibling, you might want to spend a little more because you care about them, but right now, it’s just not in the budget. Instead of overspending or buying a gift that might just sit on a shelf somewhere, why not plan for an experience at a later date and do something small right now?
For example, you might want to do a wine-and-painting night with your mom at a local art studio or take your brother to a beer tasting at a local brewery, but obviously, you can’t buy the tickets until you’ve surprised your parent or sibling, so there’s no sense in buying the tickets right away. Instead, pick up something small and related to the event, like a set of paintbrushes or even a six-pack. That way, you won’t show up empty-handed, and you won’t have to pay for an expensive item up front.
Of course, you do have to make sure you follow through on your gift, so before you give it, have a few potential dates picked out so your family members don’t feel like you’re faking a gift. Try to plan it out farther in advance so you get a paycheck or two to help you out.
Doing this type of a gift can be more meaningful than just buying a gadget that’s going to break or never be used. It means you two will spend quality time together and do something that you both enjoy. Additionally, you might also help out a local business and keep your money helping your community.
Price check everything
Before you buy an item, always check around for the best price first. It may look low on Amazon, but with a little extra research you might be able to find a better deal at another retailer and get a little more bang for your buck.
Of course, don’t forget to factor in shipping when doing this. An item might look less expensive at first glance, but if shipping’s not free or you can’t reach the free-shipping limit, choose a different retailer.
Consider donating in people’s names
Donating to causes your friends or family members support can help you face down your budget for a number of reasons. For one thing, you can choose the amount to donate, which means you can enter in the dollar amount you assigned that person and no more. If you’re really on a tight budget, this can help.
When tax season rolls around, you can write off your giving as a charitable donation. That will help you get more money back on your tax return, which is always a major positive. Think of it as a little gift you’ll get back down the line.
Donating in other’s names also goes back to the reasons for giving an experience rather than a physical gift. Many Christmas gifts end up taking up space on shelves until we eventually donate them or they wind up in the trash and a landfill somewhere. With a donation, not only are you helping someone in your community, but you’re also not contributing to the overcrowded second-hand stores or your local landfills.
For people that have everything — or at least the means to buy whatever they want — consider a donation instead and help out a good cause.
Check out last year models
Let’s say your spouse wants to a new TV. You could buy that absolute newest model — or you could save a little cash and get last year’s model or even one released earlier this year. These models will be marked down in price, and in most instances, you can’t tell too big a difference in quality. With TVs at least, the newest features may be slightly more noticeable in a showroom, but when the TV is home, no one will know the difference.
This method will also work for a number of electronics including phones, fitness and sports equipment, computers and sound systems. Unless there’s a particularly new feature that your spouse or kid really wants, save a little money and go with an older model.
Write in your actual gift amounts on your list
A good way to keep yourself honest is to keep that original list you made — the one with everyone’s names and the dollar amount to plan to spend — and use it to keep track of what you actually spend on each person by writing in the amount of the gift once it has been purchased. Make sure you include the shipping costs, and round up to make it easier.
Seeing your purchases tallied out in front of you will remind you of your budget and help you keep track of what you’ve spent. When we tally up numbers in our head, we tend to downplay how much we’ve spent. Maybe you budgeted $50 for your sister, but the new wallet you bought her actually cost $55, even if in your head it was only about $50. We tend to find little ways to lie to ourselves and get ourselves to believe that we’ve spent less than we really have. If you use this same technique on all your gifts, then you might end up spending way over budget — and that will be a nasty surprise when your credit card statement comes in.
Instead, use your credit card statement and bank apps to track how much exactly you spent on each person. Here you can round up, but you should never round down. As you’re buying your gifts, you might find that some deals saved you enough money so you can either come in under budget or spend a little extra on someone you wanted to do more for.
Use your credit card rewards points and other reward deals
You might not have rewards points saved up on credit card right now, and that’s okay. What you can do with your card though is look for ways to maximize your deals and get the most cash back for your purchases. Some rewards points give you a flat percentage back with each purchase, so you can later use that money to help pay your bill. It won’t be a large sum of money, but if you actually reach that average of $920 at 1.5% cash back (a common amount for credit cards), that would be about $14 back towards your bill. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.
Some cards will give as much as 5% cash back if you shop at certain stores. Check to see what your card is offering and use it to guide your shopping.
You can also use store rewards and third-party cashback companies to help you earn money back on things you’d already be buying. Keep in mind, opening store credit cards will hurt your credit, but most store rewards clubs are free to join. If you’re a frequent shopper, you might save a little money for a purchase you’ll need to make for yourself down the line.
With third-party cashback companies, they will be tracking how much you’re spending and where. This might not bother you, but if you value your online privacy, you may want to skip these companies. If you feel confident in your consumer knowledge, this can be a good way to earn a little cash on items you’d be buying anyway.
Remember, the people around you will mostly remember the time you spend with them, not the amount spent on a gift. Keep that in mind as you go through your holiday shopping.
Ready to start shopping? We want to know: What are your best holiday budgeting tips? Let us know in the comments and share with us how we can help you get your home ready for holiday guests.