The holidays are a time for giving—but our desire to connect and give thanks, in the absence of a budget, can often lead to that too-familiar overwhelmed, under-water feeling. Studies show that much of this “festive stress“—as worry related to the holidays is called—can be attributed to gift-giving and receiving. Merriment can be expensive.
This year, it doesn’t seem as though we’re poised to rein in our spending. Roughly half of shoppers have already started searching for gifts on their friends’ and family’s wish lists, per a new online survey from The Harris Poll and OpenX. The poll also found that consumers plan to spend 5 percent more this year than in 2018.
To help reduce money-related holiday stress, here are some budget-friendly moves to successfully navigate the season—call it my early holiday gift to you.
1. Craft a plan—and stick to it
Really, though. It’s one thing to create a list of the important people in your life and a budget for each gift, but the true test is being able to stick with the plan, especially as marketers bombard us with deals and offers. Walking into the holiday frenzy without a clear set of goals and budgetary limits will make it very easy to feel ambushed and impulse purchases are more likely to be made. A plan of action will ensure you spend more intentionally and within budget.
Pro Tip: Save your list in your phone and desktop so that you can always refer to it on the go or when surfing online.
2. Prioritize gifting
In an ideal world, we’d be able to share a gift with each and every loved one, but if you’re trying to stick to a budget, it may be best to focus on just your nearest, dearest, and littlest. In our family, children come first around the holidays, followed by immediate family. You can always suggest the adults participate in an anonymous gift grab with a monetary limit—say, $20 or $25.
Pro Tip: Skip gifting with your partner. Instead, plan a romantic dinner or weekend getaway later in the New Year when your budget’s got a bit more room.
3. Isolate your holiday budget
Once you’ve figured out how much you can affordably spend this holiday season, you might benefit from keeping the money in its own siloed “holiday” account—for safe-keeping and to get a clear and specific sense of how much you have remaining for holiday expenses. Transfer money from this account to pay for holiday-related expenses.
Pro Tip: You usually don’t need to open a new bank account for this purpose. You can consider creating additional account within your existing profile.
4. Hunt for deals early and often
If you think the best deals will only go live on Black Friday, think again. These days, retailers are offering promotions year-round and you can expect many types of sales during the months leading up to the big December holidays. Check your go-to sites often. And before you check out, do a quick search for the name of the merchant and the word “coupon code” or “discount” to see what pops up. You can also go directly to sites like couponcode.com, retailmenot.com and coupons.com for codes to help you save an additional 10 to 25 percent at checkout.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye on your purchases for at least one or two weeks afterwards, in case the price drops. Retailers sometimes offer a price adjustment soon after a purchase and pay you back the difference. Another reason to keep your receipts!
5. Strategize your credit spend
It’s no surprise that credit cards are the top method for making purchases—especially around the holidays. And now it’s even speedier to check out if you have a card with tap to pay. So then while we’re at it, why not optimize our credit usage to either earn points to redeem in the New Year or purchase gifts with our points?
Opting for a credit card provides cash back and can be a big selling point this time of year. For instance, Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited are currently offering a $200 bonus on Chase.com and in branches for new cardmembers after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening—easy to use during the holidays for travel and gifts, plus the cash back on every purchase. (If you have a history of credit card debt, opening a new card likely isn’t the best move for you.)
Pro Tip: Redeem your credit card points, or new cardmember bonus, to buy gift cards (the most requested holiday gift) for loved ones. They don’t have to know the gift was free!
6. Do travel—but flexibly
The holidays are by far the busiest times at airports and hotels, and prices reflect the soaring demand. We, of course, want to see our loved ones this time of year and one key tip to spending within budget is being open to alternative flight dates. For example, my family of four was able to save over $1,000 when booking flights between New York and San Francisco for Thanksgiving by traveling back home on the Friday after Thanksgiving, as opposed to the Saturday or Sunday.
Pro Tip: Consider flying out of an alternative airport. Sometimes, it pays to drive an hour or two from your house to snag a lower price on a flight—especially for groups or a family. For example: Providence versus Boston’s Logan Airport or Long Beach versus Los Angeles International Airport.
7. Be honest
If spending money this holiday season feels burdensome, be open and honest with friends and family and explain ahead of time that you won’t be doing traditional gifting this year because you’ve got big goals to achieve. They should understand.
But remember—gifts don’t need to cost much. For example: baked goods, homemade photo calendars, and gift certificates for favors, such as free babysitting, are thoughtful presents everyone will appreciate.
Pro Tip: A great gift is offering to help family members who tend to take the lead around hosting and organizing gatherings. It can be a big lift if you’ve got a big family. Offering your time and initiative to take some of the work off this person’s plate will be an invaluable gift.
To prevent overspending, try opening up a “fun and BS” checking account that you use for those more “frivolous” purchases (think, Friday night margs, not your electric bill). And remember, it’s perfectly normal to freak out about your finances 20 percent of the time—but more than that spells trouble.
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