It’s the 8th of December and my holiday shopping is in full swing. I usually try to do at least some in advance, and this year with my trip to Africa and stop-over in Dubai, I did pick up some one of a kind pieces all the way back in July and August. However, for practical reasons, most of my holiday shopping is done in December.
Personally, I find doing it all (or mostly all at once) helps me keep track of how much I am spending. When I buy in advance, I may take advantage of good deals in June, but spend more in the long—run as I get new ideas closer to Christmas.
I’ve worked hard over the years to find a good mix of frugality and generosity when it comes to holiday spending. I don’t mind spending more this time of year. I like to give presents, I like to entertain. I just don’t want to be paying for it for the rest of the year. I don’t know that I have found the perfect balance, but I am way ahead of where I was 10 years ago, and I am happy to share my methods.
Natalie’s top five tips for controlling and enjoying your holiday spending:
1. Set a budget. It is remarkable how many people I talk to who just don’t know how much they will spend over the holidays. No wonder people spend themselves into a pile of debt. Your budget may be purely practical – “I only have $300 extra dollars, and so I cannot spend any more” – or if your financial situation is more flexible, make a list of your planned purchases, decide how much you’d reasonably like to spend on each person or event, and “ta-da!” You have your holiday budget.
2. Stick to your budget. Seriously. Come home from the mall, total your receipts, and see how you did. Maybe you have room for more, maybe you have to reconsider buying Susie both the doll and the book. A budget gets you nowhere if you don’t follow it, check in periodically, and adjust.
3. Plan for the surprises. Like when your neighbours come over with a surprise present, or Aunt Maud announces she’s coming home for Christmas with her two kids and her puppy. First of all, remember most people don’t give in the expectation of receiving something back, but if you are like me, you want to reciprocate, and hate being caught off guard. Most years I pick up a few extra bottles of wine or boxes of chocolates just for such occasions. Extra expenses can ruin a holiday budget quickly.
4. Check your list. Twice. And then again. You don’t have to give to everyone. This may seem to conflict with number three, but I think they go together well. Are there people you buy for out of habit who don’t really belong on the list? Still sending a little something to your best friend from junior high – a little something that costs $30 plus another $20 in shipping? Perhaps buy your sister’s family one large family present instead of four small ones. Where can you realistically cut corners, without feeling like a Grinch?
5. Buy what people want or need. Don’t buy something you would not want to receive yourself – unless you know that person has requested it. For me, the hardest part about holiday spending is all the waste. I love giving and receiving presents that will be worn, cherished or just used. Why buy an 8-year old a $120 collector’s doll for her shelf, when she will arguably get as much pleasure or more from two colouring books and a box of play-dough? Who is the collector’s doll really for, anyway? (Nothing against collector’s dolls I just remember not being particularly impressed with one as a child.)
I’m no expert, but following these simple rules keeps me sane, and happy with my spending. And keeps the credit card damage to a minimum.
What are your holiday spending tips? I intend to elaborate more on holiday budgeting in the coming weeks, and would gladly add reader feedback to upcoming blog posts.