Stress during the holidays often comes from the pressure of shopping for gifts. If you have a tight budget and limited time, you may think you can’t have a good holiday experience. But with good planning, you can still be a generous gift giver even with limited funds.
If you plan ahead and don’t wait until the last minute, you can have the time to shop and determine the best ways to spend your money.
- Create a spending limit. Consider how much you want to spend in total for the season. Make sure to include travel and other expenses.
- Create a list with names, gift ideas, and price estimates. If you cannot think of a specific gift for a person, determine a dollar limit on their gift. Make sure your planned gift totals do not exceed your overall spending limit.
- Think of gift alternatives for each person on your list and look for sales in your price range.
- Keep receipts and check them periodically to make sure you’re still within your spending limit.
- Remember the holidays are about celebrations and time with loved ones. Presents are only part of the fun.
- Do comparison shopping over the Internet. See which stores carry the item you want at the best price. If you decide to order online, make sure the delivery time works with your travel plans.
- Do pre-shopping. Shopping can give you good ideas for gifts, but do not buy anything that is not already on your list. If you see an item you like, go home and decide if the item is what you want and fits in your budget. If so, add it to the list. This can help prevent impulsive purchases.
- Check for sales in newspaper ads and circulars, as well as during your shopping.
- Look for coupon codes for online retailers as well as printable coupons for in-store use. Some retail websites offer e-mail newsletters with coupons attached.
- If you do order over the Internet, make sure when you check out there is a secure connection (your browser will show "https://" in the address bar or sometimes a closed padlock icon) and that the website has secure credit card processing to prevent identity theft.
- Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. Sometimes one store’s sale price is another’s regular price.
- Shop in various types of stores, such as factory outlets, catalog showrooms, and department stores.
- Do not take credit cards on the first shopping trip. If you do not have your cards, you are less likely to buy more than you planned.
- Make a list of things you wanted to buy but did not have the cash for. Go home and review this list. Remember that charged items must still be paid for and must still fit in your budget.
- Pay off any credit items in January. The holidays come every year and you do not want to still be paying off debt when the next time rolls around. At the latest, pay off purchases one to two months afterward. Keep this in mind when creating your spending limit. If you will not be able to pay off planned spending in this time frame, reconsider your planned purchases.
Planning ahead is one of the most important parts of successful gift giving. It prevents last-minute shopping that can lead to stress, fatigue, overspending, and impulsive buying. If you need information on managing a budget, contact your local county Extension agent.
Adapted and excerpted from:
M. Gutter, "Avoiding the Holiday Spending Hangover," Family, Youth and Community Sciences News, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences (2007).
J. Turner, "Plan Holiday Shopping," Family, Youth and Community Sciences News, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences (11/2006).