As the holiday season approaches, the number of sales retailers offer increases. It’s a no-brainer to want to take advantage of such sales—for example, who doesn’t want to get a larger television for less money? However, it’s easy to let yourself careen out of control for that same reason. So, what if you weren’t planning on spending that much for a TV of any size? Moreover, a sale purchase isn’t worth the savings if you’re not going to wear, use, or gift your purchase. No deal is too good to pass up. (And if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.) If you sometimes find it hard to set a budget and stick to it, read on for some tips on budget-friendly holiday shopping.
There are no fixed rules about how much to spend on gifts. One rule of thumb several financial advisors recommend is to spend no more than 1% to 1.5% on holiday gifts; some advisers include travel costs in that estimate as well. Start by looking at how much you spent on last year’s presents—for whom did you buy gifts, and what did they cost? Add up the total and compare it to that suggested percentage of your income. Did you spend what you should have? Too much or too little? Cost is also subjective, so consider how you feel about your spending.
One of the best ways to save money proactively for holiday shopping is to open a holiday club account at your local bank. This is a savings account for a limited time span with a designated end; you get the money just before the shopping season begins. You can make monthly or even weekly deposits. If you work at a company that directly deposits your salary into your bank account, check to see if you can divide the money into more than one account. If so, have a set amount deposited every pay period into your holiday club account. That way, you don’t need to worry about remembering to put the money in the account yourself. Although you’re budgeting to save for presents, set periodic goals of how much savings you want to reach and when. Then, each time you hit a goal, allow yourself a small treat, such as a manicure or one of your favorite scented candles.
Once you’ve determined your overall budget and broken it down so you know how much you want to spend on each person, make a list. Cozy up on the couch with your favorite holiday fleece blanket and throw on some holiday music, then write down gift ideas. For this, you don’t need to worry about budget—just jot down whatever comes to mind. There’s nothing wrong with considering the same present for different people, either. You can choose various colors or patterns or add monograms so the gifts aren’t an exact match.
If you’re planning on gifting electronics, consider size and features as well as cost. Look to see if a discounted previous model is similar enough to the current model that it’s worth foregoing the one or two new features the newer version might offer. The same is true for related accessories. Even if a new laptop is out of the running, you can freshen it with a fun skin, or gift a new laptop bag with a couple of smaller tech items, such as an extra phone cord and portable charger.
There’s more to holiday shopping than Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Sales occur year-round, so make it a point to visit your go-to retailers regularly. Sign up for their email and/or text notifications and follow their social media—companies will often send out or post special discount codes or offers. Also, take advantage of aggregator websites that do the comparison shopping for you. If you find a particular item on multiple websites at different price points but would prefer to shop from a specific retailer, don’t hesitate to inquire about price matching.
Keep in mind gift giving is not only about the presents but also about the sender. Sometimes, the best gift you can give is yourself. Doing so can be a great way to enjoy a budgeted present. For example, you can gift your children kids' graphic T-shirts with their favorite characters, then get out some popcorn and watch a movie or TV episode starring that character. A gift of an apron and a cookbook can be accompanied by a “coupon” redeemable for together time to try out some of the recipes.
Budget-friendly shopping is not just for the winter holidays; it applies to birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions. By carefully planning your spending, you’ll give yourself an even greater gift: the ability to spend the money you’ve saved on experiences with your loved ones—also known as making memories that will last a lifetime.