It’s easy to overspend in the name of generosity. And in Western New York, generosity is one of the things we do best. § But with a little bit of planning and a few MoneySmart tips, we can achieve our giving goals without ending up in the red. § Here are 10 ways to stick to your holiday budget this year.
1. Make a list and stick to it. You wouldn’t embark on a treasure hunt without a map, and holiday deal hunting is no different. We’re no match for the expert marketing deployed in stores during the holidays, where enticing merchandise and irresistible “deals” are found at every turn. Have a good idea of the gifts you want to buy for each person on your list before you hit the stores, rather than browsing around to see what you find. If you do find a perfect gift that you hadn’t planned on, be sure to write it into the list you’ve made and cross out the original gift you had intended to buy. Impulse gifts add up quickly.
2. Compare prices. This used to mean calling a dozen stores, then driving around to several more, only to find that sales and coupons have changed the meaning of all your research by the time you’re ready to buy. The ability to easily compare prices on everything you buy is the jewel of the Internet age. There are several comparison shopping apps and Web sites such as PriceGrabber.com and RedLaser that help do the trick, but I’ve found the best results simply searching items on Google and Amazon. If you’re comparing prices in stores from your smartphone, use the Google Shopper app and Amazon Price Check.
3. Homemade gifts can get expensive, too. Giving away cookies and hand-knit scarves instead of iPods and Xboxes is a great way to save money while making gift giving more meaningful. But there are plenty of do-it-yourself projects that can break the bank, too, especially if you have to buy special tools or other expensive start-up supplies to get started.
Keep all of a project’s total costs in mind and keep just as close an eye on your DIY budget as you would a traditional shopping budget.
4. Pay no mind to “suggested retail” prices. Anything looks like a deal when it’s 50 percent off of some arbitrary original price.
5. Hold onto your receipts. If something you’ve already bought goes on sale within a certain period of time, or if you find a coupon in the next day’s paper, most stores have a policy that allows for a price adjustment to be made.
6. Don’t go shopping hungry. You already know this trick when it comes to buying groceries, but it’s just as important when you’re shopping for holiday gifts. The smell of fresh-baked pretzels or steamy pepperoni pizza can easily draw you to the food court for an overpriced snack, even if you’ve just eaten dinner. A full belly will make it easier for you to fight the temptation.
Dinner and drinks will feel like a deserved reward after a long day of shopping, so pack a lunch if you’re planning a marathon day in the stores.
7. Use an online budgeting tool. Tools such as MyChristmasBudget.com can keep you from spending mindlessly. Punch in the amount you plan to spend, the people and charities you plan to give to, then use it to keep track of everything you buy. The site will keep everything organized in one place and let you know when you’re getting off track.
8. Draw names. Instead of buying for every single family member, friend and co-worker, set up a “Secret Santa” exchange where everyone draws a name from a hat and buys a gift for just that one person whose name they drew. This can go a long way in keeping the holiday shopping season from turning into a crazed quest to buy things. Focusing on one person can make the entire process more meaningful and enjoyable for everyone involved.
9. Buy only for the children. Many adults have more stuff than they know what to do with. Consider restricting gift giving only to children this year, and concentrate on items they need, such as clothing, bedding, or a toy they have wanted for a long time.
10. Set a price limit. All it takes is one extravagant spender to raise the stakes for everyone. Settle on a firm price limit that everyone in your gift exchange must abide by.