The holidays are here! Although this is an exciting time of year filled with decorations, parties and precious time spent with loved ones, it is also a season filled with gift-giving opportunities, travel plans and tipping your community workers, which can ultimately take a toll on your wallet. Fortunately, there’s no need to enter the New Year with empty pockets if you consider a few budgeting tips and keep an eye out for exceptional deals this holiday season. Below are seven tips to keep you financially on track all season long.
1. Establish a holiday budget.
Before you start shopping, assess your current finances. How much can you afford to spend over the holidays, working only with the funds you have available in a holiday-dedicated savings account or from money you can afford out of your paychecks between now and then?
Take that dollar amount and divide it among all known expenses: gifts, holiday meals, decorations, parties, attire, end-of-year tipping and travel plans. You can do this using pen and paper, a spreadsheet or a budgeting app, but once it’s complete, that’s your holiday budget!
To stick to that budget, track the amount of every holiday-related purchase, including those on your credit card to ensure you have enough money to pay them off without incurring interest. It’s okay if you spend more on something than intended as long as you make up the difference by spending less on something else.
Using a traditional or digital envelope budgeting system can help. Here’s how it works:
- Identify each item and person you need to spend on or buy for this holiday season.
- Create a paper or digital envelope bearing the name of each one on your list.
- Based on your available funds, determine how much cash to spend on each and put that amount into the appropriate envelope.
Say you’re budgeting $100 for your family’s holiday meal. You’d put that amount of cash in an envelope labeled Dinner and use it when you shop. If some amazing grocery deals leave you with extra in that envelope, keep it there and set it aside. After the holidays, it will be fun to see how much you stayed under budget, and this extra money can provide the opening deposit for next year’s holiday savings fund.
2. Avoid common holiday pitfalls, like dipping into an emergency fund or piling on credit card debt.
As tempting as it might be, resist “borrowing” money from your emergency fund to pay for gifts and other holiday items. That money is there for a purpose: to help you handle things like an emergency car repair, root canal or leaky roof—things you can’t put off.
Likewise, don’t pile on credit card debt when holiday shopping. Yes, plastic comes with advantages like making it easier to dispute a purchase, and many cards offer these perks:
- Free extended warranties on eligible purchases on top of standard warranties
- Coverage for lost, stolen or accidentally damaged purchases
- Loyalty programs for earning cash back or other rewards with every purchase
But going over your holiday budget with plastic can leave you carrying large balances that make it hard to focus on other financial goals besides shrinking your credit card debt.
3. Celebrate and gift creatively.
Of course you want to maintain family traditions, but look for ways to save on the things your loved ones look forward to each year. If that’s together-time, suggest fun inexpensive activities like a drive through a nearby elaborate light display or a family game night. Does your family revel in a more expensive holiday pastime like skiing? Look for discounts, such as weekday versus weekend rates. A less-expensive day of the week or ski resort likely won’t matter as long as the tradition stays alive.
And why not share experiences, rather than presents, especially with neighbors or coworkers that you normally exchange gifts with. If this gift-giving no longer works for your budget, suggest an evening of cookies and coffee with your neighbors or a holiday potluck at the office instead of gift exchanges. Chances are, their budgets are tight too, but they just don’t know how to broach the topic with you.
4. Make a list and check it twice for deals!
You can save money and spender’s regret by researching online for the best deals on the items on your shopping list, starting with these sites:
- SlickDeals.net: This site’s community of users votes on the best deals of the day before its editors review and post the most popular ones. It also features promo codes, coupons and active forums full of savvy tips. You can even set an alert for price-drop notifications. Similar sites include Dealnews.com, Offers.com and RetailMeNot.com.
- CamelCamelCamel.com: Did you know Amazon changes its prices multiple times a day using dynamic pricing? This price tracking site monitors millions of Amazon products and alerts you when prices drop, helping you buy at the ideal time. Other similar price-comparison sites that go beyond Amazon are PriceGrabber, Shopzilla and Google Shopping.
- Rakuten.com: By signing up online or via this portal’s app, you can activate coupons and cash back from over 3,500 online retailers. Just following the link to a favorite store sometimes activates a cash-back offer. MrRebates.com, TopCashBack.com and BeFrugal.com are examples of similar cashback shopping portals.
Plus, retailers like JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Old Navy and many others offer discounts and store-cash rewards through their loyalty programs, even if you don’t have a store card. Also watch grocery and drug store circulars. During the holidays, they often run gift card promotions, such as $10 off if you buy two specific gift cards.
5. Shop holiday savings events.
Timing also plays a crucial role in getting great deals, so mark these major holiday shopping events on your calendar:
- Black Friday: If your wish list includes electronics, such as smart-home gadgets, gaming consoles, televisions and more, capitalize on the extreme savings offered by major retailers on the Friday after Thanksgiving and increasingly in the days or weeks leading up to it. Sites like BlackFriday.com and The Krazy Coupon Lady let you see all the deals in advance and in one place so you can compare prices and plan your shopping.
- Cyber Monday: The Monday after Thanksgiving also regularly features the hottest holiday merchandise at extremely affordable prices for online shoppers.
- National Free Shipping Day: One day in mid-December (typically the 14th or 15th), many participating retailers offer free shipping with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.
6. Stay vigilant about your cybersecurity.
Remember that cybercriminals are looking for easy steals, too. Protect yourself online by only visiting legitimate websites, always looking for the padlock icon or https prefix before entering payment details and using private and password-protected Wi-Fi. Also watch out for seasonal scams using unsolicited emails, texts and phone calls to tout unreal deals or request donations. Never click on their links or divulge personal information in response to them.
7. Save year-round.
It’s never too early in the year to set aside money for holiday spending. The simplest and surest way to do this: In January, designate a specific savings account for your holiday funds and direct deposit an affordable percentage of each paycheck into it so you never miss a contribution.
If you haven’t been saving all year, don’t panic now that the holidays are in sight. Simply make this a priority for next year.
With these holiday shopping and budgeting strategies in place, you can celebrate and shop without going broke, forsaking your financial goals or risking identity theft. Tis the season of saving and being merry!
Editor’s note: Quorum is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this article and derives no benefit from these businesses for placement in this article.