The holiday season is now in full swing, and the countdown to gift-giving has begun. While many people like to focus on the music, the memories, the delightful foods and the first snowfalls that make the holidays so incredible, the reality is most of us spend the majority of our holidays in long lines at retail stores or stuck in traffic heading towards or coming home from the mall. The holiday season is the time of year that we focus on the wishes and needs of our families, but more often than not that comes down to buying stuff. It’s an inevitable part of living in a capitalist society. If you’ve properly prepared for this mad spending spree you should have a little something left to buy breakfast on New Year’s Day. If you’ve spent the rest of the year just trying to get by, like most Americans in this recession economy, you might be relying on your credit cards to get you through the holidays. It’s a nice safety net to have, but it’s also a recipe for creating a disastrous amount of debt. Here are a couple of tips to help you do what you’ve got to do while avoiding sinking into holiday debt.
The key may be proper budgeting. It’s a little late in the game to talk about saving up for this retail firestorm, but if you’ve managed to do that you’re probably in great shape. But whether you have a nice chunk of cash put aside or a bit that you must stretch a long way, a strong budget will be your best friend. Set a total spending limit, and then divide that up by the amount of people you have on your gift-giving list. Don’t forget the gifts you must buy for people who offer you some sort of service during the year, such as the postal delivery person and the ladies at the nail salon. Overall you probably won’t be spending the same amount of money on each person, so adjust the dollar amounts based on your needs. If you have a list for each person do a bit of research to give you an idea of pricing. But regardless of how you divvy up the resources, once you set this budget you have to stick to it.
Layaway plans are a great option if you can get started early on your shopping. Basically, you join layaway membership plans with the retailers you do the majority of your shopping with. Then you pick your purchases and pay them off a little at a time for several months prior to the holidays. You can then divide up your holiday purchases as a budget line item during the entire course of the year. You’ll also secure those must-have gifts well in advance of the Black Friday insanity, locking in prices that may not be the absolute lowest but are always fair.
When it comes down to those insane sales, pick and choose wisely. When you have a budget and a list in place they can certainly be useful, helping you nail down the best possible price for your family’s gifts. But never allow those giant sales to convince you to buy things you don’t actually need. No matter how good the deal, even a “buy two, get 1 free” type of offer won’t save you money if you don’t actually need the item in the first place. You’ll probably be better off doing the majority of your shopping online. You’ll find almost all of the same deals as you would in the store, but you won’t be as tempted by offers as you would walking by them in the store.
Finally, consider leaving your credit cards behind when you go shopping. This won’t be possible if you don’t have the cash on hand for your purchases, though the argument can be made that if you don’t actually have the money to pay for what you buy you shouldn’t be buying it. That isn’t always possible, so just bring a single card, leave your additional cards behind and only buy what you came to the store to purchase. If you limit your ability to make those dangerous impulse purchases you’ll stick to your budget and hopefully avoid the need for one of those debt management services in 2013.