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.
The holidays are quickly approaching, which means it’s time to start making those lists and checking them twice: Food. Decorations. Gifts.
It may sound financially daunting, but by watching for the savings that spring up this time of year, and setting the proper priorities and budget, you’ll enter January with a clean financial slate.
Some people save throughout the year for the holidays, but if you didn’t, don’t let pressure overwhelm you. Work with the funds you have available. Be realistic. Take the dollar amount you can afford, write it on top of your list to keep your target figure front and center, and start your planning.
- Start with the traditions. What do you and your family look forward to each year? Maybe, on the lower-priced end, an elaborate drive-through holiday lights display in your community that charges by the carload? Or, on the more expensive side, a day of skiing during school break? Budget for the family traditions first and then look for ways to reduce the cost. Check the ski resort’s website to see if there are discounts if you ski on a weekday instead of a weekend. The family probably won’t mind a change of the day, or even a change of scenery, if you find a less-expensive ski area, as long as the tradition stays alive.
- Share experiences, not gifts. You might exchange a nice gift with your next-door neighbor each year or shop for everyone in the office. But that might not be in your budget this year. It may not be in theirs, either, and maybe they just don’t know how to discuss the topic. Take the plunge and start the conversation with something like, “We’ve enjoyed exchanging gifts with you throughout the years, but instead, let’s get together one night for holiday cookies and coffee. We live next door, but we never get to talk.” For your coworkers, try organizing a holiday potluck instead of giving gifts.
- Use the envelope system. Determine how much you’ll spend on each item or each person on your list and put the cash in an envelope. If you’ve budgeted $100 for your family meal, put that amount of cash into the envelope labeled Dinner. Create an envelope bearing the name of each gift recipient on your list, estimate your expenditure and put it in the envelope. If you find some amazing sales and have money left in your envelope, keep it right there and put the envelope away. It will be fun to see how much you stayed under budget once all your shopping is done.
- Avoid dipping into emergency funds: Emergency money is there just for that purpose. You could encounter an emergency car repair or need to pay for a root canal—things you just can’t put off—so resist the temptation to “borrow” from your emergency account.
- Use credit cards wisely: Be careful with your spending on credit cards. While they’re an easy way to knock out all of your holiday shopping quickly, carrying large balances may put many of your financial goals and resolutions for the New Year on hold.
It wasn’t too long ago that we eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Thanksgiving morning newspaper, stuffed with ads, to make a Black Friday shopping list. Now Black Friday deals are available well before the fourth Friday in November.
Black Friday ads are now “leaked,” and numerous websites (good ones include BFAds.net, BlackFriday.com, and bestblackfriday.com) publish them as they become available. The sites also share information such as which stores have free shipping with no minimum purchase.
The Black Friday sites aren’t limited to sharing deals for the day after Thanksgiving. They also post specials for Cyber Monday, the Monday-after-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza. CyberMonday.com, run by the National Retail Federation, links to Cyber Monday specials but also posts sales throughout the year.
If you don’t finish your shopping between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, another online deal awaits: Free Shipping Day. This year, that’s Saturday, December 14, and many retailers big and small take part, offering free shipping on items you order that day. Packages are set to arrive by Christmas Eve.
A tip: Several stores will start their Black Friday specials early, available in-store and online. The sales often start on Thanksgiving Day or even earlier.
Store Savings Programs
The best way to stretch your spending power is to get things for free or at reduced prices. Some stores make this very easy to do. Kohl’s for instance, offers a popular Yes2You Rewards program, which gives you one point for every dollar you spend. (For every 100 points earned, you will receive a $5 reward to use in store or online at the beginning of the following month.) In addition, the retailer also offers Kohl’s cash, typically $10 for every $50 you spend. So, for example, if you spend $105, you’ll receive $20 in Kohl’s cash, plus $5 in Yes2You Rewards. That’s $25 to spend on another gift.
Old Navy has a similar promotion from time to time. Spend at least $25 during a “Super Cash period,” and you earn $10 to spend. Spend $50, and you’ll earn $20, and so on.
You can also try joining a loyalty program, like the one offered at drugstore chain CVS. As a member, you can earn Extra Bucks when you buy certain advertised specials for stocking stuffers or personal necessities.
(These incentive certificates have expiration dates, so be sure to use them in time.)
Here’s another bonus from the drugstore or grocery store: In the weeks before the holidays, look through store circulars for gift card specials. Stores will often offer promotions, such as $10 off if you buy two specific gift cards. Give the gift cards as gifts, or use them yourself toward your holiday shopping.
It pays to check out certain websites or apps before making a purchase online to look for the best deal, whether through price comparisons, coupon codes, cash back or other promotions.
- Price comparisons: If you’re considering a purchase on Amazon.com, sign up for CamelCamelCamel.com, which monitors the frequent Amazon price changes. You’ll get an alert when the price of the product you want drops. Other price-comparison sites include Shopzilla.com, PriceGrabber.com and Dealnews.com.
- Coupon codes: When you make a purchase online, you’ll often find a place to insert a coupon code. But where do you find the coupons or promo codes? Check out retailmenot.com or CouponSherpa.com for starters. Or instead, get the Honey extension for Google Chrome, Firefox and other browsers, which automatically searches coupon codes for you on the items you want and finds the best deal for you.
- Cash-back sites: Formerly known as Ebates, Rakuten offers cash back on purchases made at hundreds of retailers. From the Rakuten website, you can find the deal you want, click on it and be taken straight to the retailer’s website—with your cash-back percentage (it varies by store and by day) already programmed. Membership is free. Other cash-back sites include TopCashback and Ibotta. Different cash-back sites are partnered with different retailers, so it pays to check out a few to find the ones that support your favorite online stores.
With some thoughtful budgeting techniques, resources to find steep discounts and a system to keep you on track, there is no reason to break the bank this holiday shopping season.
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