But these small, festive purchases here and there add up quickly and don’t even include some of the costs you may forget about while planning your holiday gifting budget, like wrapping paper, shiny bows or shipping costs for out-of-state family and friends.
Spending money during the holidays is inevitable but thinking about the looming debt you’ll have to face in the new year may be enough to turn you into Ebenezer Scrooge. You don’t have to start 2019 with buyer’s remorse and a wallet full of maxed out credit cards. With these tips, you can shop smart and fully enjoy the joyous spirit of the holidays without residual regret in January.
1. MAKE A BUDGET AND CHECK IT TWICE
Instead of making a list of all the people you would like to buy gifts for, first decide how much you can afford to spend. It’s easy to think of people who are deserving of a thoughtful present or large cash tip, like your child’s teacher or your helpful housekeeper, but if you haven’t accounted for these costs until December rolls around, you could easily blow your budget. (Next year, plan to set aside $10 or $15 a month, if you can, to offset some of these additional expenses.) The 2018 Gallup Poll reports Americans will spend an average of $885 on gifts this year. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 1% of your combined household earnings on presents, so if your annual household income is $80,000, plan to spend less than $800 on gifts. Take time to review your overall finances and see what makes sense for your family to spend on holiday gifts this year, then assign a dollar limit per person on your shopping list. While it’s tempting to grab a couple Starbucks gift cards or withdraw a few extra $20 bills at the ATM for co-workers, service staff, or last-minute Secret Santa games, it’s important to maintain the budget you’ve outlined so you’re not forgoing your normal monthly financial obligations. If you would still like to thank your postman or dog walker, write a handwritten note expressing your gratitude, then review your yearly budget to see if you could surprise them with a token of your appreciation during another time of the year, such as March.
2. SALES DON’T ALWAYS MEAN SAVINGS
Most stores have signs in their windows or at their registers touting deeply discounted products, but it’s usually a gimmick that gets you to buy something you weren’t originally planning to purchase. Sales that promise to save more when you buy more will compromise your budget if you didn’t need three balsam and spruce candles in the first place. Be sure to bring your budget and shopping list with you so you’re not tempted to deviate from your plans. Conversely, some retailers offer steep deals the day or two before Christmas since they want to move their inventory, so if you can wait until the last minute to pick out your presents or stocking stuffers without ditching your gifting budget, you could save a significant amount of money.
3. GIVE THE GIFT OF TIME
With email, text messages from friends, and games in the palm of your hand, it’s easy to get distracted by your phone or laptop. This holiday season, power down your laptop and stow away your phone for uninterrupted quality time with family, friends, or neighbors. Chances are, your relatives and pals will understand and respect your financial decision to skip presents and will be thankful to have your presence instead. Together, you can take a long walk to marvel at the lights, work on a puzzle, go caroling, make a batch of sugar cookies, or watch a holiday movie. Time spent together is all your loved ones want, anyway.
4. DON’T FORGET SHIPPING
Santa can deliver treats and toys all over the world in one night, but for the rest of us, there’s the United States Post Office. Remember to allocate funds in your budget to mail packages to far-away loved ones or to ship items to your home from online retailers - all those shipping fees add up quickly. To avoid overspending and paying excessive fees for expedited shipping, plan to ship your packages by December 14.
As merry jingles bop over the loudspeakers and the scent of sugared pecans from a nearby cart waft through the stores, remember to abide by your budget so you can enjoy the cheery holiday season and the fresh start of the new year, too.