This year, the average American household plans to spend over $1000 this holiday season on gifts, decorations, travel to family, and holiday meals. This, on top of normal monthly spending, can make December one of the most expensive months of the year.
Without a plan of attack, December’s holiday magic can easily turn into January’s credit card nightmare. Taking just a little time now (even just an hour) can save you a lot of stress, money, and time later on when you’d rather enjoy the holiday season. Keep reading for a few easy, important tips to get organized now for a successful shopping season later.
Part one: 5-step early holiday shopping budget
1. Review last year’s budget
Dig out last year’s shopping list. In today’s digital age, “digging out” last year’s shopping list is hopefully as easy as opening a saved file on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Take a look at who you shopped for last year and how much you spent. This can refresh your memory, help create a budget for this year and kick-start your new shopping list.
2. Set a maximum spend and account for extras
Knowing how much you spent on gifts last year is helpful, but you should also survey this year’s financial situation to see how much you can afford to spend. If you have a savings account for holiday shopping, check the balance. Also see what expenses are coming up and make sure you have a cushion for emergencies.
When creating a budget for the holidays, give yourself a spending limit for gifts and don’t forget to account for entertaining and party hosting, decorations and travel costs.
For even more control over your budget, you can narrow down a budget per person on your shopping list. If this is sounding like more lists than you know how to manage, you’ll want to check out the next tip.
3. There’s an app for that
Download a holiday planning app. Technology saves the day again: There are several helpful (and free) apps to help you plan, budget and organize the holiday season.
- Santa’s Bag is a popular iOS app that gives you an easy and colorful platform for budgeting, planning and checking off the items on your list. You can create a total budget amount and an amount per person, and the app will automatically update your budgets when you tell it how much you spent. The app allows you to enter everything from your gift ideas to whether an item has been purchased and even wrapped.
- Christmas Gift List is a similar solution for Android users with the ability to track all your shopping, keep an overall and per person budget, and even archive lists so you can check back on previous years.
4. Prioritize shopping
After you start your list, you might notice there are a few gifts that are more specific than others. Your wife might be hoping for a new cashmere sweater, but your daughter has that specific new smartphone in mind – plus, she’d love it in that hard-to-find color.
For gifts that will fly off the shelves early, make it a priority to get these first. Note which gifts on your list need early attention and which ones are more generic or flexible that can wait until later.
5. Subscribe to stores and coupon websites
Now is the perfect time to get on the email lists of the stores where you know you’ll do most of your shopping. You’ll be first to know when they have flash sales or free shipping days. You can also follow the accounts of your favorite shops on social media for exclusive sales and promotions.
Subscribe to coupon and cashback websites and sign up for alerts now, and you’ll have all the best deals hitting your inbox directly – the perfect solution when you need an idea for the sibling who has everything.
See, that wasn’t too hard. Now that you spent a little time getting organized for the holidays, you can go back to enjoying the season.
Part two: Tips for sticking to your budget (and saving money)
1. Shop online
Using a credit card is the most secure way to shop online. It is easier to dispute a fraudulent transaction on a credit card than with a debit card. Remember not to charge anything you cannot pay off when the statement comes.
Check multiple websites to make sure that you are getting the best deal. Aim to get free shipping and check for coupon codes.
Avoid paying more for something than you should. Items like gaming consoles and other highly desired items are often sold brand new by private parties for a healthy upcharge to parents who are willing to pay anything just to get something that they can’t find in the stores. These items can often be purchased at a fair price after the holidays when the demand drops.
2. Avoid holiday scams and frauds
Be mindful of your purse, wallet, and credit cards. Watch for skimming devices and be discreet about how you enter your PIN number.
Track packages and know when they are being delivered. Arrange to have them shipped to your place of employment or to have a neighbor pick them up off your porch.
Be wary of vendors selling goods online who ask for gift cards as payment. This is a common internet scam, and it is likely that you will not receive the goods you purchased.
Review your credit card statements often. Report and dispute any suspicious transactions right away.
More holiday budgeting tips from Advisors Management Group
By being prepared and organized, you can save time and money so that you can focus on what really matters this holiday season. When you’re ready to get started with robust financial planning, call Advisors Management Group.
May your shopping be stress-free and may your holiday season be merry and bright!