The Month Before Christmas

The Month Before Christmas

Shopping Tips for the Holiday Season

By Kara Stefanfrom_our_columnists

kara_stefanDid you know that the average American buys gifts for 15 people and spends an average of $75 per person?

The fact is, of Americans who admitted to preparing a budget for this year’s holiday shopping, half of them exceeded it by 22%. That’s the latest findings from a recent Financial Index, which also confirms that Americans are expected to overspend by $20 billion this year.

Great news for retailers, certainly, but a loud warning signal for discipline-challenged shoppers. What’s more: 77 million people will wait until Christmas Eve to complete their shopping, and the number of online shoppers is expected to double this year, totaling 31 million Americans.

Here, then, are a few shopping and gift giving ideas to help you save time, money, and sanity.

  • Decide how much you have to spend, and then stay within that budget. Overspending tends to set a standard for gift giving that you’ll be expected to live up to year after year.
  • If you overspend on one line item on your budget, underspend on others in order to make up the difference.
  • For an older family member, create a calendar with special dates highlighted when you’ll visit or call him or her.
  • Get the whole family involved in baking breads, cookies, or candies as gifts for teachers, co-workers, and neighbors.
  • Shop alone so you’ll stay focused and avoid distractions.
  • Buy gifts from church bazaars, craft shows, and fundraisers at your child’s school.
  • Spend only what you have by using either cash or a debit card.
  • For the person who has everything, consider a donation to a charity (preferably one he or she would support) in his or her name.
  • Avoid impulse buying–shop online and through catalogs.
  • Create personal gift certificates offering your services for babysitting, pet-sitting, car washing, cooking, or giving computer lessons.
  • Give flower bulbs to the green thumbs on your list; they’re inexpensive and bloom year after year.
  • Invite your neighbors to a potluck supper instead of exchanging gifts.
  • Have your children make your holiday card this year and send out color copies to friends and family.
  • Give rain checks, and then go on a family shopping spree the day after Christmas to purchase sale items.
  • Shop for bulk items such as nuts and cheeses at warehouse stores like Sam’s or Costco; then fill and decorate individual bags.
  • Fill stockings with practical items, such as dental floss, socks, pens, or scotch tape.
  • Send cyber photo cards by e-mail and save on postage

Looking Ahead

The holiday crunch is a good time to assimilate lessons you’ve learned in the past, so don’t forget to apply what you learn to the future. For example, experts recommend you save 10% of your paycheck and squirrel it away all year to help pay for holiday expenses and the ensuing credit card debt.

Not only that, but don’t forget to shop the after-Christmas sales this year for items you’ll need next year, such as trimming, lights, extension cords, and wrapping paper.

Finally, track your expenses this year to help you budget for next year. Store this data with your decorations or gift list, if necessary, making it easy to find next year. Then make it your goal to decrease spending by a certain percentage or dollar amount each holiday season, and brainstorm year-round on creative gifts that will require more time and less expense.

“The best way to avoid overspending at the holidays is to emphasize the non-material aspects of the season, such as family and fellowship, as opposed to the materialistic aspects,” advises Bill Sauer, professor of management at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

Try to establish new family traditions–such as reading aloud a special story each year, with relatives taking individual parts or go retro with a game of Twister–to give people more to look forward to and share than opening gifts.