Shop Smarter This Holiday Season

The holiday season is fast approaching and you might be stressed thinking about how you are going to buy gifts for all of your friends and family. But it is possible to get everything you need as long as you set realistic goals.

Set a budget for everything

The first step to success is setting a budget. According to personal finance expert Liz Weston, when writing for NerdWallet, you should plan for every expense — from gifts to wrapping paper and shipping costs. Weston advises starting your list in early November and using whatever method works best for you, whether that is with a spreadsheet, a whiteboard, or simply pen and paper. Organize your list with everyone’s names and how much money you plan on spending for each person. Be sure to account for how you will deliver the gift and what that means for additional costs. You can re-use brown paper bags from the grocery store for a simple, elegant, and budget-friendly way to wrap gifts. Be sure to factor in shipping materials — box, bubble wrap, tape, etc. — if you can’t hand-deliver certain gifts.

After you have your budget created, it is vital that you stick to it. Really think about whether someone needs a more expensive gift. Some say the true meaning of the season is the thought behind a gift, not the price tag. A heartfelt note attached to a low-budget gift could bring much more joy to someone than an expensive trendy item. However, if you end up changing your mind about a specific person’s gift and need to update your budget, be sure to notate this. Keeping track of any changes will help to remind you of how much money you are spending, rather than thinking of it as “just a little increase.”

Cut back on personal spending

If you are one to dine out a few times each week or go shopping for clothes more often than needed, consider cutting back during the holidays. Doing so can put more money toward your gift-giving budget and help you save a little for yourself, too. You do not have to completely cut back; it is the holiday season, after all. Just be mindful of what activities you partake in and be on the lookout for free activities like light shows, festivals, or simply planning a family game night at home. Weston also advises examining recurring bills for potential savings and suggests temporarily pausing unused gym memberships or entertainment subscriptions.

Utilize discounts and memberships

Speaking of memberships, see if you can utilize any of those for possible gifts. Some retail stores send monthly or even weekly coupons via email and mailing lists. If you know you want to buy something at a certain store, sign up for a free rewards program — if applicable — and wait until you receive a discount code before buying the gift. Check your credit card rewards to see if you have any points stored, too. You may be able to utilize them to either get someone a gift card as a present or get one for yourself to purchase a gift in a store.

The main takeaway about shopping smarter this holiday season is to keep your expectations realistic. It is easy to assume you will be the most savvy shopper with these tips, but the reality is that you have to be very conscientious of your spending at all times in order to stay within your budget.

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