8 Ways to Fix Holiday Spending Problems

Posted by Jill on December 13, 2010

I recently wrote about 6 ways to change the impact that food has on your budget. It was one of my most popular posts ever! It seems that there are several very common reasons for spending more than necessary on food – but lots of people were able to suggest ways to tackle and reduce that unnecessary spending.

Today, I’m hoping we can do the same to help each other save on holiday spending. Between gifts, entertaining, and just generally being busy, holiday spending can easily wreak havoc on your December budget. I recently asked my Facebook friends for some of the reasons they spend more than they’d like around the holidays. Below, I recount their issues (and some of my own) and provide suggestions on how to successfully complete the 2010 holiday season without running up the credit cards. I can’t wait to see what you all have to contribute!

Holiday Spending Fixes

Problem #1: I tend to equate the monetary value of gifts I purchase with how much I love/care for the recipient.

It’s understandable that you might not want to spend the same amount on the coworker you drew in the office gift pool as you do on your grandmother, who took care of you from birth to age five. But that doesn’t mean that coworker gets a $10 gift while grandma gets a $250 gift. Instead of putting more money into the gifts of those that mean the most to you, put more time, thought and/or effort.

Handmade, personalized gifts might not be appropriate for (or appreciated by) everyone, but they are perfect for the people who mean the most to you. A $10 coffee mug to someone who hates hot beverages is cheap. A set of three photo tiles will cost you about the same and be infinitely more appreciated.

Or you can give the gift of time by taking your loved one to lunch or dinner. Your intended recipient might also appreciate the effort you put in to going to multiple used bookstores to find the out-of-print book they wanted. Just listening to their small talk throughout the year can help you remember/give small things your loved ones forgot they even mentioned. My dad was DYING for a “26.2” window sticker after running his first marathon last fall. My aunt gave him one last Christmas – it probably cost $2 but was his favorite gift.

Problem #2: I don’t want to look cheap to someone who spends more on me.

All gift givers are not created equal. Some make more money than others, or have fewer expenses. Some spend money they don’t have. Some scrimp and save all year to buy the gifts they want, others scrimp and save all year to keep a roof over their heads. Some have 8 siblings and 20 nieces/nephews who all exchange gifts, some are only children.

Regardless, you can only do what you can do. If you feel that you have given a gift that cost what you wanted to spend, what you thought was appropriate and/or what you could honestly afford, there is nothing else you can do. If you truly feel the need to stretch a buck, check out coupon, cash-back or group-buying sites. But as long as you are doing the best you can with what you have, do not feel pressured into spending money you really don’t have.

Problem #3: Sometimes I’m not sure what to get people and end up buying something more expensive as a way of “being sure” they’ll like it.

This goes with the two above. All three look at expensive gifts as insurance – against bad taste, hurt feelings, perception, or whatever else it is you’re worried about. I will reiterate that gifts that take more time, thought and/or effort are much more meaningful than those that take more money.

The second thing that I will say to this is that if you really don’t know what to get someone, perhaps you should rethink whether that person should be on your gift list at all. If you really don’t know what to get someone who is on your “must-buy” list (parents, siblings, significant others)…why not ask them? Chances are they won’t ask for an iPad. In fact, you might be surprised when all your mother wants is an updated family picture!

Problem #4: I wait until the last minute to buy gifts online, then have to pay more on shipping to ensure the gift gets here on time.

Make a list of your gifts ahead of time and be aware of shipping deadlines. If it’s too late for that, consider whether buying from that merchant is your best option. Maybe you can buy locally – even if it costs a little more, you can more than make up for it with no shipping costs.

Maybe you can find a different seller with free or reduced rush shipping (Amazon Prime gives you 2-day shipping free and you can almost always get a free trial if you can’t qualify as a college student or parent).

And if you can’t buy it locally or find a cheaper way to rush it, maybe you can buy a gift card instead and write a note to the recipient explaining that you thought XYZ gift would be perfect for him, but wanted to let him choose “just in case.”

Problem #5: I find too many “great deals” and end up buying stuff for myself too.

Just…don’t. I’ve fought the urge to say that for items above, but on this one I couldn’t help myself. If you didn’t need it and/or plan to buy it, it’s not saving – it’s spending. I’ve said that three times in my last three posts, but I will continue to say it because everyone needs to internalize it. Make a list of gifts (that you plan to give other people) and other holiday-related necessities and stick to it. Even if your favorite luxury bubble bath and that really cute pair of crocodile pumps ARE on sale. Talk about them to your loved ones and maybe they’ll purchase them instead!

Problem #6: Sometimes I buy early and think I’m done, but then I can’t pass up something absolutely adorable that comes out in November or December and end up spending more than I want to.

If you like to shop early and tend to buy multiple small gifts for each person on your list, set a budget per person. Then alot 15-20% of that budget for impulse buying closer to Christmas. Once you have hit your limit, stop buying. If you absolutely must buy something closer to the holiday, consider returning something you had purchased earlier and/or saving one or more items for a birthday instead. We all want to spoil our loved ones! But we can’t do it at the cost of our financial stability.

Problem #7: I like to support local businesses, but I can find the same gift cheaper online and often send it directly to out-of-town recipients for free.

Decide what means more to you – supporting local businesses or getting the most bang for your buck. Maybe you can split the difference: buy from local businesses for local recipients. If shipping will be involved, consider buying online where you can get deals for free or reduced shipping. Or, send gift cards to that business to your out-of-town family members and friends. It gives them a treat to look forward to the next time they come to visit you, but doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg in shipping.

Problem #8: I did ok with shopping, but forgot about other costs like hostess gifts for parties and meals out due to busy schedules.

If you don’t do it always, reduce stress and spending by keeping a master family calendar for at least the month of December. Write down every event that you or a family member has planned, and write associated costs next to it. Include costs for gifts, your contribution to parties/gift exchanges and additional meals out. Then either budget for those costs or find a way to reduce/eliminate them. Some tips I gave last year were to buy sets of things like candles and break them up for hostess gifts, make dinners ahead of time and freeze them for quick preparation on busy nights, and don’t be afraid to say no if an event is truly going to overwhelm your schedule and/or budget.

Summing it Up

Most of my tips for controlling holiday spending come down to a few key factors: make a plan and stick to it, don’t feel pressured to spend more than you can afford, and go for quality over quantity (or cost). If you can remember those things, you’ll start 2011 off just fine.

What are you doing to keep holiday spending from getting out of hand? Tell us in the comments!

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