This guest post is by David Lazar of PdfConverter.com.
You can play the idealist and say that Christmas is about spending time with family and friends, not about presents, but realistically, presents have become something that you cannot have Christmas without these days.
Before you start stressing over all the money you will spend and all of the credit card bills that will be staring you in the face come January, take a deep breath and compose yourself. There are things that you can do to prepare yourself for the holiday spending season.If you are watching your spending and counting your pennies all year round, December should be no different.
Here are some steps that you can take to make sure that you will be able to indulge in your holiday spending spree without losing sleep over it. With some careful planning and smart shopping, you can get all of your Christmas shopping done without digging yourself deep into a financial hole to start off the New Year.
Take all spending into consideration
Remember, presents are not the only expenses that you will incur during the holiday season. There are many things that you need to take into consideration along with the gifts and plan accordingly.
Many people set aside a certain amount of money for the holidays and then proceed to spend it all on presents, when in reality, they need to be looking at the many other expenses that they will undoubtedly be faced with in December. Perhaps you will be traveling to a relative’s house for the holidays.
Don’t forget about the money you will have to spend on a tree and decorations, parties, food, wrapping paper and greeting cards—all of these things cost money and you must be aware of these factors when planning a holiday budget.
Plan a gift budget and stick to it
Now that you have taken all of the costs into consideration, you are ready to see how much money you are left to work with and how much you will be able to spend without emptying your bank account. Make a list of all of the people that you plan on buying gifts for and prioritize the list.
Do you really need to buy something for all of your colleagues at work? Probably not. If you have coworkers who you consider to be good friends, buy them something and get some candy or simple cards for the rest of your coworkers. Or you can just make some cupcakes for everyone in the office instead of trying to get gifts for everyone.
Your children and close family members and friends are your priority—see how much you need for them and then look at what you have left to cover other people you are thinking of giving presents to this year.
Setting a budget plan and sticking to it might take more work than you are used to having in these situations, but you will thank yourself for doing it when your bank statement arrives in January.
Create a gift list
People who don’t make a list and budget plan end up going shopping and spending way too much, because they buy impulsively and spend a lot more than they can afford. When you go food shopping you always have a list with you, right? You even have a bag of coupons which you have clipped in preparation. There is no reason that Christmas shopping should be done any differently.
As with any kind of financial practice, planning your spending is essential: the better prepared you are, the less you will spend. Be sure to make a list and check it twice before going out and spending blindly on gifts that you are not even sure you need to buy.
Start shopping early
The sooner you start, the better. Perhaps it’s too late now, but take this into consideration for next year. If, while you’re shopping for your kids’ school clothes in September, you see something that you think they would like for Christmas, and it’s on sale, snap it up and put it away for the holidays.
The more time you have to shop, the more options you have. If you start looking for gifts early, you will be able to visit more stores and compare prices better. You don’t have to wait for the Christmas sales to shop: there are sales happening all year round.
Mind the sales
Here’s a good tip regarding sales for you to consider. Do you really think that the store employees arrive at the store at the break of dawn on the day the sale begins to adjust all of the prices? Usually not.
Try visiting some of the stores on the night before the big sale officially starts. There’s a good chance that the prices will already be marked down in preparation for the sale. This allows you to get the items at their sale price while also avoiding the large crowds that will undoubtedly file into the store in the morning.
If you are not familiar with shopping on the Internet, get familiar, because this is the new frontier of shopping and saving. Just as there are sales and coupons for regular stores, there are tons out there for web-based stores as well.
An easy way to find savings is to Google the name of the store that you are interested in, along with keywords like “discount code,” “coupon,” or “promotional code.” There’s a good chance that you will find some additional ways to save online that way, especially during the holiday shopping season.
Go easy on the plastic
If you have planned accordingly and have followed all of these other steps, then hopefully you won’t have to use your credit cards when buying presents. However, the reality of the situation is that you probably will have to use your credit cards for some holiday expenses.
If you are going to use a credit card, use it as minimally as possible. If you’ll be able to pay off the money that you spent over the holidays by March or early April, then you are going to be alright, but if it’s going to take you an entire year to pay up, you’re going to be in trouble. And of course, if you are going to use a credit card, makes sure you are using the one that offers the lowest interest rate.
Stick to these guidelines as closely as you can to be on your way to a Christmas full of presents but void of financial stress and worries in the New Year. What others can you add to this list?
David Lazar is a blogger at PdfConverter.com. With a background in journalism, he enjoys writing about and following a variety of topics, including finances, careers, technology and new media.