Save Money and Stress on Holiday Shopping

The holidays bring on stress for more than just one reason. A time of joy, merriness and love is also a season of crowded shopping malls, frustrating family members and figuring out how you’re going to visit nine houses in two days without the added guilt trips. One of the most stressful parts of the holidays is the never-ending gift lists and the financial obligations that come with them. On top of paying for regular life expenses, which are hard enough to keep up with, you’re now worried about buying Christmas gifts for your family and friends. While this can certainly be expensive, there are little things you can do to actually save money as you check each item off your list.

Come up with a plan early.

This season comes at the same time every single year, so it’s easy to plan for it. Here’s an example. Pick a time of the year that you want to start saving for holiday shopping and just start. Say you start saving $25 a week beginning in August. When December rolls around, you will have saved $500 to spend on Christmas gifts. It’s a whole lot easier than trying to come up with an extra $500+ in the matter of a month or two. This helps you save money because you already have your Christmas shopping money set aside. You won’t go dipping into your other savings or putting all of your spending on a credit card with the idea of “dealing with it later”.

If it’s too late to make a plan like this, at least start thinking early about what you might want to get people, so you’re shopping in the right direction instead of aimlessly wandering around trying to spot the perfect gift with little time to spare.

Start shopping early.

If you don’t start saving early, then start shopping early. Even if you start in October, it’s still earlier than starting at the end of November or the beginning of December when the heat is really on. This saves you stress and money because you won’t feel overwhelmed from having to buy so many gifts in such a short amount of time. The longer you have to shop, the more time you have to make decisions. You will put more thought into what you want to buy instead of rushing to buy gifts without thinking about how much they cost. Plus, you will be able to take advantage of free regular shipping instead of being forced to pay extra for expedited shipping.

Read: 14 thrifty gift giving ideas for friends and family

If all this sounds crazy to you, and there is no way you can plan for Christmas shopping in the summer or start shopping before you pass out Halloween candy, then there are little things you can do to save money in the midst of the holiday shopping frenzy, which will undoubtedly save you stress, too.

Set a budget.

Figure out how much you want to spend on Christmas gifts that works with your overall budget and stick to that amount. Whatever you do, don’t go over this amount. Once you go over a little bit, you’ll be more likely to accept going over even more.

Use coupons.

Coupons are such an easy way to save money when you’re shopping, and during this time of year, almost all stores and merchants offer coupons or advertise some sort of discount. Even if a coupon saves you only a couple dollars here and there, those couple dollars here and there add up to be many dollars at the end of your shopping season. Sites like RetailMeNot.com or CouponCabin.com are easy for searching in-store coupons and online promotional codes. This also might be a good time to opt back in to those emails from stores you unsubscribed from during the off season. Your inbox might be a little busier, but it’s easy to delete the ones you don’t need and keep the ones that offer you savings on gift buying.

But… be careful when using coupons and taking advantage of discounts.

The idea behind coupons and sales is to get you to save money, but it’s also to get you to spend money. Buy one get one 50% off, get $20 off when you spend $100 or more, earn a free prize with a $50 purchase. The logic behind this is to get you to believe you are getting great value while spending less. Why get just one pair of jeans when you can get two for the price of one? In theory, you are getting more for less, but it’s a trap that’s easy to fall for. If you’re not careful about these kinds of bait and hook methods used by retailers, you can wind up spending way more money than you intended.

Go back to the days of using cash.

With debit and credit cards, it’s rare to see people relying on cash for purchases, but relying on cash just for the holiday season is a great way to save you money. If you come up with a set amount you will spend, take it out in cash and once it’s gone, it’s gone. You’ll be forced to stick to your budget and holiday spending plan.

If you do use a credit card, use one with rewards.

While the good debt vs. bad debt debate continues, credit cards with cash back rewards can be a great way to earn money while you spend it. You’re going to be making purchases anyway, so why not get rewarded for them? The money you earn goes right back into your pocket. You most likely will not break even, but you’ll earn more cash than you would if you only used your debit card. As long as you don’t rack up an unmanageable balance and pay your bills on time, these cards can be great tools this time of year.

Read: Easy ways to protect yourself from fraud while holiday shopping

Speaking of rewards, how about rewards programs?

Your financial institution’s online banking platform may offer some type of cash back rewards or discount program attached to your online banking account or even your debit card. Retail Rewards from Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union is an example of this. You may also already be a member of rewards programs from your favorite retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods, JC Penney, Target, CVS or Nordstrom. Take advantage of these programs. Chances are you can find a gift for multiple people in one store and you will be the one who reaps the monetary benefits.

Keep the list short.

The number one tip for those planning a wedding is to keep the guest list at a minimum to make the event as affordable as possible. Take this advice and apply it to your Christmas shopping list. It would be nice if you could buy everyone you know a little something special, but it wouldn’t necessarily be any good for your wallet.

Actually make a list.

You know how they say never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry or without a list? You may also not want to go Christmas shopping without a list, either. Whether your list just includes the people you are going to buy for or also includes the gifts you plan to buy them, a list can be a perfect way to keep yourself on track.

What are your favorite ways to save money during the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!

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