It happens earlier and earlier every year. The holiday music starts playing at the start of November, and the stores have holiday items out before Halloween is even over. And the commercials for toys! That’s when I really start to feel anxious. What will we get for our relatives this year? How will we show our appreciation for people like teachers and daycare providers without burning up our credit card? Don’t worry … here’s some help!
- Have a plan. Yes, this means using that dirty word: budget. I set up a budget in Excel every year and love it because I can easily set formulas to add and subtract for me. This way I can play with numbers to see how much I actually have available to spend on each person on my shopping list. If doing a budget in Excel isn’t your thing, head to homeeverafter.com/christmas-shopping-list-planner-budget-spreadsheet-free-printable for a free downloadable and printable holiday budget planner, or you can use Dave Ramsey’s free app and online system, Every Dollar.
- Rack up the credit card reward points, but only if you can handle it. If your credit card has a rewards program which offers gift cards based on how much money you put on your credit card, use it. Caution: you must be able to pay off every cent you put on by the due date. If you don’t have it budgeted, don’t spend it. I’m able to earn a few hundred dollars’ worth of gift cards for holiday spending every year using this system, which I can then use to shop or just give the gift card as the gift itself. If you go to creditcards.com/reward.php, they compare the top credit card reward programs for you.
- Rack up the MyPoints. I’ve been a member of mypoints.com for many years and have earned gift cards not only by reading emails (five points each), but also by sometimes spending money with certain merchants they support. I’m quickly working toward saving up 10,000 MyPoints, which will equal $50 cash in my PayPal account. The bonus is that I use my credit card to purchase gifts I would have bought anyway, so I double my holiday earning power.
- Make it yourself! Gifts in a jar (tipjunkie.com/jar-homemade-gifts), like cookie, cake, pie and drink mixes and other homemade treats always go over well, and they are cheap to make! Put them in reusable containers and you’ve gone green, as well!
- Give up on trying to impress. Sure, the mailman would dig a $100 gift card to a local restaurant, and your sitter would love a $100 iTunes card, but you probably can’t afford that or you wouldn’t be reading this article. Do what you can and let people appreciate you for who you are!
- Sell stuff. Getting rid of your clutter not only makes you money, but it also makes room for incoming holiday gifts. You can sell books, toys, clothes, movies, music and more at consignment shops or CraigsList.com or even throw a garage sale if you’re really feeling industrious!
- Buy used. Now that your “trash” is going out of your house, you can find “treasure” at thrift shops, consignment shops, garage sales, CraigsList, Amazon and eBay. What a great way to save at least 50 percent on items you’re looking for.
- Buy nothing! To stay out of debt, consider not buying a gift for your spouse and letting him or her know you want nothing but to live a debt-free life full of security and hope for the future. If you just can’t stomach that, it can be a fun time trying to find something for each other on a $10 budget each! A love poem is free and goes a long way in my house.
- Shop early. I love using the annual Toys R Us coupon where I spend $75 and get a $10 gift card at checkout, but the downside is that you have to use it within a stated time period.