It’s a scary thought, but it won’t be long before the holiday shopping season is in full swing. Christmas Creep is already setting in as trees and tinsel emerge in the aisles of your favorite stores. Kmart is leading the pack, making headlines for airing their first Christmas commercial on Sept. 9.
While few of us welcome this pre-Halloween intrusion, it serves as a good reminder that it’s never too early to start planning your holiday budget. Try these tips to get your finances in order now so you’re not facing a massive credit card bill come January.
Review Your Finances
Before you start making a list of the presents you want to buy, consider your existing debt and expected income to figure out how much extra room you’ll have for gift giving. Also remember, gifts aren't the only purchases you'll be making. From entertaining to clothes to travel, the holidays have a huge impact on your spending. If you’re not sure where to start, Mint.com is a great tool for organizing your finances, while FamilyMint.com will help your kids organize theirs.
Do Your Own Layaway
a general rule of thumb, layaway isn’t an especially frugal shopping
strategy. Instead of being indebted to a retailer, start working on
your own layaway plan right now. Each week, put a small amount of cash
into a separate savings account just for holidays. When December finally
rolls around, you’ll be surprised how much extra you have to spend. Many credit unions have holiday savings accounts that will even allow you to set up an automatic payroll deduction or direct deposits into the account.
Draft a Gift List
The holiday season is all about giving and the spirit of generosity, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Assign a budget based on your previous financial review, then come up with a gift recipient list. You should assign a budget toward each person, and don't be afraid to knock some people down the list. Homemade gifts like baked cookies or candy are perfect low-cost options for neighbors and other acquaintances.
Track Your Spending
Once you begin shopping, keep up with your receipts and track your spending to keep from going overboard. Though you may have set a limit, it's easier to blow it when you aren't aware of everything you bought or how many times you swiped on the credit card. To help keep an updated record of each gift you buy and how much you spend, consider downloading a gift list app.
Space It Out
Part of the reason many shoppers face massive bills in December is because they try to buy all of their gifts in one fell swoop. Avoid this predicament by shopping early to space out the impact of gift purchases on your regular budget. Not only will you be able to bypass the crazy holiday crowds, your finances aren't overwhelmed all at once.
Shop With Gift Cards
If there was a way to get cash for less than its actual value, you wouldn’t be worried about your holiday budget. Since that’s not an option, discount gift cards are your next best bet. Sites like Gift Card Granny offer unwanted gift cards at discounted prices, saving you up to 20-percent of the actual value. Such sites also allow you to sell gift cards if your budget needs a little boost.
Use Your Points
It’s so easy to forget about those credit card rewards points you’ve been accumulating all year. While they holidays will help you rack up even more, they can also be redeemed to lessen the burden on your budget. Cash them in for a specific product from your list or use them toward other holiday expenses such as travel and entertainment.
Keep it a Secret
Though often forgotten, the holidays aren't about how many gifts you buy. Once you’ve crossed close friends and family off your list, consider Secret Santa for the rest. It keeps the giving simple and modest, and everyone will appreciate being relieved of the pressure to spend big. Elfster.com will help you set everything up while still keeping the exchange a secret.
Blog authored by Andrea Woroch - Andrea is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving
expert who regularly contributes to leading national and regional news
stories. You can learn more about Andrea and get more money saving tips at andreaworoch.com
Photo Source: fuzzy64.livejournal.com