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Holiday Shopping: A Cautionary Tale

Holiday present

 Holiday Shopping: A Cautionary Tale

As a teenager, every year I knew where I would be the Saturday before Christmas: getting dragged from store to store by my father, who inevitably waited until then to go shopping for my mother’s gifts. This annual exercise in procrastination and family bonding was a recipe for arguing and, more importantly, left my dad no opportunity to shop around for the best deals.

Here’s how you can avoid these holiday shopping pitfalls and get good deals, stay on budget, and remember to factor in more than just gifts when you calculate your holiday spending goals.

  1. Establish a budget. How much do you have to spend?
  2. Make a list of everything you need to buy:
  • Gifts—get specific—family, friends, teachers, coworkers, pets, etc. Write it all down, even if you are just giving a $5 or $10 gift card.
  • Food and beverages—hosting the holiday or a party? Make a list.
  • Clothing for parties—do you need an outfit for a fancy holiday party? Your kids’ holiday card photos?
  • Decorations—buying a real tree? New Menorah? Lights to string up outside? You can lump wrapping paper in here too.
  • Travel—do you have to go over the river and through the woods to get to Grandma’s? Factor that in too.
  • Holiday cards—ordering personalized ones or filling in store bought? Put it on the list. Don’t forget postage (49 cents a stamp!)
  • Tipping—if you live in a large apartment building or park in a parking garage, don’t forget to factor in tipping doormen, porters, building staff and garage attendants. Others should consider babysitters and other regular service providers that are allowed to accept gratuities.
  1. Now that your head is spinning and you wonder how you’re going to pull this off without taking out a second mortgage, analyze the list. Are there any places you can trim? Can you monitor sales? Wait for coupons? For example, many online photo printing websites offer big discounts in the weeks leading up to winter holidays. Or a nearby drug store may do photo card printing at a significant cost savings. Be sure to shop around.
  2. Consider doing a gift exchange where you pull someone’s name out of a hat and purchase a gift of a pre-determined amount or doing a Yankee Swap.
  3. Put a stop to unnecessary gift giving. You might suddenly find your list has morphed and you have your friends’ children, or well-meaning neighbors, or all of your coworkers on your list. Don’t hesitate to politely establish a no-gifts policy. Going into debt is not worth it.
  4. Consider making your holiday party a potluck. Or at the very least, speak up honestly when people ask, “What can I bring?” You don’t want to end up with 17 desserts and one bottle of wine.

Holiday season can be stressful. Overspending will only exacerbate the stress. By following the steps outlined above, you’re ready to celebrate in a fiscally responsible manner. For additional resources about how to keep holiday spending in check, visit www.360financialliteracy.org.

Lauren J. Sternberg, Manager-Communications, American Institute of CPAs.

Holiday present courtesy of Shutterstock.

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