The sound of sleigh bells has quickly come to mean the ka-ching of cash registers. On top of already hectic schedules, Christmas pageants, shopping, decorating, and planning all have to be squeezed in somewhere. It’s enough to make any person desire to sleep until the fifteenth of January when all the hoopla dies down. Fear not, a few easy steps at any time this holiday season will defuse the stress and make overspending credit card limits a ghost of Christmas past.
Divide and Conquer
It’s time to poll the masses of your family. Holiday planners often lose sight of just who they are trying to please. The onslaught of “perfect Christmases” and Martha Stewart-type living can make any person feel utterly inadequate in celebration preparation. Begin this holiday by asking your family members for specific instances they can remember from last year, and why did it make them feel good? Perhaps no one in your family actually appreciates truckloads of cookies lasting until Easter. Or secretly they all loathe a made-from-scratch popcorn garland stringing. If that’s the case, your job is easy this year- skip it! Use these memories, and only these key aspects of the festive season to focus your efforts this year. It’s the easiest way to get the most bang for your buck.
Another great aspect of polling family members will give insight into the best Santa’s helper candidate for different tasks. Does your preteen daughter enjoy gift wrapping? There’s your tape dispensing, folded paper holding elf! Does your husband enjoy the beauty of an undecorated Christmas tree? Delegate or take a back seat to the Head Tree Selector and move tree decorating to a weekend not already jammed pack by Thanksgiving recuperation or other activities. Resist the urge to take on every responsibility yourself, and get the family involved in any way they can help. It is everyone’s Christmas.
Make a holiday budget as specific or loose as appropriate for your finances. If you are using borrowed money at all, even on a credit card, a specific budget is a must! Have a cash reserve saved up through the year? Then spending guidelines are probably more suitable. To scale back on a dream budget, trim the stuff, not the experiences. Each holiday is different for a family, and there are no “topping” last year’s festivities. Restrict children to one large ticket item, or ask them to rank their Christmas Wish List. Remember free activities such as Christmas light gazing, parades, and high school holiday band concerts. Try to theme decorating to prevent unnecessary bauble purchases. If the theme this year is “Old Time Christmas^’ then the dancing Frosty snow globe is unappealing, at any sales price.
Once the budget is complete, with fudge room for unexpected gift exchanges, it’s time for secret agent shopping skills! In this game, you with the pocketbook are the hunted, not the hunter. Gas prices are up and consumer purchasing is down; every single store and merchant will be laying all the traps to get your hard-earned dollar. Competition for customers will be fierce. Do not be fooled by Early Bird specials, deeply discounted electronic advertisements, or today-only sales. Too-good-to-be-true adverts are usually just stored traffic boosters and stock is mysteriously out even fifteen minutes after the store opens Plus, if an item is on sale today at one store, chances are it will be on sale again there or at a competitor’s business before Christmas.
The best way to prevent overspending this holiday is to reduce the emotional association with gift buying. The thrill of selecting a perfect gift and imagining surprised faces on Christmas morning is an artificial inducement to buy every great gift offered. These emotions can be as strong as those felt during a true financial emergency, and blow the swaying power of a little holiday budget out of the water.
As a bargain hunter, take two trips to the shopping mall madness. In one, simply run reconnaissance-hand pick the stores and deals that are appealing. Return after at least waiting two days, and only purchase the pre-selected gifts. While possible prices may fluctuate, any slight increase over previous sale prices will be made up for in the avoidance of unwanted purchases Limit shopping expeditions to one or two stores: long marathon sessions reduce customer concentration. After a few hours, everything and anything in shiny, bright plastic wrapping look like a great gift idea.