I know what you’re probably thinking: Roger, it’s not even Halloween yet, why are you talking about Christmas? Are you starting to get as bad as those companies that have their Christmas decorations up in mid-September?
Well, to answer the second question first, no, I’m not trying to promote Christmas shopping out of season. (And apparently some retailers are taking the hint, as well.) But for consumers like ourselves, having a plan for how to save enough money to afford all those great presents (without having to build up five months of credit card bills) should begin well before the holiday season is actually upon us. If anything, I probably should have covered this topic months ago (and started to save for the holiday season at the same time).
So, how do you maximize your holiday shopping dollars, while still being as generous as you want to be when Santa comes down the chimney? As with many savings considerations, the main key is to be prepared and have a plan to get all the presents you want. Some things to try:
1. Consider Christmas Clubs: It might sound like a throwback to older times, but Christmas clubs, where you set aside money each month in separate account at your local bank or credit union to withdraw in the fall for Christmas spending, do still exist, and can be a useful tool for budgeting for the holidays. Of course, at this point in the year, it’s probably time to start withdrawing and buying gifts, but for next year, it could definitely be a useful planning tool. (If you don’t want to open a Christmas Club account, you can always make a Do-It-Yourself version by opening a separate saving account at your bank and making a point to only withdraw the money when it is time to buy Christmas gifts.)
2. Find Out What Gifts Your Friends and Family Want Now: You might feel like you’re jumping the gun by asking for gift ideas now, but getting a list together this early (if you haven’t already) can have many advantages. You’ll be able to keep an eye out for deals, both online and in brick and mortar stores, that can save you money. You’ll be able to make arrangements with other gift-givers to split the costs of more expensive gifts. You’ll have more time to take advantage of alternative means of finding gifts (such as say, going to outlet stores or searching the far corners of eBay) possibly finding other good options for your families. There’s quite a few advantages to knowing what someone wants well before you need to purchase it.
3. Consider Making Gifts: Do you have sewing, knitting, or other crafting skills? Well, why not make gifts for your friends and family? Yes, yes, I know: just about every type of media imaginable has featured the horrible homemade sweaters from Grandma, usually exasperating their grandchildren in the process. Here’s the thing, though: as much as they might be the subject of mockery (or at least teasing; this is Grandma we’re talking about, here), such gifts do stick in their recipients’ minds. There’s a reason people remember the sweater from Grandma decades after they’ve forgotten the dozens of store-bought gifts they get each year.
4. Offer Services in Place of Gifts: I realize that with the current economy, it can be tough to find the money for gifts, or even the material to produce gifts yourself. If this is the case, you might want to discuss the possibility of offering some sort of service to those you care for. Perhaps you are skilled at writing resumes, or have legal or accounting skills, or simply are young and strong and able to say, shovel a sidewalk after a heavy snow. In any event, for the adults in your life especially, you can consider discussing the possibility of doing some sort of favor in lieu of giving gifts. For neighbors and nearby friends, in particular, an offer to shovel sidewalks or help with a job hunt might be even more appreciated than a physical gift.
5. Divide Up the Gift Recipients in a Large Group: Here’s one that my family on my mother’s side has been doing for at least the past decade. Rather than trying to buy gifts for all of the 19 children of my mother and her siblings, once we all became old enough to not be upset about not having a pile of gifts to open each year, we started putting all the family names in a hat, and we take turns drawing out the names to determine the one person for whom we will buy gifts. This way, everyone gets a nice gift, and nobody is stuck buying dozens of gifts. (Plus, there’s something a bit fun about wondering who drew your name, and what kind of present you will get. It helps bring back some of the fun trying to figure out what Santa brought you.) By dividing up the list of gift recipients, you can cut down your costs significantly, and still make sure that everyone gets at least one nice gift.
6. Set a Budget, and Stick to It: Regardless of how you choose to save money and get gifts for your family and friends, it’s important to keep the gift spending within a budget. There’s several ways to do this; you could set a limit on how much you spend on each person, or an overall limit on how much to spend for a particular group. Either way, the key to success is the same as with any budget: you need to stick with it. If you set a reasonable enough budget, you can get nice gifts for everyone while breaking the bank (or your Christmas Club account).