Imagine checking off everyone on your gift list and still having money left in the holiday budget. It's entirely possible — if you're willing to put in a bit of work before you go shopping, says Beverly Harzog, credit expert and author of Confessions of a Credit Junkie. "Create a holiday budget that is thorough, which means including even small presents, like a tip for your mail carrier or a bonus for the babysitter," she says.
Use these four tips to keep your holiday spending on track:
- Make your list, and check it twice
Having a gift in mind before you leave the house or go online will help you stick to your budget. Otherwise, you could end up buying what Harzog calls an "emotional" gift — one you see and buy on impulse. The problem with these kinds of gifts is that they're often outside your budget. Even if it's just $10 more than you planned on spending, if you do that for everyone on your list, it adds up quickly. And keep in mind that when it comes to putting gifts on your shopping list, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. If you've purchased a well-received present in the past, give the same or a similar gift again. For example, if your teenage niece loved the $25 Amazon gift card you gave her last year and spent the entire thing before Christmas Eve was over, it could be a winner again this year.
- Focus on what they'll love, not how much they'll think you spent
Spend what feels comfortable for your budget. You don't have to match your gift to the recipient's tax bracket. In many instances, the gift of an experience — a day fishing at the lake, a virtual cooking class — is the best thing you can give. You can modify based on what you can afford, and you don't have to worry about giving someone who has everything more "stuff."
- Track your spending
Regardless of what you decide to buy, Harzog recommends tracking your spending as you go. There are shopping apps that you can use, like Spending Tracker or Spending Log, "but if the old-fashioned pen and notepad method makes you the most comfortable, use that," advises Harzog.
- Take advantage of credit card rewards and loyalty programs
A great way to save overall is to take advantage of rewards and cash-back programs your credit cards offer. Some credit cards offer rewards that you can trade in for discounted gift cards, for example. You can then use the gift cards to buy gifts for free, or you can give those as a gift. You can also purchase gifts from your favorite stores with customer loyalty programs to take advantage of exclusive savings and offers.
Help make your holidays a little more stress free when you use these tips for managing your gift giving. Next step: take that momentum and use it create financial resolutions to help get results.
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