Have you just finished paying off last year's holiday shopping debts? Does the sight of Santa send you into a panic attack? Well, this year can be different. With planning and determination you can breeze through the holiday season without blowing your budget.
Make a list
The first thing you need to do is decide who will be on your gift list and how much you can afford to spend on each gift. Then develop a realistic spending plan that includes all holiday-related expenses. By adding up these expenses in advance you can decide if and where you need to cut back.
Andrew Holt, Executive Director of Credit Counselling London, Ont., points out that those around you may be experiencing the same anxiety about holiday spending as you are. "You might gain the admiration of these folks by going to them at this time of year and suggesting that exchanges be eliminated or at least limited to a card or gift of nominal value," he suggests.
Once you decide on your list of people who will be receiving gifts and the amount that you will spend on each person, you must stick to it.
"Starting now is really important to avoid the Christmas rush," says Laurie Campbell, program manager for the Credit Counselling Service of Toronto. "People tend to spend more if they start later as they start to panic and do not comparison shop."
Campbell recommends that you wear comfortable clothing and go shopping on a full stomach and without kids. That way you'll take your time and make good decisions. The best times to shop are weekday mornings or weeknights in order to avoid stressful crowds. Never shop while in a rush and before you buy, take some time to consider if the gift is really appropriate for the recipient and within your spending limit.
Decide your method of payment
The next consideration is how you will pay for your purchases. According to Holt, "People who shop with credit cards spend 30 to 35 per cent more than those who shop with cash." If you are going to use your credit card, write down your purchases and make sure that you have a plan of action that will allow you to pay off your balance in a reasonable amount of time.
Shop from home
If you want to avoid the malls and the temptations that retailers and advertisers have set up, consider using catalogues or the Internet for your holiday shopping. "The telephone can be a cost-free way of comparison shopping before you head out the door," says Holt. "You can use the information to bargain for the best possible price."
"Think seriously about what the holiday season means to you," says Campbell. "Can you cut down on your expenses by doing things a different way which could also result in less stress and a more joyous occasion?"
Also, keep in mind that the dollar value of a gift has no correlation with the amount of sentiment that it expresses. Says Holt: "You don't have to spend a lot of money to let someone know that you care."
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