As my husband Jon – an accountant by trade – can attest, my natural talents do not lie in money management. I’m pretty good at figuring out how to earn extra money, but once the check arrives in the mail, I happily turn it over to Jon so that he can work his Excel-spreadsheet magic. I am seriously grateful that he’s willing to handle the always challenging and neverending responsibility of managing (AKA: juggling) our family finances.
However, there is one area of our annual budget for which I assume total control: holiday shopping and spending. As I have noted many times before, I absolutely loooove the winter holiday season – our family happens to celebrate Christmas – and one of my greatest joys as a mother has come each December via my annual efforts to create the most magical, tradition-laden and just plain fun Christmas that I can manage to pull off.
I am the mother of five children, and auntie to 14 nieces and nephews. As you might imagine, with a brood of kids this large in our family, I have to commit a not insignificant amount of time and dollars each year to “doing” Christmas the way I love doing it. But like pretty much everybody else I know, I don’t have vast quantities of either of these commodities available – not during the holiday season or at any other time of year.
However, because holiday preparations and execution are so enjoyable and important to me, Jon and I budget carefully all year to have money ready for my holiday shopping during November and December. But even with the Christmas shopping funds designated and set aside for me to use, I still have to be careful and thoughtful with my holiday money management in order to stretch the allocated gift budget to cover all those kids, not to mention Jon, my siblings, the grandparents, the kids’ teachers… You get the idea.
For all of these reasons, I have become something of a holiday shopping ninja. Whereas I am barely able to check items off a list at the grocery store, and while I can easily find myself inadvertently spending far more than I intended every time I pop into Target to buy new socks, my Christmas shopping is an entirely different matter. When it comes to finding, buying and paying for holiday gifts, I work with laser-like focus to maximize both my time and more importantly, my dollars. All joking aside, I find that I actually really enjoy getting through my entire, very lengthy gift shopping list each year while sticking to the budget Jon and I have established for the task. It’s become a bit of a competitive thing for me (although obviously, the only person against which I am competing is myself…)
Thus, with November now upon us, I thought I’d share what I have found by much trial and error to be my five most valuable money-saving holiday shopping tips. After you check out my ideas, I really hope that some of you will reciprocate by telling me what your best holiday budgeting wins have been. I’d love to read them.
(Just click on the arrows in the gallery below to read each of my best Christmas shopping recommendations.)
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Appify Your Holiday List
If you've never tried one of the various Christmas shopping/organizing/budgeting apps
that are now available for both iPhone and Android, you're missing out on a great tool for saving $$$. Before I discovered The Christmas List app
that I now use each year, I was trying to keep up with multiple paper lists, plus a Google docs master list on my laptop. And none of these automatically tracked my spending per gift recipient to be sure I stayed within my budget. These Christmas list apps also help you keep track of what you've ordered from various online retailers and whether it's actually arrived yet, as well as what still needs to be wrapped or shipped. I love my handy holiday shopping app and would never attempt a gift buying season without it. By staying so much better organized, and keeping a running tally of how much I've spent on each person, as welll as in total, I keep far better control of my gift buying budget. Highly recommended.
Pare Down Your List
This may seem like an overly obvious money-saving tip, but I know that many of us continue to buy gifts year after year for people with whom we don't actually have much of a relationship - second cousins, neighbors from years past, etc. Those 2 or 5 or 10 extra "small" gifts you are buying every year for people who would probably love it if you stopped buying them gifts each year so they would be able to quit spending money on you can really add up. Another great way to pare down your gift buying list is to start buying group gifts for whole families. For example, instead of buying your stepsister, her husband and their two teenager's each a gift this year, how about gifting the whole family with a donation in their names to a charity that's meaningful to them or to you? I'll bet they would like that a whole lot better than the stuff you gave them last year anyway. Take a hard look at your shopping list this year, and try to find at least one or two people on it who would be just as happy with a personal note from you inside a pretty Christmas card as they are with the gift you keep sending them because you feel like you have to.
Shop With Cash Back In Mind
Cash-back online shopping sites may sound too good to be triue, but I am here to tell you that the reputable ones are 100% legit
. I know this because last year, I purposely launched the majority of my online shopping trips by passing first through the eBates portal website, and a couple of months later, I received a check for more than $400
in rebate and refer-a-friend dollars from the money I'd spend during the holiday season. I put that money toward this year's holiday buying budget and plan to do the same every year.Seriously, these onlline cash back shopping portals are like money on the table. Check 'em out.
Let Your Friends Pay for Your Holiday Shopping
Did you know that at a number of really cool online shopping sites, you can earn substantial store credit when you refer friends and family to shop there? Perhaps the best known credit/referral site among parents is like Zulily
, which carries fantastic children's clothing and toys at deeply discounted prices. Once you sign up for your own Zulily account, they will give you a personal referral link that you can share with your Facebook friends, via email to family members, on Twitter or other ways. When the folks you've referred make a first purchase, you receive a generous $15 in Zulily store credit. If you make it a habit to share neat Zulily finds with your online networks throughout the year, those $15 credits can add up to a whole lot of good Christmas shopping by the time December rolls around. Similar referral sites that I have tried and like include Fab.com
Compare Prices The Easy Way
If you aren't regularly using one of the free online price comparison search engines, you likely aren't getting the best deals on gift buys. There are quite a few of these price comparison tools online, but my favorite by a mile is PriceGrabber.com
. You just go to the site, type in the name or type of item you are looking for - like "Easy Bake Oven" or "Skateboard," and the site immediately generates a very easy to navigate list of all online retailers who have that item currently available, and at what price. You will be amazed at the wide price variations you will find - often as much as 15-30% - from retailer to retailer. PriceGrabber also helps you figure out whether you can save even more money by avoiding shipping costs and picking the item up in the bricks and mortar versions of certain online retailers like Target and Best Buy. I never make a holiday purchase of more than about twenty bucks without price-checking it online, and I save a whole lot of money that way by paying far less for each item on my list.
Disclosure: A big thanks to Citi for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.
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