Save Money on Christmas Gifts and Stretch Your Holiday Budget
Christmas morning is absolutely magical. It’s hard to compare it to anything else with so much buzz leading up to those moments spent around the tree, sitting and celebrating with family. Whether you’re a kid or an adult, it’s hard not to get swept up in all of it. Christmas day is so powerful, in fact, that it wipes away the memories of all the stressful days fighting through crowds at the mall, standing in lines at the post office, and shopping online until four in the morning desperately trying to find a place that will ship what you need in time. So, we wanted to give some tips on surviving the holiday shopping spree and make it to the magic of Christmas Day.
With so many goods and services just a click away, overspending is just a way of life for many of us this time of year.
The temptation to buy more lurks around every corner—on every billboard, commercial, and targeted ad that sneaks into your social media. “Tis the season to give gifts and show people how much they mean to you, but ‘tis also the season to slow down, take a breath, and make sure you don’t end up with the same old New Year’s Resolution to cut back on excess spending.
You don’t have to blow through your savings every December. There’s a more measured approach all of us can take, you just have to be focused and show a little restraint.
Forget about holiday payment plans
Once you become an experienced and dedicated budgeter, it’s easy to ignore those interest-free offers that seem too good to be true. Until you reach that stage, you will continue to fall victim to these wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing sales tactics.
In short, don’t do it. Don’t buy a TV that’s way out of your price range because the friendly salesperson offers you a payment plan and a cash rebate and a 0% credit card and every other gimmick that, in the moment, feels like free money. The trick of these sales tactics is that they are honest. You won’t pay a hidden fee, nor will you be forced to buy a second TV that you don’t need. Instead, you’ll pay $50 or $100 a month until the balance is gone, oftentimes without paying a dime in interest.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that you’re using that payment plan model as an excuse to buy something you can’t afford. Just because you get to space the payments out over many paychecks doesn’t mean you have the money to spend. The committed budgeter looks at what they have in their account and knows what they can afford to spend in the moment. The overstimulated holiday shopper decides to steal from their future self.
Never buy something because you’ll be able to afford it in a few months. You can’t reverse engineer a savings account. Vendors want you to believe this is a responsible way to shop, but it’s just a very, very, very successful marketing gimmick. If you’re still paying for this year’s Christmas gifts after the ball drops and we swap our calendars out, you’re doing it wrong.
When you feel your heartbeat accelerate after looking at a price tag, that means it’s time to move on to the next item on your list.
It’s not a competition!
“I love you.”
“I love you more.”
“No, I love you more.”
“Well, I love you so much I took out a second mortgage so we can get a pool in the spring, MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
It doesn’t escalate quite that fast, but this challenge to see which spouse can outdo the other probably resonates with a lot of you. If you have a Spender personality type, you might even look forward to the look on your husband or wife’s face when they unwrap a gift that’s unquestionably out of your price range. “How did you afford this??” “Don’t worry about it!”
In the moment, it’s very exciting to ignore the realities of overspending and bask in the glow of giving and receiving.
That moment, however, is very fleeting. If the Lexus commercials have their hooks in you and you think surprising your spouse with a car will be a pure love fest, you need to think real hard about how things will look a month later when there’s a lease payment and your insurance skyrockets.
It’s not particularly romantic to set a spending limit before each holiday, but it goes a long way with trust. As much as we all want to be surprised by diamond rings, new cars, and surprise trips around the globe, we also want to buy houses, send our kids to school, and retire with some good years left. I love surprising my wife with an unexpected gift; I also know she’s just as happy when I show her our boring-but-healthy savings account.
Competition within a household usually isn’t a great thing. As a married couple, you’re a team with mutual goals. While Christmas shopping might start out as a friendly “I love you more” competition, the only way to win is by spending too much and potentially losing a different contest called “who can stay married the longest.”
Remember the big picture
These cherished holidays are an important piece of the puzzle that makes up our lives. It matters how we observe special days, and showing family that you care is no minor issue.
Still, we have to be able to see the forest through the trees. I’m also guilty of becoming hyper-focused on Christmas and not thinking about life after the gifts are opened. At this point in our relationship, there’s a very specific shame I feel when my wife looks around on December 26th and points out all the things that maybe didn’t need to be under the tree. The giving comes from a place of generosity, but the spending can cause a lot more harm than good in the grand scheme of things.
If you get sucked into the thrill of holiday shopping and can’t help yourself, you should consider a few tactics that might help you slow your roll.
Smart spending always comes back to planning. If you can set a limit and stick to it, you’ll get more creative with your Christmas shopping. Not to mention the bonus of feeling less buyer’s remorse the following week. Set aside money for gifts all year long so you have more to work with when the holidays come a-knocking.
Nothing beats the sight of countless packages beneath the tree. Nevertheless, that indulgence isn’t a necessary part of Christmas. Set a present limit and stick to it. If you can do this early enough, you might help temper your kids’ expectations and avoid the cries of “is that it?” as they get older.
Games and gimmicks
Stuff those stockings full of small packages to give that same gift-opening thrill. Don’t put big-ticket items under the tree. Instead, write up a treasure hunt so your spouse and kids have an active search for their best presents. You have a lot of inexpensive options for improving the quality of your gift-giving while still reducing quantity.
Whatever your approach, you have to remind yourself that overspending isn’t a healthy way to enjoy the holidays. Loving your family isn’t synonymous with emptying your wallet, as much as retail marketing tries to tell us otherwise.
Take a step back from the wish lists and try to envision a beautiful Christmas morning. Perhaps one that doesn’t run up your credit card balances. Your brain might struggle to process it at first, but you can get there if you put in the effort. You can be jolly and responsible at the same time.
From all of us at The Money Couple, we hope you have a Merry Christmas and a blessed holiday season!