The holiday shopping season is upon us. ’Tis the season for ugly Christmas sweaters, office holiday parties, and spending money on a stack of gifts that, yet again, we neglected to budget for. With a little planning, you can take the stress and financial worry out of holiday shopping – and even get done early so you are free to relish in the true joy of the season, unhindered by a “to do” list. Wouldn’t that be a nice change this year?
Here are three holiday-shopping strategies to help you accomplish your goals without breaking the bank:
1. Plan ahead. Set your budget, create a gift list, and stick to them both.
Set your budget by determining the size of your “cash cushion” – what you can comfortably spend without creating a hardship for yourself. You should determine what you can afford, regardless of the size of your family and friends circle. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 1% of your pre-tax annual income on gifts, which includes non-gift costs like wrapping supplies and shipping. Use the easy budgeting tools available to you through Smart Financial online banking to help you stay true to your budget. Then, make a final gift list and stick to it! One of the worst things you can do is purchase items blindly without a shopping list or specific items in mind – whether online or in the stores. By creating a shopping list with detailed items for your recipients (with a dollar amount listed for each), you avoid falling into the snare of buying unnecessary extras. Avoid last-minute online purchases that require pricey, expedited shipping for gifts to arrive in time. Also, start your price and product research ahead of time. Use price-comparison search engines such as Google Shopping or PriceGrabber to search for the best price for each of the items on your list. You can simply jot the prices down on your list, or even create a basic Excel, Google Sheets or handwritten spreadsheet listing the cost for each item by store. Take advantage of objective consumer research (Consumer Reports is one) to find the best product for the price. Some stores will even offer price matching during the holidays, so a quick question to a sales rep is worth the effort. Once you have your price-comparison list in place, you can decide with confidence.
2. Take advantage of advertised bargains, but be wary of door-buster specials.
In-store Black Friday sales, with door-buster specials advertising limited quantities of certain items, are designed to get you into a store in hopes of selling you other products. Once you are there, it's easy to get caught up in the buying excitement and overspend. In truth, the store will release the advertised “best deal” items in the wee hours of the morning. So, unless you're first in line, your chances of scoring this door-buster deal are incredibly slim. Also, don’t wait for Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) or Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) to start shopping sales. Track and take full advantage of the sales that lead up to Black Friday. The same goes for Cyber Monday, which typically stretches into a full week of online specials. Start looking for sale ads, in print and online, the weekend before Thanksgiving.
3. Earn rewards as you spend. Don’t leave money on the table.
These days, practically every credit card company features a rewards program. Look at the rewards programs already linked to your credit and debit cards before you start shopping, so that you are aware of the participating merchants in advance. For instance, did you know that all Smart Financial debit cards are linked to a cash-back rewards program called Ampre? By shopping deals with participating merchants, either online or in stores, you can earn cash back based on the amount you spend using your debit rewards card. The cash back will be credited directly to your Smart Financial checking account! Visit Ampre to create a free account and find existing cash-back offers. We also offer the Smart Financial IQ Points Rewards Card, which earns points as you spend that can be redeemed for merchandise, travel, downloadable content and gift cards. Click here for more info and a list of participating merchants.