11 Tips for Holiday Shopping on a Budget

1
How to Buy Great Holiday Gifts When You are on a Tight Budget

Woman holding stack of holiday gifts
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For many of us, the holiday season can be a very difficult time to stay on budget. The pressure of trying to find gifts that are nice and affordable can be a challenge. If you are concerned about how you will get through financially during this stressful time of the year, we have some tips that can help.

2
Figure Out How Much You Can Spend

Make Out a Budget
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The only way to stay within your budget during the holiday shopping season is if you have a budget. To do this you need a good and realistic idea of how much money you can really afford to spend.

You also want to decide if you plan on getting out of the season without credit debt, and if so, then you have figure out exactly how much expendable cash you will have for buying gifts. If you skip making a budget and you do not have an endless amount of cash flow coming your way, chances are the holiday season will gobble up your money before you know it.

3
Make a List and Check it Twice

Mother at home making Christmas shopping list after bedtime
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Next, make a list of the people that you will be buying gifts for, including neighbors, teachers and hostess gifts. Also, don't forget the year-end tip to service people such as your housekeeper, hairdresser, lawn person and doorman.

On the top of the list put the total dollar amount of your budget and then decide how much money you will spend on gifts for each person on your list. If you run out of money before you get to the end, go back and start over and this time be more conservative.

I'm Short on Cash! Can't I Skip the Service People?

If you are tempted to leave off the service people, you might think twice about it. Remember that they work for you all year round and help you manage your life. And really, if you can afford to employ service people then you should be able to give them a holiday tip.

You can see the tip amounts that are considered appropriate in our Holiday Tipping article and also what you should do if you thought about it too late and you are out of money.

4
Use Good Time Management to Avoid Feeling Rushed

Look Online to Save Time
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A major reason that people fail to stick to their budgets during the holiday season is because they run out of time and rush to buy their gifts, sometimes grabbing for items that are too expensive. You can avoid falling into that trap.

Save time and gas by getting online to compare prices, look for coupons, check guarantee price policies, shipping costs and return policies. Bookmark your favorite stores' websites on your computer so you can quickly check promotional activity.

Also, many online stores now have a feature where you can request an alert either on your cellphone or email if a price drops on something that you want to buy. This is a great time of the year to use that feature since more brick and mortar stores now match the  online stores' prices.

5
Learn When the Best Time is to Hit the Stores

Woman talking on the phone
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Call your favorite stores and ask what and when key promotional events are going on and sign up on the email lists online so that you stay informed about special savings. You might feel a little shy at first making the calls, but after you do it a few times you will be amazed at the information that you receive that could save you a bundle of money.

Many of the people working in sales during this time of year are under a great amount of pressure to meet their quotas. They will often provide you information  about the next big scheduled markdown.

6
Stop by the Mall Office and Pick Up Store Coupons

Women Working at a Service Desk, Mall Office
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When you go to the mall to shop, be sure to take a few minutes to stop by the mall office before shopping. Sometimes doing so is like walking into a small gold mine. Just walk in and ask if there are any promotions or coupons available.

A lot of times people think that the malls only run promotions just during Black Friday, but many malls, especially outlet malls, run promotions all holiday season. You might earn a $10 mall certificate for every $100 you spend, but hey, that's $10 you just saved.

The mall employees also keep coupons all year that they give to appease disgruntled customers, but by December the coupons are about to expire so around the holiday season they will give them out to whoever asks, but you do have to ask...nicely.

You can also buy mall coupon books for a few dollars (or look in your Sunday paper for a coupon for a free one) and during the holidays almost 75 percent of the stores will have a coupon in it. Check in the food courts for store coupons. 

7
Consider Re-Gifting

Woman with a Christmas Gift.
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Consider re-gifting something you've received, but did not use. The whole stigma that used to be attached to re-gifting was lifted around the year 2000. It is perfectly acceptable under certain conditions to re-gift if you know "the rules" of proper re-gifting.

There are probably some people on your gift list that would go crazy for the angora wool scarf that you received from your aunt last year, but that made you itch like crazy as soon as you pulled it out of the box. Go ahead and box it, wrap it up and enjoy giving a lovely gift.

8
The Personal Touch of Homemade Gifts

Homemade Gifts
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Consider making or baking your gifts. Many people appreciate the time and personal touch of a homemade gift. If you aren't crafty or a particularly good cook, consider simple gifts that can be purchased in bulk and split among the people on your gift list.

Flavored mustard, sauces, and homemade oil and vinegar are gifts that always appreciated. A large case of pecans can be split up and given to neighbors, teachers, or as hostess gifts. Homemade gifts won't put such a strain on your budget or time trying to find gifts for $10 or less that are worth giving.

Tip: If you are short on time,  you can always stop by a dollar store and pick up nuts and sauces during the holiday season. However, you may want to repackage it into a nice glass canister and add holiday ribbons and bows, just to add a little special touch.

9
Cash or Credit? Think Hard About This One

Woman paying with Cash
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Unless you planned for it while doing your budget, using your credit cards during the holidays could blow all of your efforts to keep a handle on your money.  And I know there are some people who are exceptions because they have total control over their spending, regardless of the tender they choose to use to pay for things. But most people find it too difficult not to make exceptions with all the neat stuff and tempting prices that are in the stores.

If this rings true for you, and you know if it does, then do yourself a favor and leave the credit cards at home when you go holiday shopping. The perks that you'll get back from the credit card company by using your cards, probably won't even come close to how much off budget and overspending you may end up doing.

10
Make Your Gifts Beautiful to Open

Woman Wrapping Gifts
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Put additional effort into making your gifts look beautiful by carefully wrapping your presents. Add a lot of bows and holiday trinkets on the outside of the gift. A beautifully wrapped gift will enhance whatever is inside the box.

11
Keep Up With Prices After the Holidays are Over

Man Taking a Picture of Store Merchandise
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After you have purchased your gifts, even when the holidays are over, there is still a window of opportunity to save money on the gifts that  you gave. Many stores allow for price adjustments within a limited time if an item is reduced lower than what you paid. Take the time to visit some of the stores where you bought the most expensive items and check out how the items are priced.

If you shopped at the stores that had good price-adjustment policies, that located when you were doing Step 3, and what you bought has been marked down, then you are in luck!

I always promise myself that any money I get back from stores through price adjustments that were made within the allotted time and therefore returned to me goes towards a gift for myself and over the years I have managed to get some very nice gifts!

Happy Holidays